"Railing At Life, And Yet Afraid Of Death"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Churchill was a dissipated clergyman who won for himself both fame and notoriety as a satiric poet during the last four years of his life. Much of the harsh and vitriolic nature of his verse seems to have been determined by his association with the unscrupulous editor of the North-Briton, John Wilkes. He surprised his readers, however, in the long and rambling Gotham by turning away from satire to discuss political and social freedom. He included such humanitarian reflections as won the approval of his former schoolmate, the gentle William Cowper. In the introduction to this poem, named for a village whose inhabitants were proverbial for their foolish actions, Churchill surveyed the various stages of human life beginning with infancy and proceeding through childhood to youth, manhood, and finally old-age:

OLD-AGE, a second Child, by Nature curs'd
With more and greater evils than the first,
Weak, sickly, full of pains; in ev'ry breath
Railing at life, and yet afraid of death;
Putting things off, with sage and solemn air,
From day to day, without one day to spare;
Without enjoyment, covetous of pelf,
Tiresome to friends, and tiresome to himself,
His faculties impair'd, his temper sour'd,
His memory of recent things devour'd
E'en with the acting, on his shatter'd brain
Tho' the stale Registers of Youth remain;
From morn to evening babbling forth vain praise
Of those rare men, who liv'd in those rare days
When He, the Hero of his tale, was Young,
Dull Repetitions falt'ring on his tongue, . . .