Sir Jerome’s Heiress
A Fifth Tradition of Tabby-Hall
There is a crevice in a lonely glen,
Unsought, untrodden, and unnam’d by men,
Where twisted elms a mould’ring wall sustain,
And shrowd a narrow casement’s shutter’d pane.
Within, a few worn books of ancient wit
Tell where the buried Pastor lov’d to sit;
Their leaves the cheerless hearth are scatter’d o’er,
To light, perchance, the cot they grac’d before.
His crippled chair and oft-turn’d cushion still
The vacant chimney’s silent corner fill;
He sleeps himself where Winter’s churlish breath
And the cold world’s, are all unfelt in death—
The sun alone, his kindred Being, eyes
That grass-green hillock where unknown he lies.
Has he a daughter?—follow to yon dome,
Where cluster’d lamps and garlands shew the home
Of dropsied Pomp—the broad saloon is bright
With silver streams of hydrostatic light:
All Fashion’s trophies throng the pageant-scene,
Tripods from Corinth, lanthorns from Pekin:
Here serpents grin round painted couches roll’d
There Egypt’s ancient monsters glare in gold,
While proud Sir Jerome to the banquet-board—
Leads the fam’d Heiress of his countless hoard— Clara,—the cherish’d grandchild of his age,
Whose wit and smiles enrich her heritage.
Behind her throne reclines the envied beau,
While dimpling belles applaud th’unheard bon-mot,
Who while her wrist displays its pearly band,
Sees not superior whiteness in her hand?
If Clara’s lips the last charade rehearse,
Who would not think Euterpe tun’d the verse?
Unheeded when she speaks, a muse might sing—
Unless a muse could such a rent-roll bring.
A guest unwelcom’d at her grandsire’s feast,
The Pastor’s daughter lowest sits and least
Amid the throng—for who can Beauty find
In the mean muslin with no satin lin’d?
None see the jetty lustre of that hair
Where flow’rs are scorn’d and diamonds never glare:
Beneath the russet veil of thrice-worn crape
None heed the softness of the fairest shape—
There is no gracious language in her face,
For Grief and Pride disdain to dwell with grace —
Gladness and Peace like summer-streams must flow,
For Grief and Pride like summer-streams must flow,
Where Beauty’s roses in full lustre blow,
But Grief is cold—the frozen breast is hard,
And no kind touch has Emmeline’s unbarr’d;
Long taught to bear the chill unmindful eye
Of once-fond friendship shrunk to Charity—
The sly, slow taunt—the frequent stab bestow’d
On Poverty too long in Pomp’s abode,
Forc’d for her birthright as a boon to sue,
And beg the bitter bread from Justice due.—
The guests are gone—with lone unfriended heart
Her haughty grandsire sees the last depart:
His sullen laugh’s faint hollowness betrays
How that heart loathes the pantomime it plays.
“Farewell,” he cries—“my hour of pomp is past!
Farewell, vain gazers! ye have look’d your last!—
Child of my best-lov’d son, my Clara!—how
Shall thy fair head to changeful fortune bow?
Heiress of wealth and wide domains no more,
But chas’d by scowling ruffians from my door!
Our groves beneath a stranger’s axe must fall,
A stranger’s guests shall revel in my hall,
While those frail tender limbs with me endure
The toil, the anguish of the houseless poor!”
Scorn furls her haughty brow and fires her eyes—
“So soon have riches fail’d us?—then be wise,
With firmer hand dependent beggars spurn,
And timely caution from Repentance learn:
For me no toil, no houseless sorrows fear,
Fortune has smiles when Beauty’s claims appear—
Yield me my jewels, sir!—dismiss your cares—
I go to take the splendors Love prepares!”
Nor breath, nor speech, the ag’d man’s lips supply
They stiffen in the laugh of agony,
While a pale death-fire flashes from his eye:—
But gently on his knee with tender wiles
His orphan grand-child leans her cheek and smiles—
“Ah, weep not now!—one shelt’ring roof remains,
One holy refuge in far distant plains!
Come to my native cot—its garden still
Shall our safe board with purer dainties fill:
My hand shall ply the loom and trim the hearth,
While frolic crickets join their note of mirth—
O!—many a winter’s eve and summer’s day
My lute and song have sent on wings away!
It will be bliss enough to see thee blest
In the lov’d valley where my sire found rest;
To see thee sitting where he sat and smil’d,
And sometimes hear thee praise and bless his child!”
His frozen eye confesses not a tear,
His wan lips shrivel with a baleful sneer—
“Fond child!—not thus from grandeur we descend—
We, the world’s meteors, must like meteors end:
Hence!—let new crowds to-morrow grace my hall;
Surpassing brightness shall enrich our fall—
And thou, my beloved Heiress! once again
’Midst tinsell’d fops and envious rivals reign:
Assemble all—the ready world shall prove
If flying wealth has quicker wings than love.”
To-morrow comes—again the threshold bends
With the rich weight of thrice three hundred friends:
From lip to lip the busy whisper flies,
Smiles answer smiles, and nod to nod replies,
“Kind, good Sir Jerome!—with a brow how fair
Experienced sages bear the load of care!
Let honest hearts in debt for hundreds ache,
Great spirits only for a million break!”—
“What! has he mortgaged all his freehold land?”—
“Sir, his post-obits are in ev’ry hand”—
’Twas whisper’d thro’ the town a fort-night since—
How strange to give this ball, and ask the Prince!”—
“Who leans on that neglected couch forlorn?”—
“His orphan grand child in some school-house born—
How long and often has that black been worn?”—
“Well! she to books and workbags may return,
Study clear-starch, or jams and conserves learn.
See, how the fancied Heiress shapes her smile!
’Tis well if glitter can a dupe beguile—
She might have spar’d those diamonds round her waist—
But Rundall swears her coronet is paste.
Her figure has no style, no graces—hush!
Enough, perhaps to fit my new barouche.”—
“When will the sale come on?—how famous well
Sir Jerome’s greys at Tattersall’s will sell!”—
“Duchess!—I vow this porcelain is fine,
This Claude, and that Caracci, shall be mine—
That new Egyptian tablet is unique,
And this is just the Ottoman I seek.”
But see?—the supper’s lavish pomp is spread—
Each belle triumphant by her swain is led—
“Superb display!”—“grand style!”—“prodigious heat!”
“That lamp how costly!—and those flowers how sweet!”
Each for the banquet’s rarest nectar seeks,
While the grave host uprising, smiles and speaks.—
“Since Wit and Joy together hold their court,
Science to-night shall blend with Fashion’s sport.
All may the secrets of our Earth explore,
Its fires, its gems, its fountains, and its ore;
But I a new Geology impart,
And trace the earthly strata of the Heart,
Fortune like fire the base material shews,
Divides its dross, and proves its native hues—
Soft yielding chalks a modern belle’s compose,
True granite or plumbago forms a beau’s—
By Fortune’s touch Affection’s ore we trace,
Or find of friendship the metallic base:
As zinc from brass when urg’d by heat departs,
Truth sends the glitt’ring gloss from brazen hearts:
Taught by this test, we learn how sordid clay
May all the hues of precious gems display;
But soon Misfortune’s furnace-flame condemns
To dust or poison’d fume the mimic gems.
Go! like the meteor-stones that sparkling pass,
Then fall to earth, a dark unvalued mass!—
But thou, meek pupil of Misfortune’s school,
My home, my heart, my unchanged treasures rule;
Thou, whose pure soul’s unhidden depths unite
The granite’s firmness and the diamond’s light!—
I give thee wealth, and with it all the gaze
Of this vain world—friends, flatt’rers, pomp, and praise;
Seem rich, if friends and joys like these allure,—
If thou wouldst prove their emptiness, seem poor!”