Saturday, November 09, 2013


Happiest of Mortals

Elijah Fenton (1683-1730), "An Epistle to Thomas Lambard, Esq.," lines 84-119, in his Poetical Works (Edinburgh: Apollo Press, 1779), pp. 58-59:
Happiest of mortals he who, timely wise,
In the calm walks of truth his bloom enjoys;        85
With books and patrimonial plenty blest,
Health in his veins, and quiet in his breast!
Him no vain hopes attract, no fear appals,
Nor the gay servitude of courts enthrals,
Unknowing how to mask concerted guile        90
With a false cringe, or undermining smile;
His manners pure, from affectation free,
And prudence shines thro' clear simplicity.
Tho' no rich labours of the Persian loom,
Nor the nice sculptor's art, adorn his room,        95
Sleep unprovok'd will softly seal his eyes,
And innocence the want of down supplies;
Health tempers all his cups, and at his board
Reigns the cheap luxury the fields afford:
Like the great Trojan, mantled in a cloud,        100
Himself unseen, he sees the lab'ring crowd,
Where all industrious to their ruin run,
Swift to pursue what most they ought to shun.
Some, by the sordid thirst of gain controll'd,
Starve in their stores, and cheat themselves for gold,        105
Preserve the precious bane with anxious care,
In vagrant lusts to feed a lavish heir:
Others devour Ambition's glitt'ring bait,
To sweat in purple, and repine in state;
Devote their pow'rs to ev'ry wild extreme        110
For the short pageant of a pompous dream;
Nor can the mind to full perfection bring
The fruits it early promis'd in the spring,
But in a public sphere those virtues fade,
Which open'd fair and flourished in the shade:        115
So while the Night her ebon sceptre sways,
Her fragrant blooms the Indian plant* displays;
But the full day the short-liv'd beauties shun,
Elude our hopes, and sicken at the sun.

* The nure-tree.
100-101: "the great Trojan" is Aeneas, invisible in Vergil, Aeneid 1.411-414, 439-440.

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