Proverbial Philosophy.

Charles Stuart Calverley.

Art thou beautiful, O my daughter, as the budding rose of April?
Are all thy motions music, and is poetry throned in thine eye?
Then hearken unto me; and I will make the bud a fair flower,
I will plant it upon the bank of Elegance, and water it with the water of Cologne;
And in the season it shall ‘come out,’ yea bloom, the pride of the parterre;
Ladies shall marvel at its beauty, and a Lord shall pluck it at the last.
Study first Propriety: for she is indeed the Polestar
Which shall guide the artless maiden through the mazes of Vanity Fair;
Nay, she is the golden chain which holdeth together Society;
The lamp by whose light young Psyche shall approach unblamed her Eros.
Verily Truth is as Eve, which was ashamed being naked;
Wherefore doth Propriety dress her with the fair foliage of artifice:
And when she is drest, behold! she knoweth not herself again.
I walked in the Forest; and above me stood the yew,
Stood like a slumbering giant, shrouded in impenetrable shade;
Then I pass’d into the citizen’s garden, and marked a tree clipt into shape,
(The giant’s locks had been shorn by the Dalilah-shears of Decorum;)
And I said, ‘Surely nature is goodly; but how much goodlier is Art!’
I heard the wild notes of the lark floating far over the blue sky,
And my foolish heart went after him, and, lo! I blessed him as he rose;
Foolish! for far better is the trained boudoir bullfinch,
Which pipeth the semblance of a tune, and mechanically draweth up water:
And the reinless steed of the desert, though his neck be clothed with thunder,
Must yield to him that danceth and ‘moveth in the circles’ at Astley’s.
For verily, O my daughter, the world is a masquerade,
And God made thee one thing, that thou mightest make thyself another:
A maiden’s heart is as champagne, ever aspiring and struggling upwards,
And it needed that its motions be checked by the silvered cork of Propriety:
He that can afford the price, his be the precious treasure,
Let him drink deeply of its sweetness, nor grumble if it tasteth of the cork.
Choose judiciously thy friends; for to discard them is undesirable,
Yet it is better to drop thy friends, O my daughter, than to drop thy ‘H’s.’
Dost thou know a wise woman? yea, wiser than the children of light?
Hath she a position? and a title? and are her parties in the Morning Post?
If thou dost, cleave unto her, and give up unto her thy body and mind;
Think with her ideas, and distribute thy smiles at her bidding:
So shalt thou become like unto her; and thy manners shall be ‘formed,’
And thy name shall be a Sesame, at which the doors of the great shall fly open:
Thou shalt know every Peer, his arms, and the date of his creation,
His pedigree and their intermarriages, and cousins to the sixth remove:
Thou shalt kiss the hand of Royalty, and lo! in next morning’s papers,
Side by side with rumours of wars, and stories of shipwrecks and sieges,
Shall appear thy name, and the minutiæ of thy head-dress and petticoat,
For an enraptured public to muse upon over their matutinal muffin.
Read not Milton, for he is dry; nor Shakespeare, for he wrote of common life:
Nor Scott, for his romances, though fascinating, are yet intelligible:
Nor Thackeray, for he is a Hogarth, a photographer who flattereth not:
Nor Kingsley, for he shall teach thee that thou shouldest not dream, but do.
Read incessantly thy Burke; that Burke who, nobler than he of old,
Treateth of the Peer and Peeress, the truly Sublime and Beautiful:
Likewise study the ‘creations’ of ‘the Prince of modern Romance’;
Sigh over Leonard the Martyr, and smile on Pelham the puppy:
Learn how ‘love is the dram-drinking of existence’;
And how we invoke, in the Gadara of our still closets,
The beautiful ghost of the Ideal, with the simple wand of the pen.’
Listen how Maltravers and the orphan ‘forgot all but love,’
And how Devereux’s family chaplain ‘made and unmade kings’:
How Eugene Aram, though a thief, a liar, and a murderer,
Yet, being intellectual, was amongst the noblest of mankind.
So shalt thou live in a world peopled with heroes and master-spirits;
And if thou canst not realize the Ideal, thou shalt at least idealize the Real.