To The Lord Viscount Forbes.

A poem by Thomas Moore


If former times had never left a trace
Of human frailty in their onward race,
Nor o'er their pathway written, as they ran,
One dark memorial of the crimes of man;
If every age, in new unconscious prime,
Rose, like a phenix, from the fires of time,
To wing its way unguided and alone,
The future smiling and the past unknown;
Then ardent man would to himself be new,
Earth at his foot and heaven within his view:
Well might the novice hope, the sanguine scheme
Of full perfection prompt his daring dream,
Ere cold experience, with her veteran lore,
Could tell him, fools had dreamt as much before.
But, tracing as we do, through age and clime,
The plans of virtue midst the deeds of crime,
The thinking follies and the reasoning rage
Of man, at once the idiot and the sage;
When still we see, through every varying frame
Of arts and polity, his course the same,
And know that ancient fools but died, to make
A space on earth for modern fools to take;
'Tis strange, how quickly we the past forget;
That Wisdom's self should not be tutored yet,
Nor tire of watching for the monstrous birth
Of pure perfection midst the sons of earth!

Oh! nothing but that soul which God has given,
Could lead us thus to look on earth for heaven;
O'er dross without to shed the light within,
And dream of virtue while we see but sin.

Even here, beside the proud Potowmac's stream,
Might sages still pursue the flattering theme
Of days to come, when man shall conquer fate,
Rise o'er the level of his mortal state,
Belie the monuments of frailty past,
And plant perfection in this world at last!
"Here," might they say, "shall power's divided reign
"Evince that patriots have not bled in vain.
"Here godlike liberty's herculean youth,
"Cradled in peace, and nurtured up by truth
"To full maturity of nerve and mind,
"Shall crush the giants that bestride mankind.
"Here shall religion's pure and balmy draught
"In form no more from cups of state be quaft,
"But flow for all, through nation, rank, and sect,
"Free as that heaven its tranquil waves reflect.
"Around the columns of the public shrine
"Shall growing arts their gradual wreath intwine,
"Nor breathe corruption from the flowering braid,
"Nor mine that fabric which they bloom to shade,
"No longer here shall Justice bound her view,
"Or wrong the many, while she rights the few;
"But take her range through all the social frame,
"Pure and pervading as that vital flame
"Which warms at once our best and meanest part,
"And thrills a hair while it expands a heart!"

Oh golden dream! what soul that loves to scan
The bright disk rather than the dark of man,
That owns the good, while smarting with the ill,
And loves the world with all its frailty still,--
What ardent bosom does not spring to meet
The generous hope, with all that heavenly heat,
Which makes the soul unwilling to resign
The thoughts of growing, even on earth, divine!
Yes, dearest friend, I see thee glow to think
The chain of ages yet may boast a link
Of purer texture than the world has known,
And fit to bind us to a Godhead's throne.

But, is it thus? doth even the glorious dream
Borrow from truth that dim, uncertain gleam,
Which tempts us still to give such fancies scope,
As shock not reason, while they nourish hope?
No, no, believe me, 'tis not so--even now,
While yet upon Columbia's rising brow
The showy smile of young presumption plays,
Her bloom is poisoned and her heart decays.
Even now, in dawn of life, her sickly breath
Burns with the taint of empires near their death;
And, like the nymphs of her own withering clime,
She's old in youth, she's blasted in her prime,[1]

Already has the child of Gallia's school
The foul Philosophy that sins by rule,
With all her train of reasoning, damning arts,
Begot by brilliant heads on worthless hearts,
Like things that quicken after Nilus' flood,
The venomed birth of sunshine and of mud,--
Already has she poured her poison here
O'er every charm that makes existence dear;
Already blighted, with her blackening trace,
The opening bloom of every social grace,
And all those courtesies, that love to shoot
Round virtue's stem, the flowerets of her fruit.

And, were these errors but the wanton tide
Of young luxuriance or unchastened pride;
The fervid follies and the faults of such
As wrongly feel, because they feel too much;
Then might experience make the fever less,
Nay, graft a virtue on each warm excess.
But no; 'tis heartless, speculative ill,
All youth's transgression with all age's chill;
The apathy of wrong, the bosom's ice,
A slow and cold stagnation into vice.

Long has the love of gold, that meanest rage,
And latest folly of man's sinking age,
Which, rarely venturing in the van of life,
While nobler passions wage their heated strife,
Comes skulking last, with selfishness and fear,
And dies, collecting lumber in the rear,--
Long has it palsied every grasping hand
And greedy spirit through this bartering land;
Turned life to traffic, set the demon gold
So loose abroad that virtue's self is sold,
And conscience, truth, and honesty are made
To rise and fall, like other wares of trade.

Already in this free, this virtuous state,
Which, Frenchmen tell us, was ordained by fate,
To show the world, what high perfection springs
From rabble senators, and merchant kings,--
Even here already patriots learn to steal
Their private perquisites from public weal,
And, guardians of the country's sacred fire,
Like Afric's priests, let out the flame for hire.
Those vaunted demagogues, who nobly rose
From England's debtors to be England's foes,
Who could their monarch in their purse forget,
And break allegiance, but to cancel debt,
Have proved at length, the mineral's tempting hue,
Which makes a patriot, can un-make him too.[2]
Oh! Freedom, Freedom, how I hate thy cant!
Not Eastern bombast, not the savage rant
Of purpled madmen, were they numbered all
From Roman Nero down to Russian Paul,
Could grate upon my ear so mean, so base,
As the rank jargon of that factious race,
Who, poor of heart and prodigal of words,
Formed to be slaves, yet struggling to be lords,
Strut forth, as patriots, from their negro-marts,
And shout for rights, with rapine in their hearts.
Who can, with patience, for a moment see
The medley mass of pride and misery,
Of whips and charters, manacles and rights,
Of slaving blacks and democratic whites,
And all the piebald polity that reigns
In free confusion o'er Columbia's plains?
To think that man, thou just and gentle God!
Should stand before thee with a tyrant's rod
O'er creatures like himself, with souls from thee,
Yet dare to boast of perfect liberty;
Away, away--I'd rather hold my neck
By doubtful tenure from a sultan's beck,
In climes, where liberty has scarce been named,
Nor any right but that of ruling claimed,
Than thus to live, where bastard Freedom waves
Her fustian flag in mockery over slaves;
Where--motley laws admitting no degree
Betwixt the vilely slaved and madly free--
Alike the bondage and the license suit
The brute made ruler and the man made brute.

But, while I thus, my friend, in flowerless song,
So feebly paint, what yet I feel so strong,
The ills, the vices of the land, where first
Those rebel fiends, that rack the world, were nurst,
Where treason's arm by royalty was nerved,
And Frenchmen learned to crush the throne they served--
Thou, calmly lulled in dreams of classic thought,
By bards illumined and by sages taught,
Pant'st to be all, upon this mortal scene,
That bard hath fancied or that sage hath been.
Why should I wake thee? why severely chase
The lovely forms of virtue and of grace,
That dwell before thee, like the pictures spread
By Spartan matrons round the genial bed,
Moulding thy fancy, and with gradual art
Brightening the young conceptions of thy heart.

Forgive me, Forbes--and should the song destroy
One generous hope, one throb of social joy,
One high pulsation of the zeal for man,
Which few can feel, and bless that few who can,--
Oh! turn to him, beneath those kindred eyes
Thy talents open and thy virtues rise,
Forget where nature has been dark or dim,
And proudly study all her lights in him.
Yes, yes, in him the erring world forget,
And feel that man may reach perfection yet.

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