Canto XIV

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Originally published May 1810 in The Poetical Magazine, pp. 49-57.

[Continued from Vol. III. p. 8.]
With an Engraving.1
“NATURE, dear Nature, is my goddess,
Whether array’d in rustic boddice,
Or when the nicest touch of Art
Doth to her charms new charms impart:
But still I, somehow, love her best,
When she’s in ruder mantle drest:
I do not mean in shape grotesque,
But when she’s truly picturesque.”

Thus, the next morning, as he stray’d,
And the surrounding scene survey’d,
Syntax broke forth.––A party stood
Just on the margin of the flood;
Who were, in status quo, to make
A little voyage on the lake.
The Doctor forward stepp’d, to show
The wealth of his port-folio.
The ladies were quite pleas’d to view
Such pretty pictures as he drew;
While a young man, a neighb’ring ‘Squire,
Express’d a very warm desire,
Which seem’d to come from honest heart,
That of his boat he’d take a part.

Now from the shore they quickly sail’d;
And soon the Doctor’s voice prevail’d: –
“This is a lovely scene of Nature;
But I’ve enough of land and water:
I want some living things to show
How far the picturesque will go.”

“See, Sir, how swift the swallows fly;
And see the lark ascends on high;
We scarce can view him in the sky.
Behold the wild fowl, how they spread
Upon the lake’s expansive bed;
The kite, too, takes its airy way,
Prepar’d to pounce upon its prey;
While the rooks from their morning food
Pass cawing to the distant wood.”

“When with a philosophic eye
The realms of Nature I descry,
And view the grace that she can give
To all the varying forms that live,
I feel with awe the plastic art
That doth such wondrous pow’rs impart
To all that wing the air, or creep
Along the earth, or swim the deep.
I love the winged world, that flies
Thro’ the thin azure of the skies;
Or, not ordain’d those heights to scan
Live the familiar friends of man,
And in his yard, or round his cot,
Enjoy, poor things! their destin’d lot:
But tho’ their plumes are gay with dies,
In endless bright diversities––
What tho’ such glowing tints prevail,
When the proud peacock spreads his tail––
What tho’ the nightingales prolong
Thro’ the charm’d night th’ enchanting song––
What tho’ the blackbird and the thrush
Make vocal ev’ry verdant bush––
Not one among the winged kind
Presents an object to my mind;
Their grace and beauty’s nought to me,
In all their vast variety
The picturesque I cannot see.
A carrion fowl ty’d to a stake
Will a far better picture make,
When as a scare-crow ’tis display’d,
For thievish birds to be afraid,
Than the white swan in all its pride,
When sailing on the crystal tide.
As a philosopher I scan
Whate’er kind Heav’n has made for man;
I feel it a religious duty
To bless its use and praise its beauty:
I care not whatsoe’er the creature,
Whate’er its name, its form and feature,
So that fond Nature will aver
The creature doth belong to her;
But tho’, indeed, I may admire
The greyhound’s form, the snake’s attire.
They neither will my object suit
Like a good shaggy ragged brute.
I will acknowledge that a goose
Is a fine fowl, of sov’reign use;
But for a picture she’s not fitted ––
The bird was made but to be spitted.
The pigeon, I’ll be bound to shew it,
Is a fine object for a poet:
In the soft verse his mate he’ll woo,
Bend his gay neck, and bill, and coo;
And, as in am’rous strut he moves,
Sooths the fond heart of him who loves;
But I’ll not paint him, no, not I ––
I like him better in a pie,
Well rubb’d with salt and spicy dust,
And thus embody’d in a crust.
How many a bird that haunts the wood,
How many a fowl that cleaves the flood,
With their sweet song enchant my ear,
Or please my eye, as they appear,
When in their flight, or as they row
Delighted on the lake below!
But still, whate’er their form or feather,
You cannot make them group together:
For, let them swim or let them fly,
The picturesque they all defy.
The bird that’s sitting quite alone
Is fit to be carved in stone;
And any man of taste ‘twould shock
To paint those wild geese in a flock.
I do not love a single figure,
Whether ’tis lesser or ’tis bigger.
That fisherman, so lean and lank,
Who sits alone upon the bank.
Ne’er tempts the eye: but, doff his coat,
And quickly group him with a boat,
You then will see the fellow make
A pretty object on the lake.
If a boy’s playing with a hoop,
‘Tis something, for it forms a group.
In painter’s eyes–O! what a joke
To place a bird upon an oak;
At the same time, ‘twould help the jest,
Upon a branch to fix a nest.
A trout, with all his pretty dies
Of various hues, delights the eyes;
But still it is a silly whim
To make him on a canvas swim:
Yet, I must own, that dainty fish
Looks very handsome in a dish;
And he must be a thankless sinner
Who thinks a trout a paltry dinner.

The first, the middle, and the last,
In picturesque, is bold contrast;
And painting has no nobler use
Than this grand object to produce.
Such is my thought, and I’ll pursue it;
There’s an example –– you shall view it: ––
Look at this tree –– here take a glance––  
And see that bold protuberance;
Behold these branches––how their shade
Is by that mass of light display’d;
Look at that light, and see how fine
The backward shadows make it shine:
The sombre cloud that marks the sky
Makes the blue azure twice as high;
And where the sunbeams warmly glow,
They make that hollow twice as low.
The Flemish painters all surpass
In making pictures smooth as glass:
In Cuyp’s best works there’s pretty painting;
But, oh! the picturesque is wanting.

Thus, tho’ I leave the birds to sing,
Or cleave the air with rapid wing––
Thus, tho’ I leave the fish to play
Till the net drags them into day––
Kind Nature, ever-bounteous mother!
Contrives it, in some way or other,
Our proper wishes to supply
In infinite variety.
The world of quadrupeds displays
The painter’s art in various ways;
But ’tis some shaggy ragged brute
That will my busy purpose suit;
Or such as from their shape and make
No fine-wrought high-bred semblance take;
A well-fed horse, with shining skin,
Form’d for the course and plates to win,
May have his beauties, but not those
That will my graphic art disclose:
My raw-bon’d mare is worth a score
Of these fine pamper’d beasts, and more,
To give effect to bold design,
And decorate such views as mine.
To the fine steed you sportsmen bow, 
But picturesque prefers a cow:
On her high hips and horned head
How true the light and shade are shed.
Indeed I would prefer by half,
To a fine colt, a common calf:
The unshorn sheep, the shaggy goat,
The ass with rugged ragged coat,
Would, to a taste-inspired mind,
Leave the far-fame’d Eclipse behind:
In stable he might live at ease,
But ne’er should graze beneath my trees.”

Caught be his words, the northern ‘Squire
Fail’d not his learning to admire:
But yet he had a wish to quiz
The Doctor’s humour, and his phiz.
“I have a house,” he said, “at hand,
Where you my service may command;
There I have cows, and asses too,
And pigs, and sheep, Sir, not a few,
Where you, at your untroubled leisure,
May draw them as it suits your pleasure.
You shall be welcome, and your mare;
You’ll find a country ‘Squire’s fare:
With us a day or two you’ll pass,––
We’ll give you meat,––and give her grass.”
Thus ’twas agreed;––they came on shore;––
The party saunter’d on before;
But, ere they reach’d their mansion fair,
Syntax and Grizzle trotted there.
It was, indeed, a pleasant spot
That this same country ‘Squire had got.
The party now the Doctor join’d
In salutations free and kind.

“This, Doctor Syntax, is my sister:––
Why, my good Sir, you have not kiss’d her.”

“Do not suppose I’m such a brute
As to disdain the sweet salute.”

“And this, Sir, is my loving wife;
The joy and honour of my life.”

“A lovely creature to the view!
And, with your leave, I’ll kiss her too.”

Thus pleasant words the converse cheer’d
Till dinner on the board appear’d,
Where a warm welcome gave a zest
To the fair plenty of the feast.
The Doctor ate, and talk’d and quaff’d;
The ‘Squire smil’d, the Ladies laugh’d.

“As you disclaim both fowl and fish,
Think you that you could paint that dish?”

“Tho’ ’twill to hunger give relief,––
There’s nothing picturesque in beef:
But there are artists––if you’ll treat ’em––
Will paint your dinners; that is––eat ’em.”

“But, sure, your pencil might command
Whate’er is noble, vast, and grand,––
The beasts, forsooth, of Indian land,
Where the fierce savage tiger scowls,
And the fell hungry lion growls.”

“These beasts may all be subject fit;
But for their likeness will they sit?
I’d only take a view askaunt,
From the tall back of an elephant;
With half an hundred Indians round me,        
That their sharp claws might not confound me:
But now, as we have ceas’d to dine,
And I have had my share of wine,
I should be glad to close the feast
By drawing some more harmless beast.”
The Doctor found a quick consent,
And to the farm their way bent:
A tub inverted form’d his seat;
The animals their painter meet:
Cows, asses, sheep, and ducks, and geese,
Present themselves to grace the piece:
Poor Grizzle, too, among the rest,
Of the true picturesque possest,
Quitted the meadow, to appear,
And took her station in the rear:
The sheep all baa’d, the asses bray’d,
The moo-cows low’d, and Grizzle neigh’d:––
“Stop, brutes,” he cry’d, “your noisy glee;
I do not want to hear, but see;
Tho’, by the picturesquish laws,
You’re better too with open jaws.”

The Doctor now, with genius big,
First drew a sheep, and next a pig;
A cow now on his paper passes,
And then he sketch’d a group of asses;
Nor did he fail to do his duty
In giving Grizzle all her beauty.
“And now,” says Miss (a laughing elf),
I wish, Sir, you would draw yourself.”––
“With all my heart,” the Doctor said,
“But not with horns upon my head.”––
“And then I hope you’ll draw my face?”––
“In vain, fair maid, my art would trace
Those winning smiles, that native grace.

Pl 17 Drawing After Nature

The beams of beauty I disclaim;––
The picturesque’s my only aim:
My pencil’s skill is mostly shown
In drawing faces like my own,
Where Time, alas! and anxious Care,
Have plac’d so many wrinkles there.

Now all beneath a spreading tree
They chat, and sip their evening tea,
Where Syntax told his various fate,
His studious life and married state;
And that he hop’d his Tour would tend
His comforts and his purse to mend.
At length they to the house retreated,
And round the supper soon were seated;
When the time swiftly pass’d away,
And gay good-humour clos’d the day.

[To be continued.]

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1. Heading omitted in 1812a and 1812b.