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The first came cap-a-pee from France,
Alas, who would not wish to please her!
Fame in the shape of Mr. P-t
Who prowl'd the country far and near,
My lady heard their joint petition,
Swore by her coronet and ermine,
The heroines undertook the task,
Through lanes unknown, o'er stiles they ventur'd,
Rapp'd at the door, nor stay'd to ask,
But bounce into the parlour enter'd.
The trembling family they daunt,
They flirt, they sing, they laugh, they tattle,
Rummage his mother, pinch his aunt,
stairs in a whirl-wind rattle.
d I have been told that this gentleman, a neighbour and acquaintance of Mr. Gray's in the country, was much displeased at the liberty here taken with his name; yet, surely, without any great reason.
Each hole and cupboard they explore,
So Rumour says: (who will, believe.)
e Fancy is here so much blended with the humour, that I believe the two stanzas, which succeed this line, are amongst those which are the least relished by the generality. The description of the spell, I know, has appeared to many persons absolutely unintelligible; yet if the reader adverts to that peculiar idea which runs through the whole, I imagine the obscurity complained of will be removed. An incident, we see, so slight as the simple matter of fact, required something like machinery to enliven it: accordingly the Author chose, with propriety enough, to employ for that purpose those notions of witchcraft, ghosts, and enchantment, which prevailed at the time when the mansion-house was built. He describes himself as a demon of the lowest class, a wicked imp who lamed the deer, &c. against whose malevolent power Lady Cobham (the Gloriana of the piece) employs two superior enchantresses. Congruity of imagery, therefore, required the card they left upon the table to be converted into a spell. Now all the old writers, on these subjects, are very minute in describing the materials of such talismans. Hence, therefore, his grotesque idea of a composition of transparent bird-lime, edged with invisible chains in order to catch and draw him to the tribunal. Without going further for examples of this kind of imagery than the Poet's own works, let me instance two passages of the serious kind, similar to this ludicrous one. In his Ode, intitled the Bard, "Above, below, the rose of snow," &c.
And, again, in the Fatal Sisters,
"See the grisly texture grow."
It must, however, be allowed, that no person can fully relish this burlesque, who
The words too eager to unriddle,
So cunning was the apparatus,
The Godhead would have back'd his quarrel;
But with a blush on recollection,
Own'd, that his quiver and his laurel
The court was sate, the culprit there,
In peaked hoods and mantles tarnish'd,
High dames of honour once, that garnish'd
The drawing-room of fierce Queen Mary!
is not much conversant with the old romance-writers, and with the poets who formed themselves on their model.
f The humour of this and the following stanza is more pure, and consequently more obvious. It might have been written by Prior, and the wit at the end is much in his best manner.
Here fancy is again uppermost, and soars as high on her comic, as on another occasion she does on her lyric wing: for now a chorus of ghostly old women of quality come to give sentence on the culprit Poet, just as the spirits of Cadwallo, Urien, and Hoel join the bard in dreadful symphony to denounce vengeance on Edward I. The route of fancy, we see, is the same both on the humorous and sublime occasion. No wonder, therefore, if either of them should fail of being generally tasted.
The housekeeper. G.
The description is here excellent, and I should think would please universally.
The Peeress comes. The audience stare,
The Bard, with many an artful fib,
A sudden fit of ague shook him,
Yet something he was heard to mutter,
"He once or twice had penn'd a sonnet ;
The ghostly prudes with "hagged face
She smil'd, and bid him come to dinner.
Groom of the chamber. G.
The steward. G.
A famous highwayman hanged the week before. G.—This stanza is of the sort where wit rather than fancy prevails, consequently much in Prior's
Hagged, i. e. the face of a witch or hag; the epithet hagard has been sometimes mistaken, as conveying the same idea; but it means a very different thing, viz. wild and farouche, and is taken from an unreclaimed hawk, called an hagard; in which, its proper sense, the Poet uses it finely on a sublime occasion:
Cloth'd in the sable garb of woe,
Vid. Ode VI.
• Here the story finishes; the exclamation of the ghosts which follow is characteristic of the Spanish manners of the age, when they are supposed to have lived; and the five hundred stanzas, said to be lost, may be imagined to contain the remainder of their long-winded expostulation.
"Jesu-Maria! Madam Bridget,
[Here five hundred stanzas are lost.]
And keep my Lady from her rubbers.
MR. GRAY TO DR. WHARTON.
Dec. 17, 1750.
OF my house I cannot say much, I wish I could; but for my heart it is no less yours than it has long been; and the last thing in the world that will throw it into tumults is a fine lady. The verses, you so kindly try to keep in countenance, were written merely to divert Lady Cobham and her family, and succeeded accordingly; but being shewed about in town are not liked there at all. Mrs. *, a very fashionable personage, told Mr. Walpole that she had seen a thing by a friend of his which she did not know what to make of, for it aimed at every thing, and meant nothing; to which he replied, that he had always taken her for a woman of sense, and was very sorry to be undeceived. On the other hand, the stanzas
The house he was rebuilding in Cornhill. See Letter VII. of this Section. Elegy in a Country Churchyard.