1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Rushton

Matilda, "The Vindication. To Edward Rushton" Time-Piece and Literary Companion [New York] 1 (29 May 1797) 130.



If, in a low and lonely valley plac'd,
Some vain pretender to decisive taste,
Should, from the scene which hanging mountains bound,
Infer a censure on the region round,
Tho' all of nature, all of art unite,
To please the fancy, and to charm the sight,
But arid rocks in rugged grandeur rise,
To veil their beauties and deceive his eyes;
Or the poor Artizan, his labours o'er,
And toiling for his daily gains no more,
With narrow views and undiscerning mind,
Quit those exertions by his lot assign'd,
And, vainly wise, devote his leisure hour,
To scan the conduct of the man of power;
Or from some purpose that eludes his soul,
Deduce a condemnation of the whole;
Would not the patriot scorn, the wise deride,
The fond attempt of ignorance and pride?

Ye few exalted souls, endow'd by fate,
Both with the power and will to serve your state,
Who quit the tranquil joys of letter'd ease,
To toss on government's unquiet seas;
Tho' envy, clamour, and tho' factions rave,
To add new fury to the boisterous wave—
Propel the storm, by which they hope to rise,
As vilest forms ascend tumultuous skies,
Then meanest substances in either ride,
In calms, to their congenial earth subside;
O, disregarding all, be still pursued,
The first great object of your country's good;
Devoid of party-strife, to that devote
The firm exertion, and enlighten'd thought;
Approving Heaven the Patriot shall regard,
Tho' Envy's arts assail superior worth
To marr that perfect bliss denied on earth,
Nor spares a WASHINGTON'S exalted name,
The first in virtue, talents, and in fame,
To whom Heaven gave, for mighty deeds design'd,
The firm, enlighten'd, comprehensive mind,
The heart to purpose and the soul to scan,
And all the noblest energies of Man;
Yet even to him, with love of Freedom warm,
Who plung'd amid the horrors of the storm,
To serve his country trod the doubtful plain,
With surely much to lose, and nought to gain,
Dire war's incalculable evils brav'd,
And what his valour won, his wisdom sav'd,
Blest with whate'er the wise and good approve,
The world's applauses, and his country's love,
Yet party throws her baleful mists around,
And malice aims the ineffectual wound:
Lo, from that isle whence many a dart has sped,
Fresh shafts assail his venerated head;
What could inspire thy sacrilegious pen,
Oh, Rushton, to deface the first of Men!
And could'st thou dream that thy advice should sway
The mind which millions gloried to obey,
Which thousands reverence, fraught with all the fire
Freedom and scientific love inspire?
But, grant the event succeed thy favourite theme,
Incautious Justice should complete thy scheme;
Fly hapless WHITES! to dens and sheltering caves,
Fly, from the vengeance and the wants of slaves!
Freed from restraints, a rude unletter'd band,
Start into force, and desolate the land
Prone to each vice that slavery inspires,
Fix'd indolence, and uncontroul'd desires;
Fly, hapless WHITES! to woods and sheltering caves,
Or toil to feed emancipated slaves!

Ah! race too long, too fatally oppress'd,
For you soft pity warms each feeling breast;
Did science a refining ray dispense,
Or virtuous habits aid the want of sense,
This suppliant heart should weary heaven with prayers,
To meliorate your lot, and end your cares:
Your progeny, with piety inform'd,
With arts enlighten'd and with virtue warm'd,
To Liberty's ennobling gifts may rise,
Which prudence to their hapless sires denies.

Misjudging Author! view in France what woes,
What horrors, from precipitancy rose!
Ah! Nation still to wild excesses prone,
What can your sufferings heal, your guilt atone?
Still shall your list of unexampled crimes,
On record stand to shock remotest times!
Thus minds long sway'd by vice and slavish awe,
Rend the weak sinews of relaxing law,
And free from that restraint, but feebly dread,
Heaven's tardy vengeance on the guilty head.
Virtues, that dignify the human race,
And talents to adorn the noblest place,
But rouse th' indignant ruffian's frantic ire,
And order, worth, and arts with law expire.
Vain all thy eloquence, amid the strife,
O Clermont Tonnerre to preserve thy life!
Thy wisdom, sage Condorcet, nought avails,
And thy philanthropy, O Warville, fails!
O gentle, generous soul, by heaven design'd,
To bless, to free, to humanize mankind,
The pitying muse deplores thy hapless doom,
Thy ill-requited toils, and early tomb!

If, in the intricate maze of Providence,
Aught pass the narrow limits of our sense,
Convinc'd that tho' inscrutable 'tis just,
We still our doubts and take the whole on trust,
Candour demands for him who firm has stood,
Thro' various life invariably good,
The same impartial judgment should attend,
To spare our censure till we see the end.

'Tis thus, untutor'd in the lore of schools,
And too unskill'd in scientific rules,
But early warm for freedom's sacred cause,
And zeal for candour's violated laws,
Fearless I venture forth and lead the van,
To vindicate from blame the glorious MAN,
Tho' well I know Fate's unrevers'd decree,
No mortal worth shall live from censure free;
And only to the unconscious silent dust,
Is fame propitious, and mankind is just.
New-York, May 27, 1797.