There were scarcely any events in the life of Thomas Hood. One
condition there was of too potent determining
importance—life-long ill health; and one circumstance of
moment—a commercial failure, and consequent expatriation.
Beyond this, little presents itself for record in the outward
facts of this upright and beneficial career, bright with genius
and coruscating with wit, dark with the lengthening and deepening
shadow of death.
The father of Thomas Hood was engaged in business as a publisher
and bookseller in the Poultry, in the city of London,—a
member of the firm of Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe. He was a
Scotchman, and had come up to the capital early in life, to make
his way. His interest in books was not solely confined to their
saleable quality. He reprinted various old works with success;
published Bloomfield's poems, and dealt handsomely with him; and
was himself the author of two novels, which are stated to have
had some success in their day. For the sake of the son rather
than the father, one would like to see some account, with
adequate specimens, of these long-forgotten tales; for the
queries which Thomas Hood asks concerning the piteous woman of
his Bridge of Sighs interest us all concerning a man of
genius, and interest us moreover with regard to the question of
intellectual as well as natural affinity:—
Another line of work in which the elder Hood is recorded to have
been active was the opening of the English book-trade with
America. He married a sister of the engraver Mr. Sands, and had
by her a large family; two sons and four daughters survived the
period of childhood. The elder brother, James, who died early of
consumption, drew well, as did also one or two of the sisters. It
would seem therefore, when we recall Thomas Hood's aptitudes and
frequent miscellaneous practice in the same line, that a certain
tendency towards fine art, as well as towards literature, ran in
the family. The consumption which killed James appears to have
been inherited from his mother; she, and two of her daughters,
died of the same disease; and a pulmonary affection of a somewhat
different kind became, as we shall see, one of the poet's most
inveterate persecutors. The death of the father, which was sudden
and unexpected, preceded that of the mother, but not of James,
and left the survivors in rather straitened circumstances.
Thomas, the second of the two sons, was born in the Poultry, on
or about the 23d of May, 1799. He is stated to have been a
retired child, with much quiet humor; chuckling, we may guess,
over his own quaint imaginings, which must have come in crowds,
and of all conceivable or inconceivable sorts, to judge from the
products of his after years; keeping most of these fancies and
surprises to himself, but every now and then letting some of them
out, and giving homely or stolid bystanders an inkling of insight
into the many-peopled crannies of his boyish brain. He received
his education at Dr. Wanostrocht's school at Clapham. It is not
very clear how far this education extended: I should infer that it was just about enough, and
not more than enough, to enable Hood to shift for himself in the
career of authorship, without serious disadvantage from
inadequate early training, and also without much aid thence
derived—without, at any rate, any such rousing and refining
of the literary sense as would warrant us in attributing to
educational influences either the inclination to become an
author, or the manipulative power over language and style which
Hood displayed in his serious poems, not to speak of those of a
lighter kind. We seem to see him sliding, as it were, into the
profession of letters, simply through capacity and liking, and
the course of events—not because he had resolutely made up
his mind to be an author, nor because his natural faculty had
been steadily or studiously cultivated. As to details, it may be
remarked that his schooling included some amount—perhaps a
fair average amount—of Latin. We find it stated that he had
a Latin prize at school, but was not apt at the language in later
years. He had however one kind of aptitude at it—being
addicted to the use of familiar Latin quotations or phrases,
cited with humorous verbal perversions.
In all the relations of family life, and the forms of family
affection, Hood was simply exemplary. The deaths of his elder
brother and of his father left him the principal reliance of his
mother, herself destined soon to follow them to the tomb: he was
an excellent and devoted son. His affection for one of his
sisters, Anne, who also died shortly afterwards, is attested in
the beautiful lines named The Deathbed,—
At a later date, the loves of a husband and a father seem to have
absorbed by far the greater part of his nature and his thoughts:
his letters to friends are steeped and drenched In "Jane,"
"Fanny," and "Tom junior." These letters are mostly divided
between perpetual family details and perennial jocularity: a
succession of witticisms, or at lowest of puns and
whimsicalities, mounts up like so many squibs and crackers,
fizzing through, sparkling amid, or ultimately extinguished by,
the inevitable shower—the steady rush and downpour—of
the home-affections. It may easily be inferred from this account
that there are letters which one is inclined to read more
thoroughly, and in greater number consecutively, than Hood's.
The vocation first selected for Hood, towards the age of fifteen,
was one which he did not follow up for long—that of an
engraver. He was apprenticed to his uncle Mr. Sands, and
afterwards to one of the Le Keux family. The occupation was
ill-suited to his constantly ailing health, and this eventually
conduced to his abandoning it. He then went to Scotland to
recruit, remaining there among his relatives about five
years. According to a statement made by
himself, he was in a merchant's office within this interval; it
is uncertain, however, whether this assertion is to be accepted
as genuine, or as made for some purpose of fun. His first
published writing appeared in the Dundee Advertiser in
1814—his age being then, at the utmost, fifteen and a half;
this was succeeded by some contribution to a local magazine. But
as yet he had no idea of authorship as a profession.
Towards the middle of the year 1820, Hood was re-settled in
London, improved in health, and just come of age. At first he
continued practising as an engraver; but in 1821 he began to act
as a sort of sub-editor for the London Magazine after the
death of the editor, Mr. Scott, in a duel. He concocted
fictitious and humorous answers to correspondents—a humble
yet appropriate introduction to the insatiable habit and faculty
for out-of-the-way verbal jocosity which marked-off his after
career from that of all other excellent poets.
His first regular contribution to the magazine, in July, 1821,
was a little poem To Hope: even before this, as early at
any rate as 1815, he was in the frequent practice of writing
correctly and at some length in verse, as witnessed by
selections, now in print, from what he had composed for the
amusement of his relatives. Soon afterwards, a private literary
society was the recipient of other verses of the same order. The
lines To Hope were followed, in the London
Magazine, by the Ode to Dr. Kitchener and some further
poems, including the important work, Lycus the
Centaur—after the publication of which, there could not
be much doubt of the genuine and uncommon powers of the new
writer. The last contribution of Hood to this magazine was the
Lines to a Cold Beauty. Another early work of his, and one
which, like the verses To the Moon, affords marked
evidence of the impression which he had received from Keats's
poetry, is the unfinished drama (or, as he termed it, "romance")
of Lamia: I do not find its precise date recorded. Its
verse is lax, and its tone somewhat immature; yet it shows a
great deal of sparkling and diversified talent. Hood certainly
takes a rather more rational view than Keats did of his subject
as a moral invention, or a myth having some sort of meaning at
its root. A serpent transformed into a woman, who beguiles a
youth of the highest hopes into amorous languid self-abandonment,
is clearly not, in morals, the sort of person that ought to be
left uncontrolled to her own devices. Keats ostentatiously
resents the action of the unimpassioned philosopher Appollonius
in revealing the true nature of the woman-serpent, and dissolving
her spell. An elderly pedant to interfere with the pretty whims
of a viper when she wears the outer semblance of a fine woman!
(Such is the sentiment of Keats; but such plainly is not
altogether the conviction of Hood, although his story remains but
By this time it may have become pretty clear to himself and
others that his proper vocation and destined profession was
literature. Through the London Magazine, he got to know
John Hamilton Reynolds (author of the Garden of Florence
and other poems, and a contributor to this serial under the
pseudonym of Edward Herbert), Charles Lamb, Allan Cunningham, De
Quincey, and other writers of reputation. To Hood the most
directly important of all these acquaintances was Mr. Reynolds;
this gentleman having a sister, Jane, to whom Hood was
introduced. An attachment ensued, and shortly terminated in
marriage, the wedding taking place on the 5th of May, 1824. The
father of Miss Reynolds was the head writing-master at Christ
Hospital. She is stated to have had good manners, a cultivated
mind, and literary tastes, though a high educational standard is
not always traceable in her letters. At any rate the marriage was
a happy one; Mrs. Hood being a tender and attentive wife,
unwearied in the cares which her husband's precarious health
demanded, and he being (as I have said) a mirror of marital
constancy and devotion, distinguishable from a lover rather by
his intense delight in all domestic relations and details than by
any cooling-down in his fondness. It would appear that, in the
later years of Hood's life, he was not on entirely good terms
with some members of his wife's family, including his old friend
John Hamilton Reynolds. What may have caused this I do not find
specified: all that we know of the character of Hood justifies us
in thinking that he was little or not at all to blame, for he
appears throughout a man of just, honorable, and loving nature,
and free besides from that sort of self-assertion which invites a
collision. Every one, however, has his blemishes; and we may
perhaps discern in Hood a certain over-readiness to think himself
imposed upon, and the fellow-creatures with whom he had
immediately to do a generation of vipers—a state of feeling
not characteristic of a mind exalted and magnanimous by habit, or
"gentle" in the older and more significant meaning of the term.
The time was now come for Hood to venture a volume upon the
world. Conjointly with Reynolds, he wrote, and published in 1825,
his Odes and Addresses to Great People. The title-page
bore no author's name; but the extraordinary talent and point of
the work could hardly fail to be noticed, even apart from its
appeal to immediate popularity, dealing as it did so continually
with the uppermost topics of the day. It had what it deserved, a
great success. This volume was followed, in 1826, by the first
series of Whims and Oddities, which also met with a good
sale; the second series appeared in 1827. Next came two volumes
of National Tales, somewhat after the manner of Boccaccio
(but how far different from his spirit may easily be surmised),
which are now little known. The volume containing the Plea of
the Midsummer Fairies, Hero and Leander, and some other of
Hood's most finished and noticeable poems, came out in 1827.
The Midsummer Fairies itself was one of the authors own
favorite works, and certainly deserved to be so, as far as dainty
elegance of motive and of execution is concerned: but the
conception was a little too ingeniously remote for the public to
ratify the author's predilection. The Hero and Leander
will be at once recognized as modelled on the style of
Elizabethan narrative poems: indeed Marlow treated the very same
subject, and his poem, left uncompleted, was finished by Chapman.
Hood's is a most astonishing example of revivalist poetry: it is
reproductive and spontaneous at the same time. It resembles its
models closely, not servilely—significantly, not
mechanically; and has the great merit of resembling them with
comparative moderation. Elizabethan here both in spirit and in
letter, Hood is nevertheless a little less extreme than his
prototypes. Where they loaded, he does not find it needful to
overload, which is the ready and almost the inevitable resource
of revivalists, all but the fewest: on the contrary, he
alleviates a little,—but only a little.
In 1829 appeared the most famous of all his poems of a narrative
character—The Dream of Eugene Aram; it was published
in the Gem, an annual which the poet was then editing.
Besides this amount of literary activity, Hood continued writing
in periodicals, sometimes under the signature of "Theodore M."
His excessive and immeasurable addiction to rollicking fun, to
the perpetual "cracking of jokes" (for it amounts to that more
definitely than to anything else in the domain of the Comic
Muse), is a somewhat curious problem, taken in connection with
his remarkable genius and accomplishment as a poet, and his
personal character as a solid housekeeping citizen, bent chiefly
upon rearing his family in respectability, and paying his way,
or, as the Church Catechism has neatly and unimprovably expressed
it, upon "doing his duty in that state of life to which it had
pleased God to call him." His almost constant ill-health, and, in
a minor degree, the troubles which beset him in money-matters,
make the problem all the more noticeable. The influence of
Charles Lamb may have had something to do with it,—probably
not very much. Perhaps there was something in the literary
atmosphere or the national tone of the time which gave comicality
a turn of predominance after the subsiding of the great poetic
wave which filled the last years of the eighteenth and the first
quarter of the nineteenth century in our country, in Blake,
Burns, Wordsworth, Scott, Coleridge, Landor, Byron, Keats, and,
supreme among all, Shelley. Something of the same transition may
be noticed in the art of design; the multifarious illustrator in
the prior generation is Stothard,—in the later, Cruikshank.
At any rate, in literature, Lamb, Hood, and then Dickens in his
earliest works, the Sketches by Boz and Pickwick,
are uncommonly characteristic and leading minds, and bent, with
singular inveteracy, upon being "funny,"—though not funny
and nothing else at all. But we should not force this
consideration too far: Hood is a central figure in the group and
the period, and the tendency of the time may be almost as much
due to him as he to the tendency. Mainly, we have to fall back
upon his own idiosyncrasy: he was born with a boundlessly
whimsical perception, which he trained into an inimitable
sleight-of-hand in the twisting of notions and of words;
circumstances favored his writing for fugitive publications and
skimming readers, rather than under conditions of greater
permanency; and the result is as we find it in his works. His son
expresses the opinion that part of Hood's success in comic
writing arose from his early reading of Humphrey Clinker,
Tristram Shandy, Tom Jones, and other works of that
period, and imbuing himself with their style: a remark, however,
which applies to his prose rather than his poetical works.
Certain it is that the appetite for all kinds of fun, verbal and
other was a part of Hood's nature. We see it in the practical
jokes he was continually playing on his good-humored
wife—such as altering into grotesque absurdity many of the
words contained in her letters to friends: we see it—the
mere animal love of jocularity, as it might be termed—in
such a small point as his frequently addressing his friend Philip
de Franck, in letters, by the words, "Tim, says he," instead of
any human appellative Hood reminds us very
much of one of Shakespeare's Fools (to use the word in no
invidious sense) transported into the nineteenth
century,—the Fool in King Lear, or Touchstone. For
the occasional sallies of coarseness or ribaldry, the spirit of
the time has substituted a bourgeois good-humor which
respects the family circle, and haunts the kitchen-stairs; for
the biting jeer, intended to make some victim uncomfortable, it
gives the sarcastic or sprightly banter, not unconscious of an
effort at moral amelioration; for the sententious sagacity, and
humorous enjoyment of the nature of man, it gives bright thoughts
and a humanitarian sympathy. But, on the whole, the intellectual
personality is nearly the same: seeking by natural affinity, and
enjoying to the uttermost, whatever tends to lightness of heart
and to ridicule—thus dwelling indeed in the region of the
commonplace and the gross, but constantly informing it with some
suggestion of poetry, somewise side-meaning, or some form of
sweetness and grace. These observations relate of course to
Hood's humorous poems: into his grave and pathetic poems he can
import qualities still loftier than these—though even here
it is not often that he utterly forswears quaintness and oddity.
The risible, the fantastic, was his beacon-light; sometimes as
delicate as a dell of glow-worms; sometimes as uproarious as a
bonfire; sometimes, it must be said (for he had to be perpetually
writing whether the inspiration came or not, or his inspiration
was too liable to come from the very platitudes and pettinesses
of everyday life), not much more brilliant than a rush-light, and
hardly more aromatic than the snuff of a tallow candle.
We must now glance again at Hood's domestic affairs. His first
child had no mundane existence worth calling such; but has
nevertheless lived longer than most human beings in the lines
which Lamb wrote for the occasion, On an Infant dying as soon
as born. A daughter followed, and in 1830 was born his son,
the Tom Hood who became editor of the comic journal Fun,
and died in 1874. At the time of his birth, the family was living
at Winchmore Hill: thence they removed about 1832, to the Lake
House, Wanstead, a highly picturesque dwelling, but scanty in
domestic comforts. The first of the Comic Annual series
was brought out at Christmas, 1830. In the following couple of
years, Hood did some theatrical work; writing the libretto for an
English opera which (it is believed) was performed at the Surrey
Theatre. Its name is now unknown, but it had a good run in its
day; a similar fate has befallen an entertainment which he wrote
for Mathews. He also composed a pantomime for the Adelphi; and,
along with Reynolds, dramatized Gil Blas. This play is
understood to have been acted at Drury Lane. The novel of
Tylney Hall, and the poem of the Epping Hunt, were
written at Wanstead.
Born in comfortable mediocrity, and early inured to narrow
fortunes, Hood had no doubt entered upon the literary calling
without expecting or caring to become rich. Hitherto, however, he
seems to have prospered progressively, and to have had no reason
to regret, even in a wordly sense, his choice of a profession.
But towards the end of 1834 a disaster overtook him; and
thenceforth, to the end of his days, he had nothing but tedious
struggling and uphill work. To a man of his buoyant temperament,
and happy in his home, this might have been of no extreme
consequence, if only sound health had blessed him: unfortunately,
the very reverse was the case. Sickly hitherto, he was soon to
become miserably and hopelessly diseased: he worked on through
everything bravely and uncomplainingly, but no doubt with keen
throbs of discomfort, and not without detriment at times to the
quality of his writings. The disaster adverted to was the failure
of a firm with which Hood was connected, entailing severe loss
upon him. With his accustomed probity, he refused to avail
himself of any legal immunities, and resolved to meet his
engagements in full eventually; but it became requisite that he
should withdraw from England. He proposed to settle down in some
one of the towns on the Rhine, and circumstances fixed his choice
on Coblentz. A great storm which overtook him during the passage
to Rotterdam told damagingly on his already feeble health.
Coblentz, which he reached in March, 1835, pleased him at first;
though it was not long before he found himself a good deal of an
Englishman, and his surroundings vexatiously German. After a
while he came to consider a German Jew and a Jew German nearly
convertible terms; and indulged at times in considerable acrimony
of comment, such as a reader of cosmopolitan temper is not
inclined to approve. He had, however, at least one very agreeable
acquaintance at Coblentz—Lieutenant Philip de Franck, an
officer in the Prussian service, of partly English parentage: the
good-fellowship which he kept up with this amiable gentleman,
both in personal intercourse and by letter, was (as we have seen)
even boyishly vivacious and exuberant. In the first instance Hood
lived at No. 372 Castor Hof, where his family joined him in the
Spring of 1835: about a year later, they removed to No. 752 Alten
Spasms in the chest now began to be a trying and alarming symptom
of his ill-health, which, towards the end of 1836, took a turn
for the worse; he never afterwards rallied very effectually,
though the fluctuations were numerous—(in November, 1838,
for instance, he fancied that a radical improvement had suddenly
taken place)—and at times the danger was imminent. The
unfavorable change in question was nearly simultaneous with a
visit which he made to Berlin, accompanying Lieutenant de Franck
and his regiment, on their transfer to Bromberg: the rate of
travelling was from fifteen to twenty English miles per diem, for
three days consecutively, and then one day of rest. Hood liked
the simple unextortionate Saxon folk whom he encountered on the
route, and contrasted them with the Coblentzers, much to the
disadvantage of the latter. By the beginning of December he was
back in his Rhineland home; but finally quitted it towards May,
1837. Several attacks of blood-spitting occurred in the interval;
at one time Hood proposed for himself the deadly-lively epitaph,
"Here lies one who spat more blood and made more puns than any
The poet was back in England from Ostend in April 1840; and,
under medical advice, he determined to prolong his visit into a
permanent re-settlement in his native London. Here therefore he
remained and returned, no more to the Continent. He took a house,
with his family, in Camberwell, not far from the Green; removing
afterwards to St. John's Wood, and finally to another house in
the same district, Devonshire Lodge, Finchley Road. He wrote in
the New Monthly Magazine, then edited by Theodore Hook:
his Rhymes for the Times, the celebrated Miss
Kilmansegg, and other compositions, first appeared here. Hook
dying in August 1841, Hood was invited to succeed him as editor,
and closed with the offer: this gave him an annual salary of
£300, besides the separate payments for any articles that he
wrote. The Song of the Shirt, which it would be futile to
praise or even to characterize, came out, anonymously of course,
in the Christmas number of Punch for 1843: it ran like
wildfire, and rang like a tocsin, through the land. Immediately
afterwards, in January 1844, Hood's connection with the New
Monthly closed, and he started a publication of his own,
Hood's Magazine, which was a considerable success: more
than half the first number was the actual handiwork of the
editor. Many troubles and cross-purposes, however, beset the new
periodical; difficulties with which Hood was ill fitted, by his
now rapidly and fatally worsening health, to cope. They pestered
him when he was most in need of rest; and he was in need of rest
when most he was wanted to control the enterprise. The Haunted
House, and various other excellent poems by Hood, were
published in this magazine.
His last days and final agonies were a little cheered by the
granting of a Government pension of £100, dating from June 1844,
which, with kindly but ominous foresight, was conferred upon Mrs.
Hood, as likely to prove the survivor. This was during the
ministry of Sir Robert Peel, whose courteous communications to
the poet, and expressions of direct personal interest in his
writings, made the boon all the more acceptable. Hood, indeed,
had not been directly concerned in soliciting it. At a somewhat
earlier date, January 1841, the Literary Society had, similarly
unasked, voted him a sum of £50; but this he returned, although
his circumstances were such as might have made it by no means
unwelcome. From Christmas 1844 he was compelled to take to his
bed, and was fated never to leave his room again. The ensuing
Spring, throughout which the poet lay seemingly almost at the
last gasp day by day, was a lovely one. At times he was
delirious; but mostly quite clear in mind, and full of gentleness
and resignation. "Dying, dying," were his last words; and shortly
before, "Lord, say 'Arise, take up thy cross, and follow me.'" On
the 3d of May 1845 he lay dead.
Hood's funeral took place in Kensal Green Cemetery: it was a
quiet one, but many friends attended. His faithful and loving
wife would not be long divided from him. Eighteen months later
she was laid beside him, dying of an illness first contracted
from her constant tendance on his sick-bed. In the closing period
of his life, Hood could hardly bear her being out of his sight,
or even write when she was away. Some years afterwards, a public
subscription was got up, and a monument erected to mark the grave
of the good man and true poet who "sang the Song of the Shirt."
The face of Hood is best known by two busts and an oil-portrait
which have both been engraved from. It is a sort of face to which
apparently a bust does more than justice, yet less than right.
The features, being mostly by no means bad ones, look better,
when thus reduced to the mere simple and abstract contour, than
they probably showed in reality, for no one supposed Hood to be a
fine-looking man; on the other hand, the value of the face
must have been in its shifting expression—keen, playful, or
subtle—and this can be but barely suggested by the
sculptor. The poet's visage was pallid, his figure slight, his
voice feeble; he always dressed in black, and is spoken of as
presenting a generally clerical aspect. He was remarkably
deficient in ear for music—not certainly for the true chime
and varied resources of verse. His aptitude for the art of design
was probably greater than might be inferred from the many comic
woodcut-drawings which he has left. These are irresistibly
ludicrous—(who would not laugh over "The Spoiled
Child"—"What next? as the Frog said when his tail fell
off"—and a host of others?)—and all the more
ludicrous and effective for being drawn more childishly and less
artistically than was within Hood's compass. One may occasionally
see some water-color landscape-bit or the like from his hands
pleasantly done; and during his final residence in England he
acted upon an idea he had long entertained, and produced some
little in the way of oil-painting. He was also ingenious in any
sort of light fancy-work—such, for instance, as carving the
scenery for a child's theatre which formed the delight of his
little son and daughter. His religious faith was, according to
the writers of the Memorials, deep and sincere, though his
opposition to sectarian narrowness and spite of all sorts was
vigorous, and caused him sometimes to be regarded as
anti-religious. A letter of his to a tract-giving and piously
censorious lady who had troubled him (published in the same book)
is absolutely fierce, and indeed hardly to be reconciled with the
courtesy due to a woman, as a mere question of sex. It would be
convenient, I may observe, to know more plainly what the
biographers mean by such expressions as "religious faith,"
"Christian gentleman," and the like. They are not explained, for
instance, by adding that Hood honored the Bible too much to make
it a task-book for his children. "Religious faith" covers many
very serious differences of sentiment and conviction, between
natural theology and historical Christianity; and, on hearing
that a man possessed religious faith, one would like to learn
which of the two extremes this faith was more nearly conversant
with. In respect of political or social opinion, Hood appears to
have been rather humane and philanthropic than democratic, or
"liberal" in the distinct technical sense. His favorite theory of
government, as he said in a letter to Peel, was "an angel from
heaven, and a despotism." He loved neither whigs nor tories, but
was on the side of a national policy: war was his abhorrence, and
so were the wicked corn-laws—an oligarchical device which
survived him, but not for long. His private generosity, not the
less true or hearty for the limits which a precarious and very
moderate income necessarily imposed on it, was in accordance with
the general sentiments of kindness which he was wont to express
both in public and private: if he preached, he did not forget to
FROM AN UNROLLED MANUSCRIPT OF APOLLONIUS CURIUS.
Lycus, detained by Circe in her magical dominion, is
beloved by a Water Nymph, who, desiring to render him
immortal, has recourse to the Sorceress. Circe gives her an
incantation to pronounce, which should turn Lycus into a
horse; but the horrible effect of the charm causing her to
break off in the midst, he becomes a Centaur.
Who hath ever been lured and bound by a spell
To wander, fore-doomed, in that circle of hell
Where Witchery works with her will like a god,
Works more than the wonders of time at a nod,—
At a word,—at a touch,—at a flash of the eye,
But each form is a cheat, and each sound is a lie,
Things born of a wish—to endure for a thought,
Or last for long ages—to vanish to nought,
Or put on new semblance? O Jove, I had given
The throne of a kingdom to know if that heaven,
And the earth and its streams were of Circe, or whether
They kept the world's birthday and brighten'd together!
For I loved them in terror, and constantly dreaded
That the earth where I trod, and the cave where I bedded,
The face I might dote on, should live out the lease
Of the charm that created, and suddenly cease:
And I gave me to slumber, as if from one dream
To another—each horrid,—and drank of the stream
Like a first taste of blood, lest as water I quaff'd
Swift poison, and never should breathe from the
Such drink as her own monarch husband drain'd up
When he pledged her, and Fate closed his eyes in the cup.
And I pluck'd of the fruit with held breath, and a fear
That the branch would start back and scream out in my ear;
For once, at my suppering, I plucked in the dusk
An apple, juice-gushing and fragrant of musk;
But by daylight my fingers were crimson'd with gore,
And the half-eaten fragment was flesh at the core;
And once—only once—for the love of its blush,
I broke a bloom bough, but there came such a gush
On my hand, that it fainted away in weak fright,
While the leaf-hidden woodpecker shriek'd at the sight;
And oh! such an agony thrill'd in that note,
That my soul, startling up, beat its wings in my throat,
As it long'd to be free of a body whose hand
Was doom'd to work torments a Fury had plann'd!
There I stood without stir, yet how willing to flee,
As if rooted and horror-turn'd into a tree,—
Oh! for innocent death,—and to suddenly win it,
I drank of the stream, but no poison was in it;
I plunged in its waters, but ere I could sink,
Some invisible fate pull'd me back to the brink;
I sprang from the rock, from its pinnacle height,
But fell on the grass with a grasshopper's flight;
I ran at my fears—they were fears and no more,
For the bear would not mangle my limbs, nor the boar,
But moan'd—all their brutalized flesh could not smother
The horrible truth,—we were kin to each other!
They were mournfully gentle, and group'd for relief,
All foes in their skin, but all friends in their grief:
The leopard was there,—baby-mild in its feature;
And the tiger, black-barr'd, with the gaze of a creature
That knew gentle pity; the bristle-back'd boar,
His innocent tusks stain'd with mulberry gore;
And the laughing hyena—but laughing no more;
And the snake, not with magical orbs to devise
Strange death, but with woman's attraction of eyes;
The tall ugly ape, that still bore a dim shine
Through his hairy eclipse of a manhood divine;
And the elephant stately, with more than its reason,
How thoughtful in sadness! but this is no season
To reckon them up from the lag-bellied toad
To the mammoth, whose sobs shook his ponderous load.
There were woes of all shapes, wretched forms, when I came,
That hung down their heads with a human-like shame;
The elephant hid in the boughs, and the bear
Shed over his eyes the dark veil of his hair;
And the womanly soul turning sick with disgust,
Tried to vomit herself from her serpentine crust;
While all groan'd their groans into one at their lot,
As I brought them the image of what they were not.
Then rose a wild sound of the human voice choking
Through vile brutal organs—low tremulous croaking:
Cries swallow'd abruptly—deep animal tones
Attuned to strange passion, and full-utter'd groans;
All shuddering weaken, till hush'd in a pause
Of tongues in mute motion and wide-yawning jaws;
And I guessed that those horrors were meant to tell o'er
The tale of their woes; but the silence told more,
That writhed on their tongues; and I knelt on the sod,
And pray'd with my voice to the cloud-stirring god,
For the sad congregation of supplicants there,
That upturn'd to his heaven brute faces of prayer;
And I ceased, and they utter'd a moaning so deep,
That I wept for my heart-ease,—but they could not weep,
And gazed with red eyeballs, all wistfully dry,
At the comfort of tears in a stag's human eye.
Then I motion'd them round, and, to soothe their distress,
I caress'd, and they bent them to meet my caress,
Their necks to my arm, and their heads to my palm,
And with poor grateful eyes suffer'd meekly and calm
Those tokens of kindness, withheld by hard fate
From returns that might chill the warm pity to hate;
So they passively bow'd—save the serpent, that leapt
To my breast like a sister, and pressingly crept
In embrace of my neck, and with close kisses blister'd
My lips in rash love,—then drew backward, and glister'd
Her eyes in my face, and loud hissing affright,
Dropt down, but swift started away from my sight!
This sorrow was theirs, but thrice wretched my lot,
Turn'd brute in my soul, though my body was not,
When I fled from the sorrow of womanly faces,
That shrouded their woe in the shade of lone places,
And dash'd off bright tears, till their fingers were wet,
And then wiped their lids with long tresses of jet:
But I fled—though they stretch'd out their hands, all
With hair, and blood-stain'd of the breasts they had
Though they call'd—and perchance but to ask, had I seen
Their loves, or to tell the vile wrongs that had been:
But I stayed not to hear, lest the story should hold
Some hell-form of words, some enchantment, once told,
Might translate me in flesh to a brute; and I dreaded
To gaze on their charms, lest my faith should be wedded
With some pity,—and love in that pity perchance—
To a thing not all lovely; for once at glance,
Methought, where one sat, I descried a bright wonder
That flow'd like a long silver rivulet under
The long fenny grass,—with so lovely a breast,
Could it be a snake-tail made the charm of the rest?
So I roamed in that circle of horrors, and Fear
Walk'd with me, by hills, and in valleys, and near
Cluster'd trees for their gloom—not to shelter from
But lest a brute-shadow should grow at my feet;
And besides that full oft in the sunshiny place
Dark shadows would gather like clouds on its face,
In the horrible likeness of demons (that none
Could see, like invisible flames in the sun);
But grew to one monster that seized on the light,
Like the dragon that strangles the moon in the night;
Fierce sphinxes, long serpents, and asps of the south;
Wild birds of huge beak, and all horrors that drouth
Engenders of slime in the land of the pest,
Vile shapes without shape, and foul bats of the West,
Bringing Night on their wings; and the bodies wherein
Great Brahma imprisons the spirits of sin,
Many-handed, that blent in one phantom of fight
Like a Titan, and threatfully warr'd with the light;
I have heard the wild shriek that gave signal to close,
When they rushed on that shadowy Python of foes,
That met with sharp beaks and wide gaping of jaws,
With flappings of wings, and fierce grasping of claws,
And whirls of long tails:—I have seen the quick flutter
Of fragments dissevered,—and necks stretch'd to utter
Long screamings of pain,—the swift motion of blows,
And wrestling of arms—to the flight at the close,
When the dust of the earth startled upward in rings,
And flew on the whirlwind that follow'd their wings.
Thus they fled—not forgotten—but often to grow
Like fears in my eyes, when I walk'd to and fro
In the shadows, and felt from some beings unseen
The warm touch of kisses, but clean or unclean
I knew not, nor whether the love I had won
Was of heaven or hell—till one day in the sun,
In its very noon-blaze, I could fancy a thing
Of beauty, but faint as the cloud-mirrors fling
On the gaze of the shepherd that watches the sky,
Half-seen and half-dream'd in the soul of his eye.
And when in my musings I gazed on the stream,
In motionless trances of thought, there would seem
A face like that face, looking upward through mine:
With his eyes full of love, and the dim-drownd shine
Of limbs and fair garments, like clouds in that blue
Serene:—there I stood for long hours but to view
Those fond earnest eyes that were ever uplifted
Towards me, and wink'd as the water-weed drifted
Between; but the fish knew that presence, and plied
Their long curvy tails, and swift darted aside.
There I gazed for lost time, and forgot all the things
That once had been wonders—the fishes with wings,
And the glimmer of magnified eyes that look'd up
From the glooms of the bottom like pearls in a cup,
And the huge endless serpent of silvery gleam,
Slow winding along like a tide in the stream.
Some maid of the waters, some Naiad, methought
Held me dear in the pearl of her eye—and I brought
My wish to that fancy; and often I dash'd
My limbs in the water, and suddenly splash'd
The cool drops around me, yet clung to the brink,
Chill'd by watery fears, how that beauty might sink
With my life in her arms to her garden, and bind me
With its long tangled grasses, or cruelly wind me
In some eddy to hum out my life in her ear,
Like a spider-caught bee,—and in aid of that fear
Came the tardy remembrance—Oh falsest of men!
Why was not that beauty remember'd till then?
My love, my safe love, whose glad life would have run
Into mine—like a drop—that our fate might be one,
That now, even now,—may-be,—clasp'd in a dream,
That form which I gave to some jilt of the stream,
And gazed with fond eyes that her tears tried to smother
On a mock of those eyes that I gave to another!
Then I rose from the stream, but the eyes of my mind,
Still full of the tempter, kept gazing behind
On her crystalline face, while I painfully leapt
To the bank, and shook off the curst waters, and wept
With my brow in the reeds; and the reeds to my ear
Bow'd, bent by no wind, and in whispers of fear,
Growing small with large secrets, foretold me of one
That loved me,—but oh to fly from her, and shun
Her love like a pest—though her love was as true
To mine as her stream to the heavenly blue;
For why should I love her with love that would bring
All misfortune, like hate, on so joyous a thing?
Because of her rival,—even Her whose witch-face
I had slighted, and therefore was doom'd in that place
To roam, and had roam'd, where all horrors grew rank,
Nine days ere I wept with my brow on that bank;
Her name be not named, but her spite would not fail
To our love like a blight; and they told me the tale
Of Scylla,—and Picus, imprison'd to speak
His shrill-screaming woe through a woodpecker's beak.
Then they ceased—I had heard as the voice of my star
That told me the truth of my fortunes—thus far
I had read of my sorrow, and lay in the hush
Of deep meditation,—when lo! a light crush
Of the reeds, and I turn'd and look'd round in the night
Of new sunshine, and saw, as I sipp'd of the light
Narrow-winking, the realized nymph of the stream,
Rising up from the wave with the bend and the gleam
Of a fountain, and o'er her white arms she kept throwing
Bright torrents of hair, that went flowing and flowing
In falls to her feet, and the blue waters roll'd
Down her limbs like a garment, in many a fold,
Sun-spangled, gold-broider'd, and fled far behind,
Like an infinite train. So she came and reclined
In the reeds, and I hunger'd to see her unseal
The buds of her eyes that would ope and reveal
The blue that was in them;—they oped and she raised
Two orbs of pure crystal, and timidly gazed
With her eyes on my eyes; but their color and shine
Was of that which they look'd on, and mostly of mine—
For she loved me,—except when she blush'd, and they
Shame-humbled, to number the stones on the bank,
Or her play-idle fingers, while lisping she told me
How she put on her veil, and in love to behold me
Would wing through the sun till she fainted away
Like a mist, and then flew to her waters and lay
In love-patience long hours, and sore dazzled her eyes
In watching for mine 'gainst the midsummer skies.
But now they were heal'd,—O my heart, it still dances
When I think of the charm of her changeable glances,
And my image how small when it sank in the deep
Of her eyes where her soul was,—Alas! now they weep,
And none knoweth where. In what stream do her eyes
Shed invisible tears? Who beholds where her sighs
Flow in eddies, or sees the ascent of the leaf
She has pluck'd with her tresses? Who listens her grief
Like a far fall of waters, or hears where her feet
Grow emphatic among the loose pebbles, and beat
Them together? Ah! surely her flowers float adown
To the sea unaccepted, and little ones drown
For need of her mercy,—even he whose twin-brother
Will miss him forever; and the sorrowful mother
Imploreth in vain for his body to kiss
And cling to, all dripping and cold as it is,
Because that soft pity is lost in hard pain
We loved,—how we loved!—for I thought not again
Of the woes that were whisper'd like fears in that place
If I gave me to beauty. Her face was the face,
Far away, and her eyes were the eyes that were drown'd
For my absence,—her arms were the arms that sought
And claspt me to nought; for I gazed and became
Only true to my falsehood, and had but one name
For two loves, and call'd ever on Ægle, sweet maid
Of the sky-loving waters,—and was not afraid
Of the sight of her skin;—for it never could be;
Her beauty and love were misfortunes to me!
Thus our bliss had endured for a time-shorten'd space,
Like a day made of three, and the smile of her face
Had been with me for joy,—when she told me indeed
Her love was self-task'd with a work that would need
Some short hours, for in truth 'twas the veriest pity
Our love should not last, and then sang me a ditty,
Of one with warm lips that should love her, and love her
When suns were burnt dim and long ages past over.
So she fled with her voice, and I patiently nested
My limbs in the reeds, in still quiet, and rested
Till my thoughts grew extinct, and I sank in a sleep
Of dreams,—but their meaning was hidden too deep
To be read what their woe was;—but still it was woe
That was writ on all faces that swam to and fro
In that river of night;—and the gaze of their eyes
Was sad,—and the bend of their brows,—and their
Were seen, but I heard not. The warm touch of tears
Travell'd down my cold cheeks, and I shook till my fears
Awaked me, and lo! I was couch'd in a bower,
The growth of long summers rear'd up in an hour!
Then I said, in the fear of my dream, I will fly
From this magic, but could not, because that my eye
Grew love-idle among the rich blooms; and the earth
Held me down with its coolness of touch, and the mirth
Of some bird was above me,—who, even in fear,
Would startle the thrush? and methought there drew near
A form as of Ægle,—but it was not the face
Hope made, and I knew the witch-Queen of that place,
Even Circe the Cruel, that came like a Death,
Which I fear'd, and yet fled not, for want of my breath.
There was thought in her face, and her eyes were not raised
From the grass at her foot, but I saw, as I gazed,
Her spite—and her countenance changed with her mind
As she plann'd how to thrall me with beauty, and bind
My soul to her charms,—and her long tresses play'd
From shade into shine and from shine into shade,
Like a day in mid-autumn,—first fair, O how fair!
With long snaky locks of the adder-black hair
That clung round her neck,—those dark locks that I
For the sake of a maid that once loved me with eyes
Of that fathomless hue,—but they changed as they
And brighten'd, and suddenly blazed into gold
That she comb'd into flames, and the locks that fell down
Turn'd dark as they fell, but I slighted their brown,
Nor loved, till I saw the light ringlets shed wild,
That innocence wears when she is but a child;
And her eyes,—Oh I ne'er had been witched with their
Had they been any other, my Ægle, than thine!
Then I gave me to magic, and gazed till I madden'd
In the full of their light,—but I sadden'd and sadden'd
The deeper I look'd,—till I sank on the snow
Of her bosom, a thing made of terror and woe,
And answer'd its throb with the shudder of fears,
And hid my cold eyes from her eyes with my tears,
And strain'd her white arms with the still languid weight
Of a fainting distress. There she sat like the Fate
That is nurse unto Death, and bent over in shame
To hide me from her the true Ægle—that came
With the words on her lips the false witch had fore-given
To make me immortal—for now I was even
At the portals of Death, who but waited the hush
Of world-sounds in my ears to cry welcome, and rush
With my soul to the banks of his black-flowing river.
Oh, would it had flown from my body forever,
Ere I listen'd those words, when I felt with a start,
The life-blood rush back in one throb to my heart,
And saw the pale lips where the rest of that spell
Had perished in horror—and heard the farewell
Of that voice that was drown'd in the dash of the stream!
How fain had I follow'd, and plunged with that scream
Into death, but my being indignantly lagg'd
Through the brutalized flesh that I painfully dragg'd
Behind me:—O Circe! O mother of spite!
Speak the last of that curse! and imprison me quite
In the husk of a brute,—that no pity may name
The man that I was,—that no kindred may claim—
"The monster I am! Let me utterly be
Brute-buried, and Nature's dishonor with me
Uninscribed!"—But she listen'd my prayer, that was
To her malice, with smiles, and advised me to gaze
On the river for love,—and perchance she would make
In pity a maid without eyes for my sake,
And she left me like Scorn. Then I ask'd of the wave,
What monster I was, and it trembled and gave
The true shape of my grief, and I turn'd with my face
From all waters forever, and fled through that place,
Till with horror more strong than all magic I pass'd
Its bounds, and the world was before me at last.
There I wander'd in sorrow, and shunned the abodes
Of men, that stood up in the likeness of Gods,
But I saw from afar the warm shine of the sun
On the cities, where man was a million, not one;
And I saw the white smoke of their altars ascending,
That show'd where the hearts of many were blending,
And the wind in my face brought shrill voices that came
From the trumpets that gather'd whole bands in one fame
As a chorus of man,—and they stream'd from the gates
Like a dusky libation poured out to the Fates.
But at times there were gentler processions of peace
That I watch'd with my soul in my eyes till their cease,
There were women! there men! but to me a third sex
I saw them all dots—yet I loved them as specks:
And oft to assuage a sad yearning of eyes
I stole near the city, but stole covert-wise
Like a wild beast of love, and perchance to be smitten
By some hand that I rather had wept on than bitten!
Oh, I once had a haunt near a cot where a mother
Daily sat in the shade with her child, and would smother
Its eyelids in kisses, and then in its sleep
Sang dreams in its ear of its manhood, while deep
In a thicket of willows I gazed o'er the brooks
That murmur'd between us and kiss'd them with looks;
But the willows unbosom'd their secret, and never
I return'd to a spot I had startled forever,
Though I oft long'd to know, but could ask it of none,
Was the mother still fair, and how big was her son?
For the haunters of fields they all shunn'd me by flight;
The men in their horror, the women in fright;
None ever remain'd save a child once that sported
Among the wild bluebells, and playfully courted
The breeze; and beside him a speckled snake lay
Tight strangled, because it had hiss'd him away
From the flower at his finger; he rose and drew near
Like a Son of Immortals, one born to no fear,
But with strength of black locks and with eyes azure bright
To grow to large manhood of merciful might.
He came, with his face of bold wonder, to feel,
The hair of my side, and to lift up my heel,
And question'd my face with wide eyes; but when under
My lids he saw tears,—for I wept at his wonder,
He stroked me, and utter'd such kindliness then,
That the once love of women, the friendship of men
In past sorrow, no kindness e'er came like a kiss
On my heart in its desolate day such as this!
And I yearn'd at his cheeks in my love, and down bent,
And lifted him up in my arms with intent
To kiss him,—but he cruel-kindly, alas!
Held out to my lips a pluck'd handful of grass!
Then I dropt him in horror, but felt as I fled
The stone he indignantly hurl'd at my head,
That dissever'd my ear,—but I felt not, whose fate
Was to meet more distress in his love that his hate!
Thus I wander'd, companion'd of grief and forlorn
Till I wish'd for that land where my being was born
But what was that land with its love, where my home
Was self-shut against me; for why should I come
Like an after-distress to my gray-bearded father,
With a blight to the last of his sight?—let him rather
Lament for me dead, and shed tears in the urn
Where I was not, and still in fond memory turn
To his son even such as he left him. Oh, how
Could I walk with the youth once my fellows, but now
Like Gods to my humbled estate?—or how bear
The steeds once the pride of my eyes and the care
Of my hands? Then I turn'd me self-banish'd, and came
Into Thessaly here, where I met with the same
As myself. I have heard how they met by a stream
In games, and were suddenly changed by a scream
That made wretches of many, as she roll'd her wild eyes
Against heaven, and so vanish'd.—The gentle and wise
Lose their thoughts in deep studies, and others their ill
In the mirth of mankind where they mingle them still.
'Twas in that mellow season of the year
When the hot sun singes the yellow leaves
Till they be gold,—and with a broader sphere
The Moon looks down on Ceres and her sheaves;
When more abundantly the spider weaves,
And the cold wind breathes from a chillier clime;—
That forth I fared, on one of those still eves,
Touch'd with the dewy sadness of the time,
To think how the bright months had spent their prime,
So that, wherever I address'd my way,
I seem'd to track the melancholy feet
Of him that is the Father of Decay,
And spoils at once the sour weed and the sweet;—
Wherefore regretfully I made retreat
To some unwasted regions of my brain,
Charm'd with the light of summer and the heat,
And bade that bounteous season bloom again,
And sprout fresh flowers in mine own domain.
It was a shady and sequester'd scene,
Like those famed gardens of Boccaccio,
Planted with his own laurels evergreen,
And roses that for endless summer blow;
And there were fountain springs to overflow
Their marble basins,—and cool green arcades
Of tall o'erarching sycamores, to throw
Athwart the dappled path their dancing shades,—
With timid coneys cropping the green blades.
And there were crystal pools, peopled with fish,
Argent and gold; and some of Tyrian skin,
Some crimson-barr'd;—and ever at a wish
They rose obsequious till the wave grew thin
As glass upon their backs, and then dived in,
Quenching their ardent scales in watery gloom;
Whilst others with fresh hues row'd forth to win
My changeable regard,—for so we doom
Things born of thought to vanish or to bloom.
And there were many birds of many dyes,
From tree to tree still faring to and fro,
And stately peacocks with their splendid eyes,
And gorgeous pheasants with their golden glow,
Like Iris just bedabbled in her bow,
Beside some vocalists, without a name,
That oft on fairy errands come and go,
With accents magical;—and all were tame,
And peckled at my hand where'er I came.
And for my sylvan company, in lieu
Of Pampinea with her lively peers,
Sate Queen Titania with her pretty crew,
All in their liveries quaint, with elfin gears,
For she was gracious to my childish years,
And made me free of her enchanted round;
Wherefore this dreamy scene she still endears,
And plants her court upon a verdant mound,
Fenced with umbrageous woods and groves profound.
"Ah me," she cries, "was ever moonlight seen
So clear and tender for our midnight trips?
Go some one forth, and with a trump convene
My lieges all!"—Away the goblin skips
A pace or two apart, and deftly strips
The ruddy skin from a sweet rose's cheek,
Then blows the shuddering leaf between his lips,
Making it utter forth a shrill small shriek,
Like a fray'd bird in the gray owlet's beak.
And lo! upon my fix'd delighted ken
Appear'd the loyal Fays.—Some by degrees
Crept from the primrose buds that open'd then,
Ana some from bell-shaped blossoms like the bees,
Some from the dewy meads, and rushy leas,
Flew up like chafers when the rustics pass;
Some from the rivers, others from tall trees
Dropp'd, like shed blossoms, silent to the grass,
Spirits and elfins small, of every class.
Peri and Pixy, and quaint Puck the Antic,
Brought Robin Goodfellow, that merry swain;
And stealthy Mab, queen of old realms romantic,
Came too, from distance, in her tiny wain,
Fresh dripping from a cloud—some bloomy rain,
Then circling the bright Moon, had wash'd her car,
And still bedew'd it with a various stain:
Lastly came Ariel, shooting from a star,
Who bears all fairy embassies afar.
But Oberon, that night elsewhere exiled,
Was absent, whether some distemper'd spleen
Kept him and his fair mate unreconciled,
Or warfare with the Gnome (whose race had been
Sometime obnoxious), kept him from his queen,
And made her now peruse the starry skies
Prophetical, with such an absent mien;
Howbeit, the tears stole often to her eyes,
And oft the Moon was incensed with her sighs—
Which made the elves sport drearily, and soon
Their hushing dances languish'd to a stand,
Like midnight leaves, when, as the Zephyrs swoon,
All on their drooping stems they sink unfann'd,—
So into silence droop'd the fairy band,
To see their empress dear so pale and still,
Crowding her softly round on either hand,
As pale as frosty snowdrops, and as chill,
To whom the sceptred dame reveals her ill.
"Alas," quoth she, "ye know our fairy lives
Are leased upon the fickle faith of men;
Not measured out against Fate's mortal knives,
Like human gosamers,—we perish when
We fade and are forgot in worldly kens—
Though poesy has thus prolong'd our date,
Thanks be to the sweet Bard's auspicious pen
That rescued us so long!—howbeit of late
I feel some dark misgivings of our fate."
"And this dull day my melancholy sleep
Hath been so thronged with images of woe,
That even now I cannot choose but weep
To think this was some sad prophetic show
Of future horror to befall us so,
Of mortal wreck and uttermost distress,
Yea, our poor empire's fall and overthrow,
For this was my long vision's dreadful stress,
And when I waked my trouble was not less."
"Whenever to the clouds I tried to seek,
Such leaden weight dragg'd these Icarian wings,
My faithless wand was wavering and weak,
And slimy toads had trespass'd in our rings—
The birds refused to sing for me—all things
Disown'd their old allegiance to our spells;
The rude bees prick'd me with their rebel stings;
And, when I pass'd, the valley-lily's bells
Rang out, methought, most melancholy knells."
"And ever on the faint and flagging air
A doleful spirit with a dreary note
Cried in my fearful ear, 'Prepare! prepare!'
Which soon I knew came from a raven's throat,
Perch'd on a cypress-bough not far remote,—
A cursed bird, too crafty to be shot,
That alway cometh with his soot-black coat
To make hearts dreary:—for he is a blot
Upon the book of life, as well ye wot!—"
"Wherefore some while I bribed him to be mute,
With bitter acorns stuffing his foul maw,
Which barely I appeased, when some fresh bruit
Startled me all aheap!—and soon I saw
The horridest shape that ever raised my awe,—
A monstrous giant, very huge and tall,
Such as in elder times, devoid of law,
With wicked might grieved the primeval ball,
And this was sure the deadliest of them all!"
"Gaunt was he as a wolf of Languedoc,
With bloody jaws, and frost upon his crown
So from his barren poll one hoary lock
Over his wrinkled front fell far adown,
Well nigh to where his frosty brows did frown
Like jagged icicles at cottage eaves;
And for his coronal he wore some brown
And bristled ears gather'd from Ceres' sheaves,
Entwined with certain sere and russet leaves."
"And lo! upon a mast rear'd far aloft,
He bore a very bright and crescent blade,
The which he waved so dreadfully, and oft,
In meditative spite, that, sore dismay'd,
I crept into an acorn-cup for shade;
Meanwhile the horrid effigy went by:
I trow his look was dreadful, for it made
The trembling birds betake them to the sky,
For every leaf was lifted by his sigh."
"And ever, as he sigh'd, his foggy breath
Blurr'd out the landscape like a flight of smoke:
Thence knew I this was either dreary Death
Or Time, who leads all creatures to his stroke.
Ah wretched me!"—Here, even as she spoke,
The melancholy Shape came gliding in,
And lean'd his back against an antique oak,
Folding his wings, that were so fine and thin,
They scarce were seen against the Dryad's skin.
Then what a fear seized all the little rout!
Look how a flock of panick'd sheep will stare—
And huddle close—and start—and wheel about,
Watching the roaming mongrel here and there,—
So did that sudden Apparition scare
All close aheap those small affrighted things;
Nor sought they now the safety of the air,
As if some leaden spell withheld their wings;
But who can fly that ancientest of Kings?
Whom now the Queen, with a forestalling tear
And previous sigh, beginneth to entreat,
Bidding him spare, for love, her lieges dear:
"Alas!" quoth she, "is there no nodding wheat
Ripe for thy crooked weapon, and more meet,—
Or wither'd leaves to ravish from the tree,—
Or crumbling battlements for thy defeat?
Think but what vaunting monuments there be
Builded in spite and mockery of thee."
"O fret away the fabric walls of Fame,
And grind down marble Cæsars with the dust:
Make tombs inscriptionless—raze each high name,
And waste old armors of renown with rust:
Do all of this, and thy revenge is just:
Make such decays the trophies of thy prime,
And check Ambition's overweening lust,
That dares exterminating war with Time,—
But we are guiltless of that lofty crime."
"Frail feeble spirits!—the children of a dream!
Leased on the sufferance of fickle men,
Like motes dependent on the sunny beam,
Living but in the sun's indulgent ken,
And when that light withdraws, withdrawing then;—
So do we flutter in the glance of youth
And fervid fancy,—and so perish when
The eye of faith grows aged;—in sad truth,
Feeling thy sway, O Time! though not thy tooth!"
"Where be those old divinities forlorn,
That dwelt in trees, or haunted in a stream?
Alas! their memories are dimm'd and torn,
Like the remainder tatters of a dream:
So will it fare with our poor thrones, I deem;—
For us the same dark trench Oblivion delves,
That holds the wastes of every human scheme.
O spare us then,—and these our pretty elves,—
We soon, alas! shall perish of ourselves!"
Now as she ended, with a sigh, to name
Those old Olympians, scatter'd by the whirl
Of Fortune's giddy wheel and brought to shame,
Methought a scornful and malignant curl
Show'd on the lips of that malicious churl,
To think what noble havocs he had made;
So that I fear'd he all at once would hurl
The harmless fairies into endless shade,—
Howbeit he stopp'd awhile to whet his blade.
Pity it was to hear the elfins' wail
Rise up in concert from their mingled dread,
Pity it was to see them, all so pale,
Gaze on the grass as for a dying bed;—
But Puck was seated on a spider's thread,
That hung between two branches of a briar,
And 'gan to swing and gambol, heels o'er head,
Like any Southwark tumbler on a wire,
For him no present grief could long inspire.
Meanwhile the Queen with many piteous drops,
Falling like tiny sparks full fast and free,
Bedews a pathway from her throne;—and stops
Before the foot of her arch enemy,
And with her little arms enfolds his knee,
That shows more grisly from that fair embrace;
But she will ne'er depart. "Alas!" quoth she,
"My painful fingers I will here enlace
Till I have gain'd your pity for our race."
"What have we ever done to earn this grudge,
And hate—(if not too humble for thy hating?)—
Look o'er our labors and our lives, and judge
If there be any ills of our creating;
For we are very kindly creatures, dating
With nature's charities still sweet and bland:—
O think this murder worthy of debating!"
Herewith she makes a signal with her hand,
To beckon some one from the Fairy band.
Anon I saw one of those elfin things,
Clad all in white like any chorister,
Come fluttering forth on his melodious wings,
That made soft music at each little stir,
But something louder than a bee's demur
Before he lights upon a bunch of broom,
And thus 'gan he with Saturn to confer,—
And O his voice was sweet, touch'd with the gloom
Of that sad theme that argued of his doom!
Quoth he, "We make all melodies our care,
That no false discords may offend the Sun,
Music's great master—tuning everywhere
All pastoral sounds and melodies, each one
Duly to place and season, so that none
May harshly interfere. We rouse at morn
The shrill sweet lark; and when the day is done,
Hush silent pauses for the bird forlorn,
That singeth with her breast against a thorn."
"We gather in loud choirs the twittering race,
That make a chorus with their single note;
And tend on new-fledged birds in every place,
That duly they may get their tunes by rote;
And oft, like echoes, answering remote,
We hide in thickets from the feather'd throng,
And strain in rivalship each throbbing throat,
Singing in shrill responses all day long,
Whilst the glad truant listens to our song."
"Wherefore, great King of Years, as thou dost love
The raining music from a morning cloud,
When vanish'd larks are carolling above,
To wake Apollo with their pipings loud;—
If ever thou hast heard in leafy shroud
The sweet and plaintive Sappho of the dell,
Show thy sweet mercy on this little crowd,
And we will muffle up the sheepfold bell
Whene'er thou listenest to Philomel."
Then Saturn thus;—"Sweet is the merry lark,
That carols in man's ear so clear and strong;
And youth must love to listen in the dark
That tuneful elegy of Tereus' wrong;
But I have heard that ancient strain too long,
For sweet is sweet but when a little strange,
And I grow weary for some newer song;
For wherefore had I wings, unless to range
Through all things mutable, from change to change?"
"But would'st thou hear the melodies of Time,
Listen when sleep and drowsy darkness roll
Over hush'd cities, and the midnight chime
Sounds from their hundred clocks, and deep bells toll
Like a last knell over the dead world's soul,
Saying, 'Time shall be final of all things,
Whose late, last voice must elegize the whole,'—
O then I clap aloft my brave broad wings,
And make the wide air tremble while it rings!"
Then next a fair Eve-Fay made meek address,
Saying, "We be the handmaids of the Spring;
In sign whereof, May, the quaint broideress,
Hath wrought her samplers on our gauzy wing.
We tend upon buds birth and blossoming,
And count the leafy tributes that they owe—
As, so much to the earth—so much to fling
In showers to the brook—so much to go
In whirlwinds to the clouds that made them grow."
"The pastoral cowslips are our little pets,
And daisy stars, whose firmament is green;
Pansies, and those veil'd nuns, meek violets,
Sighing to that warm world from which they screen;
And golden daffodils, pluck'd for May's Queen;
And lonely harebells, quaking on the heath;
And Hyacinth, long since a fair youth seen,
Whose tuneful voice, turn'd fragrance in his breath,
Kiss'd by sad Zephyr, guilty of his death."
"The widow'd primrose weeping to the moon
And saffron crocus in whose chalice bright
A cool libation hoarded for the noon
Is kept—and she that purifies the light,
The virgin lily, faithful to her white,
Whereon Eve wept in Eden for her shame;
And the most dainty rose, Aurora's spright,
Our every godchild, by whatever name—
Spares us our lives, for we did nurse the same!"
Then that old Mower stamp'd his heel, and struck
His hurtful scythe against the harmless ground,
Saying, "Ye foolish imps, when am I stuck
With gaudy buds, or like a wooer crown'd
With flow'ry chaplets, save when they are found
Withered?—Whenever have I pluck'd a rose,
Except to scatter its vain leaves around?
For so all gloss of beauty I oppose,
And bring decay on every flow'r that blows."
"Or when am I so wroth as when I view
The wanton pride of Summer;—how she decks
The birthday world with blossoms ever-new,
As if Time had not lived, and heap'd great wrecks
Of years on years?—O then I bravely vex
And catch the gay Months in their gaudy plight,
And slay them with the wreaths about their necks,
Like foolish heifers in the holy rite,
And raise great trophies to my ancient might."
Then saith another, "We are kindly things,
And like her offspring nestle with the dove,—
Witness these hearts embroidered on our wings,
To show our constant patronage of love:—
We sit at even, in sweet bow'rs above
Lovers, and shake rich odors on the air,
To mingle with their sighs; and still remove
The startling owl, and bid the bat forbear
Their privacy, and haunt some other where."
"And we are near the mother when she sits
Beside her infant in its wicker bed;
And we are in the fairy scene that flits
Across its tender brain: sweet dreams we shed,
And whilst the tender little soul is fled,
Away, to sport with our young elves, the while
We touch the dimpled cheek with roses red,
And tickle the soft lips until they smile,
So that their careful parents they beguile."
"O then, if ever thou hast breathed a vow
At Love's dear portal, or at pale moon-rise
Crush'd the dear curl on a regardful brow,
That did not frown thee from thy honey prize—
If ever thy sweet son sat on thy thighs,
And wooed thee from thy careful thoughts within
To watch the harmless beauty of his eyes,
Or glad thy fingers on his smooth soft skin,
For Love's dear sake, let us thy pity win!"
Then Saturn fiercely thus:—"What joy have I
In tender babes, that have devour'd mine own,
Whenever to the light I heard them cry,
Till foolish Rhea cheated me with stone?
Whereon, till now, is my great hunger shown,
In monstrous dint of my enormous tooth;
And—but the peopled world is too full grown
For hunger's edge—I would consume all youth
At one great meal, without delay or ruth!"
"For I am well nigh crazed and wild to hear
How boastful fathers taunt me with their breed,
Saying, 'We shall not die nor disappear,
But, in these other selves, ourselves succeed
Ev'n as ripe flowers pass into their seed
Only to be renew'd from prime to prime,'
All of which boastings I am forced to read,
Besides a thousand challenges to Time,
Which bragging lovers have compiled in rhyme."
"Wherefore, when they are sweetly met o' nights,
There will I steal and with my hurried hand
Startle them suddenly from their delights
Before the next encounter hath been plann'd,
Ravishing hours in little minutes spann'd;
But when they say farewell, and grieve apart,
Then like a leaden statue I will stand,
Meanwhile their many tears encrust my dart,
And with a ragged edge cut heart from heart."
Then next a merry Woodsman, clad in green,
Step vanward from his mates, that idly stood
Each at his proper ease, as they had been
Nursed in the liberty of old Shérwood,
And wore the livery of Robin Hood,
Who wont in forest shades to dine and sup,—
So came this chief right frankly, and made good
His haunch against his axe, and thus spoke up,
Doffing his cap, which was an acorn's cup:—
"We be small foresters and gay, who tend
On trees, and all their furniture of green,
Training the young boughs airily to bend,
And show blue snatches of the sky between;—
Or knit more close intricacies, to screen
Birds' crafty dwellings, as may hide them best,
But most the timid blackbird's—she that, seen,
Will bear black poisonous berries to her nest,
Lest man should cage the darlings of her breast."
"We bend each tree in proper attitude,
And founting willows train in silvery falls;
We frame all shady roofs and arches rude,
And verdant aisles leading to Dryads' halls,
Or deep recesses where the Echo calls;—
We shape all plumy trees against the sky,
And carve tall elms' Corinthian capitals,—
When sometimes, as our tiny hatchets ply,
Men say, the tapping woodpecker is nigh."
"Sometimes we scoop the squirrel's hollow cell,
And sometimes carve quaint letters on trees' rind,
That haply some lone musing wight may spell
Dainty Aminta,—Gentle Rosalind,—
Or chastest Laura,—sweetly call'd to mind
In sylvan solitudes, ere he lies down;—
And sometimes we enrich gray stems with twined
And vagrant ivy,—or rich moss, whose brown
Burns into gold as the warm sun goes down."
"And, lastly, for mirth's sake and Christmas cheer,
We bear the seedling berries, for increase,
To graft the Druid oaks, from year to year,
Careful that mistletoe may never cease;—
Wherefore, if thou dost prize the shady peace
Of sombre forests, or to see light break
Through sylvan cloisters, and in spring release
Thy spirit amongst leaves from careful ake,
Spare us our lives for the Green Dryad's sake."
Then Saturn, with a frown:—"Go forth, and fell
Oak for your coffins, and thenceforth lay by
Your axes for the rust, and bid farewell
To all sweet birds, and the blue peeps of sky
Through tangled branches, for ye shall not spy
The next green generation of the tree;
But hence with the dead leaves, whene'e they fly,—
Which in the bleak air I would rather see,
Than flights of the most tuneful birds that be."
"For I dislike all prime, and verdant pets,
Ivy except, that on the aged wall
Prays with its worm-like roots, and daily frets
The crumbled tower it seems to league withal,
King-like, worn down by its own coronal:—
Neither in forest haunts love I to won,
Before the golden plumage 'gins to fall,
And leaves the brown bleak limbs with few leaves on,
Or bare—like Nature in her skeleton."
"For then sit I amongst the crooked boughs,
Wooing dull Memory with kindred sighs;
And there in rustling nuptials we espouse,
Smit by the sadness in each other's eyes;—
But Hope must have green bowers and blue skies,
And must be courted with the gauds of Spring;
Whilst Youth leans god-like on her lap, and cries,
'What shall we always do, but love and sing?'—
And Time is reckon'd a discarded thing."
Here in my dream it made me fret to see
How Puck, the antic, all this dreary while
Had blithely jested with calamity,
With mis-timed mirth mocking the doleful style
Of his sad comrades, till it raised my bile
To see him so reflect their grief aside,
Turning their solemn looks to have a smile—
Like a straight stick shown crooked in the tide;—
But soon a novel advocate I spied.
Quoth he—"We teach all natures to fulfil
Their fore-appointed crafts, and instincts meet,—
The bee's sweet alchemy,—the spider's skill,—
The pismire's care to garner up his wheat,—
And rustic masonry to swallows fleet,—
The lapwing's cunning to preserve her nest,—
But most, that lesser pelican, the sweet
And shrilly ruddock, with its bleeding breast,
Its tender pity of poor babes distrest."
"Sometimes we cast our shapes, and in sleek skins
Delve with the timid mole, that aptly delves
From our example; so the spider spins,
And eke the silk-worm, pattern'd by ourselves:
Sometimes we travail on the summer shelves
Of early bees, and busy toils commence,
Watch'd of wise men, that know not we are elves,
But gaze and marvel at our stretch of sense,
And praise our human-like intelligence."
"Wherefore, by thy delight in that old tale,
And plaintive dirges the late robins sing,
What time the leaves are scatter'd by the gale,
Mindful of that old forest burying;—
As thou dost love to watch each tiny thing,
For whom our craft most curiously contrives,
If thou hast caught a bee upon the wing,
To take his honey-bag,—spare us our lives,
And we will pay the ransom in full hives."
"Now by my glass," quoth Time, "ye do offend
In teaching the brown bees that careful lore,
And frugal ants, whose millions would have end,
But they lay up for need a timely store,
And travail with the seasons evermore;
Whereas Great Mammoth long hath pass'd away,
And none but I can tell what hide he wore;
Whilst purblind men, the creatures of a day,
In riddling wonder his great bones survey."
Then came an elf, right beauteous to behold,
Whose coat was like a brooklet that the sun
Hath all embroider'd with its crooked gold,
It was so quaintly wrought and overrun
With spangled traceries,—most meet for one
That was a warden of the pearly streams;—
And as he stept out of the shadows dun,
His jewels sparkled in the pale moon's gleams,
And shot into the air their pointed beams.
Quoth he,—"We bear the gold and silver keys
Of bubbling springs and fountains, that below
Course thro' the veiny earth,—which when they freeze
Into hard crysolites, we bid to flow,
Creeping like subtle snakes, when, as they go,
We guide their windings to melodious falls,
At whose soft murmurings, so sweet and low,
Poets have tuned their smoothest madrigals,
To sing to ladies in their banquet-halls."
"And when the hot sun with his steadfast heat
Parches the river god,—whose dusty urn
Drips miserly, till soon his crystal feet
Against his pebbly floor wax faint and burn
And languid fish, unpoised, grow sick and yearn,—
Then scoop we hollows in some sandy nook,
And little channels dig, wherein we turn
The thread-worn rivulet, that all forsook
The Naiad-lily, pining for her brook."
"Wherefore, by thy delight in cool green meads,
With living sapphires daintily inlaid,—
In all soft songs of waters and their reeds,—
And all reflections in a streamlet made,
Haply of thy own love, that, disarray'd,
Kills the fair lily with a livelier white,—
By silver trouts upspringing from green shade,
And winking stars reduplicate at night,
Spare us, poor ministers to such delight."
Howbeit his pleading and his gentle looks
Moved not the spiteful Shade:—Quoth he, "Your taste
Shoots wide of mine, for I despise the brooks
And slavish rivulets that run to waste
In noontide sweats, or, like poor vassals, haste
To swell the vast dominion of the sea,
In whose great presence I am held disgraced,
And neighbor'd with a king that rivals me
In ancient might and hoary majesty."
"Whereas I ruled in Chaos, and still keep
The awful secrets of that ancient dearth,
Before the briny fountains of the deep
Brimm'd up the hollow cavities of earth;—
I saw each trickling Sea-God at his birth,
Each pearly Naiad with her oozy locks,
And infant Titans of enormous girth,
Whose huge young feet yet stumbled on the rocks,
Stunning the early world with frequent shocks."
"Where now is Titan, with his cumbrous brood,
That scared the world?—By this sharp scythe they fell,
And half the sky was curdled with their blood:
So have all primal giants sigh'd farewell.
No wardens now by sedgy fountains dwell,
Nor pearly Naiads. All their days are done
That strove with Time, untimely, to excel;
Wherefore I razed their progenies, and none
But my great shadow intercepts the sun!"
Then saith the timid Fay—"Oh, mighty Time!
Well hast thou wrought the cruel Titans' fall,
For they were stain'd with many a bloody crime:
Great giants work great wrongs,—but we are small,
For love goes lowly;—but Oppression's tall,
And with surpassing strides goes foremost still
Where love indeed can hardly reach at all;
Like a poor dwarf o'erburthen'd with good will,
That labors to efface the tracks of ill.—"
"Man even strives with Man, but we eschew
The guilty feud, and all fierce strifes abhor;
Nay, we are gentle as the sweet heaven's dew,
Beside the red and horrid drops of war,
Weeping the cruel hates men battle for,
Which worldly bosoms nourish in our spite:
For in the gentle breast we ne'er withdraw,
But only when all love hath taken flight,
And youth's warm gracious heart is hardened quite."
"So are our gentle natures intertwined
With sweet humanities, and closely knit
In kindly sympathy with human kind.
Witness how we befriend, with elfin wit,
All hopeless maids and lovers,—nor omit
Magical succors unto hearts forlorn:—
We charm man's life, and do not perish it;—
So judge us by the helps we showed this morn,
To one who held his wretched days in scorn."
"'Twas nigh sweet Amwell;—for the Queen had task'd
Our skill to-day amidst the silver Lea,
Whereon the noontide sun had not yet bask'd,
Wherefore some patient man we thought to see,
Planted in moss-grown rushes to the knee,
Beside the cloudy margin cold and dim;—
Howbeit no patient fisherman was he
That cast his sudden shadow from the brim,
Making us leave our toils to gaze on him."
"His face was ashy pale, and leaden care
Had sunk the levell'd arches of his brow,
Once bridges for his joyous thoughts to fare
Over those melancholy springs and slow,
That from his piteous eyes began to flow,
And fell anon into the chilly stream;
Which, as his mimick'd image show'd below,
Wrinkled his face with many a needless seam,
Making grief sadder in its own esteem."
"And lo! upon the air we saw him stretch
His passionate arms; and, in a wayward strain,
He 'gan to elegize that fellow wretch
That with mute gestures answer'd him again,
Saying, 'Poor slave, how long wilt thou remain
Life's sad weak captive in a prison strong,
Hoping with tears to rust away thy chain,
In bitter servitude to worldly wrong?—
Thou wear'st that mortal livery too long!'"
"This, with more spleenful speeches and some tears,
When he had spent upon the imaged wave,
Speedily I convened my elfin peers
Under the lily-cups, that we might save
This woeful mortal from a wilful grave
By shrewd diversions of his mind's regret,
Seeing he was mere Melancholy's slave,
That sank wherever a dark cloud he met,
And straight was tangled in her secret net."
"Therefore, as still he watch'd the water's flow,
Daintily we transform'd, and with bright fins
Came glancing through the gloom; some from below
Rose like dim fancies when a dream begins,
Snatching the light upon their purple skins;
Then under the broad leaves made slow retire:
One like a golden galley bravely wins
Its radiant course,—another glows like fire,—
Making that wayward man our pranks admire."
"And so he banish'd thought, and quite forgot
All contemplation of that wretched face;
And so we wiled him from that lonely spot
Along the river's brink; till, by heaven's grace,
He met a gentle haunter of the place,
Full of sweet wisdom gather'd from the brooks,
Who there discuss'd his melancholy case
With wholesome texts learned from kind nature's books,
Meanwhile he newly trimm'd his lines and hooks."
Herewith the Fairy ceased. Quoth Ariel now—
"Let me remember how I saved a man,
Whose fatal noose was fastened on a bough,
Intended to abridge his sad life's span;
For haply I was by when he began
His stern soliloquy in life dispraise,
And overheard his melancholy plan,
How he had made a vow to end his days,
And therefore follow'd him in all his ways."
"Through brake and tangled copse, for much he loathed
All populous haunts, and roam'd in forests rude,
To hide himself from man. But I had clothed
My delicate limbs with plumes, and still pursued,
Where only foxes and wild cats intrude,
Till we were come beside an ancient tree
Late blasted by a storm. Here he renew'd
His loud complaints,—choosing that spot to be
The scene of his last horrid tragedy."
"It was a wild and melancholy glen,
Made gloomy by tall firs and cypress dark,
Whose roots, like any bones of buried men,
Push'd through the rotten sod for fear's remark;
A hundred horrid stems, jagged and stark,
Wrestled with crooked arms in hideous fray,
Besides sleek ashes with their dappled bark,
Like crafty serpents climbing for a prey,
With many blasted oaks moss-grown and gray."
"But here upon his final desperate clause
Suddenly I pronounced so sweet a strain,
Like a pang'd nightingale, it made him pause,
Till half the frenzy of his grief was slain,
The sad remainder oozing from his brain
In timely ecstasies of healing tears,
Which through his ardent eyes began to drain;—
Meanwhile the deadly Fates unclosed their shears:—
So pity me and all my fated peers!"
Thus Ariel ended, and was some time hush'd:
When with the hoary shape a fresh tongue pleads,
And red as rose the gentle Fairy blush'd
To read the records of her own good deeds:—
"It chanced," quoth she, "in seeking through the meads
For honied cowslips, sweetest in the morn,
Whilst yet the buds were hung with dewy beads."
And Echo answered to the huntsman's horn,
We found a babe left in the swaths forlorn.
"A little, sorrowful, deserted thing,
Begot of love, and yet no love begetting;
Guiltless of shame, and yet for shame to wring;
And too soon banish'd from a mother's petting,
To churlish nurture and the wide world's fretting,
For alien pity and unnatural care;—
Alas! to see how the cold dew kept wetting
His childish coats, and dabbled all his hair,
Like gossamers across his forehead fair."
"His pretty pouting mouth, witless of speech,
Lay half-way open like a rose-lipp'd shell;
And his young cheek was softer than a peach,
Whereon his tears, for roundness, could not dwell,
But quickly roll'd themselves to pearls, and fell,
Some on the grass, and some against his hand,
Or haply wander'd to the dimpled well,
Which love beside his mouth had sweetly plann'd,
Yet not for tears, but mirth and smilings bland."
"Pity it was to see those frequent tears
Falling regardless from his friendless eyes;
There was such beauty in those twin blue spheres,
As any mother's heart might leap to prize;
Blue were they, like the zenith of the skies
Softened betwixt two clouds, both clear and mild;—
Just touched with thought, and yet not over wise,
They show'd the gentle spirit of a child,
Not yet by care or any craft defiled."
"Pity it was to see the ardent sun
Scorching his helpless limbs—it shone so warm;
For kindly shade or shelter he had none,
Nor mother's gentle breast, come fair or storm.
Meanwhile I bade my pitying mates transform
Like grasshoppers, and then, with shrilly cries,
All round the infant noisily we swarm,
Haply some passing rustic to advise—
Whilst providential Heaven our care espies."
"And sends full soon a tender-hearted hind,
Who, wond'ring at our loud unusual note,
Strays curiously aside, and so doth find
The orphan child laid in the grass remote,
And laps the foundling in his russet coat,
Who thence was nurtured in his kindly cot:—
But how he prosper'd let proud London quote,
How wise, how rich, and how renown'd he got,
And chief of all her citizens, I wot."
"Witness his goodly vessels on the Thames,
Whose holds were fraught with costly merchandise,—
Jewels from Ind, and pearls for courtly dames,
And gorgeous silks that Samarcand supplies:
Witness that Royal Bourse he bade arise,
The mart of merchants from the East and West:
Whose slender summit, pointing to the skies,
Still bears, in token of his grateful breast,
The tender grasshopper, his chosen crest—"
"The tender grasshopper, his chosen crest,
That all the summer, with a tuneful wing,
Makes merry chirpings in its grassy nest,
Inspirited with dew to leap and sing:—
So let us also live, eternal King!
Partakers of the green and pleasant earth:—
Pity it is to slay the meanest thing,
That, like a mote, shines in the smile of mirth:—
Enough there is of joy's decrease and dearth!"
"Enough of pleasure, and delight, and beauty,
Perish'd and gone, and hasting to decay;—
Enough to sadden even thee, whose duty
Or spite it is to havoc and to slay:
Too many a lovely race razed quite away,
Hath left large gaps in life and human loving;—
Here then begin thy cruel war to stay,
And spare fresh sighs, and tears, and groans, reproving
Thy desolating hand for our removing."
Now here I heard a shrill and sudden cry,
And, looking up, I saw the antic Puck
Grappling with Time, who clutch'd him like a fly,
Victim of his own sport,—the jester's luck!
He, whilst his fellows grieved, poor wight, had stuck
His freakish gauds upon the Ancient's brow,
And now his ear, and now his beard, would pluck;
Whereas the angry churl had snatched him now,
Crying, "Thou impish mischief, who art thou?"
"Alas!" quoth Puck, "a little random elf,
Born in the sport of nature, like a weed,
For simple sweet enjoyment of myself,
But for no other purpose, worth, or need;
And yet withal of a most happy breed;
And there is Robin Goodfellow besides,
My partner dear in many a prankish deed
To make dame Laughter hold her jolly sides,
Like merry mummers twain on holy tides."
"'Tis we that bob the angler's idle cork,
Till e'en the patient man breathes half a curse;
We steal the morsel from the gossip's fork,
And curdling looks with secret straws disperse,
Or stop the sneezing chanter at mid verse:
And when an infant's beauty prospers ill,
We change, some mothers say, the child at nurse:
But any graver purpose to fulfil,
We have not wit enough, and scarce the will."
"We never let the canker melancholy
To gather on our faces like a rust,
But glass our features with some change of folly,
Taking life's fabled miseries on trust,
But only sorrowing when sorrow must:
We ruminate no sage's solemn cud,
But own ourselves a pinch of lively dust
To frisk upon a wind,—whereas the flood
Of tears would turn us into heavy mud."
"Beshrew those sad interpreters of nature,
Who gloze her lively universal law,
As if she had not form'd our cheerful feature
To be so tickled with the slightest straw!
So let them vex their mumbling mouths, and draw
The corners downward, like a wat'ry moon,
And deal in gusty sighs and rainy flaw—
We will not woo foul weather all too soon,
Or nurse November on the lap of June."
"For ours are winging sprites, like any bird,
That shun all stagnant settlements of grief;
And even in our rest our hearts are stirr'd,
Like insects settled on a dancing leaf:—
This is our small philosophy in brief,
Which thus to teach hath set me all agape:
But dost thou relish it? O hoary chief!
Unclasp thy crooked fingers from my nape,
And I will show thee many a pleasant scrape."
Then Saturn thus:—shaking his crooked blade
O'erhead, which made aloft a lightning flash
In all the fairies' eyes, dismally fray'd!
His ensuing voice came like the thunder crash—
Meanwhile the bolt shatters some pine or ash—
"Thou feeble, wanton, foolish, fickle thing!
Whom nought can frighten, sadden, or abash,—
To hope my solemn countenance to wring
To idiot smiles!—but I will prune thy wing!"
"Lo! this most awful handle of my scythe
Stood once a May-pole, with a flowery crown,
Which rustics danced around, and maidens blithe,
To wanton pipings;—but I pluck'd it down,
And robed the May Queen in a churchyard gown,
Turning her buds to rosemary and rue;
And all their merry minstrelsy did drown,
And laid each lusty leaper in the dew;—
So thou shalt fare—and every jovial crew!"
Here he lets go the struggling imp, to clutch.
His mortal engine with each grisly hand,
Which frights the elfin progeny so much,
They huddle in a heap, and trembling stand
All round Titania, like the queen bee's band,
With sighs and tears and very shrieks of woe!—
Meanwhile, some moving argument I plann'd,
To make the stern Shade merciful,—when lo!
He drops his fatal scythe without a blow!
For, just at need, a timely Apparition
Steps in between, to bear the awful brunt;
Making him change his horrible position,
To marvel at this comer, brave and blunt,
That dares Time's irresistible affront,
Whose strokes have scarr'd even the gods of old;—
Whereas this seem'd a mortal, at mere hunt
For coneys, lighted by the moonshine cold,
Or stalker of stray deer, stealthy and bold.
Who, turning to the small assembled fays,
Doffs to the lily queen his courteous cap,
And holds her beauty for a while in gaze,
With bright eyes kindling at this pleasant hap;
And thence upon the fair moon's silver map,
As if in question of this magic chance,
Laid like a dream upon the green earth's lap;
And then upon old Saturn turns askance,
Exclaiming, with a glad and kindly glance:—
"Oh, these be Fancy's revelers by night!
Stealthy companions of the downy moth—
Diana's motes, that flit in her pale light,
Shunners of sunbeams in diurnal sloth;—
These be the feasters on night's silver cloth;—
The gnat with shrilly trump is their convener,
Forth from their flowery chambers, nothing loth,
With lulling tunes to charm the air serener,
Or dance upon the grass to make it greener."
"These be the pretty genii of the flow'rs,
Daintily fed with honey and pure dew—
Midsummer's phantoms in her dreaming hours,
King Oberon, and all his merry crew,
The darling puppets of romance's view;
Fairies, and sprites, and goblin elves we call them,
Famous for patronage of lovers true;—
No harm they act, neither shall harm befall them,
So do not thus with crabbed frowns appal them."
O what a cry was Saturn's then!—it made
The fairies quake. "What care I for their pranks,
However they may lovers choose to aid,
Or dance their roundelays on flow'ry banks?—
Long must they dance before they earn my thanks,—
So step aside, to some far safer spot,
Whilst with my hungry scythe I mow their ranks,
And leave them in the sun, like weeds, to rot,
And with the next day's sun to be forgot."
Anon, he raised afresh his weapon keen;
But still the gracious Shade disarm'd his aim,
Stepping with brave alacrity between,
And made his sore arm powerless and tame.
His be perpetual glory, for the shame
Of hoary Saturn in that grand defeat!—
But I must tell how here Titania, came
With all her kneeling lieges, to entreat
His kindly succor, in sad tones, but sweet.
Saying, "Thou seest a wretched queen before thee,
The fading power of a failing land,
Who for a kingdom kneeleth to implore thee,
Now menaced by this tyrant's spoiling hand;
No one but thee can hopefully withstand
That crooked blade, he longeth so to lift.
I pray thee blind him with his own vile sand,
Which only times all ruins by its drift,
Or prune his eagle wings that are so swift."
"Or take him by that sole and grizzled tuft,
That hangs upon his bald and barren crown;
And we will sing to see him so rebuff'd,
And lend our little mights to pull him down,
And make brave sport of his malicious frown,
For all his boastful mockery o'er men.
For thou wast born, I know, for this renown,
By my most magical and inward ken,
That readeth ev'n at Fate's forestalling pen."
"Nay, by the golden lustre of thine eye,
And by thy brow's most fair and ample span,
Thought's glorious palace, framed for fancies high,
And by thy cheek thus passionately wan,
I know the signs of an immortal man,—
Nature's chief darling, and illustrious mate,
Destined to foil old Death's oblivious plan,
And shine untarnish'd by the fogs of Fate,
Time's famous rival till the final date!"
"O shield us then from this usurping Time,
And we will visit thee in moonlight dreams;
And teach thee tunes, to wed unto thy rhyme,
And dance about thee in all midnight gleams,
Giving thee glimpses of our magic schemes,
Such as no mortal's eye hath ever seen;
And, for thy love to us in our extremes,
Will ever keep thy chaplet fresh and green,
Such as no poet's wreath hath ever been!"
"And we'll distil thee aromatic dews,
To charm thy sense, when there shall be no flow'rs;
And flavor'd syrups in thy drinks infuse,
And teach the nightingale to haunt thy bow'rs,
And with our games divert thy weariest hours,
With all that elfin wits can e'er devise.
And, this churl dead, there'll be no hasting hours
To rob thee of thy joys, as now joy flies":—
Here she was stopp'd by Saturn's furious cries.
Whom, therefore, the kind Shade rebukes anew,
Saying, "Thou haggard Sin, go forth, and scoop
Thy hollow coffin in some churchyard yew,
Or make th' autumnal flow'rs turn pale, and droop;
Or fell the bearded corn, till gleaners stoop
Under fat sheaves,—or blast the piny grove;—
But here thou shall not harm this pretty group,
Whose lives are not so frail and feebly wove,
But leased on Nature's loveliness and love."
"'Tis these that free the small entangled fly,
Caught in the venom'd spider's crafty snare;—
These be the petty surgeons that apply
The healing balsams to the wounded hare,
Bedded in bloody fern, no creature's care!—
These be providers for the orphan brood,
Whose tender mother hath been slain in air,
Quitting with gaping bill her darling's food,
Hard by the verge of her domestic wood."
"'Tis these befriend the timid trembling stag,
When, with a bursting heart beset with fears,
He feels his saving speed begin to flag;
For then they quench the fatal taint with tears,
And prompt fresh shifts in his alarum'd ears,
So piteously they view all bloody morts;
Or if the gunner, with his arms, appears,
Like noisy pyes and jays, with harsh reports,
They warn the wild fowl of his deadly sports."
"For these are kindly ministers of nature,
To soothe all covert hurts and dumb distress;
Pretty they be, and very small of stature,—
For mercy still consorts with littleness;—
Wherefore the sum of good is still the less,
And mischief grossest in this world of wrong;—
So do these charitable dwarfs redress
The tenfold ravages of giants strong,
To whom great malice and great might belong."
"Likewise to them are Poets much beholden
For secret favors in the midnight glooms;
Brave Spenser quaff'd out of their goblets golden,
And saw their tables spread of prompt mushrooms,
And heard their horns of honeysuckle blooms
Sounding upon the air most soothing soft,
Like humming bees busy about the brooms,—
And glanced this fair queen's witchery full oft,
And in her magic wain soar'd far aloft."
"Nay I myself, though mortal, once was nursed
By fairy gossips, friendly at my birth,
And in my childish ear glib Mab rehearsed
Her breezy travels round our planet's girth,
Telling me wonders of the moon and earth;
My gramarye at her grave lap I conn'd,
Where Puck hath been convened to make me mirth;
I have had from Queen Titania tokens fond,
And toy'd with Oberon's permitted wand."
"With figs and plums and Persian dates they fed me,
And delicate cates after my sunset meal,
And took me by my childish hand, and led me
By craggy rocks crested with keeps of steel,
Whose awful bases deep dark woods conceal,
Staining some dead lake with their verdant dyes.
And when the West sparkled at Phoebus' wheel,
With fairy euphrasy they purged mine eyes,
To let me see their cities in the skies."
"'Twas they first school'd my young imagination
To take its flights like any new-fledged bird,
And show'd the span of winged meditation
Stretch'd wider than things grossly seen or heard.
With sweet swift Ariel how I soar'd and stirr'd
The fragrant blooms of spiritual bow'rs!
'Twas they endear'd what I have still preferr'd,
Nature's blest attributes and balmy pow'rs,
Her hills and vales and brooks, sweet birds and flow'rs."
"Wherefore with all true loyalty and duty
Will I regard them in my honoring rhyme,
With love for love, and homages to beauty,
And magic thoughts gather'd in night's cool clime,
With studious verse trancing the dragon Time,
Strong as old Merlin's necromantic spells;
So these dear monarchs of the summer's prime
Shall live unstartled by his dreadful yells,
Till shrill larks warn them to their flowery cells."
Look how a poison'd man turns livid black,
Drugg'd with a cup of deadly hellebore,
That sets his horrid features all at rack,—
So seem'd these words into the ear to pour
Of ghastly Saturn, answering with a roar
Of mortal pain and spite and utmost rage,
Wherewith his grisly arm he raised once more,
And bade the cluster'd sinews all engage,
As if at one fell stroke to wreck an age.
Whereas the blade flash'd on the dinted ground,
Down through his steadfast foe, yet made no scar
On that immortal Shade, or death-like wound;
But Time was long benumb'd, and stood ajar,
And then with baffled rage took flight afar,
To weep his hurt in some Cimmerian gloom,
Or meaner fames (like mine) to mock and mar,
Or sharp his scythe for royal strokes of doom,
Whetting its edge on some old Cæsar's tomb.
Howbeit he vanish'd in the forest shade,
Distantly heard as if some grumbling pard,
And, like Nymph Echo, to a sound decay'd;—
Meanwhile the fays cluster'd the gracious Bard,
The darling centre of their dear regard:
Besides of sundry dances on the green,
Never was mortal man so brightly starr'd,
Or won such pretty homages, I ween.
"Nod to him, Elves!" cries the melodious queen.
"Nod to him, Elves, and flutter round about him,
And quite enclose him with your pretty crowd,
And touch him lovingly, for that, without him,
The silkworm now had spun our dreary shroud;—
But he hath all dispersed Death's tearful cloud,
And Time's dread effigy scared quite away:
Bow to him then, as though to me ye bow'd,
And his dear wishes prosper and obey
Wherever love and wit can find a way!"
"'Noint him with fairy dews of magic savors,
Shaken from orient buds still pearly wet,
Roses and spicy pinks,—and, of all favors,
Plant in his walks the purple violet,
And meadow-sweet under the hedges set,
To mingle breaths with dainty eglantine
And honeysuckles sweet,—nor yet forget
Some pastoral flowery chaplets to entwine,
To vie the thoughts about his brow benign!"
"Let no wild things astonish him or fear him,
But tell them all how mild he is of heart,
Till e'en the timid hares go frankly near him,
And eke the dappled does, yet never start;
Nor shall their fawns into the thickets dart,
Nor wrens forsake their nests among the leaves,
Nor speckled thrushes flutter far apart;—
But bid the sacred swallow haunt his eaves,
To guard his roof from lightning and from thieves."
"Or when he goes the nimble squirrel's visitor,
Let the brown hermit bring his hoarded nuts,
For, tell him, this is Nature's kind Inquisitor,—
Though man keeps cautious doors that conscience shuts,
For conscious wrong all curious quest rebuts,—
Nor yet shall bees uncase their jealous stings,
However he may watch their straw-built huts;—
So let him learn the crafts of all small things,
Which he will hint most aptly when he sings."
Here she leaves off, and with a graceful hand
Waves thrice three splendid circles round his head;
Which, though deserted by the radiant wand,
Wears still the glory which her waving shed,
Such as erst crown'd the old Apostle's head,
To show the thoughts there harbor'd were divine,
And on immortal contemplations fed:—
Goodly it was to see that glory shine
Around a brow so lofty and benign!—
Goodly it was to see the elfin brood
Contend for kisses of his gentle hand,
That had their mortal enemy withstood,
And stay'd their lives, fast ebbing with the sand.
Long while this strife engaged the pretty band;
But now bold Chanticleer, from farm to farm,
Challenged the dawn creeping o'er eastern land,
And well the fairies knew that shrill alarm,
Which sounds the knell of every elfish charm.
And soon the rolling mist, that 'gan arise
From plashy mead and undiscover'd stream,
Earth's morning incense to the early skies,
Crept o'er the failing landscape of my dream.
Soon faded then the Phantom of my theme—
A shapeless shade, that fancy disavowed,
And shrank to nothing in the mist extreme,
Then flew Titania,—and her little crowd,
Like flocking linnets, vanished in a cloud.
It is not with a hope my feeble praise
Can add one moment's honor to thy own,
That with thy mighty name I grace these lays;
I seek to glorify myself alone:
For that some precious favor thou hast shown
To my endeavor in a bygone time,
And by this token I would have it known
Thou art my friend, and friendly to my rhyme!
It is my dear ambition now to climb
Still higher in thy thought,—if my bold pen
May thrust on contemplations more sublime.—
But I am thirsty for thy praise, for when
We gain applauses from the great in name,
We seem to be partakers of their fame.
Oh Bards of old! What sorrows have ye sung,
And tragic stories, chronicled in stone,—
Sad Philomel restored her ravish'd tongue,
And transform'd Niobe in dumbness shown;
Sweet Sappho on her love forever calls,
And Hero on the drown'd Leander falls!
Was it that spectacles of sadder plights
Should make our blisses relish the more high?
Then all fair dames, and maidens, and true knights,
Whose flourish'd fortunes prosper in Love's eye,
Weep here, unto a tale of ancient grief,
Traced from the course of an old bas-relief.
There stands Abydos!—here is Sestos' steep,
Hard by the gusty margin of the sea,
Where sprinkling waves continually do leap;
And that is where those famous lovers be,
A builded gloom shot up into the gray,
As if the first tall watch-tow'r of the day.
Lo! how the lark soars upward and is gone;
Turning a spirit as he nears the sky,
His voice is heard, though body there is none,
And rain-like music scatters from on high;
But Love would follow with a falcon spite,
To pluck the minstrel from his dewy height.
For Love hath framed a ditty of regrets,
Tuned to the hollow sobbings on the shore,
A vexing sense, that with like music frets,
And chimes this dismal burthen o'er and o'er,
Saying, Leander's joys are past and spent,
Like stars extinguish'd in the firmament.
For ere the golden crevices of morn
Let in those regal luxuries of light,
Which all the variable east adorn,
And hang rich fringes on the skirts of night,
Leander, weaning from sweet Hero's side,
Must leave a widow where he found a bride.
Hark! how the billows beat upon the sand!
Like pawing steeds impatient of delay;
Meanwhile their rider, ling'ring on the land,
Dallies with love, and holds farewell at bay
A too short span.—How tedious slow is grief!
But parting renders time both sad and brief.
"Alas!" (he sigh'd), "that this first glimpsing light,
Which makes the wide world tenderly appear,
Should be the burning signal for my flight
From all the world's best image, which is here;
Whose very shadow, in my fond compare,
Shines far more bright than Beauty's self elsewhere."
Their cheeks are white as blossoms of the dark,
Whose leaves close up and show the outward pale,
And those fair mirrors where their joys did spark,
All dim and tarnish'd with a dreary veil,
No more to kindle till the night's return,
Like stars replenish'd at Joy's golden urn.
Ev'n thus they creep into the spectral gray,
That cramps the landscape in its narrow brim,
As when two shadows by old Lethe stray,
He clasping her, and she entwining him;
Like trees, wind-parted, that embrace anon,—
True love so often goes before 'tis gone.
For what rich merchant but will pause in fear,
To trust his wealth to the unsafe abyss?
So Hero dotes upon her treasure here,
And sums the loss with many an anxious kiss,
Whilst her fond eyes grow dizzy in her head,
Fear aggravating fear with shows of dread.
She thinks how many have been sunk and drown'd,
And spies their snow-white bones below the deep,
Then calls huge congregated monsters round,
And plants a rock wherever he would leap;
Anon she dwells on a fantastic dream,
Which she interprets of that fatal stream.
Saying, "That honied fly I saw was thee,
Which lighted on a water-lily's cup,
When, lo! the flower, enamor'd of my bee,
Closed on him suddenly and lock'd him up,
And he was smother'd in her drenching dew;
Therefore this day thy drowning I shall rue."
But next, remembering her virgin fame,
She clips him in her arms and bids him go,
But seeing him break loose, repents her shame,
And plucks him back upon her bosom's snow;
And tears unfix her iced resolve again,
As steadfast frosts are thaw'd by show'rs of rain.
O for a type of parting!—Love to love
Is like the fond attraction of two spheres,
Which needs a godlike effort to remove,
And then sink down their sunny atmospheres,
In rain and darkness on each ruin'd heart,
Nor yet their melodies will sound apart.
So brave Leander sunders from his bride;
The wrenching pang disparts his soul in twain;
Half stays with her, half goes towards the tide,—
And life must ache, until they join again.
Now wouldst thou know the wideness of the wound?—
Mete every step he takes upon the ground.
And for the agony and bosom-throe,
Let it be measured by the wide vast air,
For that is infinite, and so is woe,
Since parted lovers breathe it everywhere.
Look how it heaves Leander's laboring chest,
Panting, at poise, upon a rocky crest!
From which he leaps into the scooping brine,
That shocks his bosom with a double chill;
Because, all hours, till the slow sun's decline,
That cold divorcer will be 'twixt them still;
Wherefore he likens it to Styx' foul tide,
Where life grows death upon the other side.
Then sadly he confronts his twofold toil
Against rude waves and an unwilling mind,
Wishing, alas! with the stout rower's toil,
That like a rower he might gaze behind,
And watch that lonely statue he hath left,
On her bleak summit, weeping and bereft!
Yet turning oft, he sees her troubled locks
Pursue him still the furthest that they may;
Her marble arms that overstretch the rocks,
And her pale passion'd hands that seem to pray
In dumb petition to the gods above:
Love prays devoutly when it prays for love!
Then with deep sighs he blows away the wave,
That hangs superfluous tears upon his cheek,
And bans his labor like a hopeless slave,
That, chain'd in hostile galley, faint and weak,
Plies on despairing through the restless foam,
Thoughtful of his lost love, and far-off home.
The drowsy mist before him chill and dank,
Like a dull lethargy o'erleans the sea,
When he rows on against the utter blank,
Steering as if to dim eternity,—
Like Love's frail ghost departing with the dawn;
A failing shadow in the twilight drawn.
And soon is gone,—or nothing but a faint
And failing image in the eye of thought,
That mocks his model with an after-paint,
And stains an atom like the shape she sought;
Then with her earnest vows she hopes to fee
The old and hoary majesty of sea.
"O King of waves, and brother of high Jove,
Preserve my sumless venture there afloat;
A woman's heart, and its whole wealth of love,
Are all embark'd upon that little boat;
Nay!—but two loves, two lives, a double fate,—
A perilous voyage for so dear a freight."
"If impious mariners be stain'd with crime,
Shake not in awful rage thy hoary locks;
Lay by thy storms until another time,
Lest my frail bark be dash'd against the rocks:
O rather smooth thy deeps, that he may fly
Like Love himself, upon a seeming sky!"
"Let all thy herded monsters sleep beneath,
Nor gore him with crook'd tusks, or wreathëd horns;
Let no fierce sharks destroy him with their teeth,
Nor spine-fish wound him with their venom'd thorns;
But if he faint, and timely succor lack,
Let ruthful dolphins rest him on their back."
"Let no false dimpling whirlpools suck him in,
Nor slimy quicksands smother his sweet breath;
Let no jagg'd corals tear his tender skin,
Nor mountain billows bury him in death";—
And with that thought forestalling her own fears,
She drowned his painted image in her tears.
By this, the climbing Sun, with rest repair'd,
Look'd through the gold embrasures of the sky,
And ask'd the drowsy world how she had fared;—
The drowsy world shone brighten'd in reply;
And smiling off her fogs, his slanting beam
Spied young Leander in the middle stream.
His face was pallid, but the hectic morn
Had hung a lying crimson on his cheeks,
And slanderous sparkles in his eyes forlorn;
So death lies ambush'd in consumptive streaks;
But inward grief was writhing o'er its task,
As heart-sick jesters weep behind the mask.
He thought of Hero and the lost delight,
Her last embracings, and the space between;
He thought of Hero and the future night,
Her speechless rapture and enamor'd mien,
When, lo! before him, scarce two galleys' space,
His thoughts confronted with another face!
Her aspect's like a moon, divinely fair,
But makes the midnight darker that it lies on;
'Tis so beclouded with her coal-black hair
That densely skirts her luminous horizon,
Making her doubly fair, thus darkly set,
As marble lies advantaged upon jet.
She's all too bright, too argent, and too pale,
To be a woman;—but a woman's double,
Reflected, on the wave so faint and frail,
She tops the billows like an air-blown bubble;
Or dim creation of a morning dream,
Fair as the wave-bleached lily of the stream.
The very rumor strikes his seeing dead:
Great beauty like great fear first stuns the sense:
He knows not if her lips be blue or red,
Nor of her eyes can give true evidence:
Like murder's witness swooning in the court,
His sight falls senseless by its own report.
Anon resuming, it declares her eyes
Are tint with azure, like two crystal wells
That drink the blue complexion of the skies,
Or pearls outpeeping from their silvery shells:
Her polish'd brow, it is an ample plain,
To lodge vast contemplations of the main.
Her lips might corals seem, but corals near
Stray through her hair like blossoms on a bower;
And o'er the weaker red still domineer,
And make it pale by tribute to more power;
Her rounded cheeks are of still paler hue,
Touch'd by the bloom of water, tender blue.
Thus he beholds her rocking on the water,
Under the glossy umbrage of her hair,
Like pearly Amphitrite's fairest daughter,
Naiad, or Nereid,—or Syren fair,
Mislodging music in her pitiless breast,
A nightingale within a falcon's nest.
They say there be such maidens in the deep,
Charming poor mariners, that all too near
By mortal lullabies fall dead asleep,
As drowsy men are poison'd through the ear;
Therefore Leander's fears begin to urge,
This snowy swan is come to sing his dirge.
At which he falls into a deadly chill,
And strains his eyes upon her lips apart;
Fearing each breath to feel that prelude shrill,
Pierce through his marrow, like a breath-blown dart
Shot sudden from an Indian's hollow cane,
With mortal venom fraught, and fiery pain.
Here then, poor wretch, how he begins to crowd
A thousand thoughts within a pulse's space;
There seem'd so brief a pause of life allow'd,
His mind stretch'd universal, to embrace
The whole wide world, in an extreme farewell,—
A moment's musing—but an age to tell.
For there stood Hero, widow'd at a glance,
The foreseen sum of many a tedious fact,
Pale cheeks, dim eyes, and wither'd countenance,
A wasted ruin that no wasting lack'd;
Time's tragic consequents ere time began,
A world of sorrow in a tear-drop's span.
A moment's thinking is an hour in words,—
An hour of words is little for some woes;
Too little breathing a long life affords
For love to paint itself by perfect shows;
Then let his love and grief unwrong'd lie dumb,
Whilst Fear, and that it fears, together come.
As when the crew, hard by some jutty cape,
Struck pale and panick'd by the billow's roar,
Lay by all timely measures of escape,
And let their bark go driving on the shore;
So fray'd Leander, drifting to his wreck,
Gazing on Scylla, falls upon her neck.
For he hath all forgot the swimmer's art,
The rower's cunning, and the pilot's skill,
Letting his arms fall down in languid part,
Sway'd by the waves, and nothing by his will,
Till soon he jars against that glossy skin,
Solid like glass, though seemingly as thin.
Lo! how she startles at the warning shock,
And straightway girds him to her radiant breast,
More like his safe smooth harbor than his rock;
Poor wretch, he is so faint and toil-opprest,
He cannot loose him from his grappling foe,
Whether for love or hate, she lets not go.
His eyes are blinded with the sleety brine,
His ears are deafen'd with the wildering noise;
He asks the purpose of her fell design,
But foamy waves choke up his struggling voice;
Under the ponderous sea his body dips,
And Hero's name dies bubbling on his lips.
Look how a man is lower'd to his grave,—
A yearning hollow in the green earth's lap;
So he is sunk into the yawning wave,—
The plunging sea fills up the watery gap;
Anon he is all gone, and nothing seen
But likeness of green turf and hillocks green.
And where he swam, the constant sun lies sleeping,
Over the verdant plain that makes his bed;
And all the noisy waves go freshly leaping.
Like gamesome boys over the churchyard dead;
The light in vain keeps looking for his face:—
Now screaming sea-fowl settle in his place.
Yet weep and watch for him, though all in vain!
Ye moaning billows, seek him as ye wander!
Ye gazing sunbeams, look for him again!
Ye winds, grow hoarse with asking for Leander!
Ye did but spare him for more cruel rape,
Sea-storm and ruin in a female shape!
She says 'tis love hath bribed her to this deed,
The glancing of his eyes did so bewitch her.
O bootless theft! unprofitable meed!
Love's treasury is sack'd, but she no richer;
The sparkles of his eyes are cold and dead,
And all his golden looks are turn'd to lead!
She holds the casket, but her simple hand
Hath spill'd its dearest jewel by the way;
She hath life's empty garment at command,
But her own death lies covert in the prey;
As if a thief should steal a tainted vest,
Some dead man's spoil, and sicken of his pest.
Now she compels him to her deeps below,
Hiding his face beneath her plenteous hair,
Which jealously she shakes all round her brow,
For dread of envy, though no eyes are there
But seals', and all brute tenants of the deep,
Which heedless through the wave their journeys keep.
Down and still downward through the dusky green
She bore him, murmuring with joyous haste
In too rash ignorance, as he had been
Born to the texture of that watery waste;
That which she breathed and sigh'd, the emerald wave,
How could her pleasant home become his grave!
Down and still downward through the dusky green
She bore her treasure, with a face too nigh
To mark how life was alter'd in its mien,
Or how the light grew torpid in his eye,
Or how his pearly breath, unprison'd there,
Flew up to join the universal air.
She could not miss the throbbings of his heart,
Whilst her own pulse so wanton'd in its joy;
She could not guess he struggled to depart,
And when he strove no more, the hapless boy!
She read his mortal stillness for content,
Feeling no fear where only love was meant.
Soon she alights upon her ocean-floor,
And straight unyokes her arms from her fair prize;
Then on his lovely face begins to pore,
As if to glut her soul;—her hungry eyes
Have grown so jealous of her arms' delight;
It seems she hath no other sense but sight.
But O sad marvel! O most bitter strange!
What dismal magic makes his cheek so pale?
Why will he not embrace,—why not exchange
Her kindly kisses;—wherefore not exhale
Some odorous message from life's ruby gates,
Where she his first sweet embassy awaits?
Her eyes, poor watchers, fix'd upon his looks,
Are grappled with a wonder near to grief,
As one, who pores on undecipher'd books,
Strains vain surmise, and dodges with belief;
So she keeps gazing with a mazy thought,
Framing a thousand doubts that end in nought.
Too stern inscription for a page so young,
The dark translation of his look was death!
But death was written in an alien tongue,
And learning was not by to give it breath;
So one deep woe sleeps buried in its seal,
Which Time, untimely, hasteth to reveal.
Meanwhile she sits unconscious of her hap,
Nursing Death's marble effigy, which there
With heavy head lies pillow'd in her lap,
And elbows all unhinged;—his sleeking hair
Creeps o'er her knees, and settles where his hand
Leans with lax fingers crook'd against the sand;
And there lies spread in many an oozy trail,
Like glossy weeds hung from a chalky base,
That shows no whiter than his brow is pale;
So soon the wintry death had bleach'd his face
Into cold marble,—with blue chilly shades,
Showing wherein the freezy blood pervades.
And o'er his steadfast cheek a furrow'd pain
Hath set, and stiffened like a storm in ice,
Showing by drooping lines the deadly strain
Of mortal anguish;—yet you might gaze twice
Ere Death it seem'd, and not his cousin, Sleep,
That through those creviced lids did underpeep.
But all that tender bloom about his eyes,
Is Death's own violets, which his utmost rite
It is to scatter when the red rose dies;
For blue is chilly, and akin to white:
Also he leaves some tinges on his lips,
Which he hath kiss'd with such cold frosty nips.
"Surely," quoth she, "he sleeps, the senseless thing,
Oppress'd and faint with toiling in the stream!"
Therefore she will not mar his rest, but sing
So low, her tune shall mingle with his dream;
Meanwhile, her lily fingers task to twine
His uncrispt locks uncurling in the brine.
"O lovely boy!"—thus she attuned her voice,—
"Welcome, thrice welcome, to a sea-maid's home,
My love-mate thou shalt be, and true heart's choice;
How have I long'd such a twin-self should come,—
A lonely thing, till this sweet chance befell,
My heart kept sighing like a hollow shell."
"Here thou shalt live, beneath this secret dome,
An ocean-bow'r, defended by the shade
Of quiet waters, a cool emerald gloom
To lap thee all about. Nay, be not fray'd,
Those are but shady fishes that sail by
Like antic clouds across my liquid sky!"
"Look how the sunbeam burns upon their scales,
And shows rich glimpses of their Tyrian skins;
They flash small lightnings from their vigorous tails,
And winking stars are kindled at their fins;
These shall divert thee in thy weariest mood,
And seek thy hand for gamesomeness and food."
"Lo! those green pretty leaves with tassel bells,
My flow'rets those, that never pine for drouth;
Myself did plant them in the dappled shells,
That drink the wave with such a rosy mouth,—
Pearls wouldst thou have beside? crystals to shine?
I had such treasures once,—now they are thine."
"Now, lay thine ear against this golden sand,
And thou shalt hear the music of the sea,
Those hollow tunes it plays against the land,—
Is't not a rich and wondrous melody?
I have lain hours, and fancied in its tone
I heard the languages of ages gone!"
"I too can sing when it shall please thy choice,
And breathe soft tunes through a melodious shell,
Though heretofore I have but set my voice
To some long sighs, grief-harmonized, to tell
How desolate I fared;—but this sweet change
Will add new notes of gladness to my range!"
"Or bid me speak, and I will tell thee tales,
Which I have framed out of the noise of waves;
Ere now I have communed with senseless gales,
And held vain colloquies with barren caves;
But I could talk to thee whole days and days,
Only to word my love a thousand ways."
"But if thy lips will bless me with their speech,
Then ope, sweet oracles! and I'll be mute;
I was born ignorant for thee to teach,
Nay all love's lore to thy dear looks impute;
Then ope thine eyes, fair teachers, by whose light
I saw to give away my heart aright!"
But cold and deaf the sullen creature lies
Over her knees, and with concealing clay,
Like hoarding Avarice, locks up his eyes,
And leaves her world impoverish'd of day;
Then at his cruel lips she bends to plead,
But there the door is closed against her need.
Surely he sleeps,—so her false wits infer!
Alas! poor sluggard, ne'er to wake again!
Surely he sleeps, yet without any stir
That might denote a vision in his brain;
Or if he does not sleep, he feigns too long,
Twice she hath reach'd the ending of her song.
Therefore 'tis time she tells him to uncover
Those radiant jesters, and disperse her fears,
Whereby her April face is shaded over,
Like rainy clouds just ripe for showering tears;
Nay, if he will not wake, so poor she gets,
Herself must open those lock'd-up cabinets.
With that she stoops above his brow, and bids
Her busy hands forsake his tangled hair,
And tenderly lift up those coffer-lids,
That she may gaze upon the jewels there,
Like babes that pluck an early bud apart,
To know the dainty color of its heart.
Now, picture one, soft creeping to a bed,
Who slowly parts the fringe-hung canopies,
And then starts back to find the sleeper dead;
So she looks in on his uncover'd eyes,
And seeing all within so drear and dark,
Her own bright soul dies in her like a spark.
Backward she falls, like a pale prophetess,
Under the swoon of holy divination:
And what had all surpass'd her simple guess,
She now resolves in this dark revelation;
Death's very mystery,—oblivious death;—
Long sleep,—deep night, and an entranced breath.
Yet life, though wounded sore, not wholly slain,
Merely obscured, and not extinguish'd, lies;
Her breath that stood at ebb, soon flows again,
Heaving her hollow breast with heavy sighs,
And light comes in and kindles up the gloom,
To light her spirit from its transient tomb.
Then like the sun, awaken'd at new dawn,
With pale bewilder'd face she peers about,
And spies blurr'd images obscurely drawn,
Uncertain shadows in a haze of doubt;
But her true grief grows shapely by degrees,—
A perish'd creature lying on her knees.
And now she knows how that old Murther preys,
Whose quarry on her lap lies newly slain:
How he roams all abroad and grimly slays,
Like a lean tiger in Love's own domain;
Parting fond mates,—and oft in flowery lawns
Bereaves mild mothers of their milky fawns.
O too dear knowledge! O pernicious earning!
Foul curse engraven upon beauty's page!
Ev'n now the sorrow of that deadly learning
Ploughs up her brow, like an untimely age,
And on her cheek stamps verdict of death's truth
By canker blights upon the bud of youth!
For as unwholesome winds decay the leaf,
So her cheeks' rose is perish'd by her sighs,
And withers in the sickly breath of grief;
Whilst unacquainted rheum bedims her eyes,
Tears, virgin tears, the first that ever leapt
From those young lids, now plentifully wept.
Whence being shed, the liquid crystalline
Drops straightway down, refusing to partake
In gross admixture with the baser brine,
But shrinks and hardens into pearls opaque,
Hereafter to be worn on arms and ears;
So one maid's trophy is another's tears!
"O foul Arch-Shadow, thou old cloud of Night,"
(Thus in her frenzy she began to wail,)
"Thou blank Oblivion—blotter-out of light,
Life's ruthless murderer, and dear love's bale!
Why hast thou left thy havoc incomplete,
Leaving me here, and slaying the more sweet?"
"Lo! what a lovely ruin thou hast made!
Alas! alas! thou hast no eye to see,
And blindly slew'st him in misguided shade.
Would I had lent my doting sense to thee!
But now I turn to thee, a willing mark,
Thine arrows miss me in the aimless dark!"
"O doubly cruel!—twice misdoing spite,
But I will guide thee with my helping eyes,
Or—walk the wide world through, devoid of sight,—
Yet thou shalt know me by my many sighs.
Nay, then thou should'st have spared my roses, false Death,
And known Love's flow'r by smelling his sweet breath;"
"Or, when thy furious rage was round him dealing,
Love should have grown from touching of his skin;
But like cold marble thou art all unfeeling.
And hast no ruddy springs of warmth within,
And being but a shape of freezing bone,
Thy touching only turn'd my love to stone!"
"And here, alas! he lies across my knees,
With cheeks still colder than the stilly wave.
The light beneath his eyelids seems to freeze;
Here then, since Love is dead and lacks a grave,
O come and dig it in my sad heart's core—
That wound will bring a balsam for its sore!"
"For art thou not a sleep where sense of ill
Lies stingless, like a sense benumb'd with cold,
Healing all hurts only with sleep's good-will?
So shall I slumber, and perchance behold
My living love in dreams,—O happy night,
That lets me company his banish'd spright!"
"O poppy Death!—sweet poisoner of sleep;
Where shall I seek for thee, oblivious drug,
That I may steep thee in my drink, and creep
Out of life's coil? Look, Idol! how I hug
Thy dainty image in this strict embrace,
And kiss this clay-cold model of thy face!"
"Put out, put out these sun-consuming lamps,
I do but read my sorrows by their shine;
O come and quench them with thy oozy damps,
And let my darkness intermix with thine;
Since love is blinded, wherefore should I see?
Now love is death,—death will be love to me!"
"Away, away, this vain complaining breath,
It does but stir the troubles that I weep;
Let it be hush'd and quieted, sweet Death;
The wind must settle ere the wave can sleep,—
Since love is silent, I would fain be mute;
O death, be gracious to my dying suit!"
Thus far she pleads, but pleading nought avails her,
For Death, her sullen burthen, deigns no heed;
Then with dumb craving arms, since darkness fails her,
She prays to heaven's fair light, as if her need
Inspired her there were Gods to pity pain,
Or end it,—but she lifts her arms in vain!
Poor gilded Grief! the subtle light by this
With mazy gold creeps through her watery mine,
And, diving downward through the green abyss,
Lights up her palace with an amber shine;
There, falling on her arms,—the crystal skin
Reveals the ruby tide that fares within.
Look how the fulsome beam would hang a glory
On her dark hair, but the dark hairs repel it;
Look how the perjured glow suborns a story
On her pale lips, but lips refuse to tell it;
Grief will not swerve from grief, however told
On coral lips, or character'd in gold;
Or else, thou maid! safe anchor'd on Love's neck,
Listing the hapless doom of young Leander,
Thou would'st not shed a tear for that old wreck,
Sitting secure where no wild surges wander;
Whereas the woe moves on with tragic pace,
And shows its sad reflection in thy face.
Thus having travell'd on, and track'd the tale,
Like the due course of an old bas-relief,
Where Tragedy pursues her progress pale,
Brood here awhile upon that sea-maid's grief,
And take a deeper imprint from the frieze
Of that young Fate, with Death upon her knees.
Then whilst the melancholy Muse withal
Resumes her music in a sadder tone,
Meanwhile the sunbeam strikes upon the wall,
Conceive that lovely siren to live on,
Ev'n as Hope whisper'd, the Promethean light
Would kindle up the dead Leander's spright.
"'Tis light," she says, "that feeds the glittering stars,
And those were stars set in his heavenly brow;
But this salt cloud, this cold sea-vapor, mars
Their radiant breathing, and obscures them now;
Therefore I'll lay him in the clear blue air,
And see how these dull orbs will kindle there."
Swiftly as dolphins glide, or swifter yet,
With dead Leander in her fond arms' fold,
She cleaves the meshes of that radiant net
The sun hath twined above of liquid gold,
Nor slacks till on the margin of the land
She lays his body on the glowing sand.
There, like a pearly waif, just past the reach
Of foamy billows he lies cast. Just then,
Some listless fishers, straying down the beach,
Spy out this wonder. Thence the curious men,
Low crouching, creep into a thicket brake,
And watch her doings till their rude hearts ache.
First she begins to chafe him till she faints,
Then falls upon his mouth with kisses many,
And sometimes pauses in her own complaints
To list his breathing, but there is not any,—
Then looks into his eyes where no light dwells;
Light makes no pictures in such muddy wells.
The hot sun parches his discover'd eyes,
The hot sun beats on his discolor'd limbs,
The sand is oozy whereupon he lies,
Soiling his fairness;—then away she swims,
Meaning to gather him a daintier bed,
Plucking the cool fresh weeds, brown, green, and red.
But, simple-witted thief, while she dives under,
Another robs her of her amorous theft;
The ambush'd fishermen creep forth to plunder,
And steal the unwatch'd treasure she has left;
Only his void impression dints the sands;
Leander is purloin'd by stealthy hands!
Lo! how she shudders off the beaded wave,
Like Grief all over tears, and senseless falls,—
His void imprint seems hollow'd for her grave;
Then, rising on her knees, looks round and calls
On "Hero! Hero!" having learn'd this name
Of his last breath, she calls him by the same.
Then with her frantic hands she rends her hairs,
And casts them forth, sad keepsakes to the wind,
As if in plucking those she plucked her cares;
But grief lies deeper, and remains behind
Like a barb'd arrow, rankling in her brain,
Turning her very thoughts to throbs of pain.
Anon her tangled locks are left alone,
And down upon the sand she meekly sits,
Hard by the foam, as humble as a stone,
Like an enchanted maid beside her wits,
That ponders with a look serene and tragic,
Stunn'd by the mighty mystery of magic.
Or think of Ariadne's utter trance,
Crazed by the flight of that disloyal traitor,
Who left her gazing on the green expanse
That swallowed up his track,—yet this would mate her,
Ev'n in the cloudy summit of her woe,
When o'er the far sea-brim she saw him go.
For even so she bows, and bends her gaze
O'er the eternal waste, as if to sum
Its waves by weary thousands all her days,
Dismally doom'd! meanwhile the billows come,
And coldly dabble with her quiet feet,
Like any bleaching stones they wont to greet.
And thence into her lap have boldly sprung,
Washing her weedy tresses to and fro,
That round her crouching knees have darkly hung;
But she sits careless of waves' ebb and flow,
Like a lone beacon on a desert coast,
Showing where all her hope was wreck'd and lost.
Yet whether in the sea or vaulted sky,
She knoweth not her lover's abrupt resort,
So like a shape of dreams he left her eye,
Winking with doubt. Meanwhile, the churls' report
Has throng'd the beach with many a curious face,
That peeps upon her from its hiding place.
And here a head, and there a brow half seen,
Dodges behind a rock. Here on his hands
A mariner his crumpled cheeks doth lean
Over a rugged crest. Another stands,
Holding his harmful arrow at the head,
Still check'd by human caution and strange dread.
One stops his ears,—another close beholder
Whispers unto the next his grave surmise;
This crouches down,—and just above his shoulder,
A woman's pity saddens in her eyes,
And prompts her to befriend that lonely grief,
With all sweet helps of sisterly relief.
And down the sunny beach she paces slowly,
With many doubtful pauses by the way;
Grief hath an influence so hush'd and holy,—
Making her twice attempt, ere she can lay
Her hand upon that sea-maid's shoulder white,
Which makes her startle up in wild affright.
And, like a seal, she leaps into the wave
That drowns the shrill remainder of her scream;
Anon the sea fills up the watery cave,
And seals her exit with a foamy seam,—
Leaving those baffled gazers on the beach,
Turning in uncouth wonder each to each.
Some watch, some call, some see her head emerge,
Wherever a brown weed falls through the foam;
Some point to white eruptions of the surge:—
But she is vanish'd to her shady home,
Under the deep, inscrutable,—and there
Weeps in a midnight made of her own hair.
Now here, the sighing winds, before unheard,
Forth from their cloudy caves begin to blow,
Till all the surface of the deep is stirr'd,
Like to the panting grief it hides below;
And heaven is cover'd with a stormy rack,
Soiling the waters with its inky black.
The screaming fowl resigns her finny prey,
And labors shoreward with a bending wing,
Rowing against the wind her toilsome way;
Meanwhile, the curling billows chafe, and fling
Their dewy frost still further on the stones,
That answer to the wind with hollow groans.
And here and there a fisher's far-off bark
Flies with the sun's last glimpse upon its sail,
Like a bright flame amid the waters dark,
Watch'd with the hope and fear of maidens pale;
And anxious mothers that upturn their brows,
Freighting the gusty wind with frequent vows,
For that the horrid deep has no sure path
To guide Love safe into his homely haven.
And lo! the storm grows blacker in its wrath,
O'er the dark billow brooding like a raven,
That bodes of death and widow's sorrowing,
Under the dusky covert of his wing.
And so day ended. But no vesper spark
Hung forth its heavenly sign; but sheets of flame
Play'd round the savage features of the dark,
Making night horrible. That night, there came
A weeping maiden to high Sestos' steep,
And tore her hair and gazed upon the deep.
And waved aloft her bright and ruddy torch,
Whose flame the boastful wind so rudely fann'd,
That oft it would recoil, and basely scorch
The tender covert of her sheltering hand;
Which yet, for Love's dear sake, disdain'd retire,
And, like a glorying martyr, braved the fire.
For that was love's own sign and beacon guide
Across the Hellespont's wide weary space,
Wherein he nightly struggled with the tide:—
Look what a red it forges on her face,
As if she blush'd at holding sucha light,
Ev'n in the unseen presence of the night!
Whereas her tragic cheek is truly pale,
And colder than the rude and ruffian air
That howls into her ear a horrid tale
Of storm and wreck, and uttermost despair,
Saying, "Leander floats amid the surge,
And those are dismal waves that sing his dirge."
And hark!—a grieving voice, trembling and faint,
Blends with the hollow sobbings of the sea;
Like the sad music of a siren's plaint,
But shriller than Leander's voice should be,
Unless the wintry death had changed its tone,—
Wherefore she thinks she hears his spirit moan.
For now, upon each brief and breathless pause,
Made by the raging winds, it plainly calls
On "Hero! Hero!"—whereupon she draws
Close to the dizzy brink, that ne'er appals
Her brave and constant spirit to recoil,
However the wild billows toss and toil.
"Oh! dost thou live under the deep deep sea?
I thought such love as thine could never die;
If thou hast gain'd an immortality
From the kind pitying sea-god, so will I;
And this false cruel tide that used to sever
Our hearts, shall be our common home forever!"
"There we will sit and sport upon one billow,
And sing our ocean ditties all the day,
And lie together on the same green pillow,
That curls above us with its dewy spray;
And ever in one presence live and dwell,
Like two twin pearls within the selfsame shell!"
One moment then, upon the dizzy verge
She stands;—with face upturn'd against the sky;
A moment more, upon the foamy surge
She gazes, with a calm despairing eye;
Feeling that awful pause of blood and breath,
Which life endures when it confronts with death;—
Then from the giddy steep she madly springs,
Grasping her maiden robes, that vainly kept
Panting abroad, like unavailing wings,
To save her from her death.—The sea-maid wept
And in a crystal cave her corse enshrined;
No meaner sepulchre should Hero find!
MY DEAR SIR—The following Ode was written anticipating the
tone of some strictures on my writings by the gentleman to whom
it is addressed. I have not seen his book; but I know by hearsay
that some of my verses are characterized as "profaneness and
ribaldry"—citing, in proof, the description of a certain
sow, from whose jaw a cabbage sprout
If the printed works of my Censor had not prepared me for any
misapplication of types, I should have been surprised by
this misapprehension of one of the commonest emblems. In some
cases the dove unquestionably stands for the Divine Spirit; but
the same bird is also a lay representative of the peace of this
world, and, as such, has figured time out of mind in allegorical
pictures. The sense in which it was used by me is plain from the
context; at least, it would be plain to any one but a fisher for
faults, predisposed to carp at some things, to dab at others, and
to flounder in all. But I am possibly in error. It is the female
swine, perhaps, that is profaned in the eyes of the Oriental
tourist. Men find strange ways of marking their intolerance; and
the spirit is certainly strong enough, in Mr. W.'s works, to set
up a creature as sacred, in sheer opposition to the Mussulman,
with whom she is a beast of abomination. It would only be going
the whole sow.—I am, dear Sir, yours very truly, THOS.
"Close, close your eyes with holy dread,
And weave a circle round him thrice,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise."—COLERIDGE.
"It's very hard them kind of men
Won't let a body be."—Old Ballad.
A wanderer, Wilson, from my native land,
Remote, O Rae, from godliness and thee,
Where rolls between us the eternal sea,
Besides some furlongs of a foreign sand,—
Beyond the broadest Scotch of London Wall;
Beyond the loudest Saint that has a call;
Across the wavy waste between us stretch'd,
A friendly missive warns me of a stricture,
Wherein my likeness you have darkly etch'd,
And though I have not seen the shadow sketch'd,
Thus I remark prophetic on the picture.
I guess the features:—in a line to paint
Their moral ugliness, I'm not a saint.
Not one of those self-constituted saints,
Quacks—not physicians—in the cure of souls,
Censors who sniff out mortal taints,
And call the devil over his own coals—
Those pseudo Privy Councillors of God,
Who write down judgments with a pen hard-nibb'd;
Ushers of Beelzebub's Black Rod,
Commending sinners, not to ice thick-ribb'd,
But endless flames, to scorch them up like flax—
Yet sure of heav'n themselves, as if they'd cribb'd
Th' impression of St. Peter's keys in wax!
Of such a character no single trace
Exists, I know, in my fictitious face;
There wants a certain cast about the eye;
A certain lifting of the nose's tip;
A certain curling of the nether lip,
In scorn of all that is, beneath the sky;
In brief it is an aspect deleterious,
A face decidedly not serious,
A face profane, that would not do at all
To make a face at Exeter Hall,—
That Hall where bigots rant, and cant, and pray,
And laud each other face to face,
Till ev'ry farthing-candle ray
Conceives itself a great gas-light of grace.
Well!—be the graceless lineaments confest!
I do enjoy this bounteous beauteous earth;
And dote upon a jest
"Within the limits of becoming mirth";—
No solemn sanctimonious face I pull,
Nor think I'm pious when I'm only bilious—
Nor study in my sanctum supercilious
To frame a Sabbath Bill or forge a Bull.
I pray for grace—repent each sinful act—
Peruse, but underneath the rose, my Bible;
And love my neighbor far too well, in fact,
To call and twit him with a godly tract
That's turn'd by application to a libel.
My heart ferments not with the bigot's leaven,
All creeds I view with toleration thorough,
And have a horror of regarding heaven
As anybody's rotten borough.
What else? no part I take in party fray,
With troops from Billingsgate's slang-whanging tartars,
I fear no Pope—and let great Ernest play
At Fox and Goose with Foxs' Martyrs!
I own I laugh at over-righteous men,
I own I shake my sides at ranters,
And treat sham-Abr'am saints with wicked banters,
I even own, that there are times—but then
It's when I've got my wine—I say
I've no ambition to enact the spy
On fellow souls, a Spiritual Pry—
'Tis said that people ought to guard their noses,
Who thrust them into matters none of theirs;
And tho' no delicacy discomposes
Your Saint, yet I consider faith and pray'rs
Amongst the privatest of men's affairs.
I do not hash the Gospel in my books,
And thus upon the public mind intrude it,
As if I thought, like Otaheitan cooks,
No food was fit to eat till I had chewed it.
On Bible stilts I don't affect to stalk;
Nor lard with Scripture my familiar talk,—
For man may pious texts repeat,
And yet religion have no inward seat;
'Tis not so plain as the old Hill of Howth,
A man has got his belly full of meat
Because he talks with victuals in his mouth!
Mere verbiage,—it is not worth a carrot!
Why, Socrates—or Plato—where's the odds?—
Once taught a jay to supplicate the Gods,
And made a Polly-theist of a Parrot!
A mere professor, spite of all his cant, is
Not a whit better than a Mantis,—
An insect, of what clime I can't determine,
That lifts its paws most parson-like, and thence,
By simple savages—thro' sheer pretence—
Is reckon'd quite a saint amongst the vermin.
But where's the reverence, or where the nous,
To ride on one's religion thro' the lobby,
Whether a stalking-horse or hobby,
To show its pious paces to "the house"?
I honestly confess that I would hinder
The Scottish member's legislative rigs,
That spiritual Pinder,
Who looks on erring souls as straying pigs,
That must be lash'd by law, wherever found,
And driv'n to church, as to the parish pound.
I do confess, without reserve or wheedle,
I view that grovelling idea as one
Worthy some parish clerk's ambitious son,
A charity-boy, who longs to be a beadle.
On such a vital topic sure 'tis odd
How much a man can differ from his neighbor:
One wishes worship freely giv'n to God,
Another wants to make it statute-labor—
The broad distinction in a line to draw,
As means to lead us to the skies above,
You say—Sir Andrew and his love of law,
And I—the Saviour with his law of love.
Spontaneously to God should tend the soul,
Like the magnetic needle to the Pole;
But what were that intrinsic virtue worth,
Suppose some fellow, with more zeal than knowledge,
Fresh from St. Andrew's College,
Should nail the conscious needle to the north?
I do confess that I abhor and shrink
From schemes, with a religious willy-nilly,
That frown upon St. Giles's sins, but blink
The peccadilloes of all Piccadilly—
My soul revolts at such a bare hypocrisy,
And will not, dare not, fancy in accord
The Lord of Hosts with an Exclusive Lord
Of this world's aristocracy.
It will not own a notion so unholy,
As thinking that the rich by easy trips
May go to heav'n, whereas the poor and lowly
Must work their passage, as they do in ships.
One place there is—beneath the burial sod,
Where all mankind are equalized by death;
Another place there is—the Fane of God,
Where all are equal, who draw living breath;—
Juggle who will elsewhere with his own soul,
Playing the Judas with a temporal dole—
He who can come beneath that awful cope,
In the dread presence of a Maker just,
Who metes to ev'ry pinch of human dust
One even measure of immortal hope—
He who can stand within that holy door,
With soul unbow'd by that pure spirit-level,
And frame unequal laws for rich and poor,—
Might sit for Hell and represent the Devil!
Such are the solemn sentiments, O Rae,
In your last Journey-Work, perchance you ravage,
Seeming, but in more courtly terms, to say
I'm but a heedless, creedless, godless savage;
A very Guy, deserving fire and faggots,—
A Scoffer, always on the grin,
And sadly given to the mortal sin
Of liking Maw-worms less than merry maggots!
The humble records of my life to search,
I have not herded with mere pagan beasts;
But sometimes I have "sat at good men's feasts,"
And I have been "where bells have knoll'd to church."
Dear bells! how sweet the sounds of village bells
When on the undulating air they swim!
Now loud as welcomes! faint, now, as farewells!
And trembling all about the breezy dells
As flutter'd by the wings of Cherubim.
Meanwhile the bees are chanting a low hymn;
And lost to sight th' ecstatic lark above
Sings, like a soul beatified, of love,—
With, now and then, the coo of the wild pigeon;—
O Pagans, Heathens, Infidels and Doubters!
If such sweet sounds can't woo you to religion,
Will the harsh voices of church cads and touters?
A man may cry "Church! Church!" at ev'ry word,
With no more piety than other people—
A daw's not reckon'd a religious bird
Because it keeps a-cawing from a steeple.
The Temple is a good, a holy place,
But quacking only gives it an ill savor;
While saintly mountebanks the porch disgrace,
And bring religion's self into disfavor!
Behold yon servitor of God and Mammon,
Who, binding up his Bible with his Ledger,
Blends Gospel texts with trading gammon,
A black-leg saint, a spiritual hedger,
Who backs his rigid Sabbath, so to speak,
Against the wicked remnant of the week,
A saving bet against his sinful bias—
"Rogue that I am," he whispers to himself,
"I lie—I cheat—do anything for pelf,
But who on earth can say I am not pious?"
In proof how over-righteousness re-acts,
Accept an anecdote well based on facts.
One Sunday morning—(at the day don't fret)—
In riding with a friend to Ponder's End
Outside the stage, we happened to commend
A certain mansion that we saw To Let.
"Ay," cried our coachman, with our talk to grapple
"You're right! no house along the road comes nigh it!
'Twas built by the same man as built yon chapel
And master wanted once to buy it,—
But t'other driv the bargain much too hard—
He ax'd sure-ly a sum purdigious!
But being so particular religious,
Why, that, you see, put master on his guard!"
Church is "a little heav'n below,
I have been there and still would go,"—
Yet I am none of those, who think it odd
A man can pray unbidden from the cassock,
And, passing by the customary hassock,
Kneel down remote upon the simple sod,
And sue in formâ pauperis to God.
As for the rest,—intolerant to none,
Whatever shape the pious rite may bear,
Ev'n the poor Pagan's homage to the Sun
I would not harshly scorn, lest even there
I spurn'd some elements of Christian pray'r—
An aim, tho' erring, at a "world ayont,"
Acknowledgment of good—of man's futility,
A sense of need, and weakness, and indeed
That very thing so many Christians want—
Such, unto Papists, Jews or turban'd Turks,
Such is my spirit—(I don't mean my wraith!)
Such, may it please you, is my humble faith;
I know, full well, you do not like my works!
I have not sought, 'tis true, the Holy Land,
As full of texts as Cuddie Headrigg's mother,
The Bible in one hand,
And my own commonplace-book in the other—
But you have been to Palestine—alas!
Some minds improve by travel, others, rather,
Resemble copper wire, or brass,
Which gets the narrower by going farther!
Worthless are all such Pilgrimages—very!
If Palmers at the Holy Tomb contrive
The human heats and rancor to revive
That at the Sepulchre they ought to bury.
A sorry sight it is to rest the eye on,
To see a Christian creature graze at Sion,
Then homeward, of the saintly pasture full,
Rush bellowing, and breathing fire and smoke,
At crippled Papistry to butt and poke,
Exactly as a skittish Scottish bull
Hunts an old woman in a scarlet cloak!
Why leave a serious, moral, pious home,
Scotland, renown'd for sanctity of old,
Far distant Catholics to rate and scold
For—doing as the Romans do at Rome?
With such a bristling spirit wherefore quit
The Land of Cakes for any land of wafers,
About the graceless images to flit,
And buzz and chafe importunate as chafers,
Longing to carve the carvers to Scotch collops?—
People who hold such absolute opinions
Should stay at home, in Protestant dominions,
Not travel like male Mrs. Trollopes.
Gifted with noble tendency to climb,
Yet weak at the same time,
Faith is a kind of parasitic plant,
That grasps the nearest stem with tendril-rings;
And as the climate and the soil may grant,
So is the sort of tree to which it clings.
Consider then, before, like Hurlothrumbo
You aim your club at any creed on earth,
That, by the simple accident of birth,
You might have been High Priest to Mumbo Jumbo.
For me—thro' heathen ignorance perchance,
Not having knelt in Palestine,—I feel
None of that griffinish excess of zeal,
Some travellers would blaze with here in France.
Dolls I can see in virgin-like array,
Nor for a scuffle with the idols hanker
Like crazy Quixote at the puppet's play,
If their "offence be rank," should mine be rancor?
Mild light, and by degrees, should be the plan
To cure the dark and erring mind;
But who would rush at a benighted man,
And give him two black eyes for being blind?
Suppose the tender but luxuriant hop
Around a canker'd stem should twine,
What Kentish boor would tear away the prop
So roughly as to wound, nay, kill the bine?
The images, 'tis true, are strangely dress'd,
With gauds and toys extremely out of season;
The carving nothing of the very best,
The whole repugnant to the eye of reason,
Shocking to Taste, and to Fine Arts a treason—
Yet ne'er o'erlook in bigotry of sect
One truly Catholic, one common form,
At which uncheck'd
All Christian hearts may kindle or keep warm.
Say, was it to my spirit's gain or loss,
One bright and balmy morning, as I went
From Liege's lovely environs to Ghent,
If hard by the wayside I found a cross,
That made me breathe a pray'r upon the spot—
While Nature of herself, as if to trace
The emblem's use, had trail'd around its base
The blue significant Forget-me-not?
Methought, the claims of Charity to urge
More forcibly, along with Faith and Hope,
The pious choice had pitched upon the verge
Of a delicious slope
Giving the eye much variegated scope;—
"Look round," it whisper'd, "on that prospect rare,
Those vales so verdant, and those hills so blue;
Enjoy the sunny world, so fresh, and fair,
But"—(how the simple legend pierced me thro'!)
"PRIEZ POUR LES MALHEUREUX."
With sweet kind natures, as in honey'd cells,
Religion lives, and feels herself at home;
But only on a formal visit dwells
Where wasps instead of bees have formed the comb.
Shun pride, O Rae!—whatever sort beside
You take in lieu, shun spiritual pride!
A pride there is of rank—a pride of birth,
A pride of learning, and a pride of purse,
A London pride—in short, there be on earth
A host of prides, some better and some worse;
But of all prides, since Lucifer's attaint,
The proudest swells a self-elected Saint.
To picture that cold pride so harsh and hard,
Fancy a peacock in a poultry yard.
Behold him in conceited circles sail,
Strutting and dancing, and now planted stiff,
In all his pomp of pageantry, as if
He felt "the eyes of Europe" on his tail!
As for the humble breed retain'd by man,
He scorns the whole domestic clan—
He bows, he bridles,
He wheels, he sidles,
At last, with stately dodgings, in a corner
He pens a simple russet hen, to scorn her
Full in the blaze of his resplendent fan!
"Look here," he cries (to give him words),
"Thou feather'd clay—thou scum of birds!"
Flirting the rustling plumage in her eyes,—
"Look here, thou vile predestined sinner,
Doom'd to be roasted for a dinner,
Behold those lovely variegated dyes!
These are the rainbow colors of the skies,
That Heav'n has shed upon me con amore—
A Bird of Paradise?—a pretty story!
I am that Saintly Fowl, thou paltry chick!
Look at my crown of glory!
Thou dingy, dirty, drabbled, draggled jill!"
And off goes Partlet, wriggling from a kick,
With bleeding scalp laid open by his bill!
That little simile exactly paints
How sinners are despised by saints.
By saints!—the Hypocrites that ope heav'n's door
Obsequious to the sinful man of riches—
But put the wicked, naked, barelegg'd poor
In parish stocks instead of breeches.
The Saints!—the Bigots that in public spout,
Spread phosphorus of zeal on scraps of fustian,
And go like walking "Lucifers" about
Mere living bundles of combustion.
The Saints!—the aping Fanatics that talk
All cant and rant, and rhapsodies high-flown—
That bid you baulk
A Sunday walk,
And shun God's work as you should shun your own.
The Saints!—the Formalists, the extra pious,
Who think the mortal husk can save the soul,
By trundling with a mere mechanic bias,
To church, just like a lignum-vitæ bowl!
The Saints!—the Pharisees, whose beadle stands
Beside a stern coercive kirk.
A piece of human mason-work,
Calling all sermons contrabands,
In that great Temple that's not made with hands!
Thrice blessed, rather, is the man, with whom
The gracious prodigality of nature,
The balm, the bliss, the beauty, and the bloom,
The bounteous providence in ev'ry feature,
Recall the good Creator to his creature,
Making all earth a fane, all heav'n its dome!
To his tuned spirit the wild heather-bells
Ring Sabbath knells;
The jubilate of the soaring lark
Is chant of clerk;
For choir, the thrush and the gregarious linnet;
The sod's a cushion for his pious want;
And, consecrated by the heav'n within it,
The sky-blue pool, a font.
Each cloud-capped mountain is a holy altar;
An organ breathes in every grove;
And the full heart's a Psalter,
Rich in deep hymns of gratitude and love!
Sufficiently by stern necessitarians
Poor Nature, with her face begrimed by dust,
Is stoked, coked, smoked, and almost choked; but must
Religion have its own Utilitarians,
Labell'd with evangelical phylacteries,
To make the road to heav'n a railway trust,
And churches—that's the naked fact—mere
Oh! simply open wide the Temple door,
And let the solemn, swelling, organ greet,
With Voluntaries meet,
The willing advent of the rich and poor!
And while to God the loud Hosannas soar,
With rich vibrations from the vocal throng—
From quiet shades that to the woods belong,
And brooks with music of their own,
Voices may come to swell the choral song
With notes of praise they learned in musings lone.
How strange it is while on all vital questions,
That occupy the House and public mind,
We always meet with some humane suggestions
Of gentle measures of a healing kind,
Instead of harsh severity and vigor,
The Saint alone his preference retains
For bills of penalties and pains,
And marks his narrow code with legal rigor!
Why shun, as worthless of affiliation,
What men of all political persuasion
Extol—and even use upon occasion—
That Christian principle, Conciliation?
But possibly the men who make such fuss
With Sunday pippins and old Trots infirm,
Attach some other meaning to the term,
One market morning, in my usual rambles,
Passing along Whitechapel's ancient shambles,
Where meat was hung in many a joint and quarter,
I had to halt awhile, like other folks,
To let a killing butcher coax
A score of lambs and fatted sheep to slaughter.
A sturdy man he looke'd to fell an ox,
Bull-fronted, ruddy, with a formal streak
Of well-greased hair down either cheek,
As if he dee-dash-dee'd some other flocks
Beside those woolly-headed stubborn blocks
That stood before him, in vexatious huddle—
Poor little lambs, with bleating wethers group'd,
While, now and then, a thirsty creature stoop'd
And meekly snuff'd, but did not taste the puddle.
Fierce bark'd the dog, and many a blow was dealt,
That loin, and chump, and scrag and saddle felt,
Yet still, that fatal step they all declined it,—
And shunn'd the tainted door as if they smelt
Onions, mint sauce, and lemon juice behind it.
At last there came a pause of brutal force,
The cur was silent, for his jaws were full
Of tangled locks of tarry wool,
The man had whoop'd and holloed till dead hoarse.
The time was ripe for mild expostulation,
And thus it stammer'd from a stander-by—
"Zounds!—my good fellow,—it quite makes
It really—my dear fellow—do just try
Stringing his nerves like flint,
The sturdy butcher seized upon the hint,—
At least he seized upon the foremost wether,—
And hugg'd and lugg'd and tugg'd him neck and crop
Just nolens volens thro' the open shop—
If tails come off he didn't care a feather,—
Then walking to the door and smiling grim,
He rubb'd his forehead and his sleeve together—
"There!—I have conciliated him!"
Again—good-humoredly to end our quarrel—
(Good humor should prevail!)
I'll fit you with a tale,
Whereto is tied a moral.
Once on a time a certain English lass
Was seized with symptoms of such deep decline,
Cough, hectic flushes, ev'ry evil sign,
That, as their wont is at such desperate pass,
The Doctors gave her over—to an ass.
Accordingly, the grisly Shade to bilk,
Each morn the patient quaff'd a frothy bowl
Of asinine new milk,
Robbing a shaggy suckling of a foal
Which got proportionably spare and skinny—
Meanwhile the neighbors cried "Poor Mary Ann!
She can't get over it! she never can!"
When lo! to prove each prophet was a ninny
The one that died was the poor wet-nurse Jenny.
To aggravate the case,
There were but two grown donkeys in the place;
And most unluckily for Eve's sick daughter,
The other long ear'd creature was a male,
Who never in his life had given a pail
Of milk, or even chalk and water.
No matter: at the usual hour of eight
Down trots a donkey to the wicket-gate,
With Mister Simon Gubbins on his back,—
"Your sarvant, Miss",—a worry spring-like day,—
Bad time for hasses tho'! good lack! good lack!
Jenny be dead, Miss,—but I've brought ye Jack,
He doesn't give no milk—but he can bray.
So runs the story,
And, in vain self-glory,
Some Saints would sneer at Gubbins for his blindness—
But what the better are their pious saws
To ailing souls, than dry hee-haws,
Without the milk of human kindness?
To trace the Kilmansegg pedigree
To the very root of the family tree
Were a task as rash as ridiculous:
Through antediluvian mists as thick
As London fog such a line to pick
Were enough, in truth, to puzzle old Nick,
Not to name Sir Harris Nicolas.
It wouldn't require much verbal strain
To trace the Kill-man, perchance, to Cain;
But, waiving all such digressions,
Suffice it, according to family lore,
A Patriarch Kilmansegg lived of yore,
Who was famed for his great possessions.
Tradition said he feather'd his nest
Through an Agricultural Interest
In the Golden Age of Farming;
When golden eggs were laid by the geese,
And Colehian sheep wore a golden fleece,
And golden pippins—the sterling kind
Of Hesperus—now so hard to find—
Made Horticulture quite charming!
A Lord of Land, on his own estate,
He lived at a very lively rate,
But his income would bear carousing;
Such acres he had of pastures and heath,
With herbage so rich from the ore beneath,
The very ewe's and lambkin's teeth
Were turn'd into gold by browsing.
He gave, without any extra thrift,
A flock of sheep for a birthday gift
To each son of his loins, or daughter:
And his debts—if debts he had—at will
He liquidated by giving each bill
A dip in Pactolian water.
'Twas said that even his pigs of lead,
By crossing with some by Midas bred,
Made a perfect mine of his piggery.
And as for cattle, one yearling bull
Was worth all Smithfield-market full
Of the Golden Bulls of Pope Gregory.
The high-bred horses within his stud,
Like human creatures of birth and blood,
Had their Golden Cups and flagons:
And as for the common husbandry nags,
Their noses were tied in money-bags,
When they stopp'd with the carts and wagons.
Moreover, he had a Golden Ass,
Sometimes at stall, and sometimes at grass,
That was worth his own weight in money
And a golden hive, on a Golden Bank,
Where golden bees, by alchemical prank,
Gather'd gold instead of honey.
Gold! and gold! and gold without end!
He had gold to lay by, and gold to spend,
Gold to give, and gold to lend,
And reversions of gold in futuro.
In wealth the family revell'd and roll'd,
Himself and wife and sons so bold;—
And his daughters sang to their harps of gold
"O bella eta del'oro!"
Such was the tale of the Kilmansegg Kin,
In golden text on a vellum skin,
Though certain people would wink and grin,
And declare the whole story a parable—
That the Ancestor rich was one Jacob Ghrimes,
Who held a long lease, in prosperous times,
Of acres, pasture and arable.
That as money makes money, his golden bees
Were the Five per Cents, or which you please,
When his cash was more than plenty—
That the golden cups were racing affairs;
And his daughters, who sang Italian airs,
Had their golden harps of Clementi.
That the Golden Ass, or Golden Bull,
Was English John, with his pockets full,
Then at war by land and water:
While beef, and mutton, and other meat,
Were almost as dear as money to eat,
And farmers reaped Golden Harvests of wheat
At the Lord knows what per quarter!
What different dooms our birthdays bring!
For instance, one little manikin thing
Survives to wear many a wrinkle;
While Death forbids another to wake,
And a son that it took nine moons to make
Expires without even a twinkle!
Into this world we come like ships,
Launch'd from the docks, and stocks, and slips,
For fortune fair or fatal;
And one little craft is cast away
In its very first trip in Babbicome Bay,
While another rides safe at Port Natal.
What different lots our stars accord!
This babe to be hail'd and woo'd as a Lord!
And that to be shun'd like a leper!
One, to the world's wine, honey, and corn,
Another, like Colchester native, born
To its vinegar, only, and pepper.
One is litter'd under a roof
Neither wind nor water proof—
That's the prose of Love in a Cottage—
A puny, naked, shivering wretch,
The whole of whose birthright would not fetch,
Though Robins himself drew up the sketch,
The bid of "a mess of pottage."
Born of Fortunatus's kin
Another comes tenderly ushered in
To a prospect all bright and burnish'd:
No tenant he for life's back slums—
He comes to the world, as a gentleman comes
To a lodging ready furnish'd.
And the other sex—the tender—the fair—
What wide reverses of fate are there!
Whilst Margaret, charm'd by the Bulbul rare,
In a garden of Gul reposes—
Poor Peggy hawks nosegays from street to street
Till—think of that, who find life so sweet!—
She hates the smell of roses!
Not so with the infant Kilmansegg!
She was not born to steal or beg,
Or gather cresses in ditches;
To plait the straw, or bind the shoe,
Or sit all day to hem and sew,
As females must—and not a few—
To fill their insides with stitches!
She was not doom'd, for bread to eat,
To be put to her hands as well as her feet—
To carry home linen from mangles—
Or heavy-hearted, and weary-limb'd,
To dance on a rope in a jacket trimm'd
With as many blows as spangles.
She was one of those who by Fortune's boon
Are born, as they say, with a silver spoon
In her mouth, not a wooden ladle:
To speak according to poet's wont,
Plutus as sponsor stood at her font,
And Midas rocked the cradle.
At her first début she found her head
On a pillow of down, in a downy bed,
With a damask canopy over.
For although, by the vulgar popular saw,
All mothers are said to be "in the straw,"
Some children are born in clover.
Her very first draught of vital air,
It was not the common chameleon fare
Of plebeian lungs and noses,—
No—her earliest sniff
Of this world was a whiff
Of the genuine Otto of Roses!
When she saw the light, it was no mere ray
Of that light so common—so everyday—
That the sun each morning launches—
But six wax tapers dazzled her eyes,
From a thing—a gooseberry bush for size—
With a golden stem and branches.
She was born exactly at half-past two,
As witness'd a timepiece in ormolu
That stood on a marble table—
Showing at once the time of day,
And a team of Gildings running away
As fast as they were able,
With a golden God, with a golden Star,
And a golden Spear, in a golden Car,
According to Grecian fable.
Like other babes, at her birth she cried;
Which made a sensation far and wide—
Ay, for twenty miles around her:
For though to the ear 'twas nothing more
Than an infant's squall, it was really the roar
Of a Fifty-thousand Pounder!
It shook the next heir
In his library chair,
And made him cry, "Confound her!"
Of signs and omens there was no dearth,
Any more than at Owen Glendower's birth,
Or the advent of other great people
Two bullocks dropp'd dead,
As if knock'd on the head,
And barrels of stout
And ale ran about,
And the village bells such a peal rang out,
That they crack'd the village steeple.
In no time at all, like mushroom spawn,
Tables sprang up all over the lawn;
Not furnish'd scantly or shabbily,
But on scale as vast
As that huge repast,
With its loads and cargoes
Of drink and botargoes,
At the Birth of the Babe in Rabelais.
Hundreds of men were turn'd into beasts,
Like the guests at Circe's horrible feasts,
By the magic of ale and cider:
And each country lass, and each country lad
Began to caper and dance like mad,
And ev'n some old ones appear'd to have had
A bite from the Naples Spider.
Then as night came on,
It had scared King John
Who considered such signs not risible,
To have seen the maroons,
And the whirling moons,
And the serpents of flame,
And wheels of the same,
That according to some were "whizzable."
Oh, happy Hope of the Kilmanseggs!
Thrice happy in head, and body, and legs,
That her parents had such full pockets!
For had she been born of Want and Thrift,
For care and nursing all adrift,
It's ten to one she had had to make shift
With rickets instead of rockets!
And how was the precious baby drest?
In a robe of the East, with lace of the West,
Like one of Croesus's issue—
Her best bibs were made
Of rich gold brocade,
And the others of silver tissue.
And when the baby inclined to nap,
She was lull'd on a Gros de Naples lap,
By a nurse in a modish Paris cap,
Of notions so exalted,
She drank nothing lower than Curaçoa
Maraschino, or pink Noyau,
And on principle never malted.
From a golden boat, with a golden spoon,
The babe was fed night, morning, and noon;
And altho' the tale seems fabulous,
'Tis said her tops and bottoms were gilt,
Like the oats in that Stable-yard Palace built
For the horse of Heliogabalus.
And when she took to squall and kick—
For pain will wring, and pins will prick,
E'en the wealthiest nabob's daughter—
They gave her no vulgar Dalby or gin,
But a liquor with leaf of gold therein,
In short she was born, and bred, and nurst,
And drest in the best from the very first,
To please the genteelest censor—
And then, as soon as strength would allow,
Was vaccinated, as babes are now,
With virus ta'en from the best-bred cow
Of Lord Althorpe's—now Earl Spencer.
Though Shakspeare asks us, "What's in a name?"
(As if cognomens were much the same),
There's really a very great scope in it.
A name?—why, wasn't there Doctor Dodd,
That servant at once of Mammon and God,
Who found four thousand pounds and odd,
A prison—a cart—and a rope in it?
A name?—if the party had a voice,
What mortal would be a Bugg by choice?
As a Hogg, a Grubb, or a Chubb rejoice?
Or any such nauseous blazon?
Not to mention many a vulgar name,
That would make a door-plate blush for shame,
If door-plates were not so brazen!
A name?—it has more than nominal worth,
And belongs to good or bad luck at birth—
As dames of a certain degree know.
In spite of his Page's hat and hose,
His Page's jacket, and buttons in rows,
Bob only sounds like a page in prose
Till turn'd into Rupertino.
Now to christen the infant Kilmansegg,
For days and days it was quite a plague,
To hunt the list in the Lexicon:
And scores were tried, like coin, by the ring,
Ere names were found just the proper thing
For a minor rich as a Mexican.
Then cards were sent, the presence to beg
Of all the kin of Kilmansegg,
White, yellow, and brown relations:
Brothers, Wardens of City Halls,
And Uncles—rich as three Golden Balls
From taking pledges of nations.
Nephews, whom Fortune seem'd to bewitch,
Rising in life like rockets—
Nieces, whose dowries knew no hitch—
Aunts, as certain of dying rich
As candles in golden sockets—
Cousins German and Cousins' sons,
All thriving and opulent—some had tons
Of Kentish hops in their pockets!
For money had stuck to the race through life
(As it did to the bushel when cash so rife
Posed Ali Baba's brother's wife)—
And down to the Cousins and Coz-lings,
The fortunate brood of the Kilmanseggs,
As if they had come out of golden eggs,
Were all as wealthy as "Goslings."
It would fill a Court Gazette to name
What East and West End people came
To the rite of Christianity:
The lofty Lord, and the titled Dame,
All di'monds, plumes, and urbanity:
His Lordship the May'r with his golden chain,
And two Gold Sticks, and the Sheriffs twain,
Nine foreign Counts, and other great men
With their orders and stars, to help "M. or N."
To renounce all pomp and vanity.
To paint the maternal Kilmansegg
The pen of an Eastern Poet would beg,
And need an elaborate sonnet;
How she sparkled with gems whenever she stirr'd,
And her head niddle-noddled at every word,
And seem'd so happy, a Paradise Bird
Had nidificated upon it.
And Sir Jacob the Father strutted and bow'd,
And smiled to himself, and laugh'd aloud,
To think of his heiress and daughter—
And then in his pockets he made a grope,
And then, in the fulness of joy and hope,
Seem'd washing his hands with invisible soap
In imperceptible water.
He had roll'd in money like pigs in mud.
Till it scem'd to have entered into his blood
By some occult projection:
And his cheeks instead of a healthy hue,
As yellow as any guinea grew,
Making the common phrase seem true,
About a rich complexion.
And now came the nurse, and during a pause,
Her dead-leaf satin would fitly cause
A very autumnal rustle—
So full of figure, so full of fuss,
As she carried about the babe to buss,
She seem'd to be nothing but bustle.
A wealthy Nabob was Godpapa,
And an Indian Begum was Godmamma,
Whose jewels a Queen might covet—
And the Priest was a Vicar, and Dean withal
Of that Temple we see with a Golden Ball,
And a Golden Cross above it.
The Font was a bowl of American gold,
Won by Raleigh in days of old,
In spite of Spanish bravado;
And the Book of Pray'r was so overrun
With gilt devices, it shone in the sun
Like a copy—a presentation one—
Of Humboldt's "El Dorada."
Gold! and gold! and nothing but gold!
The same auriferous shine behold
Wherever the eye could settle!
On the walls—the sideboard—the ceiling-sky—
On the gorgeous footmen standing by,
In coats to delight a miner's eye
With seams of the precious metal.
Gold! and gold! and besides the gold,
The very robe of the infant told
A tale of wealth in every fold,
It lapp'd her like a vapor!
So fine! so thin! the mind at a loss
Could compare it to nothing except a cross
Of cobweb with bank-note paper.
Then her pearls—'twas a perfect sight, forsooth,
To see them, like "the dew of her youth,"
In such a plentiful sprinkle.
Meanwhile, the Vicar read through the form,
And gave her another, not overwarm,
That made her little eyes twinkle.
Then the babe was cross'd and bless'd amain!
But instead of the Kate, or Ann, or Jane,
Which the humbler female endorses—
Instead of one name, as some people prefix,
Kilmansegg went at the tails of six,
Like a carriage of state with its horses.
Oh, then the kisses she got and hugs!
The golden mugs and the golden jugs
That lent fresh rays to the midges!
The golden knives, and the golden spoons,
The gems that sparkled like fairy boons,
It was one of the Kilmansegg's own saloons,
But looked like Rundell and Bridge's!
Gold! and gold! the new and the old!
The company ate and drank from gold,
They revell'd, they sang, and were merry;
And one of the Gold Sticks rose from his chair,
And toasted "the Lass with the golden hair"
In a bumper of Golden Sherry.
Gold! still gold! it rained on the nurse,
Who—unlike Danäe—was none the worse!
There was nothing but guineas glistening!
Fifty were given to Doctor James,
For calling the little Baby names,
And for saying, Amen!
The Clerk had ten,
And that was the end of the Christening.
Our youth! our childhood! that spring of springs!
'Tis surely one of the blessedest things
That nature ever intended!
When the rich are wealthy beyond their wealth,
And the poor are rich in spirits and health,
And all with their lots contented!
There's little Phelim, he sings like a thrush,
In the selfsame pair of patchwork plush,
With the selfsame empty pockets,
That tempted his daddy so often to cut
His throat, or jump in the water-butt—
But what cares Phelim? an empty nut
Would sooner bring tears to their sockets.
Give him a collar without a skirt,
(That's the Irish linen for shirt)
And a slice of bread with a taste of dirt,
(That's Poverty's Irish butter)
And what does he lack to make him blest?
Some oyster-shells, or a sparrow's nest,
A candle-end and a gutter.
But to leave the happy Phelim alone,
Gnawing, perchance, a marrowless bone,
For which no dog would quarrel—
Turn we to little Miss Kilmansegg,
Cutting her first little toothy-peg
With a fifty-guinea coral—
A peg upon which
About poor and rich
Reflection might hang a moral.
Born in wealth, and wealthily nursed,
Capp'd, papp'd, napp'd, and lapp'd from the first
On the knees of Prodigality,
Her childhood was one eternal round
Of the game of going on Tickler's ground
Picking up gold—in reality.
With extempore carts she never play'd,
Or the odds and ends of a Tinker's Trade,
Or little dirt pies and puddings made,
Like children happy and squalid;
The very puppet she had to pet,
Like a bait for the "Nix my Dolly" set,
Was a Dolly of gold—and solid!
Gold! and gold! 'twas the burden still!
To gain the Heiress's early good-will
There was much corruption and bribery—
The yearly cost of her golden toys
Would have given half London's Charity Boys
And Charity Girls the annual joys
Of a holiday dinner at Highbury.
Bon-bons she ate from the gilt cornet;
And gilded queens on St. Bartlemy's day;
Till her fancy was tinged by her presents—
And first a Goldfinch excited her wish,
Then a spherical bowl with its Golden fish,
And then two Golden Pheasants.
Nay, once she squall'd and scream'd like wild—
And it shows how the bias we give to a child
Is a thing most weighty and solemn:—
But whence was wonder or blame to spring
If little Miss K.,—after such a swing—
Made a dust for the flaming gilded thing
On the top of the Fish Street column?
According to metaphysical creed,
To the earliest books that children read
For much good or much bad they are debtors—
But before with their A B C they start,
There are things in morals, as well as art,
That play a very important part—
"Impressions before the letters."
Dame Education begins the pile,
Mayhap in the graceful Corinthian style,
But alas for the elevation!
If the Lady's maid or Gossip the Nurse
With a load of rubbish, or something worse,
Have made a rotten foundation.
Even thus with little Miss Kilmansegg,
Before she learnt her E for egg,
Ere her Governess came, or her Masters—
Teachers of quite a different kind
Had "cramm'd" her beforehand, and put her mind
In a go-cart on golden casters.
Long before her A B and C,
They had taught her by heart her L. S. D.
And as how she was born a great Heiress;
And as sure as London is built of bricks,
My Lord would ask her the day to fix,
To ride in a fine gilt coach and six,
Like Her Worship the Lady May'ress.
Instead of stories from Edgeworth's page,
The true golden lore for our golden age,
Or lessons from Barbauld and Trimmer,
Teaching the worth of Virtue and Health,
All that she knew was the Virtue of Wealth,
Provided by vulgar nursery stealth
With a Book of Leaf Gold for a primer.
The very metal of merit they told,
And praised her for being as "good as gold"!
Till she grew as a peacock haughty;
Of money they talk'd the whole day round,
And weigh'd desert, like grapes, by the pound,
Till she had an idea from the very sound
That people with nought were naughty.
They praised—poor children with nothing at all!
Lord! how you twaddle and waddle and squall
Like common-bred geese and ganders!
What sad little bad little figures you make
To the rich Miss K., whose plainest seed-cake
Was stuff'd with corianders!
They praised her falls, as well as her walk,
Flatterers make cream cheese of chalk,
They praised—how they praised—her very small
As if it fell from the Solon;
Or the girl who at each pretty phrase let drop
A ruby comma, or pearl full-stop,
Or an emerald semi-colon.
They praised her spirit, and now and then
The Nurse brought her own little "nevy" Ben,
To play with the future May'ress,
And when he got raps, and taps, and slaps,
Scratches, and pinches, snips, and snaps,
As if from a Tigress or Bearess,
They told him how Lords would court that hand,
And always gave him to understand,
While he rubb'd, poor soul,
His carroty poll,
That his hair has been pull'd by a Hairess.
Such were the lessons from maid and nurse,
A Governess help'd to make still worse,
Giving an appetite so perverse
Fresh diet whereon to batten—
Beginning with A B C to hold
Like a royal playbill printed in gold
On a square of pearl-white satin
The books to teach the verbs and nouns,
And those about countries, cities, and towns,
Instead of their sober drabs and browns,
Were in crimson silk, with gilt edges;—
Her Butler, and Enfield, and Entick—in short
Her "Early Lessons" of every sort,
Look'd like Souvenirs, Keepsakes, and Pledges.
Old Johnson shone out in as fine array
As he did one night when he went to the play;
Chambaud like a beau of King Charles's day—
Lindley Murray in like conditions—
Each weary, unwelcome, irksome task,
Appear'd in a fancy dress and a mask;—
If you wish for similar copies, ask
For Howell and James's Editions.
Novels she read to amuse her mind,
But always the affluent match-making kind
That ends with Promessi Sposi,
And a father-in-law so wealthy and grand,
He could give cheque-mate to Coutts in the Strand;
So, along with a ring and posy,
He endows the Bride with Golconda off hand,
And gives the Groom Potosi.
Plays she perused—but she liked the best
Those comedy gentlefolks always possess'd
Of fortunes so truly romantic—
Of money so ready that right or wrong
It always is ready to go for a song,
Throwing it, going it, pitching it strong—
They ought to have purses as green and long
As the cucumber call'd the Gigantic.
Then Eastern Tales she loved for the sake
Of the Purse of Oriental make,
And the thousand pieces they put in it—
But Pastoral scenes on her heart fell cold,
For Nature with her had lost its hold,
No field but the Field of the Cloth of Gold
Would ever have caught her foot in it.
What more? She learnt to sing, and dance,
To sit on a horse, although he should prance,
And to speak a French not spoken in France
Any more than at Babel's building—
And she painted shells, and flowers, and Turks,
But her great delight was in Fancy Works
That are done with gold or gilding.
Gold! still gold!—the bright and the dead,
With golden beads, and gold lace, and gold thread
She work'd in gold, as if for her bread;
The metal had so undermined her,
Gold ran in her thoughts and fill'd her brain,
She was golden-headed as Peter's cane
With which he walked behind her.
The horse that carried Miss Kilmansegg,
And a better nether lifted leg,
Was a very rich bay, call'd Banker—
A horse of a breed and a mettle so rare,—
By Bullion out of an Ingot mare,—
That for action, the best of figures, and air,
It made many good judges hanker.
And when she took a ride in the Park,
Equestrian Lord, or pedestrian Clerk,
Was thrown in an amorous fever,
To see the Heiress how well she sat,
With her groom behind her, Bob or Nat,
In green, half smother'd with gold, and a hat
With more gold lace than beaver.
And then when Banker obtain'd a pat,
To see how he arch'd his neck at that!
He snorted with pride and pleasure!
Like the Steed in the fable so lofty and grand,
Who gave the poor Ass to understand
That he didn't carry a bag of sand,
But a burden of golden treasure.
A load of treasure?—alas! alas!
Had her horse been fed upon English grass,
And shelter'd in Yorkshire spinneys,
Had he scour'd the sand with the Desert Ass,
Or where the American whinnies—
But a hunter from Erin's turf and gorse,
A regular thoroughbred Irish horse,
Why, he ran away, as a matter of course,
With a girl worth her weight in guineas!
Mayhap 'tis the trick of such pamper'd nags
To shy at the sight of a beggar in rags,—
But away, like the bolt of a rabbit,—
Away went the horse in the madness of fright,
And away went the horsewoman mocking the sight—
Was yonder blue flash a flash of blue light,
Or only the skirt of her habit?
Away she flies, with the groom behind,—
It looks like a race of the Calmuck kind,
When Hymen himself is the starter,
And the Maid rides first in the fourfooted strife,
Riding, striding, as if for her life,
While the Lover rides after to catch him a wife,
Although it's catching a Tartar.
But the Groom has lost his glittering hat!
Though he does not sigh and pull up for that—
Alas! his horse is a tit for Tat
To sell to a very low bidder—
His wind is ruin'd, his shoulder is sprung,
Things, though a horse be handsome and young,
A purchaser will consider.
But still flies the Heiress through stones and dust,
Oh, for a fall, if she must,
On the gentle lap of Flora!
But still, thank Heaven! she clings to her seat—
Away! away! she could ride a dead heat
With the Dead who ride so fast and fleet,
In the Ballad of Leonora!
Away she gallops!—it's awful work!
It's faster than Turpin's ride to York,
On Bess that notable clipper!
She has circled the Ring!—she crosses the Park!
Mazeppa, although he was stripp'd so stark,
Mazeppa couldn't outstrip her!
The fields seem running away with the folks!
The Elms are having a race for the Oaks
At a pace that all Jockeys disparages!
All, all is racing! the Serpentine
Seems rushing past like the "arrowy Rhine,"
The houses have got on a railway line,
And are off like the first-class carriages!
She'll lose her life! she is losing her breath!
A cruel chase, she is chasing Death,
As female shriekings forewarn her:
And now—as gratis as blood of Guelph—
She clears that gate, which has clear'd itself
Since then, at Hyde Park Corner!
Alas! for the hope of the Kilmanseggs!
For her head, her brains, her body, and legs,
Her life's not worth a copper!
A hundred hearts turn sick and chilly,
A hundred voices cry, "Stop her!"
And one old gentleman stares and stands,
Shakes his head and lifts his hands,
And says, "How very improper!"
On and on!—what a perilous run!
The iron rails seem all mingling in one,
To shut out the Green Park scenery!
And now the Cellar its dangers reveals,
She shudders—she shrieks—she's doom'd, she feels,
To be torn by powers of horses and wheels,
Like a spinner by steam machinery!
Sick with horror she shuts her eyes,
But the very stones seem uttering cries,
As they did to that Persian daughter,
When she climb'd up the steep vociferous hill,
Her little silver flagon to fill
With the magical Golden Water!
"Batter her! shatter her!
Throw and scatter her!"
Shouts each stony-hearted chatterer!
"Dash at the heavy Dover!
Spill her! kill her! tear and tatter her!
Smash her! crash her!" (the stones didn't flatter her!)
"Kick her brains out! let her blood spatter her!
Roll on her over and over!"
For so she gather'd the awful sense
Of the street in its past unmacadamized tense,
As the wild horse overran it,—
His four heels making the clatter of six,
Like a Devil's tattoo, play'd with iron sticks
On a kettle-drum of granite!
On! still on! she's dazzled with hints
Of oranges, ribbons, and color'd prints,
A Kaleidoscope jumble of shapes and tints,
And human faces all flashing,
Bright and brief as the sparks from the flints,
That the desperate hoof keeps dashing!
On and on! still frightfully fast!
Dover Street, Bond Street, all are past!
But—yes—no—yes!—they're down at last!
The Furies and Fates have found them!
Down they go with sparkle and crash,
Like a Bark that's struck by the lightning flash—
There's a shriek—and a sob—
And the dense dark mob
Like a billow closes around them!
"She's stirring! she's living, by Nemesis!"
Gold, still gold! on counter and shelf!
Golden dishes as plenty as delf;
Miss Kilmansegg's coming again to herself
On an opulent Goldsmith's premises!
Gold! fine gold!—both yellow and red,
Beaten, and molten—polish'd, and dead—
To see the gold with profusion spread
In all forms of its manufacture!
But what avails gold to Miss Kilmansegg,
When the femoral bone of her dexter log
Has met with a compound fracture?
Gold may soothe Adversity's smart;
Nay, help to bind up a broken heart;
But to try it on any other part
Were as certain a disappointment,
As if one should rub the dish and plate,
Taken out of a Staffordshire crate—
In the hope of a Golden Service of State—
With Singleton's "Golden Ointment."
"As the twig is bent, the tree's inclined,"
Is an adage often recall'd to mind,
Referring to juvenile bias:
And never so well is the verity seen,
As when to the weak, warp'd side we lean,
While Life's tempests and hurricanes try us.
Even thus with Miss K. and her broken limb:
By a very, very remarkable whim,
She show'd her early tuition:
While the buds of character came into blow
With a certain tinge that served to show
The nursery culture long ago,
As the graft is known by fruition!
For the King's Physician, who nursed the case,
His verdict gave with an awful face,
And three others concurr'd to egg it;
That the Patient to give old Death the slip,
Like the Pope, instead of a personal trip,
Must send her Leg as a Legate.
The limb was doom'd—it couldn't be saved!
And like other people the patient behaved,
Nay, bravely that cruel parting braved,
Which makes some persons so falter,
They rather would part, without a groan,
With the flesh of their flesh, and bone of their bone,
They obtain'd at St. George's altar.
But when it came to fitting the stump
With a proxy limb—then flatly and plump
She spoke, in the spirit olden;
She couldn't—she shouldn't—she wouldn't have
Nor a leg of cork, if she never stood,
And she swore an oath, or something as good,
The proxy limb should be golden!
A wooden leg! what, a sort of peg,
For your common Jockeys and Jennies!
No, no, her mother might worry and plague—
Weep, go down on her knees, and beg,
But nothing would move Miss Kilmansegg!
She could—she would have a Golden Leg,
If it cost ten thousand guineas!
Wood indeed, in Forest or Park,
With its sylvan honors and feudal bark,
Is an aristocratic article:
But split and sawn, and hack'd about town,
Serving all needs of pauper or clown,
Trod on! stagger'd on! Wood cut down
Is vulgar—fibre and particle!
And Cork!—when the noble Cork Tree shades
A lovely group of Castilian maids,
'Tis a thing for a song or sonnet!—
But cork, as it stops the bottle of gin,
Or bungs the beer—the small beer—in,
It pierced her heart like a corking-pin,
To think of standing upon it!
A Leg of Gold—solid gold throughout,
Nothing else, whether slim or stout,
Should ever support her, God willing!
She must—she could—she would have her whim,
Her father, she turn'd a deaf ear to him—
He might kill her—she didn't mind killing!
He was welcome to cut off her other limb—
He might cut her all off with a shilling!
All other promised gifts were in vain.
Golden Girdle, or Golden Chain,
She writhed with impatience more than pain,
And utter'd "pshaws!" and "pishes!"
But a Leg of Gold as she lay in bed,
It danced before her—it ran in her head!
It jump'd with her dearest wishes!
"Gold—gold—gold! Oh, let it be gold!"
Asleep or awake that tale she told,
And when she grew delirious:
Till her parents resolved to grant her wish,
If they melted down plate, and goblet, and dish,
The case was getting so serious.
So a Leg was made in a comely mould,
Of gold, fine virgin glittering gold,
As solid as man could make it—
Solid in foot, and calf, and shank,
A prodigious sum of money it sank;
In fact 'twas a Branch of the family Bank,
And no easy matter to break it.
All sterling metal—not half-and-half,
The Goldsmith's mark was stamp'd on the calf—
'Twas pure as from Mexican barter!
And to make it more costly, just over the knee,
Where another ligature used to be,
Was a circle of jewels, worth shillings to see,
A new-fangled Badge of the Garter!
'Twas a splendid, brilliant, beautiful Leg,
Fit for the Court of Scander-Beg,
That Precious Leg of Miss Kilmansegg!
For, thanks to parental bounty,
Secure from Mortification's touch,
She stood on a Member that cost as much
As a Member for all the County!
To gratify stern ambition's whims,
What hundreds and thousands of precious limbs
On a field of battle we scatter!
Sever'd by sword, or bullet, or saw,
Off they go, all bleeding and raw,—
But the public seems to get the lock-jaw,
So little is said on the matter!
Legs, the tightest that ever were seen,
The tightest, the lightest, that danced on the green,
Cutting capers to sweet Kitty Clover;
Shatter'd, scatter'd, cut, and bowl'd down,
Off they go, worse off for renown,
A line in the Times, or a talk about town,
Than the leg that a fly runs over!
But the Precious Leg of Miss Kilmansegg,
That gowden, goolden, golden leg,
Was the theme of all conversation!
Had it been a Pillar of Church and State,
Or a prop to support the whole Dead Weight,
It could not have furnished more debate
To the heads and tails of the nation!
East and west, and north and south,
Though useless for either hunger or drouth,—
The Leg was in everybody's mouth,
To use a poetical figure,
Rumor, in taking her ravenous swim,
Saw, and seized on the tempting limb,
Like a shark on the leg of a nigger.
Wilful murder fell very dead;
Debates in the House were hardly read;
In vain the Police Reports were fed
With Irish riots and rumpuses—
The Leg! the Leg! was the great event,
Through every circle in life it went,
Like the leg of a pair of compasses.
The last new Novel seem'd tame and flat,
The Leg, a novelty newer than that,
Had tripp'd up the heels of Fiction!
It Burked the very essays of Burke,
And, alas! how Wealth over Wit plays the Turk!
As a regular piece of goldsmith's work,
Got the better of Goldsmith's diction.
"A leg of gold! what, of solid gold?"
Cried rich and poor, and young and old,—
And Master and Miss and Madam—
'Twas the talk of 'Change—the Alley—the
And with men of scientific rank,
It made as much stir as the fossil shank
Of a Lizard coeval with Adam!
Of course with Greenwich and Chelsea elves,
Men who had lost a limb themselves,
Its interest did not dwindle—
But Bill, and Ben, and Jack, and Tom
Could hardly have spun more yarns therefrom,
If the leg had been a spindle.
Meanwhile the story went to and fro,
Till, gathering like the ball of snow,
By the time it got to Stratford-le-Bow,
Through Exaggeration's touches,
The Heiress and hope of the Kilmanseggs
Was propp'd on two fine Golden Legs,
And a pair of Golden Crutches!
Never had Leg so great a run!
'Twas the "go" and the "Kick" thrown into one!
The mode—the new thing under the sun,
The rage—the fancy—the passion!
Bonnets were named, and hats were worn,
A la Golden Leg instead of Leghorn,
And stockings and shoes,
Of golden hues,
Took the lead in the walks of fashion!
The Golden Leg had a vast career,
It was sung and danced—and to show how near
Low Folly to lofty approaches,
Down to society's very dregs,
The Belles of Wapping wore "Kilmanseggs,"
And St. Gile's Beaux sported Golden Legs
In their pinchbeck pins and brooches!
Supposing the Trunk and Limbs of Man
Shared, on the allegorical plan,
By the Passions that mark Humanity,
Whichever might claim the head, or heart,
The stomach, or any other part,
The Legs would be seized by Vanity.
There's Bardus, a six-foot column of fop,
A lighthouse without any light atop,
Whose height would attract beholders,
If he had not lost some inches clear
By looking down at his kerseymere,
Ogling the limbs he holds so dear,
Till he got a stoop in his shoulders.
Talk of Art, of Science, or Books,
And down go the everlasting looks,
To his rural beauties so wedded!
Try him, wherever you will, you find
His mind in his legs, and his legs in his mind,
All prongs and folly—in short a kind
Of fork—that is Fiddle-headed.
What wonder, then, if Miss Kilmansegg,
With a splendid, brilliant, beautiful leg,
Fit for the court of Scander-Beg,
Disdain'd to hide it like Joan or Meg,
In petticoats stuff'd or quilted?
Not she! 'twas her convalescent whim
To dazzle the world with her precious limb,—
Nay, to go a little high-kilted.
So cards were sent for that sort of mob
Where Tartars and Africans hob-and-nob,
And the Cherokee talks of his cab and cob
To Polish or Lapland lovers—
Cards like that hieroglyphical call
To a geographical Fancy Ball
On the recent Post-Office covers.
For if Lion-hunters—and great ones too—
Would mob a savage from Latakoo,
Or squeeze for a glimpse of Prince Le Boo,
That unfortunate Sandwich scion—
Hundreds of first-rate people, no doubt,
Would gladly, madly, rush to a rout
That promised a Golden Lion!
Of all the spirits of evil fame,
That hurt the soul or injure the frame,
And poison what's honest and hearty,
There's none more needs a Mathew to preach
A cooling, antiphlogistic speech,
To praise and enforce
A temperate course,
Than the Evil Spirit of Party.
Go to the House of Commons, or Lords,
And they seem to be busy with simple words
In their popular sense or pedantic—
But, alas! with their cheers, and sneers, and jeers,
They're really busy, whatever appears,
Putting peas in each other's ears,
To drive their enemies frantic!
Thus Tories like to worry the Whigs,
Who treat them in turn like Schwalbach pigs,
Giving them lashes, thrashes, and digs,
With their writhing and pain delighted—
But after all that's said, and more,
The malice and spite of Party are poor
To the malice and spite of a party next door,
To a party not invited.
On with the cap and out with the light,
Weariness bids the world good night,
At least for the usual season;
But hark! a clatter of horses' heels;
And Sleep and Silence are broken on wheels,
Like Wilful Murder and Treason!
Another crash—and the carriage goes—
Again poor Weariness seeks the repose
That Nature demands, imperious;
But Echo takes up the burden now,
With a rattling chorus of row-de-dow-dow,
Till Silence herself seems making a row,
Like a Quaker gone delirious!
'Tis night—a winter night—and the stars
Are shining like winkin'—Venus and Mars
Are rolling along in their golden cars
Through the sky's serene expansion—
But vainly the stars dispense their rays,
Venus and Mars are lost in the blaze
Of the Kilmanseggs' luminous mansion!
Up jumps Fear in a terrible fright!
His bedchamber windows look so bright,—
With light all the Square is glutted!
Up he jumps, like a sole from the pan,
And a tremor sickens his inward man,
For he feels as only a gentleman can,
Who thinks he's being "gutted."
Again Fear settles, all snug and warm;
But only to dream of a dreadful storm
From Autumn's sulphurous locker;
But the only electrical body that falls
Wears a negative coat, and positive smalls,
And draws the peal that so appals
From the Kilmanseggs' brazen knocker!
'Tis Curiosity's Benefit night—
And perchance 'tis the English Second-Sight,
But whatever it be, so be it—
As the friends and guests of Miss Kilmansegg
Crowd in to look at her Golden Leg,
As many more
Mob round the door,
To see them going to see it!
In they go—in jackets and cloaks,
Plumes and bonnets, turbans and toques,
As if to a Congress of Nations:
Greeks and Malays, with daggers and dirks,
Spaniards, Jews, Chinese, and Turks—
Some like original foreign works,
But mostly like bad translations.
In they go, and to work like a pack,
Juan, Moses, and Shacabac,
Tom, and Jerry and Springheel'd Jack,—
For some of low Fancy are lovers—
Skirting, zigzagging, casting about,
Here and there, and in and out,
With a crush, and a rush, for a full-bodied rout
In one of the stiffest of covers.
In they went, and hunted about,
Open-mouth'd like chub and trout,
And some with the upper lip thrust out,
Like that fish for routing, a barbel—
While Sir Jacob stood to welcome the crowd,
And rubb'd his hands, and smiled aloud,
And bow'd, and bow'd, and bow'd, and bow'd,
Like a man who is sawing marble.
For Princes were there, and Noble Peers;
Dukes descended from Norman spears;
Earls that dated from early years;
And lords in vast variety—
Besides the Gentry both new and old—
For people who stand on legs of gold
Are sure to stand well with society.
"But where—where—where?" with one accord,
Cried Moses and Mufti, Jack and my Lord,
Wang-Fong and Il Bondocani—
When slow, and heavy, and dead as a dump,
They heard a foot begin to stump,
Like the Spectre in "Don Giovanni"!
And lo! the Heiress, Miss Kilmansegg,
With her splendid, brilliant, beautiful leg,
In the garb of a Goddess olden—
Like chaste Diana going to hunt,
With a golden spear—which of course was blunt,
And a tunic loop'd up to a gem in front,
To show the Leg that was Golden!
Gold! still gold; her Crescent behold,
That should be silver, but would be gold;
And her robe's auriferous spangles!
Her golden stomacher—how she would melt!
Her golden quiver, and golden belt,
Where a golden bugle dangles!
And her jewell'd Garter! Oh Sin, oh Shame!
Let Pride and Vanity bear the blame,
That bring such blots on female fame!
But to be a true recorder,
Besides its thin transparent stuff,
The tunic was loop'd quite high enough
To give a glimpse of the Order!
But what have sin or shame to do
With a Golden Leg—and a stout one too?
Away with all Prudery's panics!
That the precious metal, by thick and thin,
Will cover square acres of land or sin,
Is a fact made plain
Again and again,
In Morals as well as Mechanics.
A few, indeed, of her proper sex,
Who seem'd to feel her foot on their necks,
And fear'd their charms would meet with checks
From so rare and splendid a blazon—
A few cried "fie!"—and "forward"—and "bold!"
And said of the Leg it might be gold,
But to them it look'd like brazen!
'Twas hard they hinted for flesh and blood,
Virtue and Beauty, and all that's good,
To strike to mere dross their topgallants—
But what were Beauty, or Virtue, or Worth,
Gentle manners, or gentle birth,
Nay, what the most talented head on earth
To a Leg worth fifty Talents!
But the men sang quite another hymn
Of glory and praise to the precious Limb—
Age, sordid Age, admired the whim
And its indecorum pardon'd—
While half of the young—ay, more than half—
Bow'd down and worshipp'd the Golden Calf,
Like the Jews when their hearts were harden'd.
A Golden Leg!—what fancies it fired!
What golden wishes and hopes inspired!
To give but a mere abridgment—
What a leg to leg-bail Embarrassment's serf!
What a leg for a Leg to take on the turf!
What a leg for a marching regiment!
A Golden Leg!—whatever Love sings,
'Twas worth a bushel of "Plain Gold Rings"
With which the Romantic wheedles.
'Twas worth all the legs in stockings and socks—
'Twas a leg that might be put in the Stocks,
N.B.—Not the parish beadle's!
And Lady K. nid-nodded her head,
Lapp'd in a turban fancy-bred,
Just like a love-apple huge and red,
Some Mussul-womanish mystery;
But whatever she meant
She talked like the Muse of History.
She told how the filial leg was lost;
And then how much the gold one cost;
With its weight to a Trojan fraction:
And how it took off, and how it put on;
And call'd on Devil, Duke, and Don,
Mahomet, Moses, and Prester John,
To notice its beautiful action.
And then of the Leg she went in quest;
And led it where the light was best;
And made it lay itself up to rest
In postures for painter's studies:
It cost more tricks and trouble by half,
Than it takes to exhibit a six-legg'd Calf
To a boothful of country Cuddies.
Nor yet did the Heiress herself omit
The arts that help to make a hit,
And preserve a prominent station.
She talk'd and laugh'd far more than her share;
And took a part in "Rich and Rare
Were the gems she wore"—and the gems were there,
Like a Song with an Illustration.
She even stood up with a Count of France
To dance—alas! the measures we dance
When Vanity plays the piper!
Vanity, Vanity, apt to betray,
And lead all sorts of legs astray,
Wood, or metal, or human clay,—
Since Satan first play'd the Viper!
But first she doff'd her hunting gear,
And favor'd Tom Tug with her golden spear
To row with down the river—
A Bonz had her golden bow to hold;
A Hermit her belt and bugle of gold;
And an Abbot her golden quiver.
And then a space was clear'd on the floor,
And she walk'd the Minuet de la Cour,
With all the pomp of a Pompadour,
But although she began andante,
Conceive the faces of all the Rout,
When she finished off with a whirligig bout,
And the Precious Leg stuck stiffly out
Like the leg of a Figuranté.
So the courtly dance was goldenly done,
And golden opinions, of course, it won
From all different sorts of people—
Chiming, ding-dong, with flattering phrase,
In one vociferous peal of praise,
Like the peal that rings on Royal days
From Loyalty's parish steeple.
And yet, had the leg been one of those
That danced for bread in flesh-color'd hose,
With Rosina's pastora bevy,
The jeers it had met,—the shouts! the scoff!
The cutting advice to "take itself off"
For sounding but half so heavy.
Had it been a leg like those, perchance,
That teach little girls and boys to dance,
To set, poussette, recede, and advance,
With the steps and figures most proper,—
Had it hopp'd for a weekly or quarterly sum,
How little of praise or grist would have come
To a mill with such a hopper!
But the Leg was none of those limbs forlorn—
Bartering capers and hops for corn—
That meet with public hisses and scorn,
Or the morning journal denounces—
Had it pleased to caper from morning till dusk,
There was all the music of "Money Musk"
In its ponderous bangs and bounces.
But hark;—as slow as the strokes of a pump,
As the Giant of Castle Otranto might stump,
To a lower room from an upper—
Down she goes with a noisy dint,
For, taking the crimson turban's hint,
A noble Lord at the Head of the Mint
Is leading the Leg to supper!
But the supper, alas! must rest untold,
With its blaze of light and its glitter of gold,
For to paint that scene of glamour,
It would need the Great Enchanter's charm,
Who waves over Palace, and Cot, and Farm,
An arm like the Goldbeater's Golden Arm
That wields a Golden Hammer.
He—only HE—could fitly state
THE MASSIVE SERVICE OF GOLDEN PLATE,
With the proper phrase and expansion—
The Rare Selection of FOREIGN WINES—
The ALPS OF ICE and MOUNTAINS OF PINES,
The punch in OCEANS and sugary shrines,
The TEMPLE OF TASTE from GUNTER'S DESIGNS—
In short, all that WEALTH with A FEAST combines,
In a SPLENDID FAMILY MANSION.
Suffice it each mask'd outlandish guest
Ate and drank of the very best,
According to critical conners—
And then they pledged the Hostess and Host,
But the Golden Leg was the standing toast,
And as somebody swore,
Walk'd off with more
Than its share of the "Hips!" and honors!
Full-glasses I beg!—
Miss Kilmansegg and her Precious Leg!"
And away went the bottle careering!
Wine in bumpers! and shouts in peals!
Till the Clown didn't know his head from his heels,
The Mussulman's eyes danced two-some reels,
And the Quaker was hoarse from cheering!
Miss Kilmansegg took off her leg,
And laid it down like a cribbage-peg,
For the Rout was done and the riot:
The Square was hush'd; not a sound was heard;
The sky was gray, and no creature stirr'd,
Except one little precocious bird,
That chirp'd—and then was quiet.
So still without,—so still within;—
It had been a sin
To drop a pin—
So intense is silence after a din,
It seem'd like Death's rehearsal!
To stir the air no eddy came;
And the taper burnt with as still a flame,
As to flicker had been a burning shame,
In a calm so universal.
The time for sleep had come at last;
And there was the bed, so soft, so vast,
Quite a field of Bedfordshire clover;
Softer, cooler, and calmer, no doubt,
From the piece of work just ravell'd out,
For one of the pleasures of having a rout
Is the pleasure of having it over.
No sordid pallet, or truckle mean,
Of straw, and rug, and tatters unclean;
But a splendid, gilded, carved machine,
That was fit for a Royal Chamber.
On the top was a gorgeous golden wreath;
And the damask curtains hung beneath,
Like clouds of crimson and amber;
Curtains, held up by two little plump things,
With golden bodies and golden wings,—
Mere fins for such solidities—
Two cupids, in short,
Of the regular sort,
But the housemaid call'd them "Cupidities."
No patchwork quilt, all seams and scars,
But velvet, powder'd with golden stars,
A fit mantle for Night-Commanders!
And the pillow, as white as snow undimm'd
And as cool as the pool that the breeze has skimmed,
Was cased in the finest cambric, and trimm'd
With the costliest lace of Flanders.
And the bed—of the Eider's softest down,
'Twas a place to revel, to smother, to drown
In a bliss inferr'd by the Poet;
For if Ignorance be indeed a bliss,
What blessed ignorance equals this,
To sleep—and not to know it?
Oh bed! oh bed! delicious bed!
That heaven upon earth to the weary head;
But a place that to name would be ill-bred,
To the head with a wakeful trouble—
'Tis held by such a different lease!
To one, a place of comfort and peace,
All stuff'd with the down of stubble geese,
To another with only the stubble!
To one, a perfect Halcyon nest,
All calm, and balm, and quiet, and rest,
And soft as the fur of the cony—
To another, so restless for body and head,
That the bed seems borrow'd from Nettlebed,
And the pillow from Stratford the Stony!
To the happy, a first-class carriage of ease,
To the Land of Nod, or where you please;
But alas! for the watchers and weepers,
Who turn, and turn, and turn again,
But turn, and turn, and turn in vain,
With an anxious brain,
And thoughts in a train
That does not run upon sleepers!
Wide awake as the mousing owl,
Night-hawk, or other nocturnal fowl,—
But more profitless vigils keeping,—
Wide awake in the dark they stare,
Filling with phantoms the vacant air,
As if that Crookback'd Tyrant Care
Had plotted to kill them sleeping.
And oh! when the blessed diurnal light
Is quench'd by the providential night,
To render our slumber more certain!
Pity, pity the wretches that weep,
For they must be wretched, who cannot sleep
When God himself draws the curtain!
The careful Betty the pillow beats,
And airs the blankets, and smooths the sheets,
And gives the mattress a shaking—
But vainly Betty performs her part,
If a ruffled head and a rumpled heart,
As well as the couch want making.
There's Morbid, all bile, and verjuice, and nerves,
Where other people would make preserves,
He turns his fruits into pickles:
Jealous, envious, and fretful by day,
At night, to his own sharp fancies a prey,
He lies like a hedgehog roll'd up the wrong way,
Tormenting himself with his prickles.
But a child—that bids the world good night
In downright earnest and cuts it quite—
A Cherub no Art can copy,—
'Tis a perfect picture to see him lie
As if he had supp'd on a dormouse pie,
(An ancient classical dish, by the bye)
With a sauce of syrup of poppy.
Oh, bed! bed! bed! delicious bed!
That heaven upon earth to the weary head,
Whether lofty or low its condition!
But instead of putting our plagues on shelves,
In our blankets how often we toss ourselves,
Or are toss'd by such allegorical elves
As Pride, Hate, Greed, and Ambition!
The independent Miss Kilmansegg
Took off her independent Leg
And laid it beneath her pillow,
And then on the bed her frame she cast,
The time for repose had come at last,
But long, long, after the storm is past
Rolls the turbid, turbulent billow.
No part she had in vulgar cares
That belong to common household affairs—
Nocturnal annoyances such as theirs,
Who lie with a shrewd surmising,
That while they are couchant (a bitter cup!)
Their bread and butter are getting up,
And the coals, confound them, are rising.
No fear she had her sleep to postpone,
Like the crippled Widow who weeps alone,
And cannot make a doze her own,
For the dread that mayhap on the morrow,
The true and Christian reading to baulk,
A broker will take up her bed and walk,
By way of curing her sorrow.
No cause like these she had to bewail:
But the breath of applause had blown a gale,
And winds from that quarter seldom fail
To cause some human commotion;
But whenever such breezes coincide
With the very spring-tide
Of human pride,
There's no such swell on the ocean!
Peace, and ease, and slumber lost,
She turn'd, and roll'd, and tumbled and toss'd,
With a tumult that would not settle.
A common case, indeed, with such
As have too little, or think too much,
Of the precious and glittering metal.
Gold!—she saw at her golden foot
The Peer whose tree had an olden root,
The Proud, the Great, the Learned to boot,
The handsome, the gay, and the witty—
The Man of Science—of Arms—of Art,
The man who deals but at Pleasure's mart,
And the man who deals in the City.
Gold, still gold—and true to the mould!
In the very scheme of her dream it told;
For, by magical transmutation,
From her Leg through her body it seem'd to go,
Till, gold above, and gold below.
She was gold, all gold, from her little gold toe
To her organ of Veneration!
And still she retain'd through Fancy's art
The Golden Bow, and the Golden Dart,
With which she had play'd a Goddess's part
In her recent glorification:
And still, like one of the selfsame brood,
On a Plinth of the selfsame metal she stood
For the whole world's adoration.
And hymns and incense around her roll'd,
From Golden Harps and Censers of Gold,—
For Fancy in dreams is as uncontroll'd
As a horse without a bridle:
What wonder, then, from all checks exempt,
If, inspired by the Golden Leg, she dreamt
She was turn'd to a Golden Idol?
When leaving Eden's happy land
The grieving Angel led by the hand
Our banish'd Father and Mother,
Forgotten amid their awful doom,
The tears, the fears, and the future's gloom,
On each brow was a wreath of Paradise bloom,
That our Parents had twined for each other.
It was only while sitting like figures of stone,
For the grieving Angel had skyward flown,
As they sat, those Two in the world alone,
With disconsolate hearts nigh cloven,
That scenting the gust of happier hours,
They look'd around for the precious flow'rs,
And lo!—a last relic of Eden's dear bow'rs—
The chaplet that Love had woven!
And still, when a pair of Lovers meet,
There's a sweetness in air, unearthly sweet,
That savors still of that happy retreat
Where Eve by Adam was courted:
Whilst the joyous Thrush, and the gentle Dove,
Woo'd their mates in the boughs above,
And the Serpent, as yet, only sported.
Who hath not felt that breath in the air,
A perfume and freshness strange and rare,
A warmth in the light, and a bliss everywhere,
When young hearts yearn together?
All sweets below, and all sunny above,
Oh! there's nothing in life like making love,
Save making hay in fine weather!
Who hath not found amongst his flow'rs
A blossom too bright for this world of ours,
Like a rose among snows of Sweden?
But to turn again to Miss Kilmansegg,
Where must Love have gone to beg,
If such a thing as a Golden Leg
Had put its foot in Eden!
And yet—to tell the rigid truth—
Her favor was sought by Age and Youth—
For the prey will find a prowler!
She was follow'd, flatter'd, courted, address'd,
Woo'd, and coo'd, and wheedled, and press'd,
By suitors from North, South, East, and West,
Like that Heiress, in song, Tibbie Fowler!
But, alas! alas! for the Woman's fate,
Who has from a mob to choose a mate!
'Tis a strange and painful mystery!
But the more the eggs, the worse the hatch;
The more the fish, the worse the catch;
The more the sparks, the worse the match;
Is a fact in Woman's history.
Give her between a brace to pick,
And, mayhap, with luck to help the trick,
She will take the Faustus, and leave the Old Nick—
But her future bliss to baffle,
Amongst a score let her have a voice,
And she'll have as little cause to rejoice,
As if she had won the "Man of her choice"
In a matrimonial raffle!
Thus, even thus, with the Heiress and Hope,
Fulfilling the adage of too much rope,
With so ample a competition,
She chose the least worthy of all the group,
Just as the vulture makes a stoop,
And singles out from the herd or troop
The beast of the worst condition.
A Foreign Count—who came incog.,
Not under a cloud, but under a fog,
In a Calais packet's fore-cabin,
To charm some lady British-born,
With his eyes as black as the fruit of the thorn,
And his hooky nose, and his beard half-shorn,
Like a half-converted Rabbin.
And because the Sex confess a charm
In the man who has slash'd a head or arm
Or has been a throat's undoing,
He was dress'd like one of the glorious trade,
At least when glory is off parade,
With a stock, and a frock, well trimm'd with braid,
And frogs—that went a-wooing.
Moreover, as Counts are apt to do,
On the left-hand side of his dark surtout,
At one of those holes that buttons go through,
(To be a precise recorder,)
A ribbon he wore, or rather a scrap,
About an inch of ribbon mayhap.
That one of his rivals, a whimsical chap,
Described as his "Retail Order."
And then—and much it help'd his chance—
He could sing, and play first fiddle, and dance,
Perform charades, and Proverbs of France—
Act the tender, and do the cruel;
For amongst his other killing parts,
He had broken a brace of female hearts,
And murder'd three men in duel!
Savage at heart, and false of tongue,
Subtle with age, and smooth to the young,
Like a snake in his coiling and curling—
Such was the Count—to give him a niche—
Who came to court that Heiress rich,
And knelt at her foot—one needn't say which—
Besieging her castle of Stirling.
With pray'rs and vows he open'd his trench,
And plied her with English, Spanish, and French
In phrases the most sentimental:
And quoted poems in High and Low Dutch,
With now and then an Italian touch,
Till she yielded, without resisting much,
To homage so continental.
And then—the sordid bargain to close—
With a miniature sketch of his hooky nose,
And his dear dark eyes, as black as sloes,
And his beard and whiskers as black as those,
The lady's consent he requited—
And instead of the lock that lovers beg,
The Count received from Miss Kilmansegg
A model, in small, of her Precious Leg—
And so the couple were plighted!
But, oh! the love that gold must crown!
Better—better, the love of the clown,
Who admires his lass in her Sunday gown,
As if all the fairies had dress'd her!
Whose brain to no crooked thought gives birth,
Except that he never will part on earth
With his true love's crooked tester!
Alas! for the love that's link'd with gold!
Better—better a thousand times told—
More honest, happy, and laudable,
The downright loving of pretty Cis,
Who wipes her lips, though there's nothing amiss,
And takes a kiss, and gives a kiss,
In which her heart is audible!
Pretty Cis, so smiling and bright,
Who loves—as she labors—with all her might,
And without any sordid leaven!
Who blushes as red as haws and hips,
Down to her very finger-tips,
For Roger's blue ribbons—to her, like strips
Cut out of the azure of Heaven!
'Twas morn—a most auspicious one!
From the Golden East, the Golden Sun
Came forth his glorious race to run,
Through clouds of most splendid tinges;
Clouds that lately slept in shade,
But now seem'd made
Of gold brocade,
With magnificent golden fringes.
Gold above, and gold below,
The earth reflected the golden glow,
From river, and hill, and valley;
Gilt by the golden light of morn,
The Thames—it look'd like the Golden Horn,
And the Barge, that carried coal or corn,
Like Cleopatra's Galley!
Bright as clusters of Golden-rod,
Suburban poplars began to nod,
With extempore splendor furnish'd;
While London was bright with glittering clocks,
Golden dragons, and Golden cocks,
And above them all,
The dome of St. Paul,
With its Golden Cross and its Golden Ball,
Shone out as if newly burnished!
And lo! for Golden Hours and Joys,
Troops of glittering Golden Boys
Danced along with a jocund noise,
And their gilded emblems carried!
In short, 'twas the year's most Golden Day,
By mortals call'd the First of May,
When Miss Kilmansegg,
Of the Golden Leg,
With a Golden Ring was married!
And thousands of children, women, and men,
Counted the clock from eight till ten,
From St. James's sonorous steeple;
For next to that interesting job,
The hanging of Jack, or Bill, or Bob,
There's nothing so draws a London mob
As the noosing of very rich people.
And a treat it was for the mob to behold
The Bridal Carriage that blazed with gold!
And the Footmen tall and the Coachman bold,
In liveries so resplendent—
Coats you wonder'd to see in place,
They seem'd so rich with golden lace,
That they might have been independent.
Coats, that made those menials proud
Gaze with scorn on the dingy crowd,
From their gilded elevations;
Not to forget that saucy lad
(Ostentation's favorite cad);
The Page, who look'd, so splendidly clad,
Like a Page of the "Wealth of Nations."
But the Coachman carried off the state,
With what was a Lancashire body of late
Turn'd into a Dresden Figure;
With a bridal Nosegay of early bloom,
About the size of a birchen broom,
And so huge a White Favor, had Gog been Groom
He need not have worn a bigger.
And then to see the Groom! the Count
With Foreign Orders to such an amount,
And whiskers so wild—nay, bestial;
He seem'd to have borrow'd the shaggy hair
As well as the Stars of the Polar Bear,
To make him look celestial!
And then—Great Jove!—the struggle, the crush,
The screams, the heaving, the awful rush,
The swearing, the tearing, and fighting,—
The hats and bonnets smash'd like an egg—
To catch a glimpse of the Golden Leg,
Which, between the steps and Miss Kilmansegg,
Was fully display'd in alighting!
From the Golden Ankle up to the Knee
There it was for the mob to see!
A shocking act had it chanced to be
A crooked leg or a skinny:
But although a magnificent veil she wore.
Such as never was seen before,
In case of blushes, she blush'd no more
Than George the First on a guinea!
Another step, and lo! she was launched!
All in white, as Brides are blanched,
With a wreath of most wonderful splendor—
Diamonds, and pearls, so rich in device,
That, according to calculation nice,
Her head was worth as royal a price
As the head of the Young Pretender.
Bravely she shone—and shone the more
As she sail'd through the crowd of squalid and poor,
Thief, beggar, and tatterdemalion—
Led by the Count, with his sloe-black eyes
Bright with triumph, and some surprise,
Like Anson on making sure of his prize
The famous Mexican Galleon!
Anon came Lady K., with her face
Quite made up to act with grace,
But she cut the performance shorter;
For instead of pacing stately and stiff,
At the stare of the vulgar she took a miff,
And ran, full speed, into Church, as if
To get married before her daughter.
But Sir Jacob walk'd more slowly, and bow'd
Eight and left to the gaping crowd,
Wherever a glance was seizable;
For Sir Jacob thought he bow'd like a Guelph,
And therefore bow'd to imp and elf,
And would gladly have made a bow to himself,
Had such a bow been feasible.
And last—and not the least of the sight,
Six "Handsome Fortunes," all in white,
Came to help in the marriage rite,—
And rehearse their own hymeneals;
And then the bright procession to close,
They were followed by just as many Beaux
Quite fine enough for Ideals.
Glittering men, and splendid dames,
Thus they enter'd the porch of Saint James',
Pursued by a thunder of laughter;
For the Beadle was forced to intervene,
For Jim the Crow, and his Mayday Queen,
With her gilded ladle, and Jack i' the Green,
Would fain have follow'd after!
Beadle-like he hush'd the shouts;
But the temple was full "inside and out,"
And a buzz kept buzzing all round about
Like bees when the day is sunny—
A buzz universal that interfered
With the right that ought to have been revered,
As if the couple already were smear'd
With Wedlock's treacle and honey!
Yet Wedlock's a very awful thing!
'Tis something like that feat in the ring,
Which requires good nerve to do it—
When one of a "Grand Equestrian Troop"
Makes a jump at a gilded hoop,
Not certain at all
Of what may befall
After his getting through it!
But the Count he felt the nervous work
No more than any polygamous Turk,
Or bold piratical skipper,
Who, during his buccaneering search,
Would as soon engage a hand in church
As a hand on board his clipper!
And how did the Bride perform her part?
Like any bride who is cold at heart.
Mere snow with the ice's glitter;
What but a life of winter for her!
Bright but chilly, alive without stir,
So splendidly comfortless,—just like a Fir
When the frost is severe and bitter.
Such were the future man and wife!
Whose bale or bliss to the end of life
A few short words were to settle—
"Wilt thou have this woman?"
"I will"—and then,
"Wilt thou have this man?"
"I will," and "Amen"—
And those Two were one Flesh, in the Angels' ken,
Except one Leg—that was metal.
Then the names were sign'd—and kiss'd the kiss:
And the Bride, who came from her coach a Miss,
As a Countess walk'd to her carriage—
Whilst Hymen preen'd his plumes like a dove,
And Cupid flutter'd his wings above,
In the shape of a fly—as little a Love
As ever look'd in at a marriage!
Another crash—and away they dash'd,
And the gilded carriage and footmen flash'd
From the eyes of the gaping people—
Who turn'd to gaze at the toe-and-heel
Of the Golden Boys beginning a reel,
To the merry sound of a wedding peal
From St. James's musical steeple.
Those wedding bells! those wedding bells!
How sweetly they sound in pastoral dells
From a tow'r in an ivy-green jacket!
But town-made joys how dearly they cost;
And after all are tumbled and tost,
Like a peal from a London steeple, and lost
In town-made riot and racket.
The wedding peal, how sweetly it peals
With grass or heather beneath our heels,—
For bells are Music's laughter!—
But a London peal, well mingled, be sure,
With vulgar noises and voices impure,—
With a harsh and discordant overture
To the Harmony meant to come after!
But hence with Discord—perchance, too soon
To cloud the face of the honeymoon
With a dismal occultation!—
Whatever Fate's concerted trick,
The Countess and Count, at the present nick,
Have a chicken, and not a crow, to pick
At a sumptuous Cold Collation.
A Breakfast—no unsubstantial mess,
But one in the style of Good Queen Bess,
Who,—hearty as hippocampus,—
Broke her fast with ale and beef,
Instead of toast and the Chinese leaf,
And—in lieu of anchovy—grampus.
A breakfast of fowl, and fish, and flesh,
Whatever was sweet, or salt, or fresh;
With wines the most rare and curious—
Wines, of the richest flavor and hue;
With fruits from the worlds both Old and New;
And fruits obtain'd before they were due
At a discount most usurious.
For wealthy palates there be, that scout
What is in season, for what is out,
And prefer all precocious savor:
For instance, early green peas, of the sort
That costs some four or five guineas a quart;
Where the Mint is the principal flavor.
And many a wealthy man was there,
Such as the wealthy City could spare,
To put in a portly appearance—
Men, whom their fathers had help'd to gild:
And men, who had had their fortunes to build
And—much to their credit—had richly fill'd
Their purses by pursy-verance.
Men, by popular rumor at least,
Not the last to enjoy a feast!
And truly they were not idle!
Luckier far than the chestnut tits,
Which, down at the door, stood champing their bits,
At a different sort of bridle.
For the time was come—and the whisker'd Count
Help'd his Bride in the carriage to mount,
And fain would the Muse deny it,
But the crowd, including two butchers in blue,
(The regular killing Whitechapel hue,)
Of her Precious Calf had as ample a view,
As if they had come to buy it!
Then away! away! with all the speed
That golden spurs can give to the steed,—
Both Yellow Boys and Guineas, indeed,
Concurr'd to urge the cattle—
Away they went, with favors white,
Yellow jackets, and panels bright,
And left the mob, like a mob at night,
Agape at the sound of a rattle.
Away! away! they rattled and roll'd,
The Count, and his Bride, and her Leg of Gold—
That faded charm to the charmer!
Away,—through old Brentford rang the din
Of wheels and heels, on their way to win
That hill, named after one of her kin,
The Hill of the Golden Farmer!
Gold, still gold—it flew like dust!
It tipp'd the post-boy, and paid the trust;
In each open palm it was freely thrust;
There was nothing but giving and taking!
And if gold could ensure the future hour,
What hopes attended that Bride to her bow'r,
But alas! even hearts with a four-horse pow'r
Of opulence end in breaking!
The moon—the moon, so silver and cold,
Her fickle temper has oft been told,
Now shady—now bright and sunny—
But of all the lunar things that change,
The one that shows most fickle and strange,
And takes the most eccentric range,
Is the moon—so call'd—of honey!
To some a full-grown orb reveal'd
As big and as round as Norval's shield,
And as bright as a burner Bude-lighted;
To others as dull, and dingy, and damp,
As any oleaginous lamp,
Of the regular old parochial stamp,
In a London fog benighted.
To the loving, a bright and constant sphere,
That makes earth's commonest things appear
All poetic, romantic, and tender:
Hanging with jewels a cabbage-stump,
And investing a common post, or a pump,
A currant-bush, or a gooseberry clump,
With a halo of dreamlike splendor.
A sphere such as shone from Italian skies,
In Juliet's dear, dark, liquid eyes,
Tipping trees with its argent braveries—
And to couples not favor'd with Fortune's boons
One of the most delightful of moons,
For it brightens their pewter platters and spoons
Like a silver service of Savory's!
For all is bright, and beauteous, and clear,
And the meanest thing most precious and dear
When the magic of love is present:
Love, that lends a sweetness and grace
To the humblest spot and the plainest face—
That turns Wilderness Row into Paradise Place,
And Garlick Hill to Mount Pleasant!
Love that sweetens sugarless tea,
And makes contentment and joy agree
With the coarsest boarding and bedding:
Love, that no golden ties can attach,
But nestles under the humblest thatch,
And will fly away from an Emperor's match
To dance at a Penny Wedding!
Oh, happy, happy, thrice happy state,
When such a bright Planet governs the fate
Of a pair of united lovers!
'Tis theirs, in spite of the Serpent's hiss,
To enjoy the pure primeval kiss,
With as much of the old original bliss
As mortality ever recovers!
There's strength in double joints, no doubt,
In double X Ale, and Dublin Stout,
That the single sorts know nothing about—
And a fist is strongest when doubled—
And double aqua-fortis, of course,
And double soda-water, perforce,
Are the strongest that ever bubbled!
There's double beauty whenever a Swan
Swims on a Lake, with her double thereon;
And ask the gardener, Luke or John,
Of the beauty of double-blowing—
A double dahlia delights the eye;
And it's far the loveliest sight in the sky
When a double rainbow is glowing!
There's warmth in a pair of double soles;
As well as a double allowance of coals—
In a coat that is double-breasted—
In double windows and double doors;
And a double U wind is blest by scores
For its warmth to the tender-chested.
There's a twofold sweetness in double pipes;
And a double barrel and double snipes
Give the sportsman a duplicate pleasure;
There's double safety in double locks:
And double letters bring cash for the box:
And all the world knows that double knocks,
Are gentility's double measure.
There's a double sweetness in double rhymes,
And a double at Whist and a double Times
In profit are certainly double—
By doubling, the Hare contrives to escape;
And all seamen delight in a doubled Cape,
And a double-reef'd topsail in trouble.
There's a double chuck at a double chin,
And of course there's a double pleasure therein,
If the parties were brought to telling:
And however our Dennises take offence,
A double meaning shows double sense;
And if proverbs tell truth,
A double tooth
Is Wisdom's adopted dwelling!
But double wisdom, and pleasure, and sense,
Beauty, respect, strength, comfort, and thence
Through whatever the list discovers,
They are all in the double blessedness summ'd,
Of what was formerly doubled-drumm'd,
The Marriage of two true Lovers!
Now the Kilmansegg Moon,—it must be told—
Though instead of silver it tipp'd with gold—
Shone rather wan, and distant, and cold,
And before its days were at thirty,
Such gloomy clouds began to collect,
With an ominous ring of ill effect,
As gave but too much cause to expect
Such weather as seamen call dirty!
And yet the moon was the "Young May Moon,"
And the scented hawthorn had blossom'd soon,
And the thrush and the blackbird were singing—
The snow-white lambs were skipping in play,
And the bee was humming a tune all day
To flowers, as welcome as flowers in May,
And the trout in the stream was springing!
But what were the hues of the blooming earth,
Its scents—its sounds—or the music and mirth
Of its furr'd or its feather'd creatures,
To a Pair in the world's last sordid stage,
Who had never look'd into Nature's page,
And had strange ideas of a Golden Age,
Without any Arcadian features?
And what were joys of the pastoral kind
To a Bride—town-made—with a heart and a mind
With simplicity ever at battle?
A bride of an ostentatious race,
Who, thrown in the Golden Farmer's place,
Would have trimm'd her shepherds with golden lace,
And gilt the horns of her cattle.
She could not please the pigs with her whim,
And the sheep wouldn't cast their eyes at a limb
For which she had been such a martyr:
The deer in the park, and the colts at grass,
And the cows unheeded let it pass;
And the ass on the common was such an ass,
That he wouldn't have swopp'd
The thistle he cropp'd
For her Leg, including the Garter!
She hated lanes and she hated fields—
She hated all that the country yields—
And barely knew turnips from clover;
She hated walking in any shape,
And a country stile was an awkward scrape,
Without the bribe of a mob to gape
At the Leg in clambering over!
O blessed nature, "O rus! O rus!"
Who cannot sigh for the country thus,
Absorb'd in a wordly torpor—
Who does not yearn for its meadow-sweet breath,
Untainted by care, and crime, and death,
And to stand sometimes upon grass or heath—
That soul, spite of gold, is a pauper!
But to hail the pearly advent of morn,
And relish the odor fresh from the thorn,
She was far too pamper'd a madam—
Or to joy in the daylight waxing strong,
While, after ages of sorrow and wrong,
The scorn of the proud, the misrule of the strong,
And all the woes that to man belong,
The Lark still carols the selfsame song
That he did to the uncurst Adam!
The Lark! she had given all Leipzig's flocks
For a Vauxhall tune in a musical box;
And as for the birds in the thicket,
Thrush or ousel in leafy niche,
The linnet or finch, she was far too rich
To care for a Morning Concert, to which
She was welcome without any ticket.
Gold, still gold, her standard of old,
All pastoral joys were tried by gold,
Or by fancies golden and crural—
Till ere she had pass'd one week unblest,
As her agricultural Uncle's guest,
Her mind was made up, and fully imprest,
That felicity could not be rural!
And the Count?—to the snow-white lambs at play,
And all the scents and the sights of May,
And the birds that warbled their passion,
His ears and dark eyes, and decided nose,
Were as deaf and as blind and as dull as those
That overlook the Bouquet de Rose,
The Huile Antique,
The Parfum Unique,
In a Barber's Temple of Fashion.
To tell, indeed, the true extent
Of his rural bias, so far it went
As to covet estates in ring fences—
And for rural lore he had learn'd in town
That the country was green, turn'd up with brown,
And garnish'd with trees that a man might cut down
Instead of his own expenses.
And yet had that fault been his only one,
The Pair might have had few quarrels or none,
For their tastes thus far were in common;
But faults he had that a haughty bride
With a Golden Leg could hardly abide—
Faults that would even have roused the pride
Of a far less metalsome woman!
It was early days indeed for a wife,
In the very spring of her married life,
To be chill'd by its wintry weather—
But instead of sitting as Love-Birds do,
On Hymen's turtles that bill and coo—
Enjoying their "moon and honey for two,"
They were scarcely seen together!
In vain she sat with her Precious Leg
A little exposed, à la Kilmansegg,
And roll'd her eyes in their sockets!
He left her in spite of her tender regards,
And those loving murmurs described by bards,
For the rattling of dice and the shuffling of cards,
And the poking of balls into pockets!
Moreover he loved the deepest stake
And the heaviest bets the players would make;
And he drank—the reverse of sparely,—
And he used strange curses that made her fret;
And when he play'd with herself at piquet,
She found, to her cost,
For she always lost,
That the Count did not count quite fairly.
And then came dark mistrust and doubt,
Gather'd by worming his secrets out,
And slips in his conversations—
Fears, which all her peace destroy'd,
That his title was null—his coffers were void—
And his French Château was in Spain, or enjoy'd
The most airy of situations.
But still his heart—if he had such a part—
She—only she—might possess his heart,
And hold his affections in fetters—
Alas! that hope, like a crazy ship,
Was forced its anchor and cable to slip
When, seduced by her fears, she took a dip
In his private papers and letters.
Letters that told of dangerous leagues;
And notes that hinted as many intrigues
As the Count's in the "Barber of Seville"—
In short such mysteries came to light,
That the Countess-Bride, on the thirtieth night,
Woke and started up in affright,
And kick'd and scream'd with all her might,
And finally fainted away outright,
For she dreamt she had married the Devil!
Who hath not met with home-made bread,
A heavy compound of putty and lead—
And home-made wines that rack the head,
And home-made liqueurs and waters?
Home-made pop that will not foam,
And home-made dishes that drive one from home,
Not to name each mess,
For the face or dress,
Home-made by the homely daughters?
Home-made physic that sickens the sick;
Thick for thin and thin for thick;—
In short each homogeneous trick
For poisoning domesticity?
And since our Parents, call'd the First,
A little family squabble nurst,
Of all our evils the worst of the worst
Is home-made infelicity.
There's a Golden Bird that claps its wings,
And dances for joy on its perch, and sings
With a Persian exultation:
For the Sun is shining into the room,
And brightens up the carpet-bloom,
As if it were new, bran new, from the loom,
Or the lone Nun's fabrication.
And thence the glorious radiance flames
On pictures in massy gilded frames—
Enshrining, however, no painted Dames,
But portraits of colts and fillies—
Pictures hanging on walls, which shine,
In spite of the bard's familiar line,
With clusters of "Gilded lilies."
And still the flooding sunlight shares
Its lustre with gilded sofas and chairs,
That shine as if freshly burnish'd—
And gilded tables, with glittering stocks
Of gilded china, and golden clocks,
Toy, and trinket, and musical box,
That Peace and Paris have furnish'd.
And lo! with the brightest gleam of all
The glowing sunbeam is seen to fall
On an object as rare as spendid—
The golden foot of the Golden Leg
Of the Countess—once Miss Kilmansegg—
But there all sunshine is ended.
Her cheek is pale, and her eye is dim,
And downward cast, yet not at the limb,
Once the centre of all speculation;
But downward dropping in comfort's dearth,
As gloomy thoughts are drawn to the earth—
Whence human sorrows derive their birth—
By a moral gravitation.
Her golden hair is out of its braids,
And her sighs betray the gloomy shades
That her evil planet revolves in—
And tears are falling that catch a gleam
So bright as they drop in the sunny beam,
That tears of aqua regia they seem,
The water that gold dissolves in;
Yet, not in filial grief were shed
Those tears for a mother's insanity;
Nor yet because her father was dead,
For the bowing Sir Jacob had bow'd his head
To Death—with his usual urbanity;
The waters that down her visage rill'd
Were drops of unrectified spirit distill'd
From the limbeck of Pride and Vanity.
Tears that fell alone and unchecked,
Without relief, and without respect,
Like the fabled pearls that the pigs neglect,
When pigs have that opportunity—
And of all the griefs that mortals share,
The one that seems the hardest to bear
Is the grief without community.
How bless'd the heart that has a friend
A sympathising ear to lend
To troubles too great to smother!
For as ale and porter, when flat, are restored
Till a sparkling bubbling head they afford,
So sorrow is cheer'd by being pour'd
From one vessel into another.
But a friend or gossip she had not one
To hear the vile deeds that the Count had done,
How night after night he rambled;
And how she had learn'd by sad degrees
That he drank, and smoked, and worse than these,
That he "swindled, intrigued, and gambled."
How he kiss'd the maids, and sparr'd with John;
And came to bed with his garments on;
With other offences as heinous—
And brought strange gentlemen home to dine
That he said were in the Fancy Line,
And they fancied spirits instead of wine,
And call'd her lap-dog "Wenus."
Of "Making a book" how he made a stir,
But never had written a line to her,
Once his idol and Cara Sposa:
And how he had storm'd, and treated her ill,
Because she refused to go down to a mill,
She didn't know where, but remember'd still
That the Miller's name was Mendoza.
How often he waked her up at night,
And oftener still by the morning light,
Reeling home from his haunts unlawful;
Singing songs that shouldn't be sung,
Except by beggars and thieves unhung—
Or volleying oaths, that a foreign tongue
Made still more horrid and awful!
How oft, instead of otto rose,
With vulgar smells he offended her nose,
From gin, tobacco, and onion!
And then how wildly he used to stare!
And shake his fist at nothing, and swear,—
And pluck by the handful his shaggy hair,
Till he look'd like a study of Giant Despair
For a new Edition of Bunyan!
For dice will run the contrary way,
As well is known to all who play,
And cards will conspire as in treason:
And what with keeping a hunting-box,
Friends in flocks,
From London Docks,
Manton and Nock's
Barrels and locks,
Shooting blue rocks,
Trainers and jocks,
Buskins and socks,
If he found himself short in funds and stocks,
These rhymes will furnish the reason!
His friends, indeed, were falling away—
Friends who insist on play or pay—
And he fear'd at no very distant day
To be cut by Lord and by cadger,
As one, who has gone, or is going, to smash,
For his checks no longer drew the cash,
Because, as his comrades explain'd in flash,
"He had overdrawn his badger."
Gold, gold—alas! for the gold
Spent where souls are bought and sold,
In Vice's Walpurgis revel!
Alas! for muffles, and bulldogs, and guns,
The leg that walks, and the leg that runs,
All real evils, though Fancy ones,
When they lead to debt, dishonor, and duns,
Nay, to death, and perchance the devil!
Alas! for the last of a Golden race!
Had she cried her wrongs in the market-place,
She had warrant for all her clamor—
For the worst of rogues, and brutes, and rakes,
Was breaking her heart by constant aches,
With as little remorse as the Pauper, who breaks
A flint with a parish hammer!
Now the Precious Leg while cash was flush,
Or the Count's acceptance worth a rush,
Had never created dissension;
But no sooner the stocks began to fall,
Than, without any ossification at all,
The limb became what people call
A perfect bone of contention.
For alter'd days brought alter'd ways,
And instead of the complimentary phrase,
So current before her bridal—
The Countess heard, in language low,
That her Precious Leg was precious slow,
A good 'un to look at but bad to go,
And kept quite a sum lying idle.
That instead of playing musical airs,
Like Colin's foot in going upstairs—
As the wife in the Scottish ballad declares—
It made an infernal stumping.
Whereas a member of cork, or wood,
Would be lighter and cheaper and quite as good,
Without the unbearable thumping.
P'raps she thought it a decent thing
To show her calf to cobbler and king,
But nothing could be absurder—
While none but the crazy would advertise
Their gold before their servants' eyes,
Who of course some night would make it a prize,
By a Shocking and Barbarous Murder.
But spite of hint, and threat, and scoff,
The Leg kept its situation:
For legs are not to be taken off
By a verbal amputation.
And mortals when they take a whim,
The greater the folly the stiffer the limb
That stand upon it or by it—
So the Countess, then Miss Kilmansegg,
At her marriage refused to stir a peg,
Till the Lawyers had fasten'd on her Leg
As fast as the Law could tie it.
Firmly then—and more firmly yet—
With scorn for scorn, and with threat for threat,
The Proud One confronted the Cruel:
And loud and bitter the quarrel arose,
Fierce and merciless—one of those,
With spoken daggers, and looks like blows,
In all but the bloodshed a duel!
Rash, and wild, and wretched, and wrong,
Were the words that came from Weak and Strong,
Till madden'd for desperate matters,
Fierce as tigress escaped from her den,
She flew to her desk—'twas open'd—and then,
In the time it takes to try a pen,
Or the clerk to utter his slow Amen,
Her Will was in fifty tatters!
But the Count, instead of curses wild,
Only nodded his head and smiled,
As if at the spleen of an angry child;
But the calm was deceitful and sinister!
A lull like the lull of the treacherous sea—
For Hate in that moment had sworn to be
The Golden Leg's sole Legatee,
And that very night to administer!
'Tis a stern and startling thing to think
How often mortality stands on the brink
Of its grave without any misgiving:
And yet in this slippery world of strife,
In the stir of human bustle so rife,
There are daily sounds to tell us that Life
Is dying, and Death is living!
Ay, Beauty the Girl, and Love the Boy,
Bright as they are with hope and joy,
How their souls would sadden instanter,
To remember that one of those wedding bells,
Which ring so merrily through the dells,
Is the same that knells
Our last farewells,
Only broken into a canter!
But breath and blood set doom at nought—
How little the wretched Countess thought,
When at night she unloosed her sandal,
That the Fates had woven her burial-cloth,
And that Death, in the shape of a Death's Head Moth,
Was fluttering round her candle!
As she look'd at her clock of or-molu,
For the hours she had gone so wearily through
At the end of a day of trial—
How little she saw in her pride of prime
The dart of Death in the Hand of Time—
That hand which moved on the dial!
As she went with her taper up the stair,
How little her swollen eye was aware
That the Shadow which followed was double!
Or when she closed her chamber door,
It was shutting out, and forevermore,
The world—and its worldly trouble.
Little she dreamt, as she laid aside
Her jewels—after one glance of pride—
They were solemn bequests to Vanity—
Or when her robes she began to doff,
That she stood so near to the putting off
Of the flesh that clothes humanity.
And when she quench'd the taper's light,
How little she thought as the smoke took flight,
That her day was done—and merged in a night
Of dreams and duration uncertain—
Or along with her own,
That a Hand of Bone
Was closing mortality's curtain!
But life is sweet, and mortality blind,
And youth is hopeful, and Fate is kind
In concealing the day of sorrow;
And enough is the present tense of toil—
For this world is, to all, a stiffish soil—
And the mind flies back with a glad recoil
From the debts not due till to-morrow.
Wherefore else does the Spirit fly
And bid its daily cares good-bye,
Along with its daily clothing?
Just as the felon condemn'd to die—
With a very natural loathing—
Leaving the Sheriff to dream of ropes,
From his gloomy cell in a vision elopes,
To a caper on sunny gleams and slopes,
Instead of a dance upon nothing.
Thus, even thus, the Countess slept,
While Death still nearer and nearer crept,
Like the Thane who smote the sleeping—
But her mind was busy with early joys,
Her golden treasures and golden toys;
That flash'd a bright
And golden light
Under lids still red with weeping.
The golden doll that she used to hug!
Her coral of gold, and the golden mug!
Her godfather's golden presents!
The golden service she had at her meals,
The golden watch, and chain, and seals,
Her golden scissors, and thread, and reels,
And her golden fishes and pheasants!
The golden guineas in silken purse—
And the Golden Legends she heard from her nurse
Of the Mayor in his gilded carriage—
And London streets that were paved with gold—
And the Golden Eggs that were laid of old—
With each golden thing
To the golden ring
At her own auriferous Marriage!
And still the golden light of the sun
Through her golden dream appear'd to run,
Though the night, that roared without, was one
To terrify seamen or gypsies—
While the moon, as if in malicious mirth,
Kept peeping down at the ruffled earth,
As though she enjoy'd the tempest's birth,
In revenge of her old eclipses.
But vainly, vainly, the thunder fell,
For the soul of the Sleeper was under a spell
That time had lately embitter'd—
The Count, as once at her foot he knelt—
That foot, which now he wanted to melt!
But—hush!—'twas a stir at her pillow she
And some object before her glitter'd.
'Twas the Golden Leg!—she knew its gleam!
And up she started and tried to scream,—
But ev'n in the moment she started
Down came the limb with a frightful smash,
And, lost in the universal flash
That her eyeballs made at so mortal a crash,
The Spark, call'd Vital, departed!
Gold, still gold! hard, yellow, and cold,
For gold she had lived, and she died for gold—
By a golden weapon—not oaken;
In the morning they found her all alone—
Stiff, and bloody, and cold as stone—
But her Leg, the Golden Leg, was gone,
And the "Golden Bowl was broken!"
Gold—still gold! it haunted her yet—
At the Golden Lion the Inquest met—
Its foreman, a carver and gilder—
And the Jury debated from twelve till three
What the Verdict ought to be,
And they brought it in as Felo de Se,
"Because her own Leg had kill'd her!"
Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!
Bright and yellow, hard and cold,
Molten, graven, hammer'd and roll'd;
Heavy to get, and light to hold;
Hoarded, barter'd, bought, and sold,
Stolen, borrow'd, squander'd, doled:
Spurn'd by the young, but hugg'd by the old
To the very verge of the churchyard mould;
Price of many a crime untold;
Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold:
Good or bad a thousand-fold!
How widely its agencies vary—
To save—to ruin—to curse—to bless—
As even its minted coins express,
Now stamp'd with the image of Good Queen Bess,
And now of a Bloody Mary.