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- Tales - 50/52 -

The Father, thankful for the good he had, Yet saw with pain a whining, timid Lad; Whom he instructing led through cultured fields, To show what Man performs, what Nature yields: But Stephen, listless, wander'd from the view, From beasts he fled, for butterflies he flew, And idly gazed about in search of something new. The lambs indeed he loved, and wish'd to play With things so mild, so harmless, and so gay; Best pleased the weakest of the flock to see, With whom he felt a sickly sympathy. Meantime the Dame was anxious, day and night, To guide the notions of her babe aright, And on the favourite mind to throw her glimmering light; Her Bible-stories she impress'd betimes, And fill'd his head with hymns and holy rhymes; On powers unseen, the good and ill, she dwelt, And the poor Boy mysterious terrors felt; From frightful dreams he waking sobb'd in dread, Till the good lady came to guard his bed. The Father wish'd such errors to correct, But let them pass in duty and respect: But more it grieved his worthy mind to see That Stephen never would a farmer be: In vain he tried the shiftless Lad to guide, And yet 'twas time that something should be tried: He at the village-school perchance might gain All that such mind could gather and retain; Yet the good Dame affirm'd her favourite child Was apt and studious, though sedate and mild; "That he on many a learned point could speak, And that his body, not his mind, was weak." The Father doubted--but to school was sent The timid Stephen, weeping as he went: There the rude lads compell'd the child to fight, And sent him bleeding to his home at night; At this the Grandam more indulgent grew; And bade her Darling "shun the beastly crew, Whom Satan ruled, and who were sure to lie Howling in torments, when they came to die." This was such comfort, that in high disdain He told their fate, and felt their blows again: Yet if the Boy had not a hero's heart, Within the school he play'd a better part; He wrote a clean fine hand, and at his slate With more success than many a hero sate; He thought not much indeed--but what depends On pains and care was at his fingers' ends. This had his Father's praise, who now espied A spark of merit, with a blaze of pride; And though a farmer he would never make, He might a pen with some advantage take; And as a clerk that instrument employ, So well adapted to a timid boy. A London Cousin soon a place obtain'd, Easy but humble--little could be gain'd: The time arrived when youth and age must part, Tears in each eye, and sorrow in each heart; The careful Father bade his Son attend To all his duties and obey his Friend; To keep his church and there behave aright, As one existing in his Maker's sight, Till acts to habits led, and duty to delight. "Then try, my boy, as quickly as you can, T'assume the looks and spirit of a man; I say, be honest, faithful, civil, true, And this you may, and yet have courage too: Heroic men, their country's boast and pride, Have fear'd their God, and nothing fear'd beside; While others daring, yet imbecile, fly The power of man, and that of God defy: Be manly, then, though mild, for, sure as fate, Thou art, my Stephen, too effeminate; Here, take my purse, and make a worthy use ('Tis fairly stock'd) of what it will produce: And now my blessing, not as any charm Or conjuration; but 'twill do no harm." Stephen, whose thoughts were wandering up and down, Now charm'd with promised sights in London-town, Now loth to leave his Grandam--lost the force, The drift and tenor of this grave discourse; But, in a general way, he understood 'Twas good advice, and meant, "My son be good;" And Stephen knew that all such precepts mean That lads should read their Bible, and be clean. The good old Lady, though in some distress, Begg'd her dear Stephen would his grief suppress: "Nay, dry those eyes, my child--and, first of all. Hold fast thy faith, whatever may befall:' Hear the best preacher, and preserve the text For meditation till you hear the next; Within your Bible night and morning look - There is your duty, read no other book; Be not in crowds, in broils, in riots seen, And keep your conscience and your linen clean: Be you a Joseph, and the time may be When kings and rulers will be ruled by thee." "Nay," said the Father--"Hush, my son!" replied The Dame--"the Scriptures must not be denied." The Lad, still weeping, heard the wheels approach, And took his place within the evening coach, With heart quite rent asunder: on one side Was love, and grief, and fear, for scenes untried; Wild beasts and wax-work fill'd the happier part Of Stephen's varying and divided heart: This he betray'd by sighs and questions strange, Of famous shows, the Tower, and the Exchange. Soon at his desk was placed the curious Boy, Demure and silent at his new employ; Yet as he could he much attention paid To all around him, cautious and afraid; On older Clerks his eager eyes were fix'd, But Stephen never in their council mix'd: Much their contempt he fear'd, for if like them, He felt assured he should himself contemn; "Oh! they were all so eloquent, so free, No! he was nothing--nothing could he be: They dress so smartly, and so boldly look, And talk as if they read it from a book; But I," said Stephen, "will forbear to speak, And they will think me prudent and not weak. They talk, the instant they have dropp'd the pen, Of singing-women and of acting-men: Of plays and places where at night they walk Beneath the lamps, and with the ladies talk; While other ladies for their pleasure sing, - Oh! 'tis a glorious and a happy thing: They would despise me, did they understand I dare not look upon a scene so grand; Or see the plays when critics rise and roar, And hiss and groan, and cry--Encore! encore! There's one among them looks a little kind; If more encouraged, I would ope my mind." Alas! poor Stephen, happier had he kept His purpose secret, while his envy slept! Virtue perhaps had conquer'd, or his shame At least preserved him simple as he came. A year elapsed before this Clerk began To treat the rustic something like a man; He then in trifling points the youth advised, Talk'd of his coat, and had it modernized; Or with the lad a Sunday-walk would take, And kindly strive his passions to awake; Meanwhile explaining all they heard and saw, Till Stephen stood in wonderment and awe; To a neat garden near the town they stray'd, Where the Lad felt delighted and afraid; There all he saw was smart, and fine, and fair - He could but marvel how he ventured there: Soon he observed, with terror and alarm, His friend enlocked within a Lady's arm, And freely talking--"But it is," said he, "A near relation, and that makes him free;" And much amazed was Stephen when he knew This was the first and only interview; Nay, had that lovely arm by him been seized, The lovely owner had been highly pleased. "Alas!" he sigh'd, "I never can contrive At such bold, blessed freedoms to arrive; Never shall I such happy courage boast, I dare as soon encounter with a ghost." Now to a play the friendly couple went, But the Boy murmurd at the money spent; "He lov'd," he said, "to buy, but not to spend - They only talk awhile, and there's an end." "Come, you shall purchase books," the Friend replied; "You are bewilder'd, and you want a guide; To me refer the choice, and you shall find The light break in upon your stagnant mind!" The cooler Clerks exclaim'd, "In vain your art To improve a cub without a head or heart; Rustics, though coarse, and savages, though wild, Our cares may render liberal and mild: But what, my friend, can flow from all these pains? There is no dealing with a lack of brains." "True I am hopeless to behold him man, But let me make the booby what I can: Though the rude stone no polish will display, Yet you may strip the rugged coat away." Stephen beheld his books--"I love to know How money goes--now here is that to show: And now" he cried, "I shall be pleased to get Beyond the Bible--there I puzzle yet." He spoke abash'd--"Nay, nay!" the friend replied, "You need not lay the good old book aside; Antique and curious, I myself indeed Read it at times, but as a man should read;. A fine old work it is, and I protest I hate to hear it treated as a jest: The book has wisdom in it, if you look Wisely upon it, as another book: For superstition (as our priests of sin Are pleased to tell us) makes us blind within; Of this hereafter--we will now select Some works to please you, others to direct; Tales and romances shall your fancy feed, And reasoners form your morals and your creed." The books were view'd, the price was fairly paid, And Stephen read undaunted, undismay'd: But not till first he papered all the row,

Tales - 50/52

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