John Quincy Adams

Charles The Fifth's Clocks

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With Charles the Fifth art thou acquainted, reader?
Of Ferdinand and Isabel the grandson,
In ages past of Europe's realms file leader,
Among the mightiest of all ages, one.
Spaill, Germany, his sceptre swayed,
With feet victorious over France he trod,
Afric' and Italy his laws obeyed,
And either India trembled at his nod.
Well, reader, this same monarch mighty,
Like many of his stamp before,
Down to the latest of the set
Whose names I leave in blank, as yet!
And with Napoleon you may fill,
Or Alexander, as you will;
Charles, seated upon all his thrones,
With all his crowns upon his head,
Built piles on piles of human bones,
As if he meant to reign the sovereign of the dead.
He kept the world in uproar forty years,
And waded bloody oceans through;
Feasted on widows' and on orphans' tears,
And cities sacked, and millions slew.
And all the pranks of conquering heroes play'd,
A master workman at the royal trade,
The recipe approved time out of mind,
To win the hearts of all mankind.
But heroes, too, get weary of their trade;
Charles had a conscience, and grew old;
The gout sometimes an ugly visit paid;
A voice within unwelcome stories told,
That heroes, just like common men,
One day must die; and then
Of what might happen Charles was sore afraid.
Of Charles's wars, need little here be said;
Their causes were ambition, avarice, pride,
Despotic empire o'er the world to spread,
Revenge on Francis, who proclaimed he lied,
And chiefly Luther's heresies to quell;
To prove the wrong of Reformation
With fire, and sword, and desolation,
And save the souls of Protestants from hell.
But when the humor came to save his own,
Charles stripp'd off all his royal robes,
Dismissed his double globes,
Cast down his crowns, descended from his throne,
And with St. Jerome's monks retired, to die alone.
Charles had a maggot in the mind,
Restless, that needs must be of something thinking;
And now, to keep his spirits from sinking,
Employment often at a loss to find,
Much of his time he spent in prayer;
In penance for his evil deeds,
In saying masses, and in telling beads;
In self-chastisement, till he bled
A drop for every ton of others shed;
And much his little garden claim'd his care,
In planting cabbages and plucking seeds;
But these were simple occupations,
And Charles, so long ill empire's toils immers'd,
So deep in all their intricacies vers'd,
Some pastime needed, full of complications.
So long his study had been man,
His sport, his victim, man, of flesh and blood,
That now with art mechanic he began
To fashion manakins of wood.
Soon he became a skilful mechanician,
And made his mimic men with so much art,
They made St. Jerome's friars start,
And think their royal master a magician,
Leagued with the mother of all evil;
Like Dr. Faustus, soul-bound to the devil.
At last the fancy seized his brain,
Of perfect instruments for keeping time.
Watches and clocks he made, but all in vain;
He never could succeed to make them chime.
With choice chronometers he lin'd his cell;
No two at once would ever ring the bell.
Now mark the moral of my tale,
Which flash'd in sunbeams upon Charles's soul;
When he whose chisel could prevail
Alan's outward actions to control,
Scthlat his puppets seemed as good
As living men, though made of wood,
Yet ever baffled found his skill
To mould two watches to his will.
He smote his bosom with a sigh,
Exclaiming, " What a dolt was I,
By force constraining men to think alike,
And cannot make two clocks together strike!"

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John Quincy Adams