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Pretence. Part I - Table-Talk
JK (1784-1856 / Jamaica)

Pretence. Part I - Table-Talk

Poem By John Kenyon

A. —True! nor recant I—true! I did engage
That e'en in this most seeming virtuous age,
With no vast stretch, with no far-scenting wind,
Fit game for Satire were not hard to find.
Nay, would you question? let us cast around
'Mid our home walks, and loosely try the ground.
If Folly fly, her flight is full in view;
If Guilt have coverts, we may track them through.

B. —Dost thou then doubt this matchless excellence,
Our age's boast?

A. —Nay, deem it—half—Pretence.
Whether she flit through high judicial halls,
Or snugly nestle in cathedral stalls;
Whether to crowded mart she make resort;
Or proudly perch in senate or at court;
Or, reared remote, accomplish her desires
'Mid fields, the haunts of justices and squires;
After long beat, by failure undeterred,
I ne'er, at least, could flush this phoenix-bird.

As fossil growths, yet not like ours, are found;
As maladies through centuries run their round,
(So saith the Leech, his cane beneath his chin,)
And leprosies went out, when nerves came in;
E'en so, I deem, some equal average
Its good and ill metes out to every age;
In each its own peculiar virtue flowers;
Each grows its vicious weed; Pretence is Ours.

To seem, not be, our ever-anxious aim,
Such is our vice, beneath a double name;
In turn by Folly nursed, and crafty Sense,
And now Pretension called, and now Pretence.
This seeks a vain display; this seeks to hide;
And one from Interest springs, and one from Pride;

Sometimes apart; more oft, in holy tether,
Like sovereigns leagued, they rule and rob together.
But oh! what type may paint each varying form,
Shadow or light, the zephyr or the storm?
Prompt as aërial clouds that drift and wreathe;
Changeful of hue, as seas that roll beneath;
They take all colours, turn at every call;
Shift through a thousand shapes, and cheat in all.

Blest are the brutes untaught! to Nature true,
Their earliest instincts last their Being through;
On man, scarce swaddled yet, grave teachers tend,
Yet not a lesson holds him to the end.
Mistaken mother! why, in gentle sooth,
On us instil your cradle-creed of truth?
Mere nursery tale; our after sole concern
To live a lie, and all our lore unlearn.

Oh Faith! with childhood thou art found alone,
That ne'er suspects a guilt, except its own.
With happy play tired out, it drops to bed,
And leaves, sleep-seized, the little prayer unsaid;

And this it is, full sure, the innocent sin,
That, all next day, grieves its poor heart within;
Its pretty self it scarce enough can chide,
But dreams all good of all the world beside.
And still, sweet child! from each misgiving free,
Sport on 'mid snares, as yet no snares for thee;
And love the fair-browed visions, while they last,
And cling to Faith, which will but fleet too fast.

The youth, who long hath trod with trusting feet,
Starts from the flash which shows him life's deceit;
Then, with slow footstep, ponders, undeceived,
On all his heart, for many a year, believed;
But hence he eyes the world with sharpened view,
And learns, too soon, to separate false from true.

Yet keenest searcher, though his lanthorn light,
Veered sudden round, flash many a rogue to sight,
Foiled, oftener still, by deep hypocrisies,
Must ask, at length, not what each does, but is;
With sadder, subtler wisdom learns to scan,
And tests, more oft, the action by the man.

Seen from new points what various comment bear
In life, as landscape, shows of Dark or Fair!
How misty motives hinder truth to spy!
How deeds but flare to cheat the observer's eye!
What searching sermon wrought that solemn turn
In Aspro's faith? the man was always stern.
Swerved to Rome's worship, what conviction strong
Swayed Gusto? love for picture and for song.
When Servio gave that vote for liberty,
A place refused might hint the reason why.
When Hirco raised yon Magdalen from the dust,
Who doubts 'twas Charity that pimped to Lust?

Or thin or deep, all tricked in some disguise;
Discreet observance just what satisfies;
Looks free, hearts closed; or but by license drawn,
Like water, sentried in a garrison;
We shift, with easy air, our things of dross,
Counterfeit medals with a well-feigned gloss,
While each receives the other's coin untold,
And counters, by convention, pass for gold.

To show—to hide—to seem what we are not.
Some willing feigners—some constrained by lot—

(For who would combat naked needs must fail,
Where others sheathe in visor and in mail)
Lo! here of half the virtues, which we count,
The mighty secret, and the true amount.
And feign they might, from my poor comment free,
Myself to criticise enough for me,
So each, snug nestled in his borrowed skin,
Would cease to bawl for praise with sturdy din.
But when, false claims not timorous to discuss,
All clamour forth 'For models look on Us,'
Mere silent scorn no longer I may nurse,
And honest indignation vents the verse.

But come, if still conviction poise in doubt,
And see if facts may bear our thesis out.
Forth then we fare, and, no wide tract surveyed,
Pause where the Lombards plied their ancient trade;
Where still, 'mid tawny ledgers, loves to hold
His daily watch the Sacred Thirst of Gold,
And sniffs, by noon-lit lamp, in dusky lane,
The rich, rank odours steamed around from gain.
Yet these but breathe the city's morning air,
No vesper-star must see Sir Balaam there,

For Pride, long since, hath whispered in each ear,
That gold, at such a rate, were bought too dear.
Soon some vast tract reluctant Ceres yields,
The lake is wound, and parked a hundred fields,
And mansion huge, at Wealth's supreme command,
Like snowy mountain, glistens o'er the land;
And clump-encircled, and plantation-bound,
Proud as its lord scorns all the country round;
While each excess luxurious city loves
Parades its pride, or riots, through the groves.
There Taste, run mad, on high, like Muezzin, set,
Shouts o'er the roof from many a minaret,
Or shows, right happy, to the gaping clown
The Moorish front, and pillars upside down.
Antiques within—'tis so the broker calls—
And varnished Raphaels, vouched originals;
There books, unread, bedizened all and new,
Flaunt in the gold their writers never knew;
Puzzling the host, there sparkle hard-named wines,
De Reyniere scarce might count the varying vines;
And there, while flatterers swill in thirsty strife,
Capricious smiles or frowns the haughty wife.

Are these, grave Whittington, respected Shade!
Are these thine ancient, simple sons of trade?

B. —I grant 'tis luxury; yet the race who moil
May rightly claim remission from their toil;
And if excess unduly there be found,
'Tis but degree; and who shall fix the bound?

A. —And so shall Satire graduate each offence,
Nor treat Pretension as she treats Pretence;
Shall merely smile to mark the smaller spot,
But justly frowns indignant on the blot.
She smiles when Balaam quits his old resort,
And city-friends, to leave his card at court;
And smiles to see the new-bought blazonry
Far flaming from his chariot, flashing by.
She frowns on knavish show, that yet awhile
Tricks out some tottering credit, to beguile,
Then bursts, at once, in ruin, wide and deep,
Whence orphans pine and widowed mothers weep.
She frowns on seals to broken contracts set,
And the long file that glooms the last gazette,
Which honest Gripus reads with clenching fist,
Then sends his own pure name to swell the list.

She frowns on hollow scheme, on puffed-up share,
And that late gulf, fraud-scooped, in Gresham's square;

(The ravening Southsea flowed not more profound,
A gulf, not greedier, cleft Rome's forum ground)
Round which, in gamester strife, all England stood,
City and court—and all for England's good!
Nor closed we saw it, till those jaws between
Pride, Conscience, Honour, all were tumbled in;
All! for the chance some lucky hit affords
To strut a Croesus and to herd with lords.

'He who would taste of true felicity,'
Quoth Martial, 'let his friends his equals be;'
'Pares Amici;' which Servilio hears,
And inly renders, 'let your friends be Peers.'

Servilio—thus I mask a once-loved name—
Be he our type; the race are all the same;
With whom through childhood's trusting bowers I strayed;
Conversed with school-boy earnestness or played;
Our young affections wreathed in strictest twine;
Of his love jealous; all his quarrels mine;

And still we loved, as years familiar ran
From childhood up to youth; from youth to man;
Servilio scarcely knows my name of late;
Servilio, now, may only know the Great.

On a low pony asked, as suits, to ride,
Him late I saw, with pity for his pride,
Straining, in vain, behind the spanking blood,
And happy to receive his Lordship's mud.

For days his Grace's well-watched pathway trod,
A bow perchance he wrests or wins a nod;
Then, home returned, his own full pride he wakes,
Bows, like the Duke; and gives the nod he takes.

You meet Servilio with his only boy,
A very dream of love! a living joy!
'Why, 'tis a cherub every heart to stir,
Your own sweet child?'—'Sir Simon's godchild, Sir.'
Ignobly proud to tell the honour done,
And happier in the sponsor than the son!

Such are the tribe in Grandeur's skirts who nest,
And soil, with reptile crawl, his crmined vest.

Keep Us alike from cold and fawning friends;
Where flattery begins, there friendship ends.
Friendless the Great, whom friended most we call;
A King—the most unfriended wretch of all!
Where'er his palace-gate its front shall rear,
Be graved thereon 'No friendship enters here.'

His easy days Charles Stuart—not the First—
Best of companions, if of Kings the worst;
Whiled gaily, with a witty, merry crew,
Friends! nay, not courtiers—loving all and true!
How true, how loving—tell that proving hour
When Death shall lay his clay-cold hand on Power;
Yea, even before hath ceased the death-bed knell,
Let many a kingly couch, deserted, tell.

The closing hour hath passed, which, soon or late,
Must pass o'er all; a monarch lies in state;
In lonely state; for Love hath gone, and Sorrow,
To plan the crowning pageant for to-morrow.
Now, let thy fancy pierce yon glimmering room,
That coffin's only guard one sordid groom;
Mark how, the prowling night-rat scarce forbid,
The varlet snores beside the ready lid.

And what his dreams? Are they of kingly fame,
A weeping people, and a world's acclaim?
Ah, no! he dreams of some contested grace,
Trapping or plume, his perquisite of place;
Mutters his greedy discontent, half loud,
And gropes, with sleep-tied hand, to clutch the shroud!

Yet, e'en for him, deserted thus who dies,
Ere long shall statues gleam; shall columns rise;
And epitaphs Servility shall bring;
Who lauds dead Kingship, flatters living King.

City and court found each so strictly true,
Grave seats of Themis! turn we now to you.

B. —Let Prudence prompt, and spare each learned hall.

A. —If Prudence prompt, say rather, 'Praise them all;'
Thus, so we trust, the eulogistic rhyme
May turn to profit in the fitting time,
And haply, when we stand arrest to move,
No Midas curl his brows, an adverse Jove.
Begin the song! Pleas—Bench—whate'er the name,
Crack the round globe, they stand in fearless fame!

Truth's ancient ramparts, built to guard and stem,
Pretence found never resting-place in them!
There no convenient fictions lie for truth,
But deed avowed is deed in very sooth!
No merely formal there prevails o'er fact,
But essence stamps its character on act!
There too the Moral Sense, severely keen,
A very prude, keeps trembling quarantine;
Refuses still, indignantly sublime,
Or shuddering takes her tainted fee from crime!
And there, within should plague-spot chance to steal,
Pure Spurcio sits to fumigate and heal!

B. —Ironic thus your skin you scarce shall save;
For—spite the opinion old Trebatius gave—
Had these, our courts, tried Flaccus, much I doubt
If even his wit had borne him harmless out.

A. —The smoke, the riches and the strifes of Rome
Right glad I quit; come, rural blisses! come.
To sweet retreats, unostentatious bowers,
We wend us now; to fields and farms and flowers!

'God made the country and man made the town,'
Or true or false, so Cowper wrote it down;
And fields, I ween, might boast a purer race,
Ere change of manners grew on change of place,
While yet broad Trent and Cumbrian mountains bold
Were real barriers, guarding habits old.
Then if the goodman, or the goodinan's wife,
Sighed sore to view the far-famed city's strife,
Soon the rough waggon stage and quagmire road
Stirred fond remembrance of the old abode.
E'en when amid the mighty city set,
E'en there they gazed, less wonder than regret;
Till, back returning from the great event,
Their life's one pride, they died—at home—content.

For such dull bliss our age hath too much wit;
Home, now, no resting-place, but place to quit.
In endless change we live; in change we die;
Found scarcely one, of all life's flitters by,
The turf to tenant where his fathers lie.

For ancient village lane, irriguous, deep,
Through moss and wreathing roots that loved to creep;

For church-way paths, through meadows wandering free;
Sweet records of an old civility;
By many a faded generation trod,
Who simply sought their fathers' house of God,
There, where it rose, with old grey tower serene,
From forth the elm-trees on the village green,
Ere town and country yet were clustered thick
With trim new-fangled chapels of red brick;
For these—fork forth new roads, like branching veins,
And strong thro' each the living current strains,
Till every pulse from fevered city's heart
Fires with fierce throb the realm's extremest part.

'When shall I see the country once again?'
Thus sighed the Latian bard his ancient strain;
But we—his sylvan longings should we share—
Must ask not when we shall behold, but where.

For now, as travels on mid wigwamed hills
The civilizing power, that taints or kills,
Along each British valley's sweet approach
Whirls in the city with the whirling coach;

Cigars and waltzes; latest caps; last news
Of Crockford's—Almack's—justice-rooms and stews,
And controversial preachers, and French shoes.
Its vices roused, its roughness ill smoothed down,
Each village now would ape the lordly town;
'Rustic' mere term for what no longer is,
And all the land one vast metropolis.

Thou best companion of the wise and good,
For so the wise have named thee, Solitude!
If wise and good but co-exist with thee,
Like Indian tribes, they soon must cease to be.

For lo! Publicity with searching spell
Hath pierced the shade of every household cell;
The day's gazette her scroll of magic might,
Within—without—she pours unnatural light;
Bids the keen beam thro' cottage, palace—pass,
And shows each tenant as in house of glass,
Till, like sun-loving plants, life's general crew
Lives but in one broad glare of public view.

Scorning all bliss from home-bred duties wrought,
And all just pride of individual thought,

Distorted worth she gives, with twisting lens,
To vulgar show and proudly-base expense.
Scorning no less, so gaping crowds approve,
'That perfect witness of all-judging Jove,'
Which, fallen on evil days, and poor and blind,
Its grand composure breathed o'er Milton's mind,
She stamps, instead, on a theatric age
The false and conscious movements of the stage,
Till, perfect actors grown, men play life's part
To the last scene with calculated art.

Vexed by hypocrisies, or chafed by pride,
'What walls shall guard us, or what shades shall hide?'
Where'er we turn, for ever—ever nigh,
Publicity pursues us as we fly;
At every hour, in each remotest place
Prescribes the phrase, or modifies the face;
Of pettiest hamlet pettiest deed notes down,
And makes the country fastuous as the town.
So now, when rural squires would meet to dine,
The county press must vaunt the vast design;
E'en as when Muckworm his town-feast would blaze,
Himself the paragraph both writes and pays.

And not alone where roaring feast goes round,
Is heard the pride-proclaiming trumpet's sound;
On Charity, scarce charity if told,
It waits, as 'mid the Pharisees of old;
And if gorged wealth, with patronizing air,
Buy some small pasteboard at a Serious Fair;
Or keep his oldest friend, broke down and grey,
Just one degree above mere parish pay,
The ready newsman, on our modest plan,
Makes known to Heaven 'The Charitable Man.'
So left hands learn each action of the right,
And not a bushel now conceals a light.

The Great themselves, who, from their loftier sky,
Might view small glories with disdainful eye,
The very Great themselves—

B. —Nay, spare the Great,
The world will swear, 'tis envy all or hate.

A. —Yet falsely swear. Nor sect's nor party's slave,
Each topic free to choose, or gay or grave;
With equal friends, and peaceful daily bread,
Me envy quits, to fret the Great instead.
Nay, more! Each lingering glory fond to trace,
The Muse hath ever loved an ancient race;

Loved, where she might, to deck with sweetest rhyme
Each precious relic of the olden time,
And snatch and wreathe anew, with greenest bay,
The fading chaplets Age would cast away;
But when, as now, low-stooping to Pretence—

B. —Was Walpole then such perfect innocence?

A. —Yet, if Sir Robert knew each patriot's price,
Pretence, at least, was not his age's vice.
No idle blushes—no grimaces made—
The account was rendered in, and Cato paid.
If guileful they, yet ours the graver guile;
We cheat with vows—they cheated with a smile.

Yes! now—pretences—oaths—have current use
To blanch the apostate's plea—the knave's excuse.
Himself lynx-eyed, this finds a people's mind
Besotted deep, and lends his blaze to blind.
This vows reform; reform full deftly planned
To hinder warmer heart and franker hand.
'To shirk one's party' Gyro damns for sin,
Nor 'rats' from his, as long as they keep in.
Old Syphax cries, 'I hate a party's thrall,'
And, pledged to none, receives his bribes from all.

E'en loftiest natures, with ambition curst,
Hard penalty! to lead must follow first;
And when the rest, at length, the van concede,
Keep the old track, and only just precede;
On useful knavery hold the bridle slack,
And, when seems useful, rein frank honour back;
With falsehood, nay with treachery, oft must mate,
And greatness lose, in striving to be great.
Hence, if, at last, the struggling will thou bend,
And stoop to herd awhile for worthiest end;
Add thy proud venture to their vulgar wares,
Nor scorn to let thy motives mix with theirs;
Yet, in disgust, thou oft shalt quit the band,
To take, like Abdiel, solitary stand;
Or, held impracticable and high-flown,
Left, if not leaving, find thyself alone.

And what for him who leans on others' part,
But disappointed hopes, and sickening heart!

In freedom reared, for treachery deemed too young,
A nation's hopes on high-born Cassius hung.
When stormy senates raised the stern debate,
Of power he seemed to save a sinking state;

And many a bold, confiding heart, I wis,
Had pledged its dearest, holiest hopes to his.
Gods! how we felt, when, strong in honour's might,
For England's fame he rose, for England's right;
Hurled his proud threats, impeachment and disgrace;
Flashed—flamed—then perorated—snug in place!

Greatness is goodness, else not worth a pin;
Mere talent's greatness stirs no chord within,
But, like keen razor plied the surface o'er,
Acts simply on the surface, and no more.

Sick to the core of thin or deep Pretence,
The attack, false-motived, or as false defence;
Of furious partisan, and dirty job,
And bribing candidate, and greedy mob;
Sick of great names, wherewith all Europe rings,
Of peoples sick, and ministers, and kings,
In soul I turn to scenes beloved of yore,
And fret for Greeks and Catholics no more.

Granta! beneath whose mildly-cloistering bowers
Swift years I passed, made up of idlest hours;

Ere yet on hearts, in flowing frankness bold,
Unfeeling Time had fixed his freezing hold;
For still this praise be thine, gone spirit of youth!
Thy very vices had their touch of truth—
Granta! for thee though wreath I never won,
Granta! receive again thy world-tired son;
Pleased, as of old, by thy calm stream to stray,
And where youth smoothly sped, dream age away.

In vain! To college halls, to churchmen's bowers
The feigning spirit pierces and o'erpowers;
Gains on the vulgar thought, nay—finer sense,
Watches his hour, and whispers the pretence.

Rufus, the scape-grace of a public school,
Focus of mischief! scorner of each rule!
Not held quite 'raff,' nor quite without a flaw,
If tried by school-boy honour's nicer law,
To Alma came; as if to show how place
Could work no miracle; at least in grace.
Still his old duns relate his every shift;
Still proctors tell how wary or how swift;

Boon friends—how very prone his clay to wet;
While fellow-freshmen never can forget
His strange good luck, or judgment in a bet;
How oft he cleaned 'em out on Bibury course,
And what a hand he was to sell a horse.

E'en when the bishop's mild ordaining hand
Had stricter rule imposed with gown and band,
Our deacon yet of strictness little smacked,
Nor made he vast pretence to what he lacked.

But when his lot befell to settle down,
A well-paid curate in a thriving town,
Where mammon and devotion, each a pride,
'Twixt prayer and pelf th' ambitious crowd divide,
To his clear interests never quite a dunce,
A change came o'er the outward man at once.
You know him, now, by somewhat straighter hair;
And a strained look of sanctimonious care,
Which, as must seem, no worldly thought distracts;
And a huge quarto pocket, stuffed with tracts;
And sermon sour; and week-day talk austere;
Save when he holds some female follower's ear;

Such gifts to rich preferment needs must come,
Or win a trusting wife—with half a plum.

But these—the coarser clays—the common strain!
On gifted Hiero muse with deeper pain;
Hiero—who poor beneath the tempting stole,
Still proudly kept the freedom of his soul;
Nor on another's mind could grant it good
To screw the fetters which himself eschewed;
Till placed, as chanced, a minister beside,
Those vows he changed, and quelled that barren pride.
The palinodia soon, in graceful sort,
For this he meant it—kisses hands at court;
'A charming candour' all the maids avow,
And the meek mitre veils his blushing brow.

Oh! ruined promise of a brighter hour!
Oh! throb for honour, ill exchanged for power!
So some sweet forest plant, born for the shade,
To richer soil, or sunnier skies conveyed,
Tho' there with stem to worthless stature grown,
Offends with a coarse blossom—not its own.

B. —If these be facts, or only talk severe,
I stand in doubt, and interrupt you here;

Yet frankly own, if half you say be true,
Satire, e'en now, may find enough to do.

A. —When least—then best. In my own doing's spite,
Little love I the Satire which I write.
Harsh drugs, tho' given but to drive ailments out,
Will sometimes in the giver wake a doubt;
And this the Satirist still must take in trust,
E'en those hate him who own his Satire just.

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