Christopher Anstey

(1724-1805 / England)

An Election Ball,


--And so, as I told thee before, my dear wife,
I'll go to the ball tho' it cost me my life--
--Must I be shut up, till, like poor neighbour Snarler,
I be smok'd like a joss in mine own little parlour?
No--I'd have thee to know I can walk pretty stout,
Since I've found an infallible cure for the gout,
For the doctor I've tried has, with wedges and pegs,
So stretch'd out my sinews, and hammer'd my legs,
So suppled the joint, by tormenting the tendon,
My heel I can raise, and my toe I can bend down,
And, by Jove, I'm resolv'd to get out of the bilboes,
And shake at the ball both my legs and my elbows.--
Moreover, dear wife, when I'm absent from you,
I'd fain with the Muses my friendship renew,
And send you a pretty poetic narration,
The result of my deep and profound penetration;
And since such a number of poets, it seems,
Must daily be quaffing of Helicon's streams,
(While Phoebus looks on with so placid an eye,)
I'd fain take a drop, ere her channels be dry;
I too would relume my poetical fire,
And take down my worm--eaten rusty old lyre,
Suspended, ere since the fond rapturous days,
Yourself first inspir'd, and approv'd of my lays;
Then tell me no more of your great cousin Sim;
You may find me no less entertaining than him,
My numbers perhaps may be full as sublime,
And I think I've as easy a knack at a rhyme;
Like him to enliven my musical vein
A few Latin fragments I still may retain,
Which Dr. Orbilius, (whose form to this day
If chance indigestion my spirits dismay,
In ill--boding wig, rusty cassock array'd
Still is wont in dire visions my rest to invade)
Such pains to inculcate, such fondness did shew
To imprint in my childhood--The world shall all know
These learned posteriors still boast of the scars,
So early they bore in my classical wars;

Oh Goddess! who rul'st with omnipotent sway,
Whose empire the realms of fair learning obey,
Whate'er be thy name who with awful command
Bear'st ferules and rods in thy merciless hand,
How well thy true kindness, thy judgment appears
In guiding our tender and innocent years!
With frowns on thy visage, with wrath in thy breast,
With taunts, loud reproaches, and heart--galling jest,
Compelling meek childhood's first dawn to explore
The regions of gloomy grammatical lore,
Thou driv'st all thy pupils to Pindus at once,
Ne'er casting one pitying look at a dunce;
To thee do we owe, to thy fostering aid
Such numbers that woo the poetical trade,
Who, tho' very oft' they be left in the lurch
With respect to preferment in state, or in church,
By vast application at length have been able
To procure some employment in Phoebus's stable,
To curry his nag, and whenever it suits
May polish his stirrups, and liquor his boots,
Or under the Muses get pretty good places,
By cleaning their slippers, and vamping their bases,
And turn out at last very musical fellows
By blowing their organ, and mending the bellows,
An honour, most critics, I'm sure, will agree
May be justly confer'd both on Simkin and me,
Tho' none of your Blunderhead cousins you'll find,
Who like me knows the world, and have studied mankind:
How in judgment, experience, and taste, I excel
The following letter, dear Dinah, may tell.

You may talk what you will of your old--fashioned feast
That would last for a month, or a fortnight at least,
Where aldermen's wives, and their daughters would guttle,
And the husbands get drunk oer a pipe and a bottle,
You may boast, if you please, that your county of Glo'ster
Will be drunk for a twelvemonth, whatever it cost her,
I think our good member is far more polite
To give us an elegant dance for the night,
And invite at the Low Rooms the nobles to supper,
While folks of no fashion drink tea at the Upper;
And since I am held in such vast estimation
To be courted by all the great men of the nation,
I think it the best entertainment of all,
To taste the sweet cream of a quality ball,
And thither I'll go, tho' I stump upon crutches,
To hear the bon mots of a duke or a dutchess.

Our Margery too, who's a girl of discretion,
And known to most persons of rank and condition,
Is out of all patience, if chance you admire
Th' indelicate feast of an old country 'Squire,
She says, there is something so vulgar and nasty,
In greasing your mouth with a hot venison pasty,
Which the freemen of Bath all expected to feast on
With their generous friend the good 'Squire at Batheaston:
In pudding there's something so clumsy and clunch,
And something so filthy, so stinking in punch;
Nay she vows 'twould be strange, and exceed all belief,
Should a freeman of Bath love a surloin of beef;
And as far as I judge from our eating and drinking--
Our Members are much of the same way of thinking.

And now I must tell thee, dear Wife, how thy daughter
Makes a progress in all the fine things thou hast taught her:
Not like thy old grandmother Dorothy Distoff,
Who'd spin half a day without taking her fist off;
She'll dance a cotilion--make verses--draw faces--
Read novels--sing catches--and study the Graces;
She has many a pretty French word at command,
That sounds vastly sweet, yet I can't understand,
For French is a language so very genteel,
That a few little words will imply a great deal,
So very concise, and so given to vary,
'Tis in vain to apply to your vocabulary--
Savoir vivre--bon ton--that's as much as to say
We grow more polite, and improve ev'ry day,
That for eating and drinking we know the best rules,
And our fathers and mothers were blockheads and fools,
That dress, cards, and dancing, alone should engage
This far more enlighten'd and delicate age.

You must know too, that Madge has a wonderful passion
To appear like a lady of very high fashion,
So I'll tell thee, dear Dinah, how well she contriv'd
The very first moment her ticket arriv'd;
She was pleas'd to be sure--but (as often I've bid her
In weighty concerns) she took time to consider,
Then with presence of mind flying up to the garret,
Brought down my old wig, that's as red as a carrot,
And to it she went, dear, ingenious sweet soul,
Drawing up the old caul till it fitted her pole,
Then with dripping and flour did so baste it and frizzle,
The hairs all became of a beautiful grizzle;
Those curls which a barber would view with despair,
She did coax, twist, and twine, with such skill, and such care,
With combs, pins, and paste, make such frequent attacks on,
She triumph'd at length--and subdu'd the old caxon;
Which done, she the front in a cushion did wrap,
Till the foretop stood up like a grenadier's cap,
On which all her jewels at once she display'd
Bought of Solomon Smouch--who was leaving off trade;
What a bargain was there for so trifling a sum!
Not a diamond or pearl that was less than my thumb!
Then deck'd with fair fruits, and gay flow'rets, all twin'd
In a posie as thick as a besom behind,
The merry old bob gave his ringlets to flow,
And dangle like sausages all in a row.

What now would'st thou think could remain to be done,
To make out dear Madge more completely the ton?
Fast asleep on my couch, and of thee, my dear, dreaming,
On a sudden I heard a most horrible screaming,
Thought I, ``sure these barbarous strains in the attic
``Are the voice of one yelling in ditty chromatic,
``I'll listen awhile,--very likely they may--
``For I know Madge's master is coming to day,
``If so, my dear child, I'll be with thee anon,
``And hear how your musical lecture goes on.''
But good lack--a--day! when aloft I did clamber,
What a wonderful sight did I see in her chamber!
As sure as I live there was Madge in her smock,
Laying hard at the tail of our old dunghill cock!
She pluck'd it--and pull'd it--and tore from the stump
All the feathers that cloth'd his unfortunate rump,
And away to her toilet, her image to view,
On the wings of impatience and rapture she flew,
While Susan behind, with a simper and leer,
Unmov'd heard the clamours of poor chanticleer,
One hand o'er his drum--stick held lawless dominion,
T'other mutton fist tyranniz'd under his pinion,
While envious grimalkin her whiskers display'd,
In death--boding murmurs the hero dismay'd,
And with fire--darting eye ball expanding her claws,
Wreath'd her tail with fell transport, and cruel applause:
He knowing 'twas vain to contend with the foe,
Would fain have march'd off like the great Broglio;
And deeming a tame and an abject submission
Unworthy a cock of his rank and condition,
Kept struggling with many stout efforts and twitches
To compound for his life--with the loss of his breeches;
But Madge with more pride her atchievement survey'd,
His piping--hot plumage more gladly display'd
Than fam'd Africanus from Carthage of yore
His trophies to Jove Capitolian bore,
Or he, (whom as gentle, as gallant we view'd
Triumphant return from Manilla subdu'd,)
In Henry's proud temple suspending his spoils
Gave Learning's fair mansion to boast of his toils--
But alas! to his fortune, his interest blind,
How blam'd by the sensible part of mankind!
In a land so remote, in that barbarous ground,
When Victory spread her glad ensigns around,
To sheath the fell sword; in a ransom engage!
So unlike many other great chiefs of the age,--
To feel for the helpless!--to hear the fond pray'r
Of widows and orphans,--to conquer, and spare!--
From foolish compassion to hazard that gain,
Which others by fair, lawful plunder obtain!

As for those happy spoils, which as lawful and fair,
Madge had plunder'd, and left the poor garrison bare,
Thou ne'er can'st conceive, thou dear wife of my bosom,
How cunning, how feat, she did cut and dispose 'em;
But to fit a description to folk at a distance,
Requires supernatural aid and assistance,
I never can make it quite handsome and clever,
Unless the kind Muses will grant me a favour,
Which freemen and poets should claim at their pleasure,
Whenever they choose it--to alter their measure:

To a cap like a bat
(Which was once my cravat)
Part gracefully platted and pinn'd is,
Part stuck upon gauze
Resembles mackaws
And all the fine birds of the Indies.

But above all the rest
A bold Amazon's crest
Waves nodding from shoulder to shoulder,
At once to surprise
And to ravish all eyes,
To frighten and charm the beholder:

In short, head and feather
And wig altogether
With wonder and joy would delight ye,
Like the picture I've seen
Of th' adorable queen
Of beautiful, blest Otaheitee,

Who gave such a ball,
To our merry men all,
And there did so frisk it and dance it,
Some thought her as fine,--
And some did opine,
'Twas Venus herself in her Transit:

While the black maids of honour
That waited upon her,
(The sight so uncommon and odd is)
Brought philosopher's eyes,
From the orbs in the skies,
To gaze at their heavenly bodies.

But Madge at the Rooms,
Must beware of her plumes,
For if Vulcan her feather embraces,
Like poor Lady Laycock,
She'll burn like a haycock,
And roast all the Loves and the Graces.

Oh! I wish you could see, my dear spouse, all this while
How she copies your sweet irresistible smile!
How she simpers, and prinks, while the glass is before her,
And calls all the Cupids around to adore her;
With a grace and an air, so genteel and becoming,
Signiora Squallina's new minuet humming,
Now backwards she moves, now her steps doth advance,
With the same winning ogle, the same killing glance,
Which beam'd from your eyes, with such lustre divine,
They thaw'd all my ice, in the year thirty--nine,
And made me at once so my senses forget,
I fear I have hardly recover'd them yet,
For why ye must stucco, and whitewash your faces,
(A fashion which Madge with such rapture embraces)
Then ruddle them over like sheep for the market,
I must own, my dear wife, I am quite in the dark yet;
But I've no kind of doubt, she is quite in the right
As the world all allows--'tis extremely polite,
As your fine travel'd ladies, old madam Van--Crone,
And Lady Rouge--Dragon declare 'tis the Ton;
A Ton, which I needs must approve in the main,--
As I never shall see an old woman again;
For every perfumer I find will engage,
To remove the most desperate symptom of age,
For lotions cosmetic consults the opinions
Of Turks, Jews, Circassians, Chinese, and Armenians,
Boast drugs which lost features at once will renew,
And restore an old face to its juvenile hue;
Will teach the fair Hebe in washes to lurk,
And Cupid his head from a gallipot perk,
E'en pimples and freckles to beauties improve,
And make ev'ry wrinkle the outline of love:--
``Oh land of refinement! Oh nation how blest!''
Are things then so dear? are the people distrest?
No, no! my dear Dinah, I'll prove to the state,
Youth and Beauty are sold at so easy a rate,
I can buy you for six--pence, as much as you please,
At Jolly's, at Dawson's, or Mrs. Purdie's.

Lack--a--day! how her throat doth our Margery raise,
How shove up her bosom, and shove down her stays?
For to make a young lady a true polite figure
You must cramp up her sides that her breast may look bigger,
And her's tho' a chicken as yet, my dear Dinah,
Stand forth full as plump, and as jolly as thine are;
And why should ye leave any charm for conjecture.
Like the figure you see in your grandmother's picture,
With her neck in a ruff, and her waist in a girdle,
And her throat like a ram's that is caught in a hurdle,
Her head like the Baptist's when plac'd in a charger--
I'm sure, my dear wife, you have long'd to enlarge her,
You never as yet did those beauties conceal,
Which Nature intended your sex to reveal;
And I'm happy that Madge has acquir'd such a spice
Of your excellent manners, and wholesome advice,
Has the spirit, the taste, the good nature, and sense,
To treat all mankind at so small an expence;
And whilst I instruct her that path to pursue,
So well pointed out, so well trodden by you,
I'm sure, my dear Dinah, you never can think ill,
Of your ever sincere, and affectionate INKLE.

Submitted: Thursday, October 07, 2010

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