Edward Young.

Night thoughts on life, death and immortality online

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If 't was a dream, his genius can explain. 845

*T was in a circle of the gay I stood.
Death would have enter'd j Nature push'd him back ;
Supported by a doctor of renown,
His point he gain'd. Then artfully dismist
The sage j for Death design'd to be conceal'd. 850
He gave an old vivacious usurer
His meagre aspect, and his naked bones ;
In gratitude for plumping up his prey,
A pamper'd spendthrift j whose fantastic air,
Well-fashion'd figure, and cockaded brow, 855

He took in change, and underneath the pride
Of costly linen tuck'd his filthy shroud.
His crooked bow he straiten'd to a cane j
And hid his deadly shafts in Myra's eye.

The dreadful masquerader, thus equipt, 860

Out-sallies on adventures. Ask you where ?
Where is he not ? For his peculiar haunts,
Let this suffice ; sure as night follows day,
Death treads in Pleasure's footsteps round the world,
When Pleasure treads the paths which Reason shuns.
When, against Reason, Riot shuts the door, 866
And Gaiety supplies the place of Sense,
Then, foremost at the banquet, and the ball,
Death leads the dance, or stamps the deadly die ;
Nor ever fails the midnight bowl to crown. 870

Gaily carousing to his gay compeers,
Inly he laughs, to see them laugh at him,
As absent far : And when the revel burns,


When fear is banish'd, and triumphant thought,
Calling for all the joys beneath the moon, 875

Against him turns the key, and bids him sup
With their progenitors he drops his mask ;
Frowns out at fullj they start, despair, expire.

Scarce with more sudden terror and surprise,
From his black masque of nitre, touch'd by fire, 880
He bursts, expands, roars, blazes, and devours.
And is not this triumphant treachery,
And more than simple conquest, in the fiend ?

And now, LORENZO, dost thou wrap thy soul
In soft security, because unknown 885

Which moment is commission' d to destroy ?
In Death's uncertainty thy danger lies.
Is Death uncertain ? Therefore thou be fixt j
Fixt as a centinel, all eye, all ear,
All expectation of the coming foe. 893

Rouse, stand in arms, nor lean against thy spear j
Lest slumber steal one moment o'er thy soul,
And fate surprise thee nodding. Watch, be strong;
Thus give each day the merit, and renown,
Of dying well ; though doom'd but once to die. 895
Nor let Life's period hidden (as from most)
Hide too from thee the precious use of life.

Early, not sudden, was NARCISSA'S fate.
Soon, not surprising, Death his visit paid.
Her thought went forth to meet him on his way, 900
Nor Gaiety forgot it was to die :
Though Fortune too (our third and final theme),
As an accomplice, play'd her gaudy plumes,
And ev'ry glitt'ring gewgaw, on her sight,


To dazzle, and debauch it from its mark. 905

Death's dreadful advent is the mark of Man ;

And ev'ry thought that misses it is blind.

Fortune, with Youth and Gaiety, conspir'd

To weave a triple wreath of happiness

(If happiness on earth) to crown her brow. 910

And could Death charge through such a shining shield?

That shining shield invites the tyrant's spear,
As if to damp our elevated aims,
And strongly preach humility to Man.
O how portentous is prosperity ! 915

How, comet-like, it threatens, while it shines !
Few years but yield us proof of Death's ambition,
To cull his victims from the fairest fold,
And sheath his shafts in all the pride of life.
"When flooded with abundance, purpled o'er 920

With recent honours, bloom'd with ev'ry bliss,
Set up in ostentation, made the gaze,
The gaudy centre, of the public eye,
When Fortune thus has toss'd her child in air,
Snatch'd from the covert of an humble state, 925
How often have I seen him dropt at once,
Our morning's envy, and our ev'ning's sigh !
As if her bounties were the signal giv'ri,
The flow'ry wreath to mark the sacrifice,
And call Death's arrows on the destin'd prey. 930

High Fortune seems in cruel league with Fate.
Ask you for what ? To give his war on Man
The deeper dread, and more illustrious spoil;
Thus to keep daring mortals more in awe.
And burns LORENZO still for the sublime 935


Of Life ? to hang his airy nest on high,

On the slight timber of the topmost bough,

Rock'd at each breeze, and menacing a fall ?

Granting grim Death at equal distance there ;

Yet Peace begins just where Ambition ends. 940

What makes Man wretched ? Happiness deny'd ?

LORENZO ! no : 'T is Happiness disdain'd.

She comes too meanly drest to win our smile j

And calls herself Content, a homely name !

Our flame is Transport, and Content our scorn. 945

Ambition turns, and shuts the door against her,

And weds a Toil, a Tempest, in her stead ;

A Tempest to warm Transport near a-kin.

Unknowing what our mortal state admits,

Life's modest joys we ruin, while we raise ; 950

And all our extasies are wounds to peace :

Peace, the full portion of mankind below.

And since thy peace is dear, ambitious youth !
Of fortune fond, as thoughtless of thy fate !
As late I drew Death's picture, to stir up 955

Thy wholesome fears ; now, drawn in contrast, see
Gay Fortune's, thy vain hopes to reprimand*
See, high in air, the sportive goddess hangs,
Unlocks her casket, spreads her glitt'ring ware,
And calls the giddy winds to puff abroad 960

Her random bounties o'er the gaping throng.
All rush rapacious ; friends o'er trodden friends.
Sons o'er their fathers, subjects o'er their kings,
Priests o'er their gods, and lovers o'er the fair
(Still more ador'd), to snatch the golden show'r. 965

Gold glitters most, where Virtue shines no more ;


As stars from absent suns have leave to shine.

O what a precious pack of votaries,

Unkennell'd from the prisons, and the stews,

Pour in, all opening in their idol's praise ! 970

All, ardent, eye each wafture of her hand,

And, wide expanding their voracious jaws,

Morsel on morsel swallow down unchew'd,

Untasted, through mad appetite for more ;

Gorg'd to the throat, yet lean and rav'nous still. 975

Sagacious all, to trace the smallest game,

And bold to seize the greatest. If (blest chance !)

Court-zephyrs sweetly breathe, they lanch, they fly,

O'er just, o'er sacred, all-forbidden ground,

Drunk with the burning scent of place or pow'r, 980

Staunch to the foot of lucre, till they die.

Or, if for Men you take them, as I mark
Their manners, thou their various fates survey.
With aim mis-measur'd, and impetuous speed,
Some darting, strike their ardent wish far off, 985
Through fury to possess it : Some succeed,
But stumble, and let fall the taken prize ;
From some, by sudden blasts, 't is whirl'd away,
And lodg'd in bosoms that ne'er dream'd of gain ;
To some it sticks so close, that, when torn off, 990
Torn is the man, and mortal is the wound.
Some, o'er-enamour'd of their bags, run mad,
Groan under gold, yet weep for want of bread.
Together some (unhappy rivals !) seize,
And rend abundance into poverty ; 995

Loud croaks the raven of the law, and smiles :
Smiles too the goddess j but smiles most at those,


(Just victims of exorbitant desire !)
Who perish at their own request, and, whelm'd
Beneath her load of lavish grants, expire. 1000

Fortune is famous for her numbers slain.
The number small, which happiness can bear,
Though various for a while their fates ; at last
One curse involves them all : At Death's approach,
All read their riches backward into loss, 1 005

And mourn in just proportion to their store.

And Death's approach (if orthodox my song)
Is hasten'd by the lure of Fortune's smiles.
And art thou still a glutton of bright gold ?
And art thou still rapacious of thy ruin? 1010

Death loves a shining mark, a signal blow ;
A blow, which, while it executes, alarms ;
And startles thousands with a single fall.
As when some stately growth of oak, or pine,
Which nods aloft, and proudly spreads her shade,
The sun's defiance, and the flocks defence; 1016

By the strong strokes of lab'ring hinds subdu'd,
Loud groans her last, and, rushing from her height,
In cumbrous ruin, thunders to the ground :
The conscious forest trembles at the shock, 1020

And hill, and stream, and distant dale, resound.

These high-aim'd darts of Death, and these alorte,
Should I collect, my quiver would be full.
A quiver, which, suspended in mid air,
Or near Heav'n's Archer, in the zodiac, hung 1025
(So could it be), should draw the public eye,
The gaze and contemplation of mankind I
A constellation awful, yet benign,



To guide the gay through life's tempestuous wave,
Nor suffer them to strike the common rock ; 1 030
" From greater danger to grow more secure,
And, wrapt in happiness, forget their fate."

Lysander, happy past the common lot,
Was warn'd of danger, but too gay to fear.
He woo'd the fair Aspasia: She was kind ; IO 35

In youth, form, fortune, fame, they both were blest :
All who knew, envy'd j yet in envy lov'd :
Can fancy form more finished happiness ?
Fixt was the nuptial hour. Her stately dome
Rose on the sounding beach. The glittering spires
Float in the wave, and break against the shore: 1041
So break those glitt'ring shadows, human joys.
The faithless morning smil'd : He takes his leave,
To re-embrace in extasies, at eve.
The rising storm forbids. The news arrives: 1045
Untold, she saw it in her servant's eye.
She felt it seen (her heart was apt to feel) ;
And, drown'd, without the furious ocean's aid,
In suffocating sorrows, shares his tomb.
Now, round the sumptuous, bridal monument, 1050
The guilty billows innocently roar j
And the rough sailor passing, drops a tear.
A tear ? Can tears suffice ? But not for me.
How vain our efforts ! and our arts, how vain !
The distant train of thought I took, to shun, 1055
Has thrown me on my fate these dy'd together j
Happy in ruin ! undivorc'd by Death !
Or ne'er to meet, or ne'er to part, is peace
NARCISSA ! pity bleeds at thought of thee.


Yet thou wast only near me; not myself. 1060

Survive myself ? That cures all other woe.
NARCISSA lives; PHILANDER is forgot.
O the soft commerce ! O the tender ties,
Close-twisted with the fibres of the heart !
Which, broken, break them ; and drain off the soul
Of human joy; and make it pain to live 1066

And is it then to live ? When such friends part,
'T is the survivor dies My heart ! no more.

R 2




FEW ages have been deeper in dispute about Religion, than
this. The dispute about Religion, and the practice of it,
seldom go together. The shorter, therefore, the dispute, the
better. I think it may be reduced to this single question Is
Man immortal ; or, Is he not ? If he is not, all our disputes
are mere amusements, or trials of skill. In this case, Truth,
Reason, Religion, which give our discourses such pomp and
solemnity, are (as will be shewn) mere empty sounds, with-
out any meaning in them. But, if Man is immortal, it will
behove him to be very serious about eternal consequences;
or, in other words, to be truly religious. And this great fun-
damental truth, unestablished, or una wakened in .the minds
of men, is, I conceive, the real source and support of all our
infidelity; how remote soever the particular objections ad-
vanced may seem to be from it.

Senfible appearances affect most men much more than ab-
stract reasonings ; and we daily see bodies drop around us,
but the soul is invisible. The power which inclination has
over the judgment, is greater than can be well conceived by
those that have not had an experience of it ; and of what num-
bers is it the sad interest, that souls should not survive ! The
heathen world confessed, that they rather hoped, than firmly
believed, immortality ! and how many heathens have we still
amongst us ! The sacred page assures us, that life and immor-
tality are brought to light by the gospel : But by how many is
the gospel rejected, or overlooked ! From these considerations,
and from my being, accidentally, privy to the sentiments of
some particular persons, I have been long persuaded, that


most, if not all, our infidels (whatever name they take, and
whatever scheme, for argument's sake, and to keep themselves
in countenance, they patronize) are supported in their deplo-
rable error, by some doubt of their immortality, at the bottom.
And I am satisfied, that men once thoroughly convinced of
their immortality, are not far from being Christians- For it is
hard to conceive, that a man fully conscious eternal pain or
happiness will certainly be his lot, should not earnestly, and
impartially, inquire after the surest means of escaping the one
and securing the other : And of such an earnest and impar-
tial inquiry, I well know the consequence.

Here, therefore, in proof of this most fundamental truth,
some plain arguments are offered ; arguments derived from prin-
ciples which infidels admit in common with believers ; argu-
ments, which appear to me altogether irresistible; and such
as, I am satisfied, will have great weight with all, who give
themselves the small trouble of looking seriously into their
own bosoms, and of observing, with any tolerable degree of
attention, what daily passes round about them in the world.
If some arguments shall, here, occur, which others have de-
clined, they are submitted, with all deference, to better judg-
ments in this, of all points, the most important. For, as to
the being of a God, that is no longer disputed ; but it is un-
disputed for this reason only ; riz. Because where the least
pretence to reason is admitted, it must for ever be indisputable.
And of consequence no man can be betrayed into a dispute of
that nature by vanity, which has a principal share in animating
pur modern combatants against other articles of our belief,







oHE (for I know not yet her name in Heav'n)
Not early, like NARCISSA, left the scene ;
Nor sudden, like PHILANDER. What avail ?
This seeming mitigation but inflames ;
This fancy'd med'cine heightens the disease.


The longer known, the closer still she grew :
And gradual parting is a gradual death.
'T is the grim tyrant's engine, which extorts
By tardy pressure's still-increasing weight,
From hardest hearts, confession of distress. 10

O the long, dark approach, through years of pain,
Death's gall'ry! (might I dare to call it so,)
With dismal Doubt, and sable Terror, hung ;
Sick Hope's pale lamp, its only glimm'ring ray :
There Fate my melancholy walk ordain'd, 15

Forbid self-love itself to flatter there.
How oft I gaz'd, prophetically sad !
How oft I saw her dead, while yet in smiles !
In smiles she sunk her grief, to lessen mine.
She spoke me comfort, and increas'd my pain. 20
Like powerful armies trenching at a town,
By slow, and silent, but resistless sap,
In his pale progress gently gaining ground,
Death urg'd his deadly siege in spite of art,
Of all the balmy blessings Nature lends 25

To succour frail humanity. Ye stars !
(Not now first made familiar to my sight,)
And thou, O Moon ! bear witness ; many a night
He tore the pillow from beneath my head,
Ty'd down my sore attention, to the shock, 30

By ceaseless depredations on a life
Dearer than that he left me. Dreadful post
Of observation ! darker ev'ry hour !
Less dread the day that drove me to the brink,
And pointed out eternity below ; 35

When my soul shudder'd at futurity ;
When, on a moment's point,, th' important die


Of life and death spun doubtful, ere it fell,
And turn'd up Life j my title to more woe.

But why more woe ? More comfort let it be. 40
Nothing is dead, but that which wish'd to die j
Nothing is dead, but Wretchedness and Pain j
Nothing is dead, but what incumber'd, gall'd,
Block'd up the pass, and barr'd from real life.
Where dwells that wish most ardent of the wise ? 45
Too dark the sun to see it ; highest stars,
Too low to reach it j Death, great Death alone,
O'er stars and sun, triumphant, lands us there.
Nor dreadful our transition ; though the mind,
An artist at creating self-alarms, 50

Rich in expedients for inquietude,
Is prone to paint it dreadful. Who can take
Death's portrait true ? The tyrant never sat.
Our sketch all random strokes, conjecture all ;
Close shuts the grave, nor tells one single tale. 55
Death, and his image rising in the brain,
Bear faint resemblance ; never are alike ;
Fear shakes the pencil ; Fancy loves excess j
Dark Ignorance is lavish of her shades :
And these the formidable picture draw. 60

But grant the worst ; J t is past j new prospects rise }
And drop a veil eternal o'er her tomb.
Far other views our contemplation claim,
Views that o'erpay the rigours of our life ;
Views that suspend our agonies in death. 65

Wrapt in the thought of Immortality,
Wrapt in the single, the triumphant thought !
Long life might lapse, age unperceiv'd come on j
And find the soul unsated with her theme,



Its nature, proof, importance, fire my song. 70

O that my song could emulate my soul !

Like her, immortal. No ! the soul disdains

A mark so mean ; far nobler hope inflames j

If endless ages can outweigh an hour,

Let not the laurel, but the palm, inspire. 75

Thy nature, Immortality ! who knows ?
And yet who knows it not ? It is but life
In stronger thread of brighter colour spun,
And spun for ever ; dipt by cruel Fate
In Stygian dye, how black, how brittle here ! 80

How short our correspondence with the sun !
And while it lasts, inglorious ! Our best deeds,
How wanting in their weight ! Our highest joys,
Small cordials to support us in our pain,
And give us strength to suffer. But how great 85
To mingle int'rests, converse, amities,
With all the sons of Reason, scatter'd wide
Through habitable space, where-ever born,
Howe'er endow'd ! to live free citizens
Of universal Nature ; to lay hold
By more than feeble Faith on the SUPREME !
To call Heav'n's rich unfathomable mines
(Mines, which support .archangels in their state)
Our own ! to rise in science, as in bliss,
Initiate in the secrets of the skies ! 95

To read creation ; read its mighty plan
In the bare bosom of the Deity !
The plan, and execution, to collate !
To see, before each glance of piercing thought,
All cloud, all shadow, blown remote ; and leave 100
No mystery but that of love divine,


Which lifts us on the seraph's flaming wing,

From earth's Aceldama, this field of blood,

Of inward anguish, and of outward ill,

From darkness, and from dust, to such a scene ! 105

Love's element ; true joy's illustrious home !

From earth's sad contrast (now deplor'd) more fair !

What exquisite vicissitude of fate !

Blest absolution of our blackest hour !

LORENZO, these are thoughts that make Man, Man,
The wise illumine, aggrandize the great. 1 1 1

How great (while yet we tread the kindred clod,
And ev'ry moment fear to sink beneath
The clod we tread ; soon trodden by our sons),
How great, in the wild whirl of Time's pursuits, 115
To stop, and pause, involv'd in high presage,
Through the long visto of a thousand years,
To stand contemplating our distant selves,
As in a magnifying mirror seen,

Enlarg'd ennobled, elevate, divine! 120

To prophesy our own futurities !
To gaze in thought on what all thought transcends !
To talk, with fellow-candidates, of joys
As far beyond conception, as desert,
Ourselves th' astonished talkers, and the tale! 125

LORENZO, swells thy bosom at the thought ?
The swell becomes thee : 'T is an honest pride.
Revere thyself; and yet thyself despise.
His nature no man can o'er-rate ; and none
Can under-rate his merit. Take good heed, 130

Nor there be modest, where thou shouldst be proud j
That almost universal error shun.
How just our pride, when we behold those heights,

B 2


Not those Ambition paints in air, but those

Reason points out, and ardent Virtue gains ; 135

And angels emulate ; our pride how just !

When mount we ? when these shackles cast? when quit

This cell of the creation ? this small nest,

Stuck in a corner of the universe,

Wrapt up in fleecy cloud, and fine-spun air? 140

Fine spun to sense; but gross and feculent

To souls celestial ; souls ordain'd to breathe

Ambrosial gales, and drink a purer sky ;

Greatly^ triumphant on Time's farther shore,

Where Virtue reigns, enrich' d with full arrears ; 145

While Pomp imperial begs an alms of Peace.

In empire high, or in proud science deep,
Ye born of earth ! on what can you confer,
With half the dignity, with half the gain,
The gust, the glow of rational delight, 150

Ab on this theme, which angels praise and share ?
Man's fates and favours are a theme in Heav'n.

What wretched repetition cloys us here !
What periodic potions for the sick !
Distempered bodies, and distemper 'd minds ! 155

In an eternity what scenes shall strike !
Adventures thicken ! novelties surprise !
What webs of wonder shall unravel there !
W T hat full day pour on all the paths of Heav'n,
And light th' ALMIGHTY'S footsteps in the deep ! 160
How shall the blessed day of our discharge
Unwind, at once, the labyrinths of fate,
And straighten its inextricable maze !

If inextinguishable thirst in Man
TO know j how rich, how full, our banquet there ! 165


There, not the moral world alone unfolds ;

The world material, lately seen in shades,

And, in those shades, by fragments only seen,

And seen those fragments by the lab'ring eye,

Unbroken, then, illustrious, and entire, 170

Its ample sphere, its universal frame,

In full dimensions, swells to the survey ;

And enters, at once glance, the ravish'd sight.

From some superior point (where, who can tell ?

Suffice it, 'tis a point where gods reside) 175

How shall the stranger Man's illumin'd eye,

In the vast ocean of unbounded space,

Behold an infinite of floating worlds

Divide the crystal waves of ether pure,

In endless voyage, without port? The least 180

Of these disseminated orbs, how great !

Great as they are, what numbers these surpass,

Huge, as Leviathan, to that small race,

Those twinkling multitudes of little life,

He swallows unperceiv'd ! Stupendous these ! 185

Yet what are these stupendous to the whole ?

As particles, as atoms ill-perceiv'd ;

As circulating globules in our veins ;

So vast the plan ! Fecundity divine !

Exub'rant Source ! perhaps I wrong thee still. 190
If admiration is a source of joy,

What transport hence 1 Yet this the least in Heav'n.

What this to that illustrious robe He wears,

Who tost this mass of wonders from his hand,

A specimen, an earnest, of his pow'r? 195

'Tis to that glory, whence all glory flows,

As the mead's meanest flow'ret to the sun,


"Which gave it birth. But what this sun of Heav'n ?

This bliss supreme of the supremely blest ?

Death, only Death, the question can resolve. 200

By death, cheap-bought th' ideas of our joy;

The bare ideas ! Solid happiness

So distant from its shadow chas'd below.

And chase we still the phantom through the fire,
O'er bog, and brake, and precipice, till death ? 205
And toil we still for sublunary pay ?
Defy the dangers of the field and flood,
Or, spider-like, spin out our precious all,
Our more than vitals spin (if no regard
To great futurity), in curious webs 210

Of subtle thought, and exquisite design j
(Fine net-work of the brain !) to catch a fly ?
The momentary buz of vain renown !
A name ! a mortal immortality !

Or (meaner still !) instead of grasping air, 2 1 5

For sordid lucre plunge we in the mire ?
Drudge, sweat, through ev'ry shame, for ev'ry gain,
For vile contaminating trash ; throw up
Our hope in Heav'n, or dignity with Man ?
And deify the dirt, matur'd to gold? 220

Ambition, Av'rice ; the two daemons these,
Which goad through ev'ry slough our human herd,
Hard-travel'd from the cradle to the grave.
How low the wretches stoop ! how steep they climb !
These daemons burn mankind ; but most possess 225
LORENZO'S bosom, and turn out the skies.

Is it in Time to hide Eternity ?
And why not in an atom on the shore,
To cover ocean ? or a mote, the sun ?


ju^j .: . . i r

Glory and Wealth, have they this blinding pow'r ?
What if to them [ prove LORENZO blind? 231

Would it surprise thee ? Be thou then surpris'd ;
Thou neither knows't : Their nature learn from me.

Mark well, as foreign as these subjects seem.

Online LibraryEdward YoungNight thoughts on life, death and immortality → online text (page 8 of 24)