Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
Grace and the World (from Hope)
By William Cowper (1731–1800)
 
YET half mankind maintain a churlish strife
With him, the Donor of eternal life,
Because the deed by which his love confirms
The largess he bestows, prescribes the terms.
Compliance with his will your lot ensures;        5
Accept it only, and the boon is yours.
And sure it is as kind to smile and give,
As with a frown to say, ‘Do this, and live.’
Love is not pedler’s trumpery, bought and sold:
He will give freely, or he will withhold;        10
His soul abhors a mercenary thought,
And him as deeply who abhors it not:
He stipulates indeed, but merely this,
That man will freely take an unbought bliss,
Will trust him for a faithful generous part,        15
Nor set a price upon a willing heart.
Of all the ways that seem to promise fair,
To place you where his saints his presence share,
This only can; for this plain cause, expressed
In terms as plain, Himself has shut the rest.        20
But oh the strife, the bickering, and debate,
The tidings of unpurchased heaven create!
The flirted fan, the bridle, and the toss,
All speakers, yet all language at a loss.
From stuccoed walls smart arguments rebound;        25
And beaus, adepts in every thing profound,
Die of disdain, or whistle off the sound.
Such is the clamour of rooks, daws, and kites,
The explosion of the levelled tube excites,
Where mouldering abbey walls o’erhang the glade,        30
And oaks coeval spread a mournful shade;
The screaming nations, hovering in mid air,
Loudly resent the stranger’s freedom there,
And seem to warn him never to repeat
His bold intrusion on their dark retreat.        35
  ‘Adieu,’ Vinosa cries, ere yet he sips
The purple bumper trembling at his lips,
‘Adieu to all morality, if Grace
Make works a vain ingredient in the case.
The Christian hope is—Waiter, draw the cork—        40
If I mistake not—Blockhead! with a fork!
Without good works, whatever some may boast,
Mere folly and delusion—Sir, your toast.
My firm persuasion is, at least sometimes,
That Heaven will weigh man’s virtues and his crimes        45
With nice attention, in a righteous scale,
And save or damn as these or those prevail.
I plant my foot upon this ground of trust,
And silence every fear with—God is just.
But if perchance on some dull drizzling day        50
A thought intrude, that says, or seems to say,
If thus the important cause is to be tried,
Suppose the beam should dip on the wrong side;
I soon recover from these needless frights,
And God is merciful—sets all to rights.        55
Thus, between justice, as my prime support,
And mercy, fled to as the last resort,
I glide and steal along with heaven in view,
And,—pardon me, the bottle stands with you.’
  ‘I never will believe,’ the colonel cries,        60
‘The sanguinary schemes that some devise,
Who make the good Creator on their plan
A being of less equity than man.
If appetite, or what divines call lust,
Which men comply with, even because they must,        65
Be punished with perdition, who is pure?
Then theirs, no doubt, as well as mine, is sure.
If sentence of eternal pain belong
To every sudden slip and transient wrong,
Then Heaven enjoins the fallible and frail        70
A hopeless task, and damns them if they fail.
My creed (whatever some creed-makers mean
By Athanasian nonsense, or Nicene),
My creed is, He is safe that does his best,
And death’s a doom sufficient for the rest.”        75
  ‘Right,’ says an ensign, ‘and for aught I see,
Your faith and mine substantially agree;
The best of every man’s performance here
Is to discharge the duties of his sphere.
A lawyer’s dealing should be just and fair,        80
Honesty shines with great advantage there.
Fasting and prayer sit well upon a priest,
A decent caution and reserve at least.
A soldier’s best is courage in the field,
With nothing here that wants to be concealed:        85
Manly deportment, gallant, easy, gay;
A hand as liberal as the light of day.
The soldier thus endowed, who never shrinks
Nor closets up his thought, whate’er he thinks,
Who scorns to do an injury by stealth,        90
Must go to heaven—and I must drink his health.
Sir Smug,’ he cries (for lowest at the board,
Just made fifth chaplain of his patron lord,
His shoulders witnessing by many a shrug
How much his feelings suffered, sat Sir Smug),        95
‘Your office is to winnow false from true;
Come, prophet, drink, and tell us, what think you?’
  Sighing and smiling as he takes his glass,
Which they that woo preferment rarely pass,
‘Fallible man,’ the church-bred youth replies,        100
‘Is still found fallible, however wise;
And differing judgments serve but to declare,
That truth lies somewhere, if we knew but where.
Of all it ever was my lot to read,
Of critics now alive, or long since dead,        105
The book of all the world that charmed me most
Was—well-a-day, the title page was lost;
The writer well remarks, a heart that knows
To take with gratitude what Heaven bestows,
With prudence always ready at our call,        110
To guide our use of it, is all in all.
Doubtless it is.—To which, of my own store,
I superadd a few essentials more;
But these, excuse the liberty I take,
I waive just now, for conversation sake.’—        115
‘Spoke like an oracle!’ they all exclaim,
And add Right Reverend to Smug’s honoured name.
 
 
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