The Duellist - Book III
Ah me! what mighty perils wait
The man who meddles with a state,
Whether to strengthen, or oppose!
False are his friends, and firm his foes:
How must his soul, once ventured in,
Plunge blindly on from sin to sin!
What toils he suffers, what disgrace,
To get, and then to keep, a place!
How often, whether wrong or right,
Must he in jest or earnest fight,
Risking for those both life and limb
Who would not risk one groat for him!
Under the Temple lay a Cave,
Made by some guilty, coward slave,
Whose actions fear'd rebuke: a maze
Of intricate and winding ways,
Not to be found without a clue;
One passage only, known to few,
In paths direct led to a cell,
Where Fraud in secret loved to dwell,
With all her tools and slaves about her,
Nor fear'd lest Honesty should rout her.
In a dark corner, shunning sight
Of man, and shrinking from the light,
One dull, dim taper through the cell
Glimmering, to make more horrible
The face of darkness, she prepares,
Working unseen, all kinds of snares,
With curious, but destructive art:
Here, through the eye to catch the heart,
Gay stars their tinsel beams afford,
Neat artifice to trap a lord;
There, fit for all whom Folly bred,
Wave plumes of feathers for the head;
Garters the hag contrives to make,
Which, as it seems, a babe might break,
But which ambitious madmen feel
More firm and sure than chains of steel;
Which, slipp'd just underneath the knee,
Forbid a freeman to be free.
Purses she knew, (did ever curse
Travel more sure than in a purse?)
Which, by some strange and magic bands,
Enslave the soul, and tie the hands.
Here Flattery, eldest-born of Guile,
Weaves with rare skill the silken smile,
The courtly cringe, the supple bow,
The private squeeze, the levee vow,
With which--no strange or recent case--
Fools in, deceive fools out of place.
Corruption, (who, in former times,
Through fear or shame conceal'd her crimes,
And what she did, contrived to do it
So that the public might not view it)
Presumptuous grown, unfit was held
For their dark councils, and expell'd,
Since in the day her business might
Be done as safe as in the night.
Her eye down-bending to the ground,
Planning some dark and deadly wound,
Holding a dagger, on which stood,
All fresh and reeking, drops of blood,
Bearing a lantern, which of yore,
By Treason borrow'd, Guy Fawkes bore,
By which, since they improved in trade,
Excisemen have their lanterns made,
Assassination, her whole mind
Blood-thirsting, on her arm reclined;
Death, grinning, at her elbow stood,
And held forth instruments of blood,--
Vile instruments, which cowards choose,
But men of honour dare not use;
Around, his Lordship and his Grace,
Both qualified for such a place,
With many a Forbes, and many a Dun,
Each a resolved, and pious son,
Wait her high bidding; each prepared,
As she around her orders shared,
Proof 'gainst remorse, to run, to fly,
And bid the destined victim die,
Posting on Villany's black wing,
Whether he patriot is, or king.
Oppression,--willing to appear
An object of our love, not fear,
Or, at the most, a reverend awe
To breed, usurp'd the garb of Law.
A book she held, on which her eyes
Were deeply fix'd, whence seem'd to rise
Joy in her breast; a book, of might
Most wonderful, which black to white
Could turn, and without help of laws,
Could make the worse the better cause.
She read, by flattering hopes deceived;
She wish'd, and what she wish'd, believed,
To make that book for ever stand
The rule of wrong through all the land;
On the back, fair and worthy note,
At large was Magna Charta wrote;
But turn your eye within, and read,
A bitter lesson, Norton's Creed.
Ready, e'en with a look, to run,
Fast as the coursers of the sun,
To worry Virtue, at her hand
Two half-starved greyhounds took their stand.
A curious model, cut in wood,
Of a most ancient castle stood
Full in her view; the gates were barr'd,
And soldiers on the watch kept guard;
In the front, openly, in black
Was wrote, The Tower: but on the back,
Mark'd with a secretary's seal,
In bloody letters, The Bastile.
Around a table, fully bent
On mischief of most black intent,
Deeply determined that their reign
Might longer last, to work the bane
Of one firm patriot, whose heart, tied
To Honour, all their power defied,
And brought those actions into light
They wish'd to have conceal'd in night,
Begot, born, bred to infamy,
A privy-council sat of three:
Great were their names, of high repute
And favour through the land of Bute.
The first (entitled to the place
Of Honour both by gown and grace,
Who never let occasion slip
To take right-hand of fellowship,
And was so proud, that should he meet
The twelve apostles in the street,
He'd turn his nose up at them all,
And shove his Saviour from the wall!
Who was so mean (Meanness and Pride
Still go together side by side)
That he would cringe, and creep, be civil,
And hold a stirrup for the Devil;
If in a journey to his mind,
He'd let him mount and ride behind;
Who basely fawn'd through all his life,
For patrons first, then for a wife:
Wrote Dedications which must make
The heart of every Christian quake;
Made one man equal to, or more
Than God, then left him, as before
His God he left, and, drawn by pride,
Shifted about to t' other side)
Was by his sire a parson made,
Merely to give the boy a trade;
But he himself was thereto drawn
By some faint omens of the lawn,
And on the truly Christian plan
To make himself a gentleman,--
A title in which Form array'd him,
Though Fate ne'er thought on 't when she made him.
The oaths he took, 'tis very true,
But took them as all wise men do,
With an intent, if things should turn,
Rather to temporise, than burn;
Gospel and loyalty were made
To serve the purposes of trade;
Religions are but paper ties,
Which bind the fool, but which the wise,
Such idle notions far above,
Draw on and off, just like a glove;
All gods, all kings (let his great aim
Be answer'd) were to him the same.
A curate first, he read and read,
And laid in, whilst he should have fed
The souls of his neglected flock,
Of reading such a mighty stock,
That he o'ercharged the weary brain
With more than she could well contain;
More than she was with spirits fraught
To turn and methodise to thought,
And which, like ill-digested food,
To humours turn'd, and not to blood.
Brought up to London, from the plough
And pulpit, how to make a bow
He tried to learn; he grew polite,
And was the poet's parasite.
With wits conversing, (and wits then
Were to be found 'mongst noblemen)
He caught, or would have caught, the flame,
And would be nothing, or the same.
He drank with drunkards, lived with sinners,
Herded with infidels for dinners;
With such an emphasis and grace
Blasphemed, that Potter kept not pace:
He, in the highest reign of noon,
Bawled bawdy songs to a psalm tune;
Lived with men infamous and vile,
Truck'd his salvation for a smile;
To catch their humour caught their plan,
And laugh'd at God to laugh with man;
Praised them, when living, in each breath,
And damn'd their memories after death.
To prove his faith, which all admit
Is at least equal to his wit,
And make himself a man of note,
He in defence of Scripture wrote:
So long he wrote, and long about it,
That e'en believers 'gan to doubt it:
He wrote, too, of the inward light,
Though no one knew how he came by 't,
And of that influencing grace
Which in his life ne'er found a place:
He wrote, too, of the Holy Ghost,
Of whom no more than doth a post
He knew; nor, should an angel show him,
Would he, or know, or choose to know him.
Next (for he knew 'twixt every science
There was a natural alliance)
He wrote, to advance his Maker's praise,
Comments on rhymes, and notes on plays,
And with an all-sufficient air
Placed himself in the critic's chair;
Usurp'd o'er Reason full dominion,
And govern'd merely by Opinion.
At length dethroned, and kept in awe
By one plain simple man of law,
He arm'd dead friends, to vengeance true,
To abuse the man they never knew.
Examine strictly all mankind,
Most characters are mix'd, we find;
And Vice and Virtue take their turn
In the same breast to beat and burn.
Our priest was an exception here,
Nor did one spark of grace appear,
Not one dull, dim spark in his soul;
Vice, glorious Vice, possess'd the whole,
And, in her service truly warm,
He was in sin most uniform.
Injurious Satire! own at least
One snivelling virtue in the priest,
One snivelling virtue, which is placed,
They say, in or about the waist,
Call'd Chastity; the prudish dame
Knows it at large by Virtue's name.
To this his wife (and in these days
Wives seldom without reason praise)
Bears evidence--then calls her child,
And swears that Tom was vastly wild.
Ripen'd by a long course of years,
He great and perfect now appears.
In shape scarce of the human kind,
A man, without a manly mind;
No husband, though he's truly wed;
Though on his knees a child is bred,
No father; injured, without end
A foe; and though obliged, no friend;
A heart, which virtue ne'er disgraced;
A head, where learning runs to waste;
A gentleman well-bred, if breeding
Rests in the article of reading;
A man of this world, for the next
Was ne'er included in his text;
A judge of genius, though confess'd
With not one spark of genius bless'd;
Amongst the first of critics placed,
Though free from every taint of taste;
A Christian without faith or works,
As he would be a Turk 'mongst Turks;
A great divine, as lords agree,
Without the least divinity;
To crown all, in declining age,
Inflamed with church and party rage,
Behold him, full and perfect quite,
A false saint, and true hypocrite.
Next sat a lawyer, often tried
In perilous extremes; when Pride
And Power, all wild and trembling, stood,
Nor dared to tempt the raging flood;
This bold, bad man arose to view,
And gave his hand to help them through:
Steel'd 'gainst compassion, as they pass'd
He saw poor Freedom breathe her last;
He saw her struggle, heard her groan;
He saw her helpless and alone,
Whelm'd in that storm, which, fear'd and praised
By slaves less bold, himself had raised.
Bred to the law, he from the first
Of all bad lawyers was the worst.
Perfection (for bad men maintain
In ill we may perfection gain)
In others is a work of time,
And they creep on from crime to crime;
He, for a prodigy design'd,
To spread amazement o'er mankind,
Started full ripen'd all at once
A perfect knave, and perfect dunce.
Who will, for him, may boast of sense,
His better guard is impudence;
His front, with tenfold plates of brass
Secured, Shame never yet could pass,
Nor on the surface of his skin
Blush for that guilt which dwelt within.
How often, in contempt of laws,
To sound the bottom of a cause,
To search out every rotten part,
And worm into its very heart,
Hath he ta'en briefs on false pretence,
And undertaken the defence
Of trusting fools, whom in the end
He meant to ruin, not defend!
How often, e'en in open court,
Hath the wretch made his shame his sport,
And laugh'd off, with a villain's ease,
Throwing up briefs, and keeping fees!
Such things as, though to roguery bred,
Had struck a little villain dead!
Causes, whatever their import,
He undertakes, to serve a court;
For he by art this rule had got,
Power can effect what Law cannot.
Fools he forgives, but rogues he fears;
If Genius, yoked with Worth, appears,
His weak soul sickens at the sight,
And strives to plunge them down in night.
So loud he talks, so very loud,
He is an angel with the crowd;
Whilst he makes Justice hang her head,
And judges turn from pale to red.
Bid all that Nature, on a plan
Most intimate, makes dear to man,
All that with grand and general ties
Binds good and bad, the fool and wise,
Knock at his heart; they knock in vain;
No entrance there such suitors gain;
Bid kneeling kings forsake the throne,
Bid at his feet his country groan;
Bid Liberty stretch out her hands,
Religion plead her stronger bands;
Bid parents, children, wife, and friends,
If they come 'thwart his private ends--
Unmoved he hears the general call,
And bravely tramples on them all.
Who will, for him, may cant and whine,
And let weak Conscience with her line
Chalk out their ways; such starving rules
Are only fit for coward fools;
Fellows who credit what priests tell,
And tremble at the thoughts of Hell;
His spirit dares contend with Grace,
And meets Damnation face to face.
Such was our lawyer; by his side,
In all bad qualities allied,
In all bad counsels, sat a third,
By birth a lord. Oh, sacred word!
Oh, word most sacred! whence men get
A privilege to run in debt;
Whence they at large exemption claim
From Satire, and her servant Shame;
Whence they, deprived of all her force,
Forbid bold Truth to hold her course.
Consult his person, dress, and air,
He seems, which strangers well might swear,
The master, or, by courtesy,
The captain of a colliery.
Look at his visage, and agree
Half-hang'd he seems, just from the tree
Escaped; a rope may sometimes break,
Or men be cut down by mistake.
He hath not virtue (in the school
Of Vice bred up) to live by rule,
Nor hath he sense (which none can doubt
Who know the man) to live without.
His life is a continued scene
Of all that's infamous and mean;
He knows not change, unless, grown nice
And delicate, from vice to vice;
Nature design'd him, in a rage,
To be the Wharton of his age;
But, having given all the sin,
Forgot to put the virtues in.
To run a horse, to make a match,
To revel deep, to roar a catch,
To knock a tottering watchman down,
To sweat a woman of the town;
By fits to keep the peace, or break it,
In turn to give a pox, or take it;
He is, in faith, most excellent,
And, in the word's most full intent,
A true choice spirit, we admit;
With wits a fool, with fools a wit:
Hear him but talk, and you would swear
Obscenity herself was there,
And that Profaneness had made choice,
By way of trump, to use his voice;
That, in all mean and low things great,
He had been bred at Billingsgate;
And that, ascending to the earth
Before the season of his birth,
Blasphemy, making way and room,
Had mark'd him in his mother's womb.
Too honest (for the worst of men
In forms are honest, now and then)
Not to have, in the usual way,
His bills sent in; too great to pay:
Too proud to speak to, if he meets
The honest tradesman whom he cheats:
Too infamous to have a friend;
Too bad for bad men to commend,
Or good to name; beneath whose weight
Earth groans; who hath been spared by Fate
Only to show, on Mercy's plan,
How far and long God bears with man.
Such were the three, who, mocking sleep,
At midnight sat, in counsel deep,
Plotting destruction 'gainst a head
Whose wisdom could not be misled;
Plotting destruction 'gainst a heart
Which ne'er from honour would depart.
'Is he not rank'd amongst our foes?
Hath not his spirit dared oppose
Our dearest measures, made our name
Stand forward on the roll of Shame
Hath he not won the vulgar tribes,
By scorning menaces and bribes,
And proving that his darling cause
Is, of their liberties and laws
To stand the champion? In a word,
Nor need one argument be heard
Beyond this to awake our zeal,
To quicken our resolves, and steel
Our steady souls to bloody bent,
(Sure ruin to each dear intent,
Each flattering hope) he, without fear,
Hath dared to make the truth appear.'
They said, and, by resentment taught,
Each on revenge employ'd his thought;
Each, bent on mischief, rack'd his brain
To her full stretch, but rack'd in vain;
Scheme after scheme they brought to view;
All were examined; none would do:
When Fraud, with pleasure in her face,
Forth issued from her hiding-place,
And at the table where they meet,
First having bless'd them, took her seat.
'No trifling cause, my darling boys,
Your present thoughts and cares employs;
No common snare, no random blow,
Can work the bane of such a foe:
By nature cautious as he's brave,
To Honour only he's a slave;
In that weak part without defence,
We must to honour make pretence;
That lure shall to his ruin draw
The wretch, who stands secure in law.
Nor think that I have idly plann'd
This full-ripe scheme; behold at hand,
With three months' training on his head,
An instrument, whom I have bred,
Born of these bowels, far from sight
Of Virtue's false but glaring light,
My youngest-born, my dearest joy,
Most like myself, my darling boy!
He, never touch'd with vile remorse,
Resolved and crafty in his course,
Shall work our ends, complete our schemes,
Most mine, when most he Honour's seems;
Nor can be found, at home, abroad,
So firm and full a slave of Fraud.'
She said, and from each envious son
A discontented murmur run
Around the table; all in place
Thought his full praise their own disgrace,
Wondering what stranger she had got,
Who had one vice that they had not;
When straight the portals open flew,
And, clad in armour, to their view
Martin, the Duellist, came forth.
All knew, and all confess'd his worth;
All justified, with smiles array'd,
The happy choice their dam had made.
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- If You Forget Me, Pablo Neruda
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