Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux

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

Canto I Argument - Poem by Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux

Canto I

ARGUMENT

The Argument ? what needs a Proëme
To vamp a Three-half-penny Poëme ?
No, Reader, No ; ‘twas never writt
For thy sake, but for little Chitt.
St. George oth' back-side of the Horn-book,
The Dragon kills, to Humour Scorn-book.
And thus to wheddle in young Fops,
The gilded Sign hangs o're the Shops :
Miss won't come in to Buy, before
She spies the Knick-knack at the Dore.
Thus Queasie Madams meat forbear
Until they read, The Bill of Fare.
Instead a Frontispiece, or Babbie,
We plac't to please some puiney Rabbie,
Who hates an Author that enlarges,
And cons the Index to save charges.
Discord, that Tearing, Hectoring Ranter,
Provokes a Dean and his Arch-chanter,
Who had liv'd friendly forty years,
To fall together by the ears ;
A Rotten Pulpit plac'd i'th' Quire
Furnished fewel to the Fire :
Three swashing Blades, blind Fates agree
Should do the work : but who they bee,
Pray ask the Canto, that can tell
Better than I : and so Farewell
Thus far the Porch, now view the House,
Here is the Mountain, there's the Mouse.

Immortal feuds, and more than Civil Warrs,
And Fights thô fierce, disfigur'd with no Scarrs
I sing ! And thee Great Prelate, who of late,
Maugre the Changer, and Reluctant Fate
Didst raise at length a Pulpit in the Quire,
Th' immortal Trophee of thy Mortal Ire.
Twice the Pragmatick Chanter, thô in vain,
Pesum'd to discompose thy peaceful Reign ;
Twice with Schismatick Pride did enterprise
To force the Chapter in Rebellion rise ;
As oft the Dean him swoln with envious rage,
Hurl'd Headlong from high hopes ; and by sage
Sexton assisted, terrify'd the People
Who durst dispute the Title to his Steeple.
Instruct me Muse, for thou canst tell, what Thirst
Of sweeet Revenge, thô Dire, engaged first
Religious Souls to break the Sacred Tye
Of blessed Peace and heaven-born Amitie,
To make old Friends new Rivals ; can there rest
Such bitter Gall in a Religious Breast ?
And thou Great Heroe, whose wise conduct stifled
The growing Schisme which else thy Church had rifled
With favour influence my Advent'rous Verse,
Nor dare to laugh, whilest I thay Acts rehearse.
In melting Pleasures of Fraternal Peace
An ancient Abbey long had dwelt at case,
Whose Scarlet Prebends blear'd poor Mortals eyes,
Whose Ermines, Winters Frost, and Snow defies ;
Basking in fat, and Wealth, themselves they Bless
In sweet Repose of Sacred Idleness :
Thus Stretcht at length on downy Featherbeds,
To chaunt their Matines ne're lift up their Heads,
But before Dinner wek'd ; for they could smell
The Kitchin Steams, though Deaf to th' Prayer-bell
When Eyes and Ears Nights leaden Key composes,
Kind Sleep yet open left their subtle Noses ;
These alwaies Eat in Person, but did praise
Their God by Proxie, in Harmonious Layes,
Pawning the Chanters, and Poor Singing-boyes
Condemn'd to those inferiour Drudgeries.
When Discord dappled o're with thousand Crimes,
The Villanies of our Debauched times
Quitting the humble Seat of Parish Churches,
On a Magnificent Cathedral Perches,
The hideous clang of her hate-bearing wing
Peace trembled : whilst the Fiend arm'd with her Sting.
Allighting swift before the Pompous Pile
Of her proud Pallace, stood and paws'd a while.
Thence with observing eye, her Emprire viewing,
Fomented Feuds and Warrs thereon ensuing,
Hatred, and variance, her self she blesses,
Applauds her Wit in these Atchiev'd successe'
From Norwich there, and Bristol Coaches, she
Legions of Tories dear, arriv'd might see,
And could her Vassals boast of all Degrees,
Cittizens, Nobles, Clerks, Priests, Dignities ;
But above all her Feats renown'd in stories,
In this she Prides her self, in this she Glories,
That Troops of Barr-gowns rang'd under her Banner
Had routed Themes, and now Triumph't on her ;
And yet she saw, and rag'd, and Griev'd to see
One Church disturb this rare Felicity,
One Church to brave her triumphs ; one Alone
Threaten to shake the firmness of her Throne,
That amidst all these Horricanes and Scuffles
No breath of Stormy Wind it's Quiet ruffles.
Needs must so Odious a sight as this
Awake her Rage, make all her Serpents hiss ;
With Stygian Aconite her mouth she fills,
From glaring eyes she streams of Flame distills :
" What ? (said she with a tone made windows Quiver),
" Have I been able hitherto to Shiver
" The Union ‘twixt Cordeliers, Carmelites,
" Dominicans, Franciscans, Minorites,
" Betwitxt the Molinists, the Celestines,
" Jansenists, Jesuites, and Augustines ?
" Have I by secreet Arts, nourisht the Stickle
" Between the Church-men, and the Contenticle ?
" And shall one Paultry-Chapel dare to Brave me ;
" Nay hope in time to it's nice Law t' inslave me ?
" And am I Discord still ? Who any more
" With Incense will my Sacred Shrines Adore ?
Thus spoke the Hagg ! And in a trice unseen
Of an Old Chanter takes the shape and meen :
A corner'd Cap her Snake-wigg'd Head did cover,
Her rich Face sparkling Rubies studded over,
Her Nose, emboss'd with Carbuncles Divine
Before her steps did like a Flamboy shine ;
Accoutred tus, with Red-coat Soldiers pace
Haughty she march't to find the Prelates Grace.
A Stately Bed, the Posts most richly Gilt,
Cover'd with Sumptuous Crimson Damask Quilt
Enclos'd with Double Curtains, scorning light
Of mid-day Sun, and counterfeiting Night,
Stood close in an Appartment like a Cell
Where Sweet Repose and Silence chose to Dwell ;
The Tester was all fac'd with Looking-Glass,
The rare Invention of this Golden Ass,
Contriv'd mysteriously that he might peep
And see how Blithe he lookt, when fast a-sleep.
Here lay the Mitred Head ! in a slumber down'd
Whilst gentle fumes his Dreaming Temples Crown'd ;
A sprightly Air adorns his Youthful Face,
His double Chine hangs down with goodly Grace ;
The Claret shin'd through the transparent Skin,
A broad conjecture where he late had been ;
And his Fat comely Corps, so thick and short
Made the soft Pillows groan under his Port :
Here, in Sack-posset arm'd, without repining
He waits in patience the blest hour of Dining.
The Goddess entering, saw the Table spread,
And all within doors rarely ordered,
Then Softly marching to his lodging, took him
Profoundly napping, and thus she bespoke him.
" Sleep'st thou, Great Prelate ? Sleep'st thou then Supine ?
" And to the Chanter mean'st thy Place Resign ?
" Whilst he sings Oremus, makes Grave Processions,
" And hurls about by whole-sale Vows and Blessings ?
" Sleep'st thou securely, till the Chanter come,
" And without Bull, or Brief procur'd from Rome,
" Whilst thou're wrap in sloath, and free from Fears,
" Rotchet and Surplice shall pluck o're thy Ears ?
" Sluggard, awake, arise, bestir thee quick,
" Renounce thy Ease, or quit thy Bishoprick !
She spoke, and from her Poysonous Mouth did fling
Into his Soul the Zeal of Quarrelling.
The Dean awakes ; The choler in his breast
Formented boils ; yet he the Fury Blest !
Have you not seen a Bull by Gad-fly stung,
When his tormented pride flownc'd, kick't, and flund ?
The vexed Air, with Ecchoes frighted rings !
Whilst he exhales his Rage in Bellowings !
So storm'd the Prelate, with his Dream o're-heated,
Poor Page, and Chambermaid were rudely treated ;
His mettle mov'd with conceiv'd Indignation,
Needs will he go to' th' Quire before Collation.
When Prudent Gilotin his Almoner
With grave Advice stept into stint the Stir ;
Shews him the Danger of that Rash Design,
How mad to go to Prayers, before he Dine ;
" What rage (quote he) is this ? what head-strong crotchet ?
" Pray Sir, regard the Honour of your Rotchet !
" He that for Chappel lets warm Dinner cool,
" May think himself Devout, I'le think him Fool !
" Does our Church consecrate Prelates to Pray ?
" For shame, this Zeal unseasonable allay !
" Shall all your Learning e're make me believe,
" That this is Lent, or any Saints dayes Eve ?
" Then Reassume your self, forbear to Doat,
" Meat heated twice, is not worth half a Groat !
Thus reseason'd Gilotin, and very loath
T' adjourn a Meal, bed ‘em serve in the broath.
The Prelate stood a while in deep suspence,
He ey'd the Soupe with Holy Reverence ;
O'recome at last with Reason and good Nature
He yields, and sits him down to tast the Creature :
‘Yet inward Rage did all the while provoke him,
Twas fear'd each Morsel would go near to choke him ;
Gilotin saw't, and sigh'd ! in Zeal he rises
T' acquaint his party with these Enterprises ;
Tells them with Grief of Heart, what rude Affronters
Of Lawn-sleev'd Grandeur were these Sawcy Chanters ;
Protests they'd vex't his Lordship so that day
His Meat went down like Orts, or old chopt Hay !
Nay I may safely say't without Presumption
This Course must bring him int' a Deep Consumption!
Now might you see whole troops of Chanons, all
To Rendevouz in the great Pallace-hall !
So have you seen perhaps Legions of Cranes,
Marching on Wing o're Strymons Spacious pains,
When the proud Pygmies, must'ring their warlike Nation
Design against them an Unjust Invasion !
Surpriz'd at sight of this great friendly Rabble,
The Sweetned Prelate rises from the Table ;
Nodding he Touch't his Hat, to keep Decorum ;
Nor seem'd to slight, nor basely to Adore ‘um !
His face no longer shone with Orient Flame,
But pleas'd, recalls the good Beer-bowl brimmer
Of Racy Claret, and Commends a Swimmer
To the good Company ; they with joint consent
Follow the Prelates gracious Precedent ;
And, whilst their circling Healths and Heads go round,
Arnold and all his little Whigs, Confound !
With Nectar, killing-thirst they will allay ;
The Voider comes, the Cloath is ta'ne away,
The Prelate then with words expressing Grief,
Unto his Confidents declaims in brief !
" My brave Confederates, in all Intrigues,
" Propping my Interest with our holy Leagues,
" Whose Votes Unanimous once made me Dean,
" What boots this Meagre Title ? Honour Lean ?
" My Name but mention'd ; Ay, and scarcely that,
" Unless perhaps at the Magnificat ;
" How can you bear to see this Rascal Nose me,
" And his Combined mates thus dare t'oppose me ?
" Invading all my Rights and Priviledges,
" My Compeer th' Impudent, himself Alledges.
" Thus leaping o're all bounds of Law and Reason,
" I think t'Indite the Rebel of High Treason ;
" For I have by me, or at least can get
" Such Witnesses, be sure shall do the feat !
" This Insolent Upstart e're I was Dressing
" Stept up into my Throne, and gave the Blessing ;
" And now to cut my Throat, the last of Harms,
" The Villain would usurp my proper Arms. -
More would he fain have said, but briny tears
Mixt with redoubled sighs and inward fears,
Did intercept his speech, cut short his Story,
And spoil'd the Tenor of his Oratory.
But Zealous Guilotin, who condol'd his Merits,
Had one Device yet left to chear his Spirits :
For marking how the Prelates speech did vary,
He calls for a brisk Glass of old Canary.
Mean time cam Sidrac in, whome Age made flow,
Limping upon his crutch, the News to know ;
Full fourscore years, this Dotard in the Quire
Had practis'd ; all the Customs of his Sire,
All Ancient usages he could Describe,
For he was Dad of all the singing Tribe ;
Him time preferr'd, when waving many another,
From poor Church-warden to a Vestry-brother ;
He by the Prelates pale and fading colour
Had quickly ghess't the nature of his dolour,
And sweetly smiling, he Addresses thus :
" And why, my Lord ! So Pusillanimous ?
" Leave to the Chanter fruitless moans and tears,
" Attend the wisdom of now fourscore years,
" Enricht with large experience of affairs ;
" If of thy wrongs thou hopest for Repairs,
" Then lend thy Ear attentive, Sir, be wise,
" And put in practice what the Heavens advise !
" At th' end o'th' Quire where now the Haughty Knave
" Enthon'd in borrowed luster dares to Brave
" Thy Soveraingnty, upon that Iron Grate
" Stood once a Pulpit square of Ancient date,
" Behind this Machine, cover'd as with a skreen,
" The Sneaking Chanter scarce could then be seen ;
" Whil'st on the opposite Seat, our Dean did shine
" In Humane eyes with Majesty Divine ;
" How't came about I know not, but some Devil
" I do conclude the Author of this Evil ;
" Whether some envious hand had pluckt it down
" By Night ; or Time, or rigid Fate had thrown
" The Structure from its Base, yet this is true,
" One Morn we found i'th Floor the Sacred Pew !
" The Chanter I suppose might Plot with Heaven ;
" Be't so ! we may with both in time be Even :
" But down it came, and for the better Grace,
" That Holy things might rest in Holy Place,
" We lodg'd it in the Vestry straight, and there
" 'T has lyen despis'd in dust, these thirty year
" Fighting with Worms and Spiders, who therein
" Their curious Webbs do weave, and fine thred Spin ;
" And thirty more might lie, for use of Preaching,
" Yet ‘tis a Tool for this Rogues over-reaching.
" Now mark me Sir ! no sooner shall the Night
" His sable Wings spread o're the vanquisht Light,
" But three out of our Number, without Ryot,
" Will Slip into the Church, while all is quiet,
" And under Covert of the darkness Strive
" Once more the Ruinous Pulpit's Mass Revive :
" And of next day the Chanter dares o'rethrow it,
" By twenty Actions thou shalt make him know it,
" What ‘tis to rouze a sleeping Prelate ! This
" The Proper Glory of a Prelate is,
" To Vindicate against Malignant People
" The Jus Divinum of his Ancient Steeple ;
" To rescue from base Sacrilegious hands
" His Tithes, his Offerings, Perquisites, and Lands ;
" This makes him Glorious to the present Age,
" This future Immortality Presage :
" What, wilt confine thy Glories to a Quire ?
" To Preach and Pray did Heaven award thy Hire ?
" Such Virtues might Adorn the dayes of Yore,
" When Prelates only Humble, Pious, Poor,
" Boasted in empty Epithetes ; new Times
" Require new Manners, suited to our Crimes ;
" Let Church-men now frequent the Barr and Plead,
" And Cook and Littleton, not Fathers read ;
" The Law, the Law's thy work ! then shall the Croud
" Pressing thy Throne, with Prayers implore aloud
" Thy Benedictions, which thou may'st Dispense
" By dozens, scores, and Hundreds, and from thence
" To his Regrett, the fretting envious Elf
" Shall see thee thousands Bless ; and hang himself !
To see the Mighty Power of Eloquence,
How little short ‘tis of Omnipotence !
Sidrac's discourse had charm'd their Ears and Heart,
And Planet-strook the Dean stood for his part ;
Now on the place before a foot they stirr,
The Lot must tell whom Destinies prefer
To this important service ; All pretend
Both Zeal, and Fitness for this Noble end ;
The Prelate then stroaking his Milk-white Beard
With Wisdom spoke, with Reverence was Head :
The Lot, my Masters ! I ordain your Law ;
From Urn Impartial each his Fortune draw ;
‘Twas said, ‘twas done ; Now all leave off the Quibling.
Each Mothers Son betakes himself to Scribling ;
Full thirty Names at least, in Tickets rolled
Were reckon'd ; And that none might be cajoled,
William, a Novice ‘mongst the singing boyes
(Who serv'd in time of Need t make a Noise,)
Must draw the Lots ; And now from fatal Bonnet
Each man abides his Doom, what e're comes on it.
Thrice had the Dean with hands lift up to Heaven
Unto this Pious Work the Blessing given ;
His holy Hand thrice shakes the fatal Cap,
And happy man be's Dole who has the Hap !
Now William trembling to the Work Addresses,
Him too the bounteous Dean All-to-be-Blesses ;
The Boy was newly shorn, of ruddy Hew,
But when he came to't, the poor Lad look't Blew ;
And now he draws ! First Brontin's Name appears,
Thrice happy Name to cure the Prelates fears !
For wat less could that Thundring Name presage,
Than that he'd prove The Terror of the Age ?
All's husht again ; and for the second turn
The boy advanc'd his shaking hand to th' Urn ;
When the kind fates gave out th' Auspicious Name
Of John the Clockmaker : A Cock oth' Game,
This John had been, but now a jolly fellow
Had yok'd himself to Nan, hi dear Bed-fellow ;
This happy pair, (say they) before their Marriage
Had guilty been of some unhandsome carriage,
But after three years stealing secret pleasure
The Priest had joyn'd their hands, at least, together.
A third remains ; The Prelate takes the Urn,
And to play fair gives it a double turn :
Their fligg'ring Souls do now on Tiptoes stand,
Twixt fears and hopes for the deciding hand ;
How blithe wast thou, how Buxome, and how chicket,
When once thy Name proclaimed by the Ticket,
Past all the fear of Contingent Disaster,
Appear'd before the face of thy great Master,
Betrude (I mean) the Sexton ? Some do say,
Thy livid Front e're while as pale as Clay,
Glow'd into Sanguine ; and thy Rosy Hew
Did the Wan Sallow of thy Hide Subdue !
Thy Gouty Legs and Toes benumm'd before,
Ventur'd to cut three Capes on the Floor !
Now might you hear the Crowd at chearful Rates
Applaud the Justice of the Gentle Fates,
Who by their peremptory strict commands
Dispos'd the work into such able Hands ;
Faith with the Court Dissolves, all satisfie'd,
And to their Quarters in great Triumph hy'd.
The Dean alone, to cool his Zeal enraged,
Slumber'd till a soft Supper might asswage it !


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012



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