Oft have you pray’d me, when in youth,
Never to err from paths of truth;
But youth to vice is much too prone,
And mine by far too much, I own.
Induced to riot, swear, and game,
I thought in vice t’acquire fame;
But found the pois’ning scenes of riot
Soon robb’d my mind of joy and quiet.
The usual course of rakes I ran,
The dupe of woman and of man.
Careless of fortune’s smile or frown,
My desk I left t’enjoy the town,
At folly dash’d in wisdom’s spite,
Idled by day, revell’d by night:
But short was that delusive scene,
And I awoke to sorrow keen.
Debt press’d on debt: I could not pay,
And found that credit had its day.
No friend to aid, what should I do?
I made bad worse: to liquor flew:
For when my bill-book I survey’d,
I shrunk, as if I’d seen my shade;
And to drive terror from my mind,
Drank on, and care gave to the wind:
But wine nor words can charm away
The banker’s clerk who comes for pay.
Payment is press’d, the cash is gone:
Too late I cry, ‘what must be done?’
Horrow! a docket struck appears:
I look aghast, my wife’s in tears.
The naked truth stares in my face,
And shows me more than one disgrace.
My keys a messenger demands;
While, as a culprit often stands,
The humbled bankrupt lowers his view,
And sees the law its work pursue.
Soon comes of all his goods, the sale;
Which, like light straw before a gale,
The hammer-man puffs clean away,
And cries, ‘they must be sold this day.’
They are so, and I’ll tell you how:
At loss you’ll readily allow.
Then comes the tedious, humbling task,
To answer all commiss’ners ask;
And those who mean to act most fair,
Will at first meeting e’er appear,
To questions ask’d will answer true,
And clearly state accounts to view.
A second he need not attend,
But if not may perhaps offend.
Happy the man who then can lay
His hand upon his heart, and say,
‘You all my books and deeds may scan
I’m honest, though distress’d man.
My own just wants, and losses great,
Have brought me to this low estate.’
Then comes the last dread meeting on,
Dreadful to such as will act wrong,
And through dishonesty or shame
Evasive answers ’tempt to frame:
For vain his shifts; howe’er he try,
He can’t elude the searching eye
Of lawyers, who’ll in all things pry:
His private foibles e’en mast out-
Grievous exposure ’tis no doubt!
And if he’s fraudl’lent found, must go
To witness scenes of vice and woe;
Of liberty deprived, to wail
His faults and folly in a jail:
But should his conduct seem least fair,
England’s blest laws will set him clear;
Not only so, but means will give
T’enable him again to live:
For such the law, that when ’tis found
There’s fifteen shillings in the pound,
A handsome drawback he’s allow’d,
When, ’stead of shamed, he may look proud;
And be his div’dend e’er so low,
They’ll never let him coinless go.
Yes, be it e’er a Briton’s pride,
That mercy in his courts preside.
But e’er he’s paid, he must await
T’obtain a fair certificate.
Some cases there however are
Which, at first view, may seem severe;
Suppose his creditors are ten;
Four sign, the rest refuse: what then?
If their demand exceed the four
They’ll keep the bankrupt in their pow’r;
And although he has all resign’d,
If unproved debts remain behind,
Inhuman creditors then may
His body into prison lay,
Where oft the wretch, to sooth his grief,
In dissipation seeks relief.
Sometimes a parent may prevent
Unmeaningly the law’s intent;
And merc’less creditors decline
The hapless debtor’s deed to sign,
In hopes the father may one day
The long-neglected son’s debts pay.
The Lawyer and the Auctioneer,
Plunges all parties in despair;
When Creditors their bills do see,
Each sighing say nought’s left for me.

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