Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
Extract from The Art of Preserving Health, Book IV
By John Armstrong (1709–1779)
 
HOW to live happiest? how avoid the pains,
The disappointments, and disgusts of those
Who would in pleasure all their hours employ,
The precepts here of a divine old man
I could recite. Tho’ old, he still retained        5
His manly sense, and energy of mind.
Virtuous and wise he was, but not severe;
He still remembered that he once was young;
His easy presence checked no decent joy.
Him even the dissolute admired; for he        10
A graceful looseness when he pleased put on,
And laughing could instruct. Much had he read,
Much more had seen: he studied from the life,
And in th’ original perused mankind.
Versed in the woes and vanities of life        15
He pitied man: and much he pitied those
Whom falsely-smiling fate has cursed with means
To dissipate their days in quest of joy.
‘Our aim is happiness; ’tis yours, ’tis mine,’
He said, ‘’tis the pursuit of all that live:        20
Yet few attain it, if ’twas e’er attained.
But they the widest wander from the mark,
Who thro’ the flowery paths of sauntering joy
Seek this coy goddess: that from stage to stage
Invites us still, but shifts as we pursue.        25
For, not to name the pains that pleasure brings
To counterpoise itself, relentless fate
Forbids that we thro’ gay voluptuous wilds
Should ever roam: and were the fates more kind
Our narrow luxuries would soon grow stale:        30
Were these exhaustless, nature would grow sick,
And, cloyed with pleasure, squeamishly complain
That all is vanity, and life a dream.
Let nature rest: be busy for yourself,
And for your friend; be busy even in vain        35
Rather than tease her sated appetites.
Who never fasts no banquet e’er enjoys;
Who never toils or watches, never sleeps.
Let nature rest: and when the taste of joy
Grows keen, indulge; but shun satiety.        40
’Tis not for mortals always to be blest,
But him the least the dull or painful hours
Of life oppress, whom sober sense conducts,
And virtue, thro’ this labyrinth we tread.
Virtue and sense I mean not to disjoin;        45
Virtue and sense are one: and trust me, still
A faithless heart betrays the head unsound.
Virtue (for mere good-nature is a fool)
Is sense and spirit with humanity:
’Tis sometimes angry and its frown confounds;        50
’Tis even vindictive, but in vengeance just.
Knaves fain would laugh at it: some great ones dare
But at his heart the most undaunted son
Of fortune dreads its name and awful charms.
To noblest uses this determines wealth;        55
This is the solid pomp of prosperous days;
The peace and shelter of adversity.
And if you pant for glory, build your fame
On this foundation, which the secret shock
Defies of envy and all-sapping time.        60
The gaudy gloss of fortune only strikes
The vulgar eye; the suffrage of the wise,
The praise that ’s worth ambition, is attained
By sense alone and dignity of mind.
Virtue, the strength and beauty of the soul,        65
Is the best gift of Heaven: a happiness
That even above the smiles and frowns of fate
Exalts great Nature’s favourites; a wealth
That ne’er encumbers, nor can be transferr’d.
 
 
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