Edward Young.

Night thoughts on life, death and immortality online

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And can Ambition a fourth proof supply ?
It can, and stronger than the former three ; 380

Yet quite o'erlook'd by some reputed wise.
Though disappointments in ambition pain,
And though success disgusts ; yet still, LORENZO !
In vain we strive to pluck it from our hearts j
By Nature planted for the noblest ends. 385

Absurd the fam'd advice to Pyrrhus giv'n,
More prais'd, than ponder'd ; specious, but unsound :
Sooner that hero's sword the world had quell'd,
Than reason, his ambition. Man must soar.
An obstinate activity within, 390

An insuppressive spring, will toss him up
In spite of Fortune's load. Not kings alone,
Each villager has his ambition too ;
No sultan prouder than his fetter'd slave ;

z 2


Slaves build their little Babylons of straw, 395

Echo the proud Assyrian, in their hearts,

And cry " Behold the wonders of my might !"

And why ? Because immortal as their lord ;

And souls immortal must for ever heave

At something great ; the glitter, or the gold ; 400

The praise of mortals, or the praise of Heav'n.

Nor absolutely vain is human praise,
When human is supported by divine.
I'll introduce LORENZO to himself:
Pleasure and Pride (bad masters!) share our hearts. 405
As love of pleasure is ordain'd to guard
And feed our bodies, and extend our race ;
The love of praise is planted to protect
And propagate the glories of the mind.
What is it, but the love of praise, inspires, 410

Matures, refines, embellishes, exalts,
Earth's happiness ? From that, the delicate,
The grand, the marvellous, of civil life.
Want and Convenience, under-workers, lay
The basis, on which love of glory builds. 415

Nor is thy life, O Virtue ! less in debt
To Praise, thy secret stimulating friend.
Were men not proud, what merit should we miss!
Pride made the virtues of the Pagan world.
Praise is the salt that seasons right to Man, 420

And whets his appetite for moral good.
Thirst of applause is Virtue's second guard ;
Reason, her first ; but Reason wants an aid ;
Our private reason is a flatterer j
Thirst of applause calls public judgment in, 425

To poise our own, to keep an even scale,


And give endanger'd virtue fairer play.

Here a fifth proof arises, stronger still :
Why this so nice construction of our hearts ;
These delicate moralities of Sense ; 430

This constitutional reserve of aid
To succour Virtue, when our reason fails ;
If Virtue, kept alive by care and toil,
And oft the mark of injuries on earth,
When labour'd to maturity its bill 435

Of disciplines, and pain, unpaid) must die ?
Why freighted rich to dash against a rock ?
Were Man to perish when most fit to live,
O how mis-spent were all these stratagems,
By skill divine inwoven in our frame ? 440

Where are Heav'n's holiness and mercy fled ?
Laughs Heav'n, at once, at Virtue, and at Man?
If not, why that discourag'd, this destroy'd ?

Thus far Ambition. What says Avarice ?
This her chief maxim, which has long been thine: 445
" The wise and wealthy are the same." I grant it.
To store up treasure, with incessant toil,
This is Man's province, this his highest praise.
To this great end keen Instinct stings him on.
To guide that Instinct, Reason ! is thy charge ; 450
*T is thine to tell us where true treasure lies :
But, Reason failing to discharge her trust,
Or to the deaf discharging it in vain,
A blunder follow* ; and blind Industry,
Gall'd by the spur, but stranger to the course 455
(The course where stakes of more than gold are won),
O'erloading, with the cares of distant age,
The jaded spirits of the present hour,


Provides for an eternity below.

" Thou shalt not covet," is a wise command ; 460
But bounded to the wealth the sun surveys :
Look farther, the command stands quite revers'd,
And Av'rice is a virtue most divine.
Is Faith a refuge for our happiness ?
Most sure : And is it not for Reason too ? 465

Nothing this world unriddles, but the next.
Whence inextinguishable thirst of gain ?
From inextinguishable life in Man :
Man, if not meant, by worth, to reach the skies,
Had wanted wing to fly so far in guilt. 470

Sour grapes, I grant, Ambition, Avarice :
Yet still their root is Immortality.
These its wild growths so bitter, and so base,
(Pain, and reproach !) Religion can reclaim,
Refine, exalt, throw down their pois'nous lee, 475
And make them sparkle in the bowl of bliss.

See the third witness laughs at bliss remote,
And falsely promises an Eden here :
Truth she shall speak for once, though prone to lie,
A common cheat, and Pleasure is her name. 480

To Pleasure never was LORENZO deaf;
Then hear her now, now first thy real friend.

Since Nature made us not more fond than proud
Of happiness (whence hypocrites in joy,
Makers of mirth, artificers of smiles), 485

Why should the joy most poignant Sense affords,
Burn us with blushes, and rebuke our pride ?
Those heav'n-born blushes tell us Man descends,
Ev'n in the zenith of his earthly bliss :
Should Reason take her infidel repose, 490


This honest Instinct speaks our lineage high j

This Instinct calls on darkness to conceal

Our rapturous relation to the stalls.

Our glory covers us with noble shame,

And he that 's unconfounded, is unmann'd. 495

The Man that blushes is not quite a brute.

Thus far with thee, LORENZO ! will I close ;

Pleasure is good, and Man for pleasure made ;

But pleasure full of glory, and of joy ;

Pleasure, which neither blushes, nor expires. 500

The witnesses are heard ; the cause is o'er ;
Let Conscience file the sentence in her court,
Dearer than deeds that half a realm convey :
Thus, seal'd by Truth, th* authentic record runs :

" Know, all ! know, infidels unapt to know ! 505
'T is Immortality your nature solves ;
'T is Immortality decyphers Man,
And opens all the myst'ries of his make.
Without it, half his instincts are a riddle ;
"Without it, all his virtues are a dream. 510

His very crimes attest his dignity ;
His sateless thirst of 'pleasure, gold, and fame,
Declares him. born for blessings infinite :
What less than infinite, makes un-absurd
Passions, which all on earth but more inflames ? 515
Fierce passions, so mis-measur'd to this scene,
Stretch'd out, like eagles* wings, beyond our nest,
Far, far beyond the worth of all below,
For Earth too large, presage a nobler flight,
Arid evidence our title to the skies." 520

Ye gentle theologues, of calmer kind !
Whose constitution dictates to your pen,


Who, cold yourselves, think ardour comes from hell !
Think not our passions from corruption sprung,
Though to corruption now they lend their wings ; 525
That is their mistress, not their mother. All
(And justly) reason deem divine : I see,
I feel a grandeur in the passions too,
Which speaks their high descent, and glorious end ;
Which speaks them rays of an eternal fire. 530

In paradise itself they burnt as strong,
Ere Adam fell ; though wiser in their aim.
Like the proud Eastern, struck by Providence,
What though our passions are run mad, and stoop
With low, terrestrial appetite, to graze 535

On trash, on toys, dethroned from high desire ?
Yet still, through their disgrace, a feeble ray
Of greatness shines, and tells us whence they fell :
But these (like that fali'n monarch when reclaim'd),
When Reason mpderates the rein aright, 540

Shall re-ascend, remount their former sphere,
Where once they soar'd illustrious ; ere seduc'd
By wanton Eve's debauch, to stroll on earth,
And set the sublunary world on fire.

But grant their frenzy lasts ; their frenzy fails 545
To disappoint one providential end,
For which Heav'n blew up ardour in our hearts :
Were Reason silent, boundless Passion speaks
A future scene of boundless objects too,
And brings glad tidings of eternal day. 550

Eternal day ! *T is that enlightens all :
And all, by that enlighten'd, proves it sure.
Consider Man as an immortal being,
Intelligible all j and all is great j


A crystalline transparency prevails, 555

And strikes full lustre through the human sphere :
Consider Man as mortal, all is dark,
And wretched ; Reason weeps at the survey.

The learn'd LORENZO cries, " And let her weep,
Weak, modern Reason : Ancient times were wise. 560
Authority, that venerable guide,
Stands on my part ; the fam'd Athenian Porch
(And who for wisdom so renown'd as they ?)
Deny'd this immortality to Man."
I grant it ; but affirm, they prov'd it too. 565

A riddle this ! Have patience ; I'll explain.

What noble vanities, what moral flights,
Glitt'ring through their romantic wisdom's page,
Make us, at once, despise them, and admire !
Fable is flat to these high-season'd sires ; 570

They leave th' extravagance of song below.
" Flesh shall not feel ; or, feeling, shall enjoy
The dagger or the rack ; to them, alike
A bed of roses, or the burning bull. 1 '
In men exploding all beyond the grave, 575

Strange doctrine, this! As doctrine, it was strange 5
But not, as prophesy ; for such it prov'd,
And, to their own amazement, was fulfill'd :
They feign'd a firmness Christians need not feign.
The Christian truly triumph'd in the flame : 580

The Stoic saw, in double wonder lost,
Wonder at them, and wonder at himself,
To find the bold adventures of his thought
Not bold, and that he strove to lie in vain.

Whence, then, those thoughts ? those tow'ring
thoughts, that flew 585



Such monstrous heights? From Instinct, and from


The glorious instinct of a deathless soul,
Confus'dly conscious of her dignity,
Suggested truths they could not understand.
In Lust's dominion, and in Passion's storm, 590

Truth's system broken, scatter'd fragments lay
(As light in chaos, glimm'ring through the gloom) :
Smit with the pomp of lofty sentiments,
Pleas'd Pride proclaim'd what Reason disbeliev'd.
Pride, like the Delphic priestess, with a swell, 595
Rav'd nonsense, destin'd to be future sense,
When life immortal in full day should shine ;
And Death's dark shadows fly the Gospel sun.
They spoke what nothing but immortal souls
Could speak; and thus the truth they question'd, prov'd.

Can then absurdities, as well as crimes, 60 1

Speak Man immortal ? All things speak him so.
Much has been urg'd ; and dost thou call for more ?
Call ; and with endless questions be distrest,
All unresolvable, if earth is all. 605

" Why life, a moment ? infinite, desire ?
Our wish, eternity ? Our home, the grave ?
Heav'n 's promise dormant lies in human hope ;
Who wishes life immortal, proves it too.
Why happiness pursu'd, though never found? 610
Man's thirst of happiness declares it is
(For Nature never gravitates to nought),
That thirst unquench'd declares it is not here.
My Lucia, thy Clarissa, call to thought :
Why cordial friendship rivetted so deep, 615

As hearts to pierce at first, at parting, rend,


If friend, and friendship, vanish in an hour ?

Is not this torment in the mask of joy ?

Why by reflection marr'd the joys of sense ?

Why past, and future, preying on our hearts, 620

Arid putting all our present joys to death ?

Why labours Reason ? Instinct were as well ;

Instinct, far better ; what can chuse, can err :

O how infallible the thoughtless brute !

'!' were well his Holiness were half as sure. 625

Reason with inclination why at war ?

Why sense of guilt ? Why conscience up in arms ?"

Conscience of guilt is prophesy of pain,
And bosom-counsel to decline the blow.
Reason with inclination ne'er had jarr'd, 630

If nothing future paid forbearance here.
Thus on these, and a thousand pleas uncall'd,
All promise, some ensure, a second scene ;
Which, were it doubtful, would be dearer far
Than all things else most certain} were it false, 635
What truth on earth so precious as the lie ?
This world it gives us, let what will ensue ;
This world it gives, in that high cordial, Hope :
The future of the present is the soul :
How this life groans, when sever'd from the next! 640
Poor, mutilated wretch, that disbelieves !
By dark distrust his being cut in two,
In both parts perishes ; life void of joy,
Sad prelude of eternity in pain !

Couldst thou persuade me, the next life could fail 645
Our ardent wishes ; how should I pour out
My bleeding heart in anguish, new, as deep !
Oh ! with what thoughts, thy hope, and my despair,

A A 2


i ' "'..

Abhorr'd Annihilation, blasts the soul,

And wide- extends the bounds of human woe! 650

Could I believe LORENZO'S system true,

In this black channel would my ravings run.

*' Grief from the future borrow'd peace, ere-while.
The future vanished ! and the present pain'd !
Strange import of unprecedented ill ! 655

Fall, how profound ! like Lucifer's, the fall !
Unequal fate ! his fall, without his guilt !
From where fond Hope built her pavilion high,
The gods among, hurl'd headlong, hurl'd at once
To night ! to nothing ! darker still than night. 660
If 't was a dream, why wake me, my worst foe ?
LORENZO ! boastful of the name of friend!
O for delusion ! O for error still !
Could vengeance strike much stronger than to plant
A thinking being in a world like this, 665

Not over-rich before, now beggar'd quite ;
More curst than at the fall ? The sun goes out!
The thorns shoot up! What thorns in every thought !
Why sense of better ? It embitters worse.
Why sense f why life ? If but to sigh, then sink 670
To what I was ? Twice nothing ! and much woe !
Woe, from Heav'n's bounties! woe, from what was wont
To flatter most, high intellectual pow'rs !

" Thought, virtue, knowledge ! blessings, by thy


All poison'd into pains. First, knowledge, once 675
My soul's ambition, now her greatest dread.
To know myself, true wisdom ? No, to shun
That shocking science. Parent of despair !
Avert thy mirrox : If I see, I die.


" Know my Creator ? Climb his blest abode 680
By painful speculation, pierce the veil,
Dive in his nature, read his attributes,
And gaze in admiration on a foe,
Obtruding life, with-holding happiness !
From the full rivers that surround his throne, 685
Not letting fall one drop of joy on Man ;
(Man gasping for one drop, that he might cease
To curse his birth, nor envy reptiles more !)
Ye sable clouds ! ye darkest shades of night !
Hide him, for ever hide him, from my thought, 690
Once all my comfort; source, and soul of joy!
Now leagu'd with furies, and with thee, against me.

" Know his atchievements ? study his renown ?
Contemplate this amazing universe,
Dropt from his hand, with miracles replete ! 695

For what ? 'Mid miracles of nobler name,
To find one miracle of misery ?
To find the being, which alone can know
And praise his works, a blemish on his praise ?
Through Nature's ample range, in thought to stroll,
And start' at Man, the single mourner there, 701

Breathing high hope! chain'd down to pangs and death?

" Knowing is sufPring : And shall Virtue share
The sigh of Knowledge ? Virtue shares the sigh.
By straining up the steep of excellent, 705

By battles fought, and, from temptation, won,
What gains she, but the pang of seeing worth,
Angelic worth, soon shuffled in the dark
With ev'ry vice, and swept to brutal dust ?
Merit is madness ; virtue is a crime; 710

A crime to Reason, if it costs us pain


Unpaid : What pain, amidst a thousand more,

To think the most abandoned, after days

Of triumph o'er their betters, find in death

As soft a pillow, nor make fouler clay ! 715

" Duty ! Religion ! These, our duty done,
Imply reward. Religion is mistake.
Duty ! There 's none, but to repel the cheat.
Ye cheats ! away ! ye daughters of my pride !
Who feign yourselves the fav'rites of the skies : 720
Ye tow'ring hopes ! abortive energies !
That toss, and struggle, in my lying breast,
To scale the skies, and build presumptions there,
As I were heir of an eternity ;

Vain, vain ambitions! trouble me no more. 725

Why travel far in quest of sure defeat ?
As bounded as my being, be my wish.
All is inverted, Wisdom is a fool.
Sense, take the rein ; blind Passion, drive us on ;
And, Ignorance, befriend us on our way ; 730

Ye new, but truest patrons of our peace !
Yes ; give the pulse full empire ; live the brute,
Since, as the brute, we die. The sum of Man,
Of godlike Man ! to revel, and to rot.

" But not on equal terms with other brutes : 735
Their revels a more poignant relish yield,
And safer too ; they never poisons chuse.
Instinct, than Reason, makes more wholesome meals,
And sends all-marring murmur far away.
For sensual life they best philosophize ; 740.

Theirs, that serene, the sages sought in vain :
J T is Man alone expostulates with Heav'n ;
His, all the pow'r, and all the cause to mourn.


Shall human eyes alone dissolve in tears ?

And bleed, in anguish, none but human hearts ? 745

The wide-stretch'd realm of intellectual woe,

Surpassing sensual far, is all our own.

In life so fatally distinguished, why

Cast in one lot, confounded, lump'd, in death ?

" Ere yet in being, was mankind in guilt ? 750
Why thunder'd this peculiar clause against us ?
All-mortal, and all-wretched! Have the skies

Reasons of state, their subjects may not scan,
Nor humbly reason, when they sorely sigh ?
All-mortal, and all-wretched ! J T is too much ; 755

Unparallel'd in nature : 'T is too much

On being unrequested at thy hands,

Omnipotent ! for I see nought but pow'r.

" And why see that? Why thought? To toil, and eat,

Then make our bed in darkness, needs no thought. 760

What superfluities are reasoning souls !

Oh give eternity ! or thought destroy.

But without thought our curse were half-unfelt ;

Its blunted edge would spare the throbbing heart ;

And, therefore, 't is bestow'd. I thank thee, Reason !

For aiding life's too small calamities, 766

And giving being to the dread of death.

Such are thy bounties ! Was it then too much

For me, to trespass on the brutal rights ?

Too much for Heav'n to make one emmet more ? 770

Too much for chaos to permit my mass

A longer stay with essences unwrought,

Unfashion'd, untormented into Man ?

Wretched preferment to this round of pains !
Wretched capacity of frenzy, Thought ! 775


Wretched capacity of dying, Life !

Life, Thought, Worth, Wisdom, all (O foul revolt !)

Once friends to peace, gone over to the foe.

" Death, then, has chang'd its nature too : O Death!
Come to my bosom, thou best gift of Heav'n! 780
Best friend of Man ! since Man is Man no more.
Why in this thorny wilderness so long,
Since there 's no promis'd land's ambrosial bow'r,
To pay me with its honey for my stings ?
If needful to the selfish schemes of Heav'n 785

To sting us sore, why mock'd our misery ?
Why this so sumptuous insult o'er our heads ?
Why this illustrious canopy display'd ?
Why so magnificently lodg'd despair ?
At stated periods, sure-returning, roll 790

These glorious orbs, that mortals may compute
Their length of labours, and of pains j nor lose
Their misery's full measure ? Smiles with flow'rs,
And fruits, promiscuous, ever-teeming earth,
That Man may languish in luxurious scenes, 795

And in an Eden mourn his wither'd joys ?
Claim earth and skies Man's admiration, due
For such delights ? blest animals ! too wise
To wonder ; and too happy to complain !

tc Our doom decreed demands a mournful scene :
Why not a dungeon dark, for the condemn'd ? 801
Why not the dragon's subterraneous den,
For Man to howl in ? Why not his abode
Of the same dismal colour with his fate ?
A Thebes, a Babylon, at vast expence 805

Of time, toil, treasure, art, for owls and adders,
As congruous, as, for Man, this lofty dome,


Which prompts proud thought, and kindles high desirej

If, from her humble chamber in the dust,

While proud thought swells, and high desire inflames^

The poor worm calls us for her inmates there ; 8 1 1

And, round us, Death's inexorable hand

Draws the dark curtain close ; undrawn no more.

" Undrawn no more ! Behind the cloud of Death,
Once I beheld a sun ; a sun which gilt 815

That sable cloud, and turn'd it all to gold :
How the grave 's alter* d ! fathomless, as hell !
A real hell to those who dreamt of heav'n.
Annihilation ! how it yawns before me !
Next moment I may drop from thought, from sense,
The privilege of angels, and of worms, 821

An outcast from existence ! and this spirit,
This all-pervading, this all-conscious soul,
This particle of energy divine,

Which travels Nature, flies from star to star, 825
And visits gods, and emulates their pow'rs,
For ever is extinguished . Horror ! Death !
Death of that death I fearless once survey'd !
When horror universal shall descend,
And Heav'n's dark concave urn all human race, 830
On that enormous, unrefunding tomb,
How just this verse ! this monumental sigh !"

Beneath the lumber of demolish'd worlds,
Deep in the rubbish of the general wreck,
Swept ignominious to the common mass 83$

Of matter, never dignify'd with life,
Here lie proud rationals; the sons of heav'n !
The lords of earth ! the property of worms !
Beings of yesterday, and no to-morrow !


Who liv'd in terror, and in pangs expir'd ! 840

All gone to rot in chaos ; or, to make
Their happy transit into blocks or brutes ;
Nor longer sully their CREATOR'S name.

LORENZO! hear, pause, ponder, and pronounce.
Just is this history ? If such is Man, 845

Mankind's historian, though divine, might weep.
And dares LORENZO smile ? I know thee proud :
For once let pride befriend thee ; pride looks pale
At such a scene, and sighs for something more.
Amid thy boasts, presumptions, and displays, 850
And art thou then a shadow ? less than shade ?
A nothing ? less than nothing ? To have been,
And not to be, is lower than unborn.
Art thou ambitious ? Why then make the worm
Thine equal ? Runs thy taste of pleasure high ? 855
"Why patronize sure death of ev'ry joy ?
Charm riches ? Why chuse begg'ry in the grave,
Of ev'ry hope a bankrupt ! and for ever ?
Ambition, Pleasure, Avarice, persuade thee
To make that world of glory, rapture, wealth, 860
They lately prov'd, thy soul's supreme desire.

What art thou made of? rather, how unmade ?
Great Nature's master-appetite destroy'd !
Is endless life, and happiness, despis'd ?
Or both wish'd, here, where neither can be found? 865
Such Man's perverse, eternal war with Heav'n !
Dar'st thou persist ? And is there nought on earth,
But a long train of transitory forms,
Rising, and breaking, millions in an hour ?
Bubbles of a fantastic Deity, blown up 870

In sport, and then in cruelty destroy'd ?


Oh ! for what crime, unmerciful LORENZO !
Destroys thy scheme the whole of human race ?
Kind is fell Lucifer, compar'd to thee :
Oh ! spare this waste of being half-divine ; 875

And vindicate th* ceconomy of Heav'n.

Heav'n is all love ; all joy in giving joy :
It never had created but to bless :
And shall it, then, strike off the list of life,
A being blest, or worthy so to be? 880

Heav'n starts at an annihilating God.
Is that, all Nature starts at, thy desire ?
Art such a clod to wish thyself all clay ?
What is that dreadful wish ? The dying groan
Of Nature, murder'd by the blackest guilt. 885

What deadly poison has thy nature drank ?
To Nature undebauch'd no shock so great ;
Nature's first wish is endless happiness ;
Annihilation is an after-thought,

A monstrous wish, unborn till virtue dies. 890

And, oh ! what depth of horror lies inclos'd !
For non-existence no man ever wish'd,
But, first, he wish'd the DEITY destroy'd.

If so ; what words are dark enough to draw
Thy picture true ? The darkest are too fair. 895

Beneath what baleful planet, in what hour
Of desperation, by what fury's aid,
In what infernal posture of the soul,
All hell invited, and all hell in joy
At such a birth, a birth so near of kin, 900

Did thy foul fancy whelp so black a scheme
Of hopes abortive, faculties half-blown,
And deities begun, reduc'd to dust ?

B B 2


There's nought (thou say'st) but one eternal flux
Of feeble essences, tumultuous driv'n 905

Through Time's rough billows into Night's abyss.
Say, in this rapid tide of human ruin,
Is there no rock, on which Man's tossing thought
Can rest from terror, dare his fate survey,
And boldly think it something to be born ? 910

Amid such hourly wrecks of being fair,
Is there no central, all-sustaining base,
All-realizing, all-connecting Pow'r,

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Online LibraryEdward YoungNight thoughts on life, death and immortality → online text (page 11 of 24)