Christopher Anstey

(1724-1805 / England)

Contentment; Or Hints To - Poem by Christopher Anstey

Dearly beloved Countrymen and Friends,
Accept the verse an half--starv'd Poet sends:
Who scant of paper in these needy times,
To walls and painted boards commits his Rhymes;
Yet trusts his labours will enough ensure
To pay his Printer, and his Hunger cure:
Think not, though you're unskill'd in critick Laws,
He proudly scorns your censure or applause:
Your judgment uncontroll'd by rules of art,
Will speak the genuine language of the heart,
And much rejoice him, if when oft read o'er
His numbers please you, but his counsel more:
And if no courtly phrase salute your ear,
Blame not his heart, nor deem him less sincere.

Amid the various ills by Heav'n design'd
To mortify our pride, and scourge mankind,
It's just indulgence to your humble state
Invites me to congratulate your fate,
And not with envy, but with pleasure view
The numerous blessings it allots to you:
Look round and all the destinations trace
And various portions of the human race:
To all has Providence its justice shewn,
To all their sorrows, and their joys are known;
His toils and fears the anxious Merchant bears,
The Soldier hardships, and the Statesman cares:
By turns the Courtier, Lawyer, and Divine
Successful triumph, and neglected pine:
Alternate pains and pleasures are our lot,
E'en from the Peasant's in his lowly cot
To his, who watchful guards Britannia's Throne--
Look round, and find contentment in your own.

What though sometimes your Master's voice your hear
In sounds more loud, than pleasant to your ear:
Too oft, alas! 'mid wealth and power distress'd
A thousand conflicts rend his troubled breast:
He who ne'er learn'd his passions to subdue
Endures a heavier servitude than you:
Yours be the task, submissive and resign'd,
To bear those hasty sallies of his mind;
Just Heav'n has pleas'd in mercy to bestow
Some good to recompense for every woe.
You from the ills which penury await,
Hunger and want, that haunt the Peasant's gate,
Your happier lot exempts: alike appear
To you the barren, and the fruitful year;
The same you're fed, the same are cloth'd and paid,
And like the lilies of the field array'd:
On you, when stricken with some sore disease,
The Doctor waits; your master pays his fees;
Yours are the chosen dainties of his board;
And when to health and strength again restor'd,
You have the freedom for yourselves to choose;
(A freedom which you seldom fail to use)
May claim dismission, just to change the air--
For better wages, and more sumptuous fare.

Thrice are you bless'd, if you your blessings knew,
Who with content your destin'd tasks pursue!
Ye well--dress'd Valets, and ye powder'd Beaus,
Who the rich ---'s numerous suite compose,
You daily on your heads more pudding waste,
Than in a week your hungry neighbours taste,
You all respectful at his feasts appear,
Obey his mandates, and his nod revere:
But at your snug convivial table met,
Laugh at his frailties, and your own forget:
Yet censure not his vanity and pride,
By which your daily comforts are supply'd,
And learn to spare his character at least,
While at his cost so plenteously you feast,
While each th'effects of his profusion shares,
And all his luxuries without his cares;
If Duns appear, or at his Honour's gate
The stern Collectors of the Taxes wait,
You sing before that unrelenting crew,
Flourish your canes, and chuckle at the view:
Nor less the menials of the household train
All tax, all gatherers of tax, disdain,
With smiles behold their bills, their parchment books,
Their busy aspect, and important looks:
Nor caring much what's by his Honour paid,
Whilst on their dues there's no encroachment made,
And whilst no tribute is requir'd of them,
They neither much applaud, nor much condemn;
Contemplate oft their little hoards alone,
And bless their stars, that little is their own:
So when on some fat gosling to regale
The roving Kite unfurls his feather'd sail,
The meaner birds unworthy of his might
In conscious safety view his awful flight;
The Daw, the Pie, and party--colour'd Jay
Coolly observe him hovering o'er his prey;
Yet all behold the victim in his claws
With secret ecstasy, and self--applause:

'Mongst those who form this complicated throng,
You shall not pass neglected in my song,
Ye buckskin Heroes of the whip and thong;
Though Phaebus frown, and pull me by the ear,
[ And strange to ev'ry Muse it must appear
That when so many rolling years have fled,
And cloth'd with mantle grey your Poet's head,
Since you were wont his little Tit to feed;
He now should mount the Pegasean steed:
Robin! I oft record those plenteous days,
When you to gain the good old Lady's praise
Pamper'd her rusty Bobtails, till they grew
As pursy, and as indolent as you:
Drove them attentive to your mutual ease,
And join'd with theirs your sympathetick wheeze;
Nor less for Madam's credit than your own
You made her hospitable stable known,
Rejoic'd the poor dumb creatures to regale
With oats as freely, as your friends with ale:
Alas! those blest Saturnian days are o'er,
Such wasteful habits must be known no more:
'Tis time for those who o'er the bin preside,
And uncontroll'd the stable empire guide,
From Oats awhile their subjects to restrain,
And learn themselves from Barley to refrain:
Till Heav'n is pleas'd (nor have we cause to fear
From the fair prospect of the opening year)
To make our fruitful vallies smile with corn,
And Plenty fill once more her golden horn:
Consider well, ye bonny lads, who speed
From distant Tay, or borders of the Tweed,
How many hungry Chields ye ken right weel,
Whose fingers itch to turn your oats to meal:
If to your Horse you'd health and spirits give,
Use well the currycomb, and spare the sieve:
Time was, when, far unlike the present mode,
The gentle Fair Ones on their Palfreys rode,
In female habits, and of female mien
Pac'd on the road, or tittup'd on the green;
But now in martial dress with fierce cockade
On tall high mettled coursers they parade;
Though oft a colour which their fear bespeaks,
Bursts through the varnish of their painted cheeks;
And since we see from vanity and pride
And not for pleasure or for health they ride,
Delight to drive, or scamper o'er the stones,
Be sparing of your oats, and save their bones.--
Alas! my Friends, I must express my fear,
You'll lose your trades since provender's so dear;
But doubt not, if your country calls you forth,
You'll act like heroes of true British worth:
That strength which you, ye Charioteers, display
When through the crowded ranks you force your way,
And wheel with wheel contends in doubtful fray,
That rage for mischief, which you nightly shew,
With terror would confound the Gallick foe:
Shame! that such merit should neglected pass:
On with your plumed crests, and plates of brass:
Like ancient heroes make your valour known,
Drive in your poles, and beat whole squadrons down:
Would you all Buonaparte's host defy,
Nor from the combat ever wish to fly,
Accept my generous steeds--
Come on, ye bold Automedons and Grooms;
See! how for you the conquering laurel blooms!--
Alas! you're loth to quit at Honour's call
The savoury Kitchen, and the social Hall,
Rather in draughts from which oblivion flows,
Those sweet Nepenthes of all human woes,
Which mirth and joy and jollity produce,
Stingo, or juniper's enchanting juice
Your genius safely would indulge, nor fear
The Piquet's point, or Drummer's lash severe;
You to the dangerous day, and wakeful night
No secret expeditions e'er invite,
Save, when expected at a distant place
By some plump nymph of culinary race,
O'er hills, and vales, and miry bogs you speed,
And try the bottom of your Master's steed;
Though thunder roar, and forked lightning fly,
Though wind and rain deform the nightly sky,
By her embraces warm'd, by her array'd,
(As erst Leander by the Sestian Maid)
Of all her Master's viands you dispose,
Without inquiring how the market goes:
But if no laurel crown you wish to gain,
You still the peaceful olive may obtain,
I'll point the way, if you the means will try,
How you may do some good before you die:
When with your country Friends your hours you pass,
And take, as oft you're wont, the copious glass,
When all grow mellow, if perchance you hear
``That 'tis th'Engrossers make the corn so dear;
``They must, and will have bread: they've had enough
``Of Rice and Soup, and all such squashy stuff:
``They'll help themselves: and strive by might and main
``To be reveng'd on all such rogues in grain:
``John swears he'll fight as long as he has breath,
``'Twere better to be hang'd than starv'd to death:
``He'll burn Squire Hoardum's garner, so he will,
``Tuck up old Filchbag, and pull down his mill.''
Now when the Prong and Pitchfork they prepare
And all the implements of rustick war,
Advice from you to whom their ways are known,
Their modes of life congenial with your own,
In kind persuasive language may prevail,
When e'en the mandates of the Justice fail:
Tell them what ills unlawful deeds attend,
Deeds, which in wrath begin, and sorrow end,
That burning barns, and pulling down a mill,
Will neither corn produce, nor bellies fill:
A well--tim'd Jest may prove of greater force
Than the grave Preacher's text, or learn'd discourse:
Sometimes a cheerful voice may truth impart
In tales that soften, and improve the heart:
Invite them oft to turn the pages o'er
And chaunt the wholesome strains of Hannah More;
A song, which either may be sung or said,
That Half a Loaf is better than no Bread
Flashes conviction in a Bumpkin's eyes;
At once disarm'd and taken by surprise
He drops his pitchfork, nor the truth denies:
Ingenious More! to whom the powers belong
Of pious precept, and melodious song,
Heed not the Bards, howe'er for wit renown'd,
Who cull the refuse of th'Aonian ground
To twine the nettle rude, and envious thorn
With the fair Myrtles which your brows adorn:
With Porteus form the ductile minds of youth,
And point the way to happiness and truth;
With Barrington a vicious age reprove,
And check th'unhallow'd flames of lawless love;
Nor less with Montagu in friendship join'd
Pour forth th'effusions of a virtuous mind:
Well have you taught the poor unletter'd Swain
His daily wants with patience to sustain:
But if such wretches live, who, some suppose
By combinations base increase his woes,
If such there be; 'gainst that inhuman throng
In keener numbers point th'indignant song:
If it please Him, whose all--directing sway
The various seasons of the year obey,
To give th'afflicting Angel his command,
With scarcity to scourge a guilty land;
In plenty, or in want, in good, or ill,
Bow we submissive to his righteous will:
And, O! may those whom Heav'n with wealth has blest
Spare from themselves, to succour the distress'd;
But if from man's vile arts, from man proceed
The feign'd alarm, and fabricated need,
If He from avarice collect his store
To raise the price, and grind th'afflicted poor,
May all the justice which the law affords
Compel him to unlock his private hoards:
And though by artful schemes in secret laid,
He from the law due punishment evade,
I fear, alas! he will hereafter find
The worst of punishments, a tortur'd mind:

Ye wealthy Factors, and ye men of Meal,
To your own hearts permit me to appeal;
Behold that peasant at his cottage door,
His ragged children swarming o'er his floor;
Around he looks: his only hopes to view
Some untry'd task, his labours to renew,
His strength impair'd by unaccustom'd fare,
Unequal to the toils he's doom'd to bear,
The remnant of his harvest wages spent,
And the hard steward pressing for his rent:
Behold his wife with childbed sorrow worn,
Compell'd to wean her baby newly born!
See, how the cupboard she explores in vain
For scraps of bread her infant to sustain--
The odours only of the bread remain:
See this, ye Dealers, who in corn abound,
For which you neither plow'd, nor sow'd the ground:
Ye Drones: who like the Booksellers on me,
Live on the labours of th'industrious Bee.--
Was it for this, with daily toil opprest,
He, rose so early, and so late took rest,
To purge the soil, the stubborn clod subdue,
And make the teeming earth its fruits renew?
He to whose hands those luxuries you owe
With which full oft your plenteous tables flow,
Shall He be left in penury forlorn,
Like the lean Ox that treadeth out the corn?
Shall He?--but soft--you wish me to refrain;--
Yet, gentle Hannah, if no poignant strain
With the mild tenor of your Muse agree--
E'en let them shake their mealy Locks at me.--

Ladies, to you I pay my last regard,
Though last, not least in favour with your Bard:
And beg your pardons, 'tis so long delay'd,
My comely Housekeeper, and Lady's Maid:
I'm happy in these days of sore dismay
To see you look so jolly, and so gay:
Would you be pleas'd, when at your routs you meet,
Or at the Luncheon Hour your Friends you treat,
To eat of food convenient, and not more,
To drink your Lady's cordials as before;
But from all interdicted Cates forbear;
The Pie, the Pudding, and all Pastry spare:
Nor let it aught repent you to take pains
To watch th'aforesaid Luncheon's last remains:
See that the Cook, and Kitchen--maid beware
How they the fragments of your wholesome fare
Mix in one filthy mass; that greedy swine
And pamper'd dogs luxuriously may dine:
If you the business of the house inspect,
You'll see perchance some symptoms of neglect:
There are, who in the loaf beneath the crust
For lack of candlestick the candle thrust,
There leave it through the live--long night to flame,
To all who're Christians and profess that name
A flagrant scandal, and a burning shame:
If right I augur, in some future day
All such to hunger shall be doom'd a prey;
In vain shall long to make th'atonement due,
And eat the candlestick, and candle too:
There are who're wont the crumbled loaf to use
To scour their petticoats, and cleanse their shoes;
But, O! forbear: at Pity's soft commands
Arrest awhile your sacrilegious hands,
Nor deem for such vile purposes design'd
This Heav'n--sent boon, this blessing to mankind:
O! think how many wretches would enjoy
Those crumbs which you so wantonly destroy:
Think on your Poet, who curtail'd of bread
Full many a week has on potatoes fed;
Fruits, which make Irishmen robust of limb,
And size gigantick, but ill suit with Him:
And 'stead of sweetly--flowing strains, inspire
Vapours, and wind, and eructations dire;
Which should they bring Him to an end, and you
Nor heed his verse, nor deem his counsel true,
His meager Shade to your astonish'd eyes
Bearing these poor neglected rhymes shall rise:
In ev'ry corner of the house, the hall,
Kitchen, and pantry, he shall haunt you all:
Shall watch your ways; but chiefly overlook
The careless Scullion, and the wasteful Cook:
Hear this; and dread a hungry Poet's Ghost--
They most must fear him, who have injur'd most.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, October 7, 2010

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