THE DEATH OF ARACHNE,
1 THE shrinking brooks and russet meads complain'd
2 That Summer's tyrant, fervid Sirius, reign'd;
3 Full west the sun from heaven descending rode,
4 And six the shadow on the dial show'd.
5 Philo, tho' young, to musing much inclin'd,
6 A shameless sloven, in his gown had din'd,
7 From table sneaking with a sheepish face,
8 Before the circle was dismiss'd with grace,
9 And smoaking now, his desk with books o'erspread,
10 Thick clouds of incense roll around his head:
11 His head, which save a quarter's growth of hair,
12 His woollen cap long since scratch'd off, was bare:
13 His beard three days had grown, of golden hue,
14 Black was his shirt, uncomely to the view;
15 Cross-legg'd he sat, and his ungartered hose
16 Of each lean limb half hide, and half expose;
17 His cheek he lean'd upon his hand; below
18 His nut-brown slipper hung upon his toe.
19 Now with abstracted flight he climbs apace,
20 High and more high, through pure unbounded space;[Page 224]
21 Now mere privation fails the wings of thought,
22 He drops down headlong through the vast of nought;
23 A friendly vapour Mathesis supplies,
24 Born on the surging smoak he joys to rise;
25 Matter thro' modes and qualities pursues,
26 Now caught, entranc'd its naked essence views;
27 Now wakes; the vision fading from his sight
28 Leaves doubts behind, the mists of mental night:
29 Existing not, but possible alone,
30 He deems all substance, and suspects his own;
31 Like wave by wave impell'd, now questions roll —
32 Does soul in ought subsist, or all in soul?
33 Is space, extension, nothing but a name,
34 And mere idea Nature's mighty frame?
35 All power, all forms, to intellect confin'd:
36 Place, agent, subject, instrument combin'd?
37 Is spirit diverse, yet from number free,
38 Conjoin'd by harmony in unity? —
39 Truth's spotless white what piercing eye descries,
40 When the ray broken takes Opinion's dyes! —
41 In vain now Philo seeks the sacred light,
42 In Chaos plung'd, where embryo systems fight.
43 In this dark hour, unnotic'd, Cloe came,
44 His study-door admits the shining dame;
45 With Nature's charms she join'd the charms of art,
46 Wife of his choice, and mistress of his heart;
47 What on her head she wore, erect and high,
48 Unnam'd above, is call'd on earth a fly;[Page 225]
49 In wanton ringlets her fair tresses fell,
50 Her breasts beneath transparent muslin swell;
51 Studded with flaming gems a buckle bound
52 Th' embroidered zone her slender waist around;
53 Thence to her feet a vast rotund display'd
54 The mingling colours of the rich brocade;
55 This aiding fancy, blending shame and pride,
56 Inflames with beauties it was meant to hide:
57 With careless ease the Nymph first snapp'd her fan,
58 Roll'd round her radiant eyes, and thus began;
59 "How canst thou, Philo, here delight to sit,
60 " Immers'd in learning, nastiness, and wit?
61 "Clean from the chest, where various odours breathe,
62 " And dying roses their last sweets bequeath,
63 "A shirt for thee, by my command, the maid
64 " Three hours ago before the fire display'd;
65 "The barber, waiting to renew thy face,
66 " Holds thy wig powder'd in the paste-board case;
67 "Thy silken breeches, and thy hose of thread,
68 " Coat, waistcoat, all, lie ready on the bed.
69 "Renounce that odious pipe, this filthy cell,
70 " Where silence, dust, and pagan authors dwell:
71 "Come! shall the ladies wait in vain for thee?
72 " Come! taste with us the charms of mirth and tea, "
73 As Philo heard confus'd the silver sound,
74 His soul emerges from the dark profound,
75 On the bright vision full he turn'd his eyes;
76 Touch'd, as he gaz'd, with pleasure and surprize,[Page 226]
77 The first faint dawnings of a smile appear'd,
78 And now in act to speak, he strok'd his beard,
79 When from a shelf just o'er the fair one's head,
80 Down dropt ARACHNE by the viscous thread.
81 Back starts the Nymph, with terror and dismay,
82 "The Spider! oh!" — was all that she could say.
83 At this the Sage resum'd the look severe,
84 "Renounce, with woman's folly, woman's fear!"
85 He said, and careful to the shelf convey'd
86 The hapless rival of the blue-ey'd maid.
87 Th' enormous deed astonish'd Cloe-view'd,
88 And rage the crimson on her cheek renew'd.
89 "Must then, said she, such hideous vermin crawl
90 " Indulg'd, protected, o'er the cobwebb'd wall?
91 "Destroy her quickly — here her life I claim,
92 " If not for love or decency, for shame. "
93 "Shame be to guilt, replies the man of thought,
94 " To slaves of custom, ne'er by reason taught,
95 "Who spare no life that touches not their own,
96 " By fear their cruelty restrain'd alone.
97 "No blameless insect lives its destin'd hour,
98 " Caught in the murdering vortex of their power.
99 "For me, the virtues of the mind I learn
100 " From sage ARACHNE, for whose life you burn;
101 "From her, when busy all the summer's day
102 " She weaves the curious woof that snares her prey,
103 "I learn fair industry and art to prize,
104 " Admiring Nature providently wise,[Page 227]
105 "Who, tho' her bounty unexhausted flows,
106 " Not daily bread on idleness bestows.
107 "ARACHNE, still superior to despair,
108 " Restores with art what accidents impair,
109 "The thousandth time the broken thread renews,
110 " And one great end with fortitude pursues;
111 "To me her toil is ne'er renew'd in vain,
112 " Taught what the wise by perseverance gain,
113 "Warm'd by example to the glorious strife,
114 " And taught to conquer in the fight of life.
115 "When now with rest amidst her labours crown'd,
116 " She watchful, patient, eyes the circle round,
117 "I learn, when toil has well deserv'd success,
118 " Hope's placid, calm, expectance to possess,
119 "With care to watch, with patience still to wait
120 " The golden moment, tho' delay'd by Fate. "
121 Impatient Cloe thus again replied;
122 "How soon is error thro' each veil descried!
123 " Still boasting Reason's power, how weak are we!
124 "How blind, alas! to all we would not see!
125 " Else how could Philo, in a Spider's cause,
126 "Talk thus of mercy with deserv'd applause?
127 " Or call aught virtuous industry and skill,
128 "Exerted only to surprize and kill?
129 " The blameless insect, whom no murder feeds,
130 "For her, the victim of her cunning, bleeds;
131 " Cunning! which when to wisdom we compare,
132 "Is but to her, to men what monkeys are."
133 "Hold! Philo cries, and know, the same decree
134 " Gave her the fly, which gives the lamb to thee;
135 "Or why those wings adapted to the snare,
136 " Why interceptive hangs the net in air?
137 "As plain in these the precept," kill and eat, "
138 " As in thy skill to carve the living treat. "
139 To this, she cries, "Persuade me, if you can,
140 " Man's lord of all, and all was made for man. "
141 " Vain thought! the child of ignorance and pride! "
142 " Disdainful smiling, quickly he replied;
143 "To man, vain reptile! tell me of what use
144 " Are all that Afric's peopled wastes produce?
145 "The nameless monsters of the swarming seas,
146 " The pigmy nations wafted on the breeze?
147 "The happy myriads, by his eyes unseen,
148 " That bask in flowers, and quicken all the green?
149 "Why live these numbers blest in Nature's state?
150 " Why lives this spider object of thy hate?
151 "Why man? but life in common to possess,
152 " Wide to diffuse the stream of happiness;
153 "Blest stream! the o'erflowing of the parent mind,
154 " Great without pride, and without weakness kind. "
155 With downcast eyes, and sighs, and modest air,
156 Thus in soft sounds replied the wily fair:
157 "This fatal subtilty thy books impart
158 " To baffle truth, when unsustain'd by art;
159 "For this, when Cloe goes at twelve to bed,
160 " Till three you sit in converse with the dead:[Page 229]
161 "No wonder then, in vain my skill's employ'd
162 " To prove it best that vermin be destroy'd —
163 "But tho' you proudly triumph o'er my sex,
164 " Joy to consute, and reason but to vex,
165 "Yet, if you lov'd me, to oblige your wife,
166 " What could you less! you'd take a spider's life.
167 "Once to prevent my wishes Philo flew,
168 " But Time that alters all, has alter'd you.
169 "Yet still unchang'd poor Cloe's love remains;
170 " These tears my witness, which your pride disdains;
171 "These tears, at once my witness and relief."
172 Here paus'd the fair, all eloquent in grief.
173 He, who had often, and alone, o'erturn'd
174 Witlings, and sophists, when his fury burn'd,
175 Now yields to love the fortress of his soul:
176 His eyes with vengeance on ARACHNE roll:
177 "Curs'd wretch, thou poisonous quintessence of ill,
178 " Those precious drops, unpunish'd, shalt thou spill? "
179 He said, and stooping, from his foot he drew,
180 Black as his purpose, what was once a shoe;
181 Now, high in air the fatal heel ascends,
182 Reason's last effort now the stroke suspends;
183 In doubt he stood — when, breath'd from Cloe's breast,
184 A struggling sigh her inward grief exprest.
185 Fir'd by the sound," Die, sorceress, die, "he cried,
186 And to his arm his utmost strength applied:
187 Crush'd falls the foe, one complicated wound,
188 And the smote shelf returns a jarring sound.
189 On Ida's top thus Venus erst prevail'd,
190 When all the sapience of Minerva fail'd:
191 Thus to like arts a prey, as poets tell,
192 By Juno lov'd in vain, great Dido fell.
193 And thus for ever Beauty shall controul
194 The saint's, the sage's, and the hero's soul.
195 But Jove with hate beheld th' atrocious deed,
196 And Vengeance follows with tremendous speed;
197 In Philo's mind she quench'd the ray that fir'd
198 With love of science, and with verse inspir'd,
199 Expung'd at once the philosophic theme,
200 All sages think and all that poets dream;
201 Yields him thus chang'd a vassal to the fair;
202 And forth she leads him with a victor's air:
203 Drest to her wish, he mixes with the gay,
204 As much a trifle, and as vain as they;
205 To fix their power, and rivet fast the chain,
206 They lead where Pleasure spreads her soft domain;
207 Where, drown'd in music Reason's hoarser call,
208 Love smiles triumphant in thy groves, Vaux-hall.