FIFTY YEARS AGO
THE SEVENTH TRADITION OF TABBY-HALL
Know ye the town of the turkey and turtle?
Fit emblems of tales that are told in their clime,
Where stems of the laurel and leaves of the myrtle
Grow broad in balconies and glorious in rhyme!
Where the tongue of the news-seller never is mute.
And the orange-stands glow with their yellow-cheek’d fruit,
Where the stains of the street and the smoke of the sky
And the purple of faces are darkest in dye?
Where statesmen are pure as the papers they sign,
And even the cloth of the coats superfine?—
O large as the sigh at a lover’s farewell
Are the fees which they take, and the fibs which they tell!
No breath of air disturbs the march
Of waves below Blackfriar’s arch,
Whence rural dames and civic men
Gaze on the monument of Wren—
Where shall we see beyond St. Paul,
A church so stately and so tall?—
Beneath that arch with fav’ring tide,
A lonely boatman seem’d to glide,
Till in Queenhithe’s pellucid quay,
Safe on his silent oars he lay,
And, trembling, to the crystal wave
His soft and secret burden gave.
“Sudden it plung’d, and slowly sank—
The calm wave rippled to the bank;”
And all its tenfold wrappers sleep
Among those treasures of the deep
Which ruby-finger’d nymphs of Thame
From justice and excisemen claim.
* Dark Bertram from his ware-room flies,
Nor turns upon the ’Change his eyes:
Not thus he look’d when in his way
The precious bale from Indus lay.
’Tis said he goes to seek a lock
More sure than that which guards his stock;
For faithless hands have stolen all
That most he priz’d—his newest shawl!
That shawl’s large size ’twere vain to tell,
But look on that of Bond-street belle,
It will assist thy fancy well:
So large, so measurelessly wide,
’Twas camel’s hair on ev’ry side;
Yea, camel’s hair!—and should they say
That shawl was spun near Tyne or Tay,
By honour!—I would answer—nay!
And when with hyacinthine hue
It grac’d my lady’s vesture new,
On her might nabobs gaze, and own
Her form deserv’d an eastern throne!
As in the ball’s capacious room,
The glossy pride of Delhi’s loom
From yellow camels of Cashmere,
Adorns the winter of the year;
So Beauty wraps the heart of man
(Tho’ cold as snows of Astracan)
In many a soft and tangled fold
Of mimic silk and seeming gold;
But seen too oft at rout or ball,
Woe waits the Lady and the Shawl;
For ev’ry touch that woos their stay
Will wear their brightest hues away,
Till in neglected corners thrown,
The Shawl and Lady fade unknown!
November’s days have number’d nine,
And civic Chiefs are met to dine:
The foremost sheriff fills his place,
Conspicuous by his jocund face;
The rest in length’ning throng the while
Come slowly through the long defil.
The board a mountain-fabric bears,
While famish’d gazers croud their chairs,
And theirs shall be a feat to-night
Shall tempt them till to-morrow’s light!
Amidst, a turtle’s vast tureen
Has shrunk before their onset keen,
And left a chasm wide and bare
For pyes that come to perish there.—
Each side the middle-dish there lay
Small scatter’d fragments of the fray
By might chiefs and elders riven
From fish of sea and fowls of heav’n.
For where is he that hath beheld
Their famine at a feast dispell’d?
“But who is yon, whose eager fork
Far flashes in its deadly work?
’Tis he—’tis he—I know him now—
I know him by his shaggy brow!
I know him by his felon look,
Tho’ in a citizen’s peruke!
’Tis he!—well met before the ball!
The faithless friend that stole my Shawl!
He stole my shawl—the very best!
And, worse than faithless,—drown’d the rest!”—
Dark Betram spake—and as he said
A bottle whistled by his head.
With weapon shiver’d to the hilt,
Yet dripping with the sauce he spilt,
Still fix’d upon the sever’d joint
Which quivers on his faithful point;
His bag dislodg’d with sudden whirl,
And cleft in twain its firmest curl:
His robe in rents unnumber’d riven
His back to earth, his feet to heaven,
Fall’n Betram lies—his finger-end
Still pointing at his faithless friend,
While o’er him stands that friend with brow
As bruis’d as his that bled below!
To cheat the softest hearts are prone,
But such may cheat themselves alone;
Too timid others’ wealth to grudge,
Too meek to meet or brave a judge;
But only mighty hearts can feel
The glorious pride which bids them—steal:
And if an empty purse they bear,
Let those who fill their own beware!—
The keenest pangs that felons find
Are rapture to the “dreary void,
The tranquil dullness of the mind,
The waste of feelings unemploy’d!”
We pant for joys we cannot share,
Content—’tis monstrous woe to bear,
And souls in vile oblivion left
Must fly at last for ease—to theft.
For who can bear to leave behind
A gorgeous banquet, tho’ he’s din’d?
Who would not then demand of fate
To eat, yet not to know he ate?
The mind that broods in patient ease
Is like the bear in Norway’s cave;
The snows around their captive freeze,
’Till in his living grave
One sole and scant relief he draws,
By self instruction from his paws—
Thus are the meek in spirit lost
Or hid, like Norway bears, in frost.
“Think not I took thy shawl for gold—
No, Bertram, no—it is not sold—
Alas! the seller first must buy:
I only watch’d, and wish’d to try,
But could not;—for my empty purse
Was wasted as ’tis now—or worse.
Take back thy shawl, or take my life,
I care not, if I please my wife.
She wish’d a mantle from Cashmere,
As something welcome, new, and dear:
She wish’d it then—she wish’d it still—
Her wish was stronger than my will—
Waste not thy wonderment—her tongue
Is mightier than e’er poet sung!
For then, I tell thee, Bertram, then,
I heard her—yes, she talk’d again—
And I, before the morn, was seen
That beaten spouse which thou has been!
She rag’d—I dare not tell thee how
But look, ’tis written on my brow!
There read of woman’s hand the pow’r
In traces lasting to this hour!
I cannot if I would be blest—
I want no paradise but rest!—
They tell thee in the waters roll
The bale thou hadst—the bale I stole;
If true—if in thy civic chair
Thou mean’st to cite me to the may’r,
O spread thy mighty mandate o’er
My wife, who then will chide no more!
Or send me o’er the broadest sea—
But, friends or foes, whate’er ye be,
In mercy, send her not with me;
Or farther hence transport my soul
Than tongues can reach, or wives controul!”
He scap’d—and of his name and race
Left not a token or a trace,
Save what we spinsters must not say,
Who watch’d him on his dying day;
And this is all we ever heard
Of him he robb’d, or her he fear’d.