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am speaking of the verse itself, I give all just praise to many of my friends now living, who have in epic carried the harmony of their numbers as far as the nature of this measure will permit. But once more: he that writes in rhymes, dances in fetters: and as his chain is more extended, he may certainly take larger steps.
I need make no apology for the short digressive panegyric upon Great Britain, in the first book. I am glad to have it observed, that there appears throughout all my verses a zeal for the honour of my country; and I had rather be thought a good Englishman, than the best poet, or greatest scholar that ever wrote.
And now as to the publishing of this piece, though I have in a literal sense observed Horace's Nonum prematur in Annum, yet have I by no means obeyed our poetical lawgiver, according to the spirit of the precept. The poem has indeed been written and laid aside much longer than the term prescribed; but in the meantime I had little leisure, and less inclination to revise or print it. The frequent interruptions I have met with in my private studies, and the great variety of public life in which I have been employed; my thoughts (such as they are) having generally been expressed in foreign language, and even formed by a habitude very different from what the beauty and elegance of English poetry requires: all these, and some other circumstances which we had as good pass by at present, do justly contribute to make my excuse in this behalf very plausible. Far indeed from designing to print, I had locked up these papers in my seritoire, there to lie in peace till my executors might have taken them out. What altered this design, or how my scritoire came to be unlocked before my coffin was nailed, is the question. The true reason I take to be the best. Many of my friends of the first quality, finest learning, and greatest understanding, have wrested the key from my hands by a very kind and irresistible violence: and the poem is published, not without my consent indeed, but a little against my opinion; and with an implicit submission to the partiality of their judgment. As I give up here the fruits of many of my vacant hours to their amusement and pleasure, I shall always think myself happy, if I may dedicate my most serious endeavours to their interest and service. And I am proud to finish this preface by saying, that the violence of many enemies, whom I never justly offended, is abundantly recompensed by the goodness of more friends, whom I can never sufficiently oblige. And if I here assume the liberty of mentioning my Lord Harley and Lord Bathurst as the authors of this amicable confederacy, among all those whose names do me great honour at the beginning of my book," these two only ought to be angry with me; for I disobey their positive order, whilst I make even this small acknowledgment of their particular kindness.
TEXTS CHIEFLY ALLUDED TO IN THIS BOOK. THE words of the Preacher, the son of David, king of Jerusalem. Ecclesiastes, chapter i. verse 1. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Werse 2. 1 As subscribers to the edition in folio, 1718.
I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. Verse 16.
He spake of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. 1 Kings, chapter iv. verse 33.
I know, that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. Ecclesiastes, chapter iii. verse 14.
He hath made everything 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.
BOOK THE FIRST.
THE ARG UMENT.
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 be not a plurality of worlds; enquires 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,
That from the womb we take our fatal shares 9
Content of spirit must from science flow, 42
While the fantastic tulip strives to break 76