The Season

by Alfred Austin

Alfred Austin

In honest times, when purer manners reigned,
And Virtue never save by Vice was pained,
The Poet's pen might flagrant scandals call
By manly names, the property of all,
And, like the prophets bold of Sacred Writ,
Discard the sleight of circumambient wit.
Now, so corruptly chaste our ways are grown,
E'en words, turned wanton, must, in prurient tone,
Tickle our ears, or public Censure preach
With euphemistic mincingness of speech.
Why then so rash and bluntly spoken, pray?
Heaven save the mark! a Satire! and to-day!
The World, grown tolerant, endures no more
Minstrels that deign to stoop, or dare to soar.
If you must needs be earnest, well, depict
What none concerns, so none will contradict.
Rhyme with the thunder, versify the wind,
Dethrone your God, and deify Mankind.
Sing the dim Spheres of blessedness or woe,
Sing all, sing any, save the one you know.
Shriek, start, pant, palpitate, pause, prove to men
There is some splendid purpose in your pen.
Convert your cut-throats; make your Phrynes chaste;
Flaunt moral diamonds; who will guess them paste?
Spurn bastard spondees, spuriously Greek;
With modern tawdry drape the grand antique.
Or write blank verse: it moveth more severe:
Proper your metre, if your views be queer;
Industriously labour languid lays,
Beloved of Courts, and snatch the Poet's bays!
Bees, swallows, wagtails, milk-and-water warm,
And all that must do far more good than harm,
Let themes like these monopolize your force,
And leave sins, men, and women to the coarse.
What! when the Pulpit decorates its blame,
And leaves the shameless free for fear of shame,
Genteelly prunes the rugged Pentateuch,
And smiles on rogues emasculate rebuke,
Makes matters pleasant with a hell disguised,
And hawks about a Gospel compromised;
When mighty scribes wax emulous, to lull
Uneasy dreamers and delude the dull,
Of suppurating sores that ulcerate
And draw the life-blood from the soundest State,
As ``social evils'' elegantly prate;
When jaunty moralists in periods trim,
Tricked out with every servile synonym,
Hint, but to hide, of poisons that infect
With subtle venom the uncircumspect,
Which, worming through the blameless and the best,
Blasts the poor babe, reliant, at the breast;
And when Society applauds this plot,
To make each thing appear the thing 'tis not;
Why should you rudely its repose invade
With sharp, short words, and call a spade a spade?-
Lift the light gauge which, accurately nice,
Divides Conventionality from Vice?
Offended foes will dog you till you die,
Who, if they cannot crush you, can belie!
Engaging prospect! to parade, the mark
Of each bruised mouth that slanders in the dark!
Thanks, my good friends! But I am young, and Youth
Owes nought to Fear, and everything to Truth.
Yet if some hand, more intimate than mine,
Would strip these shams, and wield the knotted line,
Invade the motley masquerading ranks,
And pluck the masks from tinsel mountebanks,
Some nervous Censor scramble to his feet,
Feel for his scourge, and terrify the cheat,
How gladly I such office would eschew,
To linger, comrades! indolent, with you!
I rather far, supine, would fling me where
Long lazy sedges loll against the air,
Or, drenched with perfume on Sorrento's side,
Invoke the quiet never there denied,
And, lost to crowds, in honeysuckled haunt,
Live, hidden hero of my own romaunt!
Yet even Solitude at times will leave
The blood no rest, the pulses no reprieve.
Beside a sunny rivulet aloof,
Yestreen, I seemed to hear this proud reproof:
O Boy! it urged, loiter not idly here,
Where I am only musical and clear.
Wake from your dreams, and come with me along,
And what I am in stream, be you in song!
I loved the hills where, tiny tarn, I lay
Screened from intrusion of the garish Day:
I loved their patient slopes whose outstretched arms
Saved me, too confident, from courted harms,
Guiding my steps uncertain, till they grew
Firmer and not so devious, then withdrew:
I loved the bright broad meadows where I played,
I loved the woodland's transitory shade:
I loved the lawns where bevies of fair girls,
Pure as their robes though frolic as their curls,
Tripped down from where along the trellised wall
They trained their plants, themselves out-blooming all,
Flowers o'er my pathway prodigally cast,
Coaxed me to stay but praised me as I passed.
Labour expects me on the banks below:
O lagging Boy! pursue me as I go!
Me many a solemn embassage awaits,
Me the swarmed concourse of impatient freights:
To me the palpitating cities call
To bear the benefits of each to all.
Limpid no more, I rush to court assoil,
Proud of the stains of decorating Toil,
Where splendid burthens dropping on my breast
Dismiss me blessing, and avouch me blest.
Onwards I go, to greet the whelming tide,
The sad supremacy of self denied,
Solicitous no more, since soon to be
One with the vague irrevocable Sea!
So sings the river through the summer days,
And I, submissive, follow what I praise.
What if my boyish blood would rather stay
Where lawns invite, where bonnibels delay,
Though but a youth and not averse from these,
To conflict called, I abdicate my ease,
Bend to some honest work before I go
And prove that verse can utilize its flow.
I sing the Season, Muse! whose sway extends
Where Hyde begins beyond where Tyburn ends:
Muse, not like vulgar Muses known and nude,
Who look the hoyden yet affect the prude,
But draped discreetly in a skirt and vest
Which just withhold the secrets they suggest:
Mistress avowed where'er Man's lofty brain
Invents fresh youth for beauty on the wane.
Muse, earth-begot! equipped from hip to heel
In loose array of penetrable steel:
Fashion yclept! without whose granted spell
No fair lips flatter, no effusions sell,
Accept my couplets; make my strains select,
Parade each beauty, powder each defect;
So that my lines, quick, sparkling as your eyes,
Storm the Town's Circles with a quick surprise!
Returning shadows now divide the street:
Free now the Mall from all but Party heat:
Gone the broad glare, save where with borrowed bays
Some female Phaëthon sets the drive ablaze;
Or, more defiant, spurning frown and foe,
Rules with loose rein Anonyma the Row.
Dear pretty fledgelings! come from country nest
To nibble, chirp, and flutter in the West,
Whose clear, fresh faces, with their fickle frown
And favour, start like Spring upon the Town:
Less dear, for damaged, damsels! doomed to wait,
Whose third-fourth?-season makes half desperate,
Welling with warmth, less potent hour by hour
(As magnets heated lose attractive power):
Or you! nor dear nor damsels, tough and tart
Unmarketable maidens of the mart,
Who, plumpness gone, fine delicacy feint,
And hide your sins in piety and paint;
Answer me, all! belle, heiress, flirt, and prue,
Who has our gaze? Anonyma or you?
``The nasty wretch! regard her saucy leer!''
Well, own her conquest, and I'll own it queer.
Withal, not queer. . .I am, I must insist,
A most uncompromising moralist.
Wit, frankness, beauty, natural quests of Man,
Provoke his instincts since the world began.
His fine, keen scent, evading social skill
To hedge him out, is sure to trespass still.
No barn-door game, by fluttering mothers reared,
Cooped up from dangers genuine or feared,
Whose wings are clipped to fortify control,
Afford the sport that satisfies the soul.
Is it a marvel Man's more liberal mood
Should beat the wilds where Nature rears her brood,
Along forbidden border forests roam,
Seeking the breeze he cannot find at home?
Go girls! to Church! believing all you hear,
Think that their lack of virtue makes them dear;
And heed not me who say that ban and bar
Make you the stupid, stunted things you are;
That both would dearer, happier, better be,
Had they your virtue, you their liberty.
But since restraint is privilege from blame,
And loss of fetters is a loss of fame,
Preferring freedom, these forego respect;
Repute your choice, you smart beneath neglect.
Alternative ordained by Moral Plan-
To pine, a doll, or smile, a Courtesan!
Incongruous group, they come: the judge's hack,
With knees as broken as its rider's back:
The counsel's courser, stumbling through the throng
With wind e'en shorter than its lord's is long:
The foreign marquis's accomplished colt,
Sharing its owner's tendency to bolt:
The -- nay, enough; let Cowper's care attest
The worth and vast importance of the rest.
Rise, Britons! rise! ye patriot vestries! call
For monster meetings in St Martin's Hall!
James, to the rescue! shall the Board of Works
Treat sons of Hampden like Malays or Turks?
Pym! Magna Charta! Bill of Rights! Bow wow!
You won our liberties; preserve them now!
Heavens! what a hubbub doth the Town divide!
A Revolution? No, a lengthened Ride.
Oh! spare those Gardens where the leafy glade
Prompts the proposal dalliance delayed;
Where tear-dewed lids, choked utterance, sobs suppressed,
Tear the confession from a doubting breast;
Whence they, who vainly haunted rout and ride,
Emerge triumphant by a suitor's side.
Come, let us back, and whilst the Park's alive,
Lean o'er the railings and inspect the Drive.
Look! as we turn, most loved of all her Line,
If not by Right, by deeds at least divine,
By Nature's self equipped for kind command,
Onward she comes, the Lady of the Land!
Long may each zone its wealth profusely pour
Upon her laplike, peace-protected shore!
Long may the strain come swelling from the ships,
Which keeps Victoria on a Nation's lips!
Long, long in thousand eyes that smile be seen
Which thinks her woman, though it hails her Queen:
Queen, wife, or mother, perfect in each part,
And throned securely in a People's heart!
Still sweeps the long procession, whose array
Gives to the lounger's gaze, as wanes the day,
Its rich reclining and reposeful forms,
Still as bright sunsets after mists or storms,
Who sit and smile (their morning wranglings o'er,
Or dragged and dawdled through one dull day more),
As though the life of widow, wife, and girl
Were one long lapsing and voluptuous whirl.
O poor pretence! what eyes so blind but see
The sad, however elegant, ennui?
Think you that blazoned panel, prancing pair,
Befool our vision to the weight they bear?
The softest ribbon, pink-lined parasol,
Screen not the woman, though they deck the doll.
The padded corsage and the well-matched hair,
Judicious jupon spreading out the spare,
Sleeves well designed false plumpness to impart,
Leave vacant still the hollows of the heart.
Is not our Lesbia lovely? In her soul
Lesbia is troubled: Lesbia hath a mole;
And all the splendour of that matchless neck
Consoles not Lesbia for its single speck.
Kate comes from Paris, and a wardrobe brings,
To which poor Edith's are ``such common things.''
Her pet lace shawl has grown not fit to wear,
And ruined Edith dresses in despair.
I fear there are who think my satire blind
To all defects except the softer kind.
Says saucy Maud: ``You leave the men alone:
Is it because their meanness is your own?''
Perhaps. But tell me: will you drop a hint
About your sisters I may seize and print?
Would you to me the mysteries disclose
Of Sophie's boudoir, diary of Rose?
Or-ha! you start!-your own arcana tell,
Gods! how my verses would surprise and sell!
But no: whilst men alarmedly declare
``He hits too hard-it really is not fair''-
You, they think hit, are laughing in your sleeves:
``He thinks he knows.'' Well, honour among thieves.
So, though I own that even men have specks,
Like you, I spare the secrets of my sex.
Still, by severe induction may we guess,
If yours are great, our faults will scarce be less.
Besides: as Sex, in embryotic state,
Is always female till a certain date,
So are our manly virtues, be assured,
But female vices only more matured.
And just as they, who, armed with lens and knife,
Seek in our frames the principle of life,
Find that the embryo best assists their aim,
So have I found-my method is the same.
We best shall learn from foetal forms; besides,
'Gainst forms developed Convenance decides.
Our Vicious Age shrinks, cognisant of blame,
From probing Manhood, with a sickly shame.
And yet how slight the contrast we admire!
Women's hearts smoulder-men's escape in fire.
You doubt it? Why, this moment, see a sign!
All go: but those to dress, whilst these to dine.
Divergence, think you? Be not duped: their aim,
In seeming diverse, is in substance same.
Cribbed and confined, both need some sensuous sport;
The one for praise, the others hunt for port.
And all must own that neither act their best
Till the half-drunk lean over the half-dressed.
O blesséd moment!. . .Duns! Detractors! Fate!
Hit me your hardest-but I dine at eight.
My thoughts are stolen? half my verses halt?
Well, very likely: please to pass the salt.
Jones won't accept your bills: he funks the risk.
Does he? What matter? Potage à la bisque!
You recollect what Titus used to say?
Did Titus dine, he could not lose a day.
Whilst kindly Plutus ransacks all the Rhine
To line his bins, then makes them yours and mine,
Would you be rich so long as you are young
And own a ready appetite and tongue?
I bring my hat, my anecdote, my laugh,
And need but kindly criticise and quaff,
Plutus repays my frequent presence here
With grasp unchanging, ever-changing cheer.
Long may the Gods preserve my palate clean
To do due justice to his deft cuisine!
And, O kind, compensating Time! increase
My purse and cellar as my youth you fleece;
So that, a seasonable change at most,
The slender guest may smile the portly host.
And when, dear boys! Life's Vintage slightly sours,
With taste discreet and temper wholly ours,
Not even Death is able to deprave,
Invert the wine-cup o'er a gourmet's grave!
Why, Life itself a dinner is indeed,
Where each contributes so that all may feed.
We all give something: some give more, some less;
None are excluded from the social mess:
And he who finds the bread or beverage sour,
Should send us better or should cease to lour.
I hate your churls who strut, and sulk, and swear
Go where they will they ever foully fare.
Believe me, friend! you'll always find that such
Provide but little who exact so much.
Your true cosmopolite, Life's well-bred guest,
Scorns not plain dishes, though he serves the best;
And should there hap disaster, even dearth,
Mends the misfortune or the want with mirth.
Does not, when some rude grumbler mars the rout,
Instinctive justice mutter ``Turn him out''?
Would we were rid of all whose gall deflowers
Their own existence and would poison ours!
But-the clock strikes: the carriage waits: be trite.
Pocchini dances, Titiens sings, to-night.
Sure, you mistake? For Lumley promise made
Of voice not heard, limbs never yet displayed.
Better and better. Sharp's the word. The tier?
The first, of course-the best for eye and ear.
Gods! what a show! Right, left, the House is crammed:
Our new danseuse won't, here at least, be damned.
Above, around, below, are houris' eyes,
Flashing with quick, intelligent surprise,
And houris' blushes rapidly respond
To murmurous whispers deftly-dropped and fond,
Spread from the temples, eddy to the neck,
Break on the breast, and, turning at the check,
In ripples weaker rally from restraint,
Creep up the cheek and on the features faint.
Their rounded, pliant, silent-straying arms
Seem sent to guard, yet manifest their charms.
Mark how the lorgnettes cautiously they raise
Lest points, no pose so thoughtless but displays,
A too quick curiosity should hide-
For they who gaze must gazed at be beside.
Now, o'er the box their beauteous busts they bend,
A foe to welcome, criticise a friend,
Unfolding or obscuring charms at will
With all the calm unconsciousness of skill,
Solving the doubt that sometimes will arise-
Whilst women wantons are, can men be wise?
Let your eyes stray from sensuous row to row
Of nude parade, and flash an honest no!
What can be Man's, the while 'tis Woman's part
To bare her bosom and to hide her heart?
Hush! pretty prattlers! Waving arms apart,
Æolus frees the fettered winds of Art.
Be dumb, ye triflers! whilst his spells confound
The gathered-scattered-symphonies of sound.
Cymbals barbaric clang; cowed flutes complain
As the sharp, cruel clarion cleaves the strain:
To drum deaf-bowelled, drowning sob and wail,
Scared viols shriek, that pity may prevail;
Till, with tumultuous purpose, swift and strong,
Sweeps the harmonious hurricane of Song!
The curtain lifts. Behold the ``Lost One'' lain
'Mid all the woes of suitors and champagne:
Of the whole crowd the cynosure and queen,
The best-dressed woman in this sumptuous scene.
Gifts few possess and none can quite affect;
Not wife, yet woman-hurt, but not debased-
If vain, unselfish-modest, if not chaste;
Wealth, worship, fashion, prostrate at her feet,
Yet fled with Alfred to profound retreat-
For him the World abandoned quite, again
For him endured the pantomime of men-
Her life's one chance, one yearning, straight foregone,
To save the father, sister, in the son-
Wronged, as can wrong alone a lover's skill,
For her fidelity, yet faithful still-
Doomed by disease which modifies, not mars,
Dying like light in some transparent vase-
At last in Alfred's penitent embrace,
Held to his heart and fondled to his face-
Clinging to life, but with untroubled tone
Claiming the Heaven of Virgins for her own-
Behold, exaggerated not, nor glozed,
The vocal Drama but this instant closed!
Hark! how fresh plaudits plaudits fresh repeat,
And purest posies kiss the ``Lost One's'' feet!
Do I complain our maidens should acquire
Her story? Ah! I nought could more desire
Than they should know, and, knowing, should reclaim
At once their sex, their sisters, and their shame.
But by what moral or dramatic laws
Bare you the consequence, but veil the cause?
Vicious results prompt vice, beheld alone:
Let all be hidden or let all be known.
The henbane's petals poison whom they lure;
Pluck you but deeper, at the root is cure.
Whom noble still in infamy we saw,
In frailty faithful, fair despite her flaw,
Why was this woman with the world at strife,
Nor maid revered, nor consecrated wife?
Why the song silent on the only part
Of her career that might instruct the heart?
Because the story of her early years
Were sure to stir (beyond those surface tears
Which straightway dry beneath to-morrow's drought)
A fertile pity and an active thought.
And thus the partial Drama you applaud
Becomes mere flaunting falsity and fraud.
What is the spell that 'twixt a saint and sinner
The diff'rence makes? a sermon? bah! a dinner.
The odds and ends our silken Claras waste,
Would keep our calico Clarissas chaste.
Celia! the lace from off your parasol
Had held Celinda's sunburnt virtue whole:
A hundred pounds would coy have made the nude,
A thousand pounds the prostitute a prude,
And little more expenditure of pelf
Fanny a bigot bitter as yourself!
Hence! flimsy sophists! who with fasts and cries
Would fain compel Omniscience to be wise!
What if, instead of craving sun or rain,
You built a reservoir or delved a drain?
Instead of looks and platitudes demure,
Diffused the wealth that keeps peers' daughters pure?
Justly the stalwart pauper's prayers you spurn,
Yet whine in turn for wage yourselves might earn.
There is nor tempest, torrent, heat, nor wind,
Which is not big with blessings to mankind;
And each fomenting passion in the breast
Might add to life a sparkle and a zest.
Yet those you let scorch, shatter, and deflower,
And these but make existence flat and sour!
Blaspheming fools! with shrieks the skies you rend
Against the very benefits they send;
And howl to God, Who meant you for divine,
For grace to sink your species into swine!
This earth is man's: not God's, except as man's:
And man's the action in it that He plans.
True to His scheme, He never intervenes;
The end being human, human are the means.
What is man's end? To know and to be free.
Think you to compass it by tracts and tea?
Labour is prayer-the only prayer that serves-
And all beyond it but disordered nerves.
E'en the Creator paused not till He could
Feel His work done, and saw that it was good.
Then did He rest. Your work done, so may you:
But ``days of rest,'' whilst work remains to do!
The hungry feed: the thirsty treat as kin;
The naked clothe, and take the stranger in;
Visit the sick, the prison-house, the slum;
And then, ``ye blessed of my Father, come!''
Oh! when shall Toil assert its proper price,
At once prayer, fasting, alms, and sacrifice?
And Men the workers proffer, as they plod,
A jubilation and a hymn to God?
Truce to this moral thunder: for advance
Fleet-footed laurelled Daphnes of the Dance.
What first but vaguely Opera designs,
The Ballet next developes and defines.
The sentimental to the sensuous grows,
And pointless trilling into pointed toes.
Now wake the fathers who securely slept
Whilst Alfred wooed and Violetta wept,
Rub up their spectacles and strain their gaze
At bounding Zina dressed in shoes and stays.
Now love-struck boys transfer their fickle eyes
From Mary's trinkets to Morlacchi's thighs;
Whilst mothers, sisters, sweethearts, wives, applaud
The tight proportions of a twirling bawd.
Must we then stop it? no: unleash the Town
To hunt a Nicholson or Warton down;
The scent will take, the Cider Cellars close,
And Haddo, hoodwinked, not insist on hose.
Thus, with the prudent chastity of clique,
Protect the Ballet 'gainst the Poses Plastiques.
Whilst we, surveying this decorous stage,
Admire the pastimes of a modest age,
An errant curiosity inquires
Whither the Drama, England's boast, retires.
Let bounding profligates their limbs display
Where ``further off'' chaste Hermia's lover ``lay.''
Let figuranti trip where Siddons stepped,
And jugglers grin where once Macready wept;
Yet High Art surely somewhere makes a stand.
Somewhere! Well, where? in Wych Street or the Strand?
Is it where saucy Wilton winks her way,
And says the more the less she has to say?
Is it where Robson, servile to the Town,
Discards the Actor and adopts the Clown?
Where Toole or Compton, perfect in his part,
Touches each sense except the head and heart?
Where mobs ``recal'' the wit of Rogers' wig,
Applaud a pun and recompense a jig?
Seek where you will, you still will fail to find
More than a grinning, mountebank mankind.
Conscious of paltry purpose or of none,
No pride in winning, peace in having won;
Craving a respite from pursuit of pelf,
Our age in shows seeks shelter from itself.
It strains at mirth, but like abandoned Boy
Debauched by sports that shatter whom they cloy,
Has lost its healthy appetite for joy:
And yet too slothful to arise and scan
The splendid toils allotted to the Man,
Toys with remorse, and as supine it lies,
``Oh give me back my youth!'' unblushing cries.
Put out the lights: rub off the paint: the Play,
Sir, is performed; your carriage stops the way.
Well, then, good-night: the morn will soon be up:
You go to slumber? No! I go to sup.
Bah! I forgot. First Hansom! double fare!
Drive fast as Fate to Belgrave Square.
Botanic Shows, where crowds and tactics tear
Too yielding daughters from a mother's chair:
Water excursions, when full boats divide
Some pretty novice from a sister's side;
Or Garden Fêtes where skilled duennas lose
Some precious charge that with like skill pursues;
To these be honour; but the Ball-the Ball-
Combines, continues, and excels them all.
Here, with complacency, strict matrons see
Maids and Moss-troopers polking, knee to knee.
Their kindly gaze examines and exalts
The closer contact of the chaster waltz.
Look where they smile, the grey-haired guardians set
To scout decorum, sanction etiquette.
Louder, ye viols! shrilly, cornets! blow!
Who is this prophet that denounces woe?
Whirl fast! whirl long! ye gallants and ye girls!
Cling closer still; dance down these cursëd churls.
Be crowned, ye fair! with poppies newly-blown,
Fling loose your tresses, and relax your zone!
From floating gauze let dreamy perfumes rise,
Infuse a fiercer fervour in your eyes!
Till, head and heart and senses all on fire,
Passion presume and Modesty expire!
Bless us and save us! What tirade is this?
My choleric friend! is anything amiss?
This sparkling scene of Beauty in its bloom
Is not an Orgy, but-an auction-room.
These panting damsels, dancing for their lives,
Are only maidens waltzing into wives.
Those smiling matrons are appraisers sly,
Who regulate the dance, the squeeze, the sigh,
And each base cheapening buyer having chid,
Knock down their daughters to the noblest bid.
An honest time there was, when girl and boy
Might love and yet not jeopardize their joy:
When, in faint laughs were fainter whispers drowned,
Yet was no ill suspected in the sound.
'Chance, did they stray to sit and smile apart,
No frowns arraigned their vagrancy of heart.
No jealous frames, no artificial fires,
Forced on their growth, and hurried their desires;
Their graceful fondness gradually grew,
By thirst of absence, by reunion's dew;
Cheered by the sun, or saddened by the shower,
On each it throve, and fretted into flower.
Not e'en a parent prematurely pressed
The yet young secret from a basking breast;
Ripened by outer warmth, by inner sap,
It fell, spontaneous, in a mother's lap.
``You do not blame us, mother? will not part?
'Tis not to-day I give him up my heart:
He stepped across its threshold long before,
And is its household god for evermore.''
Could he scarce yet sustain a husband's charge
(His fortune narrow, though his love was large),
He was not exiled by a venal Fate:
A boy might work, a maiden sure might wait.
Love mingled with the grave concerns of Life,
Tempered the toil and sanctified the strife.
No danger difficult, no hardship hard,
Risked for the promise of that rich reward.
It made his dullest drudgery divine,
To think, ``My darling shall at last be mine!''
While she could feel she helped him in his part,
Upheld his purpose, purified his heart.
Till, aims accomplished, youth's brisk battle won,
They rushed together, mystic Two-in-One.
How is it now? Morality's advance
Demands for Love the strictest surveillance.
We banish with the glare of vulgar eyes
The lights and shadows of Love's coy disguise.
Rude ears invade-(Propriety insists)-
Her would-be secret, solitary lists;
Spoil all her tender tournay; put to rout
Those skilful skirmishers the heart sends out
In boldly-cautious converse, to make known
Another's weakness, but to screen its own.
No sweet lane-loiterings, no twilight strolls,
Induce the gradual intercourse of souls.
Two Balls-three Dinners-one Botanic Fête-
``You mean to try the matrimonial state?
Sir, your intentions? Marry, or depart;
You must not trifle with my daughter's heart.''
``I did intend, but-truth to tell-as yet
My means are-'' ``Hold! you mean you are in debt.
You're much mistaken, let me tell you, sir!
If you conceive you'll ever marry her.''
He goes: consoles himself as best he can:
And she? she marries money and a man.
A female and no fortune-'tis but just;
So Love is nought save luxury and lust.
Hard words? hard laws. The words have been revised:
There are some sores which must be cauterised.
Just as unskilled equestrians restrain
All healthful action, but give vice the rein,
So do these social laws unwisely err,
They check the angel but the demon spur,
Making e'en kindly courtesies a curse,
Manners no better and our morals worse.
You knew Blanche Darley? could we but once more
Behold that belle and pet of '!
Not e'en a whisper, vagrant up to Town
From hunt or race-ball, augured her renown.
Far in the wolds sequestered life she led,
Fair and unfettered as the fawn she fed:
Caressed the calves, coquetted with the colts,
Bestowed much tenderness on turkey poults:
Bullied the huge ungainly bloodhound pup,
Tiffed with the terrier, coaxed to make it up:
The farmers quizzed about the ruined crops,
The fall of barley, and the rise of hops:
Gave their wives counsel, but gave flannel too,
Present where'er was timely deed to do;
Known, loved, applauded, prayed for far and wide-
The wandering sunshine of the country side.
So soft her tread, no nautilus that skims
With sail more silent than her liquid limbs.
Her hair so golden that, did slanting eve
With a stray curl its sunlight interweave,
Smit with surprise, you gazed but could not guess
Which the warm sunbeam, which the warmer tress.
Her presence was low music: when she went,
She left behind a dreamy discontent,
As sad as silence when a song is spent.
She came-we saw-were conquered: one and all,
We donned the fetters of delicious thrall.
We fetched, we carried, waited, doffed, and did
Just as our Blanche the beautiful would bid.
Such crowds petitioned her at every ball
For ``just one waltz,'' she scarce could dance at all!
Her card besieged with such intrigues and sighs,
It might have been the pass-book to the skies.
We lost our heads. Have women wiser grown?
A marvel surely, had she kept her own.
But brief our madness. Had we heard the news?
Vaux has proposed. Vaux! reeking from the stews!
That remnant, Vaux! shrunk, tottering, palsied, wan!
An Earl by right, by courtesy a man.
That soldier-sycophant, with seam and scar
Gashed deep, but not in battle's joyful jar!
He with the cannon's never blent his breath,
Nor gaily galloped up the gaps of death.
Too rich to roam, in bloodless fields and fights
A lie at Brooks's, black-ball drops at White's.
Senilely supple if you lure or warn,
Now prowls the Quadrant, now confers with Kahn.
Romantic boys! be still. Will angry names
Like ``battered beast'' annul an Earldom's claims?
Life is not wholly sentiment and stars:
Venus wed Mercury as well as Mars.
Hush your lewd tattle! seek your slighted beds!
A cornet waltzes, but a colonel weds.
The Countess comes. Before her marriage vow,
Only men praised her: women praise her now.
See what avail a carriage and pair!
You lose a lover, but-you gain a stair.
The world, to kindly compensation prone,
Gives you its honour when you lose your own.
Corrupt in heart, in head-dress if correct,
Our well-bred race rewards you with respect.
Who more respected than my Lady Vaux?
The Town collects and wonders as she walks.
What if the Earl be absent from her side,
Whilst others near it? Gouty Earls must ride.
Let those, whose line but yesterday began,
Crave for the coarse capacities of man;
Vaux gave his wealth, his peerage, Blanche her face-
Your vulgar wants invade not Chesham Place.
Is it so sad to have one's husband old?
The mother's milk but mars the maiden's mould;
And Blanche, whilst fruitful spouses fade so fast,
Shall bear her barren beauty to the last!
What!. . .So they say. . .Bah! Nonsense. . .But it's true:
True, sure enough-will lay you ten to two.
Jack saw the brief, Respondent's name endorsed. . . .
Great God in heaven! Our Blanche to be divorced!
O scalding shame! that name, last season's toast,
Is never mentioned, or is mourned at most;
Save where lewd lawyers, on their benches perched,
In joke obscene send round the name that's smirched;
Or, fouler still, amidst lascivious roar,
The Coal Hole travesties one trial more!
But what of Frank? to whom she early gave
Her love, that guardian-angel sent to save;
To whose kind counsels would we list alone,
We ne'er should dash our foot against a stone.
A simpler, manlier bosom never throbbed
Than that poor boy's, whom fashion foully robbed.
In camps begot, his earliest desire
Turned to the sabre of his slaughtered sire.
But Peace, oppressive Peace, becalmed the world;
Fluttered no pennon, not a wave was curled.
When would War's lances tear the welkin dun?
When battle's bugles summon up the sun?
The barrack life in stagnant country town,
The bootless charge o'er undefended down,
He chafed at all-court-martial, march, parade,
And almost cursed the choice himself had made.
He met with Blanche. Complaint began to cease.
Who knows? Her smile might compensate for Peace.
He was too poor to prate as one that woos,
But not-who is?-too poor to love and lose.
That devil Circumstance, who smooths the way
To those who ``may not,'' blocks to those who ``may,''
Threw them together: wheresoe'er they went,
They met as though by purposed accident.
A pettish parting by a wicker gate
Unsealed their secret, but to seal their fate.
He called her back: she turned on him her eyes
With a most swift significant surprise,
Gazed straight into his soul, that moment bare,
And saw her own bright image trembling there;
But in that gaze unmasked she to his view
Eyes which, though piercing his, reflected too!
Did they not part? Ah! lips, which once have kissed,
Are impotent to reason or resist.
Who ne'er was tempted knows not how to teach,
And he who falls will soon forget to preach.
The Scribe may scowl, the Pharisee may chide-
But they will pardon who have once been tried.
Yet did they part. When Europe's wild alarms
Tore him from hers to Conflict's sterner arms,
And proud fair England gave her boys to guard
From Tartar maw what Turkish lust hath marred,
Joyful he went: ere long he would return
Whom most would sigh for, none besought would spurn.
The foe-fleshed hand, the decorated brow,
Might seize the spoil they dared not sue for, now.
In the Light Charge the gallant won his spurs,
And prized his laurels, since his laurels hers.
Now might he write, and with unchallenged claim
Fling at her feet the fulness of his fame.
I saw that bright broad face shrink cold and hard:
Blanche Darley's answer-Lady Vaux's card!
A first babe draining a young mother's breast,
A little maid by father's hand caressed,
Are not more pure, more sacred to the wise,
Than hapless Love in Courtesy's disguise.
How courteous he! A smile, a look, from Blanche
Swayed him as breeze a young lithe willow branch.
Yet none could guess, save those alone who knew,
What flogged-down fondness whined and crouched from view.
No longer love, but worship, warped his mind;
He held her holy-worship made him blind.
He did not see, what others saw and scanned,
A rich prize ready for the boldest hand;
Or seeing, spared the Fruit of Good-and-Ill,
With Her to dwell within his Eden still;
Perchance not jealous now that man and wife,
Plucking, had proved the nakedness of life.
Oh, what a dawn, when first he waked to own
He walked his fond Fool's Paradise-alone!
He who, despite his sorely baffled aim,
Survived his loss, could not survive her shame.
In those vast lands first fastened-on by fraud,
And since by clanking sabres overawed,
Rebellion brake like storm-clouds in the night!
He asked a sword, and hurried to the fight;
Rang out the war-cry with his Spartan wont-
``Cravens to rear! rough-riders to the front!''
Stern to the last, stemmed the barbarian tide;
And if unconquering, unconquered died.
But Blanche? Oh! surely the unblemished snow
Was not more-Hush! Enough for you to know
That she, who once such curt refusal gave
To share Frank's bed, would gladly share his grave.
Darkness retreats, its misty banners furled;
The Sun's couched lances scour along the world.
Skulk to your beds, ye Bacchanals of Night!
The Day stalks in and stares upon your rite.
On wine-stains, crumpled wreaths, and clammy lips,
And eyes bedimmed with surfeit's foul eclipse,
On cheeks where roses blown have ceased to smile,
Or stay to show how false they were the while,
On slattern hair, whose short thin wisps make known
How much of former fulness was its own,
On broken fans and irritated corns,
Brows steeped in sweat that earns not nor adorns:
Away! away! let sleep-such sleep as lies
On Fashion's fagged yet feverish votaries-
With lurements fresh to-morrow's limbs invest,
And friendly paint and padding do the rest.
Why further follow flogging Fashion's faults?
The Muse will flag, but Folly never halts.
Write as I will, the rivalry of men
Invents new vice to paralyse my pen.
From class to class the mummery descends:
I seek in vain for contrast or for friends.
All ranks to equal turpitude aspire;
Those make the mode, these mimic in the mire.
See salon morals vagrant on the flags,
Vice's torn tawdry shown as Virtue's rags,
Pure, simple Woman, brazen, scented, curled,
And God-like Man, the clothes-horse of the world!
Who think by verse to better make the bad,
I grant it freely, must be vain or mad.
From Horace downward, monitory rhymes
Have but amused, and mended not the times.
Yet in an Age when each one deftly hides
The scorn he feels for every one besides,
I claim the precious privilege of youth,
Never to speak except to speak the truth.
Urge you that youth should ne'er presume to scold,
Since Satire suits the wise alone, and old,
Ah! age is not invariably nice,
And wisdom oft grows lenient to vice.
Besides, much more impartially the boy
May scowl at sports himself could yet enjoy.
Perchance should impotent repentant rake
Denounce the havoc he no more can make,
Dyspeptic pauper against feasts protest
His purse can't reach, his stomach can't digest,
Or paralytic moralists condemn
The lips that now no longer lust for them,
Would you not say the fable of the grapes
Fitted these censors in their sober shapes?
Not rich nor beggared, blasé nor a child,
By Folly's ways instructed, not beguiled,
A guest sometimes where wit and mirth abound,
And yet, thank God! my head and stomach sound,
Life still careering freely in my veins,
And kindly smiles best guerdon of my pains,
By none befooled, I abdicate my age
To lash the pastimes which my peers engage.
Let purists frowning at my verse pretend
To mourn the means and not to see the end,
Deny the sore, so deprecate the knife-
But as our ballet, so our social life.
Whilst quite enough is deftly bared to sight
To lend to lust a lecherous delight,
As deftly too is just so much obscure
As makes the good (but timid) half endure.
Strip off this insincerity of gauze
Which balks the hiss and sanctions the applause.
Mayhap-and thither is my satire aimed-
When all is naked, some will feel ashamed.
Welcome release! The Season gasps and dies,
And Fashion's Crowd to sea-side quarters flies.
What though the Tide's uncompromising roar
Thunders its truths, terrific, on the shore,
Deaf to its voice, they only there prolong
The kill-time shifts recorded in my song.
Not them I follow: but that dear old beach
Will I seek out, where, far beyond the reach
Of flirts and flippants, will the faithful foam
Fawn at my feet and gambol round my home.
There shall I surely the great lesson learn,
To prize results, but recompense to spurn;
Since every breaker, how supreme soe'er
The wealth its individual bosom bear,
Impelled by no poor egotist desires,
To the community of waves retires
Wholly as undistinguished as before,
When it has cast its corals on the shore.
O blest Seclusion! heaven and earth combine
To blend their glories, and to make them thine!
For thee Spring dries her tears-those sweet alarms-
Conquers her coyness and unveils her charms.
For thee the harvest, decked by Autumn's hand,
Sways on the lap of the delighted land;
Just as-the day-toils over-you may see
A fair-haired frolic girl on some proud father's knee.
For thee, when Summer's festal day is done,
In gracious splendour goes away the Sun,
King with the purple glories round him furled,
Casting his farewell largesse o'er the world.
For thee the Moon on dark sequestered meres
Sheds the mild lustre of celestial spheres.
The spoiled and froward Ocean, all for thee,
Now coaxed to love, now fretting to be free,
With spume-fringed, scornful lip, and fierce delight,
Hurls back defiance to rebuking Night;
Then, wearied babe on hushing parent's breast,
On the soft sand-slope sobs itself to rest.
This is my wealth: and this, thank Heaven, is such
As Statesmen tax not, Envy cannot touch.
My life is spent where real charms delight,
Pure pastimes please, and simple joys excite,
Far from the vapid glee, the restless rage,
That jerks the puppets of your futile stage.
I fear no Angel's sword; no stern decree
Bars the broad plains of Paradise to me.
For me the Golden Gates stand open still;
I pass, and roam through Eden where I will.

Last updated January 14, 2019