1778 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

David Hume

Anti-Sceptick, "Written after perusing the Life of David Hume" St. James's Chronicle (15 Augustl 1778).



"Epicuri de grege porcum."
HOR.

Gentle Reader, 'tis wrong t' admire the Deceas'd,
Who liv'd little better, I think, than a Beast;
Peradventure you'll term the Reflexion severe,
But hold, till I've made the Similitude clear:
When Horace, describing such Gentry of old,
Lash'd their Errors with Ridicule easy and bold,
He intended an Hit, in the Image of Swine,
At their obstinate Nature, and Notions supine;
Tho' the Passage, I own, whence my Motto is taken,
Without Question alludes to the Poet's own Bacon,
But waving all Metaphors fetch'd from the Stye,
For an Hint to the Kennel e'en let us apply,
And with Fairness and Freedom the Parallel trace,
Betwixt the canine and the sceptical Race.

Hume was honest, I grant you, frank, courageous and gay,
But in this not a Tittle superiour to Tray.
He could think and could speak; but declare, I beseech,
Is not Gratitude better than Reason and Speech?
And in this has your Spaniel the best of the Matter,
Being fam'd for the former, tho' void of the latter;
Ever true to the Master by whom he is fed,
Fondly licking his Hand, and attending his Tread.
Whilst David his Talents most oddly displays
In Doubts and Impiety, rather than Praise:
To his God turns a Rebel, perverting his Parts,
An able Proficient in Sophistry's Arts;
Rash and made like Typhoeus of old to oppose
That Being to whom all his Vigour he owes.

'Tis in vain to pretend that his Morals were blameless;
That he seldom was guilty of what shall be nameless;
That right nobly the Sallies of Passion he check'd,
Unruffled with Censure, unsour'd with Neglect.
When the Toils of his Brain were so hardly requited,
His Philosophy laugh'd at, his History slighted;
That Temptation on all Sides assail'd him in vain;
That his Life was unmark'd with Venality's Stain;
What was sordid, he scorn'd, what dishonest, detested,
And that Ease and Content were the Points where he rested;
These Facts may be true, by himself tho' related,
But in Turn let the opposite Instance be stated:

In your Fold, or your Yard, Tray with Safety is plac'd,
When you know neither Poultry nor Mutton's his Taste;
In the Field he's approv'd for the Strength of his Nose,
And (what's rare) tho' a Fav'rite has more Friends than Foes;
Nor apt to encounter, though ev'ry Way able,
Brother Curs in Defence of his Kennel or Table;
To snarl little addicted, and less so to bite,
Except on his Sentinel Station by Night,
When no Bribes can allure him to swerve from his Duty,
And the Felon with Curses despairs of his Booty;
Nor your Palm will he scruple familiar to kiss,
As long as unconscious of doing amiss.

Do you still, Sir, the Truth of my Reas'ning dispute,
Rather biass'd to favour the Man than the Brute;
In this his Pre-eminence solely I view,
The Cur moves on four Legs, the Sophist on two;
Here perchance you will deem us a little outdone,
But the Balance again will be easily won,
For tho' Tray by Degrees may grow blind ere he dies,
The Infidel wilfully puts out his Eyes.
After all if 'tis urg'd the Analogy fails,
From the trivial Distinction of Caxons and Tails,
The Resemblance in Death will undoubtedly strike,
Without Fear, without Hope, lo! they perish alike.
Baliol College, Oxon.