John Kenyon

(1784-1856 / Jamaica)

Rhymed Plea For Tolerance - Dialogue I - Poem by John Kenyon

A.— That Preacher's strain I never could approve,
Who, but in driblets, dwells on Christian Love;
And when, in sooth, not wholly passing by,
Seems not so much to teach, as not deny;
Each controversial acre toils to till,
But Charity lets sprout or die at will.

Yet the heart vents still more indignant blame,
Where Lawgivers their sullen codes proclaim,
And idly would constrain the creed within,
As if Belief were Crime, and Tolerance—Sin.

And though, at length, our Senatorial Band,
Reluctantly—with cold and grudging hand—

Hath loosed faith's sterner statutes—yet a few
Retained, for old misdeeds to gall the Jew—
Those sterner statutes Custom's iron pen,
Rased from the Books, writes deeply still on Men.

Hence we of Tolerance little yet may boast,
Stranger, too long, to Freedom's vaunted coast,
For here tho' bigot Pride her mild disguise
Full oft assume, entrapping who relies,
(Like that far-fabled wolf who first beguiled
With grandam-speech and then devoured the child)
Yet not the less a ready rod he rears
To smite—where safe—whom more he hates than fears,
Nor slow, meanwhile, his own harsh heart to please
With that old unction, 'I am not like These.'

Deeds, that seem Love's, drip oft from saving Sense,
And many a slow concession filters thence;
But largest Prudence ne'er was Virtue's Whole,
Whose Love, a Spirit, gushes from the Soul;

Presumes no rights—deals round no patron glance,
Nor Toleration is, but Tolerance.

B.— If gush Our Love in no strong jet that towers,
To fall, refreshening round, in rainbow showers;
This praise, at least, accord us, 'Faith is Ours.'

A.— Alone, where Faith and Tolerance combine,
Religion deigns to rear her genuine shrine;
There finds companionship of kindred birth,
And then, as once the Angels, walks on earth.

And can I then but feel the deep offence,
When stern Intolerance leagued, and low Pretence,
In that pure fane, with foul intrusion, nest,
And crush her births—the loveliest and the best!

Such tax Religion pays—her glory's price—
Her style usurped by every masquing Vice.
Pebbles—though bright—fraud takes small heed to them,
But every rogue would counterfeit the gem.

B.— Nay now beware.

A.— Of all the wraths that burst,
A Saint's, unsainted, is, I know, the worst;
To lash the dire offence at once they turn,
And still, when conscious most, most fiercely burn.
But if the just reproof—your harder fate—
For plaint no room allow, nor open hate;
Each to his den, like venom'd adders crept,
Watchful the while, but moveless as they slept,
Some dark reprisal, there, they brood and hatch,
With deep low cunning, wisdom's overmatch,
And closely-guarded look and guarded word,
All smooth! aye, smoother than the smoothest sword!
Oh! thou, believe them never. If they swear,
Look to thyself, and still the more beware;
For he, who listens, walks, in treacherous trust,
O'er burning lava, and a fragile crust.

And hapless He, o'er whom with hanging weight
Broods silently a theologic hate.

In his simplicity he fears no shock,
So calm, so very moveless seems the rock.
But soon he feels, by stroke alone made known,
The sliding avalanche of slippery stone;
Then lies, an unsuspecting victim, low,
For 'twas from treacherous stillness came the blow.

B.— Then wherefore speak?

A.— Yet why should I be mute?
If right, allow me—or if wrong, refute,
And own that where Intolerance wakes the offence,
The verse that smites her is but self defence.
And what smooth doctrine wins us to applaud,
Where interest hints the gain, a pious fraud?
What schoolman's logic strains us to confess
A lie may suit with honest purposes?
For us; who flowers in honour's path would strew,
Nor much averse 'to give the Devil his due,'
We still will hold it shame and bitter ruth,
Where interest-minted falsehoods pass for truth.

And lo!—a church now beards each brothel door,
Yet Vice lives on as sensual as before.
To each its votaries throng and plight their troth,
And one same congregation serves for both.

For loitering worshipper small space allowed,
Now gasping aisles scarce hold the Sunday crowd.
Yet let thine eye pursue—God's service o'er—
Each solemn group through home's re-opening door;
There mark how soon the world resumes its place,
And earthly lusts rush in on heavenly grace.
See caustic slander there, see sneering craft
Mix up for thirsty hate some well-spiced draught;
Which lips, just reverent from the sacred cup,
Shall welcome with keen smile and drain it up.

Such, oft, is faith. A pageant but for gaze,
A gold-fringed drapery, kept for public days
Which to a closet, for the most, we trust,
And, but for sabbath service cleanse from dust!

As pilgrims, whose devotions else might faint,
Will worship oft the image for the saint;
As grasping misers come, ere long, to prize
Gold for itself, yet more than what it buys;
Thus—soon—the soul to mere external leans,
High ends forgets, and meanly dotes on means;
And, as in Social, so in Sacred, clings
Not to the Spirit, but the Forms of things;
Prims outward feature for the grace within,
Puts on the sackcloth, not throws off the sin;
Earth views and skies, nor worships at the view;
But, once a week, prays stoutly in a pew.
Just sees, just feels, as Custom shifts the prism,
And—born a Spirit—dies—a Formalism.

Might'st thou, e'en thou, most wise and holy Paul!
Quit, for brief season, heaven's eternal hall,
And for mere Saint made known—nor more—nor less,
Just prove our thresholds, in some simple dress,
With locks ill shorn, and labour-hardened skin,
I know not house polite would let thee in;

Nor, spite of all those glorious gifts of thine,
What bishop's civil wife would ask to dine.

But though Devotion's shows, probed more and more,
Might still be found more hollow at the core;
Belief, not Practice, prized at highest rate,
Barren Belief, or fruitful most in Hate;
Yet, as each Age, of cheerfulness or gloom,
On its own pilgrims dons its own costume;
As Guilds, whate'er the individual man,
Wear all one cloak—the livery of the clan;
So universal Britain now—no less,
Her motley motives shrouds in 'Godliness,'
—As smugglers clap run goods beneath a pall—
And that mere skin-deep covering serves for all.

And yet my friend, by no irreverence stirr'd,
Nor mocking 'Godliness,' I name that word!
Paul's word, no doubt, when, with uplifted hand,
He taught at Athens, 'mid the Gentile band;

Or when, in Judah, 'gainst her ancient yoke
He strove, and Felix trembled as he spoke.

But 'Godliness' then told of faith and love,
Mild Duties here, and holiest Hopes above;
Now some mere thought of Ritual import brings
Things change with Times and Meanings change with Things.

Some flashy hand-bill spreads the news of grace,
'To-day, a Mission Meeting will have place.'
Prompt at the call, pure Faith, Pretence, and Sin,
Interest and Fear, strange medley, all rush in;
There pious Hope, there wide expanding Love
Join in one prayer, to speed the herald dove;
There, too, each scheming son of Trade attends,
This, keen to gain—this, fearing loss of, friends;
Poor Cliens owns such summons sad for him,
Still he must fail not,—'tis my Lady's whim;
The village Galen, groaning inwardly,
Contributes there, perforce, his hard-carn'd fee;

Glad Sectaries profit by the occasion lent,
To waft o'er distant fields the dear Dissent;
There too the Rector's glebe its produce pours,
Seed for new church on far Australian shores;
Which, so he deems, to future tithe shall grow,
While Deans expand and purple Bishops blow.
The Borough Member too must join the tribe,
For speech, well timed, may save a costlier bribe;
There too his Lordship comes—perhaps a prank?
Not so—the chair, 'tis thought, befits his rank;
And, Ascot o'er, play slack at every hell,
'The thing seems proper,' and 'He might as well.'

Love-feast is this, where brother links with brother;
Or Gamester Club, where each would pluck the other?

B.— Yet, in one Bark and pledged one Course to steer,
These must be Tolerant, if not quite Sincere.

A.— Creeds—inward—outward—Doctrine of old sects,
Philosophy hath borne, but Heaven rejects.

God scarce may yield the Conscience thus to trim;
Mixed motives are for Man; the one for Him.
Though worldly shrewdness worldly work may do,
He loves alone the simple and the true.

Nay more. As kings, who cling to right divine,
Freedom to crush, though jealous, yet combine;
So these, though differing each, all join to assail
Who rashly dares to stand without their pale.
Nor him avails on Truth, for aid, to call,
Nor, Samson-like, assay to shake their wall;
That shaken wall, if chance so far he win,
Shall, with its block and rubble, whelm him in.

B.— Though Falsehood thus may cowl opinion in,
Or timid Prudence veil, to falsehood kin,
Frankness shall dare a course direct to steer;
We make—ourselves—the Spectres which we fear.

A.— So dreams the Youth.—Age dreads the tongue may slip,
And presses close the finger on the lip;

And pondering what the cunning Frenchman said,
'That truths there are to show and truths to shade,'
Tames to meek mien avowal's earlier pride,
And e'en from Friendship's ear submits to hide.

Hence warmth, nor honest doubt, is licensed here;
With hypocrites e'en silence is a sneer.
Frankness himself they strain, through fear, to aid,
Unwilling partner in the dirty trade.
For touch the mystery these their rites enclose,
Hint, or but look, what each in secret knows;
And, 'Drug the bowl,' they shout; 'Prepare the rods,'
'For he, like Socrates, denies the gods!'

Teacher of Truth, be this thy gracious charter,
To live imprisoned, or to die a martyr.
This lore each age hath learned—or old or new—
Derived alike from Christian and from Jew.
Hence thou, Geologist, take timely heed,
Nor let a quarry quarrel with a creed.

Truth may lie, fossil, in some cave, no doubt;
But 'twere a mad success to win her out;
For ere Thou lead, or She come safely forth,
Astræa must return once more to earth.

Rapt to some peak, or trailing on the ground,
For each how various Faith's horizon bound;
Yet, far as Soul Sincere is virtue's test,
What truly each perceives, for each is best.
Let Knowledge upward win from view to view,
But drag not—strain not with Procrustian screw.

B.— Duty, you grant, must rise in truth's defence.

A.— But Duty, oft, is Temper's mere pretence;
And ne'er is soul so deftly swayed to evil,
As when, in guise of Conscience, tempts the Devil.
—And if a heart be found, which rarely plies
To the fond need of human sympathies,
'Tis there Intolerance loves to fix her place,
Proud, as old Stylite, of her narrow base,

And wider worship views with aspect sour,
And crooks and more contracts from hour to hour.

B.— But Certainties, we hold, should doubt exclude—

A.— 'Twixt sect and sect, yet where the Certitude?
For very truth their dogmas all profess,
And who may dare decide 'twixt guess and guess?
Or every shifting shade perceive or say,
Which parts, not black from white, but grey from grey?
Various our means, one same our right to scan,
The judgment is for God, and not for Man;
And if that judgment of the all-seeing Throne—
No thought may dare, yet Tolerance is our own.

B.— But judge we must.

A.— Then let no blinding pride
Of dogmatism, but mild heart decide.
Where his own Wisdom bounds his Mercy's store,
The veriest Sage in charity is poor.

Perchance, who doomed us thus to disagree,
Planned this arena for our charity;
For beauteous end, bade Virtue—Weakness—join,
And turns our freedom's self to discipline.
By many a step we mount Heaven's awful stair,
And Love fits here, as Knowledge waits us there.

If e'er some slight misgiving thou should'st know
Of present creed—for thought will ebb and flow—
Straight, from thyself, the passing lesson take,
And spare another's for thine own mind's sake.
Faith, vowed unchangeable, may win Thee sorrow,
When Light—to-day—appears less Light—to-morrow.

But if thine own peculiar faith be fixed,
Yet earth is fully wide for creeds commixed.
Or, grant, that all must fuse to one consent,
Love more hath won than ever argument.
Nor need thine argument be rasping file;
Pour forth the milk of reason, not its bile;

Nay, if by foe ungentle scorn be shown,
Bear his Intolerance and chain down thine own.

As Poles Magnetic, like the like, repel,
So harsh with harsh refuses still to dwell;
But, proved with wiser gentleness aright,
Veers gladly round to greet its opposite;
Clasps, with a trembling joy, the new found heart,
Turns, as it turns, and clings and dreads to part.

Hence Church, which votaries would retain, when won,
Of hard, unsocial creed the taint should shun.
Exclusive dogmas train the heart to Pride,
Pride, bent on power, picks quarrel to divide;
And—lordliest sin of all the mortal seven—
Would rather 'reign in hell, than serve in heaven.'

And hence (so suicidal follies work)
Our kirk-born pride, ere long, rejects the kirk;
And—(as from public ball small gentry wheel
To squeeze select in parlour cribs genteel)

Comrades no longer—Leaders all would be,
In chapel snug, or pious coterie;
And—orthodoxy, like old empire, gone—
Like Satraps, split the realm—to seize a throne.

—'Twere better done—if Churches thus may thin—
Like ancient Rome to 'ascribe new nations in,
Far as we may each sacred Guild extend,
Hard names forbear—and greet as Friend to Friend.

B.— But, strongly feeling, strongly we express.

A.— Yet Permanence how little waits on Stress!
Half-Christian Plato! long thy mild controul
Clung to the musings of the thoughtful soul;
While harsher lore—the Cynic's bitter flow,
And all the dogmas of the Portico,
Dictators once—ruled but their little year,—
A story now—a moral—or a sneer.

Truth, self-assured, no wrathful flutter knows,
As sculptured strength is noblest in repose.
'Tis thus some Masterpiece of Grecian art
Speaks to the vision of the thoughtful heart,
And, mildly powerful, tames the gazer's breast
To the calm spirit of Majestic Rest.

Ye Suns, which every clime in order strike,
Ye generous Breezes, poured for all alike;
Hues, for all hearts outspread thro' western skies,
Fields—Woods—with each your odours, forms and dyes,
Which all may gaze upon or breathe at will,
And, if unlike, all odorous—beauteous—still;
From lip of blooming rose or lily's cup,
Or whencesoe'er, One incense offering up;
Do ye in sooth no exhortation read,
Ye mild Analogies! to milder creed?

And, more than these, Thou, all-recipient Mind!
That, not to flesh tenement confined,

Canst thence, as from some watch-tower's narrow bound,
Scan, like Astronomer, all ether round,
Or glance at will to each remotest place
Of earth's domain, the Denizen of Space;
Thou great Discoverer! chartered to explore
Far steppe, or central range, or circling shore,
From where, contracted to their pigmy span,
The Polar Race recedes almost from man,
To where Circassia's ever-favoured earth
Guards the fine impress of primeval birth;
Or cleavest th' unparcelled sea, our world's highway!
Or hung on planet, cycling far away,
Its path, its period with high thought canst dare,
Nor e'er dost stoop to doubt that Good is there;
Oh how (like felon who not heeds the link
Which galls his limb, so he but eat and drink)
Oh! how may'st Thou, to such brave height once risen,
Crouch down content in some sour dogma's prison?

Or if, descending from that height sublime,
We turn the records of historic time,

Of many a vanished age the deeds recal,
And think—and act—and grieve—and hope with All,
Their opportunities—temptations—scan,
And finding Human—sympathize as Man,
Led onward thus to gentle thoughts and free,
Say why—Devotion!—are we doomed to be
But harsh and narrow when we link with Thee?

Let Thought with Love but teach us to expand,
And Love shall teach yet more to understand;
So he who climbs finds other hills in view
Far o'er the plain and climbs those others too;
And winning thus his prospect—part by part—
Stamps in the end All Nature on his heart.

B.— 'But Principles we hate, and not the Man.'

A.— 'Tis dangerous thus to balance on a span;
For spite each nice distinction, logic-spun,
Thinker and Thought, to common minds, are one.
Not Calvin's self could snap the vulgar tether,
So burned the Man and Principles together.

Give Law her sword—to Faith her bough of peace;
For conscience Faith was meant, and not police;
No petty constable at wake or fair,
But the heart's silent guardian everywhere.

B.— 'Not Peace I came to send ye, but a Sword.'
'Tis Scripture text.

A.— And Calvin's ill-strained word.
Calvin—who made God's judgment—fore-decree,
And but some gloomier Dis his deity;
Whose doctrine was a Babel, jargoned o'er
With strifes of thought, as strifes of tongue, before;
—Election!—Reprobation!—terms as clear
As ancient Asia's mystic character,
The pilgrim puzzling, while he stoops to pick
From some half dubious site his lettered brick;
—Or catacomb, 'mid whose dim caverns crost,
Man 'finds no end, in wandering mazes lost.'

The particle divine—the guiding spark—
Love, that like sun-beam, beckons through the dark,
On Her I call'd, to cheer the abhorred gloom,
And echo'd every vault—'Predestined Doom.'

B.— Yet now—no Rothschild—greedy king to soothe,
Is strained to yield an ingot—or a tooth;
No star-chambers their penal dues devise,
Then priest-like, feed upon the sacrifice;
—The race were bigot then —now—each, at need,
Finds, at least here,—fit couch to suit his creed.

A.— And if thou choose some couch of theirs, 'tis well—
Or lend thy single wave their tides to swell;
But self-supporting Faith, that swears to none,
Or pledges Sacrament to God alone,
—Such as our holy Milton chose at last—
At this by every hand some stone is cast.—

Hence Worldly Calculation leagues with Scet,
Where breastworks guard and battle lines protect;

And, like shrewd knave, enlisted Regular,
Claims surety from acknowledged rights of war;
While the poor clown, unprivileged by drill,
Home who defends, is hanged or shot at will.

Thus faith, that fain would seem communion high,
—Let truth be told,—full oft is policy;
A home-insurance—a prudential plan—
By some avowed—through God to manage Man.

B.— Yet pause and say—this policy austere,
Till our third George's day scarce thriving here,
Whence sprouts it now?

A.— From league of pride and fear;
From league of anxious pride and courage lax,
For sway their sceptre, for defence their tax;
Such two-fold sword, as cunning fencers wield,
At once an edge to smite, and ward to shield.

When lofty Charles and ancient Privilege
Of new-mailed liberty first felt the siege,

Then first Old England rather groan'd, than rang,
With godly hymns and Barebones' nasal twang.
But then, not less, the godless cavalier
Flung his loose ballad on the offended ear;
And still, for so extremes extremes provoke,
Mocked the prim preachment with the ribald joke.

A following century struck a wiser mean;
The mass was then more cheerful, but more clean.
Yet then un-prudish Addison could win,
Then Pope deem'd raillery, unstarch'd, no sin;
Then scornful Swift could frolic with free touch,
And Peachum pleased a race that robbed not much.
Some even have played with Congreve's comic lyre,
Nor felt the tinder temp'rament take fire.
War with pretence satiric Fielding waged,
Yet thousands read of Blifil unenraged;
(For least who feign are least by banter crost,
'Tis doubtful titles stir the passions most
And follies forth, and forth e'en vices streamed,
Yet Man, meanwhile, was Better than he seem'd.

Then too our Second George, not over-staid,
Would lead his court to merry masquerade,
And if the mask chance-vices covered there,
'Twas not, as 'neath the Third, life's daily wear.

And Puritans, extinct, had ceased to rage,
And vex with holy war the graceful Stage;
And then if Constance, or discrowned Lear,
Had roused some loftier throb or deeper tear;
Or sweet Miranda's purest womanhood
Touched the fine sense of Beautiful and Good;
Or glorious Falstaff, raciest son of earth,
Shook from his sides immeasurable mirth;
Or free Autolycus, as nature free,
Had won to bear his rogueries for his glee,
E'en then—no follower of play-scourging Prynne
Denounced, as now, the Sympathy for Sin.

And then—though Wesley—strong in fervent youth,
Strong in man's weakness, strong in his own truth,
Followers, ere long, drew round him—Hope and Fear—
Rueful Pretence, and Penitence sincere;

Votaries, the most with little to resign,
Rude audience—from the workshop or the mine;
And though erewhile, at pride's or faith's command,
Some titled dowager would head the band;
For stimulants still charm fair devotee,
Chapel for church—for writ, extempore—;
And though a court, more decent than before,
With cowl and hood court-vices covered o'er,
And cast from Windsor's towers a monkish gloom;
Yet Frankness still had genial air and room—
Free, in the main, to pray—or sport—at will—
And our dear land was 'merry England' still.

—But when, as chanced, from limbs and wearied reins
France, slavery-stung, burst body-bands and chains;
Some were rejoiced—some doubted—some were sad—
But all, at length, allowed her freedom—mad—
Most for our own proclaimed a muzzle right,
Some would have slain—so much they feared the bite.
The danger, seen through mist, loomed large and near,
And Reason—Principles—were lost in Fear.

Then ancient statesmen took their daily range
Round one small spot, and shuddering talked of change;
—Or, niched, discreet, behind Prescription's shield,
In his own wrong, urged Valour to the field.
Wealth, 'mid his coffers, feared th' approaching war,
And ribboned Title trembled for his star;
Vague unused terrors crept upon the brave,
And scarce the scornful Bar its scorn could save.
The ready Pulpit joined the Statesman's game,
And Freedom walked our British soil in shame.

And then, though some of wiser, loftier views,
By Meditation kindled, or the Muse,
With peril not unthreatened, took their stand,
And taught 'unawed amid a slavish band,'
E'en these, though strong to bid the Few rejoice,
Yet found no echo in the general voice;
For still, o'er leaden brains and hearts of clay
Philosophy and Song both died away.

Nor well-starred They, to whom, in that sharp hour,
Heaven gave the gifts of Genius and of Power,

And poured upon their spirits, like a flood,
The heroic instincts of the Pure and Good.—
In world-shunn'd solitude alone they stood,
Feared and yet scorned,—half excommunicate,
Detraction joyed on all their steps to wait,
And infant foes were taught to lisp in hate.

Nor strange, if then, by force prevailing prest,
—For still 'mid storm the Pliant fares the best—
Apostate natures recantation sung;
Then with new vigour, virulent as young,
Well nigh to blood the ready rabble stung;
When Priestley, driven in distant lands to roam,
Himself the flames scarce 'scaped that wrapt his home.

—But thou, Transcendent Burke, Ambiguous Sage!
Great Light, at once, yet Darkener of our age!
Beneath thy home's necessities severe
A pensioned pleader, yet of soul sincere;
If thou, when zeal to blinding passion grew,
Could'st overlook the Many for the Few;

Lend thy strong hand to prop proud prelate lord,
And o'er the serf keep hung the feudal sword;
Yet that all-grasping sense, that fancy's fire,
That pictured speech, far ages shall admire;
That intellectual chivalry, whose pride
Was glorious combat on the weaker side;
That generous heart, which saw th' Oppressor low,
Then 'quite forgot his vices in his woe.'

Strange fear of Change beneath thy Sorcery grew,
And Kings perplexed and smote the Nations too;
And strengthened These on ancient forms to rest,
And cheated Those to hold old forms the best.

Such was the cup that met my youngling lip,
And, pressed in friendly guise, not hard to sip.
Yet from the draught full soon I learn'd to shrink,
As healthful stomachs loathe the sick man's drink.
Smooth as it was—and well contrived to steep
The drowsing sense in slavery's icy sleep;
Yet then, as nature kindly willed it should,
Forth from the proffered evil leapt a good;

Th' o'erstrong narcotic played a wholesome part,
And, with redeeming nausea, cleans'd the heart.

—Then first it was, in rising manhood warm,
Fondly I dared to gaze on Freedom's form.
Some high-born Grecian maid she seemed to be,
With open brow and wild eye glancing free—
Wild glancing eye, that yet could flash a frown,
If need there were, to awe presumption down.
Stirred deeply by her pure yet thrilling touch,
At glowing twenty I might glow too much;
But now the headlong age, that deems amiss,
Is past—and knowledge shows her as she is,
In the clear mirror of calm judging truth,
Almost the vision of my earliest youth;
E'en now, if force at home, or foreign arms,
Would quell that glancing eye, or soil those charms;
If lustful kings should mark her for their prey,
Or the vile mob, more fierce and lewd than they;
E'en now, with deeper, holier love adored,
I fly to shield or save her with the sword.

Yes—Kings might learn, if truth could reach a throne,
That Freedom's dearest rights are all their own.
That where the free-born soul hath leave to start,
Quickened themselves, and quickening every heart,
They lead—at will—a more devoted throng
Than e'er for Asian despot rolled along,
Lead to heroic life, or glorious graves;
But Themselves wither in a land of Slaves.
So wisdom deems. So Britain deemed no more,
And exiled Freedom fled the scoffing shore!

Soon—Freedom, queen of willing service, gone,
Hypocrisy usurped the vacant throne;
Cheered by the proud—the rich—the base—the dull—
And every fool, too cold to play the fool.
All in one grave demeanour primly deckt,
—For Gravity still cheats with most effect—
City and Court, all false and all afraid,
Low at her feet their solemn mummeries played.
The sneering Sceptic there, to swell the band,
Linked with the noisy Bigot, hand-in-hand;

There bold impetuous Speed, on fire to go,
Reined in by prudent Dulness, paced it slow;
And there, with all beguiling, few beguiled,
Augur looked Augur in the face, nor smiled.—

Then frighted Wealth, as new-scared converts use,
Repaired church pulpits and re-lined his pews;
In those new precincts dozed at morning prayer,
And when he took his evening nap, 'twas there.

Nor less in grave committee was he seen,
The district-Draco, with demurest mien;
While brief decorum nursed a double zest
For the coarse story and the tawdry jest.

'When Evil men conspire, the Good combine '
This flamed their flag device, their motto line.
By this each Mummer vowed, not swore, to stand,
And new-born statutes vermined thro' the land.
'Twas then, like loathsome worm, in loathsome sty,
The rank Informer swelled and Prompter Spy—

How fostered there let wiser heads decide,
By Love for Virtue or the Hates of Pride.

—'Twas thus by Pride and Fear the pact was built,
When Godliness held forth his hand to Guilt;
Yet hence his own snug vice each fondles free,
Safe in the cloak of that free-masonry.—
So when our Bacchus of the Colonnade
To cheap champagne invites and masquerade,
Sinner and Saint, coarse manners and foul skin,
Beneath the shrouding domino all slip in.

Then vaunt we not of 'pious.'—Oft as heard,
False, hackney'd as it is, I hate the word!
Whether on graceful Fry, with eloquent lip,
Or Stock-exchange Apostle—with his Scrip;
Or lean tub-orator, with way-worn feet,
Or well-paid club-itinerant, posting fleet;
Or quaker, proudly-plain, or judge be-furred,
The nauseous praise be hitched, I hate the word—
Term prostitute! like prostitute, allied
By turns, with fraud—with meanness or with pride.

In Gentile days, while yet the darkling crowd
Clashed shields to Mars, or low to Plutus bowed,
A Piety arose, of birth divine,
Like that, first known on earth in Palestine;
Teacher of doctrines, yet dissuading hate,
A scrip, his treasury,—and a staff, his state—
Mere Pilgrim, glory—gold—rejecting all,
And sprung too fresh from heaven, for earthly thrall.

—A farther day that sandal'd Pilgrim sees,
With 'mitred front, in courts and palaces.'
For simple scrip, huge coffers whence to draw,
For simple staff, sustaining sword of law.—
With statesmen leagued, with smooth expectants round,
New see to beckon,—family to found,—
Thus hardly placed beneath temptation's rod,
Ah! me—if Mammon share his heart with God!

O'er bustled with the World—this truth confess—
Religion drops, too oft, to Worldliness;
Of many a heaven-born hope foregoes the hold,
And every hour soils more with earthly mould;

Yet, decent ever, looks and moves with care,
And ushers Peccadillo in—with Prayer.

Let Saints to regal roofs make rare resort;
Not oft a Cloister purifies a Court.
Nay, let experience tell, the Royal Touch,—
—Least—when most fond—not aids Religion much;
Infects with human lusts, with worldly hopes,
And taints from Village Vicars up to Popes.
Faith's essence pure sublimes o'er King and Queen,
Nor should a Laïs ever make a Dean.

But if our Church and State must needs combine,
And at each levee bow some stout Divine,
—I, little bred in theocratic school,
Would rather there behold him bow, than rule.

—For when, in courtly service wax'd too great,
Some Laud, or some La Chaise, assumes the state;
Conscience must wait, all trembling, at his beck,
And burdened Faith, like camel, cower the neck;

Or free if these should stand and nought afraid,
Like Hermit Peter, he proclaims crusade;
Prudence, old pilot, dashes from the helm,
And, for some idle dictum, wrecks a realm.

And, hardly more, amid the quonum kind,
'In fair round belly, with good capon lined,
'And eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,'
Love I to see the Parish Pastor put;
There to discourse of partridges and hares,
And hold grave descant on the guilt of snares;
Then raise his tone, and feel, or feign, an ire,
Such as may please his Lordship or the Squire!

In yon low hut, yon orphan'd hearth anear,
Me more delights our Curate mild to hear,
With holier 'instances' and 'wiser saw,'
Than ever came from human wit or law.

Ah! me—if mammon scarcely less affect
Us too, the flock, establishment and sect!

In earthly coin all struggling to be paid,
And traders all—in grand or petty trade.

Frail the mere faith, in love not founded deep,
By every worldly interest lulled to sleep,
Be God himself, alone, our love, our pride;
For pay who serves, perchance may swerve aside.
Here earth's rich realms, there heaven's far-visioned coast,
What marvel, if the nearest tempt the most!

Blest days were those, ere clustering clubs had birth,
And men stood prized for individual worth.—
Ere yet the vain, the cunning, and the crazed
Coarse conclaves held—be-praising and be-praised;
Their force—mere pioneer for fortune's way—
Their meekness—but a mask for worldly sway.

Glad for themselves, not scornful for the rest,
—So best is praise to heaven, thro' love, addrest—
Then the meek Layman, and the Layman's wife,
Contented trod the sheltering vale of life;

Their docile hearts to sabbath lessons turned,
Nor dared to teach, but practised what they learn'd;
For trespasses forgiven implored, each day,
And, more than all, temptations kept away;
Each happy in the joy plain duty breeds,
And winning heaven e'en less with prayers than deeds.

The Pastor then 'to all the country dear'—
No platform orator—no pamphleteer—
Not basely busy for committee sway,
Nor plotting glories for some public day;
Not skilful with God's name to interlace
Smooth flatteries for villains high in place
Nor darting round, from undisputed chair,
O'er prostrate souls damnation and despair,
Down to degrade pure love of God's own law
To felon fear, by lashes kept in awe;
He, 'mid the shades of parish usefulness,
To his home flock did his whole soul address,
Or wrought, retired within that studious home,
Some learned toil for ages yet to come;

Nor harsh, meanwhile, nor loud; but mildly grave,
And still most mild, when most intent to save.

Such were the 'pious race' of other days,
And many a lingerer still deserves the praise.
But these, though heaven look kindly on the race,
Our Sancto-Critics deem devoid of grace;
A piety baptize of coarser frame,
And every busy bustler wins the name.

Where now our 'Pious Pastor?'—Seek him there,
In the stoved chapel, near the modish square,
Around where lady patronesses throng,
And list a sermon—as they list a song.

But not like him, whom Cowper's touch could show,
Of doctrine light, and pastor less than beau;
In pulpit tactics He more deeply wise
Of Calvin's creed the stirring lore applies;
Like him, with mystic phrase, succeeds to move,
And holds, like him, by threatenings more than love.

Nor shuns he now to vent the sound austere
Of hell, erst irksome to politer ear;
While, each to other wafts the penalty,
'For me th' angelic flower—its thorns for thee;'
Some pleasure strange e'en that dread word excites,
A 'belle horreur,' that tickles as it frights.—

Yet parish duties him suffice not half;
O'er farther flocks must stretch that pastoral staff.
His week-day works yon echoing hall must greet,
Where clashing chariots block the wrangling street;
Or hand-bill spread, or paragraph must teach,
Or his own modest after-dinner speech!

All are not such! One know I, mild, sincere,
From low ambition, as from avarice clear;
With tolerance blest, with lore, by toil unrolled;
All Grecian sage, all Hebrew bard, hath told;
Critic, yet shrinking from polemic strife;
And Teacher, whose best lesson is his life!
On him, and minds like his, when sad I sink,
My wearied heart, refreshening, turns to think—

But names, that Virtue shall be proud to shrine,
Too well I love, to mar with praise of mine!

Yon 'Pious' Layman—(not like him of yore)—
So well the pupil tests the teacher's lore—
Yon 'Pious' Layman—he whose bursting purse
For widows', orphans' trusts, is ne'er the worse;
Say whence could he the holy claim imbibe?
He found it in two words, 'subscribe—subscribe.'
Is there a mission—some enthusiast's dream?
Or new-planned church—a builder-preacher's scheme?
Some week-day sermon?—Jew-converting school?—
Pleased to be marked, and not unpleas'd to rule,
The busiest, boldest, of the gathering tribe,
He dins from door to door, 'subscribe—subscribe—'
For all his toil of body and of lung,
—Like Irus, stout of limb, and glib of tongue,—
The sole return his modest wishes dare,
The treasurer's office, and the voted chair;
The snug job contract, the consulting fee,
And all the honour of the charity!

Yet he, meanwhile, with looks that bear no part
With the low interests grovelling at his heart,
Can talk of labours, but for conscience, hard!
Then hint how virtue is its own reward,
And own some hopes of heaven—in humbleness!—
Though disappointed, none need miss it less,
Who, if in truth, no other world were his,
Hath schemed so well to be repaid in this!

There are, I know, with purest impulse fraught,
Impulse, not wildly good—but duty-taught,—
Who to no human eye their acts address,
Seen, or unseen, their instinct but to bless;
Their pity, but without its pride, impart,
Let gold pay gold, but conquer heart with heart.
Spirits like these no phrase of mine would wound,
For if not here, oh! where is holy ground?

And what tho' sometimes with this finer joy
A human frailty mingle its alloy;
And the pure ore of hearts, love-satisfied,
Some tinge betray, less pure, fused in by pride;

E'en then, t' assay the vessel's quality
But little prone, whence want may drink supply,
Not mine to intercept the flattering fame—
Their's be the vestry vote, the public name;
Nay, not the beadle, as he bustles by,
Shall doff his hat more civilly than I.—

But for the paltry tribe, who calculate,
Still ere they give, the profit and the rate;
Each pro and con. in balanced file arrayed,
And charity itself,—a thing of trade;
And e'en, when worldly least, then lent, not given;
Upcounting still their interest-score with heaven;
But for these ruffian-mendicants; (just such
Le Sage hath drawn—a musket for a crutch
Who quest for alms, in accent of command,
And in the name of pity, bid me stand;
Hectored by such, I prize at equal rate
Who robs me with the pistol, or the plate.—

Yet this might pass; and He, without my plaint,
A Worldling here, be worshipped there a Saint.

On saintly throne, by brother worldlings set,
The well-fumed Lama of his own Thibet!
But if he wield that most ill-gotten name,
A mace to batter down his neighbour's fame,
And crush who scorns to flatter; stung at this,
What marvel, if I paint him as he is!
Then from his full-blown pride and bursting bags,
Turn to revere sincerity in rags!

B.— If motive-sifting thus our deeds you touch,
The world will say that you refine too much.

A.— That Deeds are good or ill, as motive-wrought;
That holiest Forms, not Spirit-fed, are nought;
That Piety degrades her high-born strain,
In scramble with the mammon tribe for Gain;
That Charity of Heart is heaven's delight;
These are Plain Truths, and Maxims very Trite.
Yet, as still-trickling rain-drops, one by one,
Will wear their impress on obdurate stone;
As green trees clustering round our very door,
Seen daily, for that cause but please the more;

So Moral Truths, that seek not to surprise,
As more familiar, more attract the wise;
So Maxims Trite, their frequency their strength,
By repetition stamp themselves at length;
With oft-driven furrow, first, the Reason till;
Then, from the Reason, pass into the Will.—

Let Meditation deep—let Fancy bold—
Vaunt of new matter—I but dress the old;
Perchance ill dress; but striving nothing New,
Am well content to be accorded True.

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, October 12, 2010

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