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$129 Barks were on his hands, and on his head
laurel, mix'd with myrtle spread.
★ zuigt zrew-edg'd within his right he held,
warlike emblem of the conquer'd field:
Kere was his manly visage on the bier:
Mem'd his countenance; ev'n in death severe.
Then to the palace-hall they bore the knight,
To be in solemn state, a public sight.
This office done, she sunk upon the ground;
But what she spoke, recover'd from her swoon,
I want the wit in moving words to dress:
But by themselves the tender sex may guess.
While the devouring fire was burning fast,
Rich jewels in the flame the wealthy cast;
And some their shields, and some their lances threw
And gave their warrior's ghost a warrior's due.
Groans, cries, and howlings, fill the crowded place, Full bowls of wine, of honey, milk, and blood,
And unaffected sorrow sat on every face.
Sad Palamon above the rest appears,
In sable garments, dew'd with gushing tears:
His auburn locks on either shoulder flow'd,
Which to the funeral of his friend he vow'd:
But Emily, as chief, was next his side,
A virgin-widow, and a mourning bride.
And, that the princely obsequies might be
Perform'd according to his high degree,
The steed, that bore him living to the fight,
Was trapp'd with polish'd steel, all shining bright,
And cover'd with the achievements of the knight.
The riders rode abreast, and one his shield,
His lance of cornel-wood another held; .
The third his bow, and, glorious to behold,
The costly quiver, all of burnish'd gold.
The noblest of the Grecians next appear,
And, weeping, on their shoulders bore the bier;
With sober pace they march'd, and often staid,
And through the master-street the corpse convey'd.
The houses to their tops with black were spread,
And ev'n the pavements were with mourning hid.
The right side of the pall old Egeus kept,
And on the left the royal Theseus wept;
Each bore a golden bowl, of work divine,
With honey fill'd, and milk, and mix'd with ruddy
Then Palamon, the kinsman of the slain,
And after him appear'd the illustrious train.
To grace the pomp, came Emily the bright
With cover'd fire, the funeral pile to light.
With high devotion was the service made,
And all the rites of pagan-honor paid :
So lofty was the pile, a Parthian bow,
With vigor drawn, must send the shaft below.
The bottom was full twenty fathom broad,
With crackling straw beneath in due proportion
The fabric seem'd a wood of rising green,
With sulphur and bitumen cast between,
To feed the flames: the trees were unctuous fir,
And mountain ash, the mother of the spear;
The mourner yew and builder oak were there :
The beech, the swimming alder, and the plane,
Hard box, and linden of a softer grain, [ordain.
And laurels, which the gods for conquering chiefs
How they were rank'd, shall rest untold by me,
With nameless nymphs that liv'd in every tree;
Nor how the Dryads, or the woodland train,
Disherited, ran howling o'er the plain:
Nor how the birds to foreign seats repair'd,
Or beasts, that bolted out, and saw the forest bar'd:
Nor how the ground, now clear'd, with ghastly fright
Beheld the sudden Sun, a stranger to the light.
The straw, as first I said, was laid below:
Of chips and sere-wood was the second row;
The third of greens, and timber newly fell'd;
The fourth high stage the fragrant odors held,
And pearls, and precious stones, and rich array,
In midst of which, embalm'd, the body lay.
The service sung, the maid with mourning eyes
The stubble fir'd; the smouldering flames arise:
Were pour'd upon the pile of burning wood,
And hissing flames receive, and hungry lick the food
Then thrice the mounted squadrons ride around
The fire, and Arcite's name they thrice resound;
Hail, and farewell, they shouted thrice amain,
Thrice facing to the left, and thrice they turn'd again :
Still as they turn'd, they beat their clattering shields:
The women mix their cries; and Clamor fills the fields.
The warlike wakes continued all the night,
And funeral games were play'd at new returning light.
Who, naked, wrestled best, besmear'd with oil,
Or who with gauntlets gave or took the foil,
I will not tell you, nor would you attend;
But briefly haste to my long story's end.
I pass the rest; the year was fully mourn'd,
And Palamon long since to Thebes return'd :
When, by the Grecians' general consent,
At Athens Theseus held his parliament:
Among the laws that pass'd, it was decreed,
That conquer'd Thebes from bondage should be freed;
Reserving homage to th' Athenian throne,
To which the sovereign summon'd Palamon.
Unknowing of the cause, he took his way,
Mournful in mind, and still in black array.
The monarch mounts the throne, and, plac'd on
Commands into the court the beauteous Emily:
So call'd, she came; the senate rose, and paid
Becoming reverence to the royal maid.
And first soft whispers through th' assembly went:
With silent wonder then they watch'd th' event:
All hush'd, the king arose with awful grace,
Deep thought was in his breast, and counsel in his
At length he sigh'd: and, having first prepar'd
Th' attentive audience, thus his will declar'd.
"The Cause and Spring of Motion, from above,
Hung down on Earth the golden chain of love:
Great was th' effect, and high was his intent,
When peace among the jarring seeds he sent,
Fire, flood, and earth, and air, by this were bound,
And love, the common link, the new creation crown'd
The chain still holds; for, though the forms decay,
Eternal matter never wears away:
The same first Mover certain bounds has plac'd,
How long those perishable forms shall last:
Nor can they last beyond the time assign'd
By that all-seeing and all-making Mind:
Shorten their hours they may; for will is free;
But never pass the appointed destiny.
So men oppress'd, when weary of their breath,
Throw off the burthen, and suborn their death.
Then, since those forms begin, and have their end,
On some unalter'd cause they sure depend:
Parts of the whole are we; but God the whole;
Who gives us life and animating soul:
For Nature cannot from a part derive
That being, which the whole can only give:
He perfect, stable; but imperfect we,
Subject to change, and different in degree;
Plants, beasts, and man; and, as our organs are,
We more or less of his perfection share.
But by a long descent, th' ethereal fire
Corrupts; and forms, the mortal part, expire.
As he withdraws his virtue, so they pass,
And the same matter makes another mass:
For which already I have gain'd th' assent
Of my free people in full parliament.
Long love to her has borne the faithful knight,
And well deserv'd, had Fortune done him right:
This law the Omniscient Power was pleas'd to give, 'Tis time to mend her fault; since Emily
That every kind should by succession live!
That individuals die, his will ordains,
The propagated species still remains.
The monarch oak, the patriarch of the trees,
Shoots rising up, and spreads by slow degrees;
Three centuries he grows, and three he stays
Supreme in state, and in three more decays;
So wears the paving pebble in the street,
And towns and towers their fatal periods meet:
So rivers, rapid once, now naked lie,
Forsaken of their springs; and leave their channels
So man, at first a drop, dilates with heat,
Then, form'd, the little heart begins to beat;
Secret he feeds, unknowing in the cell;
At length, for hatching ripe, he breaks the shell,
And struggles into breath, and cries for aid;
Then, helpless, in his mother's lap is laid.
He creeps, he walks, and, issuing into man,
Grudges their life, from whence his own began:
Reckless of laws, affects to rule alone,
Anxious to reign, and restless on the throne :
First vegetive, then feels, and reasons last;
Rich of three souls, and lives all three to waste.
Some thus; but thousands more in flower of age:
For few arrive to run the latter stage.
Sunk in the first, in battle some are slain,
And others whelm'd beneath the stormy main.
What makes all this, but Jupiter the king,
At whose command we perish, and we spring?
Then 'tis our best, since thus ordain'd to die,
To make a virtue of necessity.
Take what he gives, since to rebel is vain;
The bad grows better, which we well sustain ;
And could we choose the time, and choose aright,
"Tis best to die, our honor at the height.
When we have done our ancestors no shame,
But serv'd our friends, and well secured our fame;
Then should we wish our happy life to close,
And leave no more for Fortune to dispose:
So should we make our death a glad relief
From future shame, from sickness, and from grief:
Enjoying while we live the present hour,
And dying in our excellence and flower,
Then round our death-bed every friend should run,
And joyous of our conquest early won:
While the malicious world with envious tears
Should grudge our happy end, and wish it theirs.
Since then our Arcite is with honor dead,
Why should we mourn, that he so soon is freed,
Or call untimely what the gods decreed?
With grief as just, a friend may be deplor'd,
From a foul prison to free air restor❜d.
Ought he to thank his kinsman or his wife,
Could tears recall him into wretched life?
Their sorrow hurts themselves; on him is lost;
And, worse than both, offends his happy ghost.
What then remains, but, after past annoy,
To take the good vicissitude of joy?
To thank the gracious gods for what they give,
Possess our souls, and, while we live, to live?
Ordain we then two sorrows to combine,
And in one point th' extremes of grief to join;
That thence resulting joy may be renew'd,
As jarring notes in harmony conclude.
Then I propose that Palamon shall be
In marriage join'd with beauteous Emily;
By Arcite's death from former vows is free:
you, fair sister, ratify th' accord,
And take him for your husband and your lord,
"Tis no dishonor to confer your grace
On one descended from a royal race:
And were he less, yet years of service past
From grateful souls exact reward at last :
Pity is Heaven's and yours; nor can she find
A throne so soft as in a woman's mind."
He said; she blush'd; and, as o'eraw'd by might,
Seem'd to give Theseus what she gave the knight.
Then turning to the Theban thus he said;
"Small arguments are needful to persuade
Your temper to comply with my command;
And speaking thus, he gave Emilia's hand.
Smil'd Venus, to behold her own true knight
Obtain the conquest, though he lost the fight;
And bless'd with nuptial bliss the sweet laborious
Eros, and Anteros, on either side,
One fir'd the bridegroom, and one warm'd the bride;
And long-attending Hymen, from above,
Shower'd on the bed the whole Idalian grove.
All of a tenor was their after-life,
No day discolor'd with domestic strife;
No jealousy, but mutual truth believ'd,
Secure repose, and kindness undeceiv'd.
Thus Heaven, beyond the compass of his thought,
Sent him the blessing he so dearly bought.
So may the queen of love long duty bless,
And all true lovers find the same success.
IN days of old, when Arthur fill'd the throne,
Whose acts and fame to foreign lands were blown ;
The king of elfs and little fairy queen
Gambol'd on heaths, and danc'd on every green;
And where the jolly troop had left the round,
The grass unbidden rose, and mark'd the ground:
Nor darkling did they glance, the silver light
Of Phoebe serv'd to guide their steps aright,
And, with their tripping pleas'd, prolong the night.
Her beams they follow'd, where at full she play'd,
Nor longer than she shed her horns they stay'd,
From thence with airy flight to foreign lands convey'd.
Above the rest our Britain held they dear,
More solemnly they kept their sabbaths here, [year
And made more spacious rings, and revel'd half the
I speak of ancient times, for now the swain
Returning late may pass the woods in vain,
And never hope to see the nightly train:
In vain the dairy now with mint is dress'd,
The dairy-maid expects no fairy guest
To skim the bowls, and after pay the feast.
She sighs, and shakes her empty shoes in vain,
No silver penny to reward her pain:
For priests with prayers, and other goodly gear,
Have made the merry goblins disappear:
And where they play'd their merry pranks before,
Have sprinkled holy water on the floor:
And friars that through the wealthy regions run,
Thick as the motes that twinkle in the sun,
Resort to farmers rich, and bless their halls,
And exorcise the beds, and cross the walls:
This makes the fairy quires forsake the place,
When once 'tis hallow'd with the rites of grace:
But in the walks where wicked elves have been,
The learning of the parish now is seen,
The midnight parson posting o'er the green,
With gown tuck'd up, to wakes, for Sunday next;
With humming ale encouraging his text;
Nor wants the holy leer for country girl betwixt.
From fiends and imps he sets the village free,
There haunts not any incubus but he.
The maids and women need no danger fear
To walk by night, and sanctity so near:
For by some haycock, or some shady thorn,
He bids his beads both even song and morn.
It so befell in this king Arthur's reign,
A lusty knight was pricking o'er the plain;
A bachelor he was, and of the courtly train.
It happen'd, as he rode, a damsel gay
In russet robes to market took her way:
Soon on the girl he cast an amorous eye,
So straight she walk'd, and on her pasterns high:
If seeing her behind he lik'd her pace,
Now turning short, he better likes her face.
He lights in haste, and, full of youthful fire,
By force accomplish'd his obscene desire :
This done, away he rode, not unespied,
For swarming at his back the country cried :
And once in view they never lost the sight,
But seiz'd, and pinion'd, brought to court the knight.
Then courts of kings were held in high renown,
Ere made the common brothels of the town;
There, virgins honorable vows receiv'd,
But chaste as maids in monasteries liv'd:
The king himself to nuptial ties a slave,
No bad example to his poets gave:
And they, not bad, but in a vicious age,
Had not, to please the prince, debauch'd the stage.
Now what should Arthur do? He lov'd the
But sovereign monarchs are the source of right:
Mov'd by the damsel's tears, and common cry,
He doom'd the brutal ravisher to die.
But fair Geneura rose in his defence,
And pray'd so hard for mercy from the prince,
That to his queen the king th' offender gave,
And left it in her power to kill or save:
This gracious act the ladies all approve,
Who thought it much a man should die for love;
And with their mistress join'd in close debate
(Covering their kindness with dissembled hate)
If not to free him, to prolong his fate.
At last agreed they call'd him by consent
Before the queen and female parliament.
And the fair speaker rising from the chair,
Did thus the judgment of the house declare.
"Sir knight, though I have ask'd thy life, yet still
Thy destiny depends upon my will:
Nor hast thou other surety than the grace
Not due to thee from our offended race.
But as our kind is of a softer mould,
And cannot blood without a sigh behold,
I grant thee life: reserving still the power
To take the forfeit when I see my hour:
Unless thy answer to my next demand
Shall set thee free from our avenging hand.
The question, whose solution I require,
Is, What the sex of women most desire?
In this dispute thy judges are at strife;
Beware; for on thy wit depends thy life.
Yet (lest, surpris'd, unknowing what to say, Thou damn thyself) we give thee farther day: year is thine to wander at thy will;
And learn from others, if thou want'st the skill
But, not to hold our proffer turn'd in scorn,
Good sureties will we have for thy return;
That at the time prefix'd thou shalt obey,
And at thy pledge's peril keep thy day."
Woe was the knight at this severe command:
But well he knew 'twas bootless to withstand :
The terms accepted as the fair ordain,
He put in bail for his return again,
And promis'd answer at the day assign'd,
The best, with Heaven's assistance, he could find
His leave thus taken, on his way he went
With heavy heart, and full of discontent,
Misdoubting much, and fearful of th' event.
"Twas hard the truth of such a point to find,
As was not yet agreed among the kind.
Thus on he went; still anxious more and more,
Ask'd all he met, and knock'd at every door;
Inquir'd of men; but made his chief request
To learn from women what they lov'd the best.
They answer'd each according to her mind
To please herself, not all the female kind.
One was for wealth, another was for place:
Crones, old and ugly, wish'd a better face.
The widow's wish was oftentimes to wed;
The wanton maids were all for sport a-bed.
Some said the sex were pleas'd with handsome lies,
And some gross flattery lov'd without disguise :
"Truth is," says one, "he seldom fails to win
Who flatters well; for that's our darling sin :
But long attendance, and a duteous mind,
Will work ev'n with the wisest of the kind."
One thought the sex's prime felicity
Was from the bonds of wedlock to be free:
Their pleasures, hours, and actions, all their own,
And uncontrol'd to give account to none.
Some wish a husband-fool; but such are curst,
For fools perverse of husbands are the worst:
All women would be counted chaste and wise,
Nor should our spouses see, but with our eyes;
For fools will prate; and though they want the wit
To find close faults, yet open blots will hit:
Though better for their ease to hold their tongue,
For woman-kind was never in the wrong.
So noise ensues, and quarrels last for life;
The wife abhors the fool, the fool the wife.
And some men say that great delight have we,
To be for truth extoll'd, and secrecy :
And constant in one purpose still to dwell;
And not our husbands' counsels to reveal.
But that's a fable: for our sex is frail,
Inventing rather than not tell a tale.
Like leaky sieves no secrets we can hold :
Witness the famous tale that Gvid told.
Midas the king, as in his book appears,
By Phoebus was endow'd with ass's ears,
Which under his long locks he well conceal'd,
As monarchs' vices must not be reveal'd,
For fear the people have them in the wind,
Who long ago were neither dumb nor blind:
Nor apt to think from Heaven their title springs
Since Jove and Mars left off begetting kings.
This Midas knew; and durst communicate
To none but to his wife his ears of state:
One must be trusted, and he thought her fit,
As passing prudent, and a parlous wit.
To this sagacious confessor he went.
And told her what a gift the gods had sent:
But told it under matrimonial seal,
With strict injunction never to reveal.
The secret heard, she plighted him her troth,
(And sacred sure is every woman's oath)
The royal malady should rest unknown,
Both for her husband's honor and her own;
But ne'ertheless she pin'd with discontent;
The counsel rumbled till it found a vent.
The thing she knew she was oblig'd to hide ;
By interest and by oath the wife was tied;
But if she told it not, the woman died.
Loth to betray a husband and a prince,
But she must burst, or blab: and no pretence
Of honor tied her tongue from self-defence.
A marshy ground commodiously was near,
Thither she ran, and held her breath for fear,
Lest if a word she spoke of any thing,
That word might be the secret of the king.
Thus full of counsel to the fen she went,
Grip'd all the way, and longing for a vent;
Arriv'd, by pure necessity compell'd,
On her majestic marrow-bones she kneel'd:
Then to the water's brink she laid her head,
And, as a bittour bumps within a reed,
"To thee alone, O Lake," she said, "I tell,
(And, as thy queen, command thee to conceal):
Beneath his locks the king my husband wears
A goodly royal pair of ass's ears.
Now I have eas'd my bosom of the pain,
Till the next longing-fit return again."
Now could you help me at this hard essay,
Or for your inborn goodness, or for pay;
Yours is my life, redeem'd by your advice,
Ask what you please, and I will pay the price:
The proudest kerchief of the court shall rest
Well satisfied of what they love the best."
Plight me thy faith," quoth she, "that what I ask,
Thy danger over, and perform'd thy task,
That thou shalt give for hire of thy demand;
Here take thy oath, and seal it on my hand;
I warrant thee, on peril of my life,
Thy words shall please both widow, maid, and wife."
More words there needed not to move the knight,
To take her offer, and his truth to plight.
With that she spread a mantle on the ground,
And, first inquiring whither he was bound,
Bade him not fear, though long and rough the way
At court he should arrive ere break of day;
His horse should find the way without a guide,
She said with fury they began to ride,
He on the midst, the beldam at his side.
The horse, what devil drove I cannot tell,
But only this, they sped their journey well :
And all the way the crone inform'd the knight,
How he should answer the demand aright.
To court they came: the news was quickly spread
Of his returning to redeem his head.
The female senate was assembled soon,
With all the mob of women of the town:
The queen sate lord chief justice of the hall,
Thus through a woman was the secret known; And bade the crier cite the criminal.
Tell us, and in effect you tell the town.
But to my tale: The knight with heavy cheer,
Wandering in vain, had now consum'd the year:
One day was only left to solve the doubt,
Yet knew no more than when he first set out.
But home he must, and, as th' award had been,
Yield up his body captive to the queen.
In this despairing state he hapt to ride,
As Fortune led him, by a forest side:
Lonely the vale, and full of horror stood,
Brown with the shade of a religious wood;
When full before him at the noon of night,
(The Moon was up, and shot a gleamy light)
He saw a quire of ladies in a round,
That featly footing seem'd to skim the ground:
Thus dancing hand in hand, so light they were,
He knew not where they trod, on earth or air.
At speed he drove, and came a sudden guest,
In hope where many women were, at least,
Some one by chance might answer his request.
But faster than his horse the ladies flew,
And in a trice were vanish'd out of view.
One only hag remain'd: but fouler far
Than grandame apes in Indian forests are;
Against a wither'd oak she lean'd her weight,
Propp'd on her trusty staff, not half upright,
And dropp'd an awkward court'sy to the knight.
Then said, "What makes you, sir, so late abroad
Without a guide, and this no beaten road?
Or want you aught that here you hope to find,
Or travel for some trouble in your mind?
The last I guess; and if I read aright,
Those of our sex are bound to serve a knight;
Perhaps good counsel may your grief assuage,
Then tell your pain: for wisdom is in age."
To this the knight: "Good mother, would you know
The secret cause and spring of all my woe?
My life must with to-morrow's light expire,
Unless I tell what women most desire
The knight appear'd; and silence they proclaim:
Then first the culprit answer'd to his name:
And, after forms of law, was last requir'd
To name the thing that women most desir'd.
Th' offender, taught his lesson by the way,
And by his counsel order'd what to say,
Thus bold began: "My lady liege," said he,
"What all your sex desire is sovereignty.
The wife affects her husband to command:
All must be hers, both money, house, and land.
The maids are mistresses ev'n in their name;
And of their servants full dominion claim.
This, at the peril of my head, I say,
A blunt plain truth, the sex aspires to sway,
You to rule all, while we, like slaves, obey."
There was not one, or widow, maid, or wife,
But said the knight had well deserv'd his life.
Ev'n fair Geneura, with a blush, confess'd
The man had found what women love the best.
Up starts the beldam, who was there unseen:
And, reverence made, accosted thus the queen.
My liege," said she, "before the court arise,
May I, poor wretch, find favor in your eyes,
To grant my just request: 'twas I who taught
The knight this answer, and inspir'd his thought.
None but a woman could a man direct
To tell us women, what we most affect.
But first I swore him on his knightly troth,
(And here demand performance of his oath)
To grant the boon that next I should desire;
gave his faith, and I expect my hire:
My promise is fulfill'd: I sav'd his life,
And claim his debt, to take me for his wife."
The knight was ask'd, nor could his oath deny,
But hoped they would not force him to comply
The women, who would rather wrest the laws,
Than let a sister-plaintiff lose the cause,
(As judges on the bench more gracious are,
And more attent, to brothers of the bar,)
Cried one and all, the suppliant should have right,
And to the grandame hag adjudg'd the knight.
In vain he sigh'd, and oft with tears desir'd,
Some reasonable suit might be requir'd.
But still the crone was constant to her note:
The more he spoke, the more she stretch'd her throat.
In vain he proffer'd all his goods, to save
His body destin'd to that living grave.
The liquorish hag rejects the pelf with scorn;
And nothing but the man would serve her turn.
"Not all the wealth of eastern kings," said she,
"Have power to part my plighted love and me:
And, old and ugly as I am, and poor,
Yet never will I break the faith I swore;
For mine thou art by promise, during life,
And I thy loving and obedient wife."
"My love! nay rather my damnation thou,"
Said he "nor am I bound to keep my vow;
The fiend thy sire hath sent thee from below,
Else how couldst thou my secret sorrows know?
Avaunt, old witch, for I renounce thy bed:
The queen may take the forfeit of my head,
Ere any of my race so foul a crone shall wed."
Both heard, the judge pronounc'd against the
So was he married in his own despite :
And all day after hid him as an owl,
Not able to sustain a sight so foul.
Perhaps the reader thinks I do him wrong,
To pass the marriage feast and nuptial song:
Mirth there was none, the man was à-la-mort,
And little courage had to make his court.
To bed they went, the bridegroom and the bride:
Was never such an ill-pair'd couple tied :
Restless he toss'd, and tumbled to and fro,
And roll'd and wriggled further off for woe.
The good old wife lay smiling by his side,
And caught him in her quivering arms, and cried,
"When you my ravish'd predecessor saw,
You were not then become this man of straw;
Had you been such, you might have 'scap'd the law.
Is this the custom of king Arthur's court?
Are all round-table knights of such a sort?
Remember I am she who sav'd your life,
Your loving, lawful, and complying wife:
Not thus you swore in your unhappy hour,
Nor I for this return employ'd my power.
In time of need, I was your faithful friend;
Nor did since, nor ever will offend.
Believe me, my lov'd lord, tis much unkind;
What Fury has possess'd your alter'd mind?
Thus on my wedding-night without pretence-
Come turn this way, or tell me my offence.
If not your wife, let reason's rule persuade;
Name but my fault, amends shall soon be made."
"Amends! nay that's impossible," said he;
"What change of age or ugliness can be?
Or, could Medea's magic mend thy face,
Thou art descended from so mean a race,
That never knight was match'd with such disgrace.
What wonder, madam, if I move my side,
When, if I turn, I turn to such a bride ?"
"And is this all that troubles you so sore?"
"And what the devil couldst thou wish me more?"
"Ah, Benedicite," replied the crone :
"Then cause of just complaining have you none.
The remedy to this were soon applied,
Would you be like the bridegroom to the bride :
But, for you say a long-descended race,
And wealth, and dignity, and power, and place,
Make gentlemen, and that your high degree
Is much disparag'd to be match'd with me;
Know this, my lord, nobility of blood
Is but a glittering and fallacious good:
The nobleman is he whose noble mind
Is fill'd with inborn worth, unborrow'd from his kind.
The King of Heaven was in a manger laid;
And took his earth but from an humble maid;
Then what can birth, or mortal men, bestow?
Since floods no higher than their fountains flow.
We, who for name and empty honor strive,
Our true nobility from him derive.
Your ancestors, who puff your mind with pride
And vast estates to mighty titles tied,
Did not your honor, but their own, advance;
For virtue comes not by inheritance.
If you tralineate from your father's mind,
What are you else but of a bastard-kind?
Do, as your great progenitors have done,
And by their virtues prove yourself their son.
No father can infuse or wit or grace;
A mother comes across, and mars the race.
A grandsire or a grandame taints the blood;
And seldom three descents continue good.
Were virtue by descent, a noble name
Could never villanize his father's fame:
But, as the first, the last of all the line
Would like the Sun even in descending shine;
Take fire, and bear it to the darkest house,
Betwixt king Arthur's court and Caucasus;
If you depart, the flame shall still remain,
And the bright blaze enlighten all the plain :
Nor, till the fuel perish, can decay,
By Nature form'd on things combustible to prey.
Such is not man, who, mixing better seed
With worse, begets a base degenerate breed:
The bad corrupts the good, and leaves behind
No trace of all the great begetter's mind.
The father sinks within his son, we see,
And often rises in the third degree;
If better luck a better mother give,
Chance gave us being, and by chance we live.
Such as our atoms were, even such are we,
Or call it chance, or strong necessity :
Thus loaded with dead weight, the will is free.
And thus it needs must be for seed conjoin'd
Lets into Nature's work th' imperfect kind;
But fire, th' enlivener of the general frame,
Is one, its operation still the same.
Its principle is in itself: while ours
Works, as confederates war, with mingled powers,
Or man or woman, whichsoever fails:
And, oft, the vigor of the worse prevails.
Ether with sulphur blended alters hue,
And casts a dusky gleam of Sodom blue.
Thus, in a brute, their ancient honor ends,
And the fair mermaid in a fish descends:
The line is gone; no longer duke or earl;
But, by himself degraded, turns a churl.
Nobility of blood is but renown
Of thy great fathers by their virtue known,
And a long trail of light, to thee descending down
If in thy smoke it ends, their glories shine;
But infamy and villanage are thine.
Then what I said before is plainly show'd,
The true nobility proceeds from God:
Nor left us by inheritance, but given
By bounty of our stars, and grace of Heaven.
Thus from a captive Servius Tullius rose,
Whom for his virtues the first Romans chose: