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ARGUMENT OF THE FOURTH BOOK.
The post comes in. The newspaper is read. The world contemplated at a distance. Address to Winter. The amusements of a rural winter evening compared with the fashionable ones. Address to Evening. A brown study. Fall of snow in the evening. The waggoner. A poor family-piece. The rural thief. Public houses. The multitude of them censured. The farmer's daughter, what she was. What she is. The simplicity of country manners almost lost. Causes of the change. Desertion of the country by the rich. Neglect of magistrates. The militia principally in fault. The new recruit, and his transformation. Reflection on bodies corporate. The love of rural objects natural to all, and never to be totally extinguished.
THE WINTER EVENING.
HARK! 'tis the twanging horn! o'er yonder bridge.
That with its wearisome but needful length
Bestrides the wintry flood, in which the moon
Sees her unwrinkled face reflected bright;
He comes, the herald of a noisy world,
With spatter'd boots, strapp'd waist, and frozen locks,
News from all nations lumbering at his back.
True to his charge the close-pack'd load behind,
Yet careless what he brings, his one concern
Is to conduct it to the destined inn,
And having dropp'd the expected bag-pass on.
He whistles as he goes, light-hearted wretch,
Cold and yet cheerful: messenger of grief
Perhaps to thousands, and of joy to some,
To him indifferent whether grief or joy.
Houses in ashes, and the fall of stocks,
Births, deaths, and marriages, epistles wet
With tears that trickled down the writer's cheeks
Fast as the periods from his fluent quill,
Or charged with amorous sighs of absent swains
Or nymphs responsive, equally affect
His horse and him, unconscious of them all.
But oh the important budget! usher'd in
With such heart-shaking music, who can say
What are its tidings? Have our troops awaked?
Or do they still, as if with opium drugg'd,
Snore to the murmurs of the Atlantic wave?
Is India free? and does she wear her plumed
And jewelled turban with a smile of peace,
Or do we grind her still? The grand debate,
The popular harangue, the tart reply,
The logic and the wisdom and the wit
And the loud laugh—I long to know them all;
I burn to set the imprison'd wranglers free,
And give them voice and utterance once again.
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
Not such his evening, who with shining face
Sweats in the crowded theatre, and squeezed
And bored with elbow-points through both his sides,
Out-scolds the ranting actor on the stage.
Nor his, who patient stands till his feet throb
And his head thumps, to feed upon the breath
Of patriots bursting with heroic rage,
Or placemen, all tranquillity and smiles.
This folio of four pages, happy work!
Which not even critics criticise, that holds
Inquisitive attention while I read
Fast bound in chains of silence, which the fair,
Though eloquent themselves, yet fear to break,
What is it but a map of busy life,
Its fluctuations and its vast concerns?
Here runs the mountainous and craggy ridge
That tempts ambition'. On the summit, see,
The seals of office glitter in his eyes;
He climbs, he pants, he grasps them. At his heels, 60
Close at his heels a demagogue ascends2,
Ambition this shall tempt to rise,
Then whirl the wretch from high. Gray. Eton Coll.
And with a dexterous jerk soon twists him down
And wins them, but to lose them in his turn.
Here rills of oily eloquence in soft
Mæanders lubricate the course they take;
The modest speaker is ashamed and grieved
To engross a moment's notice, and yet begs,
Begs a propitious ear for his poor thoughts,
However trivial all that he conceives.
Sweet bashfulness! it claims, at least, this praise, 70
The dearth of information and good sense
That it foretells us, always comes to pass.
Cataracts of declamation thunder here,
There forests of no meaning spread the page
In which all comprehension wanders lost;
While fields of pleasantry amuse us there,
With merry descants on a nation's woes.
The rest appears a wilderness of strange
But gay confusion, roses for the cheeks
And lilies for the brows of faded age,
Teeth for the toothless, ringlets for the bald,
2 When lo! push'd up to power, and crown'd their cares, In comes another set, and kicketh them down stairs. Castle of Indolence. Stanza liv.
Heaven, earth, and ocean plunder'd of their sweets,
Nectareous essences, Olympian dews,
Sermons and city feasts and favourite airs,
Æthereal journeys, submarine exploits,
And Katterfelto with his hair on end
At his own wonders, wondering for his bread.
'Tis pleasant through the loop-holes of retreat3
To peep at such a world. To see the stir
Of the great Babel and not feel the crowd.
To hear the roar1 she sends through all her gates
At a safe distance, where the dying sound
Falls a soft murmur on the uninjured ear.
Thus sitting and surveying thus at ease
The globe and its concerns, I seem advanced
To some secure and more than mortal height,
That liberates and exempts me from them all.
It turns submitted to my view, turns round
4 There from the ways of men laid safe ashore,
We smile to hear the distant tempest roar.
Young. Satire v.
While he, from all the stormy passions free
That restless men involve, hears, and but hears,
At distance safe, the human tempest roar,
Wrapt safe in conscious peace. The fall of kings,
The rage of nations, and the crush of states,
Move not the man, who, from the world escaped,
In still retreats, and flowery solitudes,
To nature's voice attends.
3 The world is a comedy, and I know no securer box from which to behold it than a safe solitude, and it is easier to feel than to express the pleasure which may be taken in standing aloof and contemplating the reelings of the multitude, the eccentric motions of great men, and how fate recreates itself in their ruin."-Sir G. Mackenzie's Moral Essays, 139.