Canto XVI

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Originally published May 1810 in The Poetical Magazine, pp. 145-153.

[Continued from Vol. III. p. 104.]
With an Engraving. Plate VII.1
Fair Virtue is its own reward,
For Heav’n remains its constant guard;
And it becomes us all to trust
In this grand truth,––that Heav’n is just.
Whatever forms the human lot,
Whether in palace or in cot,
In the calm track or frequent strife,
Man leads his variegated life;
Whether he feast his smiling hours
In stately halls or painted bow’rs;
Whether he labour thro’ the day
In Winter cold or Summer ray;
Or, in long nights of tort’ring pain,
He strive to close his eyes in vain;
Comfort will on his lot attend
If Virtue be his bosom friend.
In youth, when Love’s seducing pow’r
Strives to awake the madd’ning hour;
When, life matur’d, the eager game
That hunts for wealth, or seeks for fame,
So oft is play’d with many an art,
To guide the mind and seize the heart;
When Pleasure doth its charms display,
And fancy tempts but to betray;
Virtue stands forth, and dares defy
Th’ attack of ev’ry enemy.
When age comes on, with stealing pace,
And the crutch marks the closing race,
Virtue supports her champion’s cause,
And cheers him with her fond applause;
While she, at death’s resistless hour,    
Beams forth with her all-cheering pow’r,
Nor fails to make the flow’rets bloom
Round the dark confines of the tomb.

Thus Syntax ponder’d,––when around
His head he turn’d, and grateful found
His bags and notes all safe and sound.
Pleas’d with the prospect, he was fain
To yawn, and go to sleep again:
But, while he still enjoy’d his dream,
His story was the gen’ral theme
Of ev’ry tongue, and made a din
Thro’ all the purlieus of the inn.
The ostler told it to the maid,
And she the whole, and more, betray’d;
Nay, in her idle eager prate,
Mistook the window for the gate:
For, thro’ she lay all snug and quiet,
And slept, unconscious of the riot,
She swore that, all within her view,
The Parson from the window threw
A full-grown man into the street,
Who haply lighted on his feet,
And then ran off, all thro’ the dirt,
With nightcap on, and half a shirt.

The Barber caught the story next,
Who struck no closer to the text;
But left a man half-shav’d, and ran
To tell it to the Clergyman.
“O! bless me, Sir,” he cry’d, “I fear
To utter what you now must hear:––
At the Blue Bell there’s been such doing;
The house, I’m certain, it must ruin;
Nay, as I live, I’ll tell no further––
A Bishop has committed murther!
He seiz’d a Captain by the pate,    
And dash’d it so against the gate,
That all the gate is cover’d o’er
With scatter’d brains and human gore.
His Lordship gave him such a banging,
That he will scarce escape with hanging.
They quarrell’d, Sir, as it is said,
About the colours, black and red.
The Captain manfull profess’d
That the bright scarlet was the best;
And they, who that fine colour wore,
The first of all professions bore;––
While black (it was not very civil)
Was the known liv’ry of the devil.
Thus soon a loud dispute arose,
Which from hard words went on to blows;
And ended in this bloody strife,
Which robb’d the Captain of his life,
And, if fair Justice does not falter,
Will deck the Bishop with a halter.”
The Parson smil’d, and bid the calf
Go home and shave the other half:
But, when he came, th’ impatient elf
Had shav’d the other half himself.

The tailor laid aside his needle
To hear the story from the Beadle,
Who swore he has strange news to tell
Of what had happen’d at the Bell:––
“Would you believe it, that, last night,
A highwayman, a man of might,
Down in his bed a Lawyer bound,
And robb’d him of a thousand pound;
Then gagg’d him, that he might not rouse
The people sleeping in the house.”
“No, no,” says Snip, “however strong,
No gag will stop a Lawyer’s tongue;
And, after all, the stolen pelf    
Is what, I’m sure, he stole himself;
For, if the real truth we knew,
He’s the worst villain of the two!
They’re thieves in grain,––they never alter,––
Attorneys all deserve a halter.
If that is all, I’ll mind my stitches,
Nor lay aside John Bumpkin’s breeches.”

The Blacksmith, while a trav’ller stay’d
That a new horse-show might be made,
Inform’d him that a rev’rend Clerk
Last night was strangled in the dark:
No one knew how,––’twas as the Bell,––
The murd’rer––not a soul could tell.
The Justice, tho’, would make a rout,
And try to find the fellow out.
Thus Rumour spread the simple case,
In ev’ry form, throughout the place.

The Doctor now unclos’d his eyes,
And thought that it was time to rise:
So up he got, and down he went,
To scold the landlord fully bent;
Who, pale, and trembling with affright
At what had happen’d in the night,
Approach’d with such an humble look,
The Doctor’s rage at once forsook
His Christian breast; and, with a voice
That did the poor man’s heart rejoice,
He bid him hasten to prepare
The coffee, for his morning’s fare.
“I do avow,” the landlord said,
That, since I’ve carried on my trade,
Since I’ve been master of the Bell,
As all throughout the town can tell,
(And that is now ten years, and more,)
I ne’er knew such mishap before.
The fellow, Sir, upon my word,                 
Let loose his money like a Lord.
I receive all who come this way,
And care not, Sir, how long they stay,
So they but eat and drink––and pay.
I ask not from whence people come,
What is their name, or where their home;––
That he’s a rogue, I think, is clear,
And he no more shall enter here.
He is some sharper, I suppose,
Who round about the country goes;
While, to assist his lawless game,
He takes the soldier’s noble name.
I understand the rogue you’d bang’d,
And in good time, Sir, he’ll be hang’d:
I hope that all your notes you’ve found,––
I’m told they’re worth a thousand pound.”
“Prove that,” says Syntax, “my dear honey,
And I will give you half the money.
Think not, my friend, I’m such a fool,
That I have been so late school,
To put my bank-notes in a bag
That hangs across my Grizzle nag.
No; they were notes to make a book,
In which the learn’d may choose to look;
For, know, the thief would not have found
Them worth––to him––a single pound;
Tho’ much I hope that they will be
The source of man a pound to me.”
Thus Syntax cheer’d the landlord’s heart
Till the time warn’d him to depart;
When soon, along the beaten road,
Poor Grizzle bore her re’rend load.

The Doctor’s pleasant thoughts beguile
The journey onward many a mile:
For many a mile he had not seen
But one unvarying level green;
Nor had the way one object brought
That wak’d a picturesquish thought.
A spire, indeed, across the down,
Seem’d to denote a neighb’ring town;
And that was a most pleasant sight,––
For there he hop’d to pass the night.

A Farmer now, so blithe and gay,
Came trotting briskly on his way.
“I pray,” says Syntax, “tell me, friend,
If to yon town this way doth tend?”
“This road, good Sir, will take you there:
You’re surely going to the fair;
‘Tis the first mart both far and near,
For horses, cows, and such-like geer;
And, from the beast I’ve in my eye,
You’re going, Sir, a nag to buy:
I think, if I the truth may tell,
You have not got a nag to sell;
For not a person in the fair
Will give ten shillings for your mare.”
Syntax, who dearly lov’d a joke,
And long had liv’d ‘mong country-folk;
Thought he could work a little mirth
Out of this rustic son of earth.
So thus the conversation flow’d,
As they jogg’d on along the road.

“I’ll tell you, Farmer; long together,
In sunshine, and in stormy weather,
My mare and I have trotted on,
Nor is, as yet, our labour done;
And, tho’ her figure you despire,
Did you but know her qualities,
You would not rate her quite so low
As now you seem dispos’d to do.”

“I’ll lay a pound, if you are willing,
She does not fetch you twenty shilling.”

“First, my good friend, one truth I’ll tell––
I do not want my mare to sell;
While to lay wagers I am loth,––
The practice would disgrace my cloth;
Nor ever, while Life’s path I trace,
Will I the sacred cloth disgrace;
But yet I think you underrate
‘Tis true, she’s past the age of beauty,
Yet still the old girl does her duty;
And some one surely will be found
To think, at least, she’s worth a pound:
Nay, to amuse the country-folk,
We’ll put her up, by way of joke,
But no one must the wager smoke;
And I propose that, if you lose,
No Christian will the bet refuse;
The money to the poor you’ll give,––
‘Twill be a Christian donative:
And if my old and faithful mare
Should be so treated in the fair,
That not a person should be willing
To offer for her twenty shilling,
On honour, I will do the same,
As sure as Syntax is my name.
Such are the terms that I propose;––
So let us now the bargain close.”
“Give me your hand,” the Farmer said,
The terms I’ll keep;––the bargain’s made.”
Thus they rode on and reach’d the town;––    
The pipe and bowl the ev’ning crown.

The morrow came, and thro’ the fair
The Farmer led the Grizzle mare.
Says one, “I would not bid a pound;
She’s only fit to feed a hound;
But would a hound the gift receive?
For she has nought but bones to give.
Where must we look her ears to find?
And, faith, she’s left her tail behind.”
“Why,” says another, “view her scars;
She must have left them in the wars.”
Says Syntax, “My good friend, you’re right;
She’s been in many a bloody fight;
Nor e’er was known to take a fright.”

As a warm Yeoman pass’d along,
He heard the jeerings of the throng,
And felt a strong desire to know
What pleas’d the laughing people so.
“A Parson, Sir,” says one, “distress’d,
Wants to sell that poor wretched beast;
And asks, I hear, a pound, or two:
I think he’ll ne’er get that from you.”
“If that’s the case,” the Yeoman said;––
I’ll ease his heart, and buy the jade.
I’ll bid two pounds, my friend, that’s plain,
And give him back the beast again.”

The Farmer own’d the wager lost,
And op’d his bag to pay the cost.
“No, Sir,” says Syntax, “’tis to you
To pay where’er you think ’tis due:
But, as we pass’d the Common o’er,
I saw, beside a cottage-door,
A woman, with a spinning-wheel,
Who turn’d her thread around the reel,
Pl 19 Sells Grizzle
While joyful frolick’d by her side    
Three children, all in Nature’s pride;
And I submit it to your care
To leave the welcome bounty there.”

The Yeoman, when he heard the joke,
In friendly words to Syntax spoke:––
“I, Sir, an humble mansion own,
About five furlongs from the town;
And there your Rev’rence I invite
To go and dine, and pass the night.
To-day I give an annual feast,
Where you will be an honour’d guest.
I love the cloth;––and humbly crave
That we may there your blessing have.
Come then, and bring your mare along;
Come, share the feast, and hear the song;
And in the ev’ning will be seen
The merry dancers on the green.”
“With joy,” said Syntax, “I receive
The invitation which you give;
In your kind feast I’ll bear a part,
And bring with me a grateful heart.”
“I,” said the Yeoman, “must be gone;
But shall expect you, Sir, at one.”
Nor did the Doctor long delay
To the farm-house to take his way;
And, hast’ning quickly from the fair,
He found a hearty welcome there.

[To be continued.]

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1.Heading omitted in 1812a and 1812b.