I’VE often wished that I could write a book,
Such as all English people might peruse;
I never should regret the pains it took,
That’s just the sort of fame that I should choose:
To sail about the world like Captain Cook,
I’d sling a cot up for my favourite Muse,
And we’d take verses out to Demarara,
To New South Wales, and up to Niagara.
Poets consume exciseable commodities,
They raise the nation’s spirit when victorious,
They drive an export trade in whims and oddities,
Making our commerce and revenue glorious;
As an industrious and painstaking body ’tis
That poets should be reckoned meritorious:
And therefore I submissively propose
To erect one Board for Verse and one for Prose.
Princes protecting sciences and art
I’ve often seen, in copper-plate and print;
I never saw them elsewhere, for my part,
And therefore I conclude there’s nothing in’t;
But everybody knows the Regent’s heart;
I trust he won’t reject a well-meant hint;
Each Board to have twelve members, with a seat
To bring them in per ann. five hundred neat.
From princes I descend to the nobility:
In former times all persons of high stations,
Lords, baronets, and persons of gentility.
Paid twenty guineas for the dedications:
167 This practice was attended with utility;
The patrons lives to future generations,
The poets lived by their industrious earning, —’
So men alive and dead could live by learning.
Then, twenty guineas was a little fortune;
Now, we must starve unless the times should mend:
Our poets now-a-days are deemed importune
If their addresses are diffusely penned;
Most fashionable authors make a short one
To their own wife, or child, or private friend,
To show their independence, I suppose;
And that may do for gentlemen like those.
Lastly, the common people I beseech —
Dear people! if you think my verses clever,
Preserve with car your noble parts of speech,
And take it as a maxim to endeavour
To talk as your good mothers used to teach,
And then these lines of mine may last for ever;
And don’t confound the language of the nation
With long-tailed words in osity and ation.
I think that poets (whether Whig or Tory),
Whether they go to meeting or to church)
Should study to promote their country’s glory
With patriotic, diligent research;
That children yet unborn may learn the story,
With grammars, dictionaries, canes, and birch:
It stands to reason — this was Homer’s plan,
And we must do — like him — the best we can.
Madoc and Marmion, and many more,
Are out in print, and most of them have sold;
Perhaps together they may make a score;
Richard the First has had his story told,
But there were lords and princes long before,
That had behaved themselves like warriors bold;
Among the rest there was the great KING ARTHUR,
What hero’s fame was ever carried farther?
King Arthur, and the Knights of his Round Table,
Were reckoned the best king, and bravest lords,
Of all that flourished since the Tower of Babel,
At least of all that history records;
Therefore I shall endeavour, if I’m able,
To pain their famous actions by my words:
Heroes exert themselves in hopes of fame,
And having such a strong decisive claim,
It grieves me much, that names that were respected
In former ages, persons of such mark,
And countrymen of ours, should lie neglected,
Just like old portraits lumbering in the dark:
An error such as this should be corrected,
And if my Muse can strike a single spark,
Why then (as poets say) I’ll string my lyre;
And then I’ll light a great poetic fire;
I’ll air them all, and rub down the Round Table,
And wash the canvas clean, and scour the frames,
And put a coat of varnish on the fable,
And try to puzzle out the dates and names;;
169 Then (as I said before) I’ll heave my cable,
And take a pilot, and drop down the Thames —
These first eleven stanzas make a proem,
And now I must sit down and write my poem.
BEGINNING (as my bookseller desires)
Like an old minstrel with his gown and beard,
“Fair ladies, gallant knights, and gentle squires,
Now the last service from the board is cleared,
And if this noble company requires,
And if amidst your mirth I may be heard,
Of sundry strange adventures I could tell,
That oft were told before, but never told so well.”
The great King Arthur made a sumptuous feast,
And held his royal Christman at Carlisle,
And thither came the vassals, most and least,
From every corner of the British Isle;
And all were entertained, both man and beast,
According to their rank, in proper style;
The steeds were fed and littered in the stable,
The ladies and the knights sat down to table.
The bill of fare (as you may well suppose)
Was suited to those plentiful times,
Before our modern luxuries arose,
With truffles and ragouts, and various crimes;
170 And, therefore, from the original in prose
I shall arrange the catalogue in rhymes:
They served up salmon, venison, and wild boars
By hundreds, and by dozens, and by scores.
Hogsheads of honey, kilderkins of mustard,
Muttons, and fatted beeves, and bacon swine;
Herons and bitterns, peacock, swan and bustard,
Teal, mallard, pigeons, widgeons, and in fine
Plum-puddings, pancakes, apple-pies and custard:
And therewithal they drank good Gascon wine,
With mead, and ale, and cider of our own;
For porter, punch, and negus were not known.
The noise and uproar of the scullery tribe,
All pilfering and scrambling in their calling,
Was past all powers of language to describe —
The din of manful oaths and female squalling:
The sturdy porter, huddling up his bribe,
And then at random breaking heads and bawling.
Outcries, and cries of order, and contusions,
Made a confusion beyond all confusions;
Beggars and vagabonds, blind, lame, and sturdy,
Minstrels and singers with their various airs,
The pipe, the tabor, and the hurdy-gurdy,
Jugglers and mountebanks with apes and bears,
Continued from the first day to the third day,
An uproar like ten thousand Smithfield fairs;
There were wild beasts and foreign birds and creatures,
And Jews and foreigners with foreign features.
All sorts of people there were seen together,
All sorts of characters, all sorts of dresses;
The fool with fox’s tail and peacock’s feather,
Pilgrims, and penitents, and grave burgesses;
The country people with their coats of leather,
Vintners and victuallers with cans and messes;
Grooms, archers, varlets, falconers and yeomen,
Damsels and waiting-maids, and waiting-women.
But the profane, indelicate amours,
The vulgar, unenlightened conversation
Of minstrels, menials, courtezans, and boors
(Although appropriate to their meaner station)
Would certainly revolt a taste like yours;
Therefore I shall omit the calculation
Of all the curses, oaths, and cuts and stabs,
Occasioned by their dice, and drink, and drabs.
We must take care in our poetic cruise,
And never hold a single tack too long;
Therefore my versatile ingenious Muse
Takes leave of this illiterate, low-bred throng,
Intending to present superior views,
Which to genteeler company belong,
And show the higher orders of society
Behaving with politeness and propriety.
And certainly they say, for fine behaving
King Arthur’s Court, has never had its match;
True point of honour, without pride or braving,
Strict etiquette for ever on the watch:
172 There manners were refined and perfect — saving
Some modern graces which they could not catch,
As spitting through the teeth, and driving stages,
Accomplishments reserved for distant ages.
They looked a manly generous generation;
Beards, shoulders, eyebrows, broad, and square, and thick,
Their accents firm and loud in conversation,
Their eyes and gestures eager, sharp, and quick,
Showed them prepared, on proper provocation,
To give the lie, pull noses, stab and kick;
And for that very reason, it is said,
They were so very courteous and well-bred.
The ladies looked of an heroic race —
At first a general likeness struck your eye,
Tall figures, open features, oval face,
Large eyes, with ample eyebrows arched and high;
Their manners had an odd, peculiar grace,
Neither repulsive, affable, nor shy,
Majestical, reserved, and somewhat sullen;
Their dresses partly silk, and partly woolen.
In form and figure far above the rest,
Sir Launcelot was chief of all the train,
In Arthur’s Court an ever welcome guest;
Britain will never see his like again.
Of all the knights she ever had the best,
Except, perhaps, Lord Wellington in Spain:
I never saw his picture nor his print,
From Morgan’s Chronicle I take my hint.
For Morgan says (at least as I have heard
And as a learned friend of mine assures),
Beside him all that lordly train appeared
Like courtly minions, or like common boors,
As if unfit for knightly deeds, and reared
To rustic labour or to loose amours;
He moved amidst his peers without compare,
So lofty was his stature, look, and air.
Yet oftentimes his courteous cheer forsook
His countenance, and then returned again,
As if some secret recollection shook
His inward heart with unacknowledged pain;
And something haggard in his eyes and look
(More than his years or hardships could explain)
Made him appear, in person and in mind,
Less perfect than what Nature had designed.
Of noble presence, but of different mien,
Alert and lively, voluble and gay,
Sir Tristram at Carlisle was rarely seen,
But ever was regretted while away;
With easy mirth, an enemy to spleen,
His ready converse charmed the wintry day;
No tales he told of sieges or of fights,
Or foreign marvels, like the foolish knights.
But with a playful imitative tone
(That merely seemed a voucher for the truth)
Recounted strange adventures of his own,
The chances of his childhood and his youth,
174 Of churlish giants he had seen and known,
Their rustic phrase and courtesies uncouth,
The dwellings, and the diet, and the lives
Of savage monarchs and their monstrous wives:
Songs, music, languages, and many a lay
Asturian or Armoric, Irish, Basque,
His ready memory seized and bore away;
And ever when the ladies chose to ask,
Sir Tristram was prepared to sing and play,
Not like a minstrel earnest at his task,
But with a sportive, careless, easy style,
As if he seemed to mock himself the while.
His ready wit and rambling education,
With the congenial influences of his stars,
Had taught him all the arts of conversation,
All games of skill and stratagems of wars:
His birth, it seems, by Merlin’s calculation,
Was under Venus, Mercury, and Mars;
His mind with all their attributes was mixt,
And, like those planets, wandering and unfixt;
From realm to realm he ran — and never stayed:
Kingdoms and crowns he wan — and gave away;
It seemed as if his labours were repaid
By the mere noise and movement of the fray:
No conquests nor acquirements had he made;
His chief delight was on some festive day
To ride triumphant, prodigal, and proud,
And shower his wealth amidst the shouting crowd:
His schemes of war were sudden, unforeseen,
Inexplicable both to friend and foe;
It seemed as if some momentary spleen
Inspired the project and impelled the blow;
And most his fortune and success were seen
With means the most inadequate and low;
Most master of himself, and least encumbered
When overmatched, entangled, and outnumbered.
Strange instruments and engines he contrived
For sieges, and constructions for defence,
Inventions some of them that have survived,
Others were deemed too cumbrous and immense:
Minstrels he loved, and cherished while he lived,
And patronized them both with praise and pence;
Somewhat more learned than became a knight.
It was reported he could read and write.
Sir Gawain may be painted in a word —
He was a perfect loyal cavalier;
His courteous manners stand upon record,
A stranger to the very thought of fear.
The proverb says, “As brave as his own sword;”
And like his weapon was that worthy peer,
Of admirable temper, clear and bright,
Polished yet keen, though pliant yet upright.
On every point, in earnest or in jest,
His judgment, and his prudence, and his wit,
Were deemed the very touchstone and the test
Of what was proper, graceful, just, and fit;
176 A word from him set everything at rest,
His short decisions never failed to hit;
His silence, his reserve, his inattention,
Were felt as the severest reprehension:
His memory was the magazine and hoard,
Where claims and grievances, from year to year,
And confidences and complaints were stored,
From dame and knight, from damsel, boor, and peer:
Loved by his friends, and trusted by his lord,
A generous courtier, secret and sincere,
Adviser-general to the whole community,
He served his friend, but watched his opportunity.
One riddle I could never understand —
But his success in war was strangely various;
In executing schemes that others planned,
He seemed a very Cæsar or a Marius;
Take his own plans, and place him in command,
Your prospect of success became precarious:
His plans were good, but Launcelot succeeded
And realized them better far than he did.
His discipline was steadfast and austere,
Unalterably fixed, but calm and kind;
Founded on admiration, more then fear,
It seemed an emanation from his mind;
The coarsest natures that approached him near
Grew courteous for the moment and refined;
Beneath his eye the poorest, weakest wight
Felt full of point of honour like a knight.
In battle he was fearless to a fault.
The foremost in the thickest of the field;
His eager valour knew no pause nor halt,
And the red rampant lion in his shield
Scaled towns and towers, the foremost in assault,
With ready succour where the battle reeled:
At random like a thunderbolt he ran,
And bore down shields, and pikes, and horse, and man.
I’VE finished now three hundred lines and more,
And therefore I begin Canto the Second,
Just like those wand’ring ancient bards of yore;
They never laid a plan, nor ever reckoned
What turning they should take the day before;
They followed where the lovely Muses beckoned:
The Muses led them up to Mount Parnassus,
And that’s the reason that they all surpass us.
The Muses served those heathens well enough —
Bold Britons take a tankard, or a bottle,
And when the bottle’s out, a pinch of snuff,
And so proceed in spite of Aristotle —
Those rules of his are dry, dogmatic stuff,
All life and fire they suffocate and throttle —
And therefore I adopt the mode I mention,
Trusting to native judgment and invention.
This method will, I hope, appear defensible —
I shall begin by mentioning the giants,
A race of mortals, brutal and insensible
(Postponing the details of the defiance,
Which came in terms so very reprehensible
From that barbarian sovereign King Ryence),
Displaying simpler manners, forms, and passions,
Unmixed by transitory modes and fashions.
Before the feast was ended, a report
Filled every soul with horror and dismay;
Some ladies, on their journey to the Court,
Had been surprised, and were conveyed away
By the aboriginal giants, to their fort —
An unknown fort — for Government, they say,
Had ascertained its actual existence,
But knew not its direction, nor its distance.
A waiting damsel, crooked and misshaped,
Herself the witness of a woful scene,
From which, by miracle, she had escaped,
Appeared before the ladies and the Queen;
Her figure was funereal, veiled and craped,
Her voice convulsed with sobs and sighs between,
That with the sad recital, and the sight,
Revenge and rage inflamed each worthy knight.
Sir Gawain rose without delay or dallying —
“Excuse us, madam, we’ve no time to waste;”
And at the palace-gate you saw him sallying,
With other knights, equipped and armed in haste;
179 And there was Tristram making jests, and rallying
The poor misshapen damsel, whom he placed
Behind him on a pillion, pad, or pannel;
He took, besides, his falcon and his spaniel.
But what with horror, and fatigue, and fright,
Poor soul, she could not recollect the way.
They reached the mountains on the second night,
And wandered up and down till break of day,
When they discovered, by the dawning light,
A lonely glen, where heaps of embers lay;
They found unleavened fragments, scorched and toasted,
And the remains of mules and horses roasted.
Sir Tristram understood the giants’ course:
He felt the embers, but the heat was out;
He stood contemplating the roasted horses,
And all at once, without suspense or doubt,
His own decided judgment thus enforces:
“The giants must be somewhere here about!”
Demonstrating the carcasses, he shows
That they remained untouched by kites or crows;
“You see no traces of their sleeping here,
No heap of leaves or heath, no giant’s nest;
Their usual habitation must be near:
They feed at sunset, and retire to rest,
A moment’s search will set the matter clear.”
The fact turned out precisely as he guessed;
And shortly after, scrambling through a gully,
He verified his own conjecture fully.
He found a valley, closed on every side,
Resembling that which Rasselas describes;
Six miles in length, and half as many wide,
Where the descendants of the giant tribes
Lived in their ancient fortress undescried
(Invaders tred upon each other’s kibes).
First came the Britons, afterwards the Roman,
Our patrimonial lands belong to no man:
So Horace said; and so the giants found,
Expelled by fresh invaders in succession;
But they maintained tenaciously the ground
Of ancient, indefeasible possession,
And robbed and ransacked all the country round;
And ventured on this horrible transgression,
Claiming a right reserved to waste and spoil,
As lords and lawful owners of the soil.
Huge mountains of immeasurable height
Encompassed all the level valley round,
With mighty slabs of rock, that sloped upright,
An insurmountable, enormous mound;
The very river vanished out of sight,
Absorbed in secret channels under ground:
That vale was so sequestered and secluded,
All search for ages past it had eluded.
High over head was many a cave and den,
That with its strange construction seemed to mock
All thought of how they were contrived, or when:
Hewn inward in the huge suspended rock,
181 The tombs and monuments of mighty men:
Such were the patriarchs of this ancient stock.
Alas! what pity that the present race
Should be so barbarous and depraved and base!
For they subsisted (as I said) by pillage,
And the wild beasts which they pursued and chased
Nor house, nor herdsman’s hut, nor farm, nor village,
Within the lonely valley could be traced,
Nor roads, nor bounded fields, nor rural tillage,
But all was lonely, desolate, and waste.
The castle which commanded the domain
Was suited to so rude and wild a reign.
A rock was in the centre, like a cone,
Abruptly rising from a miry pool,
Where they beheld a pile of massy stone,
Which masons of the rude primæval school
Had reared by help of giant hands alone,
With rocky fragments unreduced by rule,
Irregular, like Nature more than art,
Huge, rugged, and compact in every part.
But on the other side a river went
And there the craggy rock and ancient wall
Had crumbled down with shelving deep descent;
Time and the wearing stream had worked its fall:
The modern giants had repaired the rent,
But poor, reduced, and ignorant withal,
They patched it up, contriving as they could,
With stones, and earth, and palisades of wood.
Sir Gawain tried a parley, but in vain —
A true bred giant never trusts a knight —
He sent a herald, who returned again
All torn to rags and perishing with fright;
A trumpeter was sent, but he was slain,
To trumpeters they bear a mortal spite:
When all conciliatory measures failed,
The castle and the fortress were assailed.
But when the giants saw them fairly under,
They shovelled down a cataract of stones,
A hideous volley like a peal of thunder,
Bouncing and bounding down, and breaking bones
Rending the earth, and riving rocks asunder;
Sir Gawain inwardly laments and groans,
Retiring last, and standing most exposed;
Success seemed hopeless, and the combat closed.
A council then was called, and all agreed
To call in succour from the country round;
By regular approaches to proceed,
Intrenching, fortifying, breaking ground.
That morning Tristram happened to secede:
It seems his falcon was not to be found;
He went in search of her, but some suspected
He went lest his advice should be neglected.
At Gawain’s summons all the country came;
At Gawain’s summons all the people aided;
They called upon each other in his name,
And bit their neighbours work as hard as they did.
183 So well beloved as he, for very shame
They dug, they delved, intrenched, and palisaded,
Till all the fort was thoroughly blockaded,
And every ford where giants might have waded.
Sir Tristram found his falcon, bruised and lame,
After a tedious search, as he averred,
And was returning back the way he came
When in the neighbouring thicket something stirred,
And flashed across the path, as bright as flame;
Sir Tristram followed it, and found a bird
Much like a pheasant, only crimson red,
With a fine tuft of feathers on his head.
Sir Tristram’s mind — invention — powers of thought,
Were occupied, abstracted, and engaged,
Devising ways and means to have it caught
Alive — entire — to see if safely caged:
The giants and their siege he set at nought
Compared with this new warfare that he waged.
He gained his object after three days wandering,
And three nights watching, meditating, pondering,
And to the camp in triumph he returned:
He makes them all admire the creature’s crest,
And praise and magnify the prize he earned.
Sir Gawain rarely ventured on a jest,
But here his heart with indignation burned:
“Good cousin, yonder stands an eagle’s nest!
A prize for fowlers such as you and me.”
Sir Tristram answered mildly, “We shall see.”
Good-humour was Sir Tristram’s leading quality,
And in the present case he proved it such;
If he forbore, it was that in reality
His conscience smote him with a secret touch,
For having shocked his worthy friend’s formality —
He thought Sir Gawain had not said too much;
He walks apart with him, and he discourses
About their preparation and their forces,
Approving everything that had been done —
“It serves to put the giants off their guard,
Less hazard and less danger will be run;
I doubt not we shall find them unprepared —
The castle will more easily be won,
And many valuable lives be spared;
The ladies else, while we blockade and threaten,
Will most infallibly be killed and eaten.”
Sir Tristram talked incomparably well;
His reasons were irrefragably strong.
As Tristram spoke Sir Gawain’s spirits fell,
For he discovered clearly before long
(What Tristram never would presume to tell),
That his whole system was entirely wrong;
In fact, his confidence had much diminished
Since all the preparations had been finished.
“Indeed!” Sir Tristram said, “for aught we know —
For aught that we can tell — this very night
The valley’s entrance may be closed with snow,
And we may starve and perish here outright;
185 ’Tis better risking a decided blow —
I own this weather puts me in a fright.”
In fine, this tedious conference to shorten,
Sir Gawain trusted to Sir Tristram’s fortune.
’Twas twilight, ere the wintry dawn had kist
With cold salute the mountain’s chilly brow;
The level lawns were dark, a lake of mist
Inundated the vales and depths below,
When valiant Tristram, with a chosen list
Of bold and hardy men, prepared to go,
Ascending through the vapours dim and hoar,
A secret track, which he descried before.
If ever you attempted, when a boy,
To walk across the playground or the yard
Blindfolded, for an apple or a toy,
Which, when you reached the spot, was your reward,
You may conceive the difficult employ
Sir Tristram had, and that he found it hard,
Deprived of landmarks and the power of sight,
To steer their dark and doubtful course aright.
They climbed an hour or more with hand and knee
(The distance of a fathom or a rood
Was farther than the keenest eye could see);
At last the very ground on which they stood,
The broken turf, and many a battered tree —
The crushed and shattered shrubs and underwood —
Apprised them that they were arrived once more
Where they were overwhelmed the time before.
Sir Tristram saw the people in a fluster;
He took them to a sheltered hollow place;
They crowded round like chickens in a cluster,
And Tristram, with an unembarrassed face,
Proceeded quietly to take a muster,
To take a muster, and to state the case —
“It was,” he said, “an unexpected error,
Enough to strike inferior minds with terror;
“But since they were assembled and collected”
(All were assembled except nine or ten),
“He thought that their design might be effected;
All things were easy to determined men.
If they would take the track which he directed,
And try their old adventure once again;”
He slapped his breast, and swore within an hour
That they should have the castle in their power.
This mountain was like others I have seen;
There was a stratum or ridge of stone
Projecting high beyond the sloping green,
From top to bottom, like a spinal bone,
Or flight of steps, with gaps and breaks between;
A copper-plate would make my meaning known
Better than words, and therefore, with permission,
I’ll give a print of it the next edition.
Thither Sir Tristram with his comrades went,
For now the misty cloud was cleared away,
And they must risk the perilous ascent,
Right in the giants’ front, in open day:
187 They ran to reach the shelter which it lent,
Before the battery should begin to play.
Their manner of ascending up that ridge
Was much like climbing by a broken bridge;
For there you scramble on from pier to pier,
Always afraid to lose your hold half-way;
And as they clambered each successive tier
Of rugged upright rocks, I dare to say,
It was not altogether without fear —
Just fear enough to make brave people gay:
According to the words of Mr. Gray,
“They wound with toilsome march their long array.”
The more alert and active upward sprang,
And let down ropes to drag their comrades after;
Those ropes were their own shirts together strung,
Stript off and twisted with such mirth and laughter,
That with their jokes the rocky echoes rung:
Like countrymen that on a beam or rafter
Attempt to pass a raging wintry flood,
Such was the situation where they stood:
A wild tumultuous torrent raged around,
Of fragments tumbling from the mountain’s height;
The whirling clouds of dust the deafening sound,
The hurried motion that amazed the sight,
The constant quaking of the solid ground,
Environed them with phantoms of affright;
Yet with heroic hearts they held right on,
Till the last point of their ascent was won.
The giants saw them on the topmost crown
Of the last rock, and threatened and defied —
“Down with the mangy dwarfs there! Dash them down!
Down with the dirty pismires!” Thus they cried.
Sir Tristram, with a sharp sarcastic frown,
In their own giant jargon thus replied,
“Mullinger! — Cacomole! — and Mangonell!
You cursed cannibals, I know you well —
“I’ll see that pate of yours upon a post,
And your left-handed squinting brother’s too —
By Heaven and earth, within an hour at most,
I’ll give the crows a meal of him and you;
The wolves shall have you, either raw or roast,
I’ll make an end of all your cursed crew.”
These words he partly said, and partly sang,
As usual with the giants, in their slang.
He darted forward to the mountain’s brow,
The giants ran away, they knew not why.
Sir Tristram gained the point, he knew not how,
He could account for it no more than I.
Such strange effects we witness often now;
Such strange experiments true Britons try
In sieges, and in skirmishes afloat,
In storming heights, and boarding from a boat.
True courage bears about a charm or spell,
It looks, I think, like an instinctive law
By which superior natures daunt and quell
Frenchmen and foreigners with fear and awe.
189 I wonder if philosophers can tell —
Can they explain the thing with all their jaw?
I can’t explain it, but the fact is so,
A fact which every midshipman must know.
Then instantly the signal was held out,
To show Sir Gawain that the coast was clear;
They heard his camp re-echo with a shout,
In half an hour Sir Gawain will be here.
But still Sir Tristram was perplexed with doubt,
The crisis of the ladies’ fate drew near,
He dreaded what those poor defenceless creatures
Might suffer from such fierce and desperate natures.
The giants, with their brutal want of sense,
In hurling stones to crush them with the fall,
And in their hurry taking them from thence,
Had half dismantled all the new-built wall.
They left it here and there, a naked fence
Of stakes and palisades, upright and tall.
Sir Tristram formed a sudden resolution,
And recommended it for execution.
“My lads,” he cried, “an effort must be made
To keep those monsters half an hour in play,
While Gawain is advancing to our aid,
Or else the ladies will be made away.
By mounting close within the palisade,
You’ll parry their two-handed, dangerous sway —
Their clubs and maces: recollect my words,
And use your daggers rather than your swords.”
That service was most gallantly performed:
The giants still endeavoured to repel
And drive them from the breach that they had stormed:
The foremost of the crew was Mangonell.
At sight of him Sir Tristram’s spirit warmed;
With aim unerring Tristram’s faulchion fell,
Lopt off his club and fingers at the knuckle,
And thus disabled that stupendous chuckle.
The giant ran, outrageous with the wound,
Roaring and bleeding, to the palisade;
Sir Tristram swerved aside, and reaching round,
Probed all his entrails with his poniard’s blade:
His giant limbs fall thundering to the ground,
His goggling eyes eternal slumbers shade;
Then by the head or heels, I know not which,
They dragged him forth, and tost him in the ditch.
Sir Tristram, in the warfare that he waged,
Strove to attract the giants’ whole attention;
To keep it undivided and engaged,
He racked his fiery brain and his invention;
And taunted and reviled, and stormed and raged,
In terms far worse, and more than I can mention.
In the meanwhile, in a more sober manner.
Sir Gawain was advancing with his banner.
But first I must commemorate in rhyme
Sir Tristram’s dext’rous swordmanship and might
(This incident appears to me sublime),
He struck a giant’s head off in the fight:
191 The head fell down of course, but for some time
The stupid, headless trunk remained upright;
For more than twenty seconds there it stood,
But ultimately fell from loss of blood.
Behold Sir Gawain with his valiant band;
He enters on the work with warmth and haste,
And slays a brace of giants out of hand,
Sliced downward from the shoulder to the waist.
But our ichnography must now be planned,
The keep or inner castle must be traced.
I wish myself at the concluding distich,
Although I think the thing characteristic.
Facing your entrance, just three yards behind,
There was a mass of stone of moderate height,
It stood before you like a screen or blind;
And there, on either hand to left and right,
Were sloping parapets or planes inclined,
On which two massy stones were placed upright,
Secured by staples and by leathern ropes,
Which hindered them from sliding down the slopes.
“Cousin, those dogs have some device or gin!
I’ll run the gauntlet, and I’ll stand a knock.”
He dashed into the gate through thick and thin,
He hewed away the bands which held the block,
It rushed along the slope with rumbling din,
And closed the entrance with a thundering shock
(Just like those famous old Symplegades
Discovered by the Classics in their seas).
This was Sir Tristram (as you may suppose),
He found some giants wounded, others dead,
He shortly equalizes these with those;
But one poor devil there was sick in bed,
In whose behalf the ladies interpose;
Sir Tristram spared his life, because they said
That he was more humane and mild and clever,
And all the time had had an ague-fever.
The ladies? — They were tolerably well,
At least as well as could have been expected:
Many details I must forbear to tell,
Their toilet had been very much neglected;
But by supreme good luck it so befell
That when the castle’s capture was effected,
When those vile cannibals were over-powered,
Only two fat duennas were devoured.
Sir Tristram having thus secured the fort,
And seen all safe, was climbing to the wall
(Meaning to leap into the outer court);
But when he came, he saved himself the fall,
Sir Gawain had been spoiling all the sport,
The giants were demolished one and all:
He pulled them up the wall, they climb and enter —
Such was the winding up of this adventure.
The only real sufferer in the fight
Was a poor neighbouring squire of little fame,
That came and joined the party overnight;
He hobbled home, disabled with a maim
193 Which he received in tumbling from a height:
The knights from Court had never heard his name,
Nor recollected seeing him before —
Two leopards’ faces were the arms he bore.
Thus Tristram, without loss of life or limb,
Conquered the Giants’ Castle in a day;
But whether it were accident or whim
That kept him in the woods so long away,
In any other mortal except him
I should not feel a doubt of what to say;
But he was wholly guided by his humour,
Indifferent to report and public rumour.
It was besides imagined and suspected
That he had missed his course by deep design,
To take the track which Gawain had neglected —
I speak of others’ notions, not of mine:
I question even if he recollected —
He might have felt a moment’s wish to shine;
I only know that he made nothing of it,
Either for reputation or for profit.
The ladies, by Sir Gawain’s kind direction,
Proceeded instantaneously to Court.
To thank their Majesties for their protection.
Sir Gawain followed with a grand escort,
And was received with favour and affection.
Sir Tristram remained loitering in the fort;
He thought the building and the scenery striking,
And that poor captive giant took his liking.
And now the thread of our romance unravels,
Presenting new performers on the stage;
A giant’s education and his travels
Will occupy the next succeeding page:
But I begin to tremble at the cavils
Of this fastidious, supercilious age;
Reviews, and paragraphs in morning papers —
The prospect of them gives my Muse the vapours.
“My dear,” says she, “I think it will be well
To ascertain our losses or our gains:
If this first sample should succeed and sell,
We can renew the same melodious strains.”
Poor soul! she’s had, I think, a tedious spell,
And ought to be considered for her pains.
And keeping of my company so long —
A moderate compliment would not be wrong.
“I’ve a proposal here from Mr. Murray,
He offers handsomely — the money down;
My dear, you might recover from your flurry
In a nice airy lodging out of town,
At Croyden, Epsom, anywhere in Surrey;
If every stanza brings us in a crown,
I think that I might venture to bespeak
A bedroom and front parlour for next week.
“Tell me, my dear Thalia, what you think;
Your nerves have undergone a sudden shock;
Your poor dear spirits have begun to sink;
On Banstead Downs you’d muster a new stock,
And I’d be sure to keep away from drink.
And always go to bed by twelve o’clock.
We’ll travel down there in the morning stages;
Our verses shall go down to distant ages.
“And here in town we’ll breakfast on hot rolls,
And you shall have a better shawl to wear;
These pantaloons of mine are chafed in holes;
By Monday next I’ll compass a new pair:
Come, now, fling up the cinders, fetch the coals,
And take away the things you hung to air,
Set out the tea-things, and bid Phœbe bring
The kettle up.” Arms and the Monks I sing.
Some ten miles off, an ancient abbey stood,
Amidst the mountains, near a noble stream;
A level eminence, enshrined with wood,
Sloped to the river’s bank and southern beam;
Within were fifty friars fat and good,
Of goodly persons, and of good esteem,
That passed an easy, exemplary life,
Remote from want and care, and worldly strife.
Between the monks and giants there subsisted,
In the first abbot’s lifetime, much respect;
The giants let them settle where they listed;
The giants were a tolerating sect.
196 A poor lame giant once the monks assisted,
Old and abandoned, dying with neglect,
The prior found him, cured his broken bone,
And very kindly cut him for the stone.
This seemed a glorious, golden opportunity,
To civilize the whole gigantic race;
To draw them to pay tithes, and dwell in unity;
The giants’ valley was a fertile place,
And might have much enriched the whole community.
Had the old giant lived a longer space;
But he relapsed, and though all means were tried,
They could but just baptize him — when he died.
And, I believe, the giants never knew
Of the kind treatment that befell their mate;
He broke down all at once, and all the crew
Had taken leave, and left him to his fate;
And though the monks exposed him full in view,
Propped on his crutches, at the garden gate,
To prove their cure, and show that all was right,
It happened that no giants came in sight;
They never found another case to cure,
But their demeanour calm and reverential,
Their gesture and their vesture grave and pure,
Their conduct sober, cautious, and prudential,
Engaged respect, sufficient to secure
Their properties and interests most essential;
They kept a distant, courteous intercourse;
Salutes and gestures were their sole discourse.
Music will civilize, the poets say,
In time it might have civilized the giants;
The Jesuits found its use in Paraguay;
Orpheus was famous for harmonic science,
And civilized the Thracians in that way;
My judgment coincides with Mr. Bryant’s;
He thinks that Orpheus meant a race of cloisterers,
Obnoxious to the Bacchanalian roysterers.
Deciphering the symbols of mythology,
He finds them monks, expert in their vocation;
Teachers of music, med’cine, and theology,
The missionaries of the barbarous Thracian;
The poet’s fable was a wild apology
For an inhuman bloody reformation,
Which left those tribes uncivilized and rude,
Naked and fierce, and painted and tattooed.
It was a glorious Jacobinic job
To pull down convents, to condemn for treason
Poor peeping Pentheus — to carouse and rob,
With naked raving goddesses of reason,
The festivals and orgies of the mob
That every twentieth century come in season.
Enough of Orpheus — the succeeding page
Relates to monks of a more recent age.
And oft that wild untutored race would draw,
Led by the solemn sound and sacred light
Beyond the bank, beneath a lonely shaw,
To listen all the livelong summer night,
198 Till deep, serene, and reverential awe
Environed them with silent calm delight,
Contemplating the minster’s midnight gleam,
Reflected from the clear and glassy stream;
But chiefly, when the shadowy moon had shed
O’er woods and waters her mysterious hue,
Their passive hearts and vacant fancies fed
With thoughts and aspirations strange and new,
Till their brute souls with inward working bred
Dark hints that in the depths of instinct grew
Subjective — not from Locke’s associations,
Nor David Hartley’s doctrine of vibrations.
Each was ashamed to mention to the others
One-half of all the feelings that he felt,
Yet thus far each could venture — “Listen, brothers,
It seems as if one heard heaven’s thunder melt
In music! — all at once it soothes — it smothers —
It overpowers one — Pillicock, don’t pelt!
It seems a kind of shame, a kind of sin,
To vex those harmless worthy souls within.”
In castles and in courts Ambition dwells,
But not in castles or in courts alone;
She breathed a wish, throughout those sacred cells,
For bells of a larger size, and louder tone;
Giants abominate the sound of bells,
And soon the fierce antipathy was shown,
The tinkling and the jingling, and the clangour,
Roused their irrational gigantic anger.
Unhappy mortals! ever blind to fate!
Unhappy monks! you see no danger nigh;
Exulting in their sound and size and weight,
From morn till noon the merry peal you ply;
The belfry rocks, your bosoms are elate,
Your spirits with the ropes and pulleys fly;
Tired, but transported, panting, pulling, hauling,
Ramping and stamping, overjoyed and bawling.
Meanwhile the solemn mountains that surrounded
The silent valley where the convent lay,
With tintinnabular uproar were astounded,
When the first peal burst forth at break of day:
Feeling their granite ears severely wounded,
They scarce knew what to think, or what to say;
And (though large mountains commonly conceal
Their sentiments, dissembling what they feel,
Yet) Cader-Gibbrish from his cloudy throne
To huge Loblommon gave an imitation
Of this strange rumour, with an awful tone,
Thund’ring his deep surprise and indignation;
The lesser hills, in language of their own,
Discussed the topic by reverberation;
Discoursing with their echoes all day long,
Their only conversation was, “ding-dong.”
Those giant-mountains inwardly were moved,
But never made an outward change of place:
Not so the mountain giants — (as behoved
A more alert and locomotive race),
200 Hearing a clatter which they disapproved,
They ran straight forward to besiege the place
With a discordant universal yell,
Like house-dogs howling at a dinner-bell.
Historians are extremely to be pitied,
Obliged to persevere in the narration
Of wrongs and horrid outrages committed,
Oppression, sacrilege, assassination;
The following scenes I wished to have omitted,
But truth is an imperious obligation.
So — “my heart sickens, and I drop my pen,”
And am obliged to pick it up again,
And, dipping it afresh, I must transcribe
An ancient monkish record, which displays
The savage acts of that gigantic tribe;
I hope, that from the diction of those days,
This noble, national poem will imbibe
A something (in the old reviewing phrase)
“Of an original flavour, and a raciness;”
I should not else transcribe it out of laziness.
The writer first relates a dream, or vision,
Observed by Luke and Lawrence in their cells,
And a nocturnal hideous apparition
Of fiends and devils dancing round the bells:
This last event is stated with precision;
Their persons he describes, their names he tells,
Klaproth, Tantallan, Barbanel, Belphegor,
Long-tailed, long-taloned, hairy, black and meagre.
He then rehearses sundry marvels more,
Damping the mind with horror by degrees,
Of a prodigious birth a heifer bore,
Of mermaids seen in the surrounding seas,
Of a sea-monster that was cast ashore;
Earthquakes and thunder-storms, events like these,
Which served to show the times were out of joint,
And then proceeds directly to the point.
Erant rumores et timores varii;
Dies horroris et confusionis
Evenit in calendis Januarii
Gigantes, semen maledictionis
Nostri potentes impii adversarii,
Irascebantur campanarum sonis,
Horâ secundâ centum tres gigantes
Venerunt ante januam ululantes.
At fratres pleni desolationis,
Stabant ad necessarium præsidium,
Perterriti pro vitis et pro bonis,
Et perduravit hoc crudele obsidium,
Nostri claustralis pauperis Sionis,
Ad primum diem proximorum Idium;
Tunc in triumpho fracto tintinnabulo,
Gigantes ibant alibi pro pabulo.
Sed frater Isidorus decumbebat
In lecto per tres menses brachio fracto,
Nam lapides Mangonellus jaciebat,
Et fregit tintinnabulum lapide jacto;
202 Et omne vicinagium destruebat,
Et nihil relinquebat de intacto,
Ardens molinos, Casa, messuagia,
Et alia multa damna atque outragia.
Those monks were poor proficients in divinity,
And scarce knew more Latin than myself;
Compared with theirs they say that true Latinity
Appears like porcelain compared with delf;
As for the damage done in their vicinity,
Those that have laid their Latin on the shelf
May like to read the subsequent narration
Done into metre from a friend’s translation.
Squire Humphrey Bamberham, of Boozley Hall
(Whose name I mention with deserved respect),
On market-days was often pleased to call,
And to suggest improvements, or correct;
I own the obligation once for all,
Lest critic should imagine they detect
Traces of learning and superior reading,
Beyond, as they suppose, my birth and breeding.
Papers besides, and transcripts most material,
He gave me when I went to him to dine;
A trunk full, one coach-seat, and an imperial,
One bandbox — But the work is wholly mine;
The tone, the form, the colouring ethereal,
“The vision and the faculty divine,”
The scenery, characters, and triple-rhymes,
I’ll swear it — like old Walter of the Times.
Long, long before, upon a point of weight,
Such as a ring of bells complete and new,
Chapters were summoned, frequent, full, and late;
The point was viewed in every point of view,
Till, after fierce discussion and debate,
The wiser monks, the wise are always few,
That from the first opposed the plan in toto,
Were overborne, canonicali voto.
A prudent monk, their reader and librarian,
Observed a faction, angry, strong and warm
(Himself an anti-tintinnabularian),
He saw, or thought he saw, a party form
To scout him as an alien and sectarian.
There was an undefined impending storm!
The opponents were united, bold, and hot;
They might degrade, imprison him — what not?
Now faction in a city, camp, or cloister,
While it is yet a tender raw beginner,
Is nourished by superfluous warmth and moisture,
Namely, by warmth and moisture after dinner;
And therefore, till the temper and the posture
Of things should alter — till a secret inner
Instinctive voice should whisper, all is right —
He deemed it safest to keep least in sight.
He felt as if his neck were in a noose,
And evermore retired betimes from table,
For fear of altercation and abuse,
But made the best excuse that he was able;
204 He never rose without a good excuse
(Like Master Stork invited in the fable
To Mr. Fox’s dinner); there he sat,
Impatient to retire and take his hat.
For only once or twice that he remained
To change this constant formal course, he found
His brethren awkward, sullen, and constrained;
He caught the conversation at a bound,
And, with a hurried agitation, strained
His wits to keep it up, and drive it round.
It saved him, but he felt the risk and danger,
Behaved-to like a pleasant utter stranger.
Wise people sometimes will pretend to sleep,
And watch and listen while they droop and snore,
He felt himself a kind of a black sheep,
But studied to be neither less nor more
Obliging than became him, but to keep
His temper, style, and manner as before;
It seemed the best, the safest, only plan,
Never to seem to feel as a marked man.
Wise curs, when canistered, refuse to run;
They merely crawl and creep about, and whine,
And disappoint the boys, and spoil the fun,
That picture is too mean, this monk of mine
Ennobled it, as others since have done,
With grace and ease, and grandeur of design;
He neither ran nor howled, nor crept nor turned,
But wore it as he walked, quite unconcerned.
To manifest this slightest want of nerve
Was evidently perfect, utter ruin,
Therefore the seeming to recant or swerve,
By meddling any way with what was doing,
He felt within himself would only serve
To bring down all the mischief that was brewing;
“No duty binds me, no constraint compels
To bow before the Dagon of the Bells,
“To flatter this new foolery, to betray
My vote, my conscience, and my better sense,
By bustling in the belfry day by day;
But in the grange, the cellar, or the spence
(While all are otherwise employed), I may
Deserve their thanks, at least avoid offence;
For (while this vile anticipated clatter
Fills all their hearts and senses), every matter
“Behoveful for our maintenance and needs
Is wholly disregarded, and the course
Of our conventual management proceeds
At random, day by day, from bad to worse;
The larder dwindles and the cellar bleeds!
Besides — besides the bells, we must disburse
For masonry, for framework, wheels and fliers;
Next winter we must fast like genuine friars.”
As bees, that when the skies are calm and fair,
In June, or the beginning of July,
Launch forth colonial settlers in the air,
Round, round, and roundabout, they whiz, they fly
206 With eager worry whirling here and there,
They know not whence, nor whither, where, nor why,
In utter hurry-scurry, going, coming,
Maddening the summer air with ceaseless humming;
Till the strong frying-pan’s energic jangle
With thrilling thrum their feebler hum doth drown,
Then passive and appeased, they droop and dangle,
Clinging together close, and clustering down,
Linked in a multitudinous living tangle
Like an old tassel of a dingy brown;
The joyful farmer sees, and spreads his hay,
And reckons on a settled sultry day.
E’en so the monks, as wild as sparks of fire
(Or swarms unpacified by pan or kettle)
Ran restless round the cloisters and the choir,
Till those huge masses of sonorous metal
Attracted them toward the tower and spire;
There you might see them cluster, crowd, and settle,
Thronged in the hollow tintinnabular hive;
The belfrey swarmed with monks; it seemed alive.
Then, while the cloisters, courts, and yards were still,
Silent and empty, like a long vacation;
The friar prowled about, intent to fill
Details of delegated occupation,
Which, with a ready frankness and goodwill,
He undertook; he said, “the obligation
Was nothing, nothing, he could serve their turn
While they were busy with this new concern.”
Combining prudence with a scholar’s pride,
Poor Tully, like a toad beneath a harrow,
Twitched, jerked, and hauled and mauled on every side,
Tried to identify himself with Varro;
This course our cautious friar might have tried,
But his poor convent was a field too narrow;
There was not, from the prior to the cook,
A single soul that cared about a book:
Yet, sitting with his books, he felt unclogged,
Unfettered; and for hours together tasted
The calm delight of being neither dogged,
Nor watched, nor worried; he transcribed, pasted,
Repaired old bindings, indexed, catalogued,
Illuminated, mended clasps, and wasted
An hour or two sometimes in actual reading;
Meanwhile the belfry business was proceeding;
And the first opening peal, the grand display,
In prospect ever present in his mind,
Was fast approaching, pregnant with dismay,
With loathing and with horror undefined,
Like the expectation of an ague day;
The day before he neither supped nor dined,
And felt beforehand, for a fortnight near,
A kind of deafness in his fancy’s ear:
But most he feared his ill-digested spleen,
Inflamed by gives, might lead him on to wrangle,
Or discompose, at least, his looks and mien;
So, with the belfry’s first prelusive jangle,
208 He sallied from the garden-gate unseen,
With his worst hat, his boots, his line and angle,
Meaning to pass away the time, and bring
Some fish for supper, as a civil thing.
The prospect of their after-supper talk
Employed his thoughts, forecasting many a scoff,
Which he with quick reply must damp and baulk,
Parrying at once, without a hem or cough,
“Had not the bells annoyed him in his walk?
No, faith! he liked them best when farthest off.”
Thus he prepared and practised many a sentence
Expressing ease, good-humour, independence.
His ground bait had been laid the night before,
Most fortunately! — for he used to say,
“That more than once the belfry’s bothering roar
Almost induced him to remove away;”
Had he so done, the gigantean corps
Had sacked the convent on that very day,
But providentially the perch and dace
Bit freely, which detained him at the place.
And here let us detain ourselves awhile,
My dear Thalia! party’s angry frown
And petty malice in that monkish pile
(The warfare of the cowl and of the gown),
Had almost dried my wits, and drained my style;
Here, with our legs, then, idly dangling down,
We’ll rest upon the bank, and dip our toes
In the poetic current as it flows.
Or in the narrow sunny plashes near,
Observe the puny piscatory swarm,
That with their tiny squadrons tack and veer
Cruising amidst the shelves and shallows warm,
Chasing, or in retreat, with hope or fear
Of petty plunder or minute alarm;
With clannish instinct how they wheel and face,
Inherited arts inherent in the race.
Or mark the jetty, glossy tribes that glance
Upon the water’s firm unruffled breast,
Tracing their ancient labyrinthine dance
In mute mysterious cadence unexpressed;
Alas! that fresh disaster and mischance
Again must drive us from our place of rest!
Grim Mangonell, with his outrageous crew,
Will scare us hence within an hour or two.
Poets are privileged to run away —
Alcæus and Archilochus could fling
Their shields behind hem in a doubtful fray;
And still sweet Horace may be heard to sing
His filthy fright upon Philippi’s day
(You can retire, too, for the Muse’s wing
Is swift as Cupid’s pinion when he flies,
Alarmed at periwigs and human ties).
This practice was approved in times of yore,
Though later bards behaved like gentlemen,
And Garcilasso, Camoens, many more,
Disclaimed the privilege of book and pen;
210 And bold Aneurin, all bedripped with gore,
Bursting by force from the beleaguered glen,
Arrogant, haughty, fierce, of fiery mood,
Not meek and mean, as Gray misunderstood.
But we, that write a mere campaigning tour,
May choose a station for our point of view
That’s picturesque and perfectly secure;
Come, now we’ll sketch the friar, that will do:
“Designs and etchings by an amateur;
A frontispiece, and a vignette or two:”
But much I fear that aquatint and etching
Will scarce keep pace with true poetic sketching.
Dogs that inhabit near the banks of Nile
(As ancient authors or old proverbs say),
Dreading the cruel critic crocodile,
Drink as they run, a mouthful and away;
’Tis a true model for descriptive style;
“Keep moving” (as the man says in the play),
The power of motion is the poet’s forte,
Therefore, again, “keep moving! that’s your sort!”
For, otherwise, while you persist and paint,
With your portfolio pinioned to a spot,
Half of your picture grows effaced and faint,
Imperfectly remembered, or forgot;
Make sketch, then, upon sketch; and if they ain’t
Complete, it does not signify a jot;
Leave graphic illustrations of your work
To be devised by Westall or by Smirke.
I’ll speak my mind at once, in spite of raillery;
I’ve thought and thought again a thousand times,
What a magnificent poetic gallery
Might be designed from my Stow Market rhymes;
I look for no reward, nor fee, nor salary,
I look for England’s fame in foreign climes
And future ages — Honos alit Artes,
And such a plan would reconcile all parties.
I’m strongly for the present state of things;
I look for no reform, nor innovation,
Because our present Parliaments and Kings
Are competent to improve and rule the nation,
Provided projects that true genius brings
Are held in due respect and estimation.
I’ve said enough — and now you must be wishing
To see the landscape, and the friar fishing.
A MIGHTY current, unconfined and free,
Ran wheeling round beneath the mountain’s shade,
Battering its wave-worn base; but you might see
On the near margin many a watery glade,
Becalmed beneath some little island’s lee
All tranquil, and transparent, close embayed;
Reflecting in the deep, serene and even,
Each flower and herb, and every cloud of heaven;
The painted kingfisher, the branch above her,
Stands in the steadfast mirror fixed and true;
Anon the fitful breezes brood and hover,
Fresh’ning the surface with a rougher hue;
Spreading, withdrawing, pausing, passing over,
Again returning to retire anew:
So rest and motion, in a narrow range,
Feasted the sight with joyous interchange.
The monk with handy jerk, and petty baits,
Stands twitching out apace the perch and roach;
His mightier tackle, pitched apart, awaits
The grovelling barbel’s unobserved approach:
And soon his motley meal of homely cates
Is spread, the leather bottle is a-broach;
Eggs, bacon, ale, a napkin, cheese and knife,
Forming a charming picture of still-life.
The friar fishing — a design for Cuyp,
A cabinet jewel, “Pray remark the boot;
And, leading from the light, that shady stripe,
With the dark bulrush-heads how well they suit;
And then, that mellow tint so warm and ripe,
That falls upon the cassock and surtout:”
If it were fairly painted, puffed and sold,
My gallery would be worth its weight in gold.
But hark! the busy chimes fall fast and strong,
Clattering and pealing in their full career;
Closely the thickening sounds together throng.
No longer painful to the friar’s ear,
213 They bind his fancy with illusion strong;
While his rapt spirit hears, or seems to hear,
“Turn, turn again — gen — gèn, thou noble friar,
Eleele — lèele — lèele — lected prior.”
Thus the mild monk, as he unhooked a gudgeon,
Stood musing, when far other sounds arise,
Sounds of despite and ire, and direful dudgeon;
And soon across the river he espies,
In wrathful act a hideous huge carmudgeon
Calling his comrades on with shouts and cries —
“There! there it is! I told them so before;”
He left his line and hook and said no more;
But ran right forward (pelted all the way),
And bolted breathless at the convent-gate,
The messenger and herald of dismay;
But soon with conscious worth, and words of weight,
Gives orders which the ready monks obey:
Doors, window, wickets, are blockaded straight;
He reinspires the convent’s drooping sons,
Is here and there, and everywhere, at once.
“Friends! fellow monks!” he cried (“for well you know
That mightiest giants must in vain essay
Across yon river’s foaming gulf to go):
The mountainous, obscure and winding way,
That guides their footsteps to the ford below,
Affords a respite of desired delay,
Seize then the passing hour!” the monk kept bawling,
In terms to this effect, though not so drawling.
His words were these, “Before the ford is crost,
We’ve a good hour, at least three-quarters good,
Bestir yourselves, my lads, or all is lost,
Drive down this staunchion, bring those spars of wood;
This bench will serve; here, wedge it to the post;
Come, Peter, quick! strip off your gown and hood,
Take up the mallet, man, and bang away!
Tighten these ropes, now lash them, and belay.
“Finish the job while I return. I fear
Yon postern-gate will prove the convent’s ruin;
You, brother John, my namesake! stay you here,
And give an eye to what these monks are doing;
Bring out the scalding sweet-wort, and the beer,
Keep up the stoke-hole fire, where we were brewing:
And pull the gutters up, and melt the lead
(Before a dozen aves can be said),
“I shall be back amongst you.” Forth he went,
Secured the postern, and returned again,
Disposing all with high arbitrement,
With earnest air, and visage on the main
Concern of public safety fixed and bent;
For now the giants, stretching o’er the plain,
Are seen, presenting in the dim horizon
Tall awful forms, horrific and surprising.
I’d willingly walk barefoot fifty mile,
To find a scholar, or divine, or squire,
That could assist me to devise a style
Fit to describe the conduct of the friar;
215 I’ve tried three different ones within a while,
The grave, the vulgar, and the grand high-flyer;
All are I think improper, more or less,
I’ll take my chance amongst ’em, you shall guess.
Intrepid, eager, ever prompt to fly
Where danger and the convent’s safety call;
Where doubtful points demand a judging eye,
Where on the massy gates huge maces fall;
Where missile volleyed rocks are whirled on high,
Pre-eminent upon the embattled wall,
In gesture and in voice he stands confest;
Exhorting all the monks to do their best.
We redescend to phrase of low degree,
For there’s a point which you must wish to know,
The real ruling abbot, where was he?
For (since we make so classical a show,
Our convent’s mighty structure, as you see,
Like Thebes or Troy beleaguered by the foe:
Our friar scuffling like a kind of Cocles),
You’ll figure him perhaps like Eteocles
In Æschylus, with sentries, guards and watches,
Ready for all contingencies arising,
Pitting his chosen chiefs in equal matches
Against the foe, anon soliloquizing;
Then occupied anew with fresh dispatches —
Nothing like this! — but, something more surprising,
Was he like Priam then, that’s stranger far,
That in the ninth year of his Trojan war,
Knew not the names or persons of his foes,
But merely points them out as stout or tall,
While (as no Trojan knew them, I suppose),
Helen attends her father to the wall,
To tell him long details of these and those?
’Twas not like this, but strange and odd withal;
“Nobody knows it — nothing need be said,
Our poor dear abbot is this instant dead.
“They wheeled him out, you know, to take the air —
It must have been an apoplectic fit —
He tumbled forward from his garden-chair —
He seemed completely gone, but warm as yet:
I wonder how they came to leave him there;
Poor soul! he wanted courage, heart, and wit
For times like these — the shock and the surprise!
’Twas very natural the gout should rise.
“But such a sudden end was scarce expected;
Our parties will be puzzled to proceed;
The belfry set divided and dejected:
The crisis is a strange one, strange indeed;
I’ll bet yon fighting friar is elected;
It often happens in the hour of need,
From popular ideas of utility,
People are pitched upon for mere ability.
“I’ll hint the subject, and communicate
The sad event — he’s standing there apart;
Our offer, to be sure, comes somewhat late,
But then, we never thought he meant to start,
217 And if he gains his end, at any rate,
He has an understanding and a heart;
He’ll serve or he’ll protect his friends, at least,
With better spirit than the poor deceased.
“The convent was all going to the devil
While he, poor creature, thought himself beloved
For saying handsome things, and being civil,
Wheeling about as he was pulled and shoved,
By way of leaving things to find their level.”
The funeral sermon ended, both approved,
And went to Friar John, who merely doubted
The fact, and wished them to inquire about it;
Then left them, and returned to the attack:
They found their abbot in his former place;
They took him up and turned him on his back;
At first (you know) he tumbled on his face:
They found him fairly stiff and cold and black;
They then unloosed each ligature and lace,
His neckcloth and his girdle, hose and garters,
And took him up, and lodged him in his quarters.
Bees served me for a simile before,
And bees again — “Bees that have lost their king,”
Would seem a repetition and a bore;
Besides, in fact, I never saw the thing;
And thought those phrases from the good old store
Of “feebler hummings and a flagging wing,”
Perhaps may be descriptive and exact;
I doubt it; I confine myself to fact.
Thus much is certain, that a mighty pother
Arises; that the frame and the condition
Of things is altered, they combine and bother,
And every winged insect politician
Is warm and eager till they choose another.
In our monastic hive the same ambition
Was active and alert; but angry fortune
Constrained them to contract the long, importune,
Tedious, obscure, inexplicable train,
Qualifications, form, and oath and test,
Ballots on ballots, balloted again;
Accessits, scrutinies, and all the rest;
Theirs was the good old method, short and plain;
Per acclamationem they invest
Their fighting Friar John with robes and ring,
Crozier and mitre, seals, and everything.
With a new warlike active chief elected,
Almost at once, it scarce can be conceived
What a new spirit, real or affected,
Prevailed throughout; the monks complained and grieved
That nothing was attempted or projected;
While choristers and novices believed
That their new fighting abbot, Friar John,
Would sally forth at once, and lead them on.
I pass such gossip, and devote my cares
By diligent inquiry to detect
The genuine state and posture of affairs;
Unmannered, uninformed, and incorrect,
219 Falsehood and malice hold alternate chairs,
And lecture and preside in envy’s sect;
The fortunate and great she never spares,
Sowing the soil of history with tares.
Thus, jealous of the truth, and feeling loth
That Sir Nathaniel henceforth should accuse
Our noble monk of cowardice and sloth,
I’ll print the affidavit of the Muse,
And state the facts as ascertained on oath,
Corroborated by surveys and views,
When good King Arthur granted them a brief,
And ninety groats were raised for their relief.
Their arbours, walks, and alleys were defaced,
Riven and uprooted, and with ruin strown,
And the fair dial in their garden placed
Battered by barbarous hands, and overthrown;
The deer with wild pursuit dispersed and chased,
The dove-house ransacked, and the pigeons flown;
The cows all killed in one promiscuous slaughter,
The sheep all drowned, and floating in the water.
The mill was burned down to the water wheels;
The giants broke away the dam and sluice,
Dragged up and emptied all the fishing-reels;
Drained and destroyed the reservoir and stews,
Wading about, and groping carps and eels;
In short, no single earthly thing of use
Remained untouched beyond the convent’s wall:
The friars from their windows viewed it all.
But the bare hope of personal defence,
The church, the convent’s, and their own protection,
Absorbed their thoughts, and silenced every sense
Of present loss, till Friar John’s election;
Then other schemes arose, I know not whence,
Whether from flattery, zeal, or disaffection,
But the brave monk, like Fabius with Hannibal,
Against internal faction, and the cannibal
Inhuman foe, that threatened from without,
Stood firmly, with a self-sufficing mind,
Impregnable to rumour, fear, or doubt,
Determined that the casual, idle, blind
Event of battle with that barbarous rout,
Flushed with success and garbage, should not bind
Their future destinies, or fix the seal
Of ruin on the claustral commonweal.
He checked the rash, the boisterous, and the proud,
By speech and action, manly but discreet;
During the siege he never once allowed
Of chapters, or convoked the monks to meet,
Dreading the consultations of a crowd,
Historic parallels we sometimes meet —
I think I could contrive one — if you please,
I shall compare our monk to Pericles.
In former times, amongst the Athenians bold,
This Pericles was placed in high command,
Heading their troops (as statesmen used of old),
In all their wars and fights by sea and land;
221 Besides, in Langhorne’s Plutarch we are told
How many fine ingenious things he planned;
For Phidias was an architect and builder,
Jeweller and engraver, carver, gilder;
But altogether quite expert and clever;
Pericles took him up and stood his friend,
Persuading these Athenians to endeavour
To raise a work to last to the world’s end,
By means of which their fame should last for ever;
Likewise an image (which, you comprehend,
They meant to pray to, for the country’s good);
They had before an old one made of wood,
But being partly rotten and decayed,
They wished to have a new one spick and span,
So Pericles advised it should be made
According to this Phidias’s plan,
Of ivory, with gold all overlaid,
Of the height of twenty cubits and a span,
Making eleven years of English measure,
All to be paid for from the public treasure.
So Phidias’s talents were requited
With talents that were spent upon the work,
And everybody busied and delighted,
Building a temple — this was their next quirk —
Lest it should think itself ill-used and slighted.
This temple now belongs to the Grand Turk,
The finest in the world allowed to be,
That people go five hundred miles to see.
Its ancient carvings are safe here at home,
Brought round by shipping from as far as Greece,
Finer, they say, than all the things at Rome;
But here you need not pay a penny-piece;
But curious people, if they like to come,
May look at them as often as they please —
I’ve left my subject, but I was not sorry
To mentions things that raise the country’s glory.
Well, Pericles made everything complete,
Their town, their harbour, and their city wall;
When their allies rebelled, he made them treat
And pay for peace, and taxed and fined them all,
By which means Pericles maintained a fleet,
And kept three hundred galleys at his call:
Pericles was a man for everything:
Pericles was a kind of petty king.
It happened Sparta was another State;
They thought themselves as good; they could not bear
To see the Athenians grown so proud and great,
Ruling and domineering everywhere,
And so resolved, before it grew too late,
To fight it out and settle the affair;
Then, being quite determined to proceed,
They mustered an amazing force indeed;
And (after praying to their idol Mars)
Marched on, with all the allies that chose to join,
As was the practice in old heathen wars,
Destroying all the fruit trees, every vine,
223 And smashing and demolishing the jars
In which those classic ancients kept their wine;
The Athenians ran within the city wall
To save themselves, their children, wives, and all.
Then Pericles (whom they compared to Jove,
As being apt to storm and play the deuce),
Kept quiet, and forbad the troops to move,
Because a battle was no kind of use;
The more they mutinied, the more he strove
To keep them safe in spite of their abuse,
For while the arms were ransacked round the town,
This was the people’s language up and down:
“’Tis better to die once than live to see
Such an abomination, such a waste.”
“No! no!” says Pericles, “that must not be,
You’re too much in a hurry, too much haste —
Learned Athenians, leave the thing to me;
You think of being bullied and disgraced;
Don’t think of that, nor answer their defiance;
We’ll gain the day by our superior science.”
Pericles led the people as he pleased,
But in most cases something is forgot:
What with the crowd and heat they grew diseased,
And died in heaps like wethers with the rot;
And, at the last, the same distemper seized
Poor Pericles himself, he went to pot.
It answered badly; therefore I admire
So much more the conduct of the friar.
For in the garrison where he presided
Neither distress, nor famine, nor disease
Were felt, nor accident nor harm betided
The happy monks; but plenteous, and with ease,
All needful monkish viands were provided;
Bacon and pickled-herring, pork and peas;
And when the table-beer began to fail,
They found resources in the bottled ale.
Dinner and supper kept their usual hours;
Breakfast and luncheon were never delayed,
While to the sentries on the walls and towers
Between two plates hot messes were conveyed.
At the departure of the invading powers,
It was a boast the noble abbot made,
None of his monks were weaker, paler, thinner,
Or, during the siege, had lost a dinner.
This was the common course of their hostility;
The giant forces being foiled at first,
Had felt the manifest impossibility
Of carrying things before them at a burst,
But still, without a prospect of utility,
At stated hours they pelted, howled, and cursed;
And sometimes at the peril of their pates,
Would bang with clubs and maces at the gates.
Them the brave monkish legions, unappalled,
With stones that served before to pave the court
(Heaped and prepared at hand), repelled and mauled,
Without an effort, smiling as in sport,
225 With many a broken head, and many a scald
From stones and molten lead and boiling wort;
Thus little Pillicock was left for dead,
And old Loblolly forced to keep his bed.
The giant troops invariably withdrew
(Like mobs in Naples, Portugal, and Spain),
To dine at twelve o’clock, and sleep till two,
And afterwards (except in case of rain),
Returned to clamour, hoot, and pelt anew.
The scene was everyday the same again;
Thus the blockade grew tedious: I intended
A week ago, myself, to raise and end it.
One morn the drowsy sentry rubbed his eyes,
Foiled by the scanty, baffling, early light;
It seemed a figure of inferior size
Was traversing the giants’ camp outright;
And soon a monkish form they recognize,
And now their brother Martin stands in sight,
That on the morning of alarm and fear
Had rambled out to see the salmon-weir;
Passing the ford, the giants’ first attack
Left brother Martin’s station in their rear,
And thus prevented him from falling back
But during all the siege he watched them near,
Saw them returning by their former track
The night before, and found the camp was clear;
And so returned in safety with delight
And rapture, and a ravenous appetite.
“Well! welcome, welcome, brother! brother Martin!
Why Martin! we could scarce believe our eyes:
Ah, brother! strange events here since our parting —”
And Martin dined (dispensing brief replies
To all the questions that the monks were starting,
Betwixt his mouthfuls), while each friar vies
In filling, helping, carving, questioning;
So Martin dined in public like a king.
And now the gates are opened, and the throng
Forth issuing, the deserted camp survey;
“Here Murdomack, and Mangonell the strong,
And Gorboduc were lodged,” and “here,” they say,
“This pigsty to Poldavy did belong;
Here Brindleback, and here Phagander lay.”
They view the deep indentures, broad and round,
Which mark their posture squatting on the ground.
Then to the traces of gigantic feet,
Huge, wide apart, with half a dozen toes;
They track them on, till they converge and meet
(An earnest and assurance of repose),
Close at the ford; the cause of this retreat
They all conjecture, but no creature knows;
It was ascribed to causes multifarious,
To saints, as Jerome, George, and Januarius.
To their own pious founder’s intercession,
To Ave-Maries, and our Lady’s Psalter;
To news that Friar John was in possession,
To new wax candles placed upon the altar,
227 To their own prudence, valour, and discretion;
To reliques, rosaries, and holy water;
To beads and psalms, and feats of arms — in short,
There was no end of their accounting for’t.
But though they could not, you, perhaps, may guess;
They went, in short, upon their last adventure:
After the ladies — neither more nor less —
Our story revolves upon its centre,
And I’m rejoiced myself, I must confess,
To find it tally like an old indenture;
They drove off mules and horses half a score,
The same that you saw roasted heretofore.
Our giants’ memoirs still remain on hand,
For all my notions, being genuine gold,
Beat out beneath the hammer and expand,
And multiply themselves a thousandfold
Beyond the first idea that I planned;
Besides — this present copy must be sold:
Besides — I promised Murray t’other day,
To let him have it by the tenth of May.