ADDRESS TO MADAME DE LA SABLIÈRE.
Iris, a hundred times you have declined
My praise, or here you should its intense find.
To write it were not difficult, but you,
Unlike the rest, care not for praises new ;
The rest love to be soothed by sound so sweet;
I blame them not, to me 'tis very meet
And right. Gods, kings, and ladies fair
Enjoy it. 'Tis the drink the bards hold rare.
The nectar of the Thunderer we employ,
To intoxicate the gods of earth with joy,
Is praise. You will not taste it, you prefer
The witty talk, where Fortune's hand may stir
A hundred themes, where trifles enter in.
But this the world believes not ; not a pin
Then care we for the world ; science and art,
Trifles, chimeras, all should bear their part
In conversation. 'Tis a garden ground
Where Flora spreads her varied charms around ;
The bee reposes here and there, whose power
Turns into honey dew from every flower.
And thus it is, and take it not amiss
I mix with trifling fables, such as this,
A subtle bold philosophy
Which men call something new, and I
Know not if you have heard it, but they say
A beast's a more machine which acts by springs,
With no more soul or will than lifeless things,
Like watches going blindly on their way.
Ope them, and see within their breast
The place of wit by wheels possest ;
One moves a second, that alike
A third, and then we hear them strike.
And now the beast, as sages say,
Is moved precisely in this way.
'Tis stricken here, a neighbouring spot
Receives the shock, till to the lot
Of sense it comes at last ;
And then the impression's fast.
But how ? Why, by necessity, they say.
Passionless, will-less, without yea or nay,
The brute feels sorrow, joy, love, pleasure, pain,
Or what the crowd calls such, for 'tis in vain
To think it feels, a watch made with a spring.
And what are we ? Oh quite a different thing.
Descartes, a man of whom the pagan race
Had made a god, who holds the middle place
'Twixt man and spirit, as a donkey can
Hold his place 'twixt an oyster and a man-
Descartes says I alone can think
Of all God's children, and I know
I think ; the rest, so far below
Myself, possess of thought no link.
Some say they think and can't reflect, but I
In them this thought deny.
This, Iris, you believe like me quite sound,
Yet when across the woods the noise of horn
And voice pursues the stag who fast is borne
Through tracks which he would oft in vain confound,
When he so full of years, a stag of ten,
Puts up a younger stag fresh prey, why then
He seems to reason to preserve his life ;
His turns, his tricks, his changes, and his strife,
Each a great chief and better fate befits,
Yet his last honour's to be torn to bits.
So when the partridge with a mother's care
Spies danger for her brood which cannot fly,
She draws the dog with counterfaisance rare
Of broken wing far from her progeny ;
Then when the sportsman thinks he's reached his prey,
Rises in air and smiles, and says, " Good-day."
Far in the north, by icy waters bound,
There lives a race in ignorance profound,
A race of men-the beasts indeed
Are not such fools, for they bridge o'er
The torrent wide from shore to shore
With bridge of wood and mortar in their need.
A strong sound work each beaver helps to form ;
Both young and old attend the common task ;
The master beaver, whom the rest must ask
In doubt, is there, and bears a staff enorm.
Plato's republic was the apprentice sure
Of this amphibious family; they know
To build them houses though the winters snow,
And to form bridges, while men put in ure
Their hands and feet to swim across the flood.
Well, after this it seems somewhat too good
To say the beavers have no sense at all !
But here's another proof; a glorious king,
Defender of the North, told me the thing,
Which now for your instruction I recall.
That king beloved of victory, whose name
Is to the Turkish empire like a wall,
The Poles call Sobieski-can there fall
A lie from royal mouth ? The thought is shame.
" Two kinds of beasts upon my frontiers live,"
Said he, " who in hereditary feud
Fight like our generals with skill endued ;
Nay, with more skill Chan man's poor sense can give.
These funny animals, who are like foxes,
Have spies and watches, forts and sentry-boxes,
Skirmish with guard advanced, and well are versed
In all the matters of that art accursed,
Mother of Heroes, daughter of the Styx.
To chant their many military tricks,
Hell must restore us Homer, while about it
Let Descartes loose too, who would surely doubt it-
I mean my story : he of course would say
All this is nature's work, the work of springs,
Brutes' memory is organic ; many things
Besides those here that fact explains away.
One object reaches in its magazine
By the same road what there before has been.
There is no need of any thought at all.
With men of course it's wholly différent.
Man has the will, and something else is meant
By this than instinct, which to brutes must fall.
Man feels in him some agent, and he walks,
Some principle intelligent, and talks :
A principle from body quite distinct,
However closely with that body linkt ;
A principle, we're told, which mules supreme
Our motions all, the body but obeys.
But surely in these educated days
They might prove this to be no idle dream ;
Might show that hidden bond for which we pant
'Twixt soul and body, but they wont or can't.
The tool obeys the hand-why, that I see.
Who guides the hand ? that they won't tell to me.
Who guides the hand ? who guides the starry spheres ?
Some angel doubtless is told off for that-
Some spirit moves us in our hopes and fears.
But how ? God knows. I don't. That's flat.
And if there's need to speak without a lie,
The wise Descartes is ignorant as I.
We're equal here, for here we nothing know.
.....But, Iris, this at least
.....I say, no fabled beast
This spirit has ; 'tis man's alone below.
The beast must have above the plant some claim
Which breathes, but who will give to this a name ?