1 IF Virtue prompt thy willing mind
2 To actions gen'rous, good and kind;
3 Fortune beyond thy hopes shall bless
4 Thy toils, and crown them with success:
5 But he whose bounties only rise
6 From prospects of a future prize,
7 With sorrow shall compute his gains,
8 And reap repentance for his pains.
9 Precepts are often found to fail,
10 So take instruction from my tale.
11 In ancient days there liv'd a priest,
12 Inshrin'd within whose pious breast
13 Fair Virtue shone; his open look
14 Gave sanction to each word he spoke.
15 Fix'd to no home, in mean array,
16 From place to place he took his way,
17 Instructing as he went along,
18 And dealing blessings to the throng.
19 The truth he labour'd to express,
20 In language plain as was his dress;
21 Yet all with secret rapture hung
22 On every accent of his tongue:[Page 214]
23 A silent eloquence there ran
24 Through all the actions of the man;
25 They mark'd his soul's unblemish'd frame,
26 His precept and his life the same.
27 It chanc'd, as musing once he stray'd,
28 Around him night's descending shade
29 Unheeded stole; through paths unknown
30 With darkling steps he wander'd on,
31 And wish'd to shroud his weary head
32 Beneath some hospitable shed.
33 When through the gloom a sudden ray
34 Sprung forth, and shot across the way,
35 Led by the light, a cott he found:
36 A pious dame the mansion own'd,
37 Whose open heart, tho' small her store,
38 Ne'er turn'd the stranger from her door.
39 Think at the sight of such a guest,
40 What transport rose within her breast:
41 With joy the friendly board she spread,
42 And plac'd him in her warmest bed.
43 Deep sunk in sleep the trav'ler lay,
44 Tir'd with the labours of the day.
45 'Tis best, as ablest critics deem,
46 To suit your language to your theme;
47 Obsequious to their rules, the Muse
48 In humbler strain her tale pursues.
49 The matron, while her thankful guest
50 Had shar'd with her the slender feast,[Page 215]
51 With curious eye had view'd him o'er,
52 Had mark'd the tatter'd garb he wore,
53 And through the yawning frieze had seen
54 No traces of a shirt within.
55 And now her hands with pious care
56 A shirt of home-spun cloth prepare:
57 'Twas coarse, but would the longer hold,
58 And serve to fence him from the cold.
59 The toil employ'd her all the night,
60 And ended with the rising light.
61 The priest arose at break of day,
62 And hasten'd to pursue his way;
63 With thanks he took the finish'd vest,
64 The hospitable dame he bless'd,
65 "And that thy charity, he said,
66 "May fall with int'rest on thy head,
67 "May thy first work, when I am gone,
68 "Continue 'till the setting sun. "
69 She heard; but soon her houshold care
70 Had banish'd from her thoughts the pray'r;
71 The remnant of her cloth she took,
72 And measur'd out her little stock.
73 Beneath her hands the length'ning piece
74 Surpriz'd her with a vast increase;
75 Astonish'd at a sight so new,
76 She measur'd still and still it grew.
77 As when in sleep, with winged pace
78 O'er hills and plains we urge the race,[Page 216]
79 With eager hopes we onward bend,
80 And think our labour near its end;
81 But mimick Fancy soon supplies
82 New scenes to cheat our wond'ring eyes:
83 Before our feet new plains extend,
84 New vallies sink, new hills ascend,
85 And still the goal, when these are o'er,
86 Appears as distant as before.
87 In such a dream with such surprize,
88 From morn to eve the woman plies
89 Her task; but when the setting ray
90 Had clos'd her labour with the day,
91 With joy the wond'rous heap survey'd,
92 And saw her bounty well repay'd.
93 A neighb'ring dame, the story known,
94 Much wish'd to make the case her own;
95 For tho' she ne'er was seen before
96 To lodge the stranger or the poor,
97 She wisely thought on one so good
98 Her charity were well bestow'd.
99 As by her door his journey lay,
100 She stop'd the trav'ler on his way;
101 Beg'd him to enter and receive
102 Such welcome as her house could give:
103 The priest comply'd, and ent'ring found
104 The board with various plenty crown'd;
105 On heaps of down he past the night,
106 And slumber'd 'till the morning light.[Page 217]
107 At break of day the dame address'd
108 In friendly guise her rev'rend guest:
109 Linen so coarse, she said, was ne'er
110 Design'd for Christian backs to wear;
111 And as it griev'd her to survey
112 Such virtue in so mean array,
113 Herself had toil'd with sleepless eyes
114 To furnish him with fresh supplies:
115 Fine was the texture, such as comes
116 From wealthy Holland's skilful looms.
117 The priest accepts the proffer'd boon,
118 He thanks her for her kindness shown,
119 And grateful as he leaves her door,
120 Repeats the pray'r he made before.
121 Just parted from the holy man,
122 With eager haste the matron ran
123 To reach her cloth, and had design'd
124 To measure what was left behind;
125 But thinking first, that as the pray'r
126 For the whole day had fix'd her care,
127 One labour would employ it all,
128 And leave no time for Nature's call,
129 Ere to the destin'd work she goes,
130 She deems it best to pluck a rose.
131 The hissing geese, as forth she went,
132 Gave omens of the dire event;
133 The herds, that graz'd the neighb'ring plain,
134 Look'd up, and snuff'd the coming rain;[Page 218]
135 The bird that screams at midnight hours,
136 (Diviner of approaching show'rs)
137 Full on the left, with hideous croak,
138 Stood flutt'ring on a blasted oak.
139 Amazement seiz'd the trembling dame,
140 When first she saw the plenteous stream:
141 She wonder'd much, and much she fear'd;
142 And think how Niobe appear'd,
143 When chang'd into a rock she stood,
144 And at her feet the headlong flood,
145 With downward force impetuous ran,
146 High foaming, o'er the delug'd plain;
147 So look'd the dame, when all around
148 The torrent smoak'd upon the ground:
149 Still spreading wider than before,
150 It seem'd a sea without a shore.
151 Your bards that wrote in heathen days,
152 Had such a theme employ'd their lays,
153 Had tortur'd their inventive brain,
154 With dire portents to fill the strain;
155 Had bid the neighb'ring river mourn
156 His alter'd stream and tainted urn;
157 Or made the Naiads lift their heads,
158 Astonish'd from their wat'ry beds,
159 And, seated on the river's side,
160 Squeeze from their locks the briny tide.
161 But little skill'd in Pagan lore;
162 I pass such idle fancies o'er:[Page 219]
163 Truth is my care, whose lovely face
164 Shines brightest in the plainest dress.
165 At eve the torrent stopt its course;
166 Stung with vexation and remorse;
167 The dame laments her fruitless cost,
168 Her hopes deceiv'd, her labour lost.
169 Nor think that here her suff'rings end,
170 Reproach and infamy attend:
171 Surrounding boys, where-e'er she came,
172 With insults loud divulge her shame;
173 And farmers stop her with demands
174 Of recompence for damag'd lands.