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The Choice
by John Pomfret

IF heaven the grateful liberty would give
That I might choose my method how to live,
And all those hours propitious fate should lend,
In blissful ease and satisfaction spend:
Near some fair town I'd have a private seat,
Built uniform, not little, nor too great:
Better if on a rising ground it stood;
Fields on this side, on that a neighbouring wood;
It should within no other things contain
But what were useful, necessary, plain:
Methinks 'tis nauseous, and I'd ne'er endure
The needless pomp of gaudy furniture.
A little garden, grateful to the eye,
And a cool rivulet run murmuring by,
On whose delicious banks a stately row
Of shady limes or sycamores should grow;
At the end of which a silent study plac'd
Should be with all the noblest authors grac'd:
Horace and Virgil, in whose mighty lines
Immortal wit and solid learning shines;
Sharp Juvenal, and amorous Ovid too,
Who all the turns of love's soft passion knew;
He that with judgment reads his charming lines,
In which strong art with stronger nature joins,
Must grant his fancy does the best excel,
His thoughts so tender and express'd so well;
With all those moderns, men of steady sense,
Esteem'd for learning and for eloquence.
In some of these, as fancy should advise,
I'd always take my morning exercise:
For sure no minutes bring us more content
Than those in pleasing, useful studies spent.
I'd have a clear and competent estate,
That I might live genteelly, but not great;
As much as I could moderately spend,
A little more, sometimes t'oblige a friend.
Nor should the sons of poverty repine
Too much at fortune, they should taste of mine;
And all that objects of true pity were
Should be reliev'd with what my wants could spare.
For that our Maker has too largely given
Should be return'd, in gratitude to heaven.
A frugal plenty should my table spread,
With healthy, not luxurious dishes fed:
Enough to satisfy, and something more
To feed the stranger and the neighbouring poor.
Strong meat indulges vice, and pampering food
Creates diseases and inflames the blood.
But what's sufficient to make nature strong
And the bright lamp of life continue long
I'd freely take, and as I did possess,
The bounteous Author of my plenty bless.
I'd have a little vault, but always stor'd
With the best wines each vintage could afford.
Wine whets the wit, improves its native force,
And gives a pleasant flavour to discourse:
By making all our spirits debonair
Throws off the lees, the sediment of care.
But as the greatest blessing heaven lends
May be debauch'd and serve ignoble ends,
So, but too oft, the grape's refreshing juice
Does many mischievous effects produce.
My house should no such rude disorders know
As from high drinking consequently flow.
Nor would I use what was so kindly given
To the dishonour of indulgent heaven.
If any neighbor came, he should be free,
Us'd with respect, and not uneasy be
In my retreat, or to himself or me.
What freedom, prudence, and right reason give
All men may with impunity receive:
But the least swerving from their rule's too much,
For, what's forbidden us, 'tis death to touch.
That life may be more comfortable yet,
And all my joys refin'd, sincere and great,
I'd choose two friends, whose company would be
A great advance to my felicity:
Well born, of humours suited to my own;
Discreet, and men, as well as books, have known.
Brave, generous, witty, and exactly free
From loose behaviour or formality.
Airy and prudent, merry, but not light;
Quick in discerning, and in judging right.
Secret they should be, faithful to their trust;
In reasoning cool, strong, temperate and just;
Obliging, open, without huffing, brave,
Brisk in gay talking, and in sober, grave;
Close in dispute, but not tenacious, tried
By solid reason, and let that decide;
Not prone to lust, revenge, or envious hate.
Nor busy meddlers with intrigues of state;
Strangers to slander, and sworn foes to spite:
Not quarrelsome, but stout enough to fight;
Loyal and pious, friends to Caesar, true
As dying martyrs to their Maker too.
In their society, I could not miss
A permanent, sincere, substantial bliss.
Would bounteous heaven once more indulge, I'd choose
(For who would so much satisfaction lose
As witty nymphs in conversation give)
Near some obliging, modest fair to live;
For there's that sweetness in a female mind
Which in a man's we cannot hope to find,
That by a secret but a powerful art
Winds up the springs of life, and does impart
Fresh vital heat to the transported heart.
I'd have her reason all her passions sway;
Easy in company, in private gay:
Coy to a fop, to the deserving free,
Still constant to herself, and just to me.
A soul she should have for great actions fit;
Prudence and wisdom to direct her wit:
Courage to look bold danger in the face,
No fear, but only to be proud or base;
Quick to advise, by an emergence press'd,
To give good counsel, or to take the best.
I'd have the expression of her thoughts be such
She might not seem reserv'd nor talk too much'
That shows a want of judgment and of sense;
More than enough is but impertinence.
Her conduct regular, her mirth refin'd,
Civil to strangers, to her neighbours kind;
Averse to vanity, revenge, and pride,
In all the methods of deceit untried;
So faithful to her friend, and good to all,
No censure might upon her actions fall;
Then would even envy be compell'd to say
She goes the least of womankind astray.
To this fair creature I'd sometimes retire,
Her conversation would new joys inspire;
Gove life an edge so keen, no surly care
Would venture to assault my soul, or dare
Near my retreat to hide one secret snare.
But so divine, so noble a repast
I'd seldom and with moderation taste;
For highest cordials all their virtue lose
By a too frequent and too bold an use;
And what would cheer the spirits in distress
Ruins our health, when taken to excess.
I'd be concern'd in no litigious jar,
Belov'd by all, not vainly popular;
Whate'er assistance I had power to bring
To oblige my country, or to serve my king,
Whene'er they called, I'd readily afford
My tongue, my pen, my counsel, or my sword.
Lawsuits I'd shun, with as much studious care
As I would dens where hungry lions are,
And rather put up injuries than be
A plague to him who'd be a plague to me.
I value quiet at a price too great
To give for my revenge so dear a rate;
For what do we by all our bustle gain
But counterfeit delight, for real pain?
If heaven a date of many years would give,
Thus I'd in pleasure, ease, and plenty live;
And as I near approach'd the verge of life,
Some kind relation, for I'd have no wife,
Should take upon him all my worldly care
While I did for a better state prepare.
Then I'd not be with any trouble vex'd,
Nor have the evening of my days perplex'd;
But by a silent and a peaceful death,
Without a sigh, resign my aged breath:
And when committed to the dust, I'd have
Few tears, but friendly, dropp'd into my grave.
Then would my exit so propitious be,
All men would wish to live and die like me.