Tuesday, August 12, 2014



James Henry (1798-1876), "Progress," The Unripe Windfalls (Dublin: The University Press, 1851), pp. 30-31 (consecutive page numbers appear on every other page):
Yes; I'll believe in progress when I see you
Battering old jails down, and not building new;
When I behold you make but a beginning
To sleep with open doors and unbarred windows;
When I observe a thinning, not an increase
Of your policemen and constabulary,
Your justices, and coroners, and detectives,
Your poor-law guardians and commissioners;
Grass growing in your law courts, and fell spiders
There laying snares for flies, not men for men;
And stamped receipts, recognizances, writs,
A tale of the old, Pagan, iron time,
Not of this charitable, Christian present.

I'll then believe in Progress when I hear
That fathers feel the blood mount to their cheeks,
What time they cringe, and bow, and lick the shoes
Even of the vilest clerk in the War-office,
For leave to put a motley livery suit
Upon their sons, and send them out as hirelings,
With gay cockade, and dangling sword at side,
To kill and rob and extirpate, where'er
Killing and robbing and extirpating
Opens a wider field to British commerce.

Aye; talk to me of Progress when you show me
Your city banker, or East India merchant,
After his forty years of counting-house,
And labor fruitless of all else but gold,
His bags choke-full and bursting with the weight
Of bills, and bonds, and mortgages, and scrip:
Show me, I say, your wealthy London merchant
Content with his full bags, and not intent
To cram with the like stuff still one bag more;
And come and tell me ye are making progress.

Let me observe in a full railway carriage
Some half a dozen, aye, some three, some two,
Some single solitary one that does not,
Even in the matter of front seat or back,
Or pulling up or letting down a window,
Exhibit his inveterate, ingrained,
And worse than Pharasaic selfishness;
And I'll begin to think ye are making progress.

Here am I ready to believe in Progress
First time I hear your little girls cry "Shame!"
"A coward's shame!" upon the wretch that hunts,
With horse, and hound, and cries of savage joy,
For sport, mere sport, and not to appease his hunger,
The poor, weak, timid, quivering hare to death;
And twice a coward's and an idler's shame
On him that skulks, hours, days, beside a brook,
Putting forth all the treachery and cunning
That lurk within the dark den of man's brain,
To entrap the silly troutling, and infix
Deep in his writhing gills the sly, barbed hook.

That ye are making progress I'll believe
The first time I perceive your conscience twinge ye,
For answering your questioning child with lies,
Or chill evasion of the longed-for truth;
Denying him the advantage of that knowledge
Ye purchased for yourselves with many a heartache,
And many an agony and bloody sweat;
And sending him to sail the wide, wide world,
As helpless, ignorant, and unprotected,
On board no compass, no pole-star on high,
As by your parents ye were sent yourselves,
To swim, if quick to learn; to sink, if not.

First time I hear ye say that your devotion
Has not a tide more regular than the sea,
And seldom is exactly at the full,
Just as the parish clock strikes twelve on Sunday;
And that ye count it rank hypocrisy
To go to church, and there, with heart lukewarm
Or cold, and damped with worldly cares and business,
Kneel before God, and make pretence of prayer,
In order that your children, friends, and neighbours,
May have the benefit of your good example:
That moment I'll believe ye are making progress.

When ye no longer backward start with horror
At sight of gentle Death, and wring your hands,
And weep, and cry that ye will not go with him,
Though only he can lead you to your heaven:
Then, then indeed, I'll say ye have made some progress.

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