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Reflections on the Prevalence of Fashion.

1 NOW while the fields in vivid green are drest,
2 And early flowers adorn Spring's simple vest;
3 While brighter suns the opening landscape warm,
4 And Nature's beauties in each object charm;
5 Far from the tumult of the worldly crowd,
6 From mad extravagance and folly loud,
7 Here let me sit, and court the Muse to tell
8 By what attractions, by what magic spell,
9 Fashion's frail chains the heaven-born soul can bind,
10 And fix on trifles the deluded mind;
11 Can lead us from the path mild Reason taught,
12 Corrupt our principles, debase our thought;
13 And render Man, for noblest views design'd,
14 To all Creation's boundless glories blind.
15 The sons of earth in emulation vie
16 To gain applause, to draw the public eye,
17 And to become, pursuing different rules,
18 The praise and envy of surrounding fools.
19 To few, alas! th' indulgent hand of Heaven
20 Has dazzling wit or deep discernment given:
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21 To few superior talents are allow'd,
22 To rise sublime above the grovelling crowd;
23 To view unmov'd what meaner mortals prize,
24 And all Ambition's glittering toys despise.
25 Not so the favourites of Fortune's train
26 Hers are the gay, the trivial, and the vain;
27 To them profuse the partial goddess pours
28 Her lavish honours, and her golden stores.
29 Yet shall the happy triflers want a name,
30 Unnoted in the shining lists of Fame?
31 A name nor wealth nor titles can bestow:
32 That, and that only, to ourselves we owe.
33 Convinc'd of this, to gain the envied prize
34 Each candidate some various method tries.
35 In rural scenes, where peaceful shades delight,
36 And flowery meadows fix the wandering sight
37 Where pebbly streams in wild meanders flow,
38 And perfum'd winds o'er beds of roses blow
39 Even there the love of fame mankind inspires,
40 And rustic breasts with rustic passions fires.
41 The 'Squire feels anguish more than words can tell,
42 If other hounds in swiftness his excel;
43 If other steeds, more forward in the race,
44 Outstrip his coursers in the devious chase.
45 The Country Justice, into years declin'd,
46 To more substantial honours turns his mind:
47 He glories in his barns with plenty stor'd,
48 And the luxuriance of his copious board;
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49 Nor lets one care his placid mind molest
50 Except some costlier dish should crown another's feast.
51 The rural Belle, impatient, seeks renown
52 In some new head-dress just arriv'd from Town;
53 Thinks how the wond'ring neighbourhood will gaze,
54 And circling beauties envy while they praise.
55 But few the cares that fill her artless breast,
56 Not yet by Vice or tainted or deprest,
57 Compar'd to those more courtly belles engage,
58 Where Fashion governs with despotic rage;
59 Where her fair vot'ry with contempt surveys
60 The long-lost innocence of former days:
61 Sever'd from blushing Modesty and Truth,
62 The dear companions of her happier youth,
63 No ties can bind, no principles restrain,
64 And Love and Duty plead, but plead in vain.
65 Yet, of the numbers who in error tread,
66 More are by weakness than by vice misled
67 And rather act an imitative part,
68 Than follow the plain dictates of their heart.
69 Elected by a grateful people's voice,
70 More from a sense of duty than from choice,
71 To join in senates in the loud debate,
72 The good Aurelius leaves his lov'd retreat.
73 With him the young Hermione he leads
74 Hermione, who rear'd 'mid circling shades,
75 Remote from Fashion and remote from Strife,
76 He chose the partner of his blameless life.
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77 Her cheeks disclos'd the rose's softest dye,
78 And innocence beam'd lovely from her eye;
79 On her red lips a mild composure charm'd,
80 And perfect symmetry her figure form'd.
81 In this new scene with timid steps she mov'd,
82 And blushing heard when Flattery approv'd;
83 The fluttering beaux in vain to please her sought
84 Her dear Aurelius fill'd her every thought.
85 Now Envy loudly ridicules the fair,
86 Censures her dress, her manner, and her air;
87 And every female, swell'd with jealous hate,
88 Condemns what she can never imitate;
89 And, lower than the last of womankind,
90 To theirs his taunts the silly coxcomb join'd,
91 Whom Nature form'd in a capricious mood,
92 Scorn'd by the wise, and pitied by the good.
93 Hermione abash'd view'd Envy's sneer,
94 While its rude satires piere'd her listening ear.
95 By nature virtuous, but too weak her sense
96 To brave th' attacks of dark Malevolence,
97 She leaves reluctant all she fondly loves,
98 And follows what her judgment disapproves;
99 With follies first, with vices next complied,
100 And sacrific'd her feelings to her pride.
101 Now, first in. Dissipation's giddy train,
102 Behold Hermione in triumph reign:
103 No more she rises with the morning ray,
104 But wastes in cards the night in sleep the day;
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105 Her pallid cheek, its native colour fled,
106 Assumes the glow of artificial red;
107 Her charms decay, her wonted health is flown,
108 Her former rectitude's for ever gone.
109 In vain with anxious care Aurelius tries
110 To clear the mists of error from her eyes.
111 At length he leads her to the rural plain,
112 Where once Contentment bless'd his wide domain:
113 But now no more Contentment will attend,
114 No more from Care's corrosive stings defend;
115 His chang'd Hermione he fondly mourns,
116 Whose alter'd heart no tenderness returns;
117 Till, long between contending passions tost,
118 His fortune sunk, his peace entirely lost,
119 He yielded to the welcome stroke of death,
120 And sigh'd Hermione! with latest breath.
121 O sad vicissitude of human state!
122 Daughters of Virtue, with vain pride elate,
123 Condemn not here a sister's levity;
124 But trembling think, such you, perhaps, may be.
125 Yet, if o'er this sad tale we drop a tear,
126 What mortal, say, from laughter can forbear,
127 When he beholds Emilius' awkward grace,
128 His figure mean, and consequential face,
129 And views his mind receptacle for all
130 The follies that to wretched mortals fall?
131 Bred in the City to an humble fate,
132 The sober youth behind his counter sat:
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133 His study was of stocks the rise and fall,
134 And his grand festival a Lord Mayor's ball.
135 When Fortune, careful of the fool and knave,
136 A large estate beyond his wishes gave,
137 He hastes to figure where the Great resort,
138 And quits th' Exchange to bustle through the Court.
139 To ape the courtly fop in vain he tries;
140 Now with Lord Trinket in his carriage vies;
141 Now games, now drinks, now swears and all for fame,
142 Since more illustrious blockheads do the same.
143 But hark! what knell, inspiring awful fear,
144 In broken sounds thus strikes my wounded ear?
145 That knell it calls Olivia to the tomb,
146 Fallen in gay youth, in beauty's brightest bloom,
147 Adorn'd with sentiment and sense refin'd,
148 Whose only fault was a too feeling mind.
149 Propitious Fortune, at her natal hour,
150 Had added wealth to Nature's lavish dower:
151 The rich Hortensio's child and only heir,
152 She grew and flourish'd in his guardian care,
153 Till the pleas'd father with delight survey'd
154 His fondest hopes accomplish'd in the maid,
155 With native graces still by art,
156 Agenor sought, and won the virgin's heart:
157 Her sire consents, and Hymen's holy bands
158 Soon at the altar join their willing hands.
159 Unhappy fair! she hop'd the sacred rite
160 Their hearts should ever with their hands unite,
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161 Her husband still her lover should remain,
162 And Death alone dissolve their lasting chain.
163 Not so Agenor. Bred in Fashion's schools,
164 And blindly govern'd by her senseless rules,
165 He thought affection for a wife disgrac'd
166 The nice refinement of a man of taste.
167 In vain mankind with one consent declare
168 Olivia fairest amid thousands fair:
169 Blind to her charms, unworthy of her love,
170 To meaner beauties his affections rove;
171 And, seeking fancied bliss, his footsteps roam
172 Far from the genuine happiness of home.
173 A soft concern, mix'd with offended pride,
174 Usurp'd the breast of his neglected bride,
175 To think that he alone unmov'd should view
176 Those peerless charms which all beside subdue.
177 At length her busy thought suggests a scheme
178 Destructive to her peace and to her fame,
179 And makes her strive by jealousy to gain
180 That fickle heart which scorn'd a milder chain.
181 Too soon the story restless Scandal spread,
182 How fair Olivia, by resentment led,
183 Justly incens'd against a faithless spouse,
184 Had in her turn forgot her plighted vows.
185 Agenor heard the tale; and, wild with rage,
186 Mistaken honour urg'd him to engage
187 His life for her, whom his caprice disdain'd
188 While undefil'd her character remain'd.
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189 Why should on the sad relation dwell?
190 A hasty challenge sent he fought, and fell!
191 Borne through those streets a senseless load of clay,
192 Where late he wander'd negligent and gay,
193 His alter'd features crowds with tears survey.
194 But who can paint the anguish and despair
195 That rack'd the bosom of the hapless fair
196 Who caus'd his death, when, pierc'd with many a wound,
197 The man she lov'd a breathless corse she found?
198 Horror, contrition, grief, at once combin'd
199 To rouse each feeling of her tortur'd mind,
200 Till, her weak frame unequal to the strife,
201 Prone on Agenor's bier she clos'd her wretched life.
202 Learn hence, ye fair, to shun each dangerous art,
203 Nor even in thought from rectitude depart:
204 Be still unmov'd by Jealousy's alarms,
205 For Temper more than Wit or Beauty charms.
206 So, when old age shall spoil each transient grace,
207 Dim thy bright eyes, and wrinkle o'er thy face
208 Steal from thy faded cheek the rose's hue,
209 And bend that form which now delights the view
210 Still chaste Affection with unclouded ray
211 Shall gild the evening of thy latest day;
212 Still powerful Virtue shall victorious prove,
213 And fix, where Beauty fails, a husband's love.
214 Silius affects an absent careless mien,
215 Nothing by him is heard, and nothing seen;
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216 Or, should his eyes a play or ball explore,
217 He listless yawns, and wishes it was o'er.
218 His native England Lycidas disdains,
219 And quits her oaken groves for Gallia's plains:
220 Foreign his accent, foreign is his air,
221 His dress resplendent with Parisian glare;
222 And, while his apish tricks contempt inspire,
223 He vainly thinks the wondering crowds admire.
224 Nothing so much delights Camillo's mind,
225 As to be thought a man of taste refin'd;
226 On pictures, statues, poems to decide,
227 And by his nod the sons of Genius guide.
228 Unnumber'd artists-crowd his plenteous board,
229 And needy Science courts the wealthy lord:
230 There, like the mimic heroes of the stage,
231 He acts Mæcenas to the present age,
232 While starving wits, amid their venal lays,
233 Pay for substantial dinners empty praise.
234 But these are trifling faults, and less proceed
235 From heart defective than defective head.
236 But darker shades remain, whose force to paint,
237 Language is cold, ideas are but faint;
238 Crimes at which Reason starts with holy fear,
239 To which even Pity scarce can grant a tear.
240 Behold the reptile man, whose impious pride
241 Dares all that's sacred, all that's just, deride;
242 Dares the existence of that God deny,
243 Who was, and is, through all eternity;
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244 Whose power, resistless, to destroy or save,
245 To man, ungrateful man, a being gave;
246 Whose mercy doom'd his only Son to bleed,
247 Our sinful race from paths of Death to lead;
248 Who, omnipresent, all our guilt can view,
249 And pitying yet withholds the vengeance due!
250 But let me hope that few thus madly dare
251 Wage with Omnipotence a desperate war.
252 Most men acknowledge and revere a God,
253 And dread at intervals his chastening rod:
254 But scarce the tears of soft Contrition spring,
255 When, borne on Dissipation's airy wing,
256 And mid the world's ensnaring pleasures tost,
257 Too oft the thoughtless wanderer is lost.
258 Children of Error, then, a moment stay,
259 Nor scorn to listen to my artless lay,
260 Which seeks no recompense, but to impart
261 A ray of Truth to the bewilder'd heart.
262 Yet think an hour shall come, nor far that hour,
263 When Death's dread horrors shall each sense o'erpower;
264 When ye shall ask in vain a little time,
265 In vain lament the errors of your prime;
266 With terror view your near approaching end,
267 And helpless, hopeless to the grave descend.
268 O then reform, while haply yet ye can,
269 While Providence allows a length'ning span,
270 Nor to a future time the change delay.
271 Perhaps your life may finish with this day;
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272 The present day, the present hour alone,
273 Is all, weak mortal, thou can'st call thine own.
274 Then seize this fleeting moment to deplore
275 Thy sins, resolv'd to yield to sin no more;
276 Regard life's darkest hours, its scenes most gay,
277 As showers and sun-beams of an April day;
278 And fix thy mind on that sublime abode,
279 Where soon thy spirit may rejoin its God;
280 There, mix'd with angels and archangels, raise
281 The hymn of glory to thy Maker's praise;
282 Thy views o'er vast, unmeasur'd space extend,
283 And taste pure joys that know nor change nor end!

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Title (in Source Edition): Reflections on the Prevalence of Fashion.
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Genres: heroic couplet

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Poems by Lady Manners. Second edition. London: John Bell, 1793, pp. [14]-24. 126p. (ESTC T173070)

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