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John Armstrong (Джон Армстронг)

Of Benevolence: An Epistle to Eumenes

Kind to my frailties still, Eumenes, hear;
Once more I try the patience of your ear.
Not oft I sing: the happier for the town,
So stun'd already they're quite stupid grown
With monthly, daily--charming things I own.
Happy for them, I seldom court the Nine;
Another art, a serious art is mine.
Of nauseous verses offer'd once a week,
You cannot say I did it, if you're sick.

'Twas ne'er my pride to shine by flashy fits
Amongst the daily, weekly, monthly wits.
Content if some few friends indulge my name,
So slightly am I stung with love of fame,
I would not scrawl one hundred idle lines--
Not for the praise of all the Magazines.

Yet once a moon, perhaps, I steal a night;
And, if our sire Apollo pleases, write.
You smile; but all the train the Muse that follow,
Christians and dunces, still we quote Apollo.
Unhappy still our poets will rehearse
To Goths, that stare astonish'd at their verse;
To the rank tribes submit their virgin lays:
So gross, so bestial, is the lust of praise!

I to sound judges from the mob appeal,
And write to those who most my subject feel.
Eumenes, these dry moral lines I trust
With you, whom nought that's moral can disgust.
With you I venture, in plain home--spun sense,
What I imagine of Benevolence.

Of all the monsters of the human kind,
What strikes you most is the low selfish mind.
You wonder how, without one liberal joy,
The fteady miser can his years employ;
Without one friend, howe'er his fortunes thrive,
Despis'd and hated, how he bears to live.
With honest warmth of heart, with some degree
Of pity that such wretched things should be,
You scorn the sordid knave--He grins at you,
And deems himself the wiser of the two.--
'Tis all but taste, howe'er we sift the case;
He has his joy, as every creature has.
'Tis true, he cannot boast an angel's share,
Yet has what happiness his organs bear.
Thou likewise mad'st the high seraphic soul,
Maker Omnipotent! and thou the owl.
Heav'n form'd him too, and doubtless for some use;
But Crane--court knows not yet all nature's views.

'Tis chiefly taste, or blunt, or gross, or fine,
Makes life insipid, bestial, or divine.
Better be born with taste to little rent,
Than the dull monarch of a continent.
Without this bounty which the Gods bestow,
Can fortune make one favourite happy?--No.
As well might fortune in her frolic vein,
Proclaim an Oyster sovereign of the main.
Without fine nerves, and bosom justly warm'd,
An eye, an ear, a fancy to be charm'd,
In vain majestic Wren expands the dome;
Blank as pale stucco Rubens lines the room;
Lost are the raptures of bold Handel's strain;
Great Tully storms, sweet Virgil sings, in vain.
The beauteous forms of nature are effac'd;
Tempe's soft charms, the raging watry waste,
Each greatly--wild, each sweet romantic scene
Unheeded rises, and almost unseen.

Yet these are joys, with some of better clay,
To sooth the toils of life's embarras'd way.
These the fine frame with charming horrors chill,
And give the nerves delightfully to thrill.
But of all Taste the noblest and the best,
The first enjoyment of the generous breast,
Is to behold in man's obnoxious state
Scenes of content, and happy turns of fate.
Fair views of nature, shining works of art,
Amuse the fancy: but those touch the heart.
Chiefly for this proud epic song delights,
For this some riot on th' Arabian Nights.
Each case is outs: and for the human mind
'Tis monstrous not to feel for all mankind.
Were all mankind unhappy, who could taste
Elysium? or be solitarily blest?
Shock'd with surrounding shapes of human woe,
All that or sense or fancy could bestow,
You would reject with sick and coy disdain,
And pant to see one chearful face again.

But if life's better prospects to behold
So much delight the man of generous mould;
How happy they, the great, the godlike few,
Who daily cultivate this pleasing view!
This is a joy possess'd by few indeed!
Dame fortune has so many fools to feed,
She cannot oft afford, with all her store,
To yield her smiles where nature smil'd before.
To sinking worth a cordial hand to lend;
With better fortune to surprize a friend;
To chear the modest stranger's lonely state;
Or snatch an orphan family from fate;
To do, possess'd with virtue's noblest fire,
Such generous deeds as we with tears admire;
Deeds that, above ambition's vulgar aim,
Secure an amiable, a solid fame:
These are such joys as heaven's first favourites seize;
These please you now, and will for ever please.

Too seldom we great moral deeds admire;
The will, the power, th' occasion must conspire.
Yet few there are so impotent and low,
But can some small good offices bestow.
Small as they are, however cheap they come,
They add still something to the general sum:
And him who gives the little in his power,
The world acquits; and heaven demands no more.

Unhappy he! who feels each neighbour's woe,
Yet no relief, no comfort can bestow.
Unhappy too, who feels each kind essay,
And for great favours has but words to pay;
Who, scornful of the flatterer's fawning art,
Dreads even to pour his gratitude of heart;
And with a distant lover's silent pain
Must the best movements of his soul restrain.
But men sagacious to explore mankind
Trace even the coyest passions of the mind.

Not only to the good we owe good--will;
In good and bad distress demands it still.
'This with the generous lays distinction low,
Endears a friend, and recommends a foe.
Not that resentment never ought to rise;
For even excess of virtue ranks with vice:
And there are villainies no bench can awe,
That sport without the limits of the law.
No laws th' ungenerous crime would reprehend
Could I forget Eumenes was my friend:
In vain the gibbet or the pillory claim
The wretch who blasts a helpless virgin's fame.
Where laws are dup'd, 'tis nor unjust nor mean
To seize the proper time for honest spleen.
An open candid foe I could not hate,
Nor even insult the base in humbled state;
But thriving malice tamely to forgive--
'Tis somewhat late to be so primitive.

But I detain you with these tedious lays,
Which few perhaps would read, and fewer praise.
No matter: could I please the polish'd few
Who taste the serious or the gay like you,
The squeamish mob may find my verses bare
Of every grace--but curse Me if I care.
Besides, I little court Parnassian fame;
There's yet a better than a poet's name.
'Twould more indulge my pride to hear it said
That I with you the paths of honour tread,
Than that amongst the proud poetic train
No modern boasted a more classic vein;
Or that in numbers I let loose my song,
Smooth as the Tweed, and as the Severn strong. 

John Armstrong's other poems:
  1. Lincoln Fens
  2. Taste: An Epistle to a Young Critic
  3. Full Many a Fiend Did Haunt This House of Rest
  4. Progne’s Dream
  5. Now Summer with Her Wanton Court Is Gone

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