« PreviousContinue »
From Egypt to Euphrates, and beyond,
Shalt reign, and Rome or Cæsar not need fear.
To whom our Saviour answer'd thus, unmoved :
Much ostentation vain of fleshly arm,
And fragile arms, much instrument of war
Long in preparing, soon to nothing brought,
Before mine eyes thou hast set; and in my ear
Vented much policy, and projects deep
Of enemies, of aids, battles, and leagues,
Plausible to the world, to me worth nought.
Means I must use, thou sayest, prediction else
Will unpredict and fail me of the throne.
My time, I told thee, and that time for thee
Were better farthest off, is not yet come ;
When that comes, think not thou to find me slack
On my part aught endeavouring, or to need
Thy politic maxims, or that cumbersome
Luggage of war there shown me, argument
Of human weakness rather than of strength.
My brethren, as thou call'st them, those ten tribes,
I must deliver, if I mean to reign
David's true heir, and his full sceptre sway
To just extent over all Israel's sons.
But whence to thee this zeal, where was it then
For Israel, or for David, or his throne,
When thou stoodst up his tempter to the pride
Of numbering Israel, which cost the lives
Of threescore and ten thousand Israelites
By three days' pestilence? Such was thy zeal
To Israel then, the same that now to me.
As for those captive tribes, themselves were they
Who wrought their own captivity, fell off
From God to worship calves, the deities
Of Egypt, Baal next, and Ashtaroth,
And all the idolatries of heathen round,
Besides their other worse than heathenish crimes
Nor in the land of their captivity
Humbled themselves, or penitent besought
The God of their forefathers; but so died
Impenitent, and left a race behind
Like to themselves, distinguishable scarce
From Gentiles, but by circumcision vain,
And God with idols in their worship join'd.
Should I of these the liberty regard,
Who, freed as to their ancient patrimony,
Unhumbled, unrepentant, unreform’d,
Headlong would follow ; and to their gods perhaps
Of Bethel and of Dan? No, let them serve
Their enemies, who serve idols with God.
Yet he at length, time to himself best known,
Remembering Abraham, by some wondrous call
May bring them back repentant and sincere,
And at their passing cleave the Assyrian flood,
While to their native land with joy they haste,
As the Red Sea and Jordan once he cleft,
When to the Promised Land their fathers pass'd;
To his due time and providence I leave them.
So spake Israel's true King, and to the fiend
Made answer meet, that made void all his wiles.
So fares it when with truth falsehood contends.
Perplex'd and troubled at his bad success,
The tempter stood, nor had what to reply,
Discover'd in his fraud, thrown from his hope
So oft, and the persuasive rhetoric
That sleek'd his tongue, and won so much on Eve,
So little here, nay lost ; but Eve was Eve,
This far his overmatch, who, self-deceived
And rash, beforehand had no better weigh’d
The strength he was to cope with, or his own;
But as a man, who had been matchless held
In cunning, over-reach'd where least he thought,
To salve his credit, and for very spite,
Still will be tempting him who foils him still,
And never cease, though to his shame the more ;
Or as a swarm of flies in vintage time,
About the wine-press where sweet must is pour’d,
Beat off, returns as oft with humming sound ;
Or surging waves against a solid rock,
Though all to shivers dash'd, the assault renew,
Vain battery, and in froth or bubbles end ;
So Satan, whom repulse upon repulse
Met ever, and to shameful silence brought,
Yet gives not o'er, though desperate of success,
And his vain importunity pursues.
He brought our Saviour to the western side
Of that high mountain, whence he might behold
Another plain, long, but in breadth not wide,
Wash'd by the southern sea, and on the north
To equal length back'd with a ridge of hills,
That screen'd the fruits of the earth, and seats of men,
From cold septentrion blasts ; thence in the midst
Divided by a river, of whose banks
On each side an imperial city stood,
With towers and temples proudly elevate
On seven small hills, with palaces adorn'd,
Porches, and theatres, baths, aqueducts,
Statues, and trophies, and triumphal arcs,
Gardens, and groves presented to his eyes,
Above the height of mountains interposed :
By what strange parallax or optic skill
Of vision, multiplied through air, or glass
Of telescope, were curious to inquire ;
And now the tempter thus his silence broke:
The city which thou seest no other deem
Than great and glorious Rome, queen of the earth,
So far renown'd, and with the spoils enrich'd.
Of nations; there the capitol thou seest
Above the rest lifting his stately head
On the Tarpeian rock, her citadel
Impregnable, and there Mount Palatine,
The imperial palace, compass huge, and high
The structure, skill of noblest architects,
With gilded battlements conspicuous far,
Turrets, and terraces, and glittering spires.
Many a fair edifice besides, more like
Houses of gods, so well I have disposed
My aëry microscope, thou mayest behold
Outside and inside both, pillars and rooss,
Carved work, the hand of famed artificers
In cedar, marble, ivory, or gold.
Thence to the gates cast round thine eye, and see
What conflux issuing forth, or entering in,
Prætors, proconsuls to their provinces
Hasting, or on return, in robes of state ;
Lictors and rods, the ensigns of their power,
Legions and cohorts, turms of horse and wings ;
Or embassies from regions far remote,
In various habits, on the Appian road,
Or on the Emilian, some from farthest south,
Syene, and where the shadow both way falls,
Meroe, Nilotic isle, and more to west,
The realm of Bocchus to the Blackmoor sea ;
From the Asian kings, and Parthian, among these,
From India, and the Golden Chersonese,
And utmost Indian isle Taprobane,
Dusk faces with white silken turbans wreath'd ;
From Gallia, Gades, and the British west,
Germans, and Scythians, and Sarmatians, north
Beyond Danubius to the Tauric pool.
All nations now to Rome obedience pay,
To Rome's great emperor, whose wide domain,
In ample territory, wealth, and power,
Civility of manners, arts, and arms,
And long renown, thou justly mayest prefer
Before the Parthian ; these two thrones except,
The rest are barbarous, and scarce worth the sight,
Shared among petty kings too far removed.
These having shown thee, I have shown thee all
The kingdoms of the world, and all their glory.
This emperor hath no son, and now is old,
Old and lascivious, and from Rome retired
To Capreæ, an island small. ut strong
On the Campanian shore, with purpose there
His horrid lusts in private to enjoy,
Committing to a wicked favourite
All public cares, and yet of him suspicious,
Hated of all, and hating. With what ease,
Endued with regal virtues as thou art,
Appearing and beginning noble deeds,
Mightst thou expel this monster from his throne,
Now made a sty, and, in his place ascending,
A victor people free from servile yoke?
And with my help thou mayest ; to me the power
Is given, and by that right I give it thee.
Aim therefore at no less than all the world,
Aim at the highest, without the highest attained
Will be for thee no sitting, or not long,
On David's throne, be prophesied what will.
To whom the Son of God unmoved replied:
Nor doth this grandeur and majestic show
Of luxury, though call'd magnificence,
More than of arms before, allure mine eye,
Much less my mind ; though thou shouldst add to tell
Their sumptuous gluttonies and gorgeous feasts
On citron tables or Atlantic stone,
For I have also heard, perhaps have read,
Their wines of Setia, Cales, and Falerne,
Chios, and Crete, and how they quaff in gold,
Crystal and myrrhine cups emboss'd with gems
And studs of pearl, to me shouldst tell who thirst
And hunger still. Then embassies thou show'st
From nations far and nigh. What honour that,
But tedious waste of time to sit and hear
So many hollow compliments and lies,
Outlandish flatteries?" then proceed'st to talk
Of the emperor, how easily subdued,
How gloriously' ; I shall, thou sayest
A brutish monster ; what if I withal
Expel a devil who first made him such?
Let his tormentor conscience find him out ;
For him I was not sent, nor yet to free
That people, victor once, now vile and base,
Deservedly made vassal, who, once just,
Frugal, and mild, and temperate, conquer'd well,
But govern ill the nations under yoke,
Peeling their provinces, exhausted all
But lust and rapine; first ambitious grown
Of triumph, that insulting vanity;
Then cruel, by their sports to blood inured
Of fighting beasts, and men to beasts exposed
Luxurious by their wealth, and greedier still,
And from the daily scene effeminate.
What wise and valiant man would seek to free
These thus degenerate, by themselves enslaved ?
Or could of inward slaves make outward free?
Know, therefore, when my season comes to sit
On David's throne, it shall be like a tree
Spreading and overshadowing all the earth;
Or as a stone that shall to pieces dash
All monarchies besides throughout the world,
And of my kingdom there shall be no end.
Means there shall be to this, but what the means
Is not for thee to know, nor me to tell.
To whom the tempter impudent replied:
I see all offers made by me how slight
Thou valuest, because offer'd, and rejectest;
Nothing will please the difficult and nice,
Or nothing more than still to contradict.
On the other side know also thou, that I
On what I offer set as high esteem,
Nor what I part with mean to give for nought
All these which in a moment thou beholdst,
The kingdoms of the world to thee I give ;
For, given to me, I give to whom I please,
No trifle ; yet with this reserve, not else,
On this condition, if thou wilt fall down,
And worship me as thy superior lord,
Easily done, and hold them all of me;
For what can less so great a gift deserve ?
Whom thus our Saviour answer'd with disdain :
I never liked thy talk, thy offers less,
Now both abhor, since thou hast dared to utter
The abominable terms, impious condition ;
But I endure the time, till which expired,
Thou hast permission on me. It is written,
The first of all commandments, Thou shalt worship
The Lord thy God, and only him shalt serve ;
And darest thou to the Son of God propound
To worship thee accursed, now more accursed
For this attempt, bolder than that on Eve,
And more blasphemous ? which expect to rue.
The kingdoms of the world to thee were given,
Permitted rather, and by thee usurp’d,
Other donation none thou canst produce.
If given, by whom but by the King of kings,
God over all Supreme? If given to thee,
By thee how fairly is the Giver now
Repaid ? But gratitude in thee is lost
Long since. Wert thou so void of fear or shame,
As offer them to me, the Son of God,
To me my own, on such abhorred pact,
That I fall down and worship thee as God?
Get thee behind me ; plain thou now appearest
That evil one, Satan for ever damn'd.