Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE GOLDEN AGE, by WILLIAM EDMONSTOUNE AYTOUN



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THE GOLDEN AGE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Money abundant, at an easy rate!
Last Line: That gold alone can make no golden age.
Alternate Author Name(s): Bon Gaultier (with Theodore Martin)
Subject(s): England; Freedom; Materialism; Muses; Wealth; Youth; English; Liberty; Riches; Fortunes


'MONEY abundant, at an easy rate!'
Hear that, ye Nine, dull guardians of my fate!
Old maids of Pindus, ye who used to dwell
On the green slopes by Aganippe's well;
Ye, from whose lessons sapient Virgil drew
The art to sing, and fill his pockets too;
Ye, who to Horace such enchantment gave,
That e'en the rich Maecenas was his slave;
Aid me -- the last, in these degenerate times,
That stoutly strives to drive a trade in rhymes --
Aid me, for once, with all your mystic power,
To catch some sprinkling of this golden shower,
Ere yet, as prophets of the market say,
The deluge sweeps all dividends away,
Ere Long Annuities and Three per Cents
Partake the dismal fall of landed rents!

O swift Pactolus, on whose sunny shore
The poets loved to meditate of yore --
Tagus, whose waters, ere they reached the main,
Left a rich tribute of the sparkling grain --
Ganges, and Pison, where the gold was good,
And thou, Euphrates, Eden's barrier flood --
Your old renown has faded to a dream;
Your glory past to a barbarian stream.
Midas and Croesus, kings! ye both were poor
Compared with him, the strong Australian boor,
Who, with one blow, compels the rock to yield
More gold than rested in the Lydian field.
Who asks in this, our more prolific day,
Where Ophir's mines, once wrought by Israel, lay?
Consult the Times -- it points a ready road
To the true temples of the Golden God.
For San Francisco, ho! -- or, should you quail,
Why, for Port Philip there are fifty sail.
A clipper leaves next week -- she's tight and sound,
The cabin fare is only twenty pound.
Sell all you have, and seek that blessed shore,
Which, 'stead of pebble-stones, yields precious ore;
Where the wild bushman eats his loathly fare,
Upon a rock, more rich than David's chair.
One of you Nine, awake! I need a Muse
To sing the land of kites and kangaroos,
Where nature, passing from the primal curse,
Has furnished e'en dumb creatures with a purse,
And given the rank oppossum of the vale
A more convenient sporran than the Gael.

Once on a time -- 'tis thus that empires rise,
For Rome, whose eagles mounted to the skies,
Owed her foundation to a robber clan,
The very refuse and reproach of man --
Once on a time we sent whate'er was vile,
From the pure precincts of our northern isle,
To till untaxed, and free from aught save toil,
The countless acres of a virgin soil.
Was any branded with the mark of shame?
Another land received him all the same.
The hardy labourer, for his weekly wage,
Toiled on, unnoticed here, from youth to age,
Cheered by the hope that, strength and manhood past,
The poorhouse gates might yawn for him at last.
But he, the young Colossus of the road,
Whose lust for plunder summoned him abroad,
Whose ardent soul aspired the path to tread
Pursued by Turpin and the glorious dead --
Or he, the low-browed wretch, obscene and sly,
Whose only thought was how to fake a cly;
Who never yet could earn an honest meal,
Or use his nimble fingers save to steal --
Their lot was better far. Across the sea
Their generous country sent them passage-free,
To hold sweet eclogues 'neath Australian skies,
And waken Sydney's groves with Fleet Street's cries.
A pastoral region, with a thriving flock,
Where sheep and convicts formed the staple stock;
Where tallow, wool, and Tyburn-talk combined
To raise the soul, and purify the mind.
Behold it now. Not he, the potent sprite,
Who reared Aladdin's palace in a night --
Not the Czar Peter, who, in mist and fog,
Called up his glorious city from a bog,
Wrought greater change than that surveyor old,
Who raised a yellow stone and found it gold!
Small, in the future years, must be thy fame,
My poor Columbus! Chiefs of former name --
Pizarro, Cortez -- nought remains of you,
Save the deep curse of those you foully slew.
Hawkins and Raleigh -- men of bygone years --
What were ye both but brilliant buccaneers?
Long since exhausted is the hoard you brought,
Scarce worth a banker's -- not a nation's -- thought.
Your broad moidores have dwindled into groats;
Your spoils have suffered change to paper notes.
One Jew alone, for one election day
Would your whole precious El Dorado pay.

Phantoms, avaunt! Let Plutus take his stand,
With one foot steady on Australian land;
Let him his veins of native wealth display,
And call the human vultures to their prey.
No need of pressing. See! from north and west,
Adullam's inmates hurry to the quest.
On every side, in Babel's speech is heard --
'Where are the diggings? What's the rate per yard?'
Ten thousand souls delve, fight, blaspheme, perspire,
In nature's Lombard Street of mud and mire;
Swarming, like tadpoles in an April ditch,
To rake the drainage, and at once be rich.
The ships lie rotting on the idle strand --
Jack hath levanted to the golden land.
Unwatched the sheep may stray, the cattle roam; --
None but a bondslave, sure, would bide at home.
To Capel Court the strong infection spreads;
Once more the jobbers raise their eager heads.
Back come the ravens who, in forty-seven,
Were to Bologne or kindly Calais driven;
All undismayed by crashes on the rail,
They scent the future carrion in the gale.
In fungus-growth new companies arise --
'Invest your coin, ye widows, and be wise!
Make haste -- delay not -- shares are rising fast;
No empty bubble this, as was the last.
Behold this lump of quartz with glittering veins --
Nay, come and handle -- it is worth the pains.
Gold by the ton! Who'll profit by the hint?
A whole Ben Nevis ready for the mint!
The ground is purchased up, the rock surveyed --
Two pounds deposit, and your fortune's made!'

The bait is cast, the gudgeons swarm in sight.
Dear cousin Jonas, art thou prone to bite?
Bethink thee, coz, what sad mishaps befell
The lines you loved not wisely but too well,
When you and many more embarked in shares
In that fell masquerade of bulls and bears.
Gods! how ye vaunted then. With what disdain
Ye looked on labour and its patient gain!
The thrifty wretch who sought to work by rule,
Was, in your sage opinion, but a fool.
The easy road to wealth was found at last; --
What need of toil when stocks were rising fast?
Or if, at times, some faint suspicion came,
That they who won, at length might lose the game,
An oracle was near. From out his den
The Delphic broker cheered the souls of men.
He knew the traffic tables -- he could tell
When royal Hudson meant to buy or sell;
And -- this was secret -- if you wished to win,
Now was the time to venture boldly in.
A line there was -- he durst not mention which --
But, if you'd trust him, he would make you rich.
Down below par its value had been driven --
Next week the shares would rise to thirty-seven!

Too ready ink! O far too easy pen!
Where was your guardian angel, Jonas, then?
Did no misgivings haunt you when you signed
For more than twice your father left behind?
Had you no wholesome doubts -- no lurking fear
Of that sly serpent whispering in your ear?
Heard you no warning voices in your sleep
Repeat the adage -- Look before you leap?
Alas! against the chance of instant gain,
E'en conscience makes her stern protest in vain!
For one short month you saw your stakes augment,
And reckoned up your gain at cent per cent.
Brisk was the betting, as when gamblers set
Their shifting gold at hazard or roulette.
Then came the crash! And such a howl arose,
As when a city's plundered by its foes!
'Sell out at once!' was now the general cry --
Vain the advice, for not a soul would buy.
Behold in fits a valiant son of Mars --
'Who'll purchase scrip?' For what? To light cigars?
With shaking limbs the pale directors stood,
Protesting faintly that their shares were good.
'The dividend is sure, despite of falls;'
Yea, but, my masters -- who's to pay the calls?
Yet wherefore dwell on those portentous years,
Unblessed by any save the engineers,
Who pierced the mountains, framed the iron way,
Brought in their bills, and forced the rest to pay?
Not ours in spite or malice to recall
The frenzy-fit that ruined hearth and hall,
Divorced broad acres from their luckless lord,
And smote the merchant sharper than the sword.
Nations, they say, go mad as well as men --
Good, if a nation find its wits again!
Yet still, though now diverted from the rails,
'Twould seem that England's lunar mood prevails --
Still in her brain tbe wild excitement burns
Of grand investments and of quick returns.
The preacher reads the holy text aloud,
Denouncing Mammon to the assembled crowd --
The fervent congregation cries 'Amen!'
And straightway turns to Mammon's works again.
I need not here the thrice-told tale repeat,
Of nobles grovelling at a gambler's feet --
Of hero-worship in Egyptian shape --
Of idiots offering incense to an ape.
Such things have been, and are; for wealth has power,
And will retain it till earth's latest hour;
Sages may mourn, and satirists may laugh,
But aye there's homage for the Golden Calf.
That common weakness, which but few despise,
'Twere vain for me to brand or stigmatize.
Still does the motley crowd on Dives wait,
And none consort with Lazarus at the gate.

It may be true that, in the days of old,
Our fathers, like ourselves, were bent on gold,
And that the reverence which they also paid
Regarded more the scabbard than the blade.
Yet not till now -- so I at least maintain --
Was England's glory ranked beneath her gain;
Her matchless empire, instanced as a curse
By the mean guardians of the public purse;
Her power curtailed on every vile pretence;
Her safety styled a question of expense!

O men! O brothers! hearken -- ere the grave
For ever shuts upon the wise and brave --
Why speak I thus? -- on him, the greatest man
That England knew since first her fame began.
In youth, the keen Pelides of the war;
In manhood, sager than Ulysses far;
In age, like Nestor, honoured and revered
By the proud chiefs his high example reared.
Not yet for him has rung the funeral knell,
They have not laid him in his narrow cell;
Uncovered yet remains the stately head
Of the gray warrior, grandest now, when dead.
O, in that coming day of grief and gloom,
When England's best shall bear him to the tomb --
When every eye will glisten with a tear
As true as ever wet a father's bier --
O while ye gaze upon that honoured grave,
Slight not the warning that his wisdom gave --
Forget not that his latest prayer was given
For our dear country at the gate of heaven --
For us and ours! O well for us to weep!
He lies for ever in his glorious sleep;
Nor drum, nor trump, nor hostile legions' tread
Can now disturb the quiet of the dead.
O well for us to weep! Let tears of shame
Show that our mourning is not but in name.
Have we not heard, and heard without rebuke,
A base Thersites railing at the Duke?
Have we not heard a cottonmonger's sneers
At his hoar head and honourable years?
Let that mean demagogue, with brazen brow,
Dare to repeat his witless insult now!
The very knaves that took his words on trust
Would scowl upon him with supreme disgust,
And spurn the wretch who durst at such a time
Connect the name of Wellington with crime!

For ever quenched is that heroic light
That beamed before us in the darkest night,
Even as the fiery pillar sent to guide
The hosts of Israel o'er the deserts wide.
New times -- new thoughts! We need some novel sage
To rise, the fresh apostle of the age;
Through human wit some wiser rule to teach
Than that which severed nations by their speech.
Lo, he is here! To sympathizing friends
Her brawny blacksmith young Columbia sends;
His voice yet raucous with the forge's fume,
He mounts the platform graced by Joseph Hume --
Swings his huge fists as with a hammer's bang.
And shouts for peace in pestilent harangue.
No common Vulcan our audacious smith!
With frantic gesture and with furious pith
He rails at kings, denounces nations' wars,
And hurls his anvil at the crest of Mars!
Big burly Quakers follow in his wake,
And cotton lords -- for exportation's sake.
Loud be your wail, you diplomatic crew!
Henceforth the world hath little need of you;
Away for ever with your paper boats --
Your quires of protocols and reams of notes,
Your treaties framed by famous heads of yore,
Your old absurd traditionary lore;
Let Palmerston and Bunsen disappear,
We need no statesmen of their kidney here!
Our Congress rests upon a wider base;
Its doors are open to the human race.
Walk in, my friends! Nay -- never stand in awe --
You'll gain a hearing if you rail at law.
No prudish audience this -- propound your views;
Be pungent, not with humour, but abuse.
Take Satan's method, which is simply this --
To carp and snarl at everything that is.
No better model can be kept in view;
That shrewd reformer knows a thing or two.
Some special texts are rather in his way,
But they're not binding -- so his prophets say.
Honour the King -- or Queen? -- the thing's absurd!
What's honour? -- nothing but an empty word.
And what's allegiance, but a quibbling phrase,
Despised by freemen in those liberal days?
Submit to powers that be? Ye gods! is't fit
That any, save a bondsman, should submit?
That doctrine surely none would dare to press --
Old man, 'tis hardly safe to answer -- Yes!
Your faith was fashioned in an ancient school;
Your life was spent beneath a different rule;
The free compatriots of your early day
Knew how to love, to honour, and obey.
They duly worshipped at their fathers' fane,
For them the democrat declaimed in vain.
No weekly sheets of filth and lies combined
Brought rank infection to the honest mind.
They heard no canting doctrine from abroad;
No miscreant stepped betwixt them and their God.
They loved their country; proud were they to claim
The old distinction of an English name;
The Saxon blood ran warm within their veins --
They hated treason, and they scoffed at chains,
Not such the creed these noisy boasters bawl
From platform, hustings, council-room, and hall.
Wild with delight, they saw in neighbouring France
The torches glaring and the sabres glance;
When great King Mob arose in frantic raid
Against the puppet monarch it had made.
In haste, to hail the brotherhood of man,
To Paris straight our rank reformers ran.
'Are we not brothers?' 'Yea!' the blouses cried,
'We all are brothers, and we'll all divide!
Death to the rich! all property is theft!'
Aghast our patriots listened -- and they left.

Freedom we love, but freedom was not there.
That foul Megaera, with the tangled hair,
All blood besprent, and drunk with fiery wine,
Bore little token of a birth divine.
Yet hymns were fashioned in that beldame's praise,
And London's minstrels shrined her in their lays;
With gibbering glee the ghost of Thomas Paine
Heard the old watchwords thrill the streets again,
And eager Chartists murmured as they ran --
'The Age of Reason and the Rights of Man!'

Turn we from this unto our former theme;
Be Gold again our topic and our dream.
O thou mysterious witch, yclept the League --
Thou youngest born of Falsehood and Intrigue --
Thou fairly-seeming, yet deceitful maid --
Thou gay Calypso of the cotton trade, --
Where is the promise now, the pledge secure,
Once made by him, your lusty paramour?
Why do the foreign nations still refuse
To cancel customs, and relax their dues?
Why do obnoxious tariffs still appear,
Waxing in growth with each successive year?
How comes it that America and France
Bound not responsive to the proffered dance,
But evermore, with sulky looks, decline
To interchange their kindred hand with thine?
Did you e'er hope -- 'tis time to ask it yet --
To catch shrewd Jonathan within your net --
Or coax our bearded neighbour, Despardieux,
Quite to forget the fate of Waterloo?
Unhappy female! if you did, 'twere vain --
Nay, try your arts on Germany and Spain.
The Don won't take your calicoes for wine,
And black as thunder glooms the Zollverein.
No bigots they to meet with surly scorn
Your free proposals for their surplus corn.
Your bosom bare, they'll fill it in a trice --
Ah but, Calypso! why not fix a price?
Like other jades, when warning is in vain,
You risked the danger, and you lost the gain,
And fain would meet the vexing question now
With broad defiance brazened on your brow.

What has been done, is patent to us all;
It may be, partly, done beyond recall.
For frequent changes in those perilous times,
Appear to statesmen little short of crimes;
And the great art of whirling round the wheel,
Has perished with its prime Professor, Peel.
Yet not for that shall we, who recognize
No special gift in League-anointed eyes,
Renounce the right of judgment on the past,
Or, scourging former follies, spare the last.

Production -- Genesis -- 'tis all the same --
That hath been argued in the works of Graham.
If any still take interest in the text,
Or on the question feel at all perplexed,
Let them consult the homogeneous views
Conceived and uttered by the Border muse.
One year it seemeth to the good Sir James,
Such and so stringent are the farmers' claims,
That -- wheat reduced -- the tenant, with a curse,
Must quit the country while he owns a purse.
Not so his notions in another year;
Then, weak and flimsy all their claims appear.
What formerly was right, is monstrous now,
All change depending on the landlord's vow.
A new idea comes without expense --
'Where's your guano, fellows? -- have you sense?
'Tis mere delusion that you can't compete
With Polish peasants in the growth of wheat.
Don't talk of taxes and inclement skies --
Reduce the rents? Why, Sirs, they ought to rise!
And, hark ye -- there's a lion in the path --
The army -- hem! Best not provoke its wrath!'

O many-sided councillor, farewell!
On thee and thine we have not space to dwell.
One passing tribute only it is fit
To lay before the altar of thy wit.
Not the chameleon with its hundred dyes,
And instant gleams that mock the gazer's eyes --
Not Proteus' self, when deftly bound of yore
By Aristaeus on Emathia's shore,
In rapid change of form could vie with thee,
Consummate master of inconstancy!

Well, then, the novel law exerts its force;
What follows next? Why, Exodus of course!
No other issue could be seen or shown
When foreign labour supersedes our own.
Why till the soil, if profitless we reap?
Who cares for that? -- the people's bread is cheap!
O strangest symptom of a thriving state,
When countless thousands swarm to emigrate!
When half a people gird their loins to fly,
Not from oppression, but prosperity!
What wild delusion tempts them thus to roam,
Just at the time when trade is freed at home?
Hope they, perchance, within their new abode,
To live beneath some yet more liberal code?
What seek our children in the Western soil?
Mark the reply -- 'Protection for their toil!'

Whigs! if you ever pondered for an hour
On aught save means to scramble into power --
If, for a time, your thoughts could turn astray
From prurient gloatings after future pay --
This Exodus, methinks, might well abate
Your self-sufficient confidence of late,
And force even reckless Russell to confess
That Melbourne's notion was the wiser guess.
Round Richard's object there was no disguise --
It loomed distinct through multitudes of lies.
All knew to what it tended -- right or wrong,
He had his purpose, and he kept it strong.
And therefore I, who still detest his views,
Dare not to him, in honour, to refuse
Some glory in the deed, which furtive John
Would fain appropriate to himself alone.
Had Pharaoh kindly dealt with Jacob's race,
Perchance they might have tarried in their place --
Enriched the land that lay by sullen Nile,
And borne Egyptian burdens for a while.
But Pharaoh, acting on the liberal law,
Demanded bricks, and yet refused his straw.
Ramses and Russell both have pregnant claims
In emigration's page to live as names;
And, in the point of worth, 'tis hard to choose
'Twixt those who scourged the Irish or the Jews.
I'd like to ask -- and answer it who list,
Save that dull dotard, the Economist --
One question which may well attention fix --
When Israel left, who was't supplied the bricks?
In science ages only count as hours;
For 'bricks' read 'taxes', and the question's ours.
Yet Industry, they say, is wholly free --
It may be so with some, but not with me.
Though poor the raiment that defends our backs,
Not even scribblers 'scape the Income-tax.
Why comes that hateful wretch, at stated times,
To gauge my couplets and excise my rhymes?
Why does he ravish from my mean abode,
The hard-earned fruits of elegy and ode?
No land have I, no mansion or domain,
My only mine -- a poor one -- is my brain;
And yet for brains there's no exemption made.
Why am I taxed? -- to bolster up Free Trade!
No marvel all of us in wrath withstood
The vile proposal of that bungler Wood --
Phoebus be praised, he's out! -- to tithe our stock,
And shear more closely the Parnassian flock!
To mulct the silent author, sure, is hard --
Why not a tax on speeches by the yard?
Why not amerse, on each successive night,
The restless tongues of Gibson and of Bright?
Apply the rule of 'profits drawn from trade,'
To Ireland's patriots and their stout brigade!
Pluck Murphy's flowers of rhetoric in their bloom,
And e'en extract a tax from Joseph Hume?
What princely dividends would brillant Grey
In right of long colonial speeches, pay!
And Chisholm Anstey, if he's vocal yet,
Might in one year redeem the nation's debt.

Dear lady Muses, of experience hoar,
Say, were your votaries handled thus of yore?
Were Homer's Iliads reckoned line by line?
Took Solon tithings of the art divine?
Why pay for Pegasus, that steed forlorn,
Who rarely ever tastes a feed of corn?
Lo! in the name of all the tuneful trade,
I, from my garret, supplicate your aid.
From that bad eminence my earnest cries
Can surely penetrate the neighbouring skies.
O give assistance to your sons, I pray --
Melt the responsive heart of Vivian Grey;
Lead him to deal with men of wealth and gain,
Not with us poor distractors of our brain!
Else I, descending from my tall abode,
Like other bards, perforce must roam abroad --
Assume the rocking-cradle once again,
Take up the shovel, and renounce the pen.
Even now I listen, in my nightly dreams,
To the hoarse purling of Australian streams;
Mistake the amorous call of cats that woo,
For the wild shriek of startled kangaroo;
And deem the earliest Covent-garden cry,
To be the digger's morning rhapsody!

Gold -- gold! On every side I hear the sound!
Somewhere, no doubt, the metal must abound.
I pause and look, like Whittington of yore,
Lest at my feet should lie the precious ore.
But -- woe the while -- I have not found it yet;
No more have many, gracing the Gazette.
'Tis coming in, they say, both fast and free --
Alas! I know it never comes to me.
I meet no golden symptoms when I stop
To eat, sans wine, my melancholy chop;
Nor can I trace in any friend I join,
Much augmentation of his stores of coin.

Who draweth near with such a piteous face?
I know him now -- a Whig that lost his place.
A staunch adherent he, in every shape,
Of the grand mysteries of wax and tape;
A firm believer in the juggling plan;
A steadfast, thorough-going partisan.
Why prowls he now so late through Scotland-yard?
Why to yon window turns his fond regard?
Why near that portal lounges he so slow?
Alas! methinks I comprehend his woe!
Even as the Peri of the eastern song,
At Eden's glorious gateway lingered long,
Though conscious in her soul that never more
For her might open that celestial door --
So now, his manly heart with sorrow big.
Before the Treasury stalks the banished Whig!
For him no more official tapers burn --
No pitying angel hints at his return;
No more shall he pursue at quarter-day,
The bounding steps of Russell and of Grey;
Or, deeply caring for his country's good,
Exchange responsive pleasantries with Wood.

Unhappy youth! why longer tarry here?
This place for thee is desolate and drear!
Nay, weep not so! that sob my bosom rends --
Follow your leader -- seek your northern friends.
Behold, where undismayed by late defeat,
Your glorious chief forsakes his close retreat --
Achieves new victories on Albyn's shore,
And gathers burgess tickets by the score!
Hark! how his treble pipe, on Tay and Forth,
Thrills through the ardent patriots of the north --
Enlists fresh hordes of Bailies in his cause,
And from lethargic Provosts wrings applause.
No trumpeter needs he! That injured saint,
With soul superior to absurd restraint,
Sounds his own praise and ever more proclaims
His as the foremost of existing names!
See, while he utters no uncertain sound,
How keenly gaze his satellites around;
With Spartan valour how they cheer their guide --
A horrid hunger gnawing at their side --
Expectant of the day when, once again
That great commander shall resume his reign,
And, with a smile of triumph on his face,
Invite them back to Goshen and to place!

But now the evening shades are settling down --
A creeping fog invades the shivering town;
Clammy and cold the stones beneath my feet,
And hoarse the cry of minstrels in the street.
I'll hie me home, and lay my aching head
On the hard pillow of my truckle bed,
To dream, perhaps, of Danae in her tower --
Of Jove descending in a generous shower --
Of Shylock's tortures, and Gehazi's craft --
Of Crassus writhing at the molten draught;
And wake to own, with many a wiser sage,
That gold alone can make no Golden Age.





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