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EPISTLE TO GIFFORD.
BY WILLIAM CLIFTON.
In these cold shades, beneath these shifting skies, Where fancy sickens, and where genius dies; Where few and feeble are the Muse's strains, And no fine frenzy riots in the veins, There still are found a few to whom belong The fire of virtue and the soul of song; Whose kindling ardour still can wake the strings When learning triumphs, and when Gifford sings. To thee the lowliest bard his tribute pays, His little wild-flower to thy wreath conveys; Pleased, if permitted round thy name to bloom, To boast one effort rescued from the tomb.
While this delirious age enchanted seems With hectic fancy's desultory dreams; While wearing fast away is every trace Of Grecian vigour, and of Roman grace, With fond delight, we yet one bard behold, As Horace polish'd, and as Persius bold, Reclaim the art, assert the Muse divine, And drive obtrusive dulness from the shrine. Since that great day which saw the tablet rise, A thinking block, and whisper to the eyes, No time has been that touch'd the Muse so near, No age when learning had so much to fear, As now, when love-lorn ladies light verse frame, And every rebus-weaver talks of fame.
When Truth in classic majesty appeared, And Greece, on high, the dome of science reared, Patience and perseverance, care and pain Alone the steep, the rough ascent could gain: None but the great the sun-clad summit found; The weak were baffled, and the strong were crowned. The tardy Transcript's high wrought page confined To one pursuit the undivided mind. No venal critic fattened on the trade; Books for delight, and not for sale were made. Then shone, superior, in the realms of thought, The chief who governed, and the sage who taught; The Drama then with deathless bays was wreathed, The statue quickened, and the canvass breathed. The poet then, with unresisted art, Swayed every impulse of the captive heart. Touched with a beam of Heaven's creative mind, His spirit kindled, and his taste refined; Incessant toil inform'd his rising youth; Thought grew to thought, and truth attracted truth, Till, all complete, his perfect soul displayed Some bloom of genius which could never fade. So the sage oak, to Nature's mandate true, Advanced but slow, and strengthened as it grew! But when at length, (full many a season o'er,) Its virile head, in pride, aloft it bore; When stedfast were its roots, and sound its heart, It bade defiance to the insect's art, And, storm and time resisting, still remains The never dying glory of the plains.
Then, if some thoughtless Bavius dared appear,
So, near a forest tall, some worthless flower
Still, as from famed Ilyssus' classic shore, To Mincius' banks, the Muse her laurel bore, The sacred plant to hands divine was given, And deathless Maro nursed the boon of Heaven. Exalted bard! to hear thy gentler voice, The valleys listen, and their swains rejoice; But when, on some wild mountain's awful form, We hear thy spirit chaunting to the storm, Of battling chiefs, and armies laid in gore, We rage, we sigh, we wonder and adore. Thus Rome, with Greece, in rival splendour shone, But claimed immortal satire for her own; While Horace, pierced, full oft, the wanton breast With sportive censure, and resistless jest; And that Etrurian, whose indignant lay Thy kindred genius can so well display, With many a well aimed thought, and pointed line, Drove the bold villain from his black design. For, as those mighty masters of the lyre, With temper'd dignity, or quenchless ire, Through all the various paths of science trod, Their school was NATURE and their teacher God. Nor did the Muse decline till, o'er her head, The savage tempest of the North was spread; Till armed with desolation's bolt it came, And wrapped her temple in funereal flame.
But soon the arts, once more, a dawn diffuse, And Danté hail'd it with his morning Muse; Petrarch and Boccace joined the choral lay, And Arno glisten'd with returning day.
Thus science rose; and, all her troubles passed,
Touched with the mania, now, what millions rage To shine the laureat blockheads of the age. The dire contagion creeps thro' every grade, Girls, coxcombs, peers, and patriots drive the trade: And e'en the hind, his fruitful fields forgot, For rhyme and misery leaves his wife and cot. Ere, to his breast, the watchful mischief spread, Content and plenty cheer'd his little shed; And, while no thoughts of state perplex'd his mind, His harvest ripening, and Pastora kind, He laughed at toil, with health and vigour bless'd; For days of labour brought their nights of rest: But now in rags, ambitious for a name, The fool of faction, and the dupe of fame, His conscience haunts him with his guilty life, His starving children, and his ruin'd wife. Thus swarming wits, of all materials made, Their Gothic hands on social quiet laid, And, as they rave, unmindful of the storm, Call lust refinement, anarchy reform.
No love to foster, no dear friend to wrong, Wild as the mountain flood, they drive along: And sweep, remorseless, every social bloom To the dark level of an endless tomb.
By arms assailed, we still can arms oppose, And rescue learning from her brutal foes; But when those foes to friendship make pretence, And tempt the judgment with the baits of sense, Carouse with passion, laugh at God's controul, And sack the little empire of the soulWhat warning voice can save? Alas! 'tis o’er, The age of virtue will return no more; The doating world, its manly vigour flown, Wanders in mind, and dreams on folly's throne. Come then, sweet bard, again the cause defend, Be still the Muses' and religion's friend; Again the banner of thy wrath display, And save the world from Darwin's tinsel lay. A soul like thine no listless pause should know; Truth bids thee strike, and virtue guides the blow. From very conquest still more dreadful come, "Till dulness fly, and folly's self be dumb.