Canto XXIII

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Originally published November 1810 in The Poetical Magazine, pp. 185-196.

THE SCHOOLMASTER’S TOUR.
[Continued from Vol. IV. p. 151.]
With an Engraving. Plate IX. Vol. IV.1
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“Whate’er of genius or of merit
The child of labour may inherit,
They will not, in this mortal state,
Or give him wealth, or make him great:
Unless that strange capricious dame,
Whom Fagan poets Fortune name,
That unseen, ever-active, pow’r,
Propitious aids his toilsome hour.
Throughout my life I’ve struggled hard;
And what has been my lean reward?
What have I gain’d by learned lore,
By deeply reading, o’er and o’er,
What ev’ry ancient Sage has writ,
Rwnown’d for pure and Attic wit;
Or those rich volumes which dispense
The strains of Roman eloquence?
No favoring patrons have I got,
But just enough to boil the pot.
What tho’, by toil and pain, I know
Where ev’ry Hebrew root doth grow,
And can each hidden truth descry
From Genesis to Malachi;
Yet I have never been decreed
To sheer the fleeces that I feed:
No, they enrich the idle dunce
Who never saw his flock but once,
And meanly grudges e’en to spare
My pittance for their weekly fare.
Have I made any real friends
By wasting eyes and candles’ ends?
And tho’ a good musician too,
What did my fiddle ever do?
I sometimes might employ its pow’r
To soothe and over-anxious hour;
But, tho’ it with my temper suits,
It never yet could soften brutes.
My sketching pencil, too, is known
In ev’ry house in our town;
For, to replace some horrid scrawl,
My drawings hang on ev’ry wall:
And yet, ’tis true, as I’m a sinner,
They seldom paid me with a dinner.
What do I get poor boys to teach,
And drive in learning at the breech?
A task, which, Lucian says, is given
As the worst punishment of Heaven.
While Fortune’s boobies cut and carve,
I may be said to teach and starve;
Too happy, if, on Christmas-day,
I’ve just enough the duns to pay.
Tho’ sometimes I have almost swore,
When from the threshold of the door
My poverty repell’d the poor;––
When the cask, empty’d of its ale,
No more the thirsty could regale.

At length the lucky moment came
To fill my purse and give me fame;
And, after all my labours past,
Hope bids me look for rest at last:
For scarce had I one prosperous hour
‘Till Fortune bid me write a Tour.
Oft have I said, in words unkind,
That strumpet Fortune’s very blind:
But now I think the wench can see,
Since she’s become so kind to me.
To say the truth, I scarce believe
The favours which I now receive:
In a Lord’s house I take my rest,
A welcome and an honour’d guest:
The favors on my tour I found
Are by his noble friendship crown’d.
I’d always heard that these same Lords
Were only friendly in their words;
But truth alone my patron moves;
Whose deeds his faithful friendship proves.”

Thus Syntax did his feelings broach,
As he reclin’d within a coach;
For, pond’ring, as he walked along,
He was sore pummell’d by the throng:
Now by a porter’s package greeted,
Now on the pavement he was seated;
While deafen’d by a news-boy’s din,
A fruit-girl’s barrow strikes his shin;
And, as his cautious course he guides,
The passing elbows punch his sides;
While a cart-wheel, with luckless spirit,
Gives him a taste of London dirt.
At length, to get in safety back,
He sought the comforts of a hack.

His little journey at an end,
The Doctor join’d his noble friend:
Together they in comfort dine,
Then much’d their cakes, and sipp’d their wine;
When Syntax, in few words, display’d
His parley with the man of trade.

“I owe unto your Lordship’s name
My future gains in gold or fame.
My uncomb’d wig–my suit of black,
Which had grown rusty on my back––
My grisly visage, pale and thin––
My carcass, nought but bones and skin––
Presented to the tradesman’s eye
The ghastly form of Poverty:
Nor would he deign to cast a look
Upon the pages of my book;
But, with the fierceness of a Turk,
In sorry terms revil’d my work;
And let loose all his purse-proud spleen
Against a work he ne’er had seen.
But your kind note, where it was said
That all expenses should be paid,
New-dy’d my coat, new cock’d my hat,
Powder’d my wig, and made me fat.
His eye now saw me plump and sleek,
With not a wrinkle in my cheek;
And strength, and stateliness, and vigor,
Completed my important figure.
While in my pocket his keen look
Glanc’d at your Lordship’s pocket-book,
’Twas now,––‘I’m sure the work will sell,
And pay the learned author well:’
Then grac’d his shrill and sputt’ring speeches
With pulling up his monstrous breeches;
And made me all the humblest bows
His vast protuberance allows;
For, had he come with purse in hand,
E’en Satan might his press command;
So that the book had not a flaw
To risk the dangers of the law.
Prove but his gains,––and he’d be civil,
Or to the Doctor,––or the devil.
”

Thus Syntax and his patron sat
And thus prolong’d the evening chat.

MY LORD.
“Your rapid pencil fairly traces
The characters as well as faces.
Your latter sketch is true to nature,
And gives me Vellum’s ev’ry feature.
With all your various talents fraught,
So deeply read, so ably taught,
I feel a curious wish to know
From whence your high endowments flow;
And how it happens that a man,
Whose worth I scarce know how to scan,
Should ne’er have reach’d a better state
Than seems to be your present fate.”

SYNTAX.
“My Lord, a very scanty page
Will tell my birth and parentage:
A mod’rate circle will contain
My round of pleasure and of pain,
Till you, my ever’honour’d friend,
Bade me horizon wide extend,
And lighted up a brighter ray,
To beam upon my clouded day.

My father was a noble creature
As e’er was form’d by pregnant Nature:
A learned Clerk, a sound Divine,
A fav’rite of the Virgins nine,
Who dwell upon Parnassian hill,
Or bathe in Heliconian rill.
In the sequester’d vale of life,
An equal foe to pride and strife,
He pass’d his inoffensive day
In teaching Virtue’s peaceful way;
A shepard, form’d his flock to bless
In this world’s thorny wilderness,
And lead them, when their time is o’er,
To where, good man! he’s gone before.
Ambition ne’er disturb’d his rest,
Nor form’d a serpent in his breast
To sting his peace: no sordid care
Corroded the contentment there:
While he possess’d an income clear
Of full five hundred pounds a year.
My mother, first of womankind,
In figure, feature, and in mind,
In her calm sphere contented mov’d,
The counterpart of him she lov’d.
Form’d to adorn the highest lot,
She grac’d the Vicar’s rural cot
With all those manners that became
The Parson’s wife, the village dame.
They liv’d and lov’d––and might have wore
The Flitch when twenty years were o’er.

An only child appear’d, to prove
The pledge of fond connubial love.––
I was that child,––a darling boy;
Their daily hope,––their daily joy.
My anxious father did not spare
The urchin to another’s care;
He taught the little forward elf
To be the image of himself;
And from the cradle he began
To form and shape the future man.
When fifteen summer suns had shed
Their lustre on my curly head,
To Alma Mater he consign’d,
With pious hope, my ripening mind.

There, sev’n short years, (for short they were,)
Fair Science was my only care;
I gave my nights, I gave my days,
To Tully’s page and Homer’s lays.
Whate’er is known of ancient lore
I fondly study’d o’er and o’er.
I follow’d each appointed course,
And trac’d up learning to its source.
But in my way I gather’d flow’rs;
I sought the Muses in their bow’rs;
And did their fav’ring smiles repay
With many a lyric roundelay.
Nor did I fail the arts to woo
Of music and of painting too.
Thus was my early manhood pass’d
In happiness too great to last.
My father dy’d,––and, ere his urn
Had fill’d my arms, I had to mourn
A mother, who refus’d to stay,
When her lov’d mate was ta’en away.

What follow’d?––I was left alone,
And the world seiz’d me as its own.
I sought gay Fashion’s motley throng,
On Pleasure’s tide I sail’d along;
Till, by rude storms and tempests toss’d,
My shatter’d bark at length was lost;
My treasure gone, my pleasures o’er.

Now, chang’d by Fortune’s fickle wind,
The friends I cherish’d prov’d unkind:
All those who shared my prosp’rous day,
Whene’er they saw me, turn’d away;
And, as I almost wanted bread,
I undertook a bear to lead;
To see the brute perform his dance
Thro’ Holland, Italy, and France:
But he was such a very Bruin,
To be with him was worse than ruin:
So, having pac’d o’er class ground,
And sail’d the Grecian Isles around
(A pleasure, sure, beyond compare,
Tho’ link’d in couples with a bear),
I took my leave, and left the cub
Some humble Swiss to pay and drub.
Yet, when I reach’d my native shore,
Determin’d to lead bears no more,
No better prospect did I see
Than a free school and curacy;
The country tradesmens’ sons to teach;
In lonely village church to preach;
With the proud sneer and vulgar taunt
That’s thrown at Learning when in want:
All which you’ll think, my noble friend,
Did not to ease or comfort tend.
But now another act displays
The folly of my former days:––
A new scene opens of my life;
For faith, my Lord, I took a wife.”

MY LORD.
“I should have thought a married mate
Must have improv’d your lonely state;
That a kind look and winning smile
Would serve your labours to beguile.

SYNTAX.
“Love, in itself, is very good,
But ’tis by no means solid food;
And, ere our honeymoon was o’er,
I found we wanted something more.
This was the source of all our trouble;
My income would not carry double;––
But, led away from Reason’s plan
By Love, that torturer of man,
In our delirium we forgot
What is life’s unmerited lot;
That man, and woman too, are born
Beneath each rose to find a thorn.
We thought, as other fools have done,
That Hymen’s laws had made us one;
But had forgot that Nature, true
To her own purpose, made us two.
There were two months that daily cry’d,
At morn and eve, to be supply’d:
Tho’ by one vow we were betroth’d,
There were two bodies to be cloth’d:
And, to improve my happiness,
Dolly is very fond of dress.
My head’s content with one hat on it,
While Dorothy has hat and bonnet:––
In short there’s no day passes thro’,
But I and my dear Doll are two.
One good has my kind fortune sped;
Dolly, my Lord, has never bred.
Thus, tho’ we’re always two, you see
We happ’ly yet have ne’er been three.
She came beauty to my arms;
Her only dower was her charms:
But much she’s sav’d me, I must own,
But never bringing brats to town.”

MY LORD.
“Another time, my reverend guest,
I hope you will relate the rest.
I truly wish the whole to know,
But bus’ness calls, and I must go.
I need not, sure, repeat my words;––
Command whate’er the house affords.”

The Peer thus with the Doctor parted,
And left him gay and easy-hearted;
While many a pipe his thoughts digest,
Till his eyes told the hour of rest.
When the next morn and breakfast came,
Said Syntax, “I should be to blame,
As twenty years and more have past
Since I beheld fair London last,
Did I not wish t’employ the day
In strolling calmly to survey
What changes time and chance have made,
What Wealth has fone, what Art essay’d,––
What Taste has, in its fancies, shown,
To give new splendour to the Town.
That being done, I’ll take my way
To Convent-Garden,––to the play.”

Then, said his Lordship, “when we meet,
I shall expect a special treat,
To hear my learned friend impart
His notions of dramatic art.”
The Doctor bow’d, and off he went,
Upon his curious progress bent:
He pac’d the Parks,––he view’d each square,––
And, staring, he made others stare.
At length, at the appointed hour,
He sought in haste the Playhouse door,
And took his place within the pit,
Beside a critic and a wit;
As wits and critics now are known
To hash up nonsense for the Town;
And in the daily columns show
How small the sum of all they know.

“I think,” said Syntax, looking round,
It is not good, this vast profound.
I see no well-wrought columns here,
No Attic tracery appear;
Nought but a washy wanton waste
Of gaudy tints and puny taste;
Too large to hear,––too long to see,––
Full of unmeaning symmetry.
Pl 26 Covent Garden Theatre
The parts all answer one another;
Each pigeon-hole reflects its brother;
And all, alas! too plainly show
How easy ’tis to form a row;
But where’s the grand, the striking, whole?––
A theatre should have a soul.”

“Excuse me, Sir,” the Critic said,––
These theatres are all a trade:
Their owners laugh at scrolls and friezes;
’Tis a full house alone that pleases:
And, you must know, it is their plan
To stick and stuff it as they can.
Your noble architect’ral graces
Would take up room, and fill up places.”
“That may be true, Sir, to the letter;
But Genius would have manag’d better,”
Syntax reply’d.––“Nay, I am willing
To let them gain the utmost shilling;
But surely talents might be found,
(The natives, too, of British grounds,)
Who could have blended Attic merit
With this proprietary spirit.”

Thus as he spoke the curtain rose,
Anf brought his harangue to a close;
But still, as they the drama view’d,
The conversation was renew’d;
And lasted till the whole was o’er,
When, as they pass’d the Playhouse door,
The Critic said, “’Twill wound my heart,
If you and I so soon must part.
O, how I long to crack a bottle
With such a friend as Aristotle!
Now, as you seem to know him well,
Perhaps his residence you’ll tell.
”
Where it is now I do not know,”
Snytax reply’d;––“but I must go;
But this I can most boldly say,
You’ll never meet him at the play.”

When fairly got into the street,
“Oh,” thought the Doctor, “what a treat
For my good Lord, when next we meet!”
[To be continued.]

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Notes:
1. Heading omitted in 1812a and 1812b.