The Conference - Poem by Charles Churchill
Grace said in form, which sceptics must agree,
When they are told that grace was said by me;
The servants gone to break the scurvy jest
On the proud landlord, and his threadbare guest;
'The King' gone round, my lady too withdrawn;
My lord, in usual taste, began to yawn,
And, lolling backward in his elbow-chair,
With an insipid kind of stupid stare,
Picking his teeth, twirling his seals about--
Churchill, you have a poem coming out:
You've my best wishes; but I really fear
Your Muse, in general, is too severe;
Her spirit seems her interest to oppose,
And where she makes one friend, makes twenty foes.
_C_. Your lordship's fears are just; I feel their force,
But only feel it as a thing of course.
The man whose hardy spirit shall engage
To lash, the vices of a guilty age,
At his first setting forward ought to know
That every rogue he meets must be his foe;
That the rude breath of satire will provoke
Many who feel, and more who fear the stroke.
But shall the partial rage of selfish men
From stubborn Justice wrench the righteous pen?
Or shall I not my settled course pursue,
Because my foes are foes to Virtue too?
_L_. What is this boasted Virtue, taught in schools,
And idly drawn from antiquated rules?
What is her use? Point out one wholesome end.
Will she hurt foes, or can she make a friend?
When from long fasts fierce appetites arise,
Can this same Virtue stifle Nature's cries?
Can she the pittance of a meal afford,
Or bid thee welcome to one great man's board?
When northern winds the rough December arm
With frost and snow, can Virtue keep thee warm?
Canst thou dismiss the hard unfeeling dun
Barely by saying, thou art Virtue's son?
Or by base blundering statesmen sent to jail,
Will Mansfield take this Virtue for thy bail?
Believe it not, the name is in disgrace;
Virtue and Temple now are out of place.
Quit then this meteor, whose delusive ray
Prom wealth and honour leads thee far astray.
True virtue means--let Reason use her eyes--
Nothing with fools, and interest with the wise.
Wouldst thou be great, her patronage disclaim,
Nor madly triumph in so mean a name:
Let nobler wreaths thy happy brows adorn,
And leave to Virtue poverty and scorn.
Let Prudence be thy guide; who doth not know
How seldom Prudence can with Virtue go?
To be successful try thy utmost force,
And Virtue follows as a thing of course.
Hirco--who knows not Hirco?--stains the bed
Of that kind master who first gave him bread;
Scatters the seeds of discord through the land,
Breaks every public, every private band;
Beholds with joy a trusting friend undone;
Betrays a brother, and would cheat a son:
What mortal in his senses can endure
The name of Hirco? for the wretch is poor!
Let him hang, drown, starve, on a dunghill rot,
By all detested live, and die forgot;
Let him--a poor return--in every breath
Feel all Death's pains, yet be whole years in death,
Is now the general cry we all pursue.
Let Fortune change, and Prudence changes too;
Supple and pliant, a new system feels,
Throws up her cap, and spaniels at his heels:
Long live great Hirco, cries, by interest taught,
And let his foes, though I prove one, be nought.
_C_. Peace to such men, if such men can have peace;
Let their possessions, let their state increase;
Let their base services in courts strike root,
And in the season bring forth golden fruit.
I envy not; let those who have the will,
And, with so little spirit, so much skill,
With such vile instruments their fortunes carve;
Rogues may grow fat, an honest man dares starve.
_L_. These stale conceits thrown off, let us advance
For once to real life, and quit romance.
Starve! pretty talking! but I fain would view
That man, that honest man, would do it too.
Hence to yon mountain which outbraves the sky,
And dart from pole to pole thy strengthen'd eye,
Through all that space you shall not view one man,
Not one, who dares to act on such a plan.
Cowards in calms will say, what in a storm
The brave will tremble at, and not perform.
Thine be the proof, and, spite of all you've said,
You'd give your honour for a crust of bread.
_C_. What proof might do, what hunger might effect,
What famish'd Nature, looking with neglect
On all she once held dear; what fear, at strife
With fainting virtue for the means of life,
Might make this coward flesh, in love with breath,
Shuddering at pain, and shrinking back from death,
In treason to my soul, descend to boar,
Trusting to fate, I neither know nor care.
Once,--at this hour those wounds afresh I feel,
Which, nor prosperity, nor time, can heal;
Those wounds which Fate severely hath decreed,
Mention'd or thought of, must for ever bleed;
Those wounds which humbled all that pride of man,
Which brings such mighty aid to Virtue's plan--
Once, awed by Fortune's most oppressive frown,
By legal rapine to the earth bow'd clown,
My credit at last gasp, my state undone,
Trembling to meet the shock I could not shun,
Virtue gave ground, and blank despair prevail'd;
Sinking beneath the storm, my spirits fail'd
Like Peter's faith, till one, a friend indeed--
May all distress find such in time of need!--
One kind good man, in act, in word, in thought,
By Virtue guided, and by Wisdom taught,
Image of Him whom Christians should adore,
Stretch'd forth his hand, and brought me safe to shore.
Since, by good fortune into notice raised,
And for some little merit largely praised,
Indulged in swerving from prudential rules,
Hated by rogues, and not beloved by fools;
Placed above want, shall abject thirst of wealth,
So fiercely war 'gainst my soul's dearest health,
That, as a boon, I should base shackles crave,
And, born to freedom, make myself a slave?
That I should in the train of those appear,
Whom Honour cannot love, nor Manhood fear?
That I no longer skulk from street to street,
Afraid lest duns assail, and bailiffs meet;
That I from place to place this carcase bear;
Walk forth at large, and wander free as air;
That I no longer dread the awkward friend.
Whose very obligations must offend;
Nor, all too froward, with impatience burn
At suffering favours which I can't return;
That, from dependence and from pride secure,
I am not placed so high to scorn the poor,
Nor yet so low that I my lord should fear,
Or hesitate to give him sneer for sneer;
That, whilst sage Prudence my pursuits confirms,
I can enjoy the world on equal terms;
That, kind to others, to myself most true,
Feeling no want, I comfort those who do,
And, with the will, have power to aid distress:
These, and what other blessings I possess,
From the indulgence of the public rise,
All private patronage my soul defies.
By candour more inclined to save, than damn,
A generous Public made me what I am.
All that I have, they gave; just Memory bears
The grateful stamp, and what I am is theirs.
_L_. To feign a red-hot zeal for Freedom's cause,
To mouth aloud for liberties and laws,
For public good to bellow all abroad,
Serves well the purposes of private fraud.
Prudence, by public good intends her own;
If you mean otherwise, you stand alone.
What do we mean by country and by court?
What is it to oppose? what to support?
Mere words of course; and what is more absurd
Than to pay homage to an empty word?
Majors and minors differ but in name;
Patriots and ministers are much the same;
The only difference, after all their rout,
Is, that the one is in, the other out.
Explore the dark recesses of the mind,
In the soul's honest volume read mankind,
And own, in wise and simple, great and small,
The same grand leading principle in all.
Whate'er we talk of wisdom to the wise,
Of goodness to the good, of public ties
Which to our country link, of private bands
Which claim most dear attention at our hands;
For parent and for child, for wife and friend,
Our first great mover, and our last great end
Is one, and, by whatever name we call
The ruling tyrant, Self is all in all.
This, which unwilling Faction shall admit,
Guided in different ways a Bute and Pitt;
Made tyrants break, made kings observe the law;
And gave the world a Stuart and Nassau.
Hath Nature (strange and wild conceit of pride!)
Distinguished thee from all her sons beside?
Doth virtue in thy bosom brighter glow,
Or from a spring more pure doth action flow?
Is not thy soul bound with those very chains
Which shackle us? or is that Self, which reigns
O'er kings and beggars, which in all we see
Most strong and sovereign, only weak in thee?
Fond man, believe it not; experience tells
'Tis not thy virtue, but thy pride rebels.
Think, (and for once lay by thy lawless pen)
Think, and confess thyself like other men;
Think but one hour, and, to thy conscience led
By Reason's hand, bow down and hang thy head:
Think on thy private life, recall thy youth,
View thyself now, and own, with strictest truth,
That Self hath drawn thee from fair Virtue's way
Farther than Folly would have dared to stray;
And that the talents liberal Nature gave,
To make thee free, have made thee more a slave.
Quit then, in prudence quit, that idle train
Of toys, which have so long abused thy brain.
And captive led thy powers; with boundless will
Let Self maintain her state and empire still;
But let her, with more worthy objects caught,
Strain all the faculties and force of thought
To things of higher daring; let her range
Through better pastures, and learn how to change;
Let her, no longer to weak Faction tied,
Wisely revolt, and join our stronger side.
_C_. Ah! what, my lord, hath private life to do
With things of public nature? Why to view
Would you thus cruelly those scenes unfold
Which, without pain and horror to behold,
Must speak me something more or less than man,
Which friends may pardon, but I never can?
Look back! a thought which borders on despair,
Which human nature must, yet cannot bear.
'Tis not the babbling of a busy world,
Where praise and censure are at random hurl'd,
Which can the meanest of my thoughts control,
Or shake one settled purpose of my soul;
Free and at large might their wild curses roam,
If all, if all, alas! were well at home.
No--'tis the tale which angry Conscience tells,
When she with more than tragic horror swells
Each circumstance of guilt; when, stern but true,
She brings bad actions forth into review;
And like the dread handwriting on the wall,
Bids late Remorse awake at Reason's call;
Arm'd at all points, bids scorpion Vengeance pass,
And to the mind holds up Reflection's glass,--
The mind which, starting, heaves the heartfelt groan,
And hates that form she knows to be her own.
Enough of this,--let private sorrows rest,--
As to the public, I dare stand the test;
Dare proudly boast, I feel no wish above
The good of England, and my country's love.
Stranger to party-rage, by Reason's voice,
Unerring guide! directed in my choice,
Not all the tyrant powers of earth combined,
No, nor of hell, shall make me change my mind.
What! herd with men my honest soul disdains,
Men who, with servile zeal, are forging chains
For Freedom's neck, and lend a helping hand
To spread destruction o'er my native land?
What! shall I not, e'en to my latest breath,
In the full face of danger and of death,
Exert that little strength which Nature gave,
And boldly stem, or perish in the wave?
_L_. When I look backward for some fifty years,
And see protesting patriots turn'd to peers;
Hear men, most loose, for decency declaim,
And talk of character, without a name;
See infidels assert the cause of God,
And meek divines wield Persecution's rod;
See men transferred to brutes, and brutes to men;
See Whitehead take a place, Ralph change his pen;
I mock the zeal, and deem the men in sport,
Who rail at ministers, and curse a court.
Thee, haughty as thou art, and proud in rhyme,
Shall some preferment, offer'd at a time
When Virtue sleeps, some sacrifice to Pride,
Or some fair victim, move to change thy side.
Thee shall these eyes behold, to health restored,
Using, as Prudence bids, bold Satire's sword,
Galling thy present friends, and praising those
Whom now thy frenzy holds thy greatest foes.
_C_. May I (can worse disgrace on manhood fall?)
Be born a Whitehead, and baptized a Paul;
May I (though to his service deeply tied
By sacred oaths, and now by will allied),
With false, feign'd zeal an injured God defend,
And use his name for some base private end;
May I (that thought bids double horrors roll
O'er my sick spirits, and unmans my soul)
Ruin the virtue which I held most dear,
And still must hold; may I, through abject fear,
Betray my friend; may to succeeding times,
Engraved on plates of adamant, my crimes
Stand blazing forth, whilst, mark'd with envious blot,
Each little act of virtue is forgot;
Of all those evils which, to stamp men cursed,
Hell keeps in store for vengeance, may the worst
Light on my head; and in my day of woe,
To make the cup of bitterness o'erflow,
May I be scorn'd by every man of worth,
Wander, like Cain, a vagabond on earth;
Bearing about a hell in my own mind,
Or be to Scotland for my life confined;
If I am one among the many known
Whom Shelburne fled, and Calcraft blush'd to own.
_L_. Do you reflect what men you make your foes?
_C_. I do, and that's the reason I oppose.
Friends I have made, whom Envy must commend,
But not one foe whom I would wish a friend.
What if ten thousand Butes and Hollands bawl?
One Wilkes had made a large amends for all.
'Tis not the title, whether handed down
From age to age, or flowing from the crown
In copious streams, on recent men, who came
From stems unknown, and sires without a name:
Tis not the star which our great Edward gave
To mark the virtuous, and reward the brave,
Blazing without, whilst a base heart within
Is rotten to the core with filth and sin;
'Tis not the tinsel grandeur, taught to wait,
At Custom's call, to mark a fool of state
From fools of lesser note, that soul can awe,
Whose pride is reason, whose defence is law.
_L_. Suppose, (a thing scarce possible in art,
Were it thy cue to play a common part)
Suppose thy writings so well fenced in law,
That Norton cannot find nor make a flaw--
Hast thou not heard, that 'mongst our ancient tribes,
By party warp'd, or lull'd asleep by bribes,
Or trembling at the ruffian hand of Force,
Law hath suspended stood, or changed its course?
Art thou assured, that, for destruction ripe,
Thou may'st not smart beneath the self-same gripe?
What sanction hast thou, frantic in thy rhymes,
Thy life, thy freedom to secure?
_G_. The Times.
'Tis not on law, a system great and good,
By wisdom penn'd, and bought by noblest blood,
My faith relies; by wicked men and vain,
Law, once abused, may be abused again.
No; on our great Lawgiver I depend,
Who knows and guides her to her proper end;
Whose royalty of nature blazes out
So fierce, 'twere sin to entertain a doubt.
Did tyrant Stuarts now the law dispense,
(Bless'd be the hour and hand which sent them hence!)
For something, or for nothing, for a word
Or thought, I might be doom'd to death, unheard.
Life we might all resign to lawless power,
Nor think it worth the purchase of an hour;
But Envy ne'er shall fix so foul a stain
On the fair annals of a Brunswick's reign.
If, slave to party, to revenge, or pride;
If, by frail human error drawn aside,
I break the law, strict rigour let her wear;
'Tis hers to punish, and 'tis mine to bear;
Nor, by the voice of Justice doom'd to death
Would I ask mercy with my latest breath:
But, anxious only for my country's good,
In which my king's, of course, is understood;
Form'd on a plan with some few patriot friends,
Whilst by just means I aim at noblest ends,
My spirits cannot sink; though from the tomb
Stern Jeffries should be placed in Mansfield's room;
Though he should bring, his base designs to aid,
Some black attorney, for his purpose made,
And shove, whilst Decency and Law retreat,
The modest Norton from his maiden seat;
Though both, in ill confederates, should agree,
In damned league, to torture law and me,
Whilst George is king, I cannot fear endure;
Not to be guilty, is to be secure.
But when, in after-times, (be far removed
That day!) our monarch, glorious and beloved,
Sleeps with his fathers, should imperious Fate,
In vengeance, with fresh Stuarts curse our state;
Should they, o'erleaping every fence of law,
Butcher the brave to keep tame fools in awe;
Should they, by brutal and oppressive force,
Divert sweet Justice from her even course;
Should they, of every other means bereft,
Make my right hand a witness 'gainst my left;
Should they, abroad by inquisitions taught,
Search out my soul, and damn me for a thought;
Still would I keep my course, still speak, still write,
Till Death had plunged me in the shades of night.
Thou God of truth, thou great, all-searching eye,
To whom our thoughts, our spirits, open lie!
Grant me thy strength, and in that needful hour,
(Should it e'er come) when Law submits to Power,
With firm resolve my steady bosom steel,
Bravely to suffer, though I deeply feel.
Let me, as hitherto, still draw my breath,
In love with life, but not in fear of death;
And if Oppression brings me to the grave,
And marks me dead, she ne'er shall mark a slave.
Let no unworthy marks of grief be heard,
No wild laments, not one unseemly word;
Let sober triumphs wait upon my bier;
I won't forgive that friend who drops one tear.
Whether he's ravish'd in life's early morn,
Or in old age drops like an ear of corn,
Full ripe he falls, on Nature's noblest plan,
Who lives to Reason, and who dies a Man.
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