Arthur Clifford
  • Arthur Clifford
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Arthur Clifford

A Prayer to the Almighty Amid the Ruins of History

  • To want, and pining misery dear,
  • And loved by all the country near,
  • When, as successive ages rolled,
  • The steel-clad knight, or baron bold,
  • In arms, and well-fought fields grown gray,
  • Here calmly closed life’s parting day,
  • For heroes, here their eyes have closed,
  • And statesmen from their toils reposed,
  • And sages, won by nature’s charms,
  • Have wooed her to their longing arms;
  • And poets, here have struck the lyre –
  • And caught the soul-inflaming fire,
  • Which, as it thrilled their nerves along,
  • And woke the hidden powers of song,
  • To distant times again addrest,
  • Shall raise the mind, and warm the breast.
  • Now sinks the fading orb of night,
  • The stars withdraw their twinkling light,
  • And seem in fancy’s ear to say,
  • We too are fated to decay.
  • O, though! Almighty Power Supreme!
  • Whose bounty gives this nightly beam,
  • Who pourest on the wondering soul,
  • This boundless blaze from pole to pole –
  • Though hid form my imploring eye,
  • Thy works declare thee ever nigh.
  • O teach me clearly to conceive,
  • O teach me firmly to believe,
  • That, from this wreck of mortal things,
  • To which our sense so fondly clings,
  • That, from this dark, bewildered state,
  • Entangled in the maze of fate,
  • A fair, harmonious scene shall rise –
  • When, opened to our anxious eyes,
  • Cleared from all mist of doubt, and fear,
  • Thy perfect justice shall appear.
  • Guide me through life’s perplexing way,
  • Cheer me with hope’s auspicious ray.
  • May simple joys my cares beguile,
  • May love and friendship on me smile;
  • Till my rapt soul, from earth set free,
  • Shall seek eternal rest in Thee.
  • – Herbert Aston, “A Prayer to the Almighty Amid the Ruins of History,” edited by Arthur Clifford.

Arthur Clifford (1777-1830) was an English editor of and dealer in antique manuscripts. As one of the faculty members of the Catholic seminary known as the English College at Douai, he was imprisoned during the French Revolution. After being released, he saw many of the Catholic treasures of France’s monasteries (also purged during the revolution) emerge for public perusal. His experience in prison and love for these manuscripts inspired him to devote his life to a study and preservation of ancient manuscripts, and especially those of the Catholic Church. Among the documents he unearthed included those he found in his ancestral home of Tixall Hall, Staffordshire, England, published in two volumes, the Tixall Letters and Tixall Poetry. Within the latter volume was included the above poem by Herbert Aston (1614-1689), son of the first Lord of Tixall Hall, Sir Walter Aston (1583-1639), a convert to Catholicism during Charles I’s time, while serving as ambassador to Spain. Little else is known about Herbert Aston.

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