Canto VIII

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Originally Published November 1809 in The Poetical Magazine, pp. 49-59

With an Engraving.
[Continued from Vol. II, p. 11]


“In ev’ry way, in ev’ry sense,
“Man is the care of Providence,
“And, whensoe’er he goeth wrong,
“The errors to himself belong;
“Nor do we always judge aright
“Of Fortune’s favours, or her spite:
“How oft with pleasure we pursue
“Some glitt’ring phantom in our view;
“Nor rightly seen or understood,
“We chase it as a real good:
“At length the air-born vision flies,
“And each fond expectation dies!
“Sometimes the clouds appear to low’r,
“And threat Misfortune’s direful hour:
“We tremble at th’ approaching blast;
“Each hope is fled,– we look aghast;
“When, lo! the darkness disappears,
“The glowing sun all Nature cheers:
“The drooping heart again acquires
“Its former joys, its former fires.
“Last night I wander’d o’er the plain,
“Thro’ unknown ways and beating rain,
“Nor thought ‘twould be my lot to fall
“On such an inn as Welcome Hall;
“Indeed with truth I cannot say
“Where there I came I lost my way,
“Where all was good, and nought to pay.”
“Thus Syntax, with reflection fraught,
Soliloquiz’d the moral thought;
While Grizzle, all alive and gay,
Ambled along the ready way.
Last night she found it no disaster
To share the fortune of her master;
She with the ‘Squire hunters stood,
And shar’d with them the choicest food;
In a fine roomy stale plac’d,
With ev’ry well-trimm’d clothing grac’d,
Poor Grizzle was as good a joke
To all the merry stable-folk
As the good Doctor in the house
Was the ‘Squire and his spouse.

Enrapt by Contemplation’s pow’r,
Syntax forgot the fleeting hour;
Till, looking round, he saw the sun
Had more than half his circuit run.
A shepherd-boy he now espied,
Strolling along the high-way side;
Upon his wand’ring flock intent,
The stripling whistled as he went.
“My honest lad, perhaps you know
“What distance I may have to go,
“Before my eager eyes may greet
“Some place where I may drink and eat.”

“Continue, Master, o’er the down,
“And soon you’ll reach the neighb’ring town;
“In less, I think, than half an hour,
“You’ll pass by yonder lofty-tow’r;
“Keep onward by the churchyard-wall,
“And soon you’ll see a house of call:
“The sign’s a dragon,– there you’ll find
“Eating and drinking to your mind.”
Across the down the Doctor went,
And tow’rds the church his way he bent.
“Thus,” Syntax said “when man is hurl’d
“Upwards and downwards in the world;
“When some strong impulse makes him stray
“From Virtue’s path to Folly’s way,
“The Church, Religion’s holy seat,
“Will guide to peace his wand’ring feet.
“But, hark! The death-bell’s solemn toll
“Tells the departure of a soul;
“The Sexton too, I see, prepares
“The place where end all human cares.
“Behold, a crowd of tombs appear;
“I may find something curious here:
“Oft-times poetic flow’rs are found
“To flourish in sepulchral ground.
“I’ll just walk in and take a look,
“And pick up matter for my book.
“The living, some wise man has said,
“Delight in reading of the dead;
“What golden gains my book would boast,
“I could meet a chatty ghost,
“Who would some news communicate
“Of its unknown and ghostly state:
“Some pallid figure in a shroud,
“Or sitting on a murky cloud;
“Or kicking up a new-made grave,
“And screaming forth an horrid stave;
“Or bursting from the hollow tomb,
“To tell of bloody deeds to come:
“Two adverse skeletons embattling,
“With ghastly grins, and bones a rattling;
“Something to make the Misses stare,
“And force upright their curly hair;
“To cause their pretty forms to shake.
“And make them doubt if they’re awake;
“And thus to tonish folks present
“The Picturesque of Sentiment.
“But ‘tis, I fear, some hours too soon—
“Ghosts slumber all the afternoon;
“I’ll ask the Sexton, if at night,
I may perchance pick up a sprite.”

The Doctor in canonic state,
Now op’d at once the churchyard-gate;
While Grizzle too, thought fit to pass,
Who knew the taste of churchyard-grass.
“Sir,” cried the Sexton, “let me say
“That you must take your mare away,
“or else, believe me, I am bound
“To lead her quickly to the pound.”

“You do mistake, my honest friend—
“ ‘Tis a foul wrong you do intend;
“A Parson’s mare will claim a right
“In a churchyard to take a bite;
“And, as I’m come to meditate
“Among these signs of human fate,
“I beg you will not make a riot,
“But let the poor beast feed in quiet.”
No more the conscious Sexton said,
But urg’d his labours for the dead;
While Syntax cull’d, with critic care,
What the sad Muse had written there.
Here lie poor Thomas and his wife,
Who led a pretty jarring life;
But all is ended, do you see?
He holds his tongue, and so does she.

If drugs and physic could but save
Us mortals from the dreary grave,
‘Tis known that I took full enough,
Of the Apothecary’s stuff,
To have prolong’d life’s busy feast
To a full century at least;

Credit: Martin and Jean Norgate: Portsmouth University, 2009
But, spite of all the Doctor’s skill,
Of daily draught and nightly pull,
Reader, as sure as you’re alive,
I was sent here at twenty-five.
Within this tomb a lover lies,
Who fell and early sacrifice
To Dolly’s unrelenting eyes.
For Dolly’s charms poor Damon burn’d—
Disdain the cruel maid return’d;
But, as she danc’d in May-day pride,
Dolly fell down, and Dolly died,
And now she lives by Damon’s side.
Be not hard-hearted then, ye fair!
Of Dolly’s hapless fate beware:
For sure you’d better go to bed
To the living than the dead.
Beneath the sod the soldier sleeps,
Whom cruel War refus’d to spare:–
Beside his grave the maiden weeps,
And glory plants the laurel there.
Honour is the warrior’s meed,
Or spar’d to live, or doom’d to die;
Whether ‘tis his lot to bleed,
Or join the shout of Victory;
Alike the laurel to the truly brave
That binds the brow or consecrates the grave.
Beneath this stone her ashes rest,
Whose mem’ry fills my aching breast;
She sleeps unconscious of the tear
That tells the tale of sorrow here;
But still the hope allays my pain
That we may live and love again:
To love with pure seraphic fire,
That never, never shall expire;
Syntax the Sexton now adddress’d,
As one his spade he lean’d to rest.

“We both, my friend, pursue our trade:
“I for the living, you the dead.
“For whom that grave do you prepare,
“With such keen haste and cheerful air?”

“And please your Rev’rence, Lawyer Thrust,
“Thank Heav’n, will moulder here to dust;
“Never before did I take measure
“of any grave with any pleasure;
“And, when within this hole he’s laid,
“I’ll ram the earth down with my spade:
“I’ll take good care he shall not rise,
“Till summon’d to the last assize;
“And, when he sues for Heaven’s grace,
“I would not wish to take his place.
“Now that his foul misdoings cease,
“I hope we all shall live in peace.—
“He, once on cruel deed intent,
“Seiz’d on my goods for want of rent;
“Nay, I declare, as I’m a sinner,
“He took away the children’s dinner;
“For, as they sat around the table,
“Eating as fast as they were able,
“He seiz’d the dishes, great and small,
“The children’s bread and milk, and all!
“The urchins cried, the mother pray’d
“I begg’d his rigour may be stay’d
“Till I could on our Parson call,
“Who would engage to pay it all;
“But he disdain’d a Parson’s word,
“And mock’d the suit which I preferr’d.
“He knew a better way to thrive;
“To pay two pounds—by taking five.
“Bursting with rage, I knock’d him down,
“And broke the cruel rascal’s crown;
“For which in county-gaol I lay,
“Half-starving may a bitter day.
“But our good Parson brought relief,
“And kindly sooth’d a mother’s grief:
“He, while in prison I remain’d,
“My little family sustain’d;
“And, when I was from durance free,
“He made me Sexton, as you see.
“But Doctor Worthy, he is one,
“You’ll read his virtues on the stone
“That’s plac’d aloft upon the wall,
“Where you may see the ivy crawl:
“The good man’s ashes rest below;–
“He’s gone where all the righteous go:
I dug his grave with many a moan,
“And almost wish’d it were my own.
“I daily view the earthy bed,
“Where death has laid his rev’rend head;
“And, when I see a weed appear,
“I pluck it up, and shed a tear!
“The parish griev’d, for not an eye,
“In all its large extent was dry,
“Save one; –but such a kindly grace
“Ne’er deck’d the Lawyer’s iron face.
“The aged wept a friend long known,
“The young a parent’s loss bemoan;
“While we, alas! shall long deplore
“The bounteous patron of the poor.”

The Doctor heard, with tearful eye,
The Sexton’s grateful eulogy;
Then sought the stone with gentle tread,
As fearing to disturb the dead,
And thus, in measur’d tones, he read:–
“For fifty years the Pastor trod ”
“The way commanded by he is God;
“For fifty year · his flock he fed
“With that divine celestial bread
“Which nourished the better part,
“And fortifies man’s failing- heart.
“His wide, his hospitable door,
“Was ever open to the poor;
“While he was sought for counsel sage,
“By ev’ry rank, and ev’ry age.
“That counsel sage he always gave,
“To warn, to strengthen, and to save:
” He sought the sheep that went astray,
“And pointed out the better way.
“What tho’ he with his miles approv’d,
“The virtue he so dearly lov’d,
“He did not spare the harsher part,
“To probe the ulcer in the heart;
“But sternly gave the wholesome pain
“That brought it back to health again:
Thus, the law of Heav’n his guide,
“He liv’d,-and then in peace he died.”

“Pray tell me, friend, who now succeeds
“This Pastor fam’d for virtuous deeds?”

“ A very worthy pious man,
“Who does us all the good he can;
“But he, good Sir, has got a wife,”

“Who may perhaps disturb his life;
“A tongue sometimes engenders strife.”

“No;-she’ a worthy woman too ;-
“But then they’ve children not a few;
“I think it is the will of Heaven
“That they are bless’d with six or seven;
“And then you will agree with me,
“That home’s the scene of charity.”

“ ‘Tis true;– nor can your Parson preach
“A sounder doctrine than you teach.
“And now, good Sexton, let me ask,
“While you perform your mortal task,
“As day and night you frequent tread
“These dreary mansions of the read,
“If you, in very truth, can boast
“That you have ever seen a ghost?”

“Your Rev’rence, no!—Though some folks say
“That such things have been seen as they.
“Old women talk, in idle chat,
“Of ghosts and goblins and all that:
“ ‘Tis said that Doctor Worthy walks,
“And round about the churchyard stalks;
“That often, when the moon shines bright,
“His form appears, all clad in white:
“To his blest soul it is not given
“To walk on earth,–for that’s in Heaven.
“I at all hours have cross’d this place,
“And ne’er beheld a spirit’s face.
“Once, I remember, late at night,
“I something saw, both large an white,
“Which made me stop, and made me stare,–
“But ‘twas the Parson’s Grizzle mare.
“Such things as these I do believe,
“The foolish people oft deceive;
“And then the parish-gossips talk,
“How witches dance, and spectres walk.”

“Your reasoning I much commend;
“So fare you well, my honest friend.
“If we act right, we need not dread
“Either the living or the dead:
“The spirit that disturbs our rest
“Is a bad conscience in our breast;
“With that a man is doubly curst:”—

“That spirit haunted Lawyer Thrust.”

“His race is run, his work is o’er—
“The wicked man can sin no more;
“He’s gone where justice will be done
“To ail who live beneath the sun;
“And tho’ he wrong’d you when alive,
“Let not your vengeance thus survive:
“Forgive him, now he’s laid to so low,–
“Nor trample on a fallen foe:
“Once more farewell! but, were we part,
“There’s something that will cheer your heart.”

“Your Rev’rence, ‘twill be some time yet
“Ere I forgive;– but, to forget,–
“No, no;– for, tho’ I may forgive,
“I can’t forget him while I live.
“For your good gift, kind Heav’n I bless,
“And with you health and happiness;
“I thank my God, each coming day,
“For what he gives, and takes away;
“And now I thank Him, good and just.
“That he has taken Lawyer Thrust.”

Syntax along the village pass’d,
And to the Dragon came at last;
Where, as the shepherd-boy had said,
There seem’d to be a busy trade;
And, seated in an easy chair,
He found that he wish’d was there.

[To be continued.]

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