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That roam the western wilds, and oft carouse
In kindred gore, a feller picture show'd
Than this illumin’d, haughty race, elate
With freedom, fame and intellectual rank,
Above the Grecian and Barbaric name,

Not a less perilous effect pursu'd
This over-weening spirit; when they chose
To cultivate their reason, and to learn
Minerva's lessons from their sages' voice,
The voice of stern philosophy, no less
Was tun’d to adulation, than the strains
Of temporizing demagogues and bards :
Their taste fastidious long’d for nectar'd sweets,
Fine theories, by artful sophistry
Disguis’d, and florid fictions to allure
Their steps, that scorn’d the bare and beaten road
Of truth. Not yet the heavenly Day-spring rose
That lights the world : And Reason's glimm'ring

ray His substitute was oft abus'd and scorn'd. Hence (to allure and court the madding crowd) Not in the search of truth, but in pursuit Of fame, their sages trim’d the midnight lamp. Each sophist seem'd ambitious to explore The sovereign good; all seemed, but were not all Her votaries sincere. By some the light Of truth eternal seem'd obscur'd, and lost * In endless disputation, to allure The list’ning multitude with endless trains Of sophistry, till even the mighty power Of Him who governs all below, was call’d In question. # Some to pleasure's flowery path Their sensual pupillage beguild; the rest

* Platonists and Sceptics.

+ Epicureans.

sense

* By Zeno's lore elated, felt their pride
Expand to wild extravagance; the cause
The same in all; for every sage was bent
To please with gaudy forms, or smooth conceits,
The general car, ambitious, each from each
To gain the palm of eloquence, not truth,
And rise triumphant o'er the rival school.
Thus errour oft was veil'd in specious mask
Of beauty, not her own, and led the mind
By shews of seeming good, and seeming fair,
Far from her destination. Reason hence
Due comprehension gain'd, by exercise
Strength’ned, tho' much deprav'd ; but the fine
Of public honour glow'd no more, by vice,
By sordid interest, or by sensual joy
Debasid. Oh happier far, when from the bard
Tho' spoil'd by fiction, tho' by flattery
Disguis'd, they learn’d some useful truths! at least
The power of providence they then confess'd;
In human things they saw the hand of heaven
Reaching to this sublunar scene.

The hope
Of palins elysian, or the wholesome dread
Of penal retribution, o'er their minds
Still a faint influence held. But now, their chiefs,
Were Atheists; and by private views alone
Directed, let the laws relax, or bound
Their vassalage in stricter bonds, depraved
And by corruption broken to the chain.

Then the sly + Macedonian took his time,
And like the fabled Jove, with showers of gold,
Thro' the proud, fort of public honour. won
His easy way. For years on years they pin'd

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Beneath his yoke and his successors, fallen,
Fallen from their haughty rank, yet haughty still,
Tho' parasites ; elate in thought, they scorn'd
The victor whom they flatter'd. Still their schools
Maintained the palm of eloquence, their bards
Unrivallid trode the comic stage, tho' shorn
Of their first honours still in stratagems
Of wordy war they gloried, tho' the shield
The dinted shield of Marathon was hung
On high, and mad Bellona's trump was mute.

Thus while that liberal spirit, which oppos’d
Tyrannic power, was nurtur’d, while the range
Of reason was enlarg’d, the lurking pest
Still min'd within, and blasted all their views;
For still the ONE THING NEEDFUL was away,
That over-weening spirit to subdue,
Which oft suggested they were more than men
When they were less; for still beyond, or short
Of the right mark they aim’d, of that best guide
Which clears the mental eye, bereft.—Tho' far
Their glory spread; tho' high their spirit flam’d;
Tho' intellectual fame, was all their own,
The Muse's charm, and all the various arts
That sweeten or embellish life; the QUIDI
Of life itself was wanting, to restrain
Their passions, and their habitudes to form
To virtuous lore. This failing, down they sunk,
Down, with accelerated force! Even then
When to its highest pitch their glory swellid,
'Twas but the false reflection of a day;
Or, like th' embroidery of yon western clouds,
Beryl and ruby, when the slanting beam
Of Sol, fast journeying to the nether climes,
The proud pavilion of mild Eve adorns

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With fading glories.--Is it then in fate
This gravitation of all human things
From bad to worse, before they re-ascend ?
Must they, still varying like the seasons, change
From summer's livery to the faded vest
Of autumn, and the naked majesty
Of winter, ere the sun returning, climbs
The vernal signs again? And must the mind
Lie fallow thus for ages, ere the seeds
Of intellect and sentimental worth
Be sown ? And oh! what countless weeds disgrace
The noble crop! A wilderness of tares
Marring the bounteous harvest ! Say, is this
The lot of man ?-Oh let not thoughtless men
Repine! This constitution, tho' severe
It seems, by sovereign wisdom was bestow'd,
And bears the marks of sovereign goodness still.
We were not fix'd in this sublunar vale,
This twilight of the intellectual world,
To walk by Reason's pure abstracted light,
And guide our wand'ring steps by her strict rule;
Where, at the best she deals a clouded beam.
Our progress here, without one devious turn,
At her behest to guide, is not by man
Attainable. The sight of other's harm,
The pungent memory of our own, engraves
The moral lesson deeper in our hearts
Than pure abstracted' reason ere could pierce.
The cause is obvious tho' the intellect
By Reason's rigid precepts be inform’d,
Like bright Arcturus rising, clear, and cold,
It lights, but fails to warm us. Torpid, still,
And deep entranc'd, the slumb'ring mind remains,
Tho' seemingly awake, with eyes unseald,

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Like * Dante's prisoners in the wintry gulph
Below, beneath the bitter blast reclin'd,
Whose beamless eye-balls glare with frozen tears.
But when example wakes our sympathy,
And bids the current of our feelings flow,
Or, for our own, or others' numerous ills,
It mixes kindly with our inmost souls;
Kindles our sonsibility, awakes
Our moral feelings, and with prudence join'd,
Cements, and forms, and to consistence brings
Benevolence, clse vague, and apt to fleet
Away, like shadows of a morning beam.

Besides, it gives our intellectual powers
More

scope for action, with attention deep
To recognize past errors, and to spy
Where first the unalarming speck began,
That ripen'd to disease: the narrow vent
Whose imperceptible small breach let in
The tumbling deluge, ere the flaw was fear'd.
Hence, by analogy we learn to guide,
Or the republic, or our home concerns,
With better caution arm’d, to shun the shelves,
And lurking shoals that wreck’d our hopes before.

The various calls of life, the calls of state
Forbid delay, and scarcely leave us time
For due deliberation. We must act
Often on dubious views: when reason fails
Our best guide is experience. This, tho' late,
Points out the imperfection of our plans,
Bids us unravel all our former work,
And, like Penelope, begin anew.

* Inferno, C. 32.

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