My son, whose infant head I now survey,
Guiltless of hair, whilst mine, alas! is grey,—
Whose feeble wailings through my bosom thrill,
And cause my heart to shake my very frill,—
Incline thine ear, quick summon all thy thought,
And take this wisdom which my love has brought:
Perpend these precepts; sift, compare, combine;
And be my brain's results transferr'd to thine.
Soon as thy judgment shall grow ripe and strong,
Learn to distinguish between right and wrong:
Yet ponder with deliberation slow,
Whether thy judgment be yet ripe or no;
For wrong, when look'd at in a different light,
Behold! is oft discovered to be right,
And vice versâ—(such the schoolmen's phrase)—
Right becomes wrong, so devious Reason's maze!
Take only the best authors' mental food,
For too much reading is by no means good;
And, since opinions are not all correct,
Thy books thyself must for thyself select.
Accumulate ideas: yet despise
Reputed wisdom,—folly oft is wise;
And wisdom, if the mass be not kept cool,
Mothers, and is the father of, a fool.
Be virtuous and be happy: good! but, stop,—
They sow the seed who never reap the crop;
For virtue oft, which men so much exact,
Like ancient china, is more precious crack'd;
And happiness, forsooth, not over-nice,
Sometimes enjoys a pot and pipe with vice.
Get rich; 'tis well for mind and body's health:
But never, never be the slave of wealth.
The gain of riches is the spirit's loss;
And, oh! my son, remember gold is dross.
Be honest,—not as fools or bigots rave;
Your honest man is often half a knave.
Let Justice guide you; but still bear in mind
The goddess may mislead,—for she is blind.
Hygeia's dictates let me now declare,
For health must be your most especial care.
Rise early, but beware the matin chill;
'Tis fresh, but fatal,—healthy, but may kill:
Nor leave thy couch, nor break the bonds of sleep,
Till morning's beams from out the ocean leap;
Lest, crawling, groping, stumbling on the stair,
Your head descend, your heels aspire in air;
As down the flight your body swiftly steals,
Useless to know your head has sav'd your heels,
Prone on your face with dislocated neck,
You find that slumber which you sought to check.
Early to bed, but not till nature call.
Be moderate at meals, nor drink at all,
Save when with friends you toast the faithful lass,
And raise the sparkling, oft-repeated glass;
Then, graver cares and worthless scruples sunk,
Drink with the best, my son,—but ne'er get drunk.
Bathe in cold water: cautious, and yet bold,
Dive,—but the water must not be too cold:
And still take care lest, as you gaily swim,
Cramp should distort and dislocate each limb.
When such the case, howe'er thy fancy urge,
Postpone the bracing pastime, and emerge.
Dangers on land as well as water teem,
But now the bank is safer than the stream.
Say you should chance be ill (for, after all,
Men are but men on this terrestrial ball);
Should sickness with her frightful train invade,
Lose not a moment, but apply for aid.—
Yet fancy oft, imagined symptoms sees,
And nervous megrim simulates disease.—
Lo! at our call—the cry of coward fear—
A chemist and a cane-sucker appear:
The one, tough roots from earth's intestines dug,
Pounds with strong arm, dissolves the nauseous drug;
The other, gazing with a portentous air,
Surveys the foolish tongue that call'd him there;
To dulcet tones that breath deceptive calm,
Your cash expires in his diurnal palm,
And, sick of physic you were forced to swill,
Long-labell'd phials indicate the bill.
As learning's bridge progresses arch by arch,
So men, by gradual intellectual march,
From savages to citizens advance.—
Then gentlemen are taught to fence and dance;
Whilst gay professors, with imposing show,
Present the violin, and hand the bow.
Dance gracefully, and move with perfect ease,
Nor bend, nor keep inflexible, the knees;
Crawl not, nor with your head the ceiling touch—
That were to move too little; this too much.
When first to Music's study you would come,
In, and like charity, begin at home:
For links of harmony you weave in vain,
Whene'er you outrage ears you should enchain.
Some have I known, with their vile sharps and flats,
Whose fatal cat-gut wrought the death of cats;
Yea, a swift doom the very strings provide,
Their disembowell'd feline sires supplied!
Fencing's a noble exercise; but thence
Flow dangers, may be told without offence.
Still scrutinize, at your gymnastic toil,
The button of your adversary's foil,
Lest you strike off, at active carte and tierce,
That useful stay to tools which else will pierce;
And all too late you feel, consign'd to Styx,
Your life not worth the button you unfix.
Swift let me call you to the sylvan grove,
Where nightingales and blackbirds sing of love.
Should love assail you, as it will, no doubt,
Nor rudely fan the flame, nor blow it out:
Sometimes, when smother'd, it the stronger grows;
And sometimes, when you stir it, out it goes.
Close in your breast a heart for beauty keep,
Yet ne'er imagine beauty but skin-deep:
Beauty is oft—a fact we must deplore—
As deep as Garrick, and a great deal more.
Let not your choice too short or tall appear,
No hole her mouth, or slit from ear to ear;
And, though 'tis well in daily life to greet
The man who struggles to make both ends meet,
Yet sure the task can no great triumph win,
Accomplish'd by a lady's nose and chin.
Yet I, perchance, my pen and paper waste;
These the exactions of an erring taste.
But let your wife be modest, and yet free;
Coy, but not bashful; active as the bee;
And yet unlike that bee of busy wing,
That "proffers honey, and yet bears a sting;"
Not sad, but thoughtful; pensive, but not glum;
Grave without gloom; and silent, but not dumb;
Merry when mirth's in season, and yet sad
When nought akin to pleasure's to be had.
In all that you possess still let her share,
Yet wear no vestments you yourself should wear.
And for yourself,—since now must I conclude,—
Be courteous, yet close; and plain, not rude;
Open, but strict; and though reserv'd, yet frank;
Treat all alike, yet pay respect to rank;
Be dubious, e'en when reason would entice,
And ne'er take unsolicited advice.
So may my precepts sink into thy mind,
And make the wisdom which thou canst not find;
Until at length, so vast thy mental height,
The world, beholding thee, shall take a sight;
And men, in want of words to set thee higher,
Shall with one voice cry "Walker!" and retire.