Vile example may be stamped on the breast

— Cowper, William (1731-1800)

Place of Publication
Printed for J. Johnson
Vile example may be stamped on the breast
Metaphor in Context
But if thy table be indeed unclean,
Foul with excess, and with discourse obscene,
And thou a wretch, whom, following her old plan,
The world accounts an honourable man,
Because forsooth thy courage has been tried,
And stood the test, perhaps on the wrong side,
Though thou hadst never grace enough to prove
That any thing but vice could win thy love;
Or hast thou a polite, card-playing wife,
Chained to the routs that she frequents, for life,
Who, just when industry begins to snore,
Flies, wing'd with joy, to some coach-crowded door,
And thrice in every winter throngs thine own
With half the chariots and sedans in town,
Thyself meanwhile e'en shifting as thou mayst,
Not very sober though, nor very chaste;
Or is thine house, though less superb thy rank,
If not a scene of pleasure, a mere blank,
And thou at best, and in thy soberest mood,
A trifler, vain, and empty of all good?
Though mercy for thyself thou canst have none,
Hear nature plead, show mercy to thy son.
Saved from his home, where every day brings forth
Some mischief fatal to his future worth,
Find him a better in a distant spot,
Within some pious pastor's humble cot,
Where vile example (your's I chiefly mean,
The most seducing and the oftenest seen,)
May never more be stamp'd upon his breast
Not yet perhaps incurably impress'd.
Where early rest makes early rising sure,
Disease or comes not, or finds easy cure,
Prevented much by diet neat and plain,
Or if it enter, soon starved out again.
Where all the attention of his faithful host
Discreetly limited to two at most,
May raise such fruits as shall reward his care,
And not at last evaporate in air.
Where stillness aiding study, and his mind
Serene, and to his duties much inclined,
Not occupied in day-dreams, as at home,
Of pleasures past or follies yet to come,
His virtuous toil may terminate at last
In settled habit and decided taste.
But whom do I advise? the fashion-led,
The incorrigibly wrong, the deaf, the dead,
Whom care and cool deliberation suit
Not better much than spectacles a brute;
Who if their sons some slight tuition share,
Deem it of no great moment, whose, or where,
Too proud to adopt the thoughts of one unknown,
And much too gay to have any of their own.
But courage, man! methought the Muse replied,
Mankind are various, and the world is wide;
The ostrich, silliest of the feather'd kind,
And form'd of God without a parent's mind,
Commits her eggs, incautious, to the dust,
Forgetful that the foot may crush the trust;
And while on public nurseries they rely,
Not knowing, and too oft not caring why,
Irrational in what they thus prefer,
No few, that would seem wise, resemble her.
But all are not alike. Thy warning voice
May here and there prevent erroneous choice,
And some perhaps, who, busy as they are,
Yet make their progeny their dearest care,
Whose hearts will ache once told what ills may reach
Their offspring left upon so wild a beach,
Will need no stress of argument to enforce
The expedience of a less adventurous course.
The rest will slight thy counsel, or condemn;
But they have human feelings. Turn to them.
Searching "stamp" and "breast" in HDIS (Poetry)
At least 6 entries in the ESTC (1786, 1787, 1788, 1790, 1791, 1792, 1793, 1794, 1795, 1798, 1799, 1800).

See Poems, by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq. Volume the Second. Containing the Task. An Epistle to Joseph Hill, Esq. Tirocinium, or a Review of Schools. And the History of John Gilpin. 2nd ed. (London: Printed for J. Johnson, No. 72, St. Paul’s Church-Yard, 1786). <Link to ESTC>

Reading The Poems of William Cowper, eds. John D. Baird and Charles Ryskamp (Oxford: Oxford UP: 1980), vol. 2 of 3.
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.