A descriptive poem by John Bidlake, master of the grammar school at Plymouth. Youth, a Poem is written in a patchwork of styles, the poet imitating approved masters as his heterogeneous matter seems to warrant: "Hard is the heart that knows not how to melt | When busy mem'ry paints what once it felt; | And how the musing mind delights to dwell | On hours of innocence, ye feeling, tell!" The measure and the theme both recall Samuel Rogers's The Pleasures of Memory.
Monthly Review: "This poem contains many just reflections, and much good advice to youth: but we cannot say that the composition reaches the elegance and simplicity of Gray's ode on a distant prospect of Eton College, which the author seems to have had in view. Our readers, however, have so long been acquainted with the poetical powers of Mr. Bidlake, that we need not either enlarge our remarks, or illustrate them by quotations" NS 38 (July 1802) 324.
Anti-Jacobin Review: "Mr. Bidlake has here drawn an animated picture of youth, and exhibited its joys and cares, with truth, feeling, and poetic fire.... It is almost superfluous to add, after these specimens, that the poet's sentiments are not less correct than his lines" 13 (October 1802) 177-79.
Monthly Magazine: "This gentleman has given many proofs of a cultivated and correct taste; his versification is harmonious, and his descriptions are tolerably exact. But we require a little more imagination and spirit" 14 (Supplement, 1802) 597.
Flowers of Literature for 1803: "Mr. B. is persuaded that he is a poet — we rather doubt that the public will entertain the same opinion" Review of Bidlake, Poetical Works; (1804) 458.
Anti-Jacobin Review: "Mr. Bidlake has here drawn an animated picture of youth, and exhibited its joys and its cares, with truth, feeling, and poetic fire.... It is almost superfluous to add, after these specimens, that the poet's sentiments are not less correct than his lines" 13 (October 1802) 177-79.
British Critic: "We have, on several occasions, spoken, and upon the whole favourably, of the productions of this author. We cannot, however, compliment him highly on the Poem now before us, which has many marks of carelessness very strange in an author so practised. The object, indeed, which is to describe the amusements and feelings of young persons, and convey at the same time useful admonitions to them, deserves praise; and several passages in the first part of the Poem are pleasing.... In p. 11, the description of the school-mistress is too closely imitated from Goldsmith. The latter part of the Poem is, in general, greatly inferior to the former, having more prosaic or harsh lines, and ill-chosen expressions. The description of the vices of schools, and the hardships which boys endure at public seminaries (in pp. 17 and 18) is very much exaggerated, and can answer no good purpose. On the whole, however, the Poem is of a moral tendency, and not without poetical merit" 20 (July 1802) 75.
Monthly Review: "This poem contains many just reflections, and much good advice to youth: but we cannot say that the composition reaches the elegance and simplicity of Gray's ode 'on a distant prospect of Eton College,' which the author seems to have had in view. Our readers, however, have so long been acquainted with the poetical powers of Mr. Bidlake, that we need not either enlarge our remarks, or illustrate them by quotations" NS 38 (1802) 324.
The poem opens in the autobiographical vein of The Minstrel, the sentiments in places sounding almost like Wordsworth: "Yet some strong traces printed on the brain | O'er grief a renovescent pow'r maintain; | Some passing pictures dwell in mem'ry's sight, | Like visionary shades in magic light, | Like the last image of the setting sun | In ether pictur'd, when his course is run" pp. 5-6. This is followed by an imitation of Goldsmith's nostalgic Deserted Village, an imitation of Gray's Eton College Ode with its allegorical personifications, and a verse characters of a schoolmistress and a schoolmaster, after Shenstone's School-Mistress. The center of the poem is marked by reflections on the mysterious providence that protects children.
The second half of the poem, like the second part of James Beattie's The Minstrel, treats darker themes. Bidlake wittily applies Spenser's syntax from the famous lines in Mother Hubberds Tale, comparing abuses at court to abuses at school: "Ah! think what ills attend th' unshielded child, | By young debauch and impious pow'r beguil'd; | How taught by senior wretches, he must learn | To shrink beneath the frown of terror stern; | To turn the ready lie, to laugh at shame; | To screen each error, and to bear all blame; | To cringe, to fawn, to trespass, and to steal; | To suffer stripes unmov'd, nor truth reveal" p. 17. The name "Orgilio," applied to a boy swollen with pride, may be adapted from Spenser's Orgoglio. The moral conclusion of the poem, written in the manner of Pope's moral epistles, unintentionally reads like Polonius' advice in Hamlet.
Beside yon limpid stream how oft I stray'd!
How oft, in childish hours, delighted play'd!
How oft have gather'd flow'rets o'er the brink
That, nodding, dipt, the passing wave to drink!
The bird how oft pursu'd in eager chase,
A new advent'rer from its native place;
That wander'd, timid, panting, gazeful round,
Perch'd on the bush, or totter'd on the ground.
Near, and more near, as cautiously I drew,
My hope it mock'd, and still more distant flew;
And I, condemn'd, e'er since, hope's lure to try,
Still see the phantom near, still see it fly!
How oft, well-pleas'd, the dancing cork I ey'd,
A trembling index, light upon the tide!
Or launch'd the paper vessels, steer'd their course,
And with a monarch's pride beheld my force;
While down the stream I saw my fragile fleet
By eddies hurried, and by billows beat:
Ah! little conscious of our future doom,
O'er life's wide ocean, tempest-tost, who roam.
How oft, within the copse that clothes yon hill,
My well-pleas'd ear pursu'd the murm'ring rill
That coyly hides her silver, virgin stream,
Then peeps again to meet the sunny gleam.
There primrose blooms, all lavish, sweetly smil'd;
Pale, short-liv'd tenants of the vernal wild.
There I forestall'd the wand'ring spoiler bee,
And suck'd their nectar cups with infant glee:
With curious eye, when spring the green boughs drest,
There sought the chorister's secreted nest;
Detecting sly, the linnet's hidden seat,
That artful wil'd me from her fond retreat;
There, wonder'd at the heav'n-taught skill that spread
The silver lining of the moss-wove bed;
Delighted ey'd the sparrow's eggs of blue,
Soft as Melissa's eye, or morning's hue;
With finger tantalis'd the hungry brood
That claim'd a mother's aid, and gap'd for food:
But none were harm'd; for kind, parental care,
Had taught me both to pity, and to spare.
And oft, when Autumn bent the loaded bough,
I shook the patt'ring show'r of nuts below.
In such pursuits each passing hour could please,
For small delights can glad the heart at ease.
E'en winter many a puerile sport supply'd:
The slipp'ry ice that shot in crystal pride;
The snow so chastely white, with feath'ry fall
In one diffusive hue absorbing all;
The hoary hill, the cot, the winding dell:
How gaz'd, we elves, as soundless slow it fell!
The novel wonder pleas'd the careless breast,
Pure as th' unsullied garb which nature drest:
Th' imprinting foot betray'd, we joy'd to trace
O'er undistinguish'd nature's level face;
The hard'ning ball we gaily toss'd around,
Or roll'd to giant size along the ground.
Night, too, with bliss inspir'd the noisy train:
The lengthen'd laugh, from hearts untouch'd by pain,
That shook, convulsive, ev'ry bursting side,
When mirthful Christmas gilded Winter's tide;
The vacant hour, the birth-day's festive treat,
That wak'd the jest with boundless mirth replete:
Then grop'd the blinded hero round to seize
Each boist'rous urchin, watchful how to tease.
But when th' exhausted spirit 'gan to tire,
The pigmy circle sought the cheerful fire;
Th' amusive tale of infant history spread,
And credulous wonder grew, and solemn dread.
Next giant feats the rapt attention drew,
And stories thence of ghosts and goblins grew:
While terrors rise, and speaking in each face,
With death-like awe, and silence, chill the place.
More close we cling as rising fears confound,
And cast a stealthful look suspicious round.
Ye sons of pedant pride! severely wise,
Who ev'ry trifle, save your own, despise,
Awhile to childhood's simpler tales attend,
And say, how soon our sweetest pleasures end.
Ask pow'r, or niggard wealth, or learned strife,
And all adult'rate hopes of busy life,
Are they so pure as dreams of fervid youth?
So warm as blissful ignorance of truth?
Hard is the heart that knows not how to melt
When busy mem'ry paints what once it felt;
And how the musing mind delights to dwell
On hours of innocence, ye feeling, tell!
How grateful 'tis to live o'er youthful days;
Guilt only shuns reflection's wakeful rays.
Yes! manhood's pride, his ev'ry anxious care,
Is only hollow folly drest more fair.
Poor vanity decks out her pompous joys,
And cheats the full-grown babe with gilded toys.
What are the schemes that restless mortals plan,
But specious baubles, cheating childish man?
Less innocent, less pure, we hence complain,
That all below is empty, all is vain.
Now the light forms of morning's lucid pride
Are borne far, far adown the flowing tide
Of all-destructive time! Mere passing dreams,
Mere glitt'ring vapours, evanescent beams!
Ah gone, for ever gone! So the rich bow
O'er the thin air with unsubstantial glow
Spreads its delusive form; so sudden fades
Each splendid joy in dark oblivious shades.
How oft yon lilac's vernal tints I ey'd!
When hope shone smiling, in its purple pride,
Around my bow'r, the bow'r these hands had rais'd,
How swell'd my heart, elate to hear it prais'd!
Ah transient bloom! swift child of fleeting spring,
Thou annual promise with impatient wing!
Short are thy visits, and in haste again
Thou leav'st me, still to moralise and plain.
Yet some strong traces printed on the brain
O'er grief a renovescent pow'r maintain;
Some passing pictures dwell in mem'ry's sight,
Like visionary shades in magic light,
Like the last image of the setting sun
In ether pictur'd, when his course is run.
On these, e'en yet, reflection loves to dream;
Dwells on the past, and courts the rapt'rous theme.
The rapt'rous theme how age will lengthen out,
Chain'd to the elbow-chair with tyrant gout;
Talk of his boyish days, each active feat,
Each well-plann'd mischief, and each truant cheat.
While renovating spirits light his eyes
In momentary youth behold him rise!
Hug the rude grandchild, fling aside the crutch,
And cry, "How flown the days since I was such."
Repos'd beneath the church-yard's shelt'ring yew,
While all the village stretch'd before his view,
Oft have I heard an old loquacious swain
Praise all the past, the present all arraign.
"Yon mansion, nodding now in proud decay,
I knew, he sigh'd, in its most splendid day.
There kind reception humble friendship found,
And festive gladness roar'd the roof around;
Good-will attracted there the neigh'bring poor,
While hospitality spread wide the door.
There those, who went o'erwhelm'd in show'rs of grief,
Saw thro' its clouds the rays of hop'd relief.
Swift as the mist dissolves before the day
The sun of bounty chas'd their tears away.
A sure retreat there modest merit found,
And charity alone on falsehood frown'd.
The feeling master op'd his lib'ral hand,
And scatter'd plenty round his menial band;
The busy wife bade sorrow leap with joy;
Benevolence her art, her sole employ.
Skill'd in the use of ev'ry herb that grew,
Disease before her healing mercy flew:
She sought the hamlets in her daily round;
The secret cell of silent sorrow found.
E'en those receiv'd relief who never knew
To whom the debt of gratitude was due;
And piety, beyond all hope redress'd,
The ministry of Providence confess'd.
Few were the poor; reproof had force of law,
While coward vice shrunk back from virtue's awe.
Thus decency prevail'd; the name of friend
Preserv'd the breast which justice could not mend.
Ah then! the crowded church, with heartfelt lays,
Resounded loud the great Creator's praise.
Ah then! stout industry, of swarthy brow,
Bad the rich fields with brighter harvest glow.
Nor ragged sloth, nor hot distemper's rage,
Child of intemp'rance, hasten'd nerveless age.
Behold yon straw-wove roof within the glade,
That clasps the friendly elm-tree's shelt'ring shade!
There liv'd my happier sire, and left it mine;
And there in times degenerate I decline.
Ah! can I e'er forget the boyish day!
The soft rememb'rance now retards decay.
Dear was that home! and dear the mother's smile,
That sooth'd the school's hard discipline awhile;
When peeping forth with love-illumin'd face,
She held her darling in the fond embrace.
But now the country wears a darker hue!
And flown, all flown the joys my childhood knew!
Shrunk by the hazard of the faithless dye,
The woods, hewn down, in cumb'rous ruin lie.
No welcom'd voice the vacant dome returns,
While damp walls round the sullen echo mourns.
The crumbling piles a frequent master own,
Who flies reflection, seeks the madd'ning town;
Flies the calm bliss that sooths the virtuous breast,
While prisons yawn to catch their spendthrift guest.
Ah waste, neglected meads! Ah tangling groves,
Tuneful no more with harmless warblers loves
To him who fresh at noon or ev'ning roves.
Now vice-worn beggars crowd the dreary fields,
A scanty crop where unwoo'd nature yields.
O'er the chill grounds, no more by toil array'd,
Dull pensive sadness casts perpetual shade."
And I, can I forget the parent's dome;
The dear attachments, and the native home!
How pin'd my restless thought each irksome day,
Torn from the centre of delight away!
E'en then, when riper years first bade me try
The vainer world, and dear experience try
How strong th' attracted soul would vibrate there
Where scarce was felt one pang of bitter care!
Sigh for the happy spot where calmly dwelt
Sweet, ever-smiling peace, content heart-felt.
Hail, lovely blooming youth! hail, golden hours!
All hail, unclouded skies, and thornless flowers!
Hail, happy age, when all of life was gay,
And circling pleasures gladden'd ev'ry day!
When wrap'd in downy wings profoundly deep,
The ready lid sunk charm'd in stealthful sleep!
When pure celestial spirits softly shed
Their balms around th' invigorating bed.
Grief o'er th' untouch'd heart then lightly flew,
And tears were volatile as summer's dew.
Health fann'd the gale, with all his rosy train,
And virgin joy, unwedded yet to pain.
Ah then th' unconscious mind ne'er long'd to stray
Beyond the close horizon of the day!
Or if it stray'd, with cheated vision saw
The flatt'ring shapes that hope delights to draw.
As distant landscapes, melting into air,
The mellow tints of purple softness wear,
So all the future scene to youthful eyes
Will ignorance and fancy harmonize.
Yes! youth can e'er delight; all joy to see
The fleecy innocent in frolic glee.
Sweet is the dove first flutt'ring from her nest,
When silver plumes bespread her trembling breast.
Sweet is the rose bud wrapp'd in mossy green,
When lips of modest crimson peep between.
Fresh on the hills, in dewy fragrance born,
Sweet is the op'ning prime of blue-ey'd morn.
Sweet is the slumb'ring infant on the knee
Of the fond mother, wrapp'd in ecstacy:
Beneath propitious heaven's benignant pow'r!
When golden cherubs watch the sacred hour.
Yet Sorrow's brood infest our early years:
Tyrant Restraint his frowning front uprears;
And Punishment, with scorpion stings that tear
Of flying Dread the bloody shoulders bare;
Denial cold, with petrifying look;
And frosty Disappointment's chilling stroke;
And monkish Discipline in garb uncouth,
That bars the prison doors of frolic youth.
First, learning's harbinger, the vet'ran dame
Is sought; and such I knew of wond'rous fame.
In elbow-chair she sat, in rigid state,
With pow'r and jealous consequence elate.
Ah! how we urchins shrunk, how trembled round,
If from caprice, or household cares, she frown'd!
How watch'd her eye; how dwelt on ev'ry look;
Of ev'ry scowl, of ev'ry smile partook!
How panting sunk each heart when forth to view
The terror-waking birch she dreadful drew!
Her own importance well she knew to raise;
With awe to chill, or elevate with praise.
How was the penny priz'd when, new and bright,
It met, a proud reward, the exulting sight
Of him who, after toil, and time long spent,
Could con his letters all to her content!
Sacred whate'er she own'd: her antique chair,
Her shining platters, and her linen fair;
The cruel ferule, nay her very nod;
We own'd her justice, and rever'd the rod:
Her tell-tale pigeons honour'd, e'en the cat,
That, often stroak'd, beside her elbow sat.
At church she shone with undiminish'd grace,
And look'd self-conscious round the sacred place.
How proud her boast, that 'twas her happy mead
To hear him preach whom she had taught to read.
Methinks, tho' time hath run a length of years,
E'en yet, the buz of learning fills my ears;
When stiffly in a row, with hands behind,
The sacred catechism we sadly whin'd.
Of knowledge as we trace the fountain head,
Though op'ning prospects brighten as we tread;
Rich as the banks, where fam'd Ilyssus roves,
Or fairer Daphne's consecrated groves;
Yet gloomy paths, and fear inspiring shades,
Deter the doubtful foot, that first invades.
What pangs severe depress'd my unfledg'd mind
If but, perchance, the tutor frown'd unkind!
If but his undrest wig, and brow deep knit,
The spruceless coat, the sullen thoughtful fit,
Bespoke the temper sour'd — how shrunk we round,
Half-petrify'd, and swooning, as he frown'd!
How oft, before the break of cheering day,
Lit by the lantern's supplemental ray,
Have I with aching fingers, nipt by frost,
Thro' silent streets the school-house threshold crost,
Rous'd by the sullen clock from the warm bed!
E'en now, its tuneless tongue inspires a dread.
The nightly task my slumbers broke, while fear
Watch'd on the pillow with a shade austere.
Hence, horrid care! ah hence! nor e'er destroy
The simple paradise of youthful joy;
But shed, bright bliss, thy many-colour'd ray
On the sweet op'ning buds of orient day.
To infant minds the crystal clear expand
Of useful truth, and warn with caution bland.
Yet ah! ye sons of discipline, beware
Ye nip not hope's gay spring with blighting care;
Give youth pure health, and temper mild to gain,
And never cloud with unavailing pain.
O'er bold offence let justice wave her scourge;
Spur creeping sloth, and cold indiff'rence urge.
More emulation fires, let dew-like praise
The rising plant with softer influence raise.
Yet soon dispers'd each momentary fear
When relaxation's fav'ring hour drew near;
Then burst we forth, and with a torrent's bound
Tumultuous rush'd, and leap'd, and madden'd round.
Then frolic, from restriction wildly free,
Climb'd with a squirrel's spring the tow'ring tree;
The lofty barrier leap'd, flew to the race,
Or cleav'd the lucid flood with flectile grace.
Elastic vigour, ever prompt to rise,
Flush'd the bright cheek, and fir'd the sparkling eyes;
Invok'd the sport, the sport for youth assign'd,
That knits the limbs, and clears the stagnant mind.
'Tis nature's law. Behold the kitten made
Expert by frolic in her fraudful trade.
A mimic prey the rolling cork supplies;
In fancy caught, the mouse, in fancy, dies:
Now grasp'd within the tabby paw, and then
Spurn'd far away, to be pursu'd again.
Behold! the dappled fawn break thro' the shades,
Bound o'er the hill, or skim along the glades.
While the calm flocks sedately feeding stray,
Their nimble young in circling races play;
On trembling limbs they scour, as loth to yield,
Rush down the slope, and sweep the printless field.
Thus too, beneath bright summer's golden eye,
When soft transparence melts the azure sky,
Mocking the ken of sight, the rooks ascend
And teach their young on ebon wings to bend
Their vent'rous course. Behold the dusky flock
Fade o'er the airy mountain's topmost rock;
Athwart, around, they beat th' etherial plain,
While shade and clamour track their less'ning train.
Hence constant peril threats our earliest days,
Treads in each step, and in each pastime plays:
Unheeded lurks in youth's expanding bloom,
Watches his prize, and purveys for the tomb;
Tempts in the limpid flood, all falsely fair;
Hangs on the precipice, or floats in air.
What fav'ring guard protects our heedless hour,
Detects deceit, or checks disaster's pow'r?
The hand unseen, by whose propitious grace
"Their angels e'er behold their father's face."
These shield from ill the infant's balmy hours,
Sweet as it sleeps on banks of vernal flow'rs;
Shed o'er the hallow'd head celestial rays,
While the charm'd adder inoffensive plays.
Me thought sedate more pleas'd: the shelly shore
To range, and hear the wild wind's solemn roar,
To view the foaming terrors of the storm,
Or cull the weeds, and note each curious form;
Or when the halycon summer on the deep
Hush'd ev'ry wave in clear, cerulean sleep,
To watch the fish within the waste serene,
Or count the pebbles thro' the crystal stream;
Mid rural meads to wander many a mile,
Or time beside a murm'ring brook beguile;
Or, mid the grove, or pacing slow the mead,
Oft ling'ring at the wood-side stile to read:
Then, tho' unskill'd, the pencil's mimic pow'rs
Trac'd nature's forms, and charm'd the vacant hours;
Then smil'd sweet Poesy, harmonious fair,
Of ardent eye, and wild enraptur'd air;
Sweet Poesy, that solitude can cheer,
And smooth the wrinkled brow of woe severe:
She that in soft delicious dreams the soul
Can wrap, and lead beyond the dark controul
Of a bad world to fancy's Eden, where
Ideal bliss forbids approach of care.
Ah! sons of folly, never may ye taste
Her visionary joys, who badly waste
Health, ease, and honour, in the guilty maze
Of sordid int'rest, and delusive blaze
Of golden light, that lead your feet astray,
To dark destruction's unsuspected way!
The sons of genuine verse low art disdain,
And soar above the atmosphere of pain.
Soul-conscious freedom theirs; hope ever bright,
Inspiring radiance of celestial light.
Candour, and faithful pride, that ne'er betrays
The nobler mind; the love of virtuous praise
That lifts th' aspiring soul. What heav'nly glow
Feels merit when the good and wise bestow
The meed deserv'd! nor cold reluctant praise
Denies to honest toil the well-earn'd bays!
Ye anxious worldings! ill can ye conceive
The pure delights the virtuous Muses give.
Yet would not they, indignant though ye smile,
Their innocence exchange for earth-born guile.
A world in miniature is ev'ry school,
Where infant vices infant passions rule.
There little tyrants learn despotic sway,
To make a future trembling race obey.
The boy first taught to cringe, a stripling grown,
Bids lesser wights his iron prowess own.
Inflated with the lust of darling power,
He hugs the passion to his latest hour.
There, the poor fag, beneath the barb'rous reign,
Dares not a murmur, dares not to complain,
While unrelenting cruelty employs
His tort'ring arts, and innate worth destroys;
Destroys the virtue early care has giv'n,
And spoils the blessed image of fair heav'n.
Ye feeling mothers, who entrust afar
From tender arms your blooming infant care,
Ah! little dream ye what mishaps attend
The mourned absence of their only friend;
What suff'rings they must prove beneath the scowl
Of petty tyrants, and of harsh controul;
Tyrants that ne'er relent, whose ev'ry nod
Obedience claims beyond the master's rod.
Ah! little dream ye what your fav'rites feel,
From practis'd malice, and from breasts of steel.
Ye sager parents, who with care impart
The seeds of noble moral to the heart,
Ah! think what ills attend th' unshielded child,
By young debauch and impious pow'r beguil'd;
How taught by senior wretches, he must learn
To shrink beneath the frown of terror stern;
To turn the ready lie, to laugh at shame;
To screen each error, and to bear all blame;
To cringe, to fawn, to trespass, and to steal;
To suffer stripes unmov'd, nor truth reveal.
Shall schools such errors teach? And there
Revenge his nursing imps for food prepare?
Shall all the pois'nous breed of horrid strife
The passions light, that prove the bane of life?
Shall cruelty instruct with hellish art,
Deaden all feeling, indurate the heart?
Alas! if tutors' eyes are slow to mark,
The early kindling of each tiny spark
Of error, these to wide excess will reach;
For youth is prompt to learn when striplings teach.
With wounds, when pelted frogs are doom'd to die,
And pointed pins transfix the tortur'd fly,
In vain poor innocence for pity pleads,
More joys the little savage as it bleeds;
Complete in practice, next extends his plan,
And vengeance saturates on fellow man.
Be cruelty far banish'd from the breast
Of youth, and softest sentiments imprest:
Susceptive feelings, and affections kind,
Dawn a fair day, and speak the future mind.
We trace each embro virtue, though unblown;
And in the child confess the man foreknown.
A just fledg'd bird some raptur'd infant gains,
The helpless stranger constant care maintains;
Taught from her hand to feed, her call to know,
To peck, and perch, and more familiar grow;
The savage cat attacks the cherish'd prey,
How weeps in tender grief her soul away!
Soft woes, with salutary pain, distress;
The callous mind, unblest, knows not to bless.
Affection next, the poor remains to save,
Within the garden digs the hallow'd grave;
Her youthful friends, intent, with earnest care,
And mimic pomp mock fun'ral rites prepare;
Her fav'rite's tomb they raise, and drop the tear,
And plant the fragrant flow'rs to blossom near:
The garden nam'd her own, where strives in vain
The oft transplanted flow'r short strength to gain;
While there, with busy hands and peering face,
Impatience digs the harrass'd soil to trace
The roots with fluid drench'd, that daily pin'd;
Kill'd by officious toil, and zeal too kind.
How blest th' illusions of the unform'd mind,
Unstain'd by guilt, to painful knowledge blind!
Do prouder judgment and fastidious skill
Augment our bliss or simple pleasure kill?
Alas! they kill; made critically wise,
Each fascinating form of fancy dies.
Too nice for happiness, we try each art,
To court indiff'rence and to sear the heart;
How have I gaz'd delighted o'er the stage,
When e'en the stroller stalk'd in tragic rage,
Ere yet experience taught by settled laws,
To judge by skill and give more slow applause.
Yet sober judgment and the candid heart
May draw from all things bliss, to all impart;
Th' instructive scene, when fav'ring Muses lend
Their pow'rful aid, is still to worth the friend;
E'en now, if freedom suffers, or if virtue dies,
The dews of softness dim these melting eyes.
But is the stage for youth a useful school?
It may, where chastity and wisdom rule.
But now, be not the censure deem'd severe,
Indecent jests offend the female ear.
The blushing nymph shall thoughtless fathers bring
To spots with ribaldry that loudly ring?
For when obscenity its poison sheds,
Triumphant vice exults, as folly spreads.
A little poison works much ill, and flows
Down through the stream and murders as it goes.
The scene with fascinating pow'r prevails,
Charms ev'ry mind, and o'er the senses steals:
By easier steps corruption's art succeeds,
When thro' the flow'ry paths of joy it leads.
The scene enchants; th' ambitious boy, how proud,
To rant, and strut, and glitter to the crowd!
The bursts of loud applause how pleas'd to count!
The skies each little hero seems to mount;
What pains were ours, and what expedients try'd
To shine, and stalk, and fret in scenic pride!
Once in a loft in pomp theatric drest,
Assembled crowds the failing floor deprest;
When Otway's lover plaining on the ground
Lay stretch'd, attention hush'd the house around:
A sudden crash the sinking beams betray;
Confusion rose, loud uproar, and dismay;
All shriek, all fly; all shout, "it falls! it falls!"
In vain, in vain, a buskin'd hero calls,
"Fear not, fear not the floor — pray ladies, stay,
I've yet the best of all my lines to play."
Ah! blissful age! Ah! ever-smiling hours!
Your days all budding spring, your grief May show'rs;
Sport on in thoughtless mirth supremely blest,
In innocence, the sunshine of the breast;
For danger's season soon, too soon succeeds,
With riper suns vice spreads her ranker weeds.
Ah! then farewell! the unreproachful hour!
New passions rise with all imperious power;
New hopes then beam and ampler prospects spread,
And million claims buds forth, by passion fed.
Farewell the careless breast, the thoughtless day,
The changeful visions that in fancy play;
Farewell the genuine joy, the heart-born smile,
And all that childish vacancy beguile:
Approaching manhood comes with look austere,
Ambition proud pursues and care severe;
Ah! now beware, ye heedless gay, beware,
Lest vice enthrall you in his subtle snare;
The monster's wily net deceitful spread,
Threat's ev'ry step and hovers o'er each head;
And rising passions watchful to destroy,
Like treach'rous insects sting in flow'ry joy.
Guard your young hearts, suspect fallacious smiles,
Shun, shun the tawdry harlot's wanton wiles:
Ah! shun the wretch, betraying, and betray'd,
Whose front is falsehood, and deceit whose trade;
Pollution lurks in all her painted charms,
She hates thee, e'en when folded in her arms;
Health flies her dwelling, dark suspicion low'rs
Her gilded roof around, her fragrant bow'rs.
In Indian climes inviting trees arise,
With fruit o'erhung that tempt unwary eyes;
But smiling poison those, for e'en the dews,
Their leaves distil contagious drops diffuse;
Love, delicately chaste, the wanton flies,
Bears not expansion, without virtue dies.
And e'en from chaster love thy soul refrain;
O shun the premature distracting pain;
Till prudence point the happy choice, the while,
Propitious friends and fav'ring fortune smile.
Proud luxury forbids that early youth
Should taste the purer joys of wedded truth;
When fruitless passion claims the yielding heart,
Then mental peace, and life's best joys depart;
Despair, grief-fed with unrelenting lour,
Rears his dark form, and chills each joyless hour.
Beware too, youth, of torpid indolence,
That chains like opium ev'ry useful sense;
The creeping cancer that corrodes the whole,
Fair virtue's death, the slumber of the soul.
Cherish each hour, and fix it ere it flies,
And let improvement mark the golden prize.
From sloth time 'scapes, by diligence employ'd,
The fragrant breeze though past, is yet enjoy'd.
As chymists volatiles in glass retain,
Thus ardent studies fleeting moments chain;
Hermetically seal'd, nor more diffuse,
Th' evasive pris'ner lives for constant use.
Intemp'rance fly though smiling joys invite,
Ah shun! determin'd shun! the false delight;
Dash down the tempting cup tho' sparkling high,
For 'tis a purple traitor courts thine eye:
Shun those that seek in low excess to drown
Obtrusive thought, and mis'ry all their own.
Distrust yourselves; self confidence your foe,
Misleads each step: tread cautious, sober, slow.
Deep in the vale, in doubt the trav'ller bends,
But learns each op'ning scene as he ascends.
When gain'd by toil the hill's commanding brow,
The past, the future prospects spread below:
Thus man his path pursues; in early youth,
The vale of life obstructs the ken of truth.
A gaudy scene next manhood's summit shows,
And ev'ry maze detects, whence error rose;
The future's flatt'ring paths invite to try,
Where promise bursts resplendent on the eye.
Descending age our weary road attends,
Till cheated life in disappointment ends;
Till restless man, content no more to roam,
Meets in the grave a calm, a lasting home.
Virtues that favour win and love bespeak;
The forward, pert, fantastic, prattling, vain,
Meet no attention, give each hearer pain.
Youth can but little know, and lives to see
That little stock mere empty fallacy:
Without experience and with notions crude,
A thousand falsehoods in the mind obtrude.
Glitt'ring like thin gold-leaf mere surface shew,
To hide the meaner substance just below.
So badly balanc'd, shall the vessel find
A course direct, the sport of ev'ry wind?
Nor compass found, nor rudder fix'd to guide,
To shun the shoals or stem the stormy tide!
Orgilio once of parts, conceited, proud,
Would thwart, but contradiction ne'er allow'd;
Undaunted spoke of all he heard or saw,
Dealt out opinions with the weight of law.
A rev'rend senior, with sarcastic jest,
His petulance rebuk'd, and cut his crest:
"Go on, young man, decision self displays,
Such was I once, we all have puppy days;
Oft have I mark'd a calf in silly pride,
Butt on the road, and flounce from side to side,
Till steady grown by age, he then became
A sober ox, fed harmless, dull, and tame."
Yet dreams have bliss, again, again I try,
Unwilling wak'd, to close th' enraptur'd eye;
But soon the morning visions fleet away,
Reject my suit and shun the riper day:
Yes, once I dreamt that life was not a cheat,
No bosom treach'rous, and no smiles deceit;
That all were pious who to churches went,
All truly blest who seem'd to smile content;
Unhacknied, gen'rous, all the sons of men,
All like my unsuspicious bosom then.
Oft have I seen, when musing on the shore,
Unskilful infants grasp th' unwieldy oar;
Push the frail bark into the swelling main,
Borne by the rapid tide, pant to regain
The less'ning land, and shrieking weep too late,
The gaping horrors of tempestuous fate.
True picture of our unsuspecting age,
Who long to stretch where fatal billows rage.
'Gainst our own heav'n, like angels we rebel,
And quit the realms where during raptures dwell;
Pant for a wing to range the world around:
The world! how swoons my soul to hear the sound!
The world, where pleasure flies the grasping hand,
And hope builds palaces on shifting sand;
Where treach'ry talks with sweetly melting flow
Of honied words, that turn to gall and woe;
Confed'racies of profit or of vice,
Where friendship only firm as faithless ice,
When potent av'rice casts a golden ray,
Dissolves its brittle mass, and floats away;
Fix'd in the breast, where pride or int'rest thrives,
And love a secondary passion lives;
Where children cherish'd by affection's ray,
Long in the dust the partial sire to lay;
Tho' daily fondness beams the constant smile,
And only wisely keeps its own awhile.
Here obligation e'en beneath the wing
That hatches it to life will fix a sting;
Here worth is trampled down by mounted pride;
And modesty by av'rice push'd aside;
Such slow discernment guides the stupid crowd,
That impudence for talent is allow'd.
In life's true masquerade fools are so blind,
That half a thin disguise will cheat mankind;
Here ostentation weak expedients tries,
To lead from happiness our wand'ring eyes.
Thou wouldst do good! but be thou pure as snow,
With ev'ry kindness let thy bosom glow;
Detraction's pois'nous breath thy fame shall blot,
Or envy's microscope pry out a spot.
Has then this sickly world no cordial balm?
This storm of passion no delightful calm?
Yes, as the traveller mid dreary wastes,
Here meets a flow'ret, there a fountain tastes;
As stars that aid the gloom of during night,
So scatter'd worth diffuses partial light;
O'er all our ills a self-born radiance sheds,
More bright, like phosphorous, as darkness spreads.
Let potent wisdom smooth the wrinkled brow,
And sweet complacence soften all below;
See in each rising sun new comfort giv'n,
And when it sets behold a nearer heav'n;
The few rare gems of friendship here improve,
As fading emblems of eternal love.
O'er all your views let piety prevail,
Thy surest guide, when sense or doubt assail;
Cold to its God, the breast becomes the slave
Of ev'ry passion's rule: for what shall save
The vacant mind, when he can claim no share,
Who fills the earth and glads the fields of air?
Who bids to joy thy bosom beat elate;
Bids pleasure smile, or hope anticipate?
The pow'r o'er all that reigns; — ah! canst thou owe
Such debts, and with no warm sensations glow?
Upon the wings of morn let ardour rise,
And fresh in youthful vigour glad the skies.
Next to thy God thy parent's will obey,
And all their tender offices repay
With duteous love; repay the anxious fears,
The constant pains that watch'd thy tender years;
The thousand nameless marks affection gave
Of will to bless, and vigilance to save.
Base is the soul, devoid of that fine glow
That bliss which grateful feelings e'er bestow.
Hopeless the youth a parent's breast that tears
With fond ingratitude, and scorns grey hairs.
How bright the virtue when the child sustains
The feebleness of age and sooths its pains
That sadden wasting life's last ev'ning hour;
On such, O heav'n, thy choicer blessings show'r.
Such e'en, perhaps, the clay clad cottage shews,
From vig'rous toil when sorrow finds repose
In filial arms, arms that return the debt
Of life ere its declining lustre set.
O poverty! to thee such virtues giv'n,
Are truest riches sent by bounteous heav'n!
Whose choicer blessings thou must ever prove
In peace below, and endless bliss above.