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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From the Epistle to Curio

By Mark Akenside (1721–1770)

  • [With this earlier and finer form of Akenside’s address to the unstable Pulteney must not be confused its later embodiment among his odes; of which it is ‘IX: to Curio.’ Much of its thought and diction were transferred to the Ode named; but the latter by no means happily compares with the original ‘Epistle.’ Both versions, however, are of the same year, 1744.]

  • THRICE has the spring beheld thy faded fame,

    And the fourth winter rises on thy shame,

    Since I exulting grasped the votive shell,

    In sounds of triumph all thy praise to tell;

    Blest could my skill through ages make thee shine,

    And proud to mix my memory with thine.

    But now the cause that waked my song before,

    With praise, with triumph, crowns the toil no more.

    If to the glorious man whose faithful cares,

    Nor quelled by malice, nor relaxed by years,

    Had awed Ambition’s wild audacious hate,

    And dragged at length Corruption to her fate;

    If every tongue its large applauses owed,

    And well-earned laurels every muse bestowed;

    If public Justice urged the high reward,

    And Freedom smiled on the devoted bard:

    Say then,—to him whose levity or lust

    Laid all a people’s generous hopes in dust,

    Who taught Ambition firmer heights of power

    And saved Corruption at her hopeless hour,

    Does not each tongue its execrations owe?

    Shall not each Muse a wreath of shame bestow?

    And public Justice sanctify the award?

    And Freedom’s hand protect the impartial bard?


    There are who say they viewed without amaze

    The sad reverse of all thy former praise;

    That through the pageants of a patriot’s name,

    They pierced the foulness of thy secret aim;

    Or deemed thy arm exalted but to throw

    The public thunder on a private foe.

    But I, whose soul consented to thy cause,

    Who felt thy genius stamp its own applause,

    Who saw the spirits of each glorious age

    Move in thy bosom, and direct thy rage,—

    I scorned the ungenerous gloss of slavish minds,

    The owl-eyed race, whom Virtue’s lustre blinds.

    Spite of the learned in the ways of vice,

    And all who prove that each man has his price,

    I still believed thy end was just and free;

    And yet, even yet believe it—spite of thee.

    Even though thy mouth impure has dared disclaim,

    Urged by the wretched impotence of shame,

    Whatever filial cares thy zeal had paid

    To laws infirm, and liberty decayed;

    Has begged Ambition to forgive the show;

    Has told Corruption thou wert ne’er her foe;

    Has boasted in thy country’s awful ear,

    Her gross delusion when she held thee dear;

    How tame she followed thy tempestuous call,

    And heard thy pompous tales, and trusted all—

    Rise from your sad abodes, ye curst of old

    For laws subverted, and for cities sold!

    Paint all the noblest trophies of your guilt,

    The oaths you perjured, and the blood you spilt;

    Yet must you one untempted vileness own,

    One dreadful palm reserved for him alone:

    With studied arts his country’s praise to spurn,

    To beg the infamy he did not earn,

    To challenge hate when honor was his due,

    And plead his crimes where all his virtue knew.


    When they who, loud for liberty and laws,

    In doubtful times had fought their country’s cause,

    When now of conquest and dominion sure,

    They sought alone to hold their fruit secure;

    When taught by these, Oppression hid the face,

    To leave Corruption stronger in her place,

    By silent spells to work the public fate,

    And taint the vitals of the passive state,

    Till healing Wisdom should avail no more,

    And Freedom loath to tread the poisoned shore:

    Then, like some guardian god that flies to save

    The weary pilgrim from an instant grave,

    Whom, sleeping and secure, the guileful snake

    Steals near and nearer thro’ the peaceful brake,—

    Then Curio rose to ward the public woe,

    To wake the heedless and incite the slow,

    Against Corruption Liberty to arm,

    And quell the enchantress by a mightier charm.


    Lo! the deciding hour at last appears;

    The hour of every freeman’s hopes and fears!


    See Freedom mounting her eternal throne,

    The sword submitted, and the laws her own!

    See! public Power, chastised, beneath her stands,

    With eyes intent, and uncorrupted hands!

    See private life by wisest arts reclaimed!

    See ardent youth to noblest manners framed!

    See us acquire whate’er was sought by you,

    If Curio, only Curio will be true.

    ’Twas then—O shame! O trust how ill repaid!

    O Latium, oft by faithless sons betrayed!—

    ’Twas then—What frenzy on thy reason stole?

    What spells unsinewed thy determined soul?—

    Is this the man in Freedom’s cause approved?

    The man so great, so honored, so beloved?

    This patient slave by tinsel chains allured?

    This wretched suitor for a boon abjured?

    This Curio, hated and despised by all?

    Who fell himself to work his country’s fall?

    O lost, alike to action and repose!

    Unknown, unpitied in the worst of woes!

    With all that conscious, undissembled pride,

    Sold to the insults of a foe defied!

    With all that habit of familiar fame,

    Doomed to exhaust the dregs of life in shame!

    The sole sad refuge of thy baffled art

    To act a stateman’s dull, exploded part,

    Renounce the praise no longer in thy power,

    Display thy virtue, though without a dower,

    Contemn the giddy crowd, the vulgar wind,

    And shut thy eyes that others may be blind.


    O long revered, and late resigned to shame!

    If this uncourtly page thy notice claim

    When the loud cares of business are withdrawn,

    Nor well-drest beggars round thy footsteps fawn;

    In that still, thoughtful, solitary hour,

    When Truth exerts her unresisted power,

    Breaks the false optics tinged with fortune’s glare,

    Unlocks the breast, and lays the passions bare:

    Then turn thy eyes on that important scene,

    And ask thyself—if all be well within.

    Where is the heart-felt worth and weight of soul,

    Which labor could not stop, nor fear control?

    Where the known dignity, the stamp of awe,

    Which, half abashed, the proud and venal saw?

    Where the calm triumphs of an honest cause?

    Where the delightful taste of just applause?

    Where the strong reason, the commanding tongue,

    On which the Senate fired or trembling hung!

    All vanished, all are sold—and in their room,

    Couched in thy bosom’s deep, distracted gloom,

    See the pale form of barbarous Grandeur dwell,

    Like some grim idol in a sorcerer’s cell!

    To her in chains thy dignity was led;

    At her polluted shrine thy honour bled;

    With blasted weeds thy awful brow she crowned,

    Thy powerful tongue with poisoned philters bound,

    That baffled Reason straight indignant flew,

    And fair Persuasion from her seat withdrew:

    For now no longer Truth supports thy cause;

    No longer Glory prompts thee to applause;

    No longer Virtue breathing in thy breast,

    With all her conscious majesty confest,

    Still bright and brighter wakes the almighty flame,

    To rouse the feeble, and the willful tame,

    And where she sees the catching glimpses roll,

    Spreads the strong blaze, and all involves the soul;

    But cold restraints thy conscious fancy chill,

    And formal passions mock thy struggling will;

    Or, if thy Genius e’er forget his chain,

    And reach impatient at a nobler strain,

    Soon the sad bodings of contemptuous mirth

    Shoot through thy breast, and stab the generous birth,

    Till, blind with smart, from truth to frenzy tost,

    And all the tenor of thy reason lost,

    Perhaps thy anguish drains a real tear;

    While some with pity, some with laughter hear.


    Ye mighty foes of liberty and rest,

    Give way, do homage to a mightier guest!

    Ye daring spirits of the Roman race,

    See Curio’s toil your proudest claims efface!—

    Awed at the name, fierce Appius rising bends,

    And hardy Cinna from his throne attends:

    “He comes,” they cry, “to whom the fates assigned

    With surer arts to work what we designed,

    From year to year the stubborn herd to sway,

    Mouth all their wrongs, and all their rage obey;

    Till owned their guide and trusted with their power,

    He mocked their hopes in one decisive hour;

    Then, tired and yielding, led them to the chain,

    And quenched the spirit we provoked in vain.”

    But thou, Supreme, by whose eternal hands

    Fair Liberty’s heroic empire stands;

    Whose thunders the rebellious deep control,

    And quell the triumphs of the traitor’s soul,

    O turn this dreadful omen far away!

    On Freedom’s foes their own attempts repay;

    Relume her sacred fire so near suppressed,

    And fix her shrine in every Roman breast:

    Though bold corruption boast around the land,

    “Let virtue, if she can, my baits withstand!”

    Though bolder now she urge the accursed claim,

    Gay with her trophies raised on Curio’s shame;

    Yet some there are who scorn her impious mirth,

    Who know what conscience and a heart are worth.