Of Justice Poem by John Denham

Of Justice

'Tis the first sanction Nature gave to man,
Each other to assist in what they can;
Just or unjust, this law for ever stands;
All things are good by law which she commands;
The first step, man t'wards Christ must justly live,
Who t'us himself, and all we have, did give;
In vain doth man the name of just expect,
If his devotions he to God neglect;
So must we rev'rence God, as first to know
Justice from Him, not from ourselves, doth flow;
God those accepts who to mankind are friends,
Whose justice far as their own power extends;
In that they imitate the power Divine;
The sun alike on good and bad doth shine;
And he that doth no good, although no ill,
Does not the office of the just fulfil.
Virtue doth man to virtuous actions steer,
'Tis not enough that he should vice forbear;
We live not only for ourselves to care,
Whilst they that want it are denied their share.
Wise Plato said, the world with men was stored,
That succour each to other might afford;
Nor are those succours to one sort confined,
But sev'ral parts to sev'ral men consign'd;
He that of his own stores no part can give,
May with his counsel or his hands relieve.
If Fortune make thee powerful, give defence
'Gainst fraud and force, to naked innocence:
And when our Justice doth her tributes pay,
Method and order must direct the way.
First to our God we must with rev'rence bow;
The second honour to our prince we owe;
Next to wives, parents, children, fit respect,
And to our friends and kindred, we direct;
Then we must those who groan beneath the weight
Of age, disease, or want, commiserate.
'Mongst those whom honest lives can recommend,
Our Justice more compassion should extend;
To such, who thee in some distress did aid,
Thy debt of thanks with int'rest should be paid:
As Hesiod sings, spread waters o'er thy field,
And a most just and glad increase 'twill yield.
But yet take heed, lest doing good to one,
Mischief and wrong be to another done;
Such moderation with thy bounty join,
That thou may'st nothing give that is not thine;
That liberality's but cast away,
Which makes us borrow what we cannot pay.
And no access to wealth let rapine bring;
Do nothing that's unjust to be a king.
Justice must be from violence exempt,
But fraud's her only object of contempt.
Fraud in the fox, force in the lion dwells;
But Justice both from human hearts expels;
But he's the greatest monster (without doubt)
Who is a wolf within, a sheep without.
Nor only ill injurious actions are,
But evil words and slanders bear their share.
Truth Justice loves, and truth injustice fears,
Truth above all things a just man reveres.
Though not by oaths we God to witness call,
He sees and hears, and still remembers all;
And yet our attestations we may wrest
Sometimes to make the truth more manifest;
If by a lie a man preserve his faith,
He pardon, leave, and absolution hath;
Or if I break my promise, which to thee
Would bring no good, but prejudice to me.
All things committed to thy trust conceal,
Nor what's forbid by any means reveal.
Express thyself in plain, not doubtful words,
That ground for quarrels or disputes affords:
Unless thou find occasion, hold thy tongue;
Thyself or others careless talk may wrong.
When thou art called into public power,
And when a crowd of suitors throng thy door,
Be sure no great offenders 'scape their dooms;
Small praise from lenity and remissness comes;
Crimes pardon'd, others to those crimes invite,
Whilst lookers-on severe examples fright.
When by a pardon'd murd'rer blood is spilt,
The judge that pardon'd hath the greatest guilt;
Who accuse rigour, make a gross mistake;
One criminal pardon'd may an hundred make;
When justice on offenders is not done,
Law, government, and commerce, are o'erthrown;
As besieged traitors with the foe conspire,
T' unlock the gates, and set the town on fire.
Yet lest the punishment th'offence exceed,
Justice with weight and measure must proceed:
Yet when pronouncing sentence, seem not glad,
Such spectacles, though they are just, are sad;
Though what thou dost thou ought'st not to repent,
Yet human bowels cannot but relent:
Rather than all must suffer, some must die;
Yet Nature must condole their misery.
And yet, if many equal guilt involve,
Thou may'st not these condemn, and those absolve.
Justice, when equal scales she holds, is blind;
Nor cruelty, nor mercy, change her mind.
When some escape for that which others die,
Mercy to those, to these is cruelty.
A fine and slender net the spider weaves,
Which little and light animals receives;
And if she catch a common bee or fly,
They with a piteous groan and murmur die;
But if a wasp or hornet she entrap,
They tear her cords like Samson, and escape;
So like a fly the poor offender dies,
But like the wasp, the rich escapes and flies.
Do not, if one but lightly thee offend,
The punishment beyond the crime extend;
Or after warning the offence forget;
So God himself our failings doth remit.
Expect not more from servants than is just,
Reward them well, if they observe their trust;
Nor them with cruelty or pride invade,
Since God and Nature them our brothers made;
If his offence be great, let that suffice;
If light, forgive, for no man's always wise.

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