Johnson – The Vanity of Human Wishes | Harper's Magazine

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Johnson – The Vanity of Human Wishes

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Let Observation with extensive View,
Survey Mankind, from China to Peru;
Remark each anxious Toil, each eager Strife,
And watch the busy Scenes of crouded Life;
Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate,
O’er spread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate,
Where wav’ring Man, betray’d by vent’rous Pride,
To tread the dreary Paths without a Guide;
As treach’rous Phantoms in the Mist delude,
Shuns fancied Ills, or chases airy Good.
How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice,
Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice,
How Nations sink, by darling Schemes oppres’d,
When Vengeance listens to the Fool’s Request.
Fate wings with ev’ry Wish th’ afflictive Dart,
Each Gift of Nature, and each Grace of Art,
With fatal Heat impetuous Courage glows,
With fatal Sweetness Elocution flows,
Impeachment stops the Speaker’s pow’rful Breath,
And restless Fire precipitates on Death.
But scarce observ’d the Knowing and the Bold,
Fall in the gen’ral Massacre of Gold;
Wide-wasting Pest! that rages unconfin’d,
And crouds with Crimes the Records of Mankind,
For Gold his Sword the Hireling Ruffian draws,
For Gold the hireling Judge distorts the Laws;
Wealth heap’d on Wealth, nor Truth nor Safety buys,
The Dangers gather as the Treasures rise….

Once more, Democritus, arise on Earth,
With chearful Wisdom and instructive Mirth,
See motley Life in modern Trappings dress’d,
And feed with varied Fools th’ eternal Jest:
Thou who couldst laugh where Want enchain’d Caprice,
Toil crush’d Conceit, and Man was of a Piece;
Where Wealth unlov’d without a Mourner dy’d;
And scarce a Sycophant was fed by Pride;
Where ne’er was known the Form of mock Debate,
Or seen a new-made Mayor’s unwieldy State;
Where change of Fav’rites made no Change of Laws,
And Senates heard before they judg’d a Cause;
How wouldst thou shake at Britain’s modish Tribe,
Dart the quick Taunt, and edge the piercing Gibe?
Attentive Truth and Nature to descry,
And pierce each Scene with Philosophic Eye.
To thee were solemn Toys or empty Shew,
The Robes of Pleasure and the Veils of Woe:
All aid the Farce, and all thy Mirth maintain,
Whose Joys are causeless, or whose Griefs are vain.

Such was the Scorn that fill’d the Sage’s Mind,
Renew’d at ev’ry Glance on Humankind;
How just that Scorn ere yet thy Voice declare,
Search every State, and canvass ev’ry Pray’r….

Where then shall Hope and Fear their Objects find?
Must dull Suspence corrupt the stagnant Mind?
Must helpless Man, in Ignorance sedate,
Swim darkling down the Current of his Fate?
Must no Dislike alarm, no Wishes rise,
No Cries attempt the Mercies of the Skies?
Enquirer, cease, Petitions yet remain,
Which Heav’n may hear, nor deem Religion vain.
Still raise for Good the supplicating Voice,
But leave to Heav’n the Measure and the Choice.
Safe in his Pow’r, whose Eyes discern afar
The secret Ambush of a specious Pray’r.
Implore his Aid, in his Decisions rest,
Secure whate’er he gives, he gives the best.
Yet with the Sense of sacred Presence prest,
When strong Devotion fills thy glowing Breast,
Pour forth thy Fervours for a healthful Mind,
Obedient Passions, and a Will resign’d;
For Love, which scarce collective Man can fill;
For Patience sov’reign o’er transmuted Ill;
For Faith, that panting for a happier Seat,
Thinks Death kind Nature’s Signal of Retreat:
These Goods for Man the Laws of Heav’n ordain,
These Goods he grants, who grants the Pow’r to gain;
With these celestial Wisdom calms the Mind,
And makes the Happiness she does not find.

Samuel Johnson, extracts from The Vanity of Human Wishes or, The Tenth Satire of Juvenal, Imitated (1749)

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