Which happened in January, 1779
Where Humber pours his rich commercial stream
There dwelt a wretch, who breathed but to blaspheme;
In subterraneous caves his life he led,
Black as the mine in which he wrought for bread.
When on a day, emerging from the deep,
A Sabbath-day (such Sabbaths thousands keep!)
The wages of his weekly toil he bore
To buy a cock—whose blood might win him more;
As if the noblest of the feather’d kind
Were but for battle and for death design’d;
As if the consecrated hours were meant
For sport, to minds on cruelty intent;
It chanced (such chances Providence obey)
He met a fellow labourer on the way,
Whose heart the same desires had once inflamed;
But now the savage temper was reclaim’d,
Persuasion on his lips had taken place;
For all plead well who plead the cause of grace.
His iron heart with scripture he assail’d,
Woo’d him to hear a sermon, and prevail’d.
His faithful bow the mighty preacher drew,
Swift as the lightning-glimpse the arrow flew.
He wept; he trembled; cast his eyes around,
To find a worse than he; but none he found.
He felt his sins, and wonder’d he should feel.
Grace made the wound, and grace alone could heal.
Now farewell oaths, and blasphemies, and lies!
He quits the sinner’s for the martyr’s prize.
That holy day was wash’d with many a tear,
Gilded with hope, yet shaded too by fear.
The next, his swarthy brethren of the mine
Learn’d, by his alter’d speech, the change divine!
Laugh’d when they should have wept, and swore the day
Was nigh when he would swear as fast as they.
“No,” said the penitent, “such words shall share
This breath no more; devoted now to prayer.
O! if Thou seest (thine eye, the future sees)
That I shall yet again blaspheme, like these;
Now strike me to the ground on which I kneel,
Ere yet this heart relapses into steel;
Now take me to that heaven I once defied,
Thy presence, thy embrace!”—He spoke, and died!
~ William Cowper