The Age of George III

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The Beggar's Petition

by Thomas Moss (1766)

Amidst the more important toils of state,
The counsels labouring in this patriot soul,
Though Europe from thy voice expect her fate,
And thy keen glance extend from pole to pole;

O Chatham, nursed in ancient virtue's lore,
To these sad strains incline a favouring ear;
Think on the God whom thou, and I adore,
Nor turn unpitying from the poor man's prayer.

Pity the sorrows of a poor old man
Whose trembling limbs have borne him to your door,
Whose days are dwindled to the shortest span -
Oh, give relief, and heaven will bless your store.

Ah me! How blest was once a peasant's life!
No lawless passion swelled my even breast;
Far from the stormy waves of civil strife
Sound were my slumber, and my heart at rest

I ne'er for guilty, painful pleasures roved,
But, taught by nature, and by choice, to wed,
From all the hamlet culled whom best I loved;
With her I stayed my heart, with her my bed.

To gild her worth I asked no wealthy power -
My toil could feed her, and my arm defend;
In youth, or age, in pain, or pleasure's hour,
The same fond husband, father, brother, friend.

And she, the faithful partner of my care,
When ruddy evening streaked the western sky,
Looked towards the uplands, if her mate was there,
Or through the beech word cast an anxious eye;

Then, careful matron, heaped the ample board
With savoury herbs, and picked the nicer part
From such plain food as Nature could afford,
Ere simple Nature was debauched by Art.

While I, contented with my homely cheer,
Saw round my knees my prattling children play;
And oft with pleased attention sat to hear
The little history of their idle day.

But ah! How changed the scene! On the cold stones,
Where wont at night to blaze the cheerful fire,
Pale famine sits and counts her naked bones,
Still sighs for food, still pines with vain desire.

My faithful wife, with ever-straining eyes,
Hangs on my bosom her dejected head;
My helpless infants raise their feeble cries,
And from their father claim their daily bread,

Dear tender pledges of my honest love,
On that bare bed behold your brother lie;
Three tedious days with pinching want he strove,
The fourth, I saw the helpless cherub die.

Nor long shall ye remain. With visage sour
Our tyrant lord commands us from our home
And, armed with cruel Law's coercive power,
Bids me and mine o'er barren mountains roam.

Yet never, Chatham, have I passed a day
In Riot's orgies, or in idle ease;
Ne'er have I sacrificed to sport and play
Or wished a pampered appetite to please.

Hard was my fate and constant was my toil:
Still with the morning's orient light I rose,
Felled the stout oak, or raised the lofty pile,
Parched with the sun, in dark December froze.

Is it that Nature with a niggard hand
Withholds her gifts from these once-favoured plains?
Has God, in vengeance to a guilty land,
Sent Dearth and Famine to her labouring swains?

Ah no; you hill where daily sweats my brow,
A thousand flocks, a thousand herds adorn
Yon field, where late I drove the painful plough,
Feels all her acres crowned with wavy corn.

But what avails that o'er the furrowed soil
In Autumn's heat the yellow harvests rise
If artificial want elude my toil
Untasted plenty wound my craving eyes?

What profits that at a distance I behold
My wealthy neighbour's fragrant smoke ascend,
If still the gripping cormorant withhold
The fruits which rain and genial seasons send;

If those fell vipers of the public weal
Yet unrelenting on our bowels prey;
If still the curse of penury we feel,
And in the midst of plenty pine away;

In every port the vessel rides secure
That wafts our harvest to a foreign shore,
While we the pangs of pressing want endure,
The sons of strangers riot on our store?

O generous Chatham, stop those fatal sails,
Once more with outstretched arm thy Britons save;
The unheeding crew but wait for favouring gales;
O stop them ere thy stem Italia's wave.

From thee alone I hope for instant aid,
'Tis thou alone canst save my children's breath:
O deem not little of our cruel meed,
O haste to help us, for delay is death.

So may nor Spleen nor Envy blast thy name,
Nor voice profane thy patriot acts deride;
Still mayest thou stand the first in honest fame,
Unstung by Folly, Vanity or Pride.

So may thy languid limbs with strength be braced,
And glowing health support thy active soul,
With fair renown thy public virtue graced,
Far as thou badest Britannia's thunders roll.

Then joy to thee, and to thy children peace
The grateful hind shall drink from Plenty's horn:
And while they share the cultured land's increase,
The poor shall bless the day when Pitt was born.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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