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For Bruce and Longville had a trap prepared,
And down they sent the yet declaiming bard.
Sinking, he left his drugget robe behind,
Borne upwards by a subterranean wind :
The mantle fell to the young prophet's part,
With double portion of his father's art.
Dim as the borrowed beams of moon and stars
To lonely, weary, wand'ring travellers,
Is Reason to the soul; and as on high
Those rolling fires discover but the sky,
Not light us here, so Reason's glimmering ray
Was lent, not to assure our doubtful way,
But guide us upward to a better day.
And as those nightly tapers disappear
When day's bright lord ascends our hemisphere,
So pale grows Reason at Religion's sight,
So dies, and so dissolves in supernatural light.
Some few, whose lamp shone brighter, have been led,
From cause to cause, to Nature's secret head,
And found that one First Principle must be;
But what or who that Universal He-
Whether some soul encompassing this ball,
Unmade, unmoved, yet making, moving all;
Or various atoms' interfering dance
Leapt into form, the noble work of chance;
Or this great All was from eternity,-
Not ev'n the Stagyrite himself could see,
And Epicurus guessed as well as he.
As blindly groped they for a future state,
As rashly judged of Providence and Fate.
But least of all could their endeavours find
What most concerned the good of human kind;
For happiness was never to be found,
But vanished from 'em like enchanted ground.
One thought Content the good to be enjoyed;
This every little accident destroyed :
The wiser madmen did for Virtue toil,
A thorny or at best a barren soil :
In Pleasure some their glutton souls would steep,
But found their line too short, the well too deep,
And leaky vessels which no bliss could keep.
Thus anxious thoughts in endless circles roll,
Without a center where to fix the soul.
In this wild maze their vain endeavours end :
How can the less the greater comprehend,
Or finite Reason reach Infinity?
For what could fathom God were more than He.
“Oh, but,” says one, “Tradition set aside, Where can we hope for an unerring guide? For since th' original Scripture has been lost, All copies disagreeing, maimed the most,
45 Or Christian faith can have no certain ground, Or truth in Church tradition must be found.” Such an omniscient Church we wish indeed; 'T were worth both Testaments, and cast in the Creed. But if this mother be a guide so sure
50 As can all doubts resolve, all truth secure, Then her infallibility, as well, Where copies are corrupt or lame can tell, Restore lost canon with as little pains As truly explicate what still remains;
55 Which yet no Council dare pretend to do, Unless, like Esdras, they could write it new. Strange confidence, still to interpret true, Yet not be sure that all they have explained Is in the blest original contained.
In times o'ergrown with rust and ignorance,
A gainful trade their clergy did advance.
When want of learning kept the laymen low,
And none but priests were authorized 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 parcelled 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,
Poor laymen took salvation on content,
As needy men take money, good or bad;
God's word they had not, but the priest's had.
Yet whate'er false conveyances they made,
The lawyer still was certain to be paid.
In those dark times they learned their knack so well
That by long use they grew infallible.
At last a knowing age began t inquire
If they the Book or that did them inspire;
And, making narrower search, they found, though late,
That what they thought the priest's was their estate,
Taught by the will produced, the written word,
How long they had been cheated on record.
Then every man, who saw the title fair,
Claimed a child's part and put in for a share,
Consulted soberly his private good,
And saved himself as cheap as e'er he could.
'T is 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 presumed 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 galled,
And he was gifted most that loudest bawled;
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 th' obscurest place,
No measure ta’en from knowledge, all from grace.
Study and pains were now no more their care;
Texts were explained by fasting and by prayer.
This was the fruit the private spirit brought,
Occasioned by great zeal and little thought.
While crowds unlearned, with rude devotion warm
About the sacred viands buzz and swarm,
The fly-blown text creates a crawling brood,
And turns to maggots what was meant for food.
A thousand daily sects rise up and die;
A thousand more the perished race supply.
So all we make of Heaven's discovered will
Is not to have it or to use it ill.
115 The danger's much the same, on several shelves If others wreck us or we wreck ourselves.
What then remains, but, waiving each extreme,
The tides of ignorance and pride to stem?
Neither so rich a treasure to forego,
Nor proudly seek beyond our pow'r to know?
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 himself a creed,
In doubtful questions 't is the safest way
To learn what unsuspected ancients say;
For 't is not likely we should higher soar,
In search of heav'n, than all the Church before,
Nor can we be deceived unless we see
130 The Scripture and the Fathers disagree. If after all they stand suspected still (For no man's faith depends upon his will), 'T is some relief that points not clearly known Without much hazard may be let alone;
135 And, after hearing what our Church can say, If still our reason runs another way, That private reason 't is more just to curb Than by disputes the public peace disturb, For points obscure are of small use to learn,
140 But common quiet is mankind's concern.
Thus have I made my own opinions clear,
Yet neither praise expect, nor censure fear.
And this unpolished, rugged verse I chose,
As fittest for discourse and nearest prose;
145 For while from sacred truth I do not swerve, Tom Sternhold's or Tom Shadwell's rhymes will serve. 1682.
TO THE PIOUS MEMORY OF THE ACCOMPLISHED YOUNG LADY
EXCELLENT IN THE TWO SISTER ARTS OF POESY AND PAINTING
Thou youngest virgin-daughter of the skies,
Made in the last promotion of the blest,
Whose palms, new plucked from Paradise,
In spreading branches more sublimely rise,
Rich with immortal green above the rest;
Whether, adopted to some neighbouring star,
Thou roll'st above us in thy wand'ring race,
Or, in procession fixed and regular,
Moved with the heaven's majestic pace,
Or, called to more superior bliss,
Thou tread'st, with seraphims, the vast abyss;
Whatever happy region is thy place,
Cease thy celestial song a little space:
Thou wilt have time enough for hymns divine,
Since heav'n's eternal year is thine.
Hear, then, a mortal Muse thy praise rehearse,
In no ignoble verse,
But such as thy own voice did practise here,
When thy first-fruits of poesy were giv'n, .
To make thyself a welcome inmate there,
While yet a young probationer
And candidate of heav'n.
If by traduction came thy mind,
Our wonder is the less to find
A soul so charming from a stock so good:
Thy father was transfused into thy blood;
So wert thou born into a tuneful strain,
An early, rich, and inexhausted vein.
But if thy pre-existing soul
Was formed at first, with myriads more,
It did through all the mighty poets roll,
Who Greek or Latin laurels wore,