John Gay

(30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732 / Barnstaple, England)

Trivia; or the Art of Walking the Streets of London: Book I.


Of the Implements for Walking the Streets,
and Signs of the Weather.

Through winter streets to steer your courses aright,
How to walk clean by day, and safe by night,
How jostling crowds, with prudence to decline,
When to assert the wall, and when resign,
I sing: thou, Trivia, goddess, aid my song,
Through spacious streets conduct thy bard along;
By thee transported, I securely stray
Where winding alleys lead the doubtful way,
The silent court, and opening square explore,
And long perplexing lanes untrod before.
To pave thy realm, and smooth the broken ways,
Earth from her womb a flinty tribute pays;
For thee, the sturdy paver thumps the ground,
Whilst every stroke his labouring lungs resound;
For thee the scavenger bids kennels glide
Within their bounds, and heaps of dirt subside,
My youthful bosom burns with thirst of fame.
From the great theme to build a glorious name,
And bind my temples with a civic crown:
But more, my country's love demands the lays,
My country's be the profit, mine the praise.
When the black youth at chosen stands rejoice,
And 'clean your shoes' resounds from every voice;
When late their miry sides stage-coaches show,
And their stiff horses through the town move slow;
When all the Mall in leafy ruin lies,
And damsels first renew their oyster-cries:
Then let the prudent walker shoes provide,
Not of the Spanish or Morocco hide;
The wooden heel may raise the dancer's bound,
And with the scallop'd top his step be crown'd:
Let firm, well-hammer'd soles protect thy feet
Through freezing snows, and rains, and soaking sleet.
Should the big last extend the shoe too wide,
Each stone will wrench the unwary step aside:
The sudden turn may stretch the swelling vein,
Thy cracking joint unhinge, or ankle sprain;
And then too short the modish shoes are worn,
You'll judge the seasons by your shooting corn.
Nor should it prove thy less important care,
To choose a proper coat for winter's wear.
Now in thy trunk thy D'oily habit fold,
The silken drugget ill can fence the cold;
The frieze's spongy nap is soak'd with rain,
And showers soon drench the camlet's cockled grain,
True Witney broad-cloth with its shag unshorn,
Unpierc'd is in the lasting tempest worn;
Be this the horseman's fence; for who would wear
Amid the town the spoils of Russia's bear!
Within the Roquelaure's clasp thy hands are pent,
Hands, that stretch'd forth invading harms prevent.
Let the loop'd Bavaroy the fop embrace,
Or his deep cloak be spatter'd o'er with lace,
That garment best the winter's rage defends,
Whose ample form without one plait depends;
By various names in various counties known,
Yet held in all the true surtout alone:
Be thine of Kersey firm, though small the cost,
Then brave unwet the rain, unchill'd the frost.
If the strong cane support thy walking hand,
Chairmen no longer shall the wall command;
Even sturdy car-men shall thy nod obey,
And rattling coaches stop to make the way;
This shall direct thy cautious tread aright,
Though not one glaring lamp enliven night.

Let beaux their canes with amber tipt produce,
Be theirs for empty show but thine for use.
In gilded chariots while they loll at east,
And lazily ensure a life's disease;
While softer chairs the tawdry load convey
To court, to White's, assemblies, or the play;
Rosy-complexion'd health thy steps attends,
And exercise thy lasting youth defends.
Imprudent men heaven's choicest gifts profane,
Thus some beneath their arm support the cane;
The dirty point oft checks the careless pace,
And miry spots the clean cravat disgrace:
O! may I never such misfortune meet,
May no such vicious walkers crowd the street,
May Providence o'ershade me with her wings,
While the bold muse experienc'd dangers sings.

Not that I wander from my native home,
And (tempting perils) foreign cities roam.
Let Paris be the theme of Gallia's muse,
Where slavery treads the street in wooden shoes
Nor do I rove in Belgia's frozen clime,
And teach the clumsy boor to skate in rhyme,
Where, if the warmer clouds in rain descend,
No wiry ways industrious steps offend,
The rushing flood from sloping pavements pours,
And blackens the canals with dirty showers.
Let others Naples' smoother streets rehearse,
And with proud Roman structures grace their verse,
Where frequent murders wake the night with groans,
And blood in purple torrents dies the stones;
Nor shall the muse through narrow Venice stray,
Where gondolas their painted oars display.
O happy streets, to rumbling wheels unknown,
No carts, no coaches shake the floating town!
Thus was of old Britannia's city bless'd,
Ere pride and luxury her sons possess'd:
Coaches and chariots yet unfashion'd lay,
Nor late-invented chairs perplex'd the way:
Then the proud lady tipp'd along the town,
And tuck'd up petticoats secur'd her gown,
Her rosy cheek with distant visits glow'd,
And exercise unartful charms bestow'd;
But since in braded gold her foot is bound,
And a long-trailing manteau sweeps the ground,
Her shoe disdains the street; the lazy fair
With narrow step affects a limping air.
Now gaudy pride corrupts the lavish age,
And the streets flame with glaring equipage;
The tricking gamester insolently rides,
With Loves and Graces on his chariot sides;
In saucy state the griping broker sits,
And laughs at honesty, and trudging wits:
For you, O honest men, these useful lays
The muse prepares; I seek no other praise.

When sleep is first disturb'd by morning cries;
From sure prognostics learn to know the skies,
Lest you of rheums and coughs at night complain;
Surpris'd in dreary fogs, or driving rain.
When suffocating mists obscure the morn,
Let thy worst wig long us'd to storms, be worn;
This knows the powder'd footman, and with care,
Beneath his flapping hat secures his hair,
Be thou, for every season, justly drest,
Nor brave the piercing frost with open breast;
And when the bursting clouds a deluge pour,
Let thy surtout defend the drenching shower.
The changing weather certain signs reveal,
Ere winter sheds her snow, or frosts congeal,
You'll see the coals in bright flame aspire,
And sulpher tinge with blue the rising fire:
Your tender shins the scorching heat decline,
And at the dearth of coals the poor repine;
Before her kitchen hearth, the nodding dame
In flannel mantle wrapt, enjoys the flame
Hovering; upon her feeble knees she bends,
And all around the grateful warmth ascends.

Nor do less certain signs the town advise,
Of milder weather, and serener skies.
The ladies gaily dress'd, the Mall adorn
With various dyes, and paint the sunny morn;
The wanton fawns with frisking pleasure range,
And chirping sparrows greet the welcome change:
Not that their minds with greater skill are fraught,
Endu'd by instinct, or by reason taught,
The seasons operate on every breast,
'Tis hence that fawns are brisk, and ladies drest.
When on his box the nodding coachman snores,
And dreams of fancy'd fares; when tavern doors
The chairman idly crowd; then ne'er refuse
To trust thy busy steps in thinner shoes.
But when the swinging signs your ears offend
With creaking noise, then rainy floods impend;
Soon shall the kennels swell with rapid streams,
And rush in muddy torrents to the Thames.
The bookseller, whose shop's an open square,
Foresees the tempest, and with early care
Of learning strips the rail; the rowing crew
To tempt a fare, clothe all their tilts in blue:
On hosier's poles depending stockings ty'd,
Flag with the slacken'd gale, from side to side:
Church-monuments foretell the changing air,
Then Niobe dissolves into a tear,
And sweats with secret grief; you'll hear the sounds,
Of whistling winds, ere kennels break their bounds;
Ungrateful odours common-shores diffuse,
And dropping vaults distil unwholesome dews,
Ere the tiles rattle with the smoking shower,
And spouts on heedless men their torrents pour.

All superstition from thy breast repel.
Let credulous boys, and prattling nurses tell,
How if the festival of Paul be clear,
Plenty from liberal horn shall strow the year;
When the dark skies dissolve in snow or rain,
The labouring hind shall yoke the steer in vain;
But if threat'ning winds in tempests roar,
Then war shall bathe her wasteful sword in gore.
How, if on Swithin's feast the welkin lowers,
And every penthouse streams with hasty showers,
Twice twenty days shall clouds their fleeces drain,
And wash the pavements with incessant rain;
Let not such vulgar tales debase thy mind;
Nor Paul nor Swithin rule the clouds and wind.
If you the precepts of the muse despise,
And slight the faithful warning of the skies,
Others you'll see, when all the town's afloat,
Wrapt in the embraces of a Kersey coat,
Or double-button'd frieze: their guarded feet
Defy the muddy dangers of the street,
While you with hat unloop'd, the fury dread
Of spouts high streaming, and with cautious tread
Shun every dashing pool; or idly stop,
To seek the kind protection of a shop.
But business summons; now with hasty scud
You jostle for the wall: the spatter'd mud
Hides all thy hose behind; in vain you scour,
The wig, alas! uncurl'd, admits the shower.
So fierce, Alecto's snaky tresses fell,
When Orpheus charm'd the rigorous powers of hell,
Or thus hung Glaucus' beard, with briny dew
Clotted and straight, when first his amorous view
Surpris'd the bathing fair; the frighted maid
Now stands a rock, transform'd by Circe's aid.

Good housewives all the winter's rage despise,
Defended by the riding-hood's disguise:
Or underneath the umbrella's oily shade,
Safe thro' the wet on clinking pattens tread.
Let Persian dames the umbrella's ribs display,
To guard their beauties from the sunny ray;
Or sweating slaves support the shady load,
When eastern monarchs show their state abroad
Britain in winter only knows its aid,
To guard from chilly showers the walking maid.
But O! forget not, muse, the patten's praise,
That female implement shall grace thy lays;
Say from what art divine the invention came,
And from its origin deduc'd its name,
Where Lincoln wide extends her fenny soil,
A goodly yeoman liv'd, grown white with toil:
One only daughter bless'd his nuptial bed,
Who from her infant hand the poultry fed:
Martha (her careful mother's name) she bore,
But now her careful mother was no more.
Whilst on her father's knee the damsel play'd,
Patty he fondly call'd the smiling maid;
As years increas'd, her ruddy beauty grew,
And Patty's fame o'er all the village flew.

Soon as the gray-ey'd morning streaks the skies,
And in the doubtful day the woodcock flies,
Her cleanly pail the pretty housewife bears,
And singing to the distant field repairs:
And when the plains with evening dews are spread
The milky burden smokes upon her head,
Deep, thro' a miry lane she picked her way,
Above her ancle rose the chalky clay.
Vulcan by chance the gloomy maiden spies,
With innocence and beauty in her eyes,
He saw, he lov'd; for yet he ne'er had known
Sweet innocence and beauty meet in one.
Ah Mulciber, recal thy nuptial vows,
Think on the graces of thy Paphian spouse,
Think how her eyes dart inexhausted charms,
And canst thou leave her bed for Patty's arms?
The Lemnian power forsakes the realms above,
His bosom glowing with terrestial love:
Far in the lane a lonely hut he found,
No tenant ventur'd on the unwholesome ground.
Here smokes his forge, he bares his sinewy arm,
And early strokes the sounding anvil warm;
Around his shop the steely sparkles flew,
As for the steed he shap'd the bending shoe.

When blue ey'd Patty near his window came,
His anvil rests, his forge forgets to flame.
To hear his soothing tales she feigns delays;
What woman can resist the force of praise?
At first she coyly every kiss withstood,
And all her cheek was flush'd with modest blood:
With headless nails he now surrounds her shoes,
To save her steps from rains and piercing dews;
She lik'd his soothing tales, his presents wore,
And granted kisses, but would grant no more.
Yet winter chill'd her feet, with cold she pines,
And on her cheek the fading rose declines;
No more her humid eyes their lustre boast,
And in hoarse sounds her melting voice is lost.
This Vulcan saw, and in his heavenly thought,
A new machine mechanic fancy wrought,
Above the mire her shelter'd steps to raise,
And bare her safely through the wintry ways;
Straight the new engine on the anvil glows,
And the pale virgin on the patten rose.
No more her lungs are shook with drooping rheums,
And on her cheek reviving beauty blooms.
The god obtain'd his suit; though flattery fail,
Presents with female virtue must prevail.
The patten now supports each frugal dame,
Which from the blue-eyed Patty takes the name.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

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