Alciphron: A Fragment. Letter IV.

Alciphron: A Fragment. Letter IV.

By Thomas Moore


Rejoice, my friend, rejoice;--the youthful Chief
Of that light Sect which mocks at all belief,
And gay and godless makes the present hour
Its only heaven, is now within our power.
Smooth, impious school!--not all the weapons aimed,
At priestly creeds, since first a creed was framed,
E'er struck so deep as that sly dart they wield,
The Bacchant's pointed spear in laughing flowers concealed.
And oh, 'twere victory to this heart, as sweet
As any thou canst boast--even when the feet
Of thy proud war-steed wade thro' Christian blood,
To wrap this scoffer in Faith's blinding hood,
And bring him tamed and prostrate to implore
The vilest gods even Egypt's saints adore.
What!--do these sages think, to them alone
The key of this world's happiness is known?
That none but they who make such proud parade
Of Pleasure's smiling favors win the maid,
Or that Religion keeps no secret place,
No niche in her dark fanes for Love to grace?

Fools!--did they know how keen the zest that's given
To earthly joy when seasoned well with heaven;
How Piety's grave mask improves the hue
Of Pleasure's laughing features, half seen thro',
And how the Priest set aptly within reach
Of two rich worlds, traffics for bliss with each,
Would they not, Decius--thou, whom the ancient tie
'Twixt Sword and Altar makes our best ally--
Would they not change their creed, their craft, for ours?
Leave the gross daylight joys that in their bowers
Languish with too much sun, like o'er-blown flowers,
For the veiled loves, the blisses undisplayed
That slyly lurk within the Temple's shade?
And, 'stead of haunting the trim Garden's school--
Where cold Philosophy usurps a rule,
Like the pale moon's, o'er passion's heaving tide,
Till Pleasure's self is chilled by Wisdom's pride--
Be taught by us, quit shadows for the true,
Substantial joys we sager Priests pursue,
Who far too wise to theorize on bliss
Or pleasure's substance for its shade to miss.
Preach other worlds but live for only this:-
Thanks to the well-paid Mystery round us flung,
Which, like its type the golden cloud that hung
O'er Jupiter's love-couch its shade benign,
Round human frailty wraps a veil divine.

Still less should they presume, weak wits, that they
Alone despise the craft of us who pray;--
Still less their creedless vanity deceive
With the fond thought that we who pray believe.
Believe!--Apis forbid--forbid it, all
Ye monster Gods before whose shrines we fall--
Deities framed in jest as if to try
How far gross Man can vulgarize the sky;
How far the same low fancy that combines
Into a drove of brutes yon zodiac's signs,
And turns that Heaven itself into a place
Of sainted sin and deified disgrace,
Can bring Olympus even to shame more deep,
Stock it with things that earth itself holds cheap.
Fish, flesh, and fowl, the kitchen's sacred brood,
Which Egypt keeps for worship, not for food--
All, worthy idols of a Faith that sees
In dogs, cats, owls, and apes, divinities!

Believe!--oh, Decius, thou, who feel'st no care
For things divine beyond the soldier's share,
Who takes on trust the faith for which he bleeds,
A good, fierce God to swear by, all he needs--
Little canst thou, whose creed around thee hangs
Loose as thy summer war-cloak guess the pangs
Of loathing and self-scorn with which a heart
Stubborn as mine is acts the zealot's part--
The deep and dire disgust with which I wade
Thro' the foul juggling of this holy trade--
This mud profound of mystery where the feet
At every step sink deeper in deceit.
Oh! many a time, when, mid the Temple's blaze,
O'er prostrate fools the sacred cist I raise,
Did I not keep still proudly in my mind
The power this priestcraft gives me o'er mankind--
A lever, of more might, in skilful hand,
To move this world, than Archimede e'er planned--
I should in vengeance of the shame I feel
At my own mockery crush the slaves that kneel
Besotted round; and--like that kindred breed
Of reverend, well-drest crocodiles they feed,
At famed Arsinoë[1]--make my keepers bless,
With their last throb, my sharp-fanged Holiness.

Say, is it to be borne, that scoffers, vain
Of their own freedom from the altar's chain,
Should mock thus all that thou thy blood hast sold.
And I my truth, pride, freedom, to uphold?
It must not be:--think'st thou that Christian sect,
Whose followers quick as broken waves, erect
Their crests anew and swell into a tide,
That threats to sweep away our shrines of pride--
Think'st thou with all their wondrous spells even they
Would triumph thus, had not the constant play
Of Wit's resistless archery cleared their way?--
That mocking spirit, worst of all the foes,
Our solemn fraud, our mystic mummery knows,
Whose wounding flash thus ever 'mong the signs
Of a fast-falling creed, prelusive shines,
Threatening such change as do the awful freaks
Of summer lightning ere the tempest breaks.

But, to my point--a youth of this vain school,
But one, whom Doubt itself hath failed to cool
Down to that freezing point where Priests despair
Of any spark from the altar catching there--
Hath, some nights since--it was, me thinks, the night
That followed the full Moon's great annual rite--
Thro' the dark, winding ducts that downward stray
To these earth--hidden temples, tracked his way,
Just at that hour when, round the Shrine, and me,
The choir of blooming nymphs thou long'st to see,
Sing their last night-hymn in the Sanctuary.
The clangor of the marvellous Gate that stands
At the Well's lowest depth--which none but hands
Of new, untaught adventurers, from above,
Who know not the safe path, e'er dare to move--
Gave signal that a foot profane was nigh:--
'Twas the Greek youth, who, by that morning's sky,
Had been observed, curiously wandering round
The mighty fanes of our sepulchral ground.

Instant, the Initiate's Trials were prepared,--
The Fire, Air, Water; all that Orpheus dared,
That Plato, that the bright-haired Samian[2] past,
With trembling hope, to come to--what, at last?
Go, ask the dupes of Priestcraft; question him
Who mid terrific sounds and spectres dim
Walks at Eleusis; ask of those who brave
The dazzling miracles of Mithra's Cave
With its seven starry gates; ask all who keep
Those terrible night-mysteries where they weep
And howl sad dirges to the answering breeze.
O'er their dead Gods, their mortal Deities--
Amphibious, hybrid things that died as men,
Drowned, hanged, empaled, to rise as gods again;--
Ask them, what mighty secret lurks below
This seven-fold mystery--can they tell thee? No;
Gravely they keep that only secret, well
And fairly kept--that they have none to tell;
And duped themselves console their humbled pride
By duping thenceforth all mankind beside.

And such the advance in fraud since Orpheus' time--
That earliest master of our craft sublime--
So many minor Mysteries, imps of fraud,
From the great Orphic Egg have winged abroad,
That, still to uphold our Temple's ancient boast,
And seem most holy, we must cheat the most;
Work the best miracles, wrap nonsense round
In pomp and darkness till it seems profound;
Play on the hopes, the terrors of mankind,
With changeful skill; and make the human mind
Like our own Sanctuary, where no ray
But by the Priest's permission wins its way--
Where thro' the gloom as wave our wizard rods.
Monsters at will are conjured into Gods;
While Reason like a grave-faced mummy stands
With her arms swathed in hieroglyphic bands.
But chiefly in that skill with which we use
Man's wildest passions for Religion's views,
Yoking them to her car like fiery steeds,
Lies the main art in which our craft succeeds.
And oh be blest, ye men of yore, whose toil
Hath, for our use, scooped out from Egypt's soil
This hidden Paradise, this mine of fanes,
Gardens and palaces where Pleasure reigns
In a rich, sunless empire of her own,
With all earth's luxuries lighting up her throne:--
A realm for mystery made, which undermines
The Nile itself and, 'neath the Twelve Great Shrines
That keep Initiation's holy rite,
Spreads its long labyrinths of unearthly light.
A light that knows no change--its brooks that run
Too deep for day, its gardens without sun,
Where soul and sense, by turns, are charmed, surprised.
And all that bard or prophet e'er devised
For man's Elysium, priests have realized.

Here, at this moment--all his trials past.
And heart and nerve unshrinking to the last--
Our new Initiate roves--as yet left free
To wander thro' this realm of mystery;
Feeding on such illusions as prepare
The soul, like mist o'er waterfalls, to wear
All shapes and lines at Fancy's varying will,
Thro' every shifting aspect, vapor still;--
Vague glimpses of the Future, vistas shown.
By scenic skill, into that world unknown.
Which saints and sinners claim alike their own;
And all those other witching, wildering arts,
Illusions, terrors, that make human hearts,
Ay, even the wisest and the hardiest quail
To any goblin throned behind a veil.
Yes--such the spells shall haunt his eye, his ear,
Mix wild his night-dreams, form his atmosphere;
Till, if our Sage be not tamed down, at length,
His wit, his wisdom, shorn of all their strength,
Like Phrygian priests, in honor of the shrine--
If he become not absolutely mine,
Body and soul and like the tame decoy
Which wary hunters of wild doves employ
Draw converts also, lure his brother wits
To the dark cage where his own spirit flits.
And give us if not saints good hypocrites--
If I effect not this then be it said
The ancient spirit of our craft hath fled,
Gone with that serpent-god the Cross hath chased
To hiss its soul out in the Theban waste.