Charlotte Smith

4 May 1749 – 28 October 1806 / London

The Origin Of Flattery

WHEN Jove, in anger to the sons of the earth,
Bid artful Vulcan give Pandora birth,
And sent the fatal gift which spread below
O'er all the wretched race contagious woe,
Unhappy man, by vice and folly tost,
Found in the storms of life his quiet lost,
While Envy, Avarice, and Ambition, hurl'd
Discord and death around the warring world;
Then the blest peasant left his fields and fold,
And barter'd love and peace for power and gold;
Left his calm cottage and his native plain,
In search of wealth to tempt the faithless main;
Or, braving danger, in the battle stood,
And bathed his savage hands in human blood;
No longer then, his woodland walks among,
The shepherd lad his genuine passion sung,
Or sought at early morn his soul's delight,
Or graved her name upon the bark at night;
To deck her flowing hair no more he wove
The simple wreath, or with ambitious love
Bound his own brow with myrtle or with bay,
But broke his pipe, or threw his crook away.
The nymphs forsaken, other pleasures sought;
Then first for gold their venal hearts were bought,
And nature's blush to sickly art gave place,
And affectation seized the seat of grace:
No more simplicity by sense refined,
Or generous sentiment, possess'd the mind:
No more they felt each other's joy and woe,
And Cupid fled, and hid his useless bow.
But with deep grief propitious Venus pined,
To see the ills which threaten'd womankind;
Ills that she knew her empire would disarm,
And rob her subjects of their sweetest charm;
Good humour's potent influence destroy,
And change for lowering frowns the smile of joy,
Then deeply sighing at the mournful view,
She tried at length what heavenly art could do

To bring back Pleasure to her pensive train,
And vindicate the glories of her reign.
A thousand little loves attend the task,
And bear from Mars's head his radiant casque,
The fair enchantress on its silver bound
Weaved with soft spells her magic cestus round,
Then shaking from her hair ambrosial dew,
Infused fair hope, and expectation new,
And stifled wishes, and persuasive sighs,
And fond belief, and 'eloquence of eyes,
And falt'ring accents, which explain so well
What studied speeches vainly try to tell;
And more pathetic silence, which imparts
Infectious tenderness to feeling hearts;
Soft tones of pity; fascinating smiles;
And Maia's son assisted her with wiles,
And brought gay dreams, fantastic visions brought,
And waved his wand o'er the seducing draught.
Then Zephyr came: to him the goddess cried,
'Go fetch from Flora all her flowery pride
To fill my charm, each scented bud that blows,
And bind my myrtles with her thornless rose;
Then speed thy flight to Gallia's smiling plain,
Where rolls the Loire, the Garonne, and the Seine;
Dip in their waters thy celestial wing,
And the soft dew to fill my chalice bring;
But chiefly tell thy Flora, that to me
She send a bouquet of her fleurs de lys;
That poignant spirit will complete my spell.'
--'Tis done: the lovely sorceress says 'tis well.
And now Apollo lends a ray of fire,
The caldron bubbles, and the flames aspire;
The watchful Graces round the circle dance,
With arms entwined to mark the work's advance;
And with full quiver sportive Cupid came,
Temp'ring his favourite arrows in the flame.
Then Venus speaks, the wavering flames retire,
And Zephyr's breath extinguishes the fire.
At length the goddess in the helmet's round
A sweet and subtile spirit duly found,
More soft than oil, than ether more refined,
Of power to cure the woes of womankind,
And call'd it Flattery:--balm of female life,
It charms alike the widow, maid, and wife;
Clears the sad brow of virgins in despair,
And smooths the cruel traces left by care;

Bids palsied age with youthful spirit glow,
And hangs May's garlands on December's snow.
Delicious essence! howsoe'er applied,
By what rude nature is thy charm denied?
Some form seducing still thy whisper wears,
Stern Wisdom turns to thee her willing ears,
And Prudery listens and forgets her fears.
The rustic nymph whom rigid aunts restrain,
Condemn'd to dress, and practise airs in vain,
At thy first summons finds her bosom swell,
And bids her crabbed gouvernantes farewell;
While, fired by thee with spirit not her own,
She grows a toast, and rises into ton .
The faded beauty who, with secret pain,
Sees younger charms usurp her envied reign,
By thee assisted, can with smiles behold
The record where her conquests are enroll'd;
And dwelling yet on scenes by memory nursed,
When George the Second reign'd, or George the First;
She sees the shades of ancient beaux arise,
Who swear her eyes exceeded modern eyes,
When poets sung for her, and lovers bled,
And giddy fashion follow'd as she led.
Departed modes appear in long array,
The flowers and flounces of her happier day;
Again her locks the decent fillets bind,
The waving lappet flutters in the wind.
And then comparing with a proud disdain
The more fantastic tastes that now obtain,
She deems ungraceful, trifling and absurd,
The gayer world that moves round George the Third.
Nor thy soft influence will the train refuse,
Who court in distant shades the modest Muse,
Though in a form more pure and more refined,
Thy soothing spirit meets the letter'd mind.
Not death itself thine empire can destroy;
Tow'rds thee, even then, we turn the languid eye;
Still trust in thee to bid our memory bloom,
And scatter roses round the silent tomb.
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