1767
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Moral Pastorals: Pastoral the Sixth. The Benevolent Man.

Poems by Dr. Dodd.

Rev. William Dodd


The concluding pastoral presents the character of a good squire: "So do his hands on all around dispense | The blessed beams of warm benevolence." Rather than spending his fortune "On dogs or horses, women, cards or dice" the squire has founded a school, and Joseph, who cannot himself read, is delighted that his son has been admitted and will learn his letters.

What, one wonders, was the audience William Dodd was attempting to reach in these moral pastorals: the humble folk to whom the instruction appears to be delivered, or the persons of fashion who came to hear this celebrated clergyman preach?



WILLIAM, JOSEPH.

Carelessly spread beneath a willow tree,
On the cool margin of the sedgy Lee,
William, the shepherd, watch'd his fleecy care,
Tuning his flute to many a rustic air:
His faithful dog lay by him on the ground,
And chirping grasshoppers leap'd lightly round.
When o'er the path-way to the bridge that leads,
Bedight in Sunday suit, a neighbour speeds;
Whose hand supports well-pleas'd his little son,
By him with step unequal tripping on.
"Joseph, Where haste you, with such speed, my friend?"
Quoth William, on his elbow as he lean'd:
"And why thus drest? — my little Joseph too—
What all this hurry the fine shew to view!"

JOSEPH.
No, William — in such times of general need,
With such a family as mine to feed,
'Twou'd ill become me, sure, to make such haste
My time and money at vile shews to waste:
Far better business, thanks to gracious heav'n,
The speed you notice to my feet has giv'n!

WILLIAM.
What better business, Joseph? let me hear,
That in your pleasure I at least may share?

JOSEPH.
Why, our good squire — may heav'n indulgent shed
Ten thousand blessings on his bounteous head—
Desirous to diffuse amidst our youth,
With learning's light, the light of heavenly truth;
And knowing well our poverty and pains,
How hard our labour, and how small our gains;
Wisdom and pity ruling in his soul
For our poor children has endow'd a school!
And Joseph here — God's blessing on the boy,—
Is chosen, Will, the bounty to enjoy!
A toward lad, — he'll take his learning well,—
'Twill please the 'squire to see him, I can tell:
And so I speed, as 'tis my place you know,
At once to thank him, and my son to show.

WILLIAM.
My fancy often on the thought hath run,
That our good squire resembles much the sun;
Who sheds on all around his rays divine,
Imparting life and lustre where they shine.
So do his hands on all around dispense
The blessed beams of warm benevolence:
In good unwearied, he exerts each art
To bless the life, and meliorate the heart;
The body's woe now studious to relieve,
Now, due instruction to the mind to give.
—Yes, Joseph, of his school, I've heard before;
And, if in merit aught could raise him more,
This his last effort wou'd, methinks, approve
His goodness most, and most engage our love.

JOSEPH.
I, who ne'er knew of learning the delight—
Alas, for me! who neither read nor write—
The more this great misfortune I deplore,
I feel his institution's worth the more.
Oh what so blest, so useful and benign,
As on the darken'd mind with truth to shine:
To ope the door, by which the soul may rise
From the dark dungeon, where blind ign'rance lies:
May learn its duty, and securely tread
The paths, that to eternal glory lead!
—Blest knowledge! and blest charity! which brings
The envied pow'r to know such mighty things!
Blest man! whose hands such benefits impart,
What joy must live triumphant at his heart!
He's like the sun — and like the morning dew,
Warming, my William, and refreshing too!

WILLIAM.
Refreshing, Joseph? yes, he ne'er affords
Inactive wishes in unmeaning words:
Nor mocks the painful tenderness of grief
With empty sighs — the shadows of relief!
To all his bounty freely is display'd,
Who want his pity, or who seek his aid!
And with such kind humanity he gives,
As much his manner as his gift relieves!
Nay, by his person he contributes more,
Than by his purse, to benefit the poor:
Our humble cots he'll enter, and enquire
What ills we suffer, or what good desire.
Do hapless losses cause our anxious cares?
Those losses to our comfort he repairs:
Is there a quarrel? — soon he bids it cease,
And sooths the jarring parties into peace:
Are faithful pairs thro' poverty denied
The comforts, which by wedlock are supplied?
The virtuous maid he portions, and surveys,
With joy, their bliss, and race, in future days.
Do any on the bed of sickness lie?—
Fit food and med'cine his kind hands supply.
Do any smart beneath affliction's rod?
He sooths their sorrows, and conducts to God,
The loving parent of the human race,
Whose frown is mercy, and whose scourge is grace.

Ne'er by that house of refuge for the poor,
"Where age and want sit smiling at the door;"
That house, the labour of his bounteous care,
I never pass without a grateful tear:
Involuntary swells my rising breast,
And the good founder with a sigh is blest:
Who, with such comfort, when all comfort flies,
Unfriended, helpless, feeble age supplies!

JOSEPH.
Young as you are, and stranger to the pain
By which poor men their families maintain;
A stranger, William, to the torturing smart,
Which tears a tender father's bleeding heart,
While round his children croud, with weeping woe,
Asking the food, he hath not to bestow:
You cannot even guess, and I want words
To tell the rapture, which a gift affords,
By the still hand of modest mercy giv'n,
Just in due season, as if dropt from heav'n!
—Oh, William, many such, the season past,
When famine almost laid our village waste,
On secret wings to my poor cottage flew,—
But well from whence they took their flight I knew!

WILLIAM.
Mark you this river, how serene and slow
Its deep still waters thro' the meadows flow:
While in our village the small shallow rill
For ever prattles down the pebbly hill.
In one an image of the squire is seen,
In t'other of that Braggard, proud and vain;
Who hates our master: — for his cancred breast
By the foul fiend of envy is possest!

JOSEPH.
Alas, good William! 'tis a grief to see,
That whitest virtue cannot censure flee:
'Tis nothing strange, that Devils God shou'd hate:
But that frail creatures, in the self-same state,
Alike dependent, form'd alike to share
The sad vicissitude of grief and care;
That mortal men in enmity should swell
'Gainst those in deeds of mercy who excell;
Who strive, with pure benevolence refin'd,
To soften all the sufferings of their kind:
This sure is strange-and stranger still, to view,
What late example here has prov'd too true;—
Those who the common bounty need, and share,
So mutually malicious and severe.

WILLIAM.
You hint the poor blind widow — sad to think,
That she who stood on desperation's brink,
Blind, helpless, friendless, four young orphans round,
Now by our squire's kind aid with comfort crown'd;
That she the malice of the poor shou'd raise;
That he shou'd lose the just reward of praise!
But what is human praise, or human blame?
To heav'ns blest candidate no doubt the same:
Let God approve the action — for the rest,
He'll find applause sufficient in his breast.

JOSEPH.
And yet, methinks, it is but just to shew
To goodness the respect to goodness due:
Frail as I am, cou'd I diffuse my store,
Just praise, I own, wou'd stimulate me more;
I cannot, therefore, without scorn behold,
Those who, to merit like our squire's, are cold:
Unfeeling hearts! but whose licentious tongues
Could blame that deed, to which all praise belongs,
Are devils, and not men — are devils drest
In human shape, without a human breast:
For is not man from fiends infernal known
By godlike, great benevolence alone?

WILLIAM.
Yes, 'tis benevolence that makes him man,
And more will make him, clos'd life's little span;
Make him an angel; as on earth 'twill give
Foretaste of joys, which angels selves receive:
For with benevolence true pleasure dwells,
Each grace that glows, each virtue that excells!
—Oh happy they, in state exalted plac'd,
Philanthropy's soul-warming joys to taste:
We, Joseph, thrown beneath in life's low vale,
At distance only can the glory hail!
For this we'll thankful be, and do our part;
If not the pow'r, bless God, we have the heart!

JOSEPH.
Much rather, William, would I live possest
Of empty hands, and sympathetic breast,
Than like old Ostentatious on the hill,
Possess the mighty pow'r without the will.
But "all have pow'r, in life however low,
Kind acts of mercy and of love to show,"
To farmer Johnson once our squire reply'd,
Who mourn'd the power of doing good deny'd.
True were his words; for in each state we need,
And therefore shou'd afford each other aid;
In Christian kindness let us do our best,
God knows our strength, and will excuse the rest:
You well remember, where a widow poor
Gave with a mite, than all the wealthy more.

WILLIAM.
How blest a truth! — with right intention giv'n,
A cup of water shall be mark'd in heav'n!
See, 'tis not then the quantity, but heart,
To acts of love which merit can impart.
Blest truth, my Joseph! — thus may we excell,
And poor in wealth, be rich in doing well.

JOSEPH.
But William, think, what joy must he possess,
Who with the power, as well as heart to bless,
To all his high benevolence extends,
The wretched comforts, the opprest defends;
The naked cloaths, the hungry fills with food—
In love unwearied, uniform in good!
Let praise or censure on his deeds descend,
Let disappointment or success attend:
Still he goes on — and views with just regard,
That God, whose approbation is reward.

WILLIAM.
Joseph, you've trac'd the cause, from whence proceeds
His uniformity in virtuous deeds:
For stedfast at one mark whoever aim,
Thro' life's whole circle will be found the same!
—James, who from London t' other day came down,
Told me our squire is more esteem'd in town
For his good actions than amongst us here,
For not a charity but knows him there.
There, where the children of the poor are fed,
At once with heav'nly, and with earthly bread:
Where pain, and all the family of grief,
From skilful med'cine find humane relief:
Where safely screen'd in hospitable cells,
From human view, pride-humbling phrenzy dwells:
Where lab'ring women 'midst their pangs can smile,
And bless the charity which sooths their toil:
Where infants, rescued from an earthly grave,
The tender mercy hymn which stoop'd to save:
Where penitents with tears redeem their shame,
Restor'd to God, their parents, and to same.
Wherever good is done, or good design'd,
His aid benignant you are sure to find:
The doleful prisons too, they tell me, share
His kindly visits, and indulgent care:
Nay, and James found it out, that oft he sends
Young men of toward parts, with meaner friends,
To school and college, where his aid provides
Tutors and learning, and all means besides.

JOSEPH.
A wond'rous man! — if all the world he knew,
To all the world humanity he'd shew:
No sect or party-principles confine,
The glowing radiance of his love divine:
A man, a fellow-creature, and distrest,
Is plea sufficient to affect his breast.

WILLIAM.
Yet, Joseph, I have heard that his estate,
For one so rich in bounty, is not great:
Not half so great as his, of whom before
We spoke, — in money rich, in goodness poor!
But right oeconomy, with great or small,
Doubles the income, and is all in all.

JOSEPH.
Ah, William — but God's blessing is much more,
For this augments, nay, doubles all our store:
Who dare be bounteous, God will surely bless
With constant succour, and tenfold encrease:
Their cruse o'erflowing, and augmented meal,
Miraculously blest, shall never fail!
Our good man proves it — and besides he flies
Those scenes of ill, whence vast expences rise:
He wastes no fortune on devouring vice,
On dogs or horses, women, cards or dice.
The little boy, who much attention pay'd
To this encomium, which the shepherds made;
Cried, "father, 'midst his praise, you sure forget
The church, our squire hath made so fine and neat."

"Right, my good boy, said William, this too shows,
The living fountain whence his goodness flows:
For love of God must kindle virtue's flame,
Or all benevolence becomes a name!"

Thus as he spoke, a straggling ewe, which stood
Too near the faithless margin of the flood,
Tumbled adown the bank into the deep,
When William cried — "alas, alas, my sheep—
One of the best of all my flock! — if drown'd—
I'm ruin'd — for 'tis worth above a pound!"

Joseph beheld it, nor delaying stood,
But leap'd, tho' Sunday-drest, into the flood,
And caught the ewe; when anxious William came,
Lean'd down, and safe receiv'd it from the stream:
Then gave his hand with many a hearty thank,
And, lifting Joseph up the slippery bank,
Strait he conducts him to his cot just by,
And changes all his dripping cloaths for dry.
Then to young Joseph, "for your father's sake,
This little hautboy as a present take:
The rings are brass, and boxen is the wood;
Try it, my lad, you'll find the sound is good:
And always, when you touch it, bear in mind,
'Twas by the best means gain'd, — by being kind."

[pp. 249-60]