The Course Of Time. Book Viii.

Reanimated now, and dressed in robes
Of everlasting wear, in the last pause
Of expectation, stood the human race;
Buoyant in air, or covering shore and sea,
From east to west, thick as the eared grain,
In golden autumn waved, from field to field,
Profuse, by Nilus' fertile wave, while yet
Earth was, and men were in her valleys seen.
Still all was calm in heaven: nor yet appeared
The Judge: nor aught appeared, save here and there,
On wing of golden plumage borne at will,
A curious angel, that from out the skies,
Now glanced a look on man, and then retired.
As calm was all on earth: the ministers
Of God's unsparing vengeance waited still
Unbid: no sun, no moon, no star gave light:
A blest and holy radiance, travelled far
From day original, fell on the face
Of men, and every countenance revealed;
Unpleasant to the bad, whose visages
Had lost all guise of seeming happiness,
With which on earth such pains they took to hide
Their misery in. On their grim features, now
The plain unvisored index of the soul,
The true untampered witness of the heart,
No smile of hope, no look of vanity
Beseeching for applause, was seen; no scowl
Of self important, all-despising pride,
That once upon the poor and needy fell,
Like winter on the unprotected flower,
Withering their very being to decay.
No jesting mirth, no wanton leer was seen;
No sullen lower of braggart fortitude
Defying pain; nor anger, nor revenge:
But fear instead, and terror, and remorse;
And chief one passion to its answering shaped
The features of the damned, and in itself
Summed all the rest—unutterable despair.
What on the righteous shone of foreign light
Was all redundant day, they needed not.
For, as by nature, Sin is dark, and loves
The dark, still hiding from itself in gloom;
And in the darkest hell is still itself
The darkest hell, and the severest wo,
Where all is wo: so Virtue, ever fair!
Doth by a sympathy as strong as binds
Two equal hearts, well pleased in wedded love,
For ever seek the light, for ever seek
All fair, and lovely things, all beauteous forms,
All images of excellence and truth;
And from her own essential being, pure
As flows the fount of life that spirits drink,
Doth to herself give light, nor from her beams,
As native to her as her own existence,
Can be divorced, nor of her glory shorn,—
Which now from every feature of the just,
Divinely rayed; yet not from all alike:
In measure equal to the soul's advance
In virtue, was the lustre of the face.
It was a strange assembly: none of all
That congregation vast could recollect
Aught like it in the history of man.
No badge of outward state was seen; no mark
Of age, or rank, or national attire;
Or robe professional, or air of trade.
Untitled stood the man that once was called
My lord, unserved, unfollowed; and the man
Of tithes, right reverend in the dialect
Of Time addressed, ungowned, unbeneficed,
Uncorpulent; nor now from him, who bore,
With ceremonious gravity of step,
And face of borrowed holiness o'erlaid,
The ponderous book before the awful priest,
And opened, and shut the pulpit's sacred gates
In style of wonderful observancy,
And reverence excessive, in the beams
Of sacerdotal splendour lost, or if
Observed, comparison ridiculous scarce
Could save the little, pompous, humble man
From laughter of the people—not from him
Could be distinguished then the priest untithed.
None levees held, those marts where princely smiles
Were sold for flattery, and obeisance mean,
Unfit from man to man; none came, or went;
None wished to draw attention, none was poor,
None rich; none young, none old, deformed none;
None sought for place, or favour; none had aught
To give, none could receive; none ruled, none served;
No king, no subject was; unscutcheoned all,
Uncrowned, unplumed, unhelmed, unpedigreed;
Unlaced, uncoroneted, unbestarred.
Nor countryman was seen, nor citizen;
Republican, nor humble advocate
Of monarchy; nor idol worshipper,
Nor beaded papist, nor Mahometan;
Episcopalian none, nor presbyter;
Nor Lutheran, nor Calvinist, nor Jew,
Nor Greek, nor sectary of any name.
Nor of those persons that loud title bore—
Most high and mighty, most magnificent;
Most potent, most august, most worshipful,
Most eminent; words of great pomp, that pleased
The ear of vanity, and made the worms
Of earth mistake themselves for gods—could one
Be seen, to claim these phrases obsolete.
It was a congregation vast of men;
Of unappendaged, and unvarnished men;
Of plain, unceremonious human beings,
Of all but moral character bereaved.
His vice, or virtue now to each remained
Alone. All else with their grave-clothes men had
Put off, as badges worn by mortal, not
Immortal man; alloy that could not pass
The scrutiny of Death's refining fires;
Dust of Time's wheels, by multitudes pursued
Of fools that shouted—gold! fair painted fruit,
At which the ambitious idiot jumped, while men
Of wiser mood immortal harvests reaped;
Weeds of the human garden, sprung from earth's
Adulterate soil, unfit to be transplanted,
Though by the moral botanist too oft
For plants of heavenly seed mistaken, and nursed;
Mere chaff that Virtue, when she rose from earth
And waved her wings to gain her native heights,
Drove from the verge of being, leaving vice
No mask to hide her in; base-born of Time,
In which God claimed no property, nor had
Prepared for them a place in heaven, or hell.
Yet did these vain distinctions, now forgot,
Bulk largely in the filmy eye of Time,
And were exceeding fair; and lured to death
Immortal souls. But they were past; for all
Ideal now was past; reality
Alone remained; and good and bad, redeemed
And unredeemed, distinguished sole the sons
Of men. Each to his proper self reduced,
And undisguised, was what his seeming showed.
The man of earthly fame, whom common men
Made boast of having seen—who scarce could pass
The ways of Time, for eager crowds that pressed
To do him homage, and pursued his ear
With endless praise, for deeds unpraised above,
And yoked their brutal natures, honoured much
To drag his chariot on—unnoticed stood,
With none to praise him, none to flatter there.
Blushing and dumb, that morning, too was seen
The mighty reasoner, he who deeply searched
The origin of things, and talked of good
And evil much, of causes and effects,
Of mind and matter, contradicting all
That went before him, and himself the while,
The laughing-stock of angels; diving far
Below his depth, to fetch reluctant proof,
That he himself was mad and wicked too,
When, proud and ignorant man, he meant to prove,
That God had made the universe amiss,
And sketch a better plan. Ah! foolish sage!
He could not trust the word of Heaven, nor see
The light which from the Bible blazed—that lamp
Which God threw from his palace down to earth,
To guide his wandering children home—yet leaned
His cautious faith on speculations wild,
And visionary theories absurd,
Prodigiously, deliriously absurd,
Compared with which, the most erroneous flight
That poet ever took when warm with wine,
Was moderate conjecturing:—he saw,
Weighed in the balance of eternity,
His lore how light, and wished too late, that he
Had staid at home, and learned to know himself,
And done, what peasants did, disputed less,
And more obeyed. Nor less he grieved his time
Mispent, the man of curious research,
Who travelled far thro' lands of hostile clime,
And dangerous inhabitant, to fix
The bounds of empires past, and ascertain
The burial-place of heroes never born;
Despising present things, and future too,
And groping in the dark unsearchable
Of finished years—by dreary ruins seen,
And dungeons damp, and vaults of ancient waste,
With spade and mattock, delving deep to raise
Old vases and dismembered idols rude;
With matchless perseverance spelling out
Words without sense. Poor man! he clapped his hands
Enraptured, when he found a manuscript
That spoke of pagan gods; and yet forgot
The God who made the sea and sky, alas!
Forgot that trifling was a sin; stored much
Of dubious stuff, but laid no treasure up
In heaven; on mouldered columns scratched his name,
But ne'er inscribed it in the book of life.
Unprofitable seemed, and unapproved,
That day, the sullen, self-vindictive life
Of the recluse: with crucifixes hung,
And spells, and rosaries, and wooden saints,
Like one of reason reft, he journeyed forth,
In show of miserable poverty,
And chose to beg, as if to live on sweat
Of other men, had promised great reward;
On his own flesh inflicted cruel wounds,
With naked foot embraced the ice, by the hour
Said mass, and did most grievous penance vile;
And then retired to drink the filthy cup
Of secret wickedness, and fabricate
All lying wonders, by the untaught received
For revelations new. Deluded wretch!
Did he not know, that the most Holy One
Required a cheerful life and holy heart?
Most disappointed in that crowd of men,
The man of subtle controversy stood,
The bigot theologian—in minute
Distinctions skilled, and doctrines unreduced
To practice; in debate how loud! how long!
How dexterous! in christian love, how cold!
His vain conceits were orthodox alone.
The immutable and heavenly truth, revealed
By God, was nought to him: he had an art,
A kind of hellish charm, that made the lips
Of truth speak falsehood; to his liking turned
The meaning of the text; made trifles seem
The marrow of salvation; to a word,
A name, a sect, that sounded in the ear,
And to the eye so many letters showed,
But did no more—gave value infinite;
Proved still his reasoning best, and his belief,
Though propped on fancies, wild as madmen's dreams,
Most rational, most scriptural, most sound;
With mortal heresy denouncing all
Who in his arguments could see no force.
On points of faith too fine for human sight,
And never understood in heaven, he placed
His everlasting hope, undoubting placed,
And died: and when he opened his ear, prepared
To hear, beyond the grave, the minstrelsy
Of bliss—he heard, alas! the wail of wo.
He proved all creeds false but his own, and found
At last, his own most false—most false, because
He spent his time to prove all others so.
O love destroying, cursed bigotry!
Cursed in heaven, but cursed more in hell,
Where millions curse thee, and must ever curse.
Religion's most abhorred! perdition's most
Forlorn! God's most abandoned! hell's most damned!
The infidel, who turned his impious war
Against the walls of Zion, on the rock
Of ages built, and higher than the clouds,
Sinned, and received his due reward; but she
Within her walls sinned more: of ignorance
Begot, her daughter, Persecution, walked
The earth, from age to age, and drank the blood
Of saints, with horrid relish drank the blood
Of God's peculiar children—and was drunk;
And in her drunkenness dreamed of doing good.
The supplicating hand of innocence,
That made the tiger mild, and in his wrath
The lion pause—the groans of suffering most
Severe, were nought to her: she laughed at groans:
No music pleased her more; and no repast
So sweet to her as blood of men redeemed
By blood of Christ. Ambition's self, though mad,
And nursed on human gore, with her compared
Was merciful. Nor did she always rage:
She had some hours of meditation, set
Apart, wherein she to her study went,
The Inquisition, model most complete
Of perfect wickedness, where deeds were done,
Deeds! let them ne'er be named,—and sat and planned
Deliberately, and with most musing pains,
How, to extremest thrill of agony,
The flesh, and blood, and souls of holy men,
Her victims, might be wrought; and when she saw
New tortures of her labouring fancy born,
She leaped for joy, and made great haste to try
Their force—well pleased to hear a deeper groan.
But now her day of mirth was past, and come
Her day to weep; her day of bitter groans,
And sorrow unbemoaned; the day of grief,
And wrath retributary poured in full
On all that took her part. The man of sin,
The mystery of iniquity, her friend
Sincere, who pardoned sin, unpardoned still,
And in the name of God blasphemed, and did
All wicked, all abominable things,
Most abject stood that day, by devils hissed,
And by the looks of those he murdered, scorched;
And plagued with inward shame that on his cheek
Burned, while his votaries who left the earth,
Secure of bliss, around him undeceived
Stood, undeceivable till then; and knew
Too late, him fallible, themselves accursed,
And all their passports and certificates,
A lie: nor disappointed more, nor more
Ashamed, the Mussulman, when he saw, gnash
His teeth and wail, whom he expected Judge.
All these were damned for bigotry, were damned,
Because they thought, that they alone served God,
And served him most, when most they disobeyed.
Of those forlorn and sad, thou mightst have marked,
In number most innumerable stand
The indolent: too lazy these to make
Inquiry for themselves, they stuck their faith
To some well fatted priest, with offerings bribed
To bring them oracles of peace, and take
Into his management, all the concerns
Of their eternity: managed how well
They knew that day, and might have sooner known,
That the commandment was: Search and believe
In Me, and not in man; who leans on him
Leans on a broken reed that will impierce
The trusted side. I am the way, the truth,
The life alone, and there is none besides.
This did they read, and yet refused to search,
To search what easily was found, and found,
Of price uncountable. Most foolish, they
Thought God with ignorance pleased and blinded faith
That took not root in reason, purified
With holy influence of his Spirit pure.
So, on they walked and stumbled in the light
Of noon, because they would not open their eyes.
Effect how sad of sloth! that made them risk
Their piloting to the eternal shore,
To one who could mistake the lurid flash
Of hell for heaven's true star, rather than bow
The knee, and by one fervent word obtain
His guidance sure, who calls the stars by name.
They prayed by proxy, and at second hand
Believed, and slept and put repentance off,
Until the knock of death awoke them, when
They saw their ignorance both, and him they paid
To bargain of their souls 'twixt them and God,
Fled, and began repentance without end.
How did they wish that morning, as they stood
With blushing covered, they had for themselves
The Scripture searched, had for themselves believed,
And made acquaintance with the Judge ere then!
Great day of termination to the joys
Of sin! to joys that grew on mortal boughs—
On trees whose seed fell not from heaven, whose top
Reached not above the clouds. From such alone
The epicure took all his meals: in choice
Of morsels for the body, nice he was
And scrupulous, and knew all wines by smell
Or taste, and every composition knew
Of cookery; but grossly drank unskilled
The cup of spiritual pollution up,
That sickened his soul to death, while yet his eyes
Stood out with fat: his feelings were his guide;
He ate, and drank, and slept, and took all joys,
Forbid and unforbid, as impulse urged,
Or appetite; nor asked his reason why.
He said, he followed nature still, but lied;
For she was temperate and chaste, he full
Of wine and all adultery; her face
Was holy, most unholy his; her eye
Was pure, his shot unhallowed fire; her lips
Sang praise to God, his uttered oaths profane;
Her breath was sweet, his rank with foul debauch.
Yet pleaded he a kind and feeling heart,
Even when he left a neighbour's bed defiled.
Like migratory fowls that flocking sailed
From isle to isle, steering by sense alone,
Whither the clime their liking best beseemed;
So he was guided; so he moved through good
And evil, right and wrong, but ah! to fate
All different: they slept in dust unpained;
He rose that day to suffer endless pain.
Cured of his unbelief, the sceptic stood,
Who doubted of his being while he breathed;
Than whom, glossography itself, that spoke
Huge folios of nonsense every hour,
And left, surrounding every page, its marks
Of prodigal stupidity, scarce more
Of folly raved. The tyrant too, who sat
In grisly council, like a spider couched,
With ministers of locust countenance,
And made alliances to rob mankind,
And holy termed—for still beneath a name
Of pious sound the wicked sought to veil
Their crimes—forgetful of his right divine,
Trembled, and owned oppression was of hell.
Nor did the uncivil robber, who unpursed
The traveller on the high way and cut
His throat, anticipate severer doom.
In that assembly there was one, who, while
Beneath the sun, aspired to be a fool:
In different ages known by different names,
Not worth repeating here. Be this enough:
With scrupulous care exact, he walked the rounds
Of fashionable duty; laughed when sad;
When merry, wept; deceiving, was deceived;
And flattering, flattered. Fashion was his god.
Obsequiously he fell before its shrine,
In slavish plight, and trembled to offend.
If graveness suited, he was grave; if else,
He travailed sorely, and made brief repose,
To work the proper quantity of sin.
In all submissive, to its changing shape,
Still changing, girded he his vexed frame,
And laughter made to men of sounder head.
Most circumspect he was of bows, and nods,
And salutations; and most seriously
And deeply meditated he of dress;
And in his dreams saw lace and ribbons fly.
His soul was nought—he damned it every day
Unceremoniously. Oh! fool of fools!
Pleased with a painted smile, he fluttered on,
Like fly of gaudy plume, by fashion driven,
As faded leaves by Autumn's wind, till Death
Put forth his hand and drew him out of sight.
Oh! fool of fools! polite to man; to God
Most rude: yet had he many rivals, who,
Age after age, great striving made to be
Ridiculous, and to forget they had
Immortal souls—that day remembered well.
As rueful stood his other half, as wan
Of cheek: small her ambition was—but strange.
The distaff, needle, all domestic cares,
Religion, children, husband, home, were things
She could not bear the thought of; bitter drugs
That sickened her soul. The house of wanton mirth
And revelry, the mask, the dance, she loved,
And in their service soul and body spent
Most cheerfully: a little admiration,
Or true, or false, no matter which, pleased her,
And o'er the wreck of fortune lost, and health,
And peace, and an eternity of bliss
Lost, made her sweetly smile: she was convinced
That God had made her greatly out of taste,
And took much pains to make herself anew.
Bedaubed with paint, and hung with ornaments
Of curious selection—gaudy toy!
A show unpaid for, paying to be seen!
As beggar by the way, most humbly asking
The alms of public gaze—she went abroad:
Folly admired and indication gave
Of envy; cold civility made bows,
And smoothly flattered; wisdom shook his head;
And laughter shaped his lip into a smile;
Sobriety did stare; forethought grew pale;
And modesty hung down the head and blushed;
And pity wept, as on the frothy surge
Of fashion tossed, she passed them by, like sail
Before some devilish blast, and got no time
To think, and never thought, till on the rock
She dashed of ruin, anguish, and despair.
O how unlike this giddy thing in Time!
And at the day of judgment how unlike!
The modest, meek, retiring dame. Her house
Was ordered well; her children taught the way
Of life—who, rising up in honour, called
Her blest. Best pleased to be admired at home,
And hear reflected from her husband's praise,
Her own, she sought no gaze of foreign eye.
His praise alone, and faithful love, and trust
Reposed, was happiness enough for her.
Yet who that saw her pass, and heard the poor
With earnest benedictions on her steps
Attend, could from obeisance keep his eye,
Or tongue from due applause. In virtue fair,
Adorned with modesty, and matron grace
Unspeakable, and love—her face was like
The light, most welcome to the eye of man;
Refreshing most, most honoured, most desired
Of all he saw in the dim world below.
As Morning when she shed her golden locks,
And on the dewy top of Hermon walked,
Or Zion hill—so glorious was her path:
Old men beheld, and did her reverence,
And bade their daughters look, and take from her
Example of their future life: the young
Admired, and new resolve of virtue made.
And none who was her husband asked: his air
Serene, and countenance of joy, the sign
Of inward satisfaction, as he passed
The crowd, or sat among the elders, told.
In holiness complete, and in the robes
Of saving righteousness, arrayed for heaven,
How fair, that day, among the fair, she stood!
How lovely on the eternal hills her steps!
Restored to reason, on that morn appeared
The lunatic—who raved in chains, and asked
No mercy when he died. Of lunacy
Innumerous were the causes: humbled pride,
Ambition disappointed, riches lost,
And bodily disease, and sorrow, oft
By man inflicted on his brother man;
Sorrow that made the reason drunk, and yet
Left much untasted—so the cup was filled:
Sorrow that like an ocean, dark, deep, rough,
And shoreless, rolled its billows o'er the soul
Perpetually, and without hope of end.
Take one example, one of female wo.
Loved by a father, and a mother's love,
In rural peace she lived, so fair, so light
Of heart, so good, and young, that reason scarce
The eye could credit, but would doubt, as she
Did stoop to pull the lily or the rose
From morning's dew, if it reality
Of flesh and blood, or holy vision, saw,
In imagery of perfect womanhood.
But short her bloom—her happiness was short.
One saw her loveliness, and with desire
Unhallowed, burning, to her ear addressed
Dishonest words: “Her favour was his life,
His heaven; her frown his wo, his night, his death.”
With turgid phrase thus wove in flattery's loom,
He on her womanish nature won, and age
Suspicionless, and ruined and forsook:
For he a chosen villain was at heart,
And capable of deeds that durst not seek
Repentance. Soon her father saw her shame;
His heart grew stone; he drove her forth to want
And wintry winds, and with a horrid curse
Pursued her ear, forbidding all return.
Upon a hoary cliff that watched the sea,
Her babe was found—dead: on its little cheek,
The tear that nature bade it weep, had turned
An ice-drop, sparkling in the morning beam;
And to the turf its helpless hands were frozen:
For she—the woful mother, had gone mad,
And laid it down, regardless of its fate
And of her own. Yet had she many days
Of sorrow in the world, but never wept.
She lived on alms; and carried in her hand
Some withered stalks, she gathered in the spring:
When any asked the cause, she smiled, and said,
They were her sisters, and would come and watch
Her grave when she was dead. She never spoke
Of her deceiver, father, mother, home,
Or child, or heaven, or hell, or God; but still
In lonely places walked, and ever gazed
Upon the withered stalks, and talked to them;
Till wasted to the shadow of her youth,
With wo too wide to see beyond—she died:
Not unatoned for by imputed blood,
Nor by the Spirit that mysterious works,
Unsanctified. Aloud her father cursed
That day his guilty pride which would not own
A daughter whom the God of heaven and earth,
Was not ashamed to call his own; and he
Who ruined her, read from her holy look,
That pierced him with perdition manifold,
His sentence, burning with vindictive fire.
The judge that took a bribe; he who amiss
Pleaded the widow's cause, and by delay
Delaying ever, made the law at night
More intricate than at the dawn, and on
The morrow farther from a close, than when
The sun last set, till he who in the suit
Was poorest, by his emptied coffers, proved
His cause the worst; and he that had the bag
Of weights deceitful, and the balance false;
And he that with a fraudful lip deceived
In buying or in selling:—these that morn
Found custom no excuse for sin, and knew
Plain dealing was a virtue, but too late.
And he that was supposed to do nor good
Nor ill, surprised, could find no neutral ground;
And learned, that to do nothing was to serve
The devil, and transgress the laws of God.
The noisy quack, that by profession lied,
And uttered falsehoods of enormous size,
With countenance as grave as truth beseemed;
And he that lied for pleasure, whom a lust
Of being heard, and making people stare,
And a most stedfast hate of silence, drove
Far wide of sacred truth, who never took
The pains to think of what he was to say,
But still made haste to speak, with weary tongue,
Like copious stream for ever flowing on—
Read clearly in the lettered heavens what long
Before they might have read: For every word
Of folly you this day shall give account;
And every liar shall his portion have
Among the cursed, without the gates of life.
With groans that made no pause, lamenting there
Were seen the duellist, and suicide:
This thought, but thought amiss, that of himself
He was entire proprietor; and so,
When he was tired of time, with his own hand,
He opened the portals of eternity,
And sooner than the devils hoped, arrived
In hell. The other, of resentment quick,
And, for a word, a look, a gesture, deemed
Not scrupulously exact in all respect,
Prompt to revenge, went to the cited field,
For double murder armed—his own, and his
That as himself he was ordained to love.
The first in pagan-books of early times,
Was heroism pronounced, and greatly praised.
In fashion's glossary of later days,
The last was honour called, and spirit high.
Alas! 'twas mortal spirit; honour which
Forgot to wake at the last trumpet's voice,
Bearing the signature of time alone,
Uncurrent in eternity, and base.
Wise men suspected this before; for they
Could never understand what honour meant;
Or why that should be honour termed which made
Man murder man, and broke the laws of God
Most wantonly. Sometimes, indeed, the grave,
And those of christian creed imagined, spoke
Admiringly of honour, lauding much
The noble youth, who, after many rounds
Of boxing, died; or to the pistol shot,
His breast exposed, his soul to endless pain.
But they who most admired, and understood
This honour best, and on its altar laid
Their lives, most obviously were fools: and what
Fools only, and the wicked understood—
The wise agreed, was some delusive Shade,
That with the mist of time should disappear.
Great day of revelation! in the grave
The hypocrite had left his mask; and stood
In naked ugliness. He was a man
Who stole the livery of the court of heaven,
To serve the devil in; in virtue's guise
Devoured the widow's house and orphan's bread;
In holy phrase transacted villanies
That common sinners durst not meddle with.
At sacred feast, he sat among the saints,
And with his guilty hands touched holiest things.
And none of sin lamented more, or sighed
More deeply, or with graver countenance,
Or longer prayer, wept o'er the dying man,
Whose infant children, at the moment, he
Planned how to rob: in sermon style he bought,
And sold, and lied; and salutations made
In scripture terms: he prayed by quantity,
And with his repetitions long and loud,
All knees were weary; with one hand he put
A penny in the urn of poverty,
And with the other took a shilling out.
On charitable lists—those trumps which told
The public ear, who had in secret done
The poor a benefit, and half the alms
They told of, took themselves to keep them sounding—
He blazed his name, more pleased to have it there
Than in the book of life. Seest thou the man!
A serpent with an angel's voice! a grave
With flowers bestrewed! and yet few were deceived.
His virtues being over-done, his face
Too grave, his prayers too long, his charities
Too pompously attended, and his speech
Larded too frequently, and out of time
With serious phraseology—were rents
That in his garments opened in spite of him,
Thro' which the well accustomed eye could see
The rottenness of his heart. None deeper blushed,
As in the all piercing light he stood exposed,
No longer herding with the holy ones:
Yet still he tried to bring his countenance
To sanctimonious seeming; but, meanwhile,
The shame within, now visible to all,
His purpose baulked:—the righteous smiled, and even
Despair itself some signs of laughter gave,
As ineffectually he strove to wipe
His brow, that inward guiltiness defiled.
Detected wretch! of all the reprobate,
None seemed maturer for the flames of hell;
Where still his face, from ancient custom, wears
A holy air, which says to all that pass
Him by: I was a hypocrite on earth.
That was the hour which measured out to each,
Impartially, his share of reputation!
Correcting all mistakes, and from the name
Of the good man, all slanders wiping off.
Good name was dear to all: without it, none
Could soundly sleep even on a royal bed;
Or drink with relish from a cup of gold:
And with it, on his borrowed straw, or by
The leafless hedge, beneath the open heavens,
The weary beggar took untroubled rest.
It was a music of most heavenly tone,
To which the heart leaped joyfully, and all
The spirits danced: for honest fame, men laid
Their heads upon the block, and while the axe
Descended, looked and smiled. It was of price
Invaluable—riches, health, repose,
Whole kingdoms, life, were given for it, and he
Who got it was the winner still; and he
Who sold it, durst not open his ear, nor look
On human face, he knew himself so vile.
Yet it, with all its preciousness, was due
To Virtue, and around her should have shed,
Unasked, its savoury smell; but Vice, deformed
Itself, and ugly, and of flavour rank,
To rob fair Virtue of so sweet an incense,
And with it to anoint, and salve its own
Rotten ulcers, and perfume the path that led
To death, strove daily by a thousand means;
And oft succeeded to make Virtue sour
In the world's nostrils, and its loathly self
Smell sweetly. Rumour was the messenger
Of defamation—and so swift that none
Could be the first to tell an evil tale;
And was withal so infamous for lies,
That he who of her sayings on his creed
The fewest entered, was deemed wisest man.
The fool, and many who had credit too,
For wisdom, grossly swallowed all she said
Unsifted; and although at every word
They heard her contradict herself, and saw
Hourly they were imposed upon, and mocked,
Yet still they ran to hear her speak, and stared,
And wondered much, and stood aghast, and said:
It could not be; and while they blushed for shame
At their own faith, and seemed to doubt—believed,
And whom they met, with many sanctions, told.
So did experience fail to teach; so hard
It was to learn this simple truth, confirmed
At every corner by a thousand proofs—
That common fame most impudently lied.
'Twas Slander filled her mouth with lying words;
Slander, the foulest whelp of Sin: the man
In whom this spirit entered was undone.
His tongue was set on fire of hell; his heart
Was black as death; his legs were faint with haste
To propagate the lie his soul had framed;
His pillow was the peace of families
Destroyed, the sigh of innocence reproached,
Broken friendships, and the strife of brotherhoods:
Yet did he spare his sleep, and hear the clock
Number the midnight watches, on his bed,
Devising mischief more; and early rose,
And made most hellish meals of good men's names.
From door to door you might have seen him speed,
Or placed amidst a group of gaping fools,
And whispering in their ears, with his foul lips.
Peace fled the neighbourhood in which he made
His haunts; and like a moral pestilence,
Before his breath the healthy shoots, and blooms
Of social joy, and happiness, decayed.
Fools only in his company were seen,
And those forsaken of God, and to themselves
Given up: the prudent shunned him, and his house,
As one who had a deadly moral plague.
And fain would all have shunned him at the day
Of judgment; but in vain. All who gave ear
With greediness, or wittingly their tongues
Made herald to his lies, around him wailed;
While on his face, thrown back by injured men,
In characters of ever-blushing shame,
Appeared ten thousand slanders, all his own.
Among the accursed, who sought a hiding-place
In vain, from fierceness of Jehovah's rage,
And from the hot displeasure of the Lamb,
Most wretched, most contemptible, most vile,—
Stood the false priest, and in his conscience felt
The fellest gnaw of the undying Worm.
And so he might, for he had on his hands
The blood of souls, that would not wipe away.
Hear what he was:—He swore in sight of God,
And man, to preach his master, Jesus Christ;
Yet preached himself: he swore that love of souls
Alone, had drawn him to the church; yet strewed
The path that led to hell, with tempting flowers,
And in the ear of sinners, as they took
The way of death, he whispered peace: he swore
Away all love of lucre, all desire
Of earthly pomp, and yet a princely seat
He liked, and to the clink of Mammon's box
Gave most rapacious ear: his prophecies,
He swore, were from the Lord; and yet taught lies
For gain: with quackish ointment healed the wounds
And bruises of the soul, outside, but left
Within the pestilent matter unobserved,
To sap the moral constitution quite,
And soon to burst again, incurable.
He with untempered mortar daubed the walls
Of Zion, saying, Peace, when there was none.
The man who came with thirsty soul to hear
Of Jesus, went away unsatisfied:
For he another gospel preached than Paul,
And one that had no Saviour in't. And yet
His life was worse: Faith, charity, and love,
Humility, forgiveness, holiness,
Were words well lettered in his sabbath creed;
But with his life he wrote as plain: Revenge,
Pride, tyranny, and lust of wealth and power
Inordinate, and lewdness unashamed.
He was a wolf in clothing of the lamb,
That stole into the fold of God, and on
The blood of souls which he did sell to death,
Grew fat: and yet when any would have turned
Him out, he cried:—Touch not the priest of God.
And that he was anointed, fools believed:
But knew that day, he was the devil's priest;
Anointed by the hands of Sin and Death,
And set peculiarly apart to ill,—
While on him smoked the vials of perdition
Poured measureless. Ah me! what cursing then
Was heaped upon his head by ruined souls
That charged him with their murder, as he stood
With eye of all the unredeemed most sad,
Waiting the coming of the Son of Man!
But let me pause, for thou hast seen his place,
And punishment, beyond the sphere of love.
Much was removed that tempted once to sin.
Avarice no gold, no wine the drunkard saw:
But Envy had enough, as heretofore,
To fill his heart with gall and bitterness.
What made the man of envy what he was,
Was worth in others, vileness in himself,
A lust of praise, with undeserving deeds,
And conscious poverty of soul: and still
It was his earnest work and daily toil
With lying tongue, to make the noble seem
Mean as himself. On fame's high hill he saw
The laurel spread its everlasting green,
And wished to climb; but felt his knees too weak;
And stood below unhappy, laying hands
Upon the strong ascending gloriously
The steps of honour, bent to draw them back;
Involving oft the brightness of their path
In mists his breath had raised. Whene'er he heard,
As oft he did, of joy and happiness,
And great prosperity, and rising worth,
'Twas like a wave of wormwood o'er his soul
Rolling its bitterness. His joy was wo;
The wo of others: when, from wealth to want,
From praises to reproach, from peace to strife,
From mirth to tears, he saw a brother fall,
Or virtue make a slip—his dreams were sweet.
But chief with Slander, daughter of his own,
He took unhallowed pleasure: when she talked
And with her filthy lips defiled the best,
His ear drew near; with wide attention gaped
His mouth; his eye, well pleased, as eager gazed
As glutton, when the dish he most desired
Was placed before him; and a horrid mirth,
At intervals, with laughter shook his sides.
The critic, too, who, for a bit of bread,
In book that fell aside before the ink
Was dry, poured forth excessive nonsense, gave
Him much delight. The critics—some, but few,
Were worthy-men; and earned renown which had
Immortal roots; but most were weak and vile:
And as a cloudy swarm of summer flies,
With angry hum and slender lance, beset
The sides of some huge animal; so did
They buzz about the illustrious man, and fain
With his immortal honour, down the stream
Of fame would have descended; but alas!
The hand of Time drove them away: they were,
Indeed, a simple race of men, who had
One only art, which taught them still to say—
Whate'er was done, might have been better done—
And with this art, not ill to learn, they made
A shift to live: but sometimes too, beneath
The dust they raised, was worth awhile obscured;
And then did Envy prophesy and laugh.
O Envy! hide thy bosom! hide it deep:
A thousand snakes, with black envenomed mouths,
Nest there, and hiss, and feed thro' all thy heart!
Such one I saw, here interposing, said
The new arrived, in that dark den of shame,
Whom, who hath seen shall never wish to see
Again: before him, in the infernal gloom,
That omnipresent shape of Virtue stood,
On which he ever threw his eye; and like
A cinder that had life and feeling, seemed
His face, with inward pining, to be what
He could not be. As being that had burned
Continually in slow consuming fire,
Half an eternity, and was to burn
For evermore, he looked. Oh! sight to be
Forgotten! thought too horrible to think!
But say, believing in such wo to come,
Such dreadful certainty of endless pain,
Could beings of forecasting mould, as thou
Entitlest men, deliberately walk on,
Unscared, and overleap their own belief
Into the lake of ever burning fire?
Thy tone of asking seems to make reply,
And rightly seems: They did not so believe.
Not one of all thou saw'st lament and wail
In Tophet, perfectly believed the word
Of God, else none had thither gone. Absurd,
To think that beings made with reason, formed
To calculate, compare, choose, and reject,
By nature taught, and self, and every sense,
To choose the good and pass the evil by,
Could, with full credence of a time to come,
When all the wicked should be really damned,
And cast beyond the sphere of light and love,
Have persevered in sin! Too foolish this
For folly in its prime. Can aught that thinks,
And wills, choose certain evil and reject
Good, in his heart believing he does so?
Could man choose pain, instead of endless joy?
Mad supposition, though maintained by some
Of honest mind. Behold a man condemned!
Either he ne'er inquired, and therefore he
Could not believe; or else he carelessly
Inquired, and something other than the word
Of God received into his cheated faith,
And therefore he did not believe, but down
To hell descended, leaning on a lie.
Faith was bewildered much by men who meant
To make it clear—so simple in itself;
A thought so rudimental and so plain,
That none by comment could it plainer make.
All faith was one: in object, not in kind
The difference lay. The faith that saved a soul,
And that which in the common truth believed,
In essence were the same. Hear then, what faith,
True, Christian faith, which brought salvation, was:—
Belief in all that God revealed to men:
Observe—in all that God revealed to men;
In all he promised, threatened, commanded, said,
Without exception, and without a doubt.
Who thus believed, being by the Spirit touched,
As naturally the fruits of faith produced—
Truth, temperance, meekness, holiness, and love—
As human eye from darkness sought the light.
How could he else? If he who had firm faith
The morrow's sun should rise, ordered affairs
Accordingly; if he who had firm faith
That spring, and summer, and autumnal days
Should pass away, and winter really come,
Prepared accordingly; if he who saw
A bolt of death approaching, turned aside
And let it pass; as surely did the man
Who verily believed the word of God,
Though erring whiles, its general laws obey,
Turn back from hell, and take the way to heaven.
That faith was necessary, some alleged,
Unreined and uncontrollable by will.
Invention savouring much of hell! Indeed,
It was the master-stroke of wickedness,
Last effort of Abaddon's council dark,
To make man think himself a slave to fate,
And worst of all, a slave to fate in faith.
For thus 'twas reasoned then:—From faith alone,
And from opinion, springs all action: hence,
If faith's compelled, so is all action too:
But deeds compelled are not accountable;
So man is not amenable to God.
Arguing that brought such monstrous birth, though good
It seemed, must have been false: most false it was,
And by the book of God condemned throughout.
We freely own that truth, when set before
The mind, with perfect evidence, compelled
Belief; but error lacked such witness still.
And none who now lament in moral night,
The word of God refused on evidence
That might not have been set aside, as false.
To reason, try, choose and reject, was free:
Hence God, by faith, acquitted, or condemned;
Hence righteous men, with liberty of will
Believed; and hence thou saw'st in Erebus,
The wicked, who as freely disbelieved
What else had led them to the land of life.