"Child Of Misery, Baptized In Tears"
Context: The Reverend John Langhorne, D.D., was selected by Dr. Samuel Johnson for a place in his anthology of English poets from Chaucer to Cowper. Langhorne's clergyman father died when the boy was only four; a tender poem commemorates his mother's loving care in his upbringing. Poverty, however, prevented him from continuing his education beyond grammar school. He became first a tutor, then a schoolteacher, always using his spare time writing poetry and studying to become a minister. He continued his religious education as curate to a clergyman. Finally for religious writings, especially his Genius and Valor: A Scotch Pastoral he was supposedly given an honorary Doctor of Divinity by the University of Edinburgh in 1766. Some of Langhorne's poetry and prose appeared in The Monthly Review. Adding more criticism and fanciful prose, he published a two-volume Effusions of Friendship and Fancy, in a flippant style in which critics saw the influence of Sterne. He and his brother published their translation of Plutarch in 1770. Sir Walter Scott and Tobias Smollet were among his admirers. Most of his writing lay in what his son called "the lighter provinces of literature," when he collected his father's verse into two elegant volumes in 1804, twenty-five years after the poet's death. He and his writing are largely forgotten today. Langhorne was never very well off financially, so in 1772 he accepted appointment as Justice of the Peace in Blagdon, Somerset. After carefully considering the duties of his new office, he wrote a three part didactic and satirical poem, called The Country Justice, a poem by one of Her Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the county of Somerset. Part I was published in 1774, and the other two parts followed later, a year apart. In the Introduction, the poet praises British laws from King Richard to his own time. The early Saxon serfs gained liberty only by flight, but Edward III did manage to achieve some law and order, and established a system of rural justice. Langhorne describes the ancient Hall of Justice. The stanzas of rhymed couplets that follow are headed by phrases descriptive of their content. In "The Character of a County Justice," the poet writes: "His featur'd soul display'd Honor's strong beam, and Mercy's melting shade." The section "General Motives for Lenity" pleads "Be this, ye rural Magistrates, your plan: / Firm be your justice, but be friends to man." Before sentencing, the magistrate is urged to discover whether vice or nature prompts the deed, and he is adjured to consider "the strong temptations and the need." Bringing up a specific case, Langhorne offers his "Apology for Vagrants."
For him who, lost to ev'ry hope of lifeHas long with fortune held unequal strife,Known to no human love, no human care,The friendless, homeless object of despair;For the poor vagrant, feel, while he complains,Nor from sad freedom sent to sadder chains . . .. . .Perhaps on some inhospitable shoreThe houseless wretch a widow'd parent bore,Who, then, no more by golden prospects led,Of the poor Indian begg'd a leafy bed,Cold on Canadian hills, or Minden's plainPerhaps that parent mourn'd her soldier slain;Bent o'er her babe, her eye dissolv'd in dew,The big drops mingling with the milk he drew,Gave the sad presage of his future years,The child of misery, baptiz'd in tears!