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He hath made every thing beautiful in his time; also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. Verse 11.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow. Chapter i. verse 18.
And further by these, my Son, be admonished ; of making many books there is no end ; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Chapter xii. verse 12.
Solomon seeking happiness from knowledge, convenes the learned men of his kingdom; requires them to explain to him the various operations and effects of nature ; discourses of vegetables, animals, and man: proposes some questions concerning the origin, and situation of the habitable earth; proceeds to examine the system of the visible heaven ; doubts if there may not be a plurality of worlds; inquires into the nature of spirits and angels: and wishes to be more fully informed, as to the attributes of the Supreme Being. He is imperfectly answered by the Rabbins and doctors; blames his own curiosity; and concludes, that, as to human science, all is vanity.
YE sons of men, with just regard attend,
Observe the preacher, and believe the friend,
Whose serious Muse inspires him to explain,
That all we act, and all we think is vain.
That in this pilgrimage of seventy years,
Over rocks of perils, and through vales of tears,
Destin’d to march, our doubtful steps we tend.
Tir'd with the toil, yet fearful of its end.
That from the womb we take our fatal shares
Of follies, passions, labours, tumults, cares:
And at approach of death shall only know
The truths, which from these pensive numbers
That we pursue false joy, and suffer real woe.
Happiness, object of that waking dream,
Which we call life, mistaking; fugitive theme
Of my pursuing verse, ideal shade,
Notional good, by fancy only made,
And by tradition nurs'd, fallacious fire,
Whose dancing beams mislead our fond desire,
Cause of our care, and error of our mind:
Oh! hadst thou ever been by Heaven design'd
To Adam, and his mortal race, the boon
Entire had been reserv'd for Solomon:
On me the partial lot had been bestow'd,
And in my cup the golden draught had flow’d.
But O !ere yet original man was made,
Ere the foundations of this earth were laid,
It was opponent to our search, ordain'd,
That joy, still sought, should never be attain'd.
This sad experience cites me to reveal,
And what I dictate, is from what I feel.
Born as I was, great David's favourite son,
Dear to my people, on the Hebrew throne;
Sublime my court with Ophir's treasures blest,
My name extended to the farthest east,
My body cloth'd with every outward grace,
Strength in my limbs, and beauty in my face,
My shining thought with fruitful notions crown'd,
Quick my invention, and my judgment sound.
Arise (I commun'd with myself) arise;
Think, to be happy; to be great, be wise ;
Content of spirit must from science flow,
For ’tis a godlike attribute to know.
I said; and sent my edict through the land;
Around my throne the letter'd Rabbins stand,
Historic leaves revolve, long volumes spread,
The old discoursing, as the younger read :
Attent I heard, propos'd my doubts, and said:
The vegetable world, each plant and tree,
Its seed, its name, its nature, its degree
I am allow'd, as Fame reports, to know,
From the fair cedar on the craggy brow
Of Lebanon, nodding supremely tall,
To creeping moss, and hyssop on the wall;
Yet, just and conscious to myself, I find
A thousand doubts oppose the searching mind.
I know not why the beech delights the glade
With boughs extended, and a rounder shade:
Whilst towering firs in conic forms arise,
And with a pointed spear divide the skies:
Nor why again the changing oak should shed
The yearly honour of his stately head :
Whilst the distinguish’d yew is ever seen,
Unchang'd his branch, and permanent his green.
Wanting the sun, why does the caltha fade *
Why does the cyprus flourish in the shade?
The fig and date, why love they to remain
In middle station, and an even plain ;
While in the lower marsh the gourd is found;
And while the hill with olive-shade is crown'd?
Why does one climate, and one soil endue
The blushing poppy with a crimson hue ;
Yet leave the lily pale, and tinge the violet blue?
Why does the fond carnation love to shoot
A various colour from one parent root ?
While the fantastic tulip strives to break
In twofold beauty, and a parted streak 2
The twining jasmine, and the blushing rose,
With lavish grace their morning scents disclose :
The smelling tub’rose and jonquil declare,
The stronger impulse of an evening air.
Whence has the tree (resolve me) or the flower
A various instinct, or a different power?
Why should one earth, one clime, one stream, one
Raise this to strength, and sicken that to death 2
Whence does it happen, that the plant which well
We name the sensitive, should move and feel?
Whence know her leaves to answer her command,
And with quick horror fly the neighbouring hand 2
Along the sunny bank, or watery mead,
Ten thousand stalks their various blossoms spread:
Peaceful and lowly in their native soil,
They neither know to spin, nor care to toil;
Yet with confess'd magnificence deride
Our vile attire, and impotence of pride.
The cowslip smiles, in brighter yellow dress'd,
Than that which veils the nubile virgin's breast:
A fairer red stands blushing in the rose, [flows.
Than that which on the bridegroom's vestment
Take but the humblest lily of the field :
And if our pride will to our reason yield,
It must by sure comparison be shown
That on the regal seat great David's son,
Array'd in all his robes, and types of power,
Shines with less glory, than that simple flower.
Of fishes next, my friends, I would inquire,
How the mute race engender, or respire;
From the small fry that glide on Jordan's stream
Unmark'd, a multitude without a name,
To that Leviathan, who o'er the seas
Immense rolls onward his impetuous ways,
And mocks the wind, and in the tempest plays.
How they in warlike bands march greatly forth
From freezing waters, and the colder north,
To southern climes directing their career,
Their station changing with th' inverted year.
How all with careful knowledge are endued,
To choose their proper bed, and wave, and food :
To guard their spawn, and educate their brood.
Of birds, how each according to her kind
Proper materials for her nest can find,
And build a frame, which deepest thought in man
Would or amend, or imitate in vain.
How in small flights they know to try their young,
And teach the callow child her parent's song.
VOI. II. 7