Treasure Island

Charles Churchill

(February, 1731 - 4 November 1764 / Westminster)

The Ghost - Book I


With eager search to dart the soul,
Curiously vain, from pole to pole,
And from the planets' wandering spheres
To extort the number of our years,
And whether all those years shall flow
Serenely smooth, and free from woe,
Or rude misfortune shall deform
Our life with one continual storm;
Or if the scene shall motley be.
Alternate joy and misery,
Is a desire which, more or less.
All men must feel, though few confess.
Hence, every place and every age
Affords subsistence to the sage,
Who, free from this world and its cares,
Holds an acquaintance with the stars,
From whom he gains intelligence
Of things to come some ages hence,
Which unto friends, at easy rates.
He readily communicates.
At its first rise, which all agree on,
This noble science was Chaldean;
That ancient people, as they fed
Their flocks upon the mountain's head,
Gazed on the stars, observed their motions,
And suck'd in astrologic notions,
Which they so eagerly pursue,
As folks are apt whate'er is new,
That things below at random rove,
Whilst they're consulting things above;
And when they now so poor were grown,
That they'd no houses of their own,
They made bold with their friends the stars,
And prudently made use of theirs.
To Egypt from Chaldee it travell'd,
And Fate at Memphis was unravell'd:
The exotic science soon struck root,
And flourish'd into high repute.
Each learned priest, oh strange to tell!
Could circles make, and cast a spell;
Could read and write, and taught the nation
The holy art of divination.
Nobles themselves, for at that time
Knowledge in nobles was no crime,
Could talk as learned as the priest,
And prophesy as much, at least.
Hence all the fortune-telling crew,
Whose crafty skill mars Nature's hue,
Who, in vile tatters, with smirch'd face,
Run up and down from place to place,
To gratify their friends' desires,
From Bampfield Carew, to Moll Squires,
Are rightly term'd Egyptians all;
Whom we, mistaking, Gypsies call.
The Grecian sages borrow'd this,
As they did other sciences,
From fertile Egypt, though the loan
They had not honesty to own.
Dodona's oaks, inspired by Jove,
A learned and prophetic grove,
Turn'd vegetable necromancers,
And to all comers gave their answers.
At Delphos, to Apollo dear,
All men the voice of Fate might hear;
Each subtle priest on three-legg'd stool,
To take in wise men, play'd the fool.
A mystery, so made for gain,
E'en now in fashion must remain;
Enthusiasts never will let drop
What brings such business to their shop;
And that great saint we Whitefield call,
Keeps up the humbug spiritual.
Among the Romans, not a bird
Without a prophecy was heard;
Fortunes of empires often hung
On the magician magpie's tongue,
And every crow was to the state
A sure interpreter of Fate.
Prophets, embodied in a college
(Time out of mind your seat of knowledge;
For genius never fruit can bear
Unless it first is planted there,
And solid learning never falls
Without the verge of college walls)
Infallible accounts would keep
When it was best to watch or sleep,
To eat or drink, to go or stay,
And when to fight or run away;
When matters were for action ripe,
By looking at a double tripe;
When emperors would live or die,
They in an ass's skull could spy;
When generals would their station keep,
Or turn their backs, in hearts of sheep.
In matters, whether small or great,
In private families or state
As amongst us, the holy seer
Officiously would interfere;
With pious arts and reverend skill
Would bend lay bigots to his will;
Would help or injure foes or friends,
Just as it served his private ends.
Whether in honest way of trade
Traps for virginity were laid;
Or if, to make their party great,
Designs were form'd against the state,
Regardless of the common weal,
By interest led, which they call zeal,
Into the scale was always thrown
The will of Heaven to back their own.
England--a happy land we know,
Where follies naturally grow,
Where without culture they arise
And tower above the common size;
England, a fortune-telling host,
As numerous as the stars, could boast,--
Matrons, who toss the cup, and see
The grounds of Fate in grounds of tea,
Who, versed in every modest lore,
Can a lost maidenhead restore,
Or, if their pupils rather choose it,
Can show the readiest way to lose it;
Gypsies, who every ill can cure,
Except the ill of being poor,
Who charms 'gainst love and agues sell,
Who can in hen-roost set a spell,
Prepared by arts, to them best known,
To catch all feet except their own,
Who, as to fortune, can unlock it
As easily as pick a pocket;
Scotchmen, who, in their country's right,
Possess the gift of second-sight,
Who (when their barren heaths they quit,
Sure argument of prudent wit,
Which reputation to maintain,
They never venture back again)
By lies prophetic heap up riches,
And boast the luxury of breeches.
Amongst the rest, in former years,
Campbell (illustrious name!) appears,
Great hero of futurity,
Who, blind, could every thing foresee,
Who, dumb, could every thing foretell,
Who, Fate with equity to sell,
Always dealt out the will of Heaven
According to what price was given.
Of Scottish race, in Highlands born,
Possess'd with native pride and scorn,
He hither came, by custom led,
To curse the hands which gave him bread.
With want of truth, and want of sense,
Amply made up by impudence
(A succedaneum, which we find
In common use with all mankind);
Caress'd and favour'd too by those
Whose heart with patriot feelings glows,
Who foolishly, where'er dispersed,
Still place their native country first;
(For Englishmen alone have sense
To give a stranger preference,
Whilst modest merit of their own
Is left in poverty to groan)
Campbell foretold just what he would,
And left the stars to make it good,
On whom he had impress'd such awe,
His dictates current pass'd for law;
Submissive, all his empire own'd;
No star durst smile, when Campbell frown'd.
This sage deceased,--for all must die,
And Campbell's no more safe than I,
No more than I can guard the heart,
When Death shall hurl the fatal dart,--
Succeeded, ripe in art and years,
Another favourite of the spheres;
Another and another came,
Of equal skill, and equal fame;
As white each wand, as black each gown,
As long each beard, as wise each frown,
In every thing so like, you'd swear
Campbell himself was sitting there:
To all the happy art was known,
To tell our fortunes, make their own.
Seated in garret,--for, you know,
The nearer to the stars we go
The greater we esteem his art,--
Fools, curious, flock'd from every part;
The rich, the poor, the maid, the married,
And those who could not walk, were carried.
The butler, hanging down his head,
By chambermaid, or cookmaid led,
Inquires, if from his friend the Moon
He has advice of pilfer'd spoon.
The court-bred woman of condition,
(Who, to approve her disposition
As much superior as her birth
To those composed of common earth,
With double spirit must engage
In every folly of the age)
The honourable arts would buy,
To pack the cards, and cog a die.
The hero--who, for brawn and face,
May claim right honourable place
Amongst the chiefs of Butcher-row:
Who might, some thirty years ago,
If we may be allow'd to guess
At his employment by his dress,
Put medicines off from cart or stage,
The grand Toscano of the age;
Or might about the country go
High-steward of a puppet-show,--
Steward and stewardship most meet,
For all know puppets never eat:
Who would be thought (though, save the mark!
That point is something in the dark)
The man of honour, one like those
Renown'd in story, who loved blows
Better than victuals, and would fight,
Merely for sport, from morn to night:
Who treads like Mavors firm, whose tongue
Is with the triple thunder hung,
Who cries to Fear, 'Stand off--aloof,'
And talks as he were cannon-proof;
Would be deem'd ready, when you list,
With sword and pistol, stick and fist,
Careless of points, balls, bruises, knocks,
At once to fence, fire, cudgel, box,
But at the same time bears about,
Within himself, some touch of doubt,
Of prudent doubt, which hints--that fame
Is nothing but an empty name;
That life is rightly understood
By all to be a real good;
That, even in a hero's heart,
Discretion is the better part;
That this same honour may be won,
And yet no kind of danger run--
Like Drugger comes, that magic powers
May ascertain his lucky hours;
For at some hours the fickle dame,
Whom Fortune properly we name,
Who ne'er considers wrong or right,
When wanted most, plays least in sight,
And, like a modern court-bred jilt,
Leaves her chief favourites in a tilt.
Some hours there are, when from the heart
Courage into some other part,
No matter wherefore, makes retreat,
And Fear usurps the vacant seat;
Whence, planet-struck, we often find
Stuarts and Sackvilles of mankind.
Farther, he'd know (and by his art
A conjurer can that impart)
Whether politer it is reckon'd
To have, or not to have, a second;
To drag the friends in, or alone
To make the danger all their own;
Whether repletion is not bad,
And fighters with full stomachs mad;
Whether, before he seeks the plain,
It were not well to breathe a vein;
Whether a gentle salivation,
Consistently with reputation,
Might not of precious use be found,
Not to prevent, indeed, a wound,
But to prevent the consequence
Which oftentimes arises thence,
Those fevers, which the patient urge on
To gates of death, by help of surgeon;
Whether a wind at east or west
Is for green wounds accounted best;
Whether (was he to choose) his mouth
Should point towards the north or south;
Whether more safely he might use,
On these occasions, pumps or shoes;
Whether it better is to fight
By sunshine or by candlelight;
Or, lest a candle should appear
Too mean to shine in such a sphere,
For who could of a candle tell
To light a hero into hell;
And, lest the sun should partial rise
To dazzle one or t'other's eyes,
Or one or t'other's brains to scorch,
Might not Dame Luna hold a torch?
These points with dignity discuss'd,
And gravely fix'd,--a task which must
Require no little time and pains,
To make our hearts friends with our brains,--
The man of war would next engage
The kind assistance of the sage,
Some previous method to direct,
Which should make these of none effect.
Could he not, from the mystic school
Of Art, produce some sacred rule,
By which a knowledge might be got
Whether men valiant were, or not;
So he that challenges might write
Only to those who would not fight?
Or could he not some way dispense
By help of which (without offence
To Honour, whose nice nature's such
She scarce endures the slightest touch)
When he, for want of t'other rule,
Mistakes his man, and, like a fool,
With some vain fighting blade gets in,
He fairly may get out again?
Or should some demon lay a scheme
To drive him to the last extreme,
So that he must confess his fears,
In mercy to his nose and ears,
And like a prudent recreant knight,
Rather do anything than fight,
Could he not some expedient buy
To keep his shame from public eye?
For well he held,--and, men review,
Nine in ten hold the maxim too,--
That honour's like a maidenhead,
Which, if in private brought to bed,
Is none the worse, but walks the town,
Ne'er lost, until the loss be known.
The parson, too, (for now and then
Parsons are just like other men,
And here and there a grave divine
Has passions such as yours and mine)
Burning with holy lust to know
When Fate preferment will bestow,
'Fraid of detection, not of sin,
With circumspection sneaking in
To conjurer, as he does to whore,
Through some bye-alley or back-door,
With the same caution orthodox
Consults the stars, and gets a pox.
The citizen, in fraud grown old,
Who knows no deity but gold,
Worn out, and gasping now for breath,
A medicine wants to keep off death;
Would know, if that he cannot have,
What coins are current in the grave;
If, when the stocks (which, by his power,
Would rise or fall in half an hour;
For, though unthought of and unseen,
He work'd the springs behind the screen)
By his directions came about,
And rose to par, he should sell out;
Whether he safely might, or no,
Replace it in the funds below?
By all address'd, believed, and paid,
Many pursued the thriving trade,
And, great in reputation grown,
Successive held the magic throne.
Favour'd by every darling passion,
The love of novelty and fashion,
Ambition, avarice, lust, and pride,
Riches pour'd in on every side.
But when the prudent laws thought fit
To curb this insolence of wit;
When senates wisely had provided,
Decreed, enacted, and decided,
That no such vile and upstart elves
Should have more knowledge than themselves;
When fines and penalties were laid
To stop the progress of the trade,
And stars no longer could dispense,
With honour, further influence;
And wizards (which must be confess'd
Was of more force than all the rest)
No certain way to tell had got
Which were informers, and which not;
Affrighted sages were, perforce,
Obliged to steer some other course.
By various ways, these sons of Chance
Their fortunes labour'd to advance,
Well knowing, by unerring rules,
Knaves starve not in the land of fools.
Some, with high titles and degrees,
Which wise men borrow when they please,
Without or trouble, or expense,
Physicians instantly commence,
And proudly boast an Equal skill
With those who claim the right to kill.
Others about the country roam,
(For not one thought of going home)
With pistol and adopted leg,
Prepared at once to rob or beg.
Some, the more subtle of their race,
(Who felt some touch of coward grace,
Who Tyburn to avoid had wit,
But never fear'd deserving it)
Came to their brother Smollett's aid,
And carried on the critic trade.
Attach'd to letters and the Muse,
Some verses wrote, and some wrote news;
Those each revolving month are seen,
The heroes of a magazine;
These, every morning, great appear
In Ledger, or in Gazetteer,
Spreading the falsehoods of the day,
By turns for Faden and for Say.
Like Swiss, their force is always laid
On that side where they best are paid:
Hence mighty prodigies arise,
And daily monsters strike our eyes;
Wonders, to propagate the trade,
More strange than ever Baker made,
Are hawk'd about from street to street,
And fools believe, whilst liars eat.
Now armies in the air engage,
To fright a superstitious age;
Now comets through the ether range,
In governments portending change;
Now rivers to the ocean fly
So quick, they leave their channels dry;
Now monstrous whales on Lambeth shore
Drink the Thames dry, and thirst for more;
And every now and then appears
An Irish savage, numbering years
More than those happy sages could
Who drew their breath before the flood;
Now, to the wonder of all people,
A church is left without a steeple;
A steeple now is left in lurch,
And mourns departure of the church,
Which, borne on wings of mighty wind,
Removed a furlong off we find;
Now, wrath on cattle to discharge,
Hailstones as deadly fall, and large,
As those which were on Egypt sent,
At once their crime and punishment;
Or those which, as the prophet writes,
Fell on the necks of Amorites,
When, struck with wonder and amaze,
The sun, suspended, stay'd to gaze,
And, from her duty longer kept,
In Ajalon his sister slept.
But if such things no more engage
The taste of a politer age,
To help them out in time of need
Another Tofts must rabbits breed:
Each pregnant female trembling hears,
And, overcome with spleen and fears,
Consults her faithful glass no more,
But, madly bounding o'er the floor,
Feels hairs all o'er her body grow,
By Fancy turn'd into a doe.
Now, to promote their private ends,
Nature her usual course suspends,
And varies from the stated plan
Observed e'er since the world began.
Bodies--which foolishly we thought,
By Custom's servile maxims taught,
Needed a regular supply,
And without nourishment must die--
With craving appetites, and sense
Of hunger easily dispense,
And, pliant to their wondrous skill,
Are taught, like watches, to stand still,
Uninjured, for a month or more,
Then go on as they did before.
The novel takes, the tale succeeds,
Amply supplies its author's needs,
And Betty Canning is at least,
With Gascoyne's help, a six months' feast.
Whilst, in contempt of all our pains,
The tyrant Superstition reigns
Imperious in the heart of man,
And warps his thoughts from Nature's plan;
Whilst fond Credulity, who ne'er
The weight of wholesome doubts could bear,
To Reason and herself unjust,
Takes all things blindly upon trust;
Whilst Curiosity, whose rage
No mercy shows to sex or age,
Must be indulged at the expense
Of judgment, truth, and common sense,
Impostures cannot but prevail;
And when old miracles grow stale,
Jugglers will still the art pursue,
And entertain the world with new.
For them, obedient to their will,
And trembling at their mighty skill,
Sad spirits, summon'd from the tomb,
Glide, glaring ghastly, through the gloom;
In all the usual pomp of storms,
In horrid customary forms,
A wolf, a bear, a horse, an ape,
As Fear and Fancy give them shape,
Tormented with despair and pain,
They roar, they yell, and clank the chain.
Folly and Guilt (for Guilt, howe'er
The face of Courage it may wear,
Is still a coward at the heart)
At fear-created phantoms start.
The priest--that very word implies
That he's both innocent and wise--
Yet fears to travel in the dark,
Unless escorted by his clerk.
But let not every bungler deem
Too lightly of so deep a scheme;
For reputation of the art,
Each ghost must act a proper part,
Observe Decorum's needful grace,
And keep the laws of Time and Place;
Must change, with happy variation,
His manners with his situation;
What in the country might pass down,
Would be impertinent in town.
No spirit of discretion here
Can think of breeding awe and fear;
'Twill serve the purpose more by half
To make the congregation laugh.
We want no ensigns of surprise,
Locks stiff with gore, and saucer eyes;
Give us an entertaining sprite,
Gentle, familiar, and polite,
One who appears in such a form
As might an holy hermit warm,
Or who on former schemes refines,
And only talks by sounds and signs,
Who will not to the eye appear,
But pays her visits to the ear,
And knocks so gently, 't would not fright
A lady in the darkest night.
Such is our Fanny, whose good-will,
Which cannot in the grave lie still,
Brings her on earth to entertain
Her friends and lovers in Cock-lane.

Submitted: Monday, April 19, 2010
Edited: Tuesday, March 13, 2012

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