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But first they would assume, with wondrous art, *
Themselves to be the whole, who are but part
Of that vast frame, the Church; yet grant they wer
The handers down, can they from thence infer
A right to interpret? or would they alone
Who brought the present, claim it for their own?
The book's a common largess to mankind;
Not more for them than every man design’d; 365
The welcome news is in the letter found;
The carrier's not commission'd to expound.
It speaks itself, and what it does contain,
In all things needful to be known, is plain.

In times o'ergrown with rust and ignorance, 370
A gainful trade their clergy did advance:
When want of learning kept the laymen low,
And none but priests were authoriz'd to know :
When what small knowledge was, in them did

dwell; And he a god who could but read or spell : Then mother church did mightily prevail : She parcell'd out the Bible by retail: But still expounded what she sold or gave ; To keep it in her power to damn and save : Scripture was scarce, and as the market went, 380 Poor laymen took salvation on content; As needy men take money good or bad : God's word they had not, but the priest's they had. Yet, whate'er false conveyances they made,

378

* Answer to the objection. M. N. Orig. ed.

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385

The lawyer still was certain to be paid.
In those dark times they learn'd their knack so well,
That by long use they grew infallible :
At last, a knowing age began to inquire
If they the book, or that did them inspire:
And, making narrower search, they found, tho'late
That what they thought the priest's was their estate,
Taught by the will produc'd, (the written word,)
How long they had been cheated on record.
Then every man who saw the title fair,
Claim'd a child's part, and put in for a share: 395
Consulted soberly his private good,
And sav'd himself as cheap as e’er he could.

'Tis true, my friend, (and far be flattery hence)
This good had full as bad a consequence:
The book thus put in every vulgar hand,
Which each presum'd he best could understand,
The common rule was made the common prey,
And at the mercy of the rabble lay.
The tender page with horny fists was galld;
And he was gifted most that loudest bawld:
The spirit gave the doctoral degree:
And every member of a company
Was of his trade and of the Bible free.
Plain truths enough for needful use they found :
But men would still be itching to expound:
Each was ambitious of the obscurest place,
No measure ta’en from knowledge, all from grace.
Study and pains

no more their care; Texts were explain'd by fasting and by prayer :

400

405

410

ere now

This was the fruit the private spirit brought: 415
Occasion'd by great zeal and little thought.
While crowds unlearn’d, with rude devotion warm,
About the sacred viands buzz and swarm,
The fly-blown text creates a crawling brood;
And turns tơ maggots what was meant for food.
A thousand daily sects rise up and die;
A thousand more the perish'd race supply:
So all we make of Heaven's discover'd will
Is, not to have it, or to use it ill.
The danger's much the same; on several shelves
If others wreck us, or we wreck ourselves.

What then remains, but, waving each extreme,
The tides of ignorance and pride to stem?
Neither so rich a treasure to forego ;
Nor proudly seek beyond our power to know : 430
Faith is not built on disquisitions vain;
The things we must believe are few and plain :
But since men will believe more than they need,
And every man will make ḥimself a creed,
In doubtful questions 'tis the safest way
To learn what unsuspected ancients say ;
For 'tis not likely we should higher soar
In search of Heaven, than all the Church before:
Nor can we be deceiv'd, unless we see
The Scripture and the Fathers disagree.
If after all they stand suspected still,
(For no man's faith depends upon his will ;)
'Tis some relief, that points not clearly known,
Without much hazard may be let alone:

435

440 446

450

And after hearing what our church can say,
If still our reason runs another way,
That private reason 'tis more just to curb,
Than by disputes the public peace disturb.
For points obscure are of small use to learn;
But common quiet is mankind's concern.

Thus have I made my own opinions clear:
Yet neither praise expect, nor censure fear:
And this unpolish'd rugged verse I chose,
As fittest for discourse, and nearest prose:
For while from sacred truth I do not swerve, 455
Tom Sternhold's, or Tom Shadwell's rhymes will

serye.

97

THRENODIA AUGUSTALIS:

A FUNERAL PINDARIC POEM.

SACRED TO THE HAPPY MEMORY OF KING CHARLES IL

I.

Thus long my grief has kept me dumb:

Sure there's a lethargy in mighty woe,

Tears stand congeald and cannot flow;
And the sad soul retires into her inmost room;
Tears, for a stroke foreseen, afford relief;

But, unprovided for a sudden blow,
Like Niobe we marble grow;

And petrify with grief.
Our British heaven was all serene,

No threatning cloud was nigh,

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Ver. 1. Thus long my grief ] The following just, though severe sentence, has been passed on this Threnodia, by one who was always willing, if possible, to extenuate the blemishes of our poet. 'Its first and obvious defect is the irregularity of its metre, to which the ears of that age, however, were accustomed. What is worse, it has neither tenderness nor dignity; it is neither magnificent nor pathetic. He seems to look round him for images which he cannot find, and what he has he distorts by endeavouring to enlarge them. He is, he says, petrified with grief, but the marble relents, and trickles in a joke. There is throughout the composition a desire of splendour without wealth. In the conclusion, he seems too much pleased with the prospect of the new reign, to have lamented his old master with much sincerity.' Dr. Johnson. Dr.J. W. VOL. II.

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