Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux

(1 November 1636 – 13 March 1711 / Paris, France)

Canto Iv The Argument - Poem by Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux

Alas ! The Poëms curious Model
Is Alter'd quite i'th' Poets Noddle !
So Nature oft, for want of Tools,
Decrees Wise men, produces Fools :
To tell you True, my Muse and I
Design'd at first, the Victory
To Master Dean ; how't came about
I cannot tell ; but now the Rout
Is His : yet so, The Fancy's righer
To end in Pot, commence in Pitcher !
Such was the Project ! such th' Event !
But listen to the Argument !
The Chanter's Dream : A Chapter called ;
Fine Speeches made ; The Pulpit mawled ;
This Counter-Scuffle, I dare stand in't,
The Goddess Discord had a hand in't :
The Prelates foes ; The Changers friends ;
The Canto, and the Poëme ends.

The Pulpit now lifting its lofty Head
With carved Canopy stands Covered ;
When the Church-clocks with their melodious chime,
Summon'd the Singing-boyes to rise : ‘Tis time
To Rise to Matins ! Thus the Bells did Chink !
Thus did at least the dreaming Sluggard think.
Drown'd in sweet Sleep th'Arch-changer roll'd at case,
( A Soveraign Medicine ‘gainst the twinging Fleas, )
Whose roving Fancy traverst may a Theme,
Startled at last with terror of a Dream ;
He cry'd out, waken'd at his own fierce crying,
And parboil'd in his mellow Sweat lay frying.
His Pages starting at the sudden Noyse,
Began to bussle, rubbing their gum-glew'd Eyes ;
One frighted runs, but poor fool, knew not whither,
And from the dore leaps back, e're well got thither :
Girot, ( a trustier Slave ne're waited on him, )
Runs to his Master, ne're a Rag upon him ;
What the Rope ails you ? (cry'd the testy Lacquey,)
Does th' Night-mare ride you, or the Old Witch make you
Roar at this rate ? What a mad coil you keep here,
That people cannot steal a nap, or sleep here ?
Compose your self for shame ! The wiser Sun
His race Nocturnal has but half-way run ;
Is this a time for Prayers ? Let Singing-boyes
Whose Pension's pay for't, do those Drudgeries !
Ah friend ! ( reply'd the quaking Chanter ) friend !
Insult not o're my juster Passion ; lend
Thy patient Ear to my sad Fate, and joyn
Thy secret sorrowes to these tears of mine !
Attend I say! ( I tremble whil'st I'm speaking, )
The weighty Reasons of my poor heart breaking !
God Morpheus long before the peep of day,
Had lockt my Senses up with leaden Key
In second sleep ; when dulcid fumes and vapours,
In Fancies Cell, disport in frolick Capers ;
Methought I fat enthroned in the Quire,
Where crowds of Choristers my Grace admire ;
There blest the gawping throng ; there Incense sweet,
Stolne from the Saints, my pleased Senses meer,
When from the bottom of the Vestry came
A Prodigy too terrible to name ;
From Dusky Clouds ( methought ) of wreathed Smoak
Wide opening, A Hideous Monster broke,
Whose Mouth, Eyes, Nostrils, vomit flame, fume, fire,
How pale look'd all the Choristers i'th' Quire !
Him the proud Prelate dragg'd along in Chains,
Tame like a broken Colt, with Bit and Reins ;
But, that which struck us all more than half dead,
A Pulpit issued from the Dragons Head.
Horripilation seiz'd me ! my flesh quiver'd !
My loins relax'd with dismal horror shiver'd !
We all conclude from the Sulphureous smell,
Dragon and Pulpit both must come from Hell ;
Led by his Guide, the Monster doth aspire
Unto my Seat, there plac'd himself i'th' Quire.
Think ! think, my Ganymede, how was I appaled
To see the Horrid Fiend thus high installed ;
I scriecht in vain, in vain I fled the Fury !
This I'le depose, is Truth before a Jury !
But here the Chaunter paws'd : he judg'd it best
To let his Eyes and Looks speak out the rest.
Girot essay'd to comfort him in vain ;
This Vission, Sir ! perhaps might rise from pain
In your disturb'd Head ; Melancholly Vapours
Careering in the Brain beget these Capers :
The Chaunter cross'd, storms, rages, and in choler
Leaps out of bed to mitigate his dolour ;
Scorning with sorry Page to brawl, and quarrell,
He calls in hast for's Holy day Apparell !
A fair silk Cassolk, rich lin'd with Plush
Tho' dusty ( Girot could not find the Brush, )
He first put on ; next a silk Mohair Grown
Which to his heels with dragling train hung down ;
A pair of Purple Gloves his proper badges,
A Rotchet wichi the Dean once gave as wages ;
Yet jealous left his Tail the ground should sweep,
The Shears had dockt it short, three Inches deep.
His corner'd Cap ( for fear of cold ) on's Head,
His Hood in's hand for hast, he hurried ;
Away he speeds thus gorgrously equipped,
Never did seventy years so nimbly trip it !
He curst and old Sciatica that Stop'd him,
But yet his wooden Crutch most stoutly prop't him ;
Rage added wings ; inspir'd with Zealous Fire
( Whil'st other lagg'd ) he first arriv'd i'th' Quire.
O Thou, who in a Rapture, tranc'd in Boggs,
Describ'st the Battel of the Mice and Froggs !
And Thou ! whose curious Pencil drew to th' Life
All Italy for Goats-wooll fallen at strife ;
Or rather thou, whose Muse did Pen the Stories
Of the sad Contrasts ‘tween the Whiggs and Tories !
Lend me a Tongue that may express a Passion,
Of mixed Envy, Spight, Rage, Emulation,
Fisrt pale and dumb he stood, like one counfounded ;
As if ten thousand Furies him surrounded ;
His Mass of Blood boils, all his Humurous bubble ;
Such power have Pulpits to create our trouble !
His belly swell'd like Sybils raptur'd Priest,
With hollow sounding moise like Pythonist,
Strugling he stood under this inward load,
Releas'd at last he thus shook off the God !
See ! Girot fee ! the True Interpretation
Of my late Phantasme, which thy foolish Passion
Call'd a Delusion ! thus the Dream I conster,
This Pulpit is the Hideous Hell-born Monster !
This ! this the fata, the Malignant screen
Will never more let me, poor me, beseen !
Ah Prelate ! treble Vengeance now indeed
Thy plotting pate has heap'd upon my Head !
Could not thy Malice hug it self in bed,
Between two Nappy blanckets covered ?
To force my cold Seat, thy warm Couch resign ?
Put out thy right Eye, to put out both mine ?
O Heavens ! O Hell ! see how this Hateful Mass
Has made a Tomb of my once glorious Place ?
Where I may sleep Inglorious, Sans Regard,
Nor more than Powers Unseen, be seen, or heard !
Nay rather than endure this fowl disgrace,
A thousand times I'le quite this loathed Place :
Ne're sing Te Deum more ! Renounce the Alter !
And end my days at Tyburn in a Halter !
I ought not, cannot, will not live a Minute
I' th' Church, whilst hateful Pulpit triumphs in it :
Come Girot ! lend thy friendly helping hand,
If I have breath and strength, it shall not stand !
He spoke ! his Arm waited upon his words,
Strength fill'd his Arm, and Fury strength affords :
Arrests the Pulpit ; and with haughty frown,
Come down thou Ideol ! or I'le pluck thee down !
Just in the juncture of this flaming hate,
As the wise Destinies ordain'd, and Fate,
Who should come in, but Girard the Bell-ringer ?
And at his heels amain, Ribout the Singer ?
No couple greater Bigots of the Chanters,
Against the Prelate none more desperate Ranters ;
At the Dire sight though both did Sympathize,
Yet they advis'd his Worship to be wise !
Pray Sir ! said they, for once be rul'd by Fools !
‘Tis dangerous medling naked, with edg'd Tools !
‘Tis ten to one the Prelate will Alledge
This fact of yours guilty of Sacriledge !
Nay who can tell but at the General Dyer
We may be Question'd, and Condemn'd of Ryot ?
Call then a Chapter ; put it to the Vote,
Let faithful tellers take the Poll, and note
The Ay's and Noe's ; And if we carry't, then Sir !
Down goes the Innovation, once agen Sir !
The sage Advice repriev'd some little while
The trembling Pulpit : The Chanter feigns a smile !
Call then a Chapter ! Run ! Make hast ! Away !
Summon the Drowzy Drones ! Nay Pray you stay,
Quoth Honest Ribout the fam'd Chorister ;
No more hast than good speed, beseech you Sir !
Rash actions often bring too late Repentance !
Girard was hugely taken with the sentence,
And seconds him : Great Sir ! this weighty Business,
This Nice point will not bear Haste, or Remisness !
Perhaps the Chanters and the Monks may be
Awak'd, but did your Reverence ever see
Prebends and Canons before break of Day
Frequent the Chappel, there to sing, or say
Surfum Corda ! Believe me, Sir ! believe me,
I speak'd with troubled Heart, the ting does grieve me,
When six bells jangling, for these thirty Years
Could never pierce their Barricado'd Ears,
What hope two sniveling Chanters cryes should wake ‘em,
And to Cold Prayers from their warm Beds betake ‘em ?
Could you send Jove with his loud Thunder-claps,
Your Plot perhaps might take, and but perhaps :
With what Charms then, hope you here to prevail ?
These Adders stop their Ears with their own Tail.
The Chanter netled heard in fustian fume
Rejoyning Girard thus sawcily presume,
And thus ! Nay now false heart, I plainly see
What leg thou halt'st ! ‘Tis the Prelate, he
That mortifies thy base enfeebled Spirits,
Vile Venal Soul ! what know'st thou not my Merits ?
I oft have seen thee cringe with supple Hams,
To wow his blessings ; Alas ! mere flim-flams !
Well ! go, and basely bend thy Oyled knees,
I have enow without thee, to make ‘em rise.
Come Girot ! Come, my trusty steel-edg'd friend,
Thee on this desp'rate Errand I dare send,
Nor fear success : Take me the Thund'ring Hammer,
On Holy Thursday us'd to rais a Clamour ;
And trust me friend, The Rising Sun shall see
The Chapter met in it's Formality !
‘Twas said, ‘twas done ! forth from the sacred Chest
Where it did lie from year to year at rest,
The Mawl is brought : Away they March, and cry
The Chapter waits you ; waits you instantly !
Discord would not be wanting in the Brawl,
She enters straight the Prelates Palace-Hall.
Augments the Din ; the Neighbour-hood she scares
With rising Scare-fires, sudden Massacres ;
The Chanons now Awake ! Strange tale to tell,
Such wonder in an Age had scarce befell !
One swears the Lightnings did invest the Town,
That Thunder-bolts had beat the Houses down,
And one cryes, Fire ! Fire ! Fire ! the Church doth burn
A second time ; A third hopes a new turn,
For Holy Thursday ! some whose guts chim'd Noon
Bless't the Occasion that call'd them so soon
From Bed to Board; for all Agree, no Knell
Could more concern them than the Dinner-bell !
But yet the Noise that had unglew'd their eyes
Could not perswade the Sluggish Chanons rise,
Nor leave the Pleasure of th' enchanted Bed,
Till wily Girot got this trick in's Head ;
With Stentors Voice he makes loud Proclamation,
O yez ! I'th' Chapter House, A rare Collation
Stands ready dress't to meet you Appetite !
He needed to say no more : O blessed sight
To see the Prebends hast in Numerous throngs !
What Rhetorick has Soup ! how little Songs !
Deaf Bellies now found Ears ; one Chanon ran
With one hose off, the other scarcely on ;
Another durst not stay to tye his shooes,
But slip-sho'd hobbl'd, lest he Breakfast looks.
A third, whose appetite severely itches
Had not due time to hook his dropping Breeches !
Fallacious Hopes ! here was nor bread, nor Wine !
The cheated Fools must with Duke Humphrey dine !
Yet mute they sate, expecting when at last
The Servitors bring in the hope'd Repast ?
Nor was it Reason that the gutled Fops
Should spend their Tongues, who could not use their Chops.
The Chanter though he saw his plot succeed,
Yet fear'd Delay might unseen Danger breed ;
Rising with blubber'd eyes brim full of Tears.
Unbosoms to them all his Griefs and Fears.
But Chanon Everard, whose barking May
All Hungry Guests, but yet no Victuals saw,
Impatient of delay, as he was able,
Cry'd out aloud ; Pray Sirs, bring in the Table ;
What mean you thus to frustrate our rais'd Hopes ?
Must we sit alwayes pining in our Copes ?
The Chanter conscious of his cheat, gave way
To his Just Indignation ; nor durst say
Ought in Reply ; till Father Allain broke
The Horrid silence, and most gravely spoke :
This Allain you must know, was a learn'd Rabbin,
Who spent his days at study in his Cabbin ;
Twice twenty times had he turn'd o'rs the Summs
Of Father Bauny, had pick't up the Crums
Of Thomas à Kempis ; he knew the Lattin,
Although his Gown was neither Silk nor Sattin ;
He gravely cought, and coughing gravely Rose,
Discharg'd his mind in Ciceronian Prose ;
Which cause the sence was Great, the language terse,
The Poet has Immortaliz'd in Verse.
I'le pawn my Life on't (said the Canonist)
This in the Knavery of some Jansenist !
I dare believe my own eyes Information !
Our Prelate's pleas'd with Gurniers Conversation :
Arnold that Heretick waits our Destruction,
And this Tools uses for the Deans seduction :
No doubt but he can from St. Austin prove
That one St. Lewis sent from Heaven above,
In after Ages rising in our France,
A Pulpit in this Chappel should advance :
Now to confute him there lies all the skill,
Hee'd plague us with the Torrent of his Quill ;
One Argument we've yet left to confute him,
Let's burn him in Effigie, that will rout him !
Let others turn o're each Voluminous Father,
That's not my Province ; To be short, I'de rather
Consult with Father Bauny ; he alone
With me is twenty Austins, all in Once :
Go then and Rumage all Antiquity,
If any footsteps there, of Pulpits be ;
We've time enough e're day ! fall to your task,
No longer space than till day-break we ask :
So many Heads, and hands I doubt not, can
Before Sun-rise peruse the Vatican !
This uncouth motion startled all that heard it,
Till fat-guts Everard open'd, and quite marr'd it :

A wise device ! (quote he) And pray, what Gains
Shall answer all this Cumber, all these pains ?
For one poor lowzy Pew, to break our Brains :
‘Tis more Ingenious to Study Meat,
Let his Thin Chops his Musty Authors Eat !
We've other Fish to fry ! I am a man
That Read alike Bible and Alchoran !
If I can learn what Rents my Tenants owe :
When Mortgag'd Vineyards forfeited to grow ;
Can I precisely learn the Quarters day,
When wooden Shooes trudge up their dues to pay ;
There lies my Talent ! I no learning lack,
But what is enter'd in my Almanack.
Imprimis, fifty Marks a year in Ground-Rents ;
Item, twice fifty more Per-ann in Pound-Rents !
When Wheat, and Mault in crowded Garners lie,
I boast me of a well-store'd Library !
Why vex we then Dead Fathers, Greeks and Lattins ?
Our Mother Tongue will serve to Mumble Mattins ;
I'le ask no help of Scotus to pull down
A Pulpit ! This great Arm the Work shall Crown.
All's one to me, let Arnold judge or quit me,
I'le hit him home agen, whoe're dares hit me :
Fie on these long Harangues ! Let's live, and Drink !
And let censorious Whigs think what they think !
Thus Everard spoke ! A heavy Abbey Lubber !
Whose Head was alwayes nuzling in the Cubber'd !
Ribout the Chorister then demurely rose,
And these Impertinencies stiffly oppose.
I never lik'd tedious Circumlocutions,
And shall advise to more concise conclusions !
Let Trombaut make but the great Organs roar,
They'l blow the Pulpit quickly out o'th' dore !
Needs must the Chanter own each man his friend,
Though diff'ring in the Means, they jumpt i'th' Eend !
The General cry went still, Ay ! one and all !
Let the Proud Pulpit, Let the Pulpit fall !
Thus all Unanimous held the Conclusion,
But in the Premises was great Confusion :
Just so at Trent, when Concord in a Bag
Came Post from Rome, they hit it to a Tag !
The least he lik'd was he that last had spoke,
His Patience that a little did provoke :
I ne're Approv'd ( quoth he ) this moal work !
Who knows what fallacy may under't lurk ?
Who can assure me but the Pulpits blast
May puff the Organs out of Doors at last ?
We sometimes saw the sad experiment,
Away with that Dubious Expedient ;
Come, Come ! Lets make ( said he ) a Quick dispatch !
Whils't we prate here, we fast in pain, and watch !
Down with the Idol ! As I am a sinner,
My eager stomach crockes, and calls for Dinner !
There will we sit, Chat Eat, Drink, Laugh, grow fat,
Exiling fretting Care, that kills a Cat !
He rose in hasty Zeal ; The faighful Troop,
Arm'd with the Pregnant hopes of Sacred Soup,
Follow their Leader : to the Quire they go,
There view the Object of then Rage, and Wo ;
There on the Common Enemy they lay
United hands ; and at the first essay
Pluck down the Provocation of their Spleen ;
So in the Woods of Ardenn have I seen
Sacred to Jove, an Ancient spreading Oak
Fall at the Axes oft redoubled stroke !
The Boards they rend in Pieces ; and the Quarry
In Triumph to the Chanters Kitchin carry !
So Arduous was the work ! of such Renown !
To set a Pulpit up, to pluck a Pulpit down !


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012



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