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Of the Night Thoughts, which were published from 1742 to 1744, Young's favorite and most finished poem, it may be said that they show a mind stored with reading and reflection, purified by virtuous feelings, and supported by religious hope. There are in them great fertility of thought and luxuriance of imagination, uncommon originality in style, and an accumulation of argument and illustration which seems almost houndless.' “ In this poem,” says Dr. Johnson, “ Young has exhibited a very wide display of original poetry, variegated with deep reflections and striking allusions; a wilderness of thought, in which the fertility of fancy scatters flowers of every hue, and of
In 1756 Dr. Joseph Warton paid a very just and elegant tribute to the poetical reputation of Young, by dedicating to him his most learned and instructive « Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope.” Young was at that time the only survivor of that brotherhood of poets who had adorned and delighted the preceding age, and among whom Pope shone with such unrivalled lustre. In 1762, when he was upwards of fourscore, Young printed his poers of “ Resignation," in which, for the first time, a decay of his powers is niani. fested. In April, 1765, he closed his long, useful, and virtuous life. He had performed no duty for the last three or four years, but he retained his intellects to the last.
In his personal manners, Young is said to have been a man of very social habits, and the animating soul of every company with whom he mixed. No body ever said more brilliant things in conversation. Dr. Warton, who knew him well, says that he was one of the most amiable and benevolent of men, most exemplary in his life and sincere in his religion. If he stooped below the dignity of his high profession, in courting worldly favor and applause, as without doubt he did, no one has more convincingly shown how utterly worthless was the object of this inconsistent ambition.
As a poet, if he ranks not in the first class, he takes a very high place in the second. If his taste be not the purest, or his judgment not always the best, he has an exuberance, a vigor, and an originality of genius, which amply atone for all his defects. As respects the moral influence of his poetry, there has been and can be but one opinion. No one can rise from the studious reading of the Night Thoughts, without feeling more the value of time, and the importance of improving it aright, both for the life that now is, and for that which is to come. It is a book full of the purest and noblest sentiments, which, if followed, cannot fail of making us wiser and better.
INTRODUCTION TO THE NIGHT THOUGHTS. THE VALUE OF TIME.
THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL.
Tired Nature's sweet restorer, balmy Sleep!
He, like the world, his ready visit pays
Where Fortune smiles; the wretched he forsakes;
Swift on his downy pinion flies from woe,
And lights on lids unsullied with a tear.
From short (as usual) and disturb'd repose,
I wake: How happy they, who wake no more!
Yet that were vain, if dreams infest the grave.
I wake, emerging from a sea of dreams
Tumultuous; where my wreck’d, desponding thought,
From wave to wave of fancied misery,
At random drove, her helm of reason lost.
Though now restored, 'tis only change of pain
(A bitter change !) severer for severe.
The Day too short for my distress; and Night,
E'en in the zenith of her dark domain,
Is sunshine to the color of my fate.
Night, sable goddess! from her ebon throne,
In rayless majesty, now stretches forth
Her leaden sceptre o’er a slumbering world.
Silence, how dead! and darkness, how profound !
Nor eye, nor listening ear, an object finds;
Creation sleeps. 'Tis as the general pulse
Of life stood still, and nature made a pause;
An awful pause! prophetic of her end.
And let her prophecy be soon fulfill’d;
Fate! drop the curtain; I can lose no more.
The bell strikes one. We take no note of time
But from its loss. To give it then a tongue,
Is wise in man. As if an angel spoke,
I feel the solemn sound. If heard aright,
It is the knell of my departed hours :
Where are they? With the years beyond the flood.
It is the signal that demands despatch:
How much is to be done! My hopes and fears
Start up alarm'd, and o'er life's narrow verge
Look down-On what? a fathomless abyss;
A dread eternity! how surely mine!
And can eternity belong to me,
Poor pensioner on the bounties of an hour ?
How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
How complicate, how wonderful is man!
How passing wonder He, who made him such!
Who centred in our make such strange extremes!
From different natures marvellously mixt,
Connection exquisite of distant worlds!
Distinguish'd link in Being's endless chain!
Midway from Nothing to the Deity!
A beam ethereal, sullied, and absorpt!
Though sullied and dishonor'd, still divine!
Dim miniature of greatness absolute!
An heir of glory! a frail child of dust!
Helpless immortal! insect infinite!
A worm! a god !-I tremble at myself,
And in myself am lost! At home a stranger,
Thought wanders up and down, surprised, aghast,
And wondering at her own: How reason reels!
O what a miracle to man is man,
Triumphantly distress'd! what joy, what dread:
Alternately transported, and alarm'd!
What can preserve my life! or what destroy!
An angel's arm can't snatch me from the grave;
Legions of angels can't confine me there,
'Tis past conjecture; all things rise in proof: While o'er my limbs sleep's soft dominion spread, What though my soul fantastic measures trod O'er fairy fields; or mourn'd along the gloom Of pathless woods; or, down the craggy steep Hurl'd headlong, swam with pain the mantled pool; Or scaled the cliff; or danced on hollow winds, With antic shapes, wild natives of the brain? Her ceaseless flight, though devious, speaks her nature Of subtler essence than the trodden clod; Active, aërial, towering, unconfined, Unfetter'd with her gross companion's fall. E'en silent night proclaims my soul immortal: E'en silent night proclaims eternal day. For human weal, heaven husbands all events; Dull sleep instructs, nor sport vain dreams in vain.
Why then their loss deplore, that are not lost!
Why wanders wretched thought their tombs around,
In infidel distress? Are angels there?
Slumbers, raked up in dust, ethereal fire ?
They live! they greatly live a life on earth
Unkindled, unconceived; and from an eye
Of tenderness let heavenly pity fall
On me, more justly number'd with the dead.
This is the desert, this the solitude:
How populous, how vital, is the grave!
This is creation's melancholy vault,
The vale funereal, the sad cypress gloom;
The land of apparitions, empty shades!
All, all on earth, is Shadow, all beyond
Is Substance; the reverse is folly's creed:
How solid all, where change shall be no more!
Yet man, fool man! here buries all his thoughts;
Inters celestial hopes without one sigh.
Prisoner of earth, and pent beneath the moon,
Here pinions all his wishes; wing’d by heaven
To fly at infinite; and reach it there,
Where seraphs gather immortality,
On life's fair tree, fast by the throne of God.
What golden joys ambrosial clustering glow,
In His full beam, and ripen for the just,
Where momentary ages are no more!
Where time, and pain, and chance, and death expire!
And is it in the flight of threescore years,
To push eternity from human thought,
And smother souls immortal in the dust?
A soul immortal, spending all her fires,
Wasting her strength in strenuous idleness,
Thrown into tumult, raptured or alarm'd,
At aught this scene can threaten or indulge,
Resembles ocean into tempest wrought,
To wast a feather, or to drown a fly.
MAN'S RESOLUTIONS TO REFORM.
Of man's miraculous mistakes, this bears
The palm, “That all men are about to live,"
For ever on the brink of being born.
All pay themselves the compliment to think
They one day shall not drivel: and their pride
On this reversion takes up ready praise;
At least, their own; their future selves applaud;
How excellent that life they ne'er will lead !
Time lodged in their own hands is folly's vails;
That lodged in fate's, to wisdom they consign;
The thing they can't but purpose, they postpone;
'Tis not in folly, not to scorn a fool:
And scarce in human wisdom, to do more.
All promise is poor dilatory man,
And that through every stage: when young, indeed,
In full content we, sometimes, nobly rest,
Unanxious for ourselves; and only wish,
As duteous sons, our fathers were more wise.
At thirty man suspects himself a fool:
Knows it at forty, and reforms his plan;
At fifty chides his infamous delay,
Pushes his prudent purpose to resolve ;
In all the magnanimity of thought
Resolves; and re-resolves; then dies the same.
And why? Because he thinks himself immortal.
All men think all men mortal but themselves;
Themselves, when some alarming shock of fate
Strikes through their wounded hearts the sudden dread;
But their hearts wounded, like the wounded air,
Soon close; where, past the shaft, no trace is found.
As from the wing, no scar the sky retains;
The parted wave no furrow from the keel;
So dies in human hearts the thought of death :
E'en with the tender tear which nature sheds
O'er those we love, we drop it in their grave.
Life makes the soul dependent on the dust; Death gives her wings to mount above the spheres. Through chinks, styled organs, dim life peeps at light; Death bursts th' involving cloud, and all is day; All eye, all ear, the disembodied power. Death has feign'd evils, nature shall not feel; Life, ills substantial, wisdom cannot shun. Is not the mighty mind, that son of heaven! By tyrant life dethroned, imprison'd, pain’d? By death enlarged, ennobled, deified ? Death but entombs the body; life the soul.
Why all this toil for triumphs of an hour ?
What though we wade in wealth, or soar in fame?
Earth's highest station ends in “Here he lies,"
And “dust to dust” concludes her noblest song.
If this song lives, posterity shall know
One, though in Britain born, with courtiers bred,
Who thought e'en gold might come a day too late;
Nor on his subtle death-bed plann'd his scheme
For future vacancies in church or state ;
Some avocation deeming it—to die,
Unbit by rage canine of dying rich;
Guilt's blunder! and the loudest laugh of hell!
SOCIETY NECESSARY FOR HAPPINESS.
Wisdom, though richer than Peruvian mines,
And sweeter than the sweet ambrosial hive,
What is she, but the means of Happiness?
That unobtain'd, than folly more a fool;
A melancholy fool, without her bells.
Friendship, the means of wisdom, richly gives
The precious end, which akes our wisdom wise.
Nature, in zeal for human amity,
Denies, or damps, an undivided joy:
Joy is an import; joy is an exchange;
Joy flies monopolists: it calls for Two;
Rich fruit! heaven-planted! never pluck'd by One.
Needful auxiliars are our friends, to give
To social man true relish of himself.
Full on ourselves, descending in a line,
Pleasure's bright beam is feeble in delight:
Delight intense is taken by rebound;
Reverberated pleasures fire the breast.
INSUFFICIENCY OF GENIUS AND STATION WITHOUT VIRTUE.
Genius and art, ambition's boasted wings,
Our boast but ill deserve. A feeble aid !
Dædalian enginery! If these alone
Assist our flight, fame's flight is glory's fall.
Heart merit wanting, mount we ne'er so high,
Our height is but the gibbet of our name.
A celebrated wretch, when I behold;
When I behold a genius bright, and base,
Of towering talents, and terrestrial aims;
Methinks I see, as thrown from her high sphere,
The glorious fragments of a soul immortal,
With rubbish mix'd, and glittering in the dust.
Struck at the splendid, melancholy sight,
At once compassion soft, and envy, rise-
But wherefore envy? Talents angel-bright,
If wanting worth, are shining instruments
In false ambition's hand, to finish faults
Illustrious, and give infamy renown.
Great ill is an achievement of great powers.
Plain sense but rarely leads us far astray.
Reason the means, affections choose our end;