William Schwenck Gilbert
Mister William - Poem by William Schwenck Gilbert
OH, listen to the tale of MISTER WILLIAM, if you please,
Whom naughty, naughty judges sent away beyond the seas.
He forged a party's will, which caused anxiety and strife,
Resulting in his getting penal servitude for life.
He was a kindly goodly man, and naturally prone,
Instead of taking others' gold, to give away his own.
But he had heard of Vice, and longed for only once to strike -
To plan ONE little wickedness - to see what it was like.
He argued with himself, and said, "A spotless man am I;
I can't be more respectable, however hard I try!
For six and thirty years I've always been as good as gold,
And now for half an hour I'll plan infamy untold!
"A baby who is wicked at the early age of one,
And then reforms - and dies at thirty-six a spotless son,
Is never, never saddled with his babyhood's defect,
But earns from worthy men consideration and respect.
"So one who never revelled in discreditable tricks
Until he reached the comfortable age of thirty-six,
May then for half an hour perpetrate a deed of shame,
Without incurring permanent disgrace, or even blame.
"That babies don't commit such crimes as forgery is true,
But little sins develop, if you leave 'em to accrue;
And he who shuns all vices as successive seasons roll,
Should reap at length the benefit of so much self-control.
"The common sin of babyhood - objecting to be drest -
If you leave it to accumulate at compound interest,
For anything you know, may represent, if you're alive,
A burglary or murder at the age of thirty-five.
"Still, I wouldn't take advantage of this fact, but be content
With some pardonable folly - it's a mere experiment.
The greater the temptation to go wrong, the less the sin;
So with something that's particularly tempting I'll begin.
"I would not steal a penny, for my income's very fair -
I do not want a penny - I have pennies and to spare -
And if I stole a penny from a money-bag or till,
The sin would be enormous - the temptation being NIL.
"But if I broke asunder all such pettifogging bounds,
And forged a party's Will for (say) Five Hundred Thousand Pounds,
With such an irresistible temptation to a haul,
Of course the sin must be infinitesimally small.
"There's WILSON who is dying - he has wealth from Stock and rent -
If I divert his riches from their natural descent,
I'm placed in a position to indulge each little whim."
So he diverted them - and they, in turn, diverted him.
Unfortunately, though, by some unpardonable flaw,
Temptation isn't recognized by Britain's Common Law;
Men found him out by some peculiarity of touch,
And WILLIAM got a "lifer," which annoyed him very much.
For, ah! he never reconciled himself to life in gaol,
He fretted and he pined, and grew dispirited and pale;
He was numbered like a cabman, too, which told upon him so
That his spirits, once so buoyant, grew uncomfortably low.
And sympathetic gaolers would remark, "It's very true,
He ain't been brought up common, like the likes of me and you."
So they took him into hospital, and gave him mutton chops,
And chocolate, and arrowroot, and buns, and malt and hops.
Kind Clergymen, besides, grew interested in his fate,
Affected by the details of his pitiable state.
They waited on the Secretary, somewhere in Whitehall,
Who said he would receive them any day they liked to call.
"Consider, sir, the hardship of this interesting case:
A prison life brings with it something very like disgrace;
It's telling on young WILLIAM, who's reduced to skin and bone -
Remember he's a gentleman, with money of his own.
"He had an ample income, and of course he stands in need
Of sherry with his dinner, and his customary weed;
No delicacies now can pass his gentlemanly lips -
He misses his sea-bathing and his continental trips.
"He says the other prisoners are commonplace and rude;
He says he cannot relish uncongenial prison food.
When quite a boy they taught him to distinguish Good from Bad,
And other educational advantages he's had.
"A burglar or garotter, or, indeed, a common thief
Is very glad to batten on potatoes and on beef,
Or anything, in short, that prison kitchens can afford, -
A cut above the diet in a common workhouse ward.
"But beef and mutton-broth don't seem to suit our WILLIAM'S whim,
A boon to other prisoners - a punishment to him.
It never was intended that the discipline of gaol
Should dash a convict's spirits, sir, or make him thin or pale."
"Good Gracious Me!" that sympathetic Secretary cried,
"Suppose in prison fetters MISTER WILLIAM should have died!
Dear me, of course! Imprisonment for LIFE his sentence saith:
I'm very glad you mentioned it - it might have been For Death!
"Release him with a ticket - he'll be better then, no doubt,
And tell him I apologize." So MISTER WILLIAM'S out.
I hope he will be careful in his manuscripts, I'm sure,
And not begin experimentalizing any more.
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