Images de page
PDF
ePub

A LONG STORY'.

IN Britain's isle, no matter where,
An ancient pile of building stands2 :
The Huntingdons and Hattons there
Employ'd the power of fairy hands
To raise the ceilings' fretted height,

Each pannel in achievements clothing,
Rich windows that exclude the light,
And passages, that lead to nothing.
Full oft within the spacious walls,

When he had fifty winters o'er him,
My grave Lord Keeper led the brawls3;
The seals and maces danced before him.

1 Mr. Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard, before it appeared in print, was handed about in manuscript; and amongst other eminent personages who saw and admired it, was the Lady Cobham, who resided at the Mansion House of Stoke Pogeis. The performance induced her to wish for the author's acquaintance; and Lady Schaub and Miss Speed, then at her house, undertook to effect it. These two ladies waited upon the author at his aunt's solitary mansion, where he at that time resided ; and not finding him at home, they left their names and a billet. Mr. Gray, surprised at such a compliment, returned the visit. And as the beginning of this acquaintance wore a little of the face of romance, he soon after gave a fanciful and pleasant account of it in the following copy of verses, which he entitled, 'A Long Story.'

2 The Mansion House, at Stoke Pogeis, then in the possession of Viscountess Cobham. The house formerly belonged to the Earls of Huntingdon, and the family of Hatton.

3 Sir Christopher Hatton, promoted by Queen Elizabeth for his graceful person and fine dancing.-Brawls were a sort of figure dance, then in vogue.

His bushy beard, and shoe stringsgreen,

His high crown'd hat, and satin doublet, Moved the stout heart of England's Queen, Though Pope and Spaniard could not trou

ble it.

What, in the very first beginning !

Shame of the versifying tribe!
Your history whither are you spinning?

Can you do nothing but describe?
A house there is (and that's enough)

From whence one fatal morning issues A brace of warriors, not in buff,

But rustling in their silks and tissues. The first came cap-a-pee

from France, Her conquering destiny fulfilling, Whom meaner beauties eye askance,

And vainly ape her art of killing. The other Amazon kind Heaven

Had arm’d with spirit, wit, and satire: But Cobham had the polish given,

And tipp'd her arrows with good nature. To celebrate her

eyes,

her airCoarse panegyrics would but tease her, Melissa is her Nom de Guerre.

Alas, who would not wish to please her! With bonnet blue and capuchine,

And aprons long, they hid their armour; And veil'd their weapons, bright and keen,

In pity to the country farmer,

Fame, in the shape of Mr. P-t*

(By this time all the parish know it), Had told that thereabouts there lurk’d

A wicked imp, they call a Poet: Who prowl'd the country far and near,

Bewitch'd the children of the peasants, Dried up

the cows, and lamed the deer, And suck'd the eggs, and kill'd the pheasants. My Lady heard their joint petition,

Swore by her coronet and ermine, She'd issue out her high commission

To rid the manor of such vermiti. The Heroines undertook the task, [tured,

Through lanes unknown, o'er stiles they venRapp'd at the door, nor stay'd to ask,

But bounce into the parlour enter'd. The trembling family they daunt,

They flirt, they sing, they laugh, they tattle, Rummage his Mother, pinch his Aunt,

And upstairs in a whirlwind rattle: Each hole and cupboard they explore,

Each creek and cranny of his chamber; Run hurry-skurry round the floor,

And o'er the bed and tester clamber; Into the drawers and china pry,

Papers and books, a huge imbroglio! Under a tea-cup he might lie,

Or creased, like dogs-ears, in a folio. 4 The allusion here is to Mr. Robert Purt, a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge; who died of the smallpox, April, 1752, soon after the publication of the Poem. He was a neighbour of Mr. Gray's, when the latter resided at Stoke.

G

On the first marching of the troops,

The Muses, hopeless of his pardon,
Conveyd him underneath their hoops

To a small closet in the garden.
So Rumour says: (who will, believe?)

But that they left the door ajar,
Where, safe and laughing in his sleeve,

He heard the distant din of war. Short was his joy. He little knew The

power of magic was no fable; Out of the window, whisk, they flew,

But left a spell upon the table. The words too eager to unriddle,

The Poet felt a strange disorder ; Transparent birdlime form’d the middle,

And chains invisible the border. So cunning was the apparatus,

The powerful pothooks did so move him, That, will he, nill he, to the Great House

He went, as if the Devil drove him. Yet on his way (no sign of grace,

For folks in fear are apt to pray) To Phoebus he preferr'd his case,

And begg’d his aid that dreadful day. The Godhead would have back'd his quarrel;

But with a blush, on recollection, Own’d that his quiver and his laurel

'Gainst four such eyes were no protection. The Court was sat, the Culprit there,

Forth from their gloomy mansions creeping The Lady Janes and Joans repair,

And from the gallery stand peeping:

Such as in silence of the night

Come (sweep) along some winding entry, (Styacks has often seen the sight)

Or at the chapel door stand sentry:
In peaked hoods and mantles tarnish’d,

Sour visages, enough to scare ye,
High dames of honour once, that garnish'd

The drawingroom of fierce Queen Mary.
The Peeress comes.

The audience stare, And doff their hats with due submission : She courtesies, as she takes the chair,

To all the people of condition. The Bard, with many an artful fib,

Had in imagination fenced him, Disproved the arguments of Squib,

And all that Groom? could urge against him. But soon his rhetoric forsook him,

When he the solemn hall had seen; A sudden fit of ague shook him,

He stood as mute as poor Macleane 8. Yet something he was heard to mutter,

• How in the park beneath an old tree (Without design to hurt the butter,

Or any malice to the poultry), He once or twice had penn'd a sonnet;

Yet hoped that he might save his bacon: Numbers would give their oaths upon it, He ne'er was for a conjurer taken.'

5 The Housekeeper. 6 The Steward.

7 Groom of the Chamber. A famous bighwayman banged the week before.

8

« PrécédentContinuer »