by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Though grief and fondness in my breast rebel,
When injured Thales bids the town farewell,
Yet still my calmer thoughts his choice commend,
I praise the hermit, but regret the friend,
Resolved at length, from vice and London far,
To breathe in distant fields a purer air,
And, fixed on Cambria’s solitary shore,
Give to St. David one true Briton more.
For who would leave, unbribed, Hibernia’s Land,
Or change the rocks of Scotland for the Strand?
There none are swept by sudden fate away,
But all whom hunger spares, with age decay:
Here malice, rapine, accident, conspire,
And now a rabble rages, now a fire;
Their ambush here relentless ruffians lay,
And here the fell attorney prowls for prey;
Here falling houses thunder on your head,
And here a female atheist talks you dead.
While Thales waits the wherry that contains
Of dissipated wealth the small remains,
On Thames’s banks, in silent thought we stood,
Where Greenwich smiles upon the silver flood:
Struck with the seat that gave Eliza birth,
We kneel, and kiss the consecrated earth;
In pleasing dreams the blissful age renew,
And call Britannia’s glories back to view;
Behold her cross triumphant on the main,
The guard of commerce, and the dread of Spain,
Ere masquerades debauched,excise oppressed,
Or English honour grew a standing jest.
A transient calm the happy scenes bestow,
And for a moment lull the sense of woe.
At length awaking, with contemptuous frown,
Indignant Thales eyes the neighbouring town.
Since worth, he cries, in these degenerate days,
Wants ev’n the cheap reward of empty praise;
In those curs’d walls, devote to vice and gain,
Since unrewarded Science toils in vain;
Since hope but soothes to double my distress,
And every moment leaves my little less;
While yet my steady steps no staff sustains,
And life still vigorous revels in my veins;
Grant me, kind heaven, to find some happier place,
Where honesty and sense are no disgrace;
Some pleasing bank where verdant osiers play,
Some peaceful vale with nature’s paintings gay;
Where once the harassed Briton found repose,
And safe in poverty defied his foes;
Some secret cell, ye powers, indulgent give.
Let — live here, for — has learned to live.
Here let those reign, whom pensions can incite
To vote a patriot black, a courtier white;
Explain their country’s dear-bought rights away,
And plead for pirates in the face of day;
With slavish tenets taint our poisoned youth,
And lend a lie the confidence of truth.
Let such raise palaces, and manors buy,
Collect a tax, or farm a lottery,
With warbling eunuchs fill a licensed stage,
And lull to servitude a thoughtless age.
Heroes, proceed! what bounds your pride shall hold?
What check restrain your thirst of power and gold?
Behold rebellious virtue quite o’erthrown,
Behold our fame, our wealth, our lives your own.
To such, a groaning nation’s spoils are giv’n,
When public crimes inflame the wrath of heav’n:
But what, my friend, what hope remains for me,
Who start at theft, and blush at perjury?
Who scarce forbear, though Britain’s Court he sing,
To pluck a titled poet’s borrowed wing;
A statesman’s logic unconvinced can hear,
And dare to slumber o’er the Gazetteer;
Despise a fool in half his pension dressed,
And strive in vain to laugh at H—y’s jest.
Others with softer smiles, and subtler art,
Can sap the principles, or taint the heart;
With more address a lover’s note convey,
Or bribe a virgin’s innocence away.
Well may they rise, while I, whose rustic tongue
Ne’er knew to puzzle right, or varnish wrong,
Spurned as a beggar, dreaded as a spy,
Live unregarded, unlamented die.
For what but social guilt the friend endears?
Who shares Orgilio’s crimes, his fortune shares.
But thou, should tempting villainy present
All Marlborough hoarded, or all Villiers spent,
Turn from the glittering bribe thy scornful eye,
Nor sell for gold, what gold could never buy,
The peaceful slumber, self-approving day,
Unsullied fame, and conscience ever gay.
The cheated nation’s happy fav’rites, see!
Mark whom the great caress, who frown on me!
London! the needy villain’s general home,
The common shore of Paris and of Rome;
With eager thirst, by folly or by fate,
Sucks in the dregs of each corrupted state.
Forgive my transports on a theme like this,
I cannot bear a French metropolis.
Illustrious Edward! from the realms of day,
The land of heroes and of saints survey;
Nor hope the British lineaments to trace,
The rustic grandeur, or the surly grace;
But lost in thoughtless ease, and empty show,
Behold the warrior dwindled to a beau;
Sense, freedom, piety, refined away,
Of France the mimic, and of Spain the prey.
All that at home no more can beg or steal,
Or like a gibbet better than a wheel;
Hissed from the stage, or hooted from the court,
Their air, their dress, their politics import;
Obsequious, artful, voluble and gay,
On Britain’s fond credulity they prey.
No gainful trade their industry can ’scape,
They sing, they dance, clean shoes, or cure a clap;
All sciences a fasting Monsieur knows,
And bid him go to hell, to hell he goes.
Ah! what avails it, that, from slavery far,
I drew the breath of life in English air;
Was early taught a Briton’s right to prize,
And lisp the tale of Henry’s victories;
If the gulled conqueror receives the chain,
And flattery subdues when arms are vain?
Studious to please, and ready to submit,
The supple Gaul was born a parasite:
Still to his interest true, where’er he goes,
Wit, bravery, worth, his lavish tongue bestows;
In every face a thousand graces shine,
From every tongue flows harmony divine.
These arts in vain our rugged natives try,
Strain out with faltering diffidence a lie,
And gain a kick for awkward flattery.
Besides, with justice, this discerning age
Admires their wondrous talents for the stage:
Well may they venture on the mimic’s art,
Who play from morn to night a borrowed part;
Practised their master’s notions to embrace,
Repeat his maxims, and reflect his face;
With every wild absurdity comply,
And view each object with another’s eye;
To shake with laughter ere the jest they hear,
To pour at will the counterfeited tear;
And as their patron hints the cold or heat,
To shake in dog-days, in December sweat.
How, when competitors like these contend,
Can surly virtue hope to fix a friend?
Slaves that with serious impudence beguile,
And lye without a blush, without a smile;
Exalt each trifle, every vice adore,
Your taste in snuff, your judgment in a whore;
Can Balbo’s eloquence applaud, and swear
He gropes his breeches with a monarch’s air.
For arts like these preferred, admired, caress’d,
They first invade your table, then your breast;
Explore your secrets with insidious art,
Watch the weak hour, and ransack all the heart;
Then soon your ill-placed confidence repay,
Commence your lords, and govern or betray.
By numbers here from shame or censure free,
All crimes are safe, but hated poverty.
This, only this, the rigid law pursues,
This, only this, provokes the snarling muse;
The sober trader at a tattered cloak,
Wakes from his dream, and labours for a joke;
With brisker air the silken courtiers gaze,
And turn the varied taunt a thousand ways.
Of all the griefs that harass the distressed,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest;
Fate never wounds more deep the generous heart,
Than when a blockhead’s insult points the dart.
Has heaven reserved, in pity to the poor,
No pathless waste, or undiscovered shore;
No secret island in the boundless main?
No peaceful desert yet unclaimed by Spain?
Quick let us rise, the happy seats explore,
And bear oppression’s insolence no more.
This mournful truth is everywhere confessed,
Slow rises worth, by poverty depressed:
But here more slow, where all are slaves to gold,
Where looks are merchandise, and smiles are sold,
Where won by bribes, by flatteries implored,
The groom retails the favours of his lord.
But hark! th’ affrighted crowd’s tumultuous cries
Roll through the streets, and thunder to the skies;
Raised from some pleasing dream of wealth and power,
Some pompous palace, or some blissful bower,
Aghast you start, and scarce with aching sight,
Sustain th’ approaching fire’s tremendous light;
Swift from pursuing horrors take your way,
And leave your little all to flames a prey;
Then through the world a wretched vagrant roam,
For where can starving merit find a home?
In vain your mournful narrative disclose,
While all neglect, and most insult your woes.
Should heaven’s just bolts Orgilio’s wealth confound,
And spread his flaming palace on the ground,
Swift o’er the land the dismal rumour flies,
And public mournings pacify the skies;
The laureate tribe in servile verse relate,
How virtue wars with persecuting fate;
With well-feigned gratitude the pensioned band
Refund the plunder of the beggared land.
See! while he builds, the gaudy vassals come,
And crowd with sudden wealth the rising dome;
The price of boroughs and of souls restore,
And raise his treasures higher than before.
Now blessed with all the baubles of the great,
The polished marble, and the shining plate,
Orgilio sees the golden pile aspire,
And hopes from angry heav’n another fire.
Couldst thou resign the park and play content,
For the fair banks of Severn or of Trent;
There might’st thou find some elegant retreat,
Some hireling senator’s deserted seat;
And stretch thy prospects o’er the smiling land,
For less than rent the dungeons of the Strand;
There prune thy walks, support thy drooping flow’rs,
Direct thy rivulets, and twine thy bow’rs;
And, while thy beds a cheap repast afford,
Despise the dainties of a venal lord:
There every bush with nature’s music rings,
There every breeze bears health upon its wings;
On all thy hours security shall smile,
And bless thine evening walk and morning toil.
Prepare for death, if here at night you roam,
And sign your will before you sup from home.
Some fiery fop, with new commission vain,
Who sleeps on brambles till he kills his man;
Some frolic drunkard, reeling from a feast,
Provokes a broil, and stabs you for a jest.
Yet ev’n these heroes, mischievously gay,
Lords of the street, and terrors of the way;
Flushed as they are with folly, youth and wine,
Their prudent insults to the poor confine;
Afar they mark the flambeau’s bright approach,
And shun the shining train, and golden coach.
In vain, these dangers past, your doors you close,
And hope the balmy blessings of repose:
Cruel with guilt, and daring with despair,
The midnight murderer bursts the faithless bar;
Invades the sacred hour of silent rest,
And plants, unseen, a dagger in your breast.
Scarce can our fields, such crowds at Tyburn die,
With hemp the gallows and the fleet supply.
Propose your schemes, ye Senatorian band,
Whose Ways and Means support the sinking land;
Lest ropes be wanting in the tempting spring,
To rig another convoy for the k—g.
A single jail, in Alfred’s golden reign,
Could half the nation’s criminals contain;
Fair justice then, without constraint adored,
Held high the steady scale, but dropped the sword;
No spies were paid, no special juries known,
Blest age! but ah! how different from our own!
Much could I add,—but see the boat at hand,
The tide retiring, calls me from the land:
Farewell!—When youth, and health, and fortune spent,
Thou fly’st for refuge to the wilds of Kent;
And tired like me with follies and with crimes,
In angry numbers warn’st succeeding times;
Then shall thy friend, nor thou refuse his aid,
Still foe to vice forsake his Cambrian shade;
In virtue’s cause once more exert his rage,
Thy satire point, and animate thy page.