« PreviousContinue »
While thus I stood, intent to see and hear, One came, methought, and whisper'd in my ear: What could thus high thy rash ambition raise? Art thou, fond youth, a candidate for praise ?'
''Tis true,' said I; 'not void of hopes I came:
For who so fond as youthful bards of Fame?
But few, alas! the casual blessing boast,
So hard to gain, so easy to be lost.
How vain that second life in others' breath,
The estate which wits inherit after death!
Ease, health, and life, for this they must resign,
(Unsure the tenure, but how vast the fine!)
The great man's curse, without the gains, endure
Be envied, wretched, and be flatter'd, poor;
All luckless wits their enemies profess'd,
And all successful, jealous friends at best:
Nor Fame I slight, nor for her favours call;
She comes unlook'd-for, if she comes at all.
But if the purchase cost so dear a price
As soothing folly, or exalting vice,
Oh! if the muse must flatter lawless sway,
And follow still where fortune leads the way;
Or if no basis bear my rising name,
But the fallen ruins of another's fame;
Then, teach me, Heaven! to scorn the guilty bays
Drive from my breast that wretched lust of praise
Unblemish'd let me live, or die unknown;
Oh, grant an honest fame, or grant me none!'
JANUARY AND MAY;
THE MERCHANT'S TALE.
THERE lived in Lombardy, as authors write,
In days of old, a wise and worthy knight,
Of gentle manners, as of generous race,
Bless'd with much sense, more riches, and some grace;
Yet, led astray by Venus' soft delights,
He scarce could rule some idle appetites :
For long ago, let priests say what they could,
Weak sinful laymen were but flesh and blood.
But in due time, when sixty years were o'er,
He vow'd to lead this vicious life no more:
Whether pure holiness inspired his mind,
Or dotage turn'd his brain, is hard to find:
But his high courage prick'd him forth to wed,
And try the pleasures of a lawful bed.
This was his nightly dream, his daily care,
And to the heavenly powers his constant praye
Once ere he died, to taste the blissful life
Of a kind husband and a loving wife.
These thoughts he fortified with reasons still
(For none want reasons to confirm their will.)
Grave authors say, and witty poets sing,
That honest wedlock is a glorious thing:
But depth of judgment most in him appears,
Who wisely weds in his maturer years.
Then let him choose a damsel young and fair,
To bless his age, and bring a worthy heir:
To soothe his cares, and, free from noise and ste
Conduct him gently to the verge of life.
Let sinful bachelors their woes deplore,
Full well they merit all they feel, and more:
Unawed by precepts human or divine,
Like birds and beasts promiscuously they join:
Nor know to make the present blessing last,
To hope the future, or esteem the past:
But vainly boast the joys they never tried,
And find divulged the secrets they would hide.
The married man may bear his yoke with ease,
Secure at once himself and Heaven to please;
And pass his inoffensive hours away,
In bliss all night, and innocence all day :
Though fortune change, his constant spouse remains Augments his joys, or mitigates his pains.
But what so pure, which envious tongues will spare ! Some wicked wits have libell'd all the fair. With matchless impudence they style a wife The dear-bought curse, and lawful plague of life; A bosom-serpent, a domestic evil,
A night-invasion, and a mid-day devil.
Let not the wise these slanderous words regard,
But curse the bones of every lying bard.
All other goods by fortune's hand are given;
A wife is the peculiar gift of Heaven.
Vain fortune's favours, never at a stay,
Like empty shadows, pass, and glide away;
One solid comfort, our eternal wife,
Abundantly supplies us all our life:
This blessing lasts (if those who try say true)
As long as heart can wish-and longer too.
Our grandsire Adam, ere of Eve possess'd,
Alone, and e'en in Paradise unbless'd,
With mournful looks the blissful scenes survey'd,
And wander'd in the solitary shade:
The Maker saw, took pity, and bestow'd
Woman, the last, the best reserved of God.
A wife! ah gentle deities, can he
That has a wife, e'er feel adversity?
Would men but follow what the sex advise,
All things would prosper, all the world grow wise
'Twas by Rebecca's aid that Jacob won
His father's blessing from an elder son :
Abusive Nabal owed his forfeit life
To the wise conduct of a prudent wife :
Heroic Judith, as old Hebrews show,
Preserved the Jews, and slew the Assyrian foe:
At Esther's suit, the persecuting sword
Was sheathed, and Israel lived to bless the Lord.
These weighty motives, January the sage Maturely ponder'd in his riper age;
And, charm'd with virtuous joys and sober life,
Would try that Christian comfort, call'd a wife.
His friends were summon'd on a point so nice,
pass their judgment, and to give advice;
But fix'd before, and well resolved was he;
(As men that ask advice are wont to be.)
'My friends,' he cried, (and cast a mournful look
Around the room, and sigh'd before he spoke :)
Beneath the weight of threescore years I bend,
And worn with cares and hastening to my end;
How I have lived, alas! you know too well,
In worldly follies, which I blush to tell;
But gracious Heaven has ope'd my eyes at last,
With due regret I view my vices past,
And, as the precept of the Church decrees,
Will take a wife, and live in holy ease.
But, since by counsel all things should be done,
And many heads are wiser still than one;
for me, who best shall be content
When my desire 's approved by your consent.
'One caution yet is needful to be told,
To guide your choice; this wife must not be old
There goes a saying, and 'twas shrewdly said,
Old fish at table, but young flesh in bed.
My soul abhors the tasteless, dry embrace
Of a stale virgin with a winter face :
In that cold season Love but treats his guest
With bean-straw, and tough forage at the best.
No crafty widows shall approach my bed;
Those are too wise for bachelors to wed;
As subtle clerks, by many schools are made,
Twice-married dames are mistresses of the trade,
But young and tender virgins, ruled with ease,
We form like wax, and mould them as we please.
'Conceive me, sirs, nor take my sense amiss;
"Tis what concerns my soul's eternal bliss:
Since if I found no pleasure my spouse,
As flesh is frail, and who (God help me) knows?
Then should I live in lewd adultery,
And sink downright to Satan when I die.
Or were I cursed with an unfruitful bed,
The righteous end were lost for which I wed;
To raise up seed to bless the powers above,
And not for pleasure only, or for love.
Think not I dote; 'tis time to take a wife,
When vigorous blood forbids a chaster life:
Those that are bless'd with store of grace divine,
May live like saints, by Heaven's consent and mine
And since I speak of wedlock, let me say,
(As thank my stars, in modest truth I may,)
My limbs are active, still I'm sound at heart,
And a new vigour springs in every part.
Think not my virtue lost, though time has shed
These reverend honours on my hoary head;
Thus trees are crown'd with blossoms white as snow
The vital sap then rising from below:
Old as I am, my lusty limbs appear
Like winter greens, that flourish all the year.
Now, sirs, you know to what I stand inclined,
Let every friend with freedom speak his mind.'
He said; the rest in different parts divide; The knotty point was urged on either side: Marriage, the theme on which they all declaim'd, Some praised with wit, and some with reason blamed Till what with proofs, objections, and replies, Each wondrous positive, and wondrous wise, There fell between his brothers a debate; Placebo this was call'd, and Justin that.
First to the knight Placebo thus begun
(Mild were his looks, and pleasing was his tone :)
'Such prudence, sir, in all your words appears,
As plainly proves, experience dwells with years!
Yet you pursue sage Solomon's advice,
To work by counsel when affairs are nice :
But, with the wise man's leave, I must protest,
So may my soul arrive at ease and rest,
As still I hold your own advice the best.