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Anna Jane Vardill

The Pilfering Poet’s Apology to His Judges [1]

My muse, they say, like our Gil Blas,
Both drank the wine and stole the glass:
I meet the charge without demur,
For what is thievery to her?
I’ll prove it neither shame nor grief,
Since all creation is a thief.
The knavish sun drinks up the rain—
Earth takes the stolen goods again;
Pale in her guilt, the moon fills up
From clouds and tides her stolen cup;
And thievish flowers with downcast heads,
Receive her brib’ry in their beds.
That shamefac’d moon’s a thief of light,
Her planets grow by theft more bright:
And what’s the rainbow but a felon,
With borrow’d colours put pell-mell on?

Come down from heav’n to earth, and there
Does any thing from theft forbear?
Jove play’d the thief, and rear’d his son
(Brisk bright-hair’d Mercury) for one;
His grandson was a thief by licence,
Of hearts and eyes; but growing wise since,
Now looks for purses and for parchments,
In spite of chancellors and starch aunts;
Next to the gods we’ll speak of poets,
For mortal men are far below wits.
Since Homer’s days did ever bard,
Disdain a theft for fame’s reward?
Smooth Virgil was a thief, and Tasso—
Will he for downright honest pass? No—
The Greeks were thieves, but Shakespear greater,
Stole every thing he saw in nature.

And Frenchmen! what distemper ails ye,
That all at once remembrance fails ye?
Must you, so rich with robbing grown,
Imagine all you have your own?
When Caesar sold, and Clovis spurn’d ye,
And Norman kings to cattle turn’d ye,
What was your own and what, I pray,
Except your thefts, have you to-day?
Your air-pump?—no, a German fram’d it[2]—
Your gunpowder?—Old Swartz proclaim’d it
A theft from him—the clocks you trim
With such eternity of whim,
Dutch Huygens knows, belong to him;
Your very spectacles are stolen—
From some old monastery’s Solon[3]—
Your op’ras, harlequins, romances,
Toys, pictures, telescopes, and dances,
Are all Italia’s—fie upon it!
You scarce claim honestly a bonnet:
Your own Voltaire proclaim’d you all
Of thefts, receivers-general.

But Frenchmen, other nations reach you,
And rob themselves while they impeach you;
For laws are thefts, and more or less, are
All stolen from some predecessor:
Rome plunder’d Greece, and nearer home
We see some lawyers pillage Rome:
From fools, perhaps, we steal a few,
And future times may thieve from you.
But why so rigorous a bard on?
I only strive to steal your pardon;
Save trouble with a worthless elf,
And let me steal away myself.


  1. The Parisian Journals last month, detailed a merry trial of a French poet, for stealing a tavern-keeper’s cups and glasses. 
  2. Otto Guerick, of Magdeburg. 
  3. Francis Spira, an Italian monk. 

The European Magazine, Vol. 77, January 1820, p. 63