The Vanity of Human Wishes (excerpts)
by Samuel Johnson
1 Let observation with extensive view,
2 Survey mankind, from China to Peru;
3 Remark each anxious toil, each eager strife,
4 And watch the busy scenes of crowded life;
5 Then say how hope and fear, desire and hate,
6 O'erspread with snares the clouded maze of fate,
7 Where wav'ring man, betray'd by vent'rous pride
8 To tread the dreary paths without a guide,
9 As treach'rous phantoms in the mist delude,
10 Shuns fancied ills, or chases airy good.
11 How rarely reason guides the stubborn choice,
12 Rules the bold hand, or prompts the suppliant voice,
13 How nations sink, by darling schemes oppress'd,
14 When vengeance listens to the fool's request.
15 Fate wings with ev'ry wish th' afflictive dart,
16 Each gift of nature, and each grace of art,
17 With fatal heat impetuous courage glows,
18 With fatal sweetness elocution flows,
19 Impeachment stops the speaker's pow'rful breath,
20 And restless fire precipitates on death.
21 But scarce observ'd the knowing and the bold,
22 Fall in the gen'ral massacre of gold;
23 Wide-wasting pest! that rages unconfin'd,
24 And crowds with crimes the records of mankind,
25 For gold his sword the hireling ruffian draws,
26 For gold the hireling judge distorts the laws;
27 Wealth heap'd on wealth, nor truth nor safety buys,
28 The dangers gather as the treasures rise.
29 Let hist'ry tell where rival kings command,
30 And dubious title shakes the madded land,
31 When statutes glean the refuse of the sword,
32 How much more safe the vassal than the lord,
33 Low sculks the hind beneath the rage of pow'r,
34 And leaves the wealthy traitor in the Tow'r,
35 Untouch'd his cottage, and his slumbers sound,
36 Tho' confiscation's vultures hover round.
37 The needy traveller, serene and gay,
38 Walks the wild heath, and sings his toil away.
39 Does envy seize thee? crush th' upbraiding joy,
40 Increase his riches and his peace destroy,
41 New fears in dire vicissitude invade,
42 The rustling brake alarms, and quiv'ring shade,
43 Nor light nor darkness bring his pain relief.
44 One shews the plunder, and one hides the thief.
45 Yet still one gen'ral cry the skies assails,
46 And gain and grandeur load the tainted gales,
47 Few know the toiling statesman's fear or care,
48 Th' insidious rival and the gaping heir.
49 Once more, Democritus, arise on earth,
50 With cheerful wisdom and instructive mirth,
51 See motley life in modern trappings dress'd,
52 And feed with varied fools th' eternal jest:
53 Thou who couldst laugh where want enchain'd caprice,
54 Toil crush'd conceit, and man was of a piece;
55 Where wealth unlov'd without a mourner died;
56 And scarce a sycophant was fed by pride;
57 Where ne'er was known the form of mock debate,
58 Or seen a new-made mayor's unwieldy state;
59 Where change of fav'rites made no change of laws,
60 And senates heard before they judg'd a cause;
61 How wouldst thou shake at Britain's modish tribe,
62 Dart the quick taunt, and edge the piercing gibe?
63 Attentive truth and nature to decry,
64 And pierce each scene with philosophic eye.
65 To thee were solemn toys or empty show,
66 The robes of pleasure and the veils of woe:
67 All aid the farce, and all thy mirth maintain,
68 Whose joys are causeless, or whose griefs are vain.
69 Such was the scorn that fill'd the sage's mind,
70 Renew'd at ev'ry glance on humankind;
71 How just that scorn ere yet thy voice declare,
72 Search every state, and canvas ev'ry pray'r.
73 Unnumber'd suppliants crowd Preferment's gate,
74 Athirst for wealth, and burning to be great;
75 Delusive Fortune hears th' incessant call,
76 They mount, they shine, evaporate, and fall.
77 On ev'ry stage the foes of peace attend,
78 Hate dogs their flight, and insult mocks their end.
79 Love ends with hope, the sinking statesman's door
80 Pours in the morning worshiper no more;
81 For growing names the weekly scribbler lies,
82 To growing wealth the dedicator flies,
83 From every room descends the painted face,
84 That hung the bright Palladium of the place,
85 And smok'd in kitchens, or in auctions sold,
86 To better features yields the frame of gold;
87 For now no more we trace in ev'ry line
88 Heroic worth, benevolence divine:
89 The form distorted justifies the fall,
90 And detestation rids th' indignant wall.
133 When first the college rolls receive his name,
134 The young enthusiast quits his ease for fame;
135 Through all his veins the fever of renown
136 Spreads from the strong contagion of the gown;
137 O'er Bodley's dome his future labours spread,
138 And Bacon's mansion trembles o'er his head.
139 Are these thy views? proceed, illustrious youth,
140 And virtue guard thee to the throne of Truth!
141 Yet should thy soul indulge the gen'rous heat,
142 Till captive Science yields her last retreat;
143 Should Reason guide thee with her brightest ray,
144 And pour on misty Doubt resistless day;
145 Should no false Kindness lure to loose delight,
146 Nor Praise relax, nor Difficulty fright;
147 Should tempting Novelty thy cell refrain,
148 And Sloth effuse her opiate fumes in vain;
149 Should Beauty blunt on fops her fatal dart,
150 Nor claim the triumph of a letter'd heart;
151 Should no disease thy torpid veins invade,
152 Nor Melancholy's phantoms haunt thy shade;
153 Yet hope not life from grief or danger free,
154 Nor think the doom of man revers'd for thee:
155 Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyes,
156 And pause awhile from letters, to be wise;
157 There mark what ills the scholar's life assail,
158 Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail.
159 See nations slowly wise, and meanly just,
160 To buried merit raise the tardy bust.
161 If dreams yet flatter, once again attend,
162 Hear Lydiat's life, and Galileo's end.
163 Nor deem, when learning her last prize bestows
164 The glitt'ring eminence exempt from foes;
165 See when the vulgar 'scape, despis'd or aw'd,
166 Rebellion's vengeful talons seize on Laud.
167 From meaner minds, tho' smaller fines content
168 The plunder'd palace or sequester'd rent;
169 Mark'd out by dangerous parts he meets the shock,
170 And fatal Learning leads him to the block:
171 Around his tomb let Art and Genius weep,
172 But hear his death, ye blockheads, hear and sleep.
253 Enlarge my life with multitude of days,
254 In health, in sickness, thus the suppliant prays;
255 Hides from himself his state, and shuns to know,
256 That life protracted is protracted woe.
257 Time hovers o'er, impatient to destroy,
258 And shuts up all the passages of joy:
259 In vain their gifts the bounteous seasons pour,
260 The fruit autumnal, and the vernal flow'r,
261 With listless eyes the dotard views the store,
262 He views, and wonders that they please no more;
263 Now pall the tasteless meats, and joyless wines,
264 And Luxury with sighs her slave resigns.
265 Approach, ye minstrels, try the soothing strain,
266 And yield the tuneful lenitives of pain:
267 No sounds alas would touch th' impervious ear,
268 Though dancing mountains witness'd Orpheus near;
269 Nor lute nor lyre his feeble pow'rs attend,
270 Nor sweeter music of a virtuous friend,
271 But everlasting dictates crowd his tongue,
272 Perversely grave, or positively wrong.
273 The still returning tale, and ling'ring jest,
274 Perplex the fawning niece and pamper'd guest,
275 While growing hopes scarce awe the gath'ring sneer,
276 And scarce a legacy can bribe to hear;
277 The watchful guests still hint the last offence,
278 The daughter's petulance, the son's expense,
279 Improve his heady rage with treach'rous skill,
280 And mould his passions till they make his will.
281 Unnumber'd maladies his joints invade,
282 Lay siege to life and press the dire blockade;
283 But unextinguish'd Av'rice still remains,
284 And dreaded losses aggravate his pains;
285 He turns, with anxious heart and crippled hands,
286 His bonds of debt, and mortgages of lands;
287 Or views his coffers with suspicious eyes,
288 Unlocks his gold, and counts it till he dies.
289 But grant, the virtues of a temp'rate prime
290 Bless with an age exempt from scorn or crime;
291 An age that melts in unperceiv'd decay,
292 And glides in modest innocence away;
293 Whose peaceful day Benevolence endears,
294 Whose night congratulating Conscience cheers;
295 The gen'ral fav'rite as the gen'ral friend:
296 Such age there is, and who could wish its end?
297 Yet ev'n on this her load Misfortune flings,
298 To press the weary minutes' flagging wings:
299 New sorrow rises as the day returns,
300 A sister sickens, or a daughter mourns.
301 Now kindred Merit fills the sable bier,
302 Now lacerated Friendship claims a tear.
303 Year chases year, decay pursues decay,
304 Still drops some joy from with'ring life away;
305 New forms arise, and diff'rent views engage,
306 Superfluous lags the vet'ran on the stage,
307 Till pitying Nature signs the last release,
308 And bids afflicted worth retire to peace.
309 But few there are whom hours like these await,
310 Who set unclouded in the gulfs of fate.
311 From Lydia's monarch should the search descend,
312 By Solon caution'd to regard his end,
313 In life's last scene what prodigies surprise,
314 Fears of the brave, and follies of the wise?
315 From Marlb'rough's eyes the streams of dotage flow,
316 And Swift expires a driv'ler and a show.
317 The teeming mother, anxious for her race,
318 Begs for each birth the fortune of a face:
319 Yet Vane could tell what ills from beauty spring;
320 And Sedley curs'd the form that pleas'd a king.
321 Ye nymphs of rosy lips and radiant eyes,
322 Whom Pleasure keeps too busy to be wise,
323 Whom Joys with soft varieties invite,
324 By day the frolic, and the dance by night,
325 Who frown with vanity, who smile with art,
326 And ask the latest fashion of the heart,
327 What care, what rules your heedless charms shall save,
328 Each nymph your rival, and each youth your slave?
329 Against your fame with fondness hate combines,
330 The rival batters and the lover mines.
331 With distant voice neglected Virtue calls,
332 Less heard and less, the faint remonstrance falls;
333 Tir'd with contempt, she quits the slipp'ry reign,
334 And Pride and Prudence take her seat in vain.
335 In crowd at once, where none the pass defend,
336 The harmless freedom, and the private friend.
337 The guardians yield, by force superior plied;
338 By Int'rest, Prudence; and by Flatt'ry, Pride.
339 Now Beauty falls betray'd, despis'd, distress'd,
340 And hissing Infamy proclaims the rest.
341 Where then shall Hope and Fear their objects find?
342 Must dull Suspense corrupt the stagnant mind?
343 Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
344 Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?
345 Must no dislike alarm, no wishes rise,
346 No cries attempt the mercies of the skies?
347 Enquirer, cease, petitions yet remain,
348 Which Heav'n may hear, nor deem religion vain.
349 Still raise for good the supplicating voice,
350 But leave to Heav'n the measure and the choice.
351 Safe in his pow'r, whose eyes discern afar
352 The secret ambush of a specious pray'r.
353 Implore his aid, in his decisions rest,
354 Secure whate'er he gives, he gives the best.
355 Yet when the sense of sacred presence fires,
356 And strong devotion to the skies aspires,
357 Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
358 Obedient passions, and a will resign'd;
359 For love, which scarce collective man can fill;
360 For patience, sov'reign o'er transmuted ill;
361 For faith, that panting for a happier seat,
362 Counts death kind Nature's signal of retreat:
363 These goods for man the laws of Heav'n ordain,
364 These goods he grants, who grants the pow'r to gain;
365 With these celestial wisdom calms the mind,
366 And makes the happiness she does not find.