Alma; or, The Progress of the Mind. In Three Cantos. - Canto III.

A poem by Matthew Prior

Richard, who now was half asleep,
Roused, nor would longer silence keep;
And sense like this, in vocal breath,
Broke from his twofold hedge of teeth.
Now if this phrase too harsh be thought,
Pope, tell the world 'tis not my fault.
Old Homer taught us thus to speak;
If 'tis not sense, at least 'tis Greek.

As folks, quoth Richard, prone to leasing,
Say things at first, because they're pleasing,
Then prove what they have once asserted,
Nor care to have their lie deserted,
Till their own dreams at length deceive 'em,
And oft repeating they believe 'em:
Or as again those amorous blades
Who trifle with their mother's maids,
Though at the first their wild desire
Was but to quench a present fire,
Yet if the object of their love
Chance by Lucina's aid to prove,
They seldom let the bantling roar
In basket at a neighbour's door,
But by the flattering glass of Nature,
Viewing themselves in Cakebread's feature,
With serious thought and care support
What only was begun in sport.

Just so with you, my friend, it fares,
Who deal in philosophic wares.
Atoms you cut, and forms you measure,
To gratify your private pleasure,
Till airy seeds of casual wit
Do some fantastic birth beget;
And, pleased to find your system mended
Beyond what you at first intended,
The happy whimsey you pursue,
Till you at length believe it true:
Caught by your own delusive art,
You fancy first, and then assert.

Quoth Matthew; Friend, as far as I
Through art or nature cast my eye,
This axiom clearly I discern,
That one must teach, and t'other learn.
No fool Pythagoras was thought;
Whilst he his weighty doctrines taught,
He made his listening scholars stand,
Their mouth still cove'd with their hand;
Else may be some odd-thinking youth,
Less friend to doctrine than to truth,
Might have refused to let his ears
Attend the music of the spheres,
Denied all transmigrating scenes,
And introduced the use of beans.
From great Lucretius take his void,
And all the world is quite destroy'd.
Deny Descart his subtle matter,
You leave him neither fire nor water.
How oddly would Sir Isaac look,
If you, in answer to his book,
Say, in the front of your discourse,
That things have no elastic force?
How could our chymic friends go on,
To find the philosophic stone,
If you more powerful reasons bring
To prove that there is no such thing?

Your chiefs in sciences and arts
Have great contempt of Alma's parts:
They find she giddy is or dull,
She doubts if things are void or full;
And who should be presumed to tell
What she herself should see or feel?
She doubts if two and two make four,
Though she has told them twelve times o'er,
It can't, it may be, and it must:
To which of these must Alma trust?
Nay, further yet they make her go,
In doubting if she doubts or no.
Can syllogism set things right?
No; majors soon with minors fight;
Or, both in friendly consort join'd,
The consequence limps false behind.
So to some cunning man she goes,
And asks of him how much she knows;
With patience grave he hears her speak,
And from his short notes gives her back
What from her tale he comprehended;
Thus the dispute is wisely ended.

From the account the loser brings,
The conjurer knows who stole the things.

'Squire, (interrupted Dick) since when
Of eloquence spoil my discourse!
I tell thee this is Alma's case.
Still asking what some wise man says,
Who does his mind in words reveal,
Which all must grant, though few can spell.
You tell your doctor that ye're ill,
And what does he but write a bill?
Of which you need not read one letter:
The worse the scrawl, the dose the better:
For if you know but what you take,
Though you recover, he must break.

Ideas, farms, and intellects,
Have furnish'd out three different sects.
Substance or accident divides
All Europe into adverse sides.

Now, as engaged in arms or laws,
You must have friends to back your cause,
In philosophic matters so
Your judgement must with others go:
For as in senates so in schools,
Majority of voices rules.

Poor Alma, like a lonely deer,
O'er hills and dales doth doubtful err:
With panting haste and quick surprise,
From every leaf that stirs she flies,
Till, mingled with the neighbouring herd,
She slights what erst she singly fear'd,
And now exempt from doubt and dread,
She dares pursue if they dare lead;
As their example still prevails,
She tempts the stream, or leaps the pales.

He then, quoth Dick, who by your rule
Thinks for himself becomes a fool;
As party-man who leaves the rest,
Is call'd but whimsical at best.
Now, by your favour, Master Matt.
Like Ralpho, here I smell a rat.
I must be listed in your sect,
Who, though they teach not, can protect.
Right Richard, Matt, in triumph cried,
So put off all mistrust and pride;
And while my principles I beg,
Pray answer only with your leg.
Believe what friendly I advise:
Be first secure, and then be wise.
The man within the coach that sits,
And to another's skill submits,
Is safer much, (whate'er arrives)
And warmer too, than he that drives.

So, Dick, adept, tuck back thy hair,
And I will pour into thy ear
Remarks which none did e'er disclose;
In smooth paced verse, or hobbling prose.
Attend, dear Dick, but don't reply,
And thou mayst prove as well as I.

When Alma now in different ages
Has finish'd her ascending stages,
Into the head at length she gets,
And there in public grandeur sits,
To judge of things, and censure wits.

Here, Richard, how could I explain
The various labyrinths of the brain?
Surprise my readers, whilst I tell 'em
Of cerebrum and cerebellum?
How could I play the commentator
Where hot and cold, and dry and wet,
Strive each the other's place to get,
And with incessant toil and strife
Would keep possession during life?
I could demonstrate every pore,
Where Memory lays up all her store,
And to an inch compute the station
'Twixt judgement and imagination.
O, Friend! I could display much learning,
At least to men of small discerning.
The brain contains ten thousand cells,
In each some active fancy dwells,
Which always is at work, and framing
The several follies I was naming.
As in a hive's vimineous dome,
Each does her studious action vary,
To go and come, to fetch and carry;
Each still renews her little labour,
Nor jostles her assiduous neighbour:
Each, Whilst this thesis I maintain,
I fancy, Dick, I know thy brain.
O, with the mighty theme affected,
Could I but see thy head dissected?

My head, quoth Dick, to serve your whim?
Spare that, and take some other limb.
Sir, in your nice affairs of system,
Wise men, propose, but fools assist 'em.

Says Matthew, Richard, keep thy head,
And hold thy peace, and I'll proceed.

Proceed? quoth Dick, I do aver
You have already gone too far.
When people once are in the wrong,
Each line they add is much too long.
Who safest walks, but walks astray,
Is only furthest from his way.
Bless your conceits, must I believe,
Howe'er absurd, what you conceive,
And for your friendship live and die
A Papist in philosophy?
I say, whatever you maintain,
Of Alma in the heart or brain,
The plainest man alive may tell ye
Her seat of empire is th belly;
From hence she sends out those supplies
Which make us either stout or wise:
The strength of every other member
Is founded on your belly timber:
The qualms or raptures of your blood
Rise in proportion to your food;
And if your would improve your thought
You must be fed as well as taught:
You stomach makes your fabric roll,
Just as the bias rules the bowl.
That great Achilles might employ
The strength design'd to ruin Troy,
He dined on lion's marrow, spread
On toasts of ammunition-bread;
But by his mother sent away
Among the Thracian girls to play,
Effeminate he sate, and quiet;
Strange product of a cheesecake diet!
Now give my argument fair play,
And take the thing the other way,
The youngster who at nine and three
Drinks with his sisters milk and tea,
From breakfast reads till twelve o'clock,
Burnet and Heylin, Hobbes and Locke;
He pays due visits after noon
To Cousin Alive and Uncle John;
At ten, from coffeehouse or play
Returning, fishes of the day:
But give him port and potent sack,
From milksop he starts up Mohach;
Holds that the happy know no hours;
So through the street at midnight scours;
Breaks watchmen's heads and chairmen's glasses,
And thence proceeds to nicking sashes,
Till by some tougher hand o'ercome,
And first knock'd down, and then led home,
He damns the footman, strikes the maid,
And decently reels up to bed.

Observe the various operations
Of food and drink in several nations,
Was ever Tartar fierce or cruel
Upon the strength of watergruel?
But who shall stand his rage and force,
If first he rides, then eats his horse?
Sallads, and eggs, and lighter fare,
Tune the Italian spark's guitar:
And, if I take Don Congreve right,
Pudding and beef made Britons fight.
Tokay and coffee cause this work
Between the German and the Turk;
And both, as they provisions want,
Chicane, avoid, retire, and faint.

Hunger and thirst, or guns and swords,
Give the same death in different words.
To push this argument no further,
To starve a man in law is murther.

As in a watch's fine machine
Though many artful springs are seen,
The added movements, which declare
How full the moon, how old the year,
Derive their secondary power
From that which simply points the hour:
For though those gimcracks were away,
(Quare would not swear, but Quare would say)
However more reduced and plain,
The watch would still a watch remain;
But if the horal orbit ceases,
The whole stands still or breaks to pieces;
Is now no longer what it was,
And you may e'en go sell the case.
So if unprejudiced you scan
The goings of this clockwork, Man,
You find a hundred movements made
By fine devices in his head;
But 'tis the stomach's solid stroke
That tells his being what's o'clock.
If you take off his rhetoric trigger,
He talks no more in mood and figure;
Or, clog his mathematic wheel,
His buildings fall, his ship stands still:
Or, lastly, break his politic weight,
His voice no longer rules the state:
Yet if these finer whims were gone,
Your clock, though plain, would still go on;
But spoil the engine of digestion,
And you entirely change the question.
Alma's affairs no power can mend;
The jest, alas! is at an end:
Soon cease all this worldly bustle,
And you consign the corpse to Russel.

Now make your Alma come or go,
From leg to hand, from top to toe,
Your system, without my addition,
Is in a very sad condition.
So Harlequin extoll'd his horse
Fit for the war, or road, or course:
His mouth was soft, his eye was good,
His foot was sure as ever trod;
One fault he had, a fault indeed;
And what was that? the horse was dead.

Dick, from these instances and fetches
Thou mak'st of horses, clocks, and watches,
Quoth Matt. to me thou seem'st to mean
That Alma is a mere machine:
That telling others what's o'clock
She knows not what herself has struck,
But leaves to standers-by the trial
Of what is mark'd upon her dial.

Here hold; a blow, good Friend, quoth Dick
And raised his voice exceeding quick,
Fight fair Sir: what I never meant
Don't you infer. In argument
Similes are like songs in love:
They much describe, they nothing prove.
Matt. who was here a little gravell'd,
Toss'd up his nose, and would have cavill'd,
But calling Hermes to his aid,
Half pleased, half angry, thus he said:
Where mind ('tis for the author's fame)
That Matthew call'd and Hermes came.
In danger heroes, and in doubt,
Poets find gods to help them out.

Friend Richard, I begin to see
That you and I can scarce agree,
Observe how oddly you behave;
The more I grant the more you crave:
But, comrade, as I said just now,
I should affirm and you allow.
We system-makers can sustain
The thesis which you grant was plain,
And with remarks and comments teaze ye,
In case the thing before was easy;
But in a point obscure and dark
We fight as Leibnitz did with Clarke;
And when no reason we can show
Why matters this or that way go,
The shortest way the thing we try,
And what we know not we deny;
True to our own o'erbearing pride,
And false to all the world beside.

That old philosopher grew cross,
Who could not tell what motion was:
Because he walk'd against his will,
He faced men down that he stood still.
And he who reading on the heart
(When all his quodlibets of art
Could not expound its pulse and heat)
Swore he had never felt it beat.
Chrysippus, foil'd by Epicurus,
Makes bold (Jove bless him!) to assure us,
That all things which our mind can view
May be at once both false and true;
And Malbranche has an odd conceit
As ever enter'd Frenchman's pate:
Says he, So little can our mind
Of matter or of spirit find,
That we by guess at least may gather
Something which may be both or neither.
Faith Dick I must conceive 'tis true
(But this is only entre nous)
That many knotty points there are
Which all discuss but few can clear;
As Nature slily had thought fit,
For some by-ends to cross-bite wit:
Circles to square and cubes to double
Would give a man excessive trouble:
The longitude uncertain roams
In spite of Wh n and his bombs.
What System Dick has right averr'd
The cause why woman has no beard?
Or why, as years our frame attack,
Our hair grows white, our teeth grow black?
In points like these we must agree
Our barber knows as well as we:
Yet still unable to explain,
We must persist the best we can;
With care our systems still renew,
And prove things likely, though not true.

I could, thou seest, in quaint dispute,
By dint of logic, strike thee mute;
With learned skill now push, now parry,
From Darii to Bocardo vary,
And never yield, or what is worst,
Never conclude the point discoursed:
Yet that you hic et nunc may know
How much you to my candour owe,
I'll from the disputant descend,
To show thee I assume the friend;
I'll take thy notion for my own,
(So most philosophers have down)
It makes my system more complete:
Dick, can it have a nobler fate?
Take what thou wilt, said Dick, dear Friend,
But bring thy matters to an end.

I find, quoth Matt. reproof is vain,
Who first offend will first complain.
Thou wishest I should make to shore,
Yet still putt'st in thy thwarting oar.
What I have told thee fifty times
In prose, receive for once in rhymes.
A huge fat man in country-fair,
Or city-church, (no matter where)
Labour'd and push'd amidst the crowd,
Still bawling out extremely loud,
Lord save us! why do people press!
Another, marking his distress,
Friendly replied; Plump gentleman,
Get out as fast as e'er you can;
Or cease to push or to exclaim;
You make the very crowd you blame.

Says Dick, Your moral does not need
The least return, so e'en proceed:
Your tale, howe'er applied, was short:
So far at least I thank you for't.

Matt. took his thanks, and in a tone
More magisterial thus went on.

Now Alma settles in the head,
As has before been sung or said:
And here begins this farce of life;
Enter Revenge, Ambition, Strife;
Behold on both sides men advance,
To form in earnest Bays's dance.
L'Avre, not using half his store,
Still grumbles that he has no more;
Strikes not the present tun, for fear
The vintage should be bad next year,
And eats to-day with inward sorrow,
And dread of fancied want to-morrow.
Abroad if the surtout you wear
Repels the rigour of the air,
Would you be warmer if at home
You had the fabric and the loom?
And if two boots keep out the weather
What need you have two hides of leather?
Could Pedro, think you, make no trial
Of a sonata on his viol,
Unless he had the total gut,
Whence every string at first was cut?

When Rarus shows you his Cartone,
He always tells you with a groan
Where two of that same hand were torn
Long before you or he were born.

Poor Vento's mind so much is cross'd,
For part of his Petronius lost,
That he can never take the pains
To understand what yet remains.

What toil did honest Curio take,
What strict inquiries did he make,
To get one medal, wanting yet,
And perfect all his Roman set?
'Tis found: and O his happy lot!
'Tis bought, lock'd up, and lies forgot:
Of these no more you hear him speak;
He now begins upon the Greek.
These ranged and show'd, shall in their turns
Remain obscure as in their urns.
My copper lamps at any rate,
For being true antique, I bought,
Yet wisely melted down my plate,
On modern models to be wrought:
And trifles I alike pursue,
Because they're old, because they're new.

Dick, I have seen you with delight
For Georgy makes a paper kite,
And simple odes, too many, show ye
My servile complaisance to Cloe.
Parents and lovers are decreed
By Nature fools, That's brave indeed!
Quoth Dick; such truths are worth receiving;
Yet still Dick look'd as not believing.

Now Alma, to divines and prose
I leave thy frauds, and crimes, and woes,
Nor think to-night of thy ill-nature,
But of thy follies, idle creature,
The turns of thy uncertain wing,
And not the malice of thy sting.
Thy pride of being great and wise
I do but mention to despise;
I view with anger and disdain
How little gives thee joy or pain:
A print, a bronze, a flower, a root,
A shell, a butterfly, can do't:
Ev'n a romance, a tune, a rhyme,
Help thee to pass the tedious time,
Which else would on thy hand remain;
Though flown it ne'er looks back again:
And cards are dealt, and chess-boards brought,
To ease the pain of coward thought:
Happy result of human wit!
That Alma may herself forget.

Dick, thus we act, and thus we are,
Or toss'd by hope or sunk by care.
With endless pain this man pursues
What if he gain'd he could not use;
And th' other fondly hopes to see
What never was nor e'er shall be.
We err by use, go wrong by rules,
In gesture grave, in action fools:
We join hypocrisy to pride,
Doubling the faults we strive to hide,
Or grant that with extreme surprise
We find ourselves at sixty wise,
And twenty pretty things are known,
Of which we can't accomplish one,
Whilst, as my System says, the Mind
Is to these upper rooms confined.
Should I, my Friend, at large repeat
Her borrow'd sense, her fond conceit,
The bede-roll of her vicious tricks,
My Poem would be too prolix:
For could I my remarks sustain,
Like Socrates or Miles Montaigne,
Who in these times would read my books,
But Tom o' Stiles or John o' Nokes?

At Brentford kings, discreet and wise,
After long thought and grave advice,
Into Lardella's coffin peeping,
Saw nought to cause their mirth or weeping;
So Alma, now to joy or grief
Superior, finds her late relief;
Wearied of being high or great,
And nodding in her chair of state,
Stunn'd and worn out with endless chat,
Of Will did this and Nan said that,
She finds, poor thing, some little crack,
Which Nature forced by time must make,
Through which she wings her destined way;
Upward she soars and down drops clay;
While some surviving friend supplies
Hic jacet, and a hundred lies.

O Richard, till that day appears
Which must decide our hopes and fears,
Would Fortune calm her present rage,
And give us playthings for our age;
Would Clotho wash her hands in milk,
And twist our thread with gold and silk;
Would she in friendship, peace, and plenty
Spin out our years to four times twenty;
And should we both in this condition
Have conquer'd love, and worse ambition;
(Else those two passions by the way
May chance to show us scurvy play)
Then, Richard, then should we sit down,
Far from the tumult of this town;
I fond of my well-chosen seat,
My pictures, medals, books complete;
Or should we mix our friendly talk,
O'ershadow'd in that favourite walk
Which thy own hand had whilom planted,
Both pleased with all we thought we wanted;
Yet then, even then, one cross reflection
Would spoil thy grove and my recollection:
Thy son and his e'er that may die,
And time some uncouth heir supply,
Who shall for nothing else be known
But spoiling all that thou hast done.
Who set the twigs shall he remember,
That is in haste to fell the timber;
And what shall of thy woods remain
Except the box that threw the main?

Nay, may not time and death remove
The near relations whom I love?
And my Coz Tom, or his Coz Mary,
(Who hold the plough or skim the dairy)
My favourite books and pictures sell
To Smart or Doiley by the ell?
Kindly throw in a little figure,
And set their price upon the bigger?
Those who could never read their grammar,
When my dear volumes touch the hammer,
May think books best as richest bound:
My copper medals by the pound
May be with learned justice weigh'd;
To turn the balance, Otho's head
May be thrown in; and for the mettle
The coin may mend a tinker's kettle

Tired with these thoughts, Less tired than I,
Quoth Dick, with your philosophy
That people live and die, I knew
An hour ago as well as you;
And if Fate spins us longer years,
Or is in haste to take the shears,
I know we must both fortunes try,
And bear our evils wet or dry.
Yet let the goddess smile or frown,
Bread we shall eat or white or brown,
And in a cottage or a court
Drink fine Champaigne or muddled Port.
What need of books these truths to tell,
Which folks perceive who cannot spell?
And must we spectacles apply
To view what hurts our naked eye?

Sir, if it be your wisdom's aim
To make me merrier than I am,
I'll be all night at your devotion,
Come on, Friend; broach the pleasing notion;
But if you would depress my thought,
Your System is not worth a groat,

For Plato's fancies what care I?
I hope you would not have me die,
Like simple Cato in the play,
For any thing that he can say?
E'en let him of ideas speak
To Heathens in his native Greek;
If to be sad is to be wise,
I do most heartily despise
Whatever Socrates has said,
Or Tully writ, or Wanley read.

Dear Drift, to set our matters right,
Remove these papers from my sight;
Burn Matt's Descart and Aristotle.
Here, Jonathan, your master's bottle.

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