Henry James Pye
The Progress Of Refinement. Part Iii. - Poem by Henry James Pye
Thus far with cautious Pencil have I traced
The striking forms on History's tablet placed.
Harder the task on Truth's unblemish'd page
To sketch the living features of the age,
Each transient character with care define,
And catch the fleeting shape with ready line;
Contrast the Manners modern times display
With the Refinements of an earlier day;
Remark what each from chance, or custom, draws,
And seek with curious eye the latent cause;
Shew Virtue's sinking worth, or kindling flame,
And give impartial praise, or candid blame.
In Rome, while Rome's meridian power was graced
With the bright æra of Augustan taste,
Tho' Art's skill'd votaries reach'd their utmost goal,
Though social pleasure sooth'd the liberal soul,
Yet rude the joys, and coarse the manners shew,
To those which Europe's modern nations know,
Where sweet Benevolence the expression warms,
Dwells on the tongue, and every accent forms.
Nor is the exterior semblance bright alone,
A specious veil o'er selfish passion thrown;
The gentle bosom real kindness feels,
And o'er the soften'd mind Affection steals;
Pity and Horror watch o'er human life,
And Murder trembling drops his fatal knife.
Even War, terrific War! has learn'd to wear
A milder garb, and features less severe:
The fury of the doubtful conflict o'er,
Though gorged with death, and red with streaming gore,
The valiant captive meets attentive care,
And vanquish'd foes fraternal kindness share;
Humanity still meek and prompt to save,
Heals every wound the bleeding combat gave,
Bids the worst horrors of the battle cease,
And lends Bellona half the charms of peace.
Politeness too it's nicest skill employs,
And gives the last fine touch to human joys,
Sweetly combines with unaffected ease
The care to aid us, and the wish to please.
Far from that pertness whose capricious fit
Deems satire freedom, and ill manners wit,
Mistakes fastidious pride for judgment chaste,
And thinks that censure shews superior taste:
Far from that fulsome flattery Dulness pays
Who servile adulation takes for praise,
The eye on every latent foible draws,
And gives an insult where she means applause.
And far, O far! from that insidious aim
Which screens Deceit beneath Refinement's name,
The selfish smile, the promise insincere,
And all the rules of Fashion's favorite peer.
But that smooth polish, elegant and bright,
Which placing merit in the fairest light,
By soft compliance rude ill-temper veils,
And half reforms the vices it conceals.
Say from what source shall keen enquiry trace
These striking characters of gentler grace?—
Numerous the varied springs whose powers combin'd
Direct and regulate the ductile mind.—
First that blest fountain of serene delight,
Meek-ey'd Religion's mild unsullied rite,
The patient votary's humbled breast imbues
With heavenly Charity's ambrosial dews,
In vain the Infidel's o'erweening pride
Affects her hallow'd dictates to deride,
Exalts the wisdom of the ancient school,
And boasts of moral Virtue's rigid rule;
By Christian Faith the perfect doctrines taught
Shall mock Philosophy's sublimest thought,
In the clear beams of Truth celestial shine,
And speak their Holy Teacher all divine.
Thence even the stubborn Sceptic mildness draws,
And feels their influence though he scorn their laws.
The sacred rights of human Nature known,
From Europe's climes has exil'd Slavery flown,
Who saw of old her sable wing display
A gloomy shade o'er Freedom's brightest day.—
O could my verse forget she still defiles
The sunny regions of the Atlantic isles!
Still dwells amidst the hardier race that try
In fields of blood for British Liberty!
There the sad Libyan bought in shameful trade,
Vanquish'd by foes, or by his chiefs betray'd,
Waits from his cruel lord's remorseless breath
The doom of labor, insult, stripes, and death.
Were such the fatal gifts from home ye brought
Such the dire lessons Parent Europe taught?—
Ah no!—beneath her inimical skies
Blasted at once the venom'd monster dies.
Bold Chivalry employ'd her earliest care
To sooth the rugged brow of frowning War,
Valor's fierce form by Courtesy refin'd,
And bent to Mercy's sway the headstrong mind.
She taught her gallant votaries to forego
Each mean advantage o'er a prostrate foe,
And shew'd her pupils rear'd in Error's gloom,
To shame the polish'd chiefs of Greece and Rome.
Crown'd by success, and deck'd in impious pride,
See in stern pomp the imperious Consul ride,
With each sad victim of uncertain war
Dragg'd in remorseless triumph at his car.
While Kings and Chiefs superior insult know,
And only feel pre-eminence in woe.
O had of Gothic days the rudest knight
Seen these barbarians, falsely deem'd polite,
Shout as the wretched Hero pass'd along,
Scorn'd and affronted by the unfeeling throng,
How had he turn'd aside the indignant eye
As the dire pageant mov'd exulting by,
To curse the hearts that selfish maxims steel,
And execrate the effects of patriot zeal.—
Now view on nearer Poitier's trophied plain
The gentler triumphs of Britannia's train!
Though every taunt swol'n Insolence could give
Warm in the Victor's glowing breast must live,
Yet when aloft o'er England's valiant few
With unexpected pinion Conquest flew,
And Gaul's pale Genius sunk her flagging wing,
And mourn'd her slaughter'd Peers and captive King;
No keen resentment edg'd the British sword,
No biting insult barb'd one cruel word,
But godlike Edward mild in fortune's hour
Sooth'd the sad Monarch fall'n from regal power,
To vanquish'd greatness generous homage paid
And serv'd the prisoner that his sword had made.
Even those destructive tubes whose fiery breath
Spreads wide the scenes of carnage and of death,
Though their dread roar the novice ear affright,
Aid mercy's power and humanize the fight.
Unseen each blow, no warrior treads the plain
Demanding vengeance for a brother slain,
No favorite kill'd awakes Pelides' hate,
No spoils of Pallas urge a Turnus' fate,
From hands unknown the mortal stroke is given,
And every bullet seems a bolt from Heaven.
Yet, to the chiefs of elder time unknown,
Punctilious rage from feudal Honor grown
Provokes for spleenful wrongs the deadly strife,
And claims in private war the forfeit life.—
But though too plainly from this dreadful cause
Society a milder aspect draws,
And practis'd in the School of Fear, or Shame,
Fools grow polite, and Savages are tame;
Let not the applauding Muse provoke to chide
The weeping Orphan, or the widow'd Bride,
Awake the trembling Matron's anxious fears,
Or ope the sacred source of Beauty's tears.
No!—let us turn from fields of death the view,
And the calm scenes of softer Peace pursue.
Their placid sway the gentler sex impart,
Refine the manners, and improve the heart,
From the harsh breast each sterner thought remove,
And tune the yielding soul to joy and love.
No barbarous Jealousy's misjudging care
Severely watches o'er the imprison'd Fair,
No houshold Tyrant fixes Beauty's doom,
To ply the incessant web and servile loom,
Nor does the mind allur'd by Plato's dream,
Verging to Folly's opposite extreme,
It's bosom's Queen in hues ethereal paint
And deem the blooming maid the impassive saint.
Daughters of Love! they shine with native power,
And bless the lone, and grace the social hour,
With spotless truth, and ardent passion, blend
The enchanting mistress, and the faithful friend,
Each fonder joy that lessens grief dispense,
Convince the reason and delight the sense.
With bashful coyness temper fierce desire,
And lead by virtue while by charms they fire.
The potent force of such resistless sway
Inspires the Muse, and governs every lay;
The tender Bard exerts his utmost skill,
And all our strains pathetic warblings fill.
The Drama lays her awful robe aside
Of gloomy horror, and terrific pride,
Content alone the gentle mind to move
With the sad story of distressful love.—
Delightful Art!—though first in shapeless guise
Reviving Genius saw thy form arise,
When the rude bigot on the barbarous stage
Produc'd the mysteries of the holy page;
Soon Avon's towering eagle bore thy name
Beyond the exalted flights of Attic fame.
Though nicer skill succeeding times demand,
Though now correctness prune with cautious hand,
With scorn tho' Gallia view the Gothic school,
Attentive to adopt each ancient rule,
While the deep pathos, and the bold sublime,
Escape her dull harangues, and duller rhyme.
Not all her precepts form'd by critic care
Shewn in the flowing numbers of Voltaire,
Not even the Grecian Muse, who stalks a Queen
With solemn footstep o'er the crouded scene,
And by her numerous Choir attended, sings
The splendid fate of magistrates and kings,
Shall with our Shakespear vie, whose every thought
Drawn from sensation, and by Nature taught,
Defies the slavish rules of scenic art,
And speaks at once conviction to the heart.
Yet now his track no daring bard pursues,
No more the stage is trod by History's Muse;
No Tyrants there the pangs of conscience own,
No Furies haunt the Usurper on his throne;
With softer anguish Tragedy prevails,
And deeds of horror yield to plaintive tales,
While full the sympathetic currents flow
At each affecting scene of humbler woe.
Even Comedy who us'd with jocund grace
To dress in chearful smiles the applauding face,
Oft quits the playful scourge of ridicule,
Spares the pert coxcomb, and the pompous fool,
The winning form of gentle pity wears,
And unsuspected cheats us into tears.
And see in amorous style the Novel dress'd
With sentimental sorrow melts the breast,
Swells the fair bosom with the heaving sigh,
And fills with drops of grief the virgin's eye.
Perhaps too far the enchanting lore imparts
It's keen sensations to unguarded hearts;
The tender scenes by Vice though oft design'd
So rivet to the page the attentive mind,
So oft with glowing tales of Passion sooth
The unexperienced ear of female youth,
That many a Maid rapp'd by their magic power
Steals from her custom'd rest the midnight hour,
To trace through lengthen'd tomes of grief display'd
The monstrous shapes by Folly's hand portray'd;
Whence the perverted Fancy learns to lose
The sweet attractions of the chaster Muse.—
Awake to each fictitious feeling grown,
And mov'd by ills to real life unknown,
The mind, with scenes of fabled woe possess'd,
Will shut to homely grief the senseless breast,
And turn from Want and Pain the offended ear,
To pour for feign'd distress the barren tear.
Wide too her wave has swelling Knowledge spread,
And the full stream surrounding Nations fed.
With unremitting care the sage of old
Each maze of Science labor'd to unfold,
Hung o'er the tedious page with aching sight
Toil'd through the day, and watch'd the wintry night:
But teeming presses now around diffuse
The monthly magazine and daily news,
Where bards on bards in endless train succeed,
And all pretend to judge, who know to read.
Whate'er pursuits the attentive mind employ
Must mark our manners with a strong alloy.
Gaming a feature of the human frame
In various states and various climes the same,
Can the warm'd breast with strong sensation strike,
And rude and courtly bosoms charm alike.
For this old Rome's luxurious youth would slight
The healthful labor, and the sportive fight;
For this among the extended woods that spread
Where the blue German hid his restless head,
The rugged inmates won by lust of play
Dear life, and dearer freedom gave away:
Even in the dusky tribes by Nature placed
Mid the lone horrors of the Atlantic waste,
Where scarce the claim of property obtains,
In savage fury dreadful, Gaming reigns.
Hence though the sons of wealth in this delight
Now waste with wakeful toil the livelong night,
Though on one stake will ample fortunes lie,
And mortgaged manors wait a single die;
Yet here no form peculiar can we trace
No striking character of modern race.
But Cards by dull invention first design'd
To sooth a frantic Monarch's listless mind,
O'er Europe now extend their strong controul,
And almost seem to fascinate the soul:
Of every calling, and of every state,
The grave, the gay, the humble, and the great,
Save the hard sons of wretched labor, fed
By daily drudgery, with daily bread,
How few but give to this unmeaning play
Three tedious hours from every circling day!
Nor let the serious Muse though light they seem,
Beneath her solemn care such trifles deem;
Weak masters though they be, their potent art
Gives a strong tincture to the human heart:
As the fang'd brood hot Libya's sands among
Though by fierce rage or maddening hunger stung,
If the clear stream their form reflected shew,
Loose all their vengeance on the shadowy foe;
So here those powers by Reason unrepress'd
Whose furious whirlwinds shook the human breast,
Bade with deep wounds contending nations bleed,
And urg'd the daring, or the atrocious deed,
In trifling cares their idle force engage,
And waste on mimic forms their harmless rage.—
Yet let not Fashion's modern votaries boast
Of harsher manners through their influence lost:
If life's severer evils they subdue,
And smooth the rugged mind, they weaken too;
If savage Hate they quell, and wild Desire,
They damp the Poet's, and the Patriot's fire,
The fervid glow of Friendship's flame remove,
And almost quench the golden lamp of Love.
Her magic powers as pleasure thus combines,
Each bosom softens and each care refines,
Still sure the scenes of opulence to share,
Spreads Luxury her splendid empire there;
On Europe's lap is pour'd the varied store
Of every climate, and of every shore.
For her Arabia gives her rich perfume,
And labors for her eye the Persian loom;
For her the Indian culls with fainting toil
The spicy harvests of his sultry soil;
In her cool air remov'd from Asian fields
It's luscious juice the ripe Anana yields;
And Industry with busy care supplies
The want of glowing lands, and sultry skies,
While all the fruits that Summer heats afford,
With blush untimely deck December's board;
Spring throws her mantle o'er the freezing hours,
And hoary Winter binds his brow with flowers.
The swelling sail in climes remote unfurl'd,
Wafts home the produce of another world.
No more the bark steer'd by the starry ray,
With prow uncertain plows the watery way;
But guided by that Gem whose mystic power
To Arctic regions points in every hour,
Commerce new oceans ventures to explore,
And launches boldly from the lessening shore,
Dares the dread wonders of the deep unfold,
And toils at once for glory and for gold.
But does not Reason's faithful mirror shew
The future prospect of distress and woe,
And point what dangers modern softness wait
In the sad tale of Rome's declining state?—
Far yet such fears!—unnumber'd checks there lie
To stop the fatal flight of Luxury.
First, a less dangerous form it's power receives
From the strong influence Beauty's empire gives.
Of culinary skill the enormous waste
Offends with dull disgust her nicer taste;
Grandeur must art as well as wealth display,
And appetite to elegance give way.
Foul Gluttony, his beastly empire o'er,
Now snuffs the bleeding Hecatomb no more;
The rosy silk, and glittering gem, adorn
No rich tiara by the tyrant worn;
The flowing muslin in resplendent folds
No bloated son of selfish passion holds;
A nobler end the gifts of Commerce share,
And deck with heighten'd charms the lovely fair;
The snowy lawn's transparent web displays
The panting bosom to the enamor'd gaze;
For them the loom it's dædal labor plies,
For them the gems disclose their various dies,
Rival their glowing cheeks, and emulate their eyes.
Even tho' their smiles the stubborn bosom tame,
They kindle martial valor's generous flame:
Europe of old her free-born daughters gave
To Virtue's champion, not to Passion's slave,
Not only Love's sweet raptures to dispense,
And sooth with wanton blandishment the sense,
But the rough scenes of changeful life to share,
Double each joy, and lighten every care,
While he their choice who fiercest waged the fight,
For Beauty ever graced the boldest knight:
And still amid Refinement's softest reign
The glorious wish their gentle breasts retain.
No lazy Sybarite with wily art
By female manners wins the female heart,
But through the studied garb and air refin'd,
Must beam the symptoms of the manly mind,
For warlike fame their sure attention draws,
And the brave soldier gains their first applause.
Contending Nations too with jealous pride,
And different interest, Europe's shores divide;
Each state, like Greece of old in Freedom's hour,
With greater strength boasts independent power,
And fierce Ambition by incessant storms
In valor's rigid school the hero forms.
Hence though it's sweet allurements Wealth display,
Though Pleasure wide extend her silken sway,
Still Europe may her manly sons behold,
Firm though luxurious, and though gentle bold;
The polish'd noble feels the generous fires
And dauntless courage of his feudal sires,
Her rule severe imperious Honor brings,
And checks the power of arbitrary kings.
Does Honor call?—unsheath'd the avenging sword
Mocks the stern mandate of the regal lord.
Does martial Honor point to bold renown?—
From sumptuous banquets, and from beds of down,
Elate and gay the pamper'd warrior flies
To fatal climates, and ungenial skies;
The extremes of heat and cold unshelter'd braves,
And tempts the furious strife of winds and waves;
Sees all around him crouding legions fall
Pierced by the gleaming steel, or distant ball,
Unmov'd receives the cannon's thundering breath,
And meets with breast unarm'd the shafts of death.
Ah Britain! while with radiance all divine
On thee the unsullied rays of Freedom shine!
While thy bold sons with steady eye pervade
Each form by ancient error sacred made,
The haughty noble's titled boast deride,
And treat with scorn hereditary pride,
Despise fantastic Honor's shadowy name,
Till Sense and Reason ratify her claim,
Dread in my bosom even those Virtues raise,
Anxious I view and tremble while I praise.
Though Rank in other climes may chance to tread
Insulting o'er indignant Merit's head,
Yet curb'd it's visionary fetters hold
The aspiring Slave of plunder, and of gold.
Custom will oft where Prudence yields, prevail,
And Prejudice may save if Wisdom fail:
Should e'er Corruption's dark insidious wave
Sap the firm barriers ancient Freedom gave;
Should Patriot Glory fly the ill-fated land,
And sordid Wealth the sole distinction stand,
What could repel with salutary force
Increasing Luxury's unbridled course?
Thy recreant sons may then lament too late
The happier errors of each neighbouring state;
And Virtue's pure ethereal substance fled,
Wish Honor's fainter semblance in it's stead.
Though Commerce wide her general blessings shower
When moderation bounds her restless power,
Though on our shores she spread with liberal hand
The fair productions of each distant land,
And richer harvests from our cultur'd fields
Rough Industry by her encourag'd yields,
Feeds both the toiling hive, and lazy drones,
The Hind that labors, and the Lord that owns;
Yet when forsaking every manlier thought,
Each firm resource with native vigor fraught,
A feeble state with abject hope relies
But on the uncertain aid her force supplies;
From imposts laid on vice subsistence draws,
And lavish waste encourages by laws;
Disdains each nobler call that charm'd of old,
And rates perfection by the test of gold,
Soon shall corruption with unbounded tide
In sweeping fury o'er the region ride;
While crouding woes the wretched empire wait
That strove by bloated weakness to be great,
Gave her own strength and inborn worth away
For the faint phantom of commercial sway;
Proud to extend a vast precarious reign
On Folly founded, and which Crimes maintain.
Sure, or the scene a gloomy aspect wears
View'd through the medium of prophetic fears,
Or now, even now, the sad contagion spreads,
And dire effects on British manners sheds.
The race who draw their worth from wealth alone,
Nor other rank, nor other merit own,
In high esteem by abject flattery placed,
Debase our morals, and corrupt our taste:
The dread infection flies from sire to son,
And Folly dissipates what Avarice won;
Expence the place of elegance supplies,
And half demolish'd Beauty's empire lies.
The breast that Education never form'd
Bright Science train'd, or sportive Fancy warm'd,
Knows not with mirth unting'd by scorn to please.
Be gay with dignity, and grave with ease,
But vents the jest uncouth with coarse delight,
And deems unmanner'd insolence polite.
While the rude vulgar glad to draw disgrace
On the invidious claims of birth, and place,
Applaud the glare by lavish Ignorance shewn,
And give distinctions chance may make their own.
Ye ancient Lords of Britain's fair domain!
'Tis yours to vindicate Refinement's reign;
Though Wisdom's eye disdain the titled slave
Staining the Honors which his fathers gave,
Yet with a brighter hue shall Virtues shine
That add new lustre to a noble line.—
Say is the pride of birth concentred all
In the old trophy and the banner'd hall?—
Yours be the fairer boast in docile youth
To catch from Learning's voice the lore of Truth,
Drink the pure reasonings of the patriot sage,
And cull each flower that decks the classic page,
Till by the fame of godlike heroes fir'd,
The man shall copy what the boy admir'd.
If leaving these superior aims ye try
In every vice with every fool to vie,
Each fair advantage fortune gives forego
To wage unequal conflict with the foe,
Say can the gazing croud be justly blam'd
Who pay to Wealth the deference Honor claim'd,
When sickly folly taints that generous worth
Which heighten'd grandeur and ennobled birth?
Your happier purpose be it to restore
The fame that waited Britain's Lords of yore,
Ere true Nobility's unblemish'd shape
Was chang'd for manners every knave can ape.
Yours be it Freedom's empire to support
No Faction's slaves, no flatterers of a Court.
Watch with keen eye the encroachments of the throne,
But guard it's rights for they protect your own.
Fly not, discharg'd each due of public care,
To breathe soft Dissipation's summer air,
Where Pleasure's hand prepares the poppied draught,
To drown reflection, and to deaden thought.
No, rather joy the shouting train to meet
Who hail the lord of each paternal seat;
Where your wide forests spread parental shade
View the gay scenes of rural taste display'd;
Let Hospitality's warm hand await
To court the stranger to the friendly gate;
Enforce with steady zeal your Country's laws,
To Justice true, and firm in Virtue's cause;
Curb Vice licentious in her mad career,
And teach oppressive Arrogance to fear;
Redress when injur'd Merit heaves the sigh,
And wipe the tear from pale Affliction's eye:
So shall your fame with purer honor live
Than wealth, than faction, or than rank can give,
While these best titles on each name attend,
The bad man's terror, and the poor man's friend.
Long may ye mock in this secure defence
The vain attempts of wealthy Insolence:
No more shall sense by rudeness be debas'd,
Or Fortune's lavish minions vitiate taste;
Her stores profuse no more shall Commerce fling,
But brood o'er Industry with fostering wing;
While your examples teach her wiser train
To use with prudence, what by care they gain.
And you ye fair! forgive the honest lay
That even your slightest errors dares display,
Nor think satiric rage my arm can move
To wound like Diomed the Queen of Love,
Though I presume to point the fated hour,
Mark'd with the symptoms of your fading power,
And mourn that all those arts which life refine,
Rais'd by your sway, shall with your sway decline.
Oft by the youth neglected now ye stand
Nor meet Attention's fond assiduous hand:
O be it yours to check with just disdain;
This mark of selfish Luxury's domain,
Ah! leave that thirst of riot's endless joy
Whose constant round your empire must destroy:
Beauties from scene to scene that restless fly
Lose all their force, and sate the public eye;
The midnight revel early age o'ertakes,
And the wan cheek the native rose forsakes;
Light Affectation too intent to please
Disfigures more than time or pale disease;
And tyrant Fashion with Procrustes' arm
Shapes to it's wild caprice each tortur'd charm.
For Love's! for Virtue's sake! ah lay aside
The undaunted forehead, and the martial stride!
Again the garb of female softness wear,
And quit the fierceness of the Grenadier:
For can the ornaments your cares combine
When all the toilet's rich materials shine,
Match blushing Modesty's transparent red
O'er the warm cheek in sweet suffusion spread,
Or like the downcast eye's mild lustre move,
Whose lid veils Meekness and whose glance is Love?
In fabled times by Ida's lofty wood,
When rival Goddesses contending stood,
Though Juno conscious of her awful mien
March'd with the state of Jove's imperious Queen,
Though Pallas deck'd her Amazonian charms
In the refulgent glare of radiant arms,
Yet Love prevail'd in Cytherea's eyes,
And smiling Beauty gain'd the golden prize.
From Albion far may heaven's benign decrees
Avert the storms my anxious mind foresees:
Still may she shine with pure Refinement's grace
Secure on Virtue's adamantine base;
Prosperous awhile though private Vice may stand,
No miracle can save a vicious land;
In life's calm paths though fortune oft dispense
Success to Guilt, and pain to Innocence.
Whence Faith with strengthen'd eye beyond the tomb
Sees the dread hour of Justice yet to come,
On public crimes must early vengeance wait,
And speedy ruin wrap an impious state,
Since from the offence the sure correction springs,—
And her own scourge abandon'd Folly brings.
But let not man attempt with bounded skill
To search the depths of Heaven's eternal will,
Inspect the rolls of fate with fruitless care,
And read the future doom of empires there.
Enough, her eye as cool Reflection throws
O'er all the scenes these lengthen'd lays disclose,
To mark each prospect as they move along,
And draw these moral maxims from the song:
That though Refinement know with temperate ray
To wake each bloom of Merit into day,
Urg'd to excess her heighten'd powers destroy
The expanding bud, and blast each promis'd joy,
As storms and sultry gleams o'ercome the flower
Rais'd by the genial sun, and gentle shower.
That Education, while her careful art
Clears from each baneful Prejudice the heart
Must cherish inborn Glory's generous aim,
The source of rising Worth, and future Fame.
That above all, on each ingenuous breast
Be with strong force this sacred Truth impress'd;
No polish'd Manners rival Virtue's price,
No savage Ignorance disgusts like Vice.
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