But what 's this to the purpose? you will say.
Gent. reader, nothing; a mere speculation,
For which my sole excuse is — 't is my way;
Sometimes with and sometimes without occasion
I write what 's uppermost, without delay:
This narrative is not meant for narration,
But a mere airy and fantastic basis,
To build up common things with common places.
You know, or don't know, that great Bacon saith,
'Fling up a straw, 't will show the way the wind blows;'
And such a straw, borne on by human breath,
Is poesy, according as the mind glows;
A paper kite which flies 'twixt life and death,
A shadow which the onward soul behind throws:
And mine 's a bubble, not blown up for praise,
But just to play with, as an infant plays.
The world is all before me — or behind;
For I have seen a portion of that same,
And quite enough for me to keep in mind; —
Of passions, too, I have proved enough to blame,
To the great pleasure of our friends, mankind,
Who like to mix some slight alloy with fame;
For I was rather famous in my time,
Until I fairly knock'd it up with rhyme.
I have brought this world about my ears, and eke
The other; that 's to say, the clergy, who
Upon my head have bid their thunders break
In pious libels by no means a few.
And yet I can't help scribbling once a week,
Tiring old readers, nor discovering new.
In youth I wrote because my mind was full,
And now because I feel it growing dull.
But 'why then publish?' — There are no rewards
Of fame or profit when the world grows weary.
I ask in turn, — Why do you play at cards?
Why drink? Why read? — To make some hour less dreary.
It occupies me to turn back regards
On what I 've seen or ponder'd, sad or cheery;
And what I write I cast upon the stream,
To swim or sink — I have had at least my dream.
I think that were I certain of success,
I hardly could compose another line:
So long I 've battled either more or less,
That no defeat can drive me from the Nine.
This feeling 't is not easy to express,
And yet 't is not affected, I opine.
In play, there are two pleasures for your choosing —
The one is winning, and the other losing.
Besides, my Muse by no means deals in fiction:
She gathers a repertory of facts,
Of course with some reserve and slight restriction,
But mostly sings of human things and acts —
And that 's one cause she meets with contradiction;
For too much truth, at first sight, ne'er attracts;
And were her object only what 's call'd glory,
With more ease too she 'd tell a different story.
Love, war, a tempest — surely there 's variety;
Also a seasoning slight of lucubration;
A bird's-eye view, too, of that wild, Society;
A slight glance thrown on men of every station.
If you have nought else, here 's at least satiety
Both in performance and in preparation;
And though these lines should only line portmanteaus,
Trade will be all the better for these Cantos.
The portion of this world which I at present
Have taken up to fill the following sermon,
Is one of which there 's no description recent.
The reason why is easy to determine:
Although it seems both prominent and pleasant,
There is a sameness in its gems and ermine,
A dull and family likeness through all ages,
Of no great promise for poetic pages.
With much to excite, there 's little to exalt;
Nothing that speaks to all men and all times;
A sort of varnish over every fault;
A kind of common-place, even in their crimes;
Factitious passions, wit without much salt,
A want of that true nature which sublimes
Whate'er it shows with truth; a smooth monotony
Of character, in those at least who have got any.
Sometimes, indeed, like soldiers off parade,
They break their ranks and gladly leave the drill;
But then the roll-call draws them back afraid,
And they must be or seem what they were: still
Doubtless it is a brilliant masquerade;
But when of the first sight you have had your fill,
It palls — at least it did so upon me,
This paradise of pleasure and ennui.