(1745-1820 / England)

Epistle To Hanna More

_Her Recent Publication--Practical Piety._


Hail! hallow'd sister! of a saintly band!
Whose hearts in homage to their God expand!
Who, by the kind Urania taught to sing.
See palms celestial in their culture spring;
And, while devotion wafts them to the skies,
Teach weaker mortals on their wings to rise!
Hannah! whom truth, with a parental smile,
Ranks with her favorites of our letter'd isle;
Thou in wide fields, by tribes of learning fill'd,
By folly vainly view'd, by wisdom till'd;
Where grain and weed arise in mingled birth,
To nourish, or oppress, the race of earth;
Well hast thou ply'd thy task of virtuous toil,
And reap'd distinction's tributary spoil:
Long has thy country, with a fond acclaim,
Joy'd in thy genius, gloried in thy fame;
Progressive talents in thy works beheld,
Thine earlier volumes by thy last excell'd!
The noblest motive sway'd thy moral pen,
Intent to meliorate the sons of men
From that now distant year, when faith design'd
Thy sacred dramas for the youthful mind;
To this rich season of thy honour'd age,
When, with the fervour of a Christian sage,
Thine eve of life, with dews from Heaven impearl'd
Shows piety in practice to the world.
Well I remember, tho' long years have past,
Long years with dark calamity o'ercast,
Well I remember, and with grateful pride,
How to my heart thy friendly verse supplied
The glow of exultation; for thy praise
Shed gracious honour on my sportive lays.
When 'twas my aim to clear from thorns of strife
The budding roses of domestic life,
And teach young nymphs, in irritation's hour,
To triumph over spleen's insidious power.
O that, while glowing with celestial hope,
Gently we haste down life's autumnal slope,
Each well convinc'd, and with a mind serene,
From long experience of our chequer'd scene,
Convinc'd no blessings of this earth transcend
The countless value of a Christian friend;
O that just sympathy, and warm esteem,
Kindling to vivid inspiration's beam.
Would to my lyre, tho' in an aged hand,
Supply, at gratitude's devout command,
Praise, such as purest minds delight to hear,
When truth and nature prove that praise sincere!
But vain such wishes, for in virtue's cause
Thou hast receiv'd angelical applause:
No thirst for weaker praise that mind can feel,
Which Porteus cheer'd with evangelic zeal:
Porteus, complete in every graceful part!
A bard in spirit! with a hermit's heart!
In heaven's pure service never cold, or faint,
Till new existence glorified the saint!
How sweet with those, whom still on earth we prize,
To bless a recent inmate of the skies!
On buried friends to let fond memory dwell,
And grateful truth their bright endowments tell!
Careless, if envy, with a spleenful sneer,
Reviles that eulogy she bates to bear,
Saying with freedom's ill-assum'd pretence,
'Tis noxious flattery, o'erwhelming sense.
Peace! scornful pride! nor with malignant aim
Belie the voice of consecrated fame,
Thy subtlest arts, the pious to debate.
End, with strict justice, in thy own disgrace.
How weak were friendship could she shake with dread
Of thy detraction 'gainst her worthies dead!
No! such detraction makes her zeal more just
To every claim of their yet speaking dust.
Save me, good heaven! and all whom I regard,
(Or hasty muse, or irritable bard,)
Save us, good heaven! in mild and temperate age,
From wounded vanity's vindictive rage!
To genuine friendship pure delight is given,
Next to the favor of approving heaven;
And that delight is most sublimely felt.
When nature in vain tears, has ceased to melt:
When sorrow, quell'd by purer love's controul,
To sweet reflection yields the chasten'd soul,
Contemplating, thro' clouds to sunshine turn'd,
The sure beatitude of those--she mourn'd:
This sunshine yet to us the heavens assign
In Porteus, still thy friend! in Cowper, mine!
When tender fancy, on affection's plume,
Emerging from the shadows of the tomb
Aspires to trace, in visionary flight,
The just made perfect, thro' the realms of light!
How glows the soul, with more than earthly joy,
In fondly imaging their blest employ!
How oft, dear Cowper! at the close of day,
When contemplation sheds her mental ray,
I seem, through optics of the mind to see
Thy sainted spirit, from incumbrance free!
Marking how quick, in various hearts, arise
Those seeds of virtue, that thy verse supplies!
What joy, not speakable by mortal tongue,
What praises, to the harp of seraph sung,
May glad thee, now repaid for all thy woes,
While boundless vision to thy spirit shows
How e'en thy earthly song, by heaven inspired.
Attain'd the glorious aim, thy heart desired:
Destin'd to spread, uncrampt by time or space,
Progressive goodness thro' the human race!
Thou monitor! by youth and age revered!
By wisdom prized! to tenderness endear'd!
While men and angels bid thy fame extend,
And nature owns thee her benignant friend;
Could there be mortals so perversely blind,
As coarsely to revile thy tender mind,
Basely applying, with malignant glee,
The hateful title Misanthrope, to thee!
Let just oblivion wrap in endless night
Such baleful fruits of worth-defaming spight:
Truth ne'er could Cowper's want of zeal reprove,
As fervent as a saint in friendly love.
Hannah! to whose effulgent mind belong
Continual plaudits from the sons of song,
Be witness how, in his sequester'd bowers,
Cowper acknowledging thy various powers,
Ever on thee, thy verse, thy prose, bestow'd
Applause, where cloudless admiration glow'd
With warmth, that jealousy could ne'er perplex;
He praised thee, as the glory of thy sex,
In verbal power, in intellectual grace,
Never inferior to man's lordly race!
Congenial spirits, warm'd with kindly zeal,
Each others merits ye were sure to feel
For one, true virtue's favorite employ,
Her happiest exercise! her highest joy.
One glorious motive sway'd each active mind
Whether the bard, to rhymes no more confin'd,
Rapidly sketch'd with glance intensely keen,
His bird's-eye prospect of our human scene,
Or the fair moralist, in polish'd prose,
Describ'd the living manners as they rose.
One glorious motive clear in each we prize.
Bright as the vestal flame, which never dies.
The philanthropic wish, from heaven inspir'd,
That keeps the toiling mind in toil untir'd;
The wish, unstain'd by every selfish aim.
Free from the thirst of lucre and of fame;
The wish most valued, when best understood,
To make the pen an instrument of good,
Recalling mortals lost in false delight,
To find true favour in their Saviour's sight.
The Bard, enfranchised from his earthly fate,
Now soars, from this probationary state
To join the seraphs of sublimer tone,
Whose harps are vocal round the Almighty throne:
On earth his laurels no destruction fear
From cold neglect, or envy's blighting leer.
Verse, in whose influence the good rejoice,
Is sure to echo from the human voice,
While praise, as faithful as the mystic dove,
Flows from the lips, of gratitude and love.
Cowper still lives, to truth's clear optics given,
Endear'd to earth, and recompens'd by heaven!
And O dear lady! who like him, canst feel
For erring mortals anxious friendly zeal,
And deck, like him, thy monitory page
With charms attractive both to youth and age,
Whose pure instruction, with a skill refin'd,
Suits both the lowly, and the lofty mind:
Like Cowper, thou canst bear, with calm disdain,
While pity saves thee from resentment's pain,
The dark insidious enmity of those
Who, self-entitled friends, and secret foes,
If they applaud thy talents, still deride
Thy warm devotion, as fanatic pride,
Tho' such devotion, undebased by art,
Proves its clear source in tenderness of heart;
Sincerely Christian, it forgives the lie
That dares its nature, and its truth deny.
When, rich in honours, as in length of days,
And satisfied with just affection's praise,
Thy spirit to a purer world ascends,
To share the fellowship of sainted friends,
May this sweet vision of the blest be thine,
To trace how widely, with a guide divine.
Thy active mind, while resident below,
In soften'd hearts taught piety to grow,
Aiding benighted souls to view the day,
And drive depravity's dark clouds away:
What bliss, to welcome in those realms of light
Young angels! owning thou hast helped their flight,
And from the Saviour of the world to hear
'Those, who befriended earth--to heaven are dear!'

by William Hayley

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