The Character of a Good Parson, Imitated from Chaucer, and Inlarg'd



A PARISH priest was of the pilgrim train;
An awful, reverend, and religious man.
His eyes diffus'd a venerable grace,
And charity itself was in his face.
Rich was his soul, tho' his attire was poor,
(As God had cloth'd his own ambassador;)
For such, on earth, his blest Redeemer bore.
Of sixty years he seem'd; and well might last
To sixty more, but that he liv'd too fast;
Refin'd himself to soul, to curb the sense;
And made almost a sin of abstinence.
Yet had his aspect nothing of severe,
But such a face as promis'd him sincere.
Nothing reserv'd or sullen was to see,
But sweet regards and pleasing sanctity;
Mild was his accent, and his action free.
With eloquence innate his tongue was arm'd;
Tho' harsh the precept, yet the preacher charm'd.
For, letting down the golden chain from high,
He drew his audience upward to the sky;
And oft, with holy hymns, he charm'd their ears
(A music more melodious than the spheres):
For David left him, when he went to rest,
His lyre, and after him he sung the best.
He bore his great commission in his look;
But sweetly temper'd awe, and soften'd all he spoke.
He preach'd the joys of heav'n and pains of hell,
And warn'd the sinner with becoming zeal,
But on eternal mercy lov'd to dwell.
He taught the gospel rather than the law,
And forc'd himself to drive, but lov'd to draw:
For fear but freezes minds; but love, like heat,
Exhales the soul sublime, to seek her native seat.
To threats the stubborn sinner oft is hard,
Wrapp'd in his crimes, against the storm prepar'd;
But, when the milder beams of mercy play,
He melts, and throws his cumbrous cloak away.
Lightnings and thunder (heav'n's artillery)
As harbingers before th' Almighty fly:
Those but proclaim his style, and disappear;
The stiller sound succeeds, and God is there.
The tithes his parish freely paid, he took;
But never sued, or curs'd with bell and book:
With patience bearing wrong, but off'ring none,
Since every man is free to lose his own.
The country churls, according to their kind,
(Who grudge their dues, and love to be behind,)
The less he sought his off'rings, pinch'd the more,
And prais'd a priest contented to be poor.
Yet of his little he had some to spare,
To feed the famish'd, and to clothe the bare:
For mortified he was to that degree,
A poorer than himself he would not see.
True priests, he said, and preachers of the word.
Were only stewards of their sovereign Lord:
Nothing was theirs; but all the public store,
Intrusted riches, to relieve the poor;
Who, should they steal, for want of his relief,
He judg'd himself accomplice with the thief.
Wide was his parish; not contracted close
In streets, but here and there a straggling house;
Yet still he was at hand, without request,
To serve the sick, to succor the distress'd;
Tempting, on foot, alone, without affright,
The dangers of a dark, tempestuous night.
All this the good old man perform'd alone,
Nor spar'd his pains; for curate he had none.
Nor durst he trust another with his care;
Nor rode himself to Paul's, the public fair,
To chaffer for preferment with his gold,
Where bishoprics and sinecures are sold;
But duly watch'd his flock, by night and day,
And from the prowling wolf redeem'd the prey,
And hungry sent the wily fox away.
The proud he tam'd, the penitent he cheer'd,
Nor to rebuke the rich offender fear'd.
His preaching much, but more his practice wrought;
(A living sermon of the truths he taught;)
For this by rules severe his life he squar'd,
That all might see the doctrine which they heard.
For priests, he said, are patterns for the rest;
(The gold of heav'n, who bear the God impress'd;)
But when the precious coin is kept unclean,
The sovereign's image is no longer seen.
If they be foul on whom the people trust,
Well may the baser brass contract a rust.
The prelate for his holy life he priz'd;
The worldly pomp of prelacy despis'd.
His Savior came not with a gaudy show,
Nor was his kingdom of the world below.
Patience in want; and poverty of mind,
These marks of Church and Churchmen he design'd,
And living taught, and dying left behind.
The crown he wore was of the pointed thorn;
In purple he was crucified, not born.
They who contend for place and high degree
Are not his sons, but those of Zebedee.
Not but he knew the signs of earthly pow'r
Might well become Saint Peter's successor:
The holy father holds a double reign;
The prince may keep his pomp, the fisher must be plain.
Such was the saint; who shone with every grace,
Reflecting, Moses-like, his Maker's face.
God saw his image lively was express'd,
And his own work, as in creation, bless'd.
The tempter saw him too, with envious eye;
And, as on Job, demanded leave to try.
He took the time when Richard was depos'd,
And high and low with happy Harry clos'd.
This prince, tho' great in arms, the priest withstood;
Near tho' he was, yet not the next of blood.
Had Richard, unconstrain'd, resign'd the throne,
A king can give no more than is his own;
The title stood entail'd, had Richard had a son.
Conquest, an odious name, was laid aside,
Where all submitted, none the battle tried.
The senseless plea of right by providence
Was, by a flatt'ring priest, invented since;
And lasts no longer than the present sway,
But justifies the next who comes in play.
The people's right remains; let those who dare
Dispute their pow'r, when they the judges are.
He join'd not in their choice, because he knew
Worse might, and often did, from change ensue.
Much to himself he thought, but little spoke;
And, undepriv'd, his benefice forsook.
Now, thro' the land, his cure of souls he stretch'd,
And like a primitive apostle preach'd:
Still cheerful, ever constant to his call;
By many follow'd, lov'd by most, admir'd by all.
With what he begg'd, his brethren he reliev'd,
And gave the charities himself receiv'd:
Gave, while he taught; and edified the more,
Because he shew'd, by proof, 't was easy to be poor.
He went not with the crowd to see a shrine,
But fed us, by the way, with food divine.
In deference to his virtues, I forbear
To shew you what the rest in orders were:
This brillant is so spotless and so bright,
He needs no foil, but shines by his own proper light.
Author of original: 
Geoffrey Chaucer
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