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The partial Papists would infer from hence
Their church, in last resort, should judge the sense.
But first they would assume, with wondrous art,
Themselves to be the whole, who are but part
Of that vast frame, the church: yet grant they were
The handers down, can they from thence infer
A right to' interpret? or would they alone
Who brought the present, claim it for their own?
The Book's a common largess to mankind,
Not more for them than every man design'd;
The welcome news is in the letter found,
The carrier's not commission'd to expound.
It speaks itself, and what it does contain,
In all things needful to be known is plain.
In times o'ergrown with rust and ignorance,
A gainful trade their clergy did advance;
When want of learning kept the layman low,
And none but priests were authoriz'd to know;
• When what small knowledge was in them did dwell,
And he a god who could but read or spell;
Then Mother-church did mightily prevail,
She parcell'd out the Bible by retail;
But still expounded what she sold or gave,
To keep it in her power to damn and save:
Scripture was scarce, and, as the market went,
Poor laymen took salvation on content,
As needy men take money, good or bad;
God's word they had not, but the priest's they had.
Yet, whate'er false conveyances they made,
The lawyer still was certain to be paid.
In those dark times they learn'd their knack so well,
That by long use they grew infallible :
At last, a knowing age began to' inquire
If they the Book, or that did them inspire;
And, making narrower search, they found, though late,
That what they thought the priest's was their estate;
Taught by the will produc'd (the written word)
How long they had been cheated on record.
Then every man, who saw the title fair,
Claim'd a child's part, and put in for a share;
Consulted soberly his private good,
And sav'd himself as cheap as e'er he could.
'Tis true, my friend, (and far be flattery hence) This good had full as bad a consequence: The Book thus put in every vulgar hand, Which each presum❜d he best could understand, The common rule was made the common prey, And at the mercy of the rabble lay: The tender page with horny fists was gall❜d, And he was gifted most that loudest bawl'd: The Spirit gave the doctoral decree, And every member of a company
Was of his trade, and of the Bible, free.
Plain truths enough for needful use they found,
But men would still be itching to expound :
Each was ambitious of the' obscurest place,
No measure ta'en from knowledge, all from grace :
Study and pains were now no more their care,
Texts were explain'd by fasting and by pray'r;
This was the fruit the private Spirit brought,
Occasion'd by great zeal and little thought.
While crowds unlearn'd, with rude devotion warm,
About the sacred viands buz and swarm,
The fly-blown text creates a crawling brood,
And turns to maggots what was meant for food.
A thousand daily sects rise up and die;
A thousand more the perish'd race supply:
So all we make of Heaven's discover'd will
Is not to have it, or to use it ill.
The danger's much the same, on several shelves If others wreck us, or we wreck ourselves.
What then remains, but, waving each extreme, The tides of ignorance and pride to stem? Neither so rich a treasure to forego,
Nor proudly seek beyond our power to know?
Faith is not built on disquisitions vain;
The things we must believe are few and plain :
But since men will believe more than they need,
And every man will make himself a creed,
In doubtful questions 'tis the safest way,
To learn what unsuspected Ancients say;
For 'tis not likely we should higher soar
In search of Heaven than all the church before
Nor can we be deceiv'd, unless we see
The Scripture and the Fathers disagree.
If, after all, they stand suspected still,
(For no man's faith depends upon his will)
'Tis some relief, that points not clearly known,
Without much hazard, may be let alone;
And, after hearing what our church can say,
If still our reason runs another way,
That private reason 'tis more just to curb,
Than by disputes the public peace disturb :
For points obscure are of small use to learn,
But common quiet is mankind's concern!
Thus have I made my own opinions clear,
Yet neither praise expect, nor censure fear;
And this unpolish'd, rugged verse I chose,
As fittest for discourse, and nearest prose:
For while from sacred truth I do not swerve,
Tom Sternhold's or Tom Shadwell's rhymes will
THRENODIA AUGUSTALIS :
A FUNERAL PINDARIC POEM,
SACRED TO THE HAPPY MEMORY OF KING CHARLES II. 1685.
Fortunati ambo! si quid mea carmina possunt,
Nulla dies unquam memori vos eximet ævo.
THUS long my grief has kept me dumb :
Sure there's a lethargy in mighty woe,
Tears stand congeal'd, and cannot flow;
And the sad soul retires into her inmost room.
Tears, for a stroke foreseen, afford relief;
But, unprovided for a sudden blow,
Like Niobe we marble grow,
And petrify with grief.
Our British heaven was all serene;
No threatening cloud was nigh,
Not the least wrinkle to deform the sky;
We liv'd as unconcern'd and happily
As the first age in Nature's golden scene.
Supine amidst our flowing store,
We slept securely, and we dream'd of more;
When suddenly the thunder-clap was heard:
It took us unprepar'd, and out of guard,
Already lost, before we fear'd.
The' amazing news of Charles at once were spread; At once the general voice declar'd
Our gracious Prince was dead.'
No sickness known before, no slow disease,
To soften grief by just degrees;
But, like an hurricane on Indian seas,
The tempest rose;
An unexpected burst of woes;
With scarce a breathing-space betwixt,
This now becalm'd, and perishing the next.
As if great Atlas from his height
Should sink beneath his heavenly weight,
And with a mighty flaw, the flaming wall
(As once it shall), [whelm this nether ball;
Should gape immense, and, rushing down, o'ver-
So swift and so surprising was our fear:
Our Atlas fell indeed; but Hercules was near.
His pious brother,* sure the best
Who ever bore that name,
Was newly risen from his rest,
And with a fervent flame
His usual morning-vows had just addrest
For his dear Sovereign's health;
And hop'd to have 'em heard,
In long increase of years,
In honour, fame, and wealth!
Guiltless of greatness, thus he always pray'd,
Nor knew, nor wish'd those vows he made
On his own head should be repaid.
Soon as the' ill-omen'd rumour reach'd his ear,
(Ill news is wing'd with fate, and flies apace)
Who can describe the amazement of his face?
* James, Duke of York.