Samuel Johnson

Here you will find the Long Poem The Vanity of Human Wishes (excerpts) of poet Samuel Johnson

The Vanity of Human Wishes (excerpts)

1 Let observation with extensive view, 
2 Survey mankind, from China to Peru;
3 Remark each anxious toil, each eager strife,
4 And watch the busy scenes of crowded life;
5 Then say how hope and fear, desire and hate,
6 O'erspread with snares the clouded maze of fate,
7 Where wav'ring man, betray'd by vent'rous pride
8 To tread the dreary paths without a guide,
9 As treach'rous phantoms in the mist delude,
10 Shuns fancied ills, or chases airy good.
11 How rarely reason guides the stubborn choice,
12 Rules the bold hand, or prompts the suppliant voice,
13 How nations sink, by darling schemes oppress'd,
14 When vengeance listens to the fool's request.
15 Fate wings with ev'ry wish th' afflictive dart,
16 Each gift of nature, and each grace of art,
17 With fatal heat impetuous courage glows,
18 With fatal sweetness elocution flows,
19 Impeachment stops the speaker's pow'rful breath,
20 And restless fire precipitates on death.

21 But scarce observ'd the knowing and the bold,
22 Fall in the gen'ral massacre of gold;
23 Wide-wasting pest! that rages unconfin'd,
24 And crowds with crimes the records of mankind,
25 For gold his sword the hireling ruffian draws,
26 For gold the hireling judge distorts the laws;
27 Wealth heap'd on wealth, nor truth nor safety buys,
28 The dangers gather as the treasures rise.

29 Let hist'ry tell where rival kings command,
30 And dubious title shakes the madded land,
31 When statutes glean the refuse of the sword,
32 How much more safe the vassal than the lord,
33 Low sculks the hind beneath the rage of pow'r,
34 And leaves the wealthy traitor in the Tow'r,
35 Untouch'd his cottage, and his slumbers sound,
36 Tho' confiscation's vultures hover round.

37 The needy traveller, serene and gay,
38 Walks the wild heath, and sings his toil away.
39 Does envy seize thee? crush th' upbraiding joy,
40 Increase his riches and his peace destroy,
41 New fears in dire vicissitude invade,
42 The rustling brake alarms, and quiv'ring shade,
43 Nor light nor darkness bring his pain relief.
44 One shews the plunder, and one hides the thief.

45 Yet still one gen'ral cry the skies assails,
46 And gain and grandeur load the tainted gales,
47 Few know the toiling statesman's fear or care,
48 Th' insidious rival and the gaping heir.

49 Once more, Democritus, arise on earth,
50 With cheerful wisdom and instructive mirth,
51 See motley life in modern trappings dress'd,
52 And feed with varied fools th' eternal jest:
53 Thou who couldst laugh where want enchain'd caprice,
54 Toil crush'd conceit, and man was of a piece;
55 Where wealth unlov'd without a mourner died;
56 And scarce a sycophant was fed by pride;
57 Where ne'er was known the form of mock debate,
58 Or seen a new-made mayor's unwieldy state;
59 Where change of fav'rites made no change of laws,
60 And senates heard before they judg'd a cause;
61 How wouldst thou shake at Britain's modish tribe,
62 Dart the quick taunt, and edge the piercing gibe?
63 Attentive truth and nature to decry,
64 And pierce each scene with philosophic eye.
65 To thee were solemn toys or empty show,
66 The robes of pleasure and the veils of woe:
67 All aid the farce, and all thy mirth maintain,
68 Whose joys are causeless, or whose griefs are vain.

69 Such was the scorn that fill'd the sage's mind,
70 Renew'd at ev'ry glance on humankind;
71 How just that scorn ere yet thy voice declare,
72 Search every state, and canvas ev'ry pray'r.

73 Unnumber'd suppliants crowd Preferment's gate,
74 Athirst for wealth, and burning to be great;
75 Delusive Fortune hears th' incessant call,
76 They mount, they shine, evaporate, and fall.
77 On ev'ry stage the foes of peace attend,
78 Hate dogs their flight, and insult mocks their end.
79 Love ends with hope, the sinking statesman's door
80 Pours in the morning worshiper no more;
81 For growing names the weekly scribbler lies,
82 To growing wealth the dedicator flies,
83 From every room descends the painted face,
84 That hung the bright Palladium of the place,
85 And smok'd in kitchens, or in auctions sold,
86 To better features yields the frame of gold;
87 For now no more we trace in ev'ry line
88 Heroic worth, benevolence divine:
89 The form distorted justifies the fall,
90 And detestation rids th' indignant wall.


133 When first the college rolls receive his name,
134 The young enthusiast quits his ease for fame;
135 Through all his veins the fever of renown
136 Spreads from the strong contagion of the gown;
137 O'er Bodley's dome his future labours spread,
138 And Bacon's mansion trembles o'er his head.
139 Are these thy views? proceed, illustrious youth,
140 And virtue guard thee to the throne of Truth!