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THE TASK.

BOOK IV.

THE WINTER EVENING.

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ARGUMENT OF THE FOURTH BOOK.
The post comes in-The newspaper is read-The World

contemplated at a distance-Address to Winter--The
rural amusements of a winter evening compared with
the fashionable ones-Address to evening-A brown
study-Fall of snow in the evening-The wagoner-A
poor family piece— The rural thief-Public houses
The multitude of them censured- The farmer's daugh-
ter: what she was,-what she is—The simplicity of
country manners almost lost-Causes of the change-
Desertion of the country by the rich-Neglect of the
magistrates - The militia principally in fault-The new
recruit and his transformation-Reflection on the bodies
corporate-The love of rural objects natural to all, and
never to be totally extinguished.

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HARK! 'tis the twanging horn o'er yonder bridge,
That with its wearisome but needful length
Bestrides the wintry flood; in which the moon
Sees her unwrinkled face reflected bright:-
He comes, the herald of a noisy world,
With spatter'd boots, strapp'd waist, and frozen
locks,

News from all nations lumb'ring at his back.
True to his charge, the close-pack'd load behind,
Yet careless what he brings, his one concern
Is to conduct it to the destin'd inn;
And having dropp'd th' expected bag, pass on.
He whistles as he goes, light-hearted wretch.
Cold and yet cheerful: messenger of grief
Perhaps to thousands, and of joy to some;
To him indiff'rent whether grief or joy.
Houses in ashes, and the fall of stocks,
Births, deaths, and marriages, epistles wet.
With tears, that trickled down the writer's cheeks
Fast as the periods from his fluent quill,
Or charg'd with am'rous sighs of absent swains,
Or nymphs responsive, equally affect
His horse and him, unconscious of them all.
But 0, th' important budget! usher'd in
With such heart-shaking music, who can say
What are its tidings ? have our troops awak'd ?
Or do they still, as if with opium drugg'd,
Snore to the murmurs of the Atlantic wave ?
Is India free? and does she wear her plum'd
And jewel'd turban with a smile of peace,
Or do we grind her still ? The grand debate,
The popular harangue, the tart reply,
The logic, and the wisdom, and the wit,
And the loud laugh-I long to know them all;
I burn to set th' imprisoned wranglers free,
And give them voice and utt'rance once again.

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,

That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful ev'ning in.
Not such his ev'ning, who with shining face
Sweats in the crowded theatre, and, squeez'd
And bor'd with elbow points through both his

sides,
Outscolds the ranting actor on the stage :
Nor his, who patient stands till his feet throb,
And his head thumps, to feed upon the breath
Of patriots, bursting with heroic rage,
Or placemen, all tranquillity and smiles.
This folio of four pages happy work!
Which not e'en critics criticise ; that holds
Inquisitive attention, while I read,
Fast bound in chains of silence, which the fair,
Though eloquent themselves, yet fear to break;
What is it, but a map of busy life,
Its fluctuations, and its vast concerns ?
Here runs the mountainous and craggy ridge,
That tempts Ambition. On the summit see
The seals of office glitter in his eyes;
He climbs, he pants, he grasps them! At his heels,
Close at his heels, a demagogue ascends,
And with a dextrous jerk soồn twists him down,
And wins them, but to loose them in his turn.
Here rills of oily eloquence, in soft
Meanders lubricate the course they take;
The modest speaker is asham'd and griev'd,
T'engross a moment's notice; and yet begg,
Begs a propitious ear for his poor thoughts,
However trivial, all that he conceivęs.
Sweet bashfulness; it claims at least this praise :
The dearth of information and good sense

а

That it foretells us always comes to pass.
Cataracts of declamation thunder here ;
There forests of no meaning spread the page,
In which all comprehension wanders, lost;
While fields of pleasantry amuse us there
With merry descants on a nation's woes.
The rest appears a wilderness of strange
But gay confusion; roses for the cheeks,
And lilies for the brows of faded age,
Teeth for the toothless, ringlets for the bald,
Heav'n, earth, and ocean, plundered of their

sweets,
Nectareous essences, Olympian dews,
Sermons, and city feasts, and fav’rite airs,
Ætherial journeys, submarine exploits,
And Katterfelto, with his hair on end
At his own wonders, wond'ring for his bread.

'Tis pleasant, through the loopholes of retreat, To peep at such a world ; to see the stir Of the great Babel, and not feel the crowd ; To hear the roar she sends through all her gates At a safe distance, where the dying sound Falls a soft murmur on th' uninjur'd ear. Thus sitting, and surveying thus at ease The globe and its concerns, I seem advanc'd To some secure and more than mortal height, That liberates and exempts me from them all. It turns submitted to my view, turns round With all its generations; I behold The tumult, and am still. The sound of war Ilas lost its terrors ere it reaches me; Grieves, but alarms me not. I mourn the pride

d ay’rice that make man a wolf to man;

Hear the faint echo of those brazen throats,
By which he speaks the language of his heart,
And sigh, but never tremble at the sound.
He travels and expatiates, as the bee
From flow'r to flow'r, so he from land to land ;
The manners, customs, policy, of all
Pay contribution to the store he gleans;
He sucks intelligence in ev'ry clime,
And spreads the honey of his deep research
At his return-a rich repast for me.
He travels, and I 100. I tread his deck,
Ascend his topmast, through his peering eyes
Discover countries; with a kindred heart
Suffer his-woes, and share in his escapes ;
While fancy, like the finger of a clock,
Runs the great circuit, and is still at home.

O Winter, ruler of th' inverted year,
Thy scatter'd hair with sleet like ashes fillid,
Thy breath congeal'd upon thy lips, thy cheeks
Fring'd with a beard made white with other snows
Than those of age, thy forehead wrapp'd in clouds,
A leafless branch thy sceptre, and thy throne
A sliding car, indebted to no wheels,
But urg'd by storms along its slipp'ry way,
I love thee, all unlovely as thou seem'st,
And dreaded as thou art! Thou hold'st the sun
A pris'ner in the yet undawning east,
Short’ning his journey between morn and noon,
And hurrying him, impatient of his stay,
Down to the rosy west : but kindly still
Compensating his loss with added hours
Of social converse and instructive ease,
And gath'ring, at short notice, in one group

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