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"Short was her joy; for soon th' insulting maid By Heaven's decree in this cold grave was laid. And as in unrepented sin she died,
[pride: Doom'd to the same bad place is punish'd for her Because she deem'd I well deserv'd to die, And made a merit of her cruelty.
They came, and, usual salutations paid,
With words premeditated thus he said:
"What you have often counsell'd, to remove
My vain pursuit of unregarded love;
By thrift my sinking fortune to repair,
Though late yet is at last become my care:
Reduc'd to bounds, by timely providence: This only I require; invite for me Honoria, with her father's family,
There, then, we met; both tried, and both were cast, My heart shall be my own; my vast expense
And this irrevocable sentence pass'd;
That she, whom I so long pursu'd in vain,
Should suffer from my hands a lingering pain:
Renew'd to life that she might daily die,
I daily doom'd to follow, she to fly;
No more a lover, but a mortal foe,
I seek her life (for love is none below ;)
As often as my dogs with better speed
Arrest her flight, is she to death decreed:
Then with this fatal sword, on which I died,
I pierce her open back, or tender side,
And tear that harden'd heart from out her breast, Which, with her entrails, makes my hungry hounds a feast.
Nor lies she long, but, as her Fates ordain,
Springs up to life, and fresh to second pain,
Is sav'd to-day, to-morrow to be slain."
This, vers'd in death, th' infernal knight relates,
And then for proof fulfill'd the common fates;
Her heart and bowels through her back he drew,
And fed the hounds that help'd him to pursue :
Stern look'd the fiend, as frustrate of his will,
Not half suffic'd, and greedy yet to kill.
And now the soul, expiring through the wound,
Had left the body breathless on the ground,
When thus the grisly spectre spoke again:
"Behold the fruit of ill-rewarded pain:
As many months as I sustain'd her hate,
So many years is she condemned by Fate
To daily death; and every several place,
Conscious of her disdain and my disgrace,
Must witness her just punishment; and be
A scene of triumph and revenge to me!
As in this grove I took my last farewell,
As on this very spot of earth I fell,
As Friday saw me die, so she my prey
Becomes ev'n here, on this revolving day."
Thus while he spoke the virgin from the ground Upstarted fresh, already clos'd the wound, And, unconcern'd for all she felt before, Precipitates her flight along the shore:
The hell-hounds, as ungorg'd with flesh and blood, Pursue their prey, and seek their wonted food: The fiend remounts his courser, mends his pace; And all the vision vanish'd from the place.
Long stood the noble youth, oppress'd with awe And stupid at the wondrous things he saw, Surpassing common faith, transgressing Nature's law. He would have been asleep, and wish'd to wake, But dreams, he knew, no long impression make, Though strong at first; if vision, to what end, But such as must his future state portend? His love the damsel, and himself the fiend. But yet, reflecting that it could not be From Heaven, which cannot impious acts decree, Resolv'd within himself to shun the snare, Which Hell for his destruction did prepare ; And, as his better genius should direct, From an ill cause to draw a good effect.
Inspir'd from Heaven he homeward took his way, Nor pall'd his new design with long delay: But of his train a trusty servant sent, To call his friends together at his tent.
Her friends, and mine; the cause I shall display,
On Friday next; for that's th' appointed day."
Well pleas'd were all his friends, the task was light,
The father, mother, daughter, they invite;
Hardly the dame was drawn to this repast;
But yet resolv'd, because it was the last.
The day was come, the guests invited came,
And, with the rest, th' inexorable dame:
A feast prepar'd with riotous expense,
Much cost, more care, and most magnificence.
The place ordain'd was in that haunted grove,
Where the revenging ghost pursu'd his love:
The tables in a proud pavilion spread,
With flowers below, and tissue over-head:
The rest in rank, Honoria, chief in place,
Was artfully contriv'd to set her face
To front the thicket, and behold the chase.
The feast was serv'd, the time so well forecast,
That just when the dessert and fruits were plac'd,
The fiend's alarm began; the hollow sound
Sung in the leaves, the forest shook around,
Air blacken'd, roll'd the thunder, groan'd the ground.
Nor long before the loud laments arise,
Of one distress'd, and mastiffs' mingled cries;
And first the dame came rushing through the wood,
And next the famish'd hounds that sought their food,
And grip'd her flanks, and oft essay'd their jaws in
Last came the felon, on his sable steed,
Arm'd with his naked sword, and urg'd his dogs to
She ran, and cried, her flight directly bent
(A guest unbidden) to the fatal tent,
The scene of death, and place ordain'd for punish
Loud was the noise, aghast was every guest,
The women shriek'd, the men forsook the feast;
The hounds at nearer distance hoarsely bay'd;
The hunter close pursu'd the visionary maid,
She rent the Heaven with loud laments, imploring aid
The gallants, to protect the lady's right,
Their falchions brandish'd at the grisly sprite;
High on his stirrups he provok'd the fight,
Then on the crowd he cast a furious look,
And wither'd all their strength before he spoke :
Back on your lives! let be," said he," my prey,
And let my vengeance take the destin'd way:
Vain are your arms, and vainer your defence,
Against th' eternal doom of Providence :
Mine is th' ungrateful maid by Heaven design'd:
Mercy she would not give, nor mercy shall she find."
At this the former tale again he told
With thundering tone, and dreadful to behold:
Sunk were their hearts with horror of the crime,
Nor needed to be warn'd a second time,
But bore each other back: some knew the face,
And all had heard the much-lamented case
Of him who fell for love, and this the fatal place
And now th' infernal minister advanc'd,
Seiz'd the due victim, and with fury lane'd
Her back, and, piercing through her inmost heart,
Drew backward as before th' offending part;
The reeking entrails next he tore away,
And to his meagre mastiffs made a prey.
The pale assistants on each other star'd,
With gaping mouths for issuing words prepar'd;
The still-born sounds upon the palate hung,
And died imperfect on the faltering tongue.
The fright was general; but the female band
(A helpless train) in more confusion stand:
With horror shuddering, on a heap they run,
Sick at the sight of hateful justice done; [own.
For conscience rung th' alarm, and made the case their
So, spread upon a lake, with upward eye,
A plump of fowl behold their foe on high;
They close their trembling troop; and all attend
On whom the sowsing eagle will descend.
But most the proud Honoria fear'd th' event,
And thought to her alone the vision sent.
Her guilt presents to her distracted mind
Heaven's justice, Theodore's revengeful kind,
And the same fate to the same sin assign'd.
Already sees herself the monster's prey,
And feels her heart and entrails torn away.
Twas a mute scene of sorrow, mix'd with fear;
Still on the table lay th' unfinish'd cheer:
The knight and hungry mastiffs stood around,
The mangled dame lay breathless on the ground;
When on a sudden, reinspir'd with breath,
Again she rose, again to suffer death;
Nor staid the hell-hounds, nor the hunter staid,
But follow'd, as before, the flying maid:
Th' avenger took from earth th' avenging sword,
And mounting light as air, his sable steed he spurr'd:
The clouds dispell'd, the sky resum'd her light,
And Nature stood recover'd of her fright.
But fear, the last of ills, remain'd behind,
And horror heavy sat on every mind.
Nor Theodore encourag'd more the feast,
But sternly look'd, as hatching in his breast
Some deep designs; which when Honoria view'd,
The fresh impulse her former fright renew'd;
She thought herself the trembling dame who fled,
And him the grisly ghost that spurr'd th' infernal
The more dismay'd, for when the guests withdrew,
Their courteous host, saluting all the crew,
Regardless pass'd her o'er, nor grac'd with kind adieu;
That sting infix'd within her haughty mind,
The downfall of her empire she divin'd;
And her proud heart with secret sorrow pin'd.
Home as they went, the sad discourse renew'd
Of the relentless dame to death pursu'd,
And of the sight obscene so lately view'd.
None durst arraign the righteous doom she bore,
Ev'n they who pitied most, yet blam'd her more:
The parallel they needed not to name,
But in the dead they damn'd the living dame.
At every little noise she look'd behind,
For still the knight was present to her mind:
And anxious oft she started on the way,
And thought the horseman-ghost came thundering
for his prey.
Return'd, she took her bed with little rest,
But in short slumbers dreamt the funeral feast.
Awak'd, she turn'd her side, and slept again;
The same black vapors mounted in her brain,
And the same dreams return'd with double pain.
Now fore'd to wake, because afraid to sleep,
Her blood all fever'd, with a furious leap
She sprang from bed, distracted in her mind,
And fear'd, at every step, a twitching sprite behind.
Darkling and desperate, with a staggering pace,
Of death afraid, and conscious of disgrace;
Fear, Pride, Remorse, at once her heart assail'd,
Pride put Remorse to flight, but Fear prevail'd.
Friday, the fatal day, when next it came,
Her soul forethought the fiend would change his game,
And her pursue, or Theodore be slain, [plain.
And two ghosts join their packs to hunt her o'er the
This dreadful image so possess'd her mind,
That, desperate any succor else to find,
She ceas'd all farther hope; and now began
To make reflection on th' unhappy man,
Rich, brave, and young, who past expression lov'd,
Proof to disdain, and not to be remov'd:
Of all the men respected and admir'd,
Of all the dames, except herself, desir'd:
Why not of her? preferr'd above the rest
By him with knightly deeds and open love profess'd?
So had another been, where he his vows address'd.
This quell'd her pride, yet other doubts remain'd,
That, once disdaining, she might be disdain'd.
The fear was just, but greater fear prevail'd,
Fear of her life by hellish hounds assail'd:
He took a lowering leave; but who can tell,
What outward hate might inward love conceal?
Her sex's arts she knew; and why not, then,
Might deep dissembling have a place in men?
Here hope began to dawn; resolv'd to try,
She fix'd on this her utmost remedy:
Death was behind, but hard it was to die.
'Twas time enough at last on Death to call,
The precipice in sight: a shrub was all,
That kindly stood betwixt to break the fatal fall.
One maid she had, belov'd above the rest;
Secure of her, the secret she confess'd;
And now the cheerful light her fears dispell'd,
She with no winding turns the truth conceal'd,
But put the woman off, and stood reveal'd:
With faults confess'd commission'd her to go,
If pity yet had place, and reconcile her foe.
The welcome message made, was soon receiv'd;
"Twas to be wish'd, and hop'd, but scarce boliev'd ;
Fate seem'd a fair occasion to present;
He knew the sex, and fear'd she might repent,
Should he delay the moment of consent.
There yet remain'd to gain her friends (a care
The modesty of maidens well might spare ;)
But she with such a zeal the cause embrac'd,
(As women, where they will, are all in haste)
The father, mother, and the kin beside,
Were overborne by fury of the tide ;
With full consent of all, she chang'd her state;
Resistless in her love, as in her hate.
By her example warn'd, the rest beware:
More easy, less imperious, were the fair;
And that one hunting, which the Devil design'd
For one fair female, lost him half the kind.
DIM as the borrow'd beams of Moon and stars
To lonely, weary, wandering 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, unmov'd; yet making, moving all;
Or various atoms, interfering dance,
Leap'd into form, the noble work of chance;
Or this great all was from eternity;
Not ev'n the Stagirite himself could see;
And Epicurus guess'd as well as he;
As blindly grop'd they for a future state;
As rashly judg'd of providence and fate:
But least of all could their endeavors find
What most concern'd the good of human-kind :
For happiness was never to be found;
But vanish'd from them like enchanted ground.
One thought content the good to be enjoy'd;
This every little accident destroy'd:
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 centre where to fix the soul:
In this wild maze their vain endeavors end:
How can the less the greater comprehend?
Or finite reason reach Infinity?
For what could fathom God were more than He.
The deist thinks he stands on firmer ground;
Cries supɛka, the mighty secret's found:
God is that spring of good; supreme, and best;
We made to serve, and in that service blest.
If so, some rules of worship must be given,
Distributed alike to all by Heaven:
Canst thou by reason more of godhead know
Than Plutarch, Seneca, or Cicero ?
Those giant wits in happier ages born,
When arms and arts did Greece and Rome adorn,
Knew no such system: no such piles could raise
Of natural worship, built on prayer and praise
To one sole God.
Nor did remorse to expiate sin prescribe :
But slew their fellow-creatures for a bribe:
The guiltless victim groan'd for their offence;
And cruelty and blood was penitence.
If sheep and oxen could atone for men,
Ah! at how cheap a rate the rich might sin!
And great oppressors might Heaven's wrath beguile
By offering his own creatures for a spoil!
Dar'st thou, poor worm, offend Infinity?
And must the terms of peace be given by thee?
Then thou art Justice in the last appeal;
Thy easy God instructs thee to rebel :
And, like a king remote and weak, must take
What satisfaction thou art pleas'd to make.
But if there be a power too just and strong.
To wink at crimes, and bear unpunish'd wrong,
Look humbly upward, see his will disclose
The forfeit first, and then the fine impose:
A mulet thy poverty could never pay,
Had not Eternal Wisdom found the way;
And with celestial wealth supplied thy store:
His justice makes the fine, his mercy quits the score.
See God descending in thy human frame;
Th' offended suffering in th' offender's name :
All thy misdeeds to him imputed see,
And all his righteousness devolv'd on thee.
For, granting we have sinn'd, and that th' offence
Of man is made against Omnipotence,
Some price that bears proportion must be paid,
And infinite with infinite be weigh'd.
See then the deist lost: remorse for vice,
Not paid; or, paid, inadequate in price:
What farther means can reason now direct,
Or what relief from human wit expect?
That shows us sick; and sadly are we sure
Still to be sick, till Heaven reveal the cure:
If then Heaven's will must needs be understood,
Which must, if we want cure, and Heaven be good,
Let all records of will reveal'd be shown;
With Scripture all in equal balance thrown,
And our one sacred book will be that one.
Proof needs not here; for whether we compare
That impious, idle, superstitious ware
Of rites, lustrations, offerings, which before,
In various ages, various countries bore,
With Christian faith and virtues, we shall find
None answering the great ends of human-kind
Else God were partial, and to some denied
The means his justice should for all provide.
This general worship is to praise and pray:
One part to borrow blessings, one to pay:
And when frail Nature slides into offence,
The sacrifice for crimes is penitence.
Yet, since the effects of providence, we find,
Are variously dispens'd to human-kind;
That Vice triumphs, and Virtue suffers here,
A brand that sovereign justice cannot bear;
Our reason prompts us to a future state;
The last appeal from fortune and from fate:
Where God's all-righteous ways will be declar'd;
The bad meet punishment, the good reward.
Thus man by his own strength to Heaven would soar, But this one rule of life, that shows us best
And would not be oblig'd to God for more.
Vain wretched creature, how art thou misled
To think thy wit these godlike notions bred!
These truths are not the product of thy mind,
But dropt from Heaven, and of a nobler kind.
Reveal'd religion first inform'd thy sight,
And reason saw not till faith sprung to light.
Hence all thy natural worship takes the source:
"Tis revelation what thou think'st discourse.
Else how com'st thou to see these truths so clear,
Which so obscure to heathens did appear?
Not Plato these, nor Aristotle found:
Nor he whose wisdom oracles renown'd.
Hast thou a wit so deep, or so sublime,
Or canst thou lower dive, or higher climb?
How God may be appeas'd, and mortals blest.
Whether from length of time its worth we draw,
The word is scarce more ancient than the law:
Heaven's early care prescrib'd for every age;
First, in the soul, and after, in the page.
Or, whether more abstractedly we look,
Or on the writers, or the written book,
Whence, but from Heaven, could men unskill'd in arts.
In several ages born, in several parts,
Weave such agreeing truths? or how, or why,
Should all conspire to cheat us with a lie?
Unask'd their pains, ungrateful their advice,
Starving their gain, and martyrdom their price.
If on the book itself we cast our view,
Concurrent heathens prove the story true:
The doctrine, miracles; which must convince,
For Heaven in them appeals to human sense:
And though they prove not, they confirm the cause,
When what is taught agrees with Nature's laws.
Then for the style, majestic and divine,
It speaks no less than God in every line:
Commanding words; whose force is still the same
As the first fiat that produc'd our frame.
All faiths beside, or did by arms ascend,
Or sense indulg'd has made mankind their friend :
This only doctrine does our lusts oppose :
Unfed by Nature's soil, in which it grows;
Cross to our interests, curbing sense and sin;
Oppress'd without, and undermin'd within,
It thrives through pain; its own tormentors tires;
And with a stubborn patience still aspires.
To what can reason such effects assign
Transcending nature, but to laws divine;
Which in that sacred volume are contain'd;
Sufficient, clear, and for that use ordain'd?
But stay: the deist here will urge anew,
No supernatural worship can be true;
Because a general law is that alone
Which must to all, and everywhere, be known:
A style so large as not this book can claim,
Nor aught that bears reveal'd religion's name.
"Tis said the sound of a Messiah's birth
Is gone through all the habitable Earth:
But still that text must be confin'd alone
To what was then inhabited and known:
And what provision could from thence accrue
To Indian souls, and worlds discover'd new?
In other parts it helps, that, ages past,
The Scriptures there were known, and were embrac'd,
Till sin spread once again the shades of night:
What's that to these, who never saw the light?
Of all objections, this indeed is chief
To startle reason, stagger frail belief:
Then let us either think he meant to say
This faith, where publish'd, was the only way;
Or else conclude, that, Arius to confute,
The good old man, too eager in dispute,
Flew high; and as his Christian fury rose,
Damn'd all for heretics who durst oppose.
Thus far my charity this path has tried;
A much unskilful, but well-meaning guide:
Yet what they are, ev'n these crude thoughts were bred
By reading that which better thou hast read.
Thy matchless author's work: which thou, my friend,
By well translating better dost commend:
Those youthful hours which, of thy equals most
In toys have squander'd, or in vice have lost,
Those hours hast thou to nobler use employ'd;
And the severe delights of truth enjoy'd.
Witness this weighty book, in which appears
The crabbed toil of many thoughtful years,
Spent by the author, in the sifting care
Of rabbins' old sophisticated ware
From gold divine; which he who well can sort
May afterwards make algebra a sport.
A treasure, which if country-curates buy,
They Junius and Tremellius may defy:
Save pains in various readings, and translations;
And without Hebrew make most learn'd quotations.
A work so full with various learning fraught,
So nicely ponder'd, yet so strongly wrought,
As Nature's height and Art's last hand requir'd:
As much as man could compass, uninspir'd.
Where we may see what errors have been made
Both in the copier's and translator's trade:
How Jewish, popish, interests have prevail'd,
And where infallibility has fail'd.
For some, who have his secret meaning guess'd,
Have found our author not too much a priest.
For fashion-sake he seems to have recourse
To pope, and councils, and tradition's force:
We grant, 'tis true, that Heaven from human sense But he that old traditions could subdue,
Has hid the secret paths of providence :
But boundless wisdom, boundless mercy, may
Find ev'n for those bewilder'd souls, a way:
If from his nature foes may pity claim,
Much more may strangers who ne'er heard his name.
And though no name be for salvation known,
But that of his eternal Son's alone;
Who knows how far transcending goodness can
Extend the merits of that Son to man?
Who knows what reasons may his mercy lead;
Or ignorance invincible may plead?
Not only charity bids hope the best,
But more the great apostle has exprest:
"That if the Gentiles, whom no law inspir'd,
By nature did what was by law requir'd;
They, who the written rule had never known,
Were to themselves both rule and law alone:
To nature's plain indictment they shall plead;
And by their conscience be condemn'd or freed."
Most righteous doom! because a rule reveal'd
Is none to those from whom it was conceal'd.
Then those who follow'd reason's dictates right;
Liv'd up, and lifted high their natural light;
With Socrates may see their Maker's face,
While thousand rubric-martyrs want a place.
Nor does it balk my charity, to find
Th' Egyptian bishop of another mind:
For though his creed eternal truth contains,
Tis hard for man to doom to endless pains
All who believ'd not all his zeal requir'd;
Unless he first could prove he was inspir'd.
Could not but find the weakness of the new:
If Scripture, though deriv'd from heavenly birth,
Has been but carelessly preserv'd on Earth;
If God's own people, who of God before
Knew what we know, and had been promis'd more,
In fuller terms, of Heaven's assisting care,
And who did neither time nor study spare
To keep this book untainted, unperplext,
Let in gross errors to corrupt the text,
Omitted paragraphs, embroil'd the sense,
With vain traditions stopt the gaping fence,
Which every common hand pull'd up with ease.
What safety from such brushwood-helps as these?
If written words from time are not secur'd,
How can we think have oral sounds endur'd?
Which thus transmitted, if one mouth has fail'd,
Immortal lies on ages are entail'd:
And that some such have been, is prov'd too plain,
If we consider interest, church, and gain.
O 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, maim'd the most,
Or Christian faith can have no certain ground,
Or truth in church-tradition must be found.
Such an omniscient church we wish indeed;
"Twere worth both Testaments; cast in the creed:
But if this mother be a guide so sure,
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 :
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 explain'd
Is in the blest original contain'd.
More safe, and much more modest 'tis, to say
God would not leave mankind without a way:
And that the Scriptures, though not everywhere
Free from corruption, or entire, or clear,
Are uncorrupt, sufficient, clear, entire,
In all things which our needful faith require.
If others in the same glass better see,
"Tis for themselves they look, but not for me:
For my salvation must its doom receive,
Not from what others, but what I believe.
Must all tradition then be set aside?
This to affirm, were ignorance or pride.
Are there not many points, some needful sure
To saving faith, that Scripture leaves obscure?
Which every sect will wrest a several way,
For what one sect interprets, all sects may:
We hold, and say we prove from Scripture plain,
That Christ is God; the bold Socinian
From the same Scripture urges he's but man.
Now what appeal can end th' important suit?
Both parts talk loudly, but the rule is mute.
Shall I speak plain, and in a nation free
Assume an honest layman's liberty?
I think, according to my little skill,
To my own mother-church submitting still,
That many have been sav'd, and many may,
Who never heard this question brought in play
Th' unletter'd Christian, who believes in gross,
Plods on to Heaven; and ne'er is at a loss:
For the strait-gate would be made straiter yet,
Were none admitted there but men of wit.
The few by Nature form'd, with learning fraught,
Born to instruct, as others to be taught,
Must study well the sacred page; and see
Which doctrine, this, or that does best agree
With the whole tenor of the work divine:
And plainliest points to Heaven's reveal'd design;
Which exposition flows from genuine sense,
And which is forc'd by wit and eloquence.
Not that tradition's parts are useless here:
When general, old, disinterested, clear:
That ancient fathers thus expound the page,
Gives truth the reverend majesty of age:
Confirms its force by biding every test;
For best authorities, next rules, are best.
And still the nearer to the spring we go
More limpid, more unsoil'd, the waters flow,
Thus first traditions were a proof alone;
Could we be certain such they were, so known:
But since some flaws in long descent may be,
They make not truth, but probability.
Ev'n Arius and Pelagius durst provoke
To what the centuries preceding spoke.
Such difference is there in an oft-told tale :
But truth by its own sinews will prevail.
Tradition written therefore more commends
Authority, than what from voice descends:
And this, as perfect as its kind can be,
Rolls down to us the sacred history:
Which, from the universal church receiv'd,
Is tried, and after, for itself believ'd.
The partial papists would infer from hence T'heir church, in last resort, should judge the sense.
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 were
The handers-down, can they from thence infer
A right t' 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:
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,
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 and spell;
Then mother-church did mightily prevail :
She parcel'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,
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,
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 t' inquire
If they the book, or that did them inspire:
And, making narrower search, they found, though
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:
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 gall'd;
And he was gifted most that loudest bawl'd:
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 explain'd by fasting and by prayer:
This was the fruit the private spirit brought;
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 to 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.