By William Mckendree Carleton

Ah me! it makes a sinner wondrous blue,
To see so many other sinners too!
When I rake over all my faults, and then
Notice the same, or worse, in other men,
It makes me very much surprised and sad,
That Heaven should see Earth turning out so bad!

Vice, vice, vice, vice! The country’s mean enough,
And has some villains that are pretty rough;
But in this town, where art and nature both
Are shoved into their very greatest growth,
And where the utmost of all things is found,
The Devil has his best men on the ground,
And gives them weapons meeting his own views,
And all the ammunition they can use!

Vice, vice, vice, vice! I never had been led
To think that Evil had so long a head!
I’ve seen more ingenuity displayed
In one crime, than ‘twould take to learn a trade.
Such cute inventions Sin will take in charge:
Old Satan’s patent-office must be large!

And yet, for all their craft, in time how brief
How many of these rascals come to grief!
For though within them cunning may abound,
The plain-clothed Truth is always standing round,
Or following rogues through every land and clime,
And gets them, if you’ll only give him time.
I don’t believe – as some good people say –
The Devil leads men on from day to day,
And takes them to a rock, and, first they know,
Pitches them off into some gulf below;
Or baits them into different traps, and then
Doesn’t try at all to get them out again:
I think he’d like to keep them, safe and sound,
Doing his nasty work the whole year round;
And when a rogue fails up and comes to grief,
It hurts his brimstone-clothed but helpless chief!

These thoughts limped past my saddened mind to-day,
As through State’s prison I pursued my way,
Led round by one who didn’t seem to be knowing
What melancholy pictures he was showing!
Those walls and guards, that all escape opposed;
Those thick, iron doors – it thundered when they closed;
The cells – each one a closet full of gloom:
I’d just as soon sleep in a metal tomb![6]
The hard-faced men who worked away (no doubt,
For fear of hard-faced men that stood about),
Wearing that garb of stripes a free man loathes,
As if Law whipped them – even with their clothes;
The way they glance up at you from within
Their drooping eyelids, hard with grief or sin,
Wondering, as they gaze upon you so,
If you are not some one they used to know;
The ghosts you feel, that creep ’round, all the time,
Among these men who’ve shaken hands with crime;
The mournful hope that some are toiling here
Whose innocence in heaven is proved out clear:
All these things to my inmost spirit talked,
As through those regions dark I slowly walked;
And when the front door closed behind me – free –
The fresh air seemed like heaven itself to me!

I recollect once getting sick with pain,
When sitting near a sheriff, on the train,
Who had a young man with him – not of age –
Whom he was taking to this stone-bound cage.
The poor boy talked to him with drooping head,
And these are something like the words he said:

[6] And yet ’twas quite affecting, I declare,
How some had ornaments up, even there!
Not crime itself, or sad misfortune’s smart
Can crush all sense of beauty from the heart!

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