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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 Vanity of Human Wishes’

By Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)

LET observation, with extensive view,

Survey mankind, from China to Peru;

Remark each anxious toil, each eager strife,

And watch the busy scenes of crowded life;

Then say how hope and fear, desire and hate,

O’erspread with snares the clouded maze of fate,

Where wavering man, betrayed by venturous pride

To tread the dreary paths without a guide,

As treacherous phantoms in the mist delude,

Shuns fancied ills, or chases airy good;

How rarely reason guides the stubborn choice,

Rules the bold hand, or prompts the suppliant voice;

How nations sink, by darling schemes oppressed,

When vengeance listens to the fool’s request.

Fate wings with every wish the afflictive dart,

Each gift of nature, and each grace of art;

With fatal heat impetuous courage glows,

With fatal sweetness elocution flows,

Impeachment stops the speaker’s powerful breath,

And restless fire precipitates on death….

Let history tell where rival kings command,

And dubious title shakes the maddened land,

When statutes glean the refuse of the sword,

How much more safe the vassal than the lord!

Low skulks the hind beneath the rage of power,

And leaves the wealthy traitor in the tower;

Untouched his cottage, and his slumbers sound,

Though confiscation’s vultures hover round….

On what foundation stands the warrior’s pride,

How just his hopes, let Swedish Charles decide:

A frame of adamant, a soul of fire,

No dangers fright him, and no labors tire;

O’er love, o’er fear, extends his wide domain,

Unconquered lord of pleasure and of pain.

No joys to him pacific sceptres yield,—

War sounds the trump, he rushes to the field;

Behold surrounding kings their powers combine,

And one capitulate, and one resign;

Peace courts his hand, but spreads her charms in vain:

“Think nothing gained,” he cries, “till naught remain,

On Moscow’s walls till Gothic standards fly,

And all be mine beneath the polar sky.”

The march begins in military state,

And nations on his eye suspended wait;

Stern famine guards the solitary coast,

And winter barricades the realms of frost.

He comes,—nor want nor cold his course delay:

Hide, blushing glory, hide Pultowa’s day!

The vanquished hero leaves his broken bands,

And shows his miseries in distant lands;

Condemned a needy supplicant to wait,

While ladies interpose, and slaves debate.

But did not chance at length her error mend?

Did no subverted empire mark his end?

Did rival monarchs give the fatal wound,

Or hostile millions press him to the ground?—

His fall was destined to a barren strand,

A petty fortress, and a dubious hand;

He left the name at which the world grew pale

To point a moral, or adorn a tale….

Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,

Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?

Must no dislike alarm, no wishes rise,

No cries invoke the mercies of the skies?

Inquirer, cease: petitions yet remain,

Which Heaven may hear; nor deem religion vain.

Still raise for good the supplicating voice,

But leave to Heaven the measure and the choice.

Safe in His power, whose eyes discern afar

The secret ambush of a specious prayer,

Implore his aid, in his decisions rest,—

Secure, whate’er he gives, he gives the best.

Yet when the sense of sacred presence fires,

And strong devotion to the skies aspires,

Pour forth thy fervors for a healthful mind,

Obedient passions, and a will resigned:

For love, which scarce collective man can fill;

For patience, sovereign o’er transmuted ill;

For faith, that, panting for a happier seat,

Counts death kind nature’s signal of retreat:

These goods for man the laws of Heaven ordain,

These goods He grants who grants the power to gain;

With these celestial wisdom calms the mind,

And makes the happiness she does not find.