Midsummer Idylls. Canto I.
It was the time of year when cockneys fly
From town to country, and from there to town.
I am not sure, but think it was July;
I would not swear it was, nor bet a crown,
When, as I told you, cockneys hurry down
In two hours' railway journey far away,
And rush to places of immense renown,
Bright with the thoughts of coming holiday,
Full well determined to enjoy it while they may.
They were the days when all who care to wander
O'er the rude mountain or the fertile plain,
Must snatch the chance, and rush here, there and yonder,
And pack their baggage off by early train,
To rest the busy over-anxious brain,
And take to interests altogether new.
Some tear to Italy, and some to Spain,
For beneficial air and change of view;
What everybody does that I must also do.
The sun was scorching, and the streets were dusty,--
Suburban roadways generally are,--
And everything seemed disagreeably "fusty,"
Merely because there was no watering car.
It was the weather when we feel at war
With all around and everyone we meet;
Old dames complained of aches unknown before,
Unused to battle with such dreadful heat,
Such truly fearful spasms, and such blistered feet.
The 'buses went by clockwork by the appearance;
Th' exalted driver, usually so deft,
Resented, in his doze, the interference
Of any one poor fellow-suff'rer left;
Of all his strength and energy bereft,
The weary horse dragged listlessly along,
And there appeared to be no effort left
In the sleepy trilling of the songster's song,
Which to the small suburban gardens did belong.
Now the slow music of the organ-grinder
Smites the ear feebly at the noon of day,
He doffs his hat, as if for a reminder,
To those who wish him far enough away;
And noisy babes at variance and play
Join in the jangle of the grocery vendor,
And butcher boys have lots and lots to say
To fair domestics, who their hearts surrender
To, if not a butcher boy, a kettle mender.
But more especially I would direct
Your kind attention, reader, to a square
In that locality, tho' more select,
So thither now together we'll repair.
A bold and lofty tenement stands there
With flight of steps and massive portico,
Where dwelt three daughters infinitely fair;
Their age of course I'm not supposed to know,
'Twas very rude I own to raise the question so.
But as you all seem anxious to discover
Their years, their fortune, and the gods know what;
To hear if each or all had found a lover,
If one engaged or if they all were not,
How many aunts and uncles they had got,
Their nic-nacs of domestic life beside,
Your indignation would be somewhat hot
If th' information were to be denied,
And since you'll have it so, the truth I will not hide.
You know most ladies have some slight objection,
Some strange objection which they always raise,
And arm themselves as if for the protection
Of the sweet sanctum of their earlier days,
Toward those who flatteringly speak their praise
And ask in special confidence their years,
Who pass the time in fifty pleasant ways
And designate them "charms" and "pretty dears,"
Beset with all those unimaginable fears!
Of course none of my heroines were wed;
The eldest--fancy--only twenty-two!
At least so all the neighbours' gossip said,
And they, of course, were all who really knew;
Of medium height, and lovely spinsters too,
Charmingly gentle as they well could be,
With accomplishments and graces not a few,
As generous as one could wish to see,
The very pictures of sweet joviality.
A dozen uncles and as many aunts
Were the idols of their precious little eyes;
And it was whispered that there was a chance
With Fate auspicious, of a great surprise
At some approaching day; 'tis never wise
To form conjectures or to fret and worry,
To count your gains before Aunt Some-one dies,
E'en though possessed of half the land in Surrey,
Or draw your own conclusions in too great a hurry.
All information, as perchance, you know,
Is second hand; I write as folks dictate;
A Mrs. B. tells Mr. So-and-So
Th' extent of some-one's personal estate;
He in his turn the same again will prate;
A Mr. C. has struck his little wife
Is the last movement worthy to relate,
'Tis now affirmed he took away her life,
In the next terrace where th' appalling tale is rife.
'Tis sometimes so, for other people's business
Wise men and women oft forsake their own,
Which may perhaps account for their remissness,
A tittle-tattle's never seen alone;
And by the time the idle tale has flown
From mouth to mouth, the truth in some disguise,
A trifling circumstance we find has grown
A crime of most unpardonable size,
And thunder-struck believers stare in mute surprise.
But, sad to say, our friends were looking pale,
Our female friends, at least, I mean to say,
We will not try to penetrate the veil
Which hides domestic mystery away;
It was not often that they looked that way.
Perhaps the atmosphere of such a place
As the metropolis on such a day
Had made them faint, as often is the case:
The cause in feminines is often hard to trace.
But still, methinks, it was the want of change
That blanched the buxom beauty of their cheeks,
The want of some secluded, pleasant grange
Away from town, for twelve or thirteen weeks,
The hilarity of right down country freaks
And rambles in the meadows bright and green,
Such as the "pater" usually seeks,
With charming walks and panoramic scene
And velvet-like ascents with verdant vales between.
'Twas evident the fair ones thought so too,
As they suggested to their fond mamma
A short peregrination, something new,
A rush to country and to town ta-ta,
For benefits obtained but from afar;
So 'twas arranged, when they could choose the hour,
To make a fourfold pounce upon papa,
And use the utmost of persuasive "flour,"
For all such daughters have this undefinéd power.
'Twould be as well perhaps to mention here
A fact you all no doubt are sure to know,
'Tis necessary oftentimes to steer
Clear of surrounding difficulties, so
When an especial object lies below
The precision of your kindness and attention,
Snatch the right time (a glance may serve to show
If in a mood for jesting or dissension,
Domestic trials are too numerous to mention).
It may be p'raps a trifling mauvaise humeur,
Papa may worry o'er his own affairs,
Or it, perchance, may be a downright "fumer,"
And judging from the countenance he wears
He may be vexed with sundry business cares,
A something he would not communicate,
In which the happy household never shares,
It is not wise it should, at any rate;
At least till matters have regained their even state.
The morn which followed this determination
Was just such as our damsels did desire,
Now all the world was out for its vacation,
In truth no opportunity was nigher;
All seemed to rise with spirits somewhat higher
Which were at most times jocular and gay,
And all agreed that they should seize their sire
A time befitting on that self-same day,
To coax him gently round to let them have their way.
Paterfamilias, in his morning gown
And wool-knit slippers, comfortable and pretty,
To the radiant breakfast table trotted down,
Inclined to have some frolic and be witty
(As frolicsome as any in the City)
And chaff his daughters in his usual style;
Minutiæ omitted in this ditty,
For to relate 'twould not be worth the while,
I therefore must, my reader, meet you with denial.
The window,--French they called it, I'm not sure
If such in France are often to be seen,
Not quite a window, but more like a door,
'Twould do for both, whichever one they mean,--
Opened upon a lawn of smiling green,
Which, with a modest rockery behind,
Displayed, in fact, a most enchanting scene
To those who were at all that way inclined,
With such artistic taste was it indeed designed.
Then with the arbour's rustic-like assistance,
And nimble Cupid with his bow close by,
The various colours melting in the distance
Lent quite a pleasing aspect to the eye,
And perhaps produced the very faintest sigh
For such-like beauties on a larger scale,
Where sweeping meadows meet the azure sky,
And florid milk-maids bear their bounteous pail,
And breezes waft the sound of winnow and of flail.
'Twas here papa did often love to wander,
First in the shade, now in the pleasant sun,
And peep at this and that, and hurry yonder,
To see some potting properly begun;
He strolled to-day, a regular Big Gun,
Around the precincts of his bright domain,
His egg and toast dispatched. (Forgive the pun,
I promise I won't do the same again;
Frivolities like these oft run across the grain.)
Recovered? Yes?--So glad! Three daughters knitting,
Like three white butterflies upon the breeze
With evidently some design, came skipping
Round by the arbour in amongst the trees,
And if the truth were really known, to seize
Their innocent papa just thereabout;
'Tis wonderful how daughters coax and tease
At such auspicious times; I have no doubt
They stroked his handsome whiskers with a pretty pout.
(No. 1 Daughter.) "Papa dear, don't you find the heat oppressive?
So thoroughly enjoyable you say,
I really think it's something quite excessive,
Much worse, in fact, than it was yesterday;
It quite upsets me;--no, I'm not in play,
Indeed I've been quite indisposed of late,
And vexed with ailments many and many a day,
With troublesome ennui and mal-à-tête,
The Doctor thinks my nerves are in a wretched state!"
(No. 2 Daughter.) "Indeed 'tis so my dearest dear Papa,
We one and all seem quite to be upset,
'Tis hotter than last summer was by far,
At least so everybody says, but yet
Much hotter than last June it could not be,
And that's what I think, what do you think, pet?
To sit indoors 'tis like a nunnery,
With nought to do but tamely sit and knit,
In fact I never liked such quietness a bit!"
(No. 3 Daughter.) "'Tis my impression that we ought to go
Away from home, as other people do,
The Doctor recommends a change and so
Just think how very nice 'twould be for you;
I'm sure you must be wanting something new,
Away from dusty ledgers, old and brown,
You seem quite tired out sometimes--'tis true,
You really ought to go away from town,
To Hastings or to Deal, and we could all come down.
"Then let us go, Papa dear, I am sure
Such bright enjoyment you can ne'er forbid:
Now say so darling, is it not so? for
You would be very wicked if you did:
'Twould do you good besides in getting rid
Of horrid London and incessant noise."
Here to her father's side his daughter glid,
And kissed his cheek (what girls like from the boys)
Just as a baby loves to fondle all its toys.
Papa looked grave but didn't say he couldn't
Or put it off until another year,
But simply said he saw not why they shouldn't,
Then seemed a little pleased at the idea;
And to his fav'rite girl said, "Well, my dear,
We will discuss this subject at our leisure,
I'll see if any hindrances appear,
I have at present an unusual pressure
Of business to attend to: duty first, then pleasure."
They kissed him fondly, all of them, and flew
Straightway indoors to talk the matter o'er,
They all were anxious Ma should know it too,
And met that worthy matron at the door
Who liked the thought of merriment in store,
And reveled in it just as much as they,
For things a very pleasant aspect bore
While all were thinking of the happy day,
Talking of all their wants e'er they should start away.
And now of course there was incessant chat
Concerning what to take and where to go,
To see if this arrangement suited that,
Or that arrangement suited so and so;
'Twas well to balance matters thus you know
And settle all before the time arrived,
To milliners and hairdressers to go,
To purchase and have ostrich-plumes revived,
Of ornaments like these they could not be deprived.
There was, there naturally would be too
In such a case as this, a long debate;
One said that Yarmouth was the place, she knew;
Another said it was by far too late;
And someone else suggested Harrogate;
Another sneered at such a daft suggestion,
For that above all places she did hate
And Torquay was the best there was no question:
But listeners evidently wanted good digestion.
"And," quoth the eldest, "there's Llandudno also."
"Why," quoth another, "have you got no sense?"
Mamma, requesting that they shouldn't bawl so,
Pronounced this far too utterly intense.
The eldest charm continued in defence,
Bespoke the Gulf Stream and the balmy air;
Whereon the mater, taking great offence,
Declared she wouldn't think of going there--
She'd sooner go to Seven Dials, or anywhere.
After which outburst, sweeping through the door,
A flood of tears gushed freely from her eyes,
And, stretched upon the canapé, she swore
That she was far too indisposed to rise,
Though afterwards she did, with many sighs--
A smelling-bottle and some small assistance;
Grieved that her daughter to her very eyes
Should offer her such resolute resistance.
From then she essayed to keep the subject at a distance.
However, after some few days had passed,
With their disputes and matters of vexation,
They came to something definite at last
Without much further tedious altercation;
When each one deemed it her own commendation
That set the point so thoroughly at rest,
And each had come to the determination
The course she had adopted was the best;
A course, perhaps, my reader never would have guessed.
Ah! would you like to hear? then I will tell.
They had arranged to take a country seat;
Perhaps the choice was happy--very well,
They chose a pretty house and farm complete,
Such as where solitude and pleasure meet,
With everything that comfort could devise,
A smiling garden, sweetly gay and neat,
Old-fashioned, though of most convenient size;
For such as this precisely did they advertise.
They did not call it as folks love to do,
In bustling centres of incessant trade,
And leafless acres, though perhaps a few
Pet dandelions blossom in the shade
Where other vegetation will all fade,
And parch to yellow in the smoky court,
Where a solitary sunbeam might have strayed,
And all the gloomy atmosphere is fraught
With all that's dank and filthy of the human sort.
In towns of more than ordinary size
Retreats suburban please the public eye;
But occupants their villa homes disguise
And strive to imitate the great and high
By striking names and such-like mimicry;
They choose them mainly for a good address,
We see it as we pass the villa by,
And with a smile we mark its rottenness.
This evil's very prevalent you must confess.
Such homes are now designed for outward show,
No matter what their quality may be,
And many would much rather have it so
Preferring to all else the quantity;
But everyone most certainly is free
To do as he or she considers best,
Of course it never has affected me,
Yet hollow show I really do detest;
But 'tis a theme of no immediate interest.
It is so fashionable now-a-days
To give one's dwelling some fantastic name
To recommend it to the stranger's gaze,
Or afford it an imaginary claim
To more gentility than others; 'tis the same
In the metropolis, for folks arrange
(Flighty mammas, perhaps, are more to blame)
To call their homes "The Beeches" or "The Grange,"
For probably they think 'twill be a little change.
I don't condemn such names upon the gates
Of princely piles of luxury and ease,
Where the powdered footman silently awaits
My lord's commands and wishes, till he sees
What he can do to magnify or please;
Who sternly checks the smile that he would hide,
And reverently bows with straightened knees
When perhaps his lord is pleased to coincide,
And waits for the dismissal from his master's side.
Where stately griffins guard by day and night
The pillared pomp of birth and fortune, whence
Reel peals of laughter, where the gasp for might
Palls on the throne of vast magnificence;
Where halls superbly mirrored, every sense,
And every wish, all hope, each separate sigh,
With endless epicurean intents,
Are planned to please, are reared to gratify,
While balmy perfumes float o'er th' marble masonry.
But pardon the allusion; I intended
Merely to mention what is but too true.
I really hope I may not have offended
Any, in short--particularly you,
Submissive reader, to whom thanks are due
For having borne with my caprice so long,
And your forbearance, I hope, you will renew
Until the utmost limit of my song;
I'll do my best to entertain you all along.
The house of which I spoke to you before
Was Elleston Farm, nursed in a lovely vale,
Within the music of the shingly shore,
And close above full many a snowy sail,
On the blue wave, the wand'rer's eye would hail,
And the cool breeze from off the glist'ring sea,
Would bring soft reminiscence in its trail
Of scenes long past, of childhood's jollity,
And many a soaking ramble on a holiday.
I must describe. It was a mansion old;
Across its walls each black yet mossy beam
Gave it the look of years and years untold;
In style it did Elizabethan seem,
And, with its jutting windows, we should deem
It to have been a comf'table repose,
Such as, with th' ruddy sunlight's western gleam
Upon the small-paned casement, and the rose
Above the portal, would dispel all worldly woes.
The chestnut team, the mill pond and the quack
Of ducklings discontented with their lot,
The grunt of pigs itin'rant, and the stack--
All lent a happy charm to such a spot;
There might be seen upon the labourer's cot
The blooming jess'mine loading all the air
With fragrant perfume; and the garden plot
Of many colours, grateful for the care
Bestowed upon it, of delight gave its full share.
The meadows, bright with buttercups and hues
Of ev'ry shade, before the pleasèd eye
Rolled their ripe richness, and the sweeping views,
Such as in Eastern England sweetly lie,
Smiled far away in vast variety,
Tinged with the orange of the sinking sun,
Until the distance melted into sky.
Such scenes are sweet when even has begun,
And rooks are idly cawing, and the day is done.
O God, teach us to feel what joys are these!
How dear these pleasures momently renewed!
Teach us to humbly fall upon our knees
In speechless praise, in silent gratitude;
These are the hours, O Lord of Solitude,
When hearts in love must upward turn to Thee,
With every comfort, every charm imbued,
And all that's peaceful; when tranquillity
Steals softly o'er the bosom and lulls its rolling sea.
Such scenes are dear, for they have pow'r to allay
Fears of the fearful, troubles of the tried,
To smooth each anxious pain, all griefs, away,
That ceaseless in the human heart abide,
Have power to soothe, to cast cold care aside;
Bid cords of Hope inanimate vibrate,
Th' insatiate longings of the soul subside,
And curb the stormy passions of the great,
Make earth a heaven, and holiness preponderate.
What is Ambition? what is Pride? and this
That boils the blood and parches all the frame;
That stirs the breast to ecstasies? What bliss,
What bursts of glory in a mighty Name!
But what of these! to me 'tis all the same
Whether a humble cottage or a throne.
What, what to me is Glory? what is Fame?
Give me the woods and let me be alone;
I want no marble bust, I ask no graven stone!
I err,--but pardon me, I am a fool,
Like some few others that I used to know;
The truth is, I was taught to be at school,
So Precept and Example tend to show.
But never mind, I deem it quite below
The faintest notice of a rusty pen;
'Twill tell my readers what respect I owe,
How very much I thought of people then,
Who should have been exhibited in a cattle-pen.
I wish them well, of course, but must proceed.
The cook was really to be left behind,
Which doubtless she thought very nice indeed.
She was a cook so jolly, yet refined,
Wore bright kid gloves (the colour undefined),
And finery of every sort and hue
(I couldn't tell you if I had a mind),
Like wealthy folks, as servants always do;
And terrible mistakes sometimes embarrass you.
The morn was brilliant and the packing done,
And all were in the very liveliest mood,
Although, of course, there was no time for fun,
And jokes were too untimely to be good.
The first cabdriver must have been endued
With strength, for this occasion, from above
He was so mighty, and his attitude
Betokened he was instantly in love
With cooky, smiling on her, charming little dove!
He quite forgot (although perhaps you doubt it),
With love for cook, what he'd to sup'rintend;
They had two cabs, that's all I know about it,
And, Gracious knows, their luggage had no end.
And everybody thought they did intend
To find th' remotest corner of the earth,
Wherever that was. I can't comprehend
Who in the dickens gave such stories birth,
Still of frivolities like these there is no dearth.
Then servants, two, Pa, Ma, and daughters three,
All drove in madcap hurry to the station,
In fact, they might have tittered "Seven are we"
Had they remembered the superb quotation;
But Julia (housemaid) made some lamentation
About some best back hair she'd left behind,
But all was done to soothe her perturbation
Till she became more quietly inclined;
This nat'rally destroyed her usual peace of mind.
* * * * *
They had arrived, and all was, out and in,
Superlatively pleasant to behold;
The views themselves were highly int'resting,
As well as all the creatures of the fold
With which they all were pleased, so I am told,
Which was a comfort for their cherished pater,
Who was just then quite worth his weight in gold,
His bed-room full of bank notes; from these data
I must defer the calculations until later.
They laughed and chatted and explored the house,
With its dark oaken gallery, and flight
Of massy polished stairs, and saw a mouse,
P'raps three or four appalled their wond'ring sight;
But each new comfort gave them fresh delight,
And as they peeped through each dark-curtained door
All seemed so perfectly compact and bright,
Indeed they seemed to like it more and more,
For they had never entered such a house before.
The furniture was heavy in its kind,
And all the drap'ry was of sombre shade,
Evidently in days long past designed,
And diamond casements, I before have said,
Looked on a lawn, in richest green arrayed,
And lands beyond unto the distance blue
Where king-cups blossom'd in the silent glade,
And all the flow'rets of the forest grew,
And pearly streams were tinged with their reflected hue.
Upstairs the rooms were hung with glacé chintz
(So like the good old farm-house of past days),
Which gave them a variety of tints,
And pleased at once the weary stranger's gaze;
The doors themselves were covered with green baize
Hidden with crimson curtains, and each bed
Was draped in style that claimed the greatest praise
In charming sky-blue intermixed with red,
With pockets of unique design above the head.
They fed the pigs with biscuits, and the fowls
Were soon quite reconciled to their new friends,
And the great shepherd-dog's uncivil growls
Had quite subsided and, instead, he sends
His kind regards for various means and ends;
And I expect, if th' real truth were known,
He had an appetite, which always tends
To make uncouth pups civil for a bone;
To use civility in this way some are prone.
Sometimes, like others do, they drove about
With a recherché little chaise and pair,
And they enjoyed a pic-nic oft no doubt
In pretty spots now here and sometimes there;
And we all know the fingers of the fair
Arrange these matters sweetly, for they suit
Matters requiring delicacy and care,
The choice of flowers, the arrangement of the fruit,
And digging ferns up without injuring the root.
They loved to play at croquet on the lawn,
Adventurously rove a league away,
Or bend their steps upon the summer morn
(A mile it was, I fancy), to the bay,
Taking a biscuit-luncheon on the way.
To wander o'er the shining, yellow sands,
Quiet and lone, and watch the snowy spray;
And take the curious seaweeds in their hands,
Then homeward turn obedient to Papa's commands.
Yes, those were jolly days; and now the fields
With happy haymakers were scattered o'er,
And Papa went to know their different yields
Through quite a hundred acres, if not more,
Not less, at any rate, I am quite sure;
And all his daughters had some first-rate fun
(They always had some merriment in store)
For haymaking to learn they had begun,
And often had a romp beneath the baking sun.
In fact it gave them something nice to do,
Moreover 'twas a fav'rite occupation,
And that chanced very fortunately too;
Meanwhile they liked some light confabulation,
Making arrangements for their bright vacation,
And plans far too entangled, I'm afraid,
To enumerate in this uncouth narration,
For if upon such topics here I strayed,
'Twould take from now till doomsday, so it's best unsaid.
They'd had a call or two from neighbours near
Whose company was jovial as could be;
So their Mamma first started the idea
That they should ask three gentlemen to tea
Out in the hayfield, where they would be free,
To help in tossing o'er the scented hay;
Then all assemble underneath the tree,
And chatter anything they'd like to say,
While Julia handed round refreshment on a tray.
All was decided, and a note was sent,
Penned with Mamma's gold pen and sealed with care,
And Julia brought a note to the intent
That they would be most happy to be there;
And whereon everybody did declare
They were the nicest folks beneath the sun,
And Julia did most naturally stare
To hear the happy thing that they had done,
And longed to see arrangements instantly begun.
The daughters three received exact directions
How to do all things and go everywhere:
Concerning all their musical selections
And all about the "skirts" they had to wear,
How they should dress and e'en adorn their hair,
What rings to show, whether diamond or not;
Injunctions to observe the greatest care
In choice of stockings, and I don't know what.
(They were to be like fairies in Calypso's grot.)
Of daughters all they were the most adored
I honestly believe. Mamma impressed
The fact upon them that a certain Lord
Was of her family, tho' dispossessed
Of all he had: of course you know the rest,
He had been acting very ill, you see.
But they should make acquaintance with the best,
For think what claims they had of pedigree!
(Misfortune always lends a grace to dignity.)
They were to see the maid decant the wines,
They were to give the gentlemen their dues,
They were to be distinguées to the nines,
They were, in short, to mind their p's and q's.
Their darling mother never would excuse
A breach of etiquette, however small,
'Twere better far, if e'en they fail'd t' amuse,
To do the honours well or not at all,
No matter when or where, at any festival.
In fact, 'twas this my reader, as you see,
For one high-born like her all must be right;
For she was of the aristocracy
And therefore quite expected to her sight
None would present himself, unless the height
Of spotless honour and of gentle birth,
In fewer words--and everything polite.
She was of more than ordinary worth,
One of the noblest from Thanet's Isle to Solway Firth.
But she had seen her fifty years of life,
So her young days for ever had swept by,
And back to days e'er she became a wife
She looked and for them breathed a lingering sigh,
(As women often do upon the sly.)
To tell the truth, my reader, I don't blame 'em
For thinking hardly of the marriage tie,
Most men's delight is not to love but tame 'em,
I know a score but 'twouldn't do to name 'em.
No doubt she'd danced with all the proud and high
And revelled in the pomp of this vain earth,
Enjoyed that mimic farce--Society,
Entitled by significance of birth,
But what of this! Society's not mirth,
It has its fairer and its darker side,
The one is worth, the other--want of worth,
What are the hollow luxuries of Pride?
Oh gaze not on the gloom its dazzling tinsels hide!
How nice it is to dash about in style
With prancing steeds thro' all the whirling west
Of mighty London, under Fashion's smile,
(Tho' redundant pleasures even can molest)
And feel one's happy self supremely blest,
And bowed to by a "humble flunkey flat,"
With endless formal courtesies oppressed;
To flirt with Baron this or Lady that,
And mix with all the great, the honoured of the state.
Roll to the theatre, too. Upon the board
Gaze on the actor--paralyzed and dumb,
Till, like one man, ten thousand hands applaud,
From the palpitating auditorium.
See from the boxes all the purses come!
How riveted admirers pause aghast!
Hear the excitement in the stifled hum!
And see the tears of each enthusiast!
Look! ere the actor has before the curtain passed.
Turn on the lights! Let the besweated crowds
Shriek as the music swells, now high, now low
For all to-morrow slumber in their shrouds
Who drained excitement's cup an hour ago!
Watch flitting beauty, nymph-like, come and go,
Fan the scorched cheek and quaff the bright champagne,
Around the circles see the diamond-glow,
Revel in laughter, think no more of pain!
See! see! the blind ascends and all begins again!
Put up the opera-glass and scan the stage,
On crimson piles luxuriantly recline,
And see the premature decay of age
Transformed to youth, a lovely columbine!
While th' gorgeous tapestries of rare design
In rich profusion hang in heavy fold;
See every pantomimic splendour shine
Like glist'ring starlight, opal, pearl, and gold,
Mirrors reflecting mirrors, countless and untold!
But some folks always spend the night in gaming,
Or very nearly so, at any rate,
And other vices hardly worth the naming
(But we, of course, are not immaculate),
Then think of rising very, very late
After a night's debauch and dissipation
And rolling homewards with unsteady gait
(Perhaps 'twas after the red-hot gyration
Of the previous evening). Ours is a sad nation!
The breakfast lies untasted, for the tea
Is not the nectar-like concoction (such
As accompanies the dice and play-room) we
Are very fond of (for we take too much),
And therefore home supplies we cannot touch;
In all and everything we are undone,
Lips parch, head whirls, was never such
A wretched plight; indeed we're not A 1.
We think we have remaining money but have none.
But 'tis too bad I know;--again I've erred
And deviated sadly from my tale;
I'm sorry that it should have thus occurred,
I know, and you know too, that I am frail
And everything I've said is very stale,
At least it is to me, I daresay too
To some of you on p'raps a different scale,
Much more familiar, if one only knew.
It is quite marvellous what some can bustle through!
The day arrived; the sun was shining brightly
As it was necessary that it should,
The rooms were swept and all that was unsightly
They hid away as quickly as they could;
And then the edibles, both many and good,
Julia and Hannah carried to the spot
(The nearest way was through the primrose-wood)
And then turned homeward with a merry trot,
And waited for the time t' arrive; and who would not?
The edibles consisted of a ham,
A vase of clotted cream, two pigeon pies,
Some cakes of every sort, a breast of lamb,
Eggs, bread and butter, as you would surmise,
A calf's head, too, of an enormous size,
Ripe strawberries and currants red they laid
On fresh green leaves (so nice to hungry eyes),
Oporto iced, some "pop" and lemonade;
Besides some other delicacies they had made.
They, too, supplied some cans of country beer
For the lab'ring men, and half-a-crown apiece
For them to have some downright merry cheer;
The question was--where did their bounty cease?
So fast their acts of kindness did increase,
So welcome were they to the neighb'ring poor
To whom their homely smile was joy and peace,
And to whose cottages they often bore
Some small addition to their little cupboard store.
I picture, as I write, the little scene:
The dwelling clustered o'er with roses white,
The parlour with its ruby bricks so clean,
And all within so happy and so bright.
I would exchange my being, if I might,
With him whose life-long day is so serene,
Whose eve knows no lament, whose morn no blight,
Whose every hour is tranquil in between,
Whose hopes are ever fair, whose joys are ever green.
But other bards are present, let them sing
Of such as these; each condescending Muse
Shall teach her fondling how t' awake each string,
And tinge each mouthful with ambrosial hues,
And keep him very well in boots and shoes.
Here some dwarfed harmless poetaster rhymes
Whose very name gives list'ning fools the "blues,"
Not only here, alas in other climes,
Which must not be, of course, in these prolific times.
There's Francis Palgrave, there's Rosetti too;
Trill on, ye two, the song of future years,
Move, Palgrave, move, with bosom rent anew,
An audience multitudinous to tears;
Scratch on with quill unwearied and no fears,
The world shall fling thee thy resplendent bays,
For Popular Opinion safely steers
His barque upon the river of thy praise.
The stars themselves shall pause to listen to thy lays.
The visitors expected smartly drove
Up to the gate, and Julia showed them in,
Dressed in her best (a sickly-looking mauve);
She also wore a most audacious grin,
Which Mistress too was far from favouring,
And it was clear a "lecture" was in store,
Most of us know what that means; for some sin
Many have I myself received before;
I'm never naughty now; that was in days of yore.
Full twelve or fifteen minutes had expired,
Before the salutation part was done,
And they, poor chaps, were doubtless very tired,
Quite tired enough, before it had begun.
(Just think of all that distance in the sun!)
As usual, everlasting "hows" and "whens,"
And kind inquiries mixed with pretty fun
Were passed from mouth to mouth, which always tends
To show how much our joy on others' joy depends (?).
But really and truly, joking all aside,
One of our friends, the tallest of the three
I think it was, but cannot quite decide,
Was handsome as a man could hope to be,
I only wish that he'd exchanged with me;
Such depth of eye and such a princely frown!
I wish, my friends, that you'd been there to see
His small white hands and his moustache of brown,
Indeed 'twas worth a journey all the way from town.
It is, I think, a matter of opinion
What style of face is sweetest to behold,
Whether Malay or Greek or Abyssinian,
Italian I have oftentimes been told:
Malay I think expressionless and cold,
Tho' some admire its sweet simplicity,
But I'll observe, if I may be so bold,
It must be far-fetched eccentricity;
At least I can't discover such felicity.
Down to the hayfield numerous forks were sent,
The ladies took the lighter ones to use,
And all were jovial to a great extent;
The gentlemen related all the news
And cheerfully did everything t' amuse,
When a mischance occurred, picked up the forks,
(What gentleman I wonder could refuse)
And helped t' unload and pull out all the corks
And arranged some ladies' nosegays, cutting off superfluous stalks.
Upon the grass the damask cloth was laid,
And the repast looked wonderfully nice,
Spread, as I said it would be, in the shade,
With every summer dainty to entice,
Especially the lemonade and ice
(Coffee for those who coffee did prefer),
And Julia, too, was charmingly precise,
(To which it is but justice to refer)
Than her sweet smile nought could have been much prettier.
From three crossed sticks above a faggot fire
The water-vessel sent they did suspend
As people mostly do, with twisted wire;
Much care and labour too they did expend,
Determined that their visitors should spend
A very merry evening, which they had,
For there was merry-making without end,
And all the company made very glad;
Considering all things, its success was not so bad.
The host was irresistibly polite;
"Now do try this" he pressingly would say,
Until it was a positive delight
To pass your plate and let him have his way;
Indeed he scorned the very thought of "Nay;"
The ladies, though they chatted gaily, thought
Of lots and lots of things they'd like to say,
But couldn't then, you know, for they'd been taught
At such a time to smother feelings of the sort.
Pop went the corks, the ladies screamed with fear
And put their handkerchiefs before their face,
Then stuffed their ears so full they couldn't hear
And each one made a terrible grimace,
Begging that to some farther distant place
The bottles should be pointed; then, alas!
All ran away as though they ran a race,
When each had managed to upset her glass
On the corks banging, like a timid little (l)ass.
The ladies then, with one consent, declared
The gentlemen to be too good by half,
That angels with them could not be compared;
Then everybody had a hearty laugh;
The "charms" indulged in various little chaff
And gave the gentlemen some dreadful "whacks,"
I do not mean with their Papa's old staff
But with their little hands, across their backs,
Observing they deserved quite twice as many smacks.
Rowland, our handsome friend, pronounced the pies
Of all he ever liked to be the best;
Lionel, too, bespoke the strawberries,
And Gilbert loved the currants, he confessed;
In short, the gathering was the loveliest
Of all the gatherings they had ever known,
And each, of course, was proud to be a guest;
The ladies sighed how fast the time had flown;
That they were sorry everybody there did own.
Then (at the special signal of Mamma)
The labourers came to take some little cheer;
They doffed their hats and shouted thrice "Hurrah!"
When they had polished off a little beer;
But took the treasure while a burning tear,
Unchecked and gentle, trembled on the cheek
And damped the furrows of full many a year,
And fettered up the lips; thankful and meek,
Each rustic bent his toil-worn brow, but could not speak.
And each one passed his rough and heavy sleeve
Up to his face, across his briny eye;
What human breast that tears may not relieve?
What cheek that tears can never beautify?
They moved away and sauntered leisurely
Back to their toil, back to their daily bread,
Then homewards. In the evening's streaky sky
The crescent moon gleamed faintly overhead
And whispered that their little ones were hushed in bed.
Our friends and visitors withdrew inside
Now they had tossed the hay and had their fill,
And it was proper time they should, beside--
The fields were getting positively chill;
The gentlemen sat down and rested till
The trap was ready, and the lamps were lighted,
And pleased they were to chat awhile, but still
It made the journey tedious if benighted;
Of course they mentioned they'd been thoroughly delighted.
Then scribbling autographs seemed all the go,
And music took the place of tossing hay,
With various small etcetera, and so
It came about they should not go away
Before they'd promised for another day.
Of course what could they say? they said they would,
And highly pleased they all were I daresay;
And so between them all 'twas understood
They had arranged a pic-nic near some distant wood.
Meanwhile the horse was getting slightly frisky,
Impatient quite to trot his homeward road;
Of course our friends must have a glass of whisky,
The frisky horse, the trap, and all be blowed:
As long as they arrived at their abode
It didn't matter and they didn't care,
And all these circumstances only showed
They were in no great hurry to be there,
Perhaps preferring to remain just where they were.
But still the parting came: as for adieus,
They lasted just as long, I do believe,
As all the "Hows" and "Whens" and "How d'ye dos"
On their arrival,--no, I don't deceive;
They all took "quite excruciating" leave,
And Julia hurried up and held the gate,
For which a florin-piece she did receive,
Then hurried back in quite a frantic state,
Indeed her eyes with very pleasure did dilate.
Now they were all alone, the day was o'er,
The blinds were down and all the shutters closed,
Julia was sent to bolt the garden door,
And all did whatsoe'er they felt disposed;
Mamma, with covered face, lay down and dozed,
Papa and his three daughters played at loo,
It was a pleasant pastime they supposed,
I almost think it must have been, don't you?
But everybody wished the day would dawn anew.
They went to bed, as weary people must,
Earlier than usual, after having played
Three lovely games at loo, and then discussed
The nice refreshment in the pleasant shade;
And I am sure they must have been repaid
Quite amply for their trouble in the pleasure
Of hearing all the gentlemen had said,
For Dora seemed amused beyond all measure--
(She was the eldest one, you know, and such a treasure!)
The household said good night to chat and cards,
They were, at least they seemed to be, worn out;
And 'tis the same, I think, with tiny bards,
For they, too, must leave off sometimes, no doubt,
Most folks, I know, would rather be without
Such nuisances as we are at the most,
And I myself am but a lazy lout,
For dallying all my time amongst the host
Of scribbling dolts; but writing verse is not my boast.
Good-bye, my friends, for now, I really think,
'Tis time to pause for I have croaked so long,
To lay aside my paper, pen and ink,
And hush the grating measure of my song,
Your kind applause may not to me belong,
It might have been much better I'll agree,
But if you'll just decide to come along--
With a forgiving heart--along with me,
We'll both shake hands upon the subject merrily.
It is a pity fools are prone to scribble,
Such pigmy rhymesters as sincerely yours,
Who flabbergast their nursery-maids and dribble
All down their literary pinafores.
All men form two divisions--first, the Bores,
Next, those who must incessantly be bored;
To those who can explain I leave the cause,
Or him who said so ('twas a certain Lord)
His name it is not necessary to record.
I want a rest, I blink, I see some authors,
And laurel wreaths and pens both great and small,
But weirdly mixed with inkpots, cups and saucers,
Floating in air like things ethereal;
How dare such stupid things intrude at all!
There, let me sleep for Goodness' Gracious' sake,
I really shall not answer if you call,
I'll finish up my story when I wake;
Hush, hush, my darling, hush, else rest I cannot take.