Mark Akenside

(1721-1770 / England)

The Virtuoso: In Imitation of Spenser's Style And Stanza


“--- Videmus
Nugari solitos.”
-Persius

Whilom by silver Thames's gentle stream,
In London town there dwelt a subtile wight;
A wight of mickle wealth, and mickle fame,
Book-learn'd and quaint: a Virtuoso hight.
Uncommon things, and rare, were his delight;
From musings deep his brain ne'er gotten ease,
Nor ceased he from study, day or night;
Until (advancing onward by degrees)
He knew whatever breeds on earth, or air, or seas.
He many a creature did anatomize,
Almost unpeopling water, air, and land;
Beasts, fishes, birds, snails, caterpillars, flies,
Were laid full low by his relentless hand,
That oft with gory crimson was distain'd:
He many a dog destroy'd, and many a cat;
Of fleas his bed, of frogs the marshes drain'd,
Could tellen if a mite were lean or fat,
And read a lecture o'er the entrails of a gnat.
He knew the various modes of ancient times,
Their arts and fashions of each different guise,
Their weddings, funerals, punishments for crimes,
Their strength, their learning eke, and rarities;
Of old habiliments, each sort and size,
Male, female, high and low, to him were known;
Each gladiator-dress, and stage disguise;
With learned, clerkly phrase he could have shown
How the Greek tunic differ'd from the Roman gown.
A curious medallist, I wot, he was,
And boasted many a course of ancient coin;
Well as his wife's he knewen every face,
From Julius Cæsar down to Constantine:
For some rare sculpture he would oft ypine,
(As green-sick damosels for husbands do
And when obtained, with enraptur'd eyne,
He'd run it o'er and o'er with greedy view,
And look, and look again, as he would look it thro'.
His rich museum, of dimensions fair,
With goods that spoke the owner's mind was fraught:
Things ancient, curious, value-worth, and rare,
From sea and land, from Greece and Rome were brought
Which he with mighty sums of gold had bought:
On these all tides with joyous eyes he por'd;
And, sooth to say, himself he greater thought,
When he beheld his cabinets thus stor'd,
Than if he'd been of Albion's wealthy cities lord.
Here in a corner stood a rich 'scrutoire,
With many a curiosity replete;
In seemly order furnished every drawer,
Products of art or nature as was meet;
Air-pumps and prisms were plac'd beneath his feet,
A Memphian mummy-king hung o'er his head;
Here phials with live insects small and great,
There stood a tripod of the Pythian maid;
Above, a crocodile diffus'd a grateful shade.

Fast by the window did a table stand,
Where hodiern and antique rarities,
From Egypt, Greece, and Rome, from sea and land,
Were thick-besprent of every sort and size:
Here a Bahaman-spider's carcass lies,
There a dire serpent's golden skin doth shine:
Here Indian feathers, fruits, and glittering flies;
There gums and amber found beneath the line,
The beak of Ibis here, and there an Antonine.
Close at his back, or whispering in his ear,
There stood a spright ycleped Phantasy;
Which, wheresoe'er he went, was always near:
Her look was wild, and roving was her eye;
Her hair was clad with flowers of every dye;
Her glistering robes were of more various hue,
Than the fair bow that paints the clouded sky,
Or all the spangled drops of morning dew;
Their colour changing still at every different view.
Yet in this shape all tydes she did not stay,
Various as the chameleon that she bore:
Now a grand monarch with a crown of hay,
Now mendicant in silks and golden ore:
A statesman now, equipp'd to chase the boar,
Or cowled monk, lean, feeble, and unfed;
A clown-like lord, or swain of courtly lore;
Now scribbling dunce in sacred laurel clad,
Or papal father now, in homely weeds array'd.
The wight whose brain this phantom's power doth fill,
On whom she doth with constant care attend,
Will for a dreadful giant take a mill,
Or a grand palace in a hogsty find:
(From her dire influence me may Heaven defend!)
All things with vitiated sight he spies:
Neglects his family, forgets his friend,
Seeks painted trifles and fantastic toys,
And eagerly pursues imaginary joys.

Submitted: Saturday, April 17, 2010

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