Hobbinol; or The Rural Games - Canto 2

by William Somervile

William Somervile


Long while an universal hubbub loud,
Deafening each ear, had drown'd each accent mild;
Till biting taunts, and harsh opprobrious words
Vile utterance found. How weak are human minds!
How impotent to stem the swelling tide,
And without insolence enjoy success!
The vale-inhabitants, proud, and elate
With victory, know no restraint, but give
A loose to joy. Their champion Hobbinol
Vaunting they raise, above that earth-born race
Of giants old, who piling hills on hills,
Pelion on Ossa, with rebellious aim
Made war on Jove. The sturdy mountaineers,
Who saw their mightiest fall'n, and in his fall
Their honours past impair'd, their trophies, won
By their proud fathers, who with scorn look'd down
Upon the subject vale, sullied, despoil'd,
And levell'd with the dust, no longer bear
The keen reproach. But as when sudden fire
Seizes the ripen'd grain, whose bending ears
Invite the reaper's hand, the furious god
In sooty triumph rides dreadful, upborne
On wings of wind, that with destructive breath
Feed the fierce flames, from ridge to ridge he bounds
Wide-wasting, and pernicious ruin spreads:
So through the crowd from breast to breast swift flew
The propagated rage; loud vollied oaths,
Like thunder bursting from a cloud, gave signs
Of wrath awak'd. Prompt fury soon supplied
With arms uncouth; tough well-season'd plants,
Weighty with lead infus'd, on either host
Fall thick, and heavy; stools in pieces rent,
And chairs, and forms, and batter'd bowls are hurl'd
With fell intent; like bombs the bottles fly
Hissing in air, their sharp-edg'd fragments drench'd
In the warm spouting gore; heaps driven on heaps
Promiscuous lie. Tonsorio now advanc'd
On the rough edge of battle: his broad front
Beneath his shining helm secure, as erst
Was thine, Mambrino, stout Therian knight!
Defied the rattling storm, that on his head
Fell innocent. A table's ragged frame
In his right hand he bore, Herculean club!
Crowds, push'd on crowds, before his potent arm
Fled ignominious; havoc, and dismay,
Hung on their rear. Colin, a merry swain,
Blithe as the soaring lark, as sweet the strains
Of his soft-warbling lips, that whistling cheer
His labouring team, they toss their heads well pleas'd,
In gaudy plumage deck'd, with stern disdain
Beheld this victor proud; his generous soul
Brook'd not the foul disgrace. High o'er his head
His ponderous plough-staff in both hands he rais'd;
Erect he stood, and stretching every nerve,
As from a forceful engine, down it fell
Upon his hollow'd helm, that yielding sunk
Beneath the blow, and with its sharpen'd edge
Shear'd both his ears, they on his shoulders broad.
Hung ragged. Quick as thought the vigorous youth
Shortening his staff, the other end he darts
Into his gaping jaws. Tonsorio fled
Sore maim'd; with pounded teeth and clotted gore
Half-chok'd, he fled; with him the host retir'd
Companions of his shame; all but the stout,
And erst unconquer'd Hildebrand, brave man!
Bold champion of the hills! thy weighty blows
Our fathers felt dismay'd; to keep thy post
Unmov'd, whilom thy valour's choice, now sad,
Necessity compels; decrepit now
With age, and stiff with honourable wounds,
He stands unterrified; one crutch sustains
His frame majestic, the' other in his hand
He wields tremendous; like a mountain boar
In toils enclos'd, he dares his circling foes.
They shrink aloof, or soon with shame repent
The rash assault, the rustic heroes fall
In heaps around. Cuddy, a dextrous youth,
When force was vain, on fraudful art rely'd:
Close to the ground low-cowering, unperceiv'd,
Cautious he crept, and with his crooked bill
Cut sheer the frail support, prop of his age:
Reeling a while he stood, and menac'd fierce
The insidious swain, reluctant now at length
Fell prone and plongh'd the dust. So the tall oak,
Old monarch of the groves, that long had stood.
The shock of warring winds, and the red bolts.
Of angry Jove, shorn of his leafy shade
At last, and inwardly decay'd, if chance.
The cruel woodman spy the friendly spur,
His only hold; that sever'd, soon he nods,
And shakes the' incumber'd mountain as he falls.
When manly valour fail'd, a female arm
Restor'd the fight. As in the' adjacent booth
Black Cindaraxa's busy hand prepar'd
The smoky viands, she beheld, abash'd,
The routed host, and all her dastard friends
Far scatter'd o'er the plain; their shameful flight
Griev'd her proud heart, for hurried with the stream
Ev'n Talgol too had fled, her darling boy.
A flaming brand from off the glowing hearth
The greasy heroine snatch'd; o'er her pale foes
The threatening meteor shone, brandish'd in air,
Or round their heads in ruddy circles play'd.
Across the prostrate Hildebrand she strode,
Dreadfully bright: the multitude appall'd
Fled different ways, their beards, their hair in flames.
Imprudent she pursued, till on the brink
Of the next pool, with force united press'd,
And waving round with huge two-handed sway
Her blazing arms, into the muddy lake
The bold virago fell. Dire was the fray
Between the warring elements, of old
Thus Mulciber, and Xanthus Dardan stream
In hideous battle join'd. Just sinking now
Into the boiling deep, with suppliant hands,
She begg'd for life; black ooze and filth obscene
Hung in her matted hair; the shouting crowd
Insult her woes, and proud of their success,
The dripping Amazon in triumph lead.
Now, like a gathering storm, the rallied troops
Blacken'd the plain. Young Talgol from their front,
With a fond lover's haste, swift as the hind,
That, by the huntsman's voice alarm'd, had fled,
Panting returns, and seeks the gloomy brake,
Where her dear fawn lay hid, into the booth
Impatient rush'd. But when the fatal tale
He heard, the dearest treasure of his soul
Purlom'd, his Cindy lost; stiffen'd and pale
Awhile he stood, his kindling ire at length
Burst forth implacable, and injur'd love
Shot lightning from his eyes, a spit he seiz'd,
Just reeking from the fat surloin, a long,
Unwieldy spear; then with impetuous rage
Press'd forward on the embattled host, that shrunk
At his approach. The rich Avaro first,
His fieshy rump bor'd with dishonest wounds,
Fled bellowing; nor could his num'rous flocks,
Nor all the' aspiring pyramids, that grace
His yard well-stor'd, save the penurious clown.
Here Cubbin fell, and there young Collakin,
Nor his fond mother's prayers, nor ardent vows
Of love-sick maids could move relentless Fate.
Where'er he rag'd, with his far-beaming lance
He thinn'd their ranks, and all their battle swerv'd
With many an inroad gor'd. Then cast around
His furious eyes, if haply he might find
The captive fair; her in the dust he spied
Groveling, disconsolate; those locks, that erst
So bright, shone like the polish'd jet, defil'd
With mire impure; thither with eager haste
He ran, he flew. But when the wretched maid
Prostrate he view'd, deform'd with gaping wounds
And weltering in her blood, his trembling hand
Soon dropp'd the dreaded lance; on her pale cheeks
Ghastly he gaz'd, nor felt the pealing storm,
That on his bare defenceless brow fell thick
From every arm: o'erpower'd at last, down sunk
His drooping head, on her cold breast reclin'd.
Hail, faithful pair! if ought my verse avail,
Nor envy's spite, nor time shall e'er efface
The records of your fame; blind British bards,
In ages yet to come, on festal days
Shall chant this mournful tale, while listening nymphs
Lament around, and every generous heart
With active valour glows, and virtuous love.
How blind is popular fury! how perverse,
When broils intestine rage, and force controls
Reason and law! As the torn vessel sinks
Between the burst of adverse waves o'erwhelm'd;
So fares it with the neutral head, between
Contending parties bruis'd, incessant peal'd
With random strokes that undiscerning fall;
Guiltless he suffers most, who least offends.
Mundungo from the bloody field retir'd,
Close in a corner plied the peaceful bowl;
Incurious he, and thoughtless of events,
Now deem'd himself conceal'd, wrapt in the cloud
That issued from his mouth, and the thick fogs
That hung upon his brows; but hostile rage
Inquisitive found out the rusty swain.
His short black tube down his furr'd throat impell'd,
Staggering he reel'd, and with tenacious gripe
The bulky jordan, that before him stood,
Seiz'd falling; that its liquid freight disgorg'd
Upon the prostrate clown, floundering he lay
Beneath the muddy beverage whelm'd, so late
His prime delight. Thus the luxurious wasp,
Voracious insect, by the fragrant dregs
Allur'd, and in the viscous nectar plung'd,
His filmy pennons struggling flaps in vain,
Lost in a flood of sweets. Still o'er the plain
Fierce onset and tumultuous battle spread;
And now they fall, and now they rise, incens'd
With animated rage, while nought around
Is heard, but clamour, shout, and female cries,
And curses mix'd with groans. Discord on high
Shook her infernal scourge, and o'er their heads
Scream'd with malignant joy; when lo! between
The warring hosts appear'd sage Rhadamanth,
A knight of high renown. Nor Quixote bold,
Nor Amadis of Gaul, nor Hudibras,
Mirror of knighthood, e'er could vie with thee.
Great sultan of the vale! thy front severe,
As humble Indians to their pagods bow,
The clowns submiss approach. Themis to thee
Commits her golden balance, where she weighs
The' abandon'd orphan's sighs, the widow's tears;
By thee gives sure redress, comforts the heart
Oppress'd with woe, and rears the suppliant knee.
Each bold offender hides his guilty head,
Astonish'd, when thy delegated arm
Draws her vindictive sword; at thy command,
Stern minister of power supreme! each ward
Sends forth her brawny myrmidons, their clubs
Blazon'd with royal arms; dispatchful haste
Sits earnest on each brow, and public care.
Encompass'd round with these his dreadful guards,
He spur'd his sober steed, grizzled with age,
And venerably dull; his stirrups stretch'd
Beneath the knightly load; one hand he fix'd
Upon his saddle-bow, the other palm
Before him spread, like some grave orator
In Athens, or free Rome, when eloquence
Subdued mankind, and all the listening crowd
Hung by their ears on his persuasive tongue.
He thus the jarring multitude address'd: —
" Neighbours, and friends, and countrymen, the flow'r
Of Kiftsgate! ah! what means this impious broil?
Is then the haughty Gaul no more your care?
Are Landen's plains so soon forgot, that thus
Ye spill that blood inglorious, waste that strength,
Which well employ'd, once more might have compell'd
The stripling Anjou to a shameful flight?
Or by your great forefathers taught, have fix'd
The British standard on Lutetian tow'rs
O sight odious, detestable! () tunes
Degenerate, of ancient honour void!
This fact so foul, so riotous, insults
All law, all sovereign pow'r, and calls aloud
For vengeance; but, my friends! too well ye know,
How slow this arm to punish, and how bleeds
This heart, when forc'd on rigorous extremes.
O countrymen! all, all, can testify
My vigilance, my care for public good.
I am the man, who by your own free choice
Select from all the tribes, in senates rul'd
Each warm debate, and emptied all my stores
Of ancient science in my country's cause.
Wise Tacitus, of penetration deep,
Each secret spring reveal'd, Thuanus bold
Breathed liberty, and all the mighty dead,
Rais'd at my call, the British rights confirm'd;
While Musgrave, How, and Seymour sneer'd in vain.
I am the man, who from the bench exalt
This voice, still grateful to your ears, this voice
Which breathes for you alone. Where is the wretch
Distress'd, who in the cobwebs of the law
Entangled, and in subtle problems lost,
Seeks not to me for aid? In shoals they come
Neglected, feeless clients, nor return
Unedified; scarce greater multitudes
At Delphi sought the god, to learn their fate
From his dark oracles. I am the man,
Whose watchful providence, beyond the date
Of this frail life extends, to future times
Beneficent; my useful schemes shall steer
The common-weal in ages yet to come.
Your children's children, taught by me, shall keep
Their rights inviolable: and as Rome
The Sibyls sacred books, though wrote on leaves.
And scatter'd o'er the ground, with pious awe
Collected; so your sons shall glean with care
My hallow'd fragments, every scrip divine
Consult intent, of more intrinsic worth
Than half a Vatican. Hear me, my friends!
Hear me, my countrymen! Oh suffer not
This hoary head, employ'd for you alone,
To sink with sorrow to the grave. " He spake,
And vail'd his bonnet to the crowd. As when
The sovereign of the floods o'er the rough deep
His awful trident shakes, its fury falls,
The warring billows on each hand retire,
And foam and rage no more. All now is hush'd;
The multitude appeas'd, a cheerful dawn
Smiles on the fields, the waving throng subsides,
And the loud tempest sinks, becalm'd in peace.
Gorgonius now with haughty strides advanc'd,
A gauntlet seiz'd, firm on his guard he stood
A formidable foe, and dealt in air
His empty blows, a prelude to the fight.
Slaughter his trade; full many a pamper'd ox
Fell by his fatal hand, the bulky beast
Dragg'd by his horns, oft at one deadly blow,
His iron fist descending crush'd his skull,
And left him spurning on the bloody floor,
While at his feet the guiltless axe was laid.
In dubious fight of late one eye he lost,
Bor'd from its orb, and the next glancing stroke
Bruis'd sore the rising arch, and bent his nose;
Nathless he trumph'd on the well-fought stage,
Hockleian hero! nor was more deform'd
The Cyclops blind, nor of more monstrous size,
Nor his void orb more dreadful to behold,
Weeping the putrid gore, severe revenge
Of subtile Ithacus. Terribly gay
In his buff doublet, larded o'er with fat
Of slaughter'd brutes, the well-oil'd champion shone.
Sternly he gaz'd around, with many a frown
Fierce menacing, provok'd the tardy foe.
For now each combatant, that erst so bold
Vaunted his manly deeds, in pensive mood
Hung down his head, and fix'd on earth his eyes
Pale and dismay'd. On Hobbinol at last
Intent they gaze, in him alone their hope;
Each eye solicits him, each panting heart
Joins in the silent suit. Soon he perceiv'd
Their secret wish, and eas'd their doubting minds,
" Ye men of Kiftsgate! whose wide-spreading fame
In ancient days was sung from shore to shore,
To British bards of old a copious theme;
Too well, alas! in your pale cheeks I view
Your dastard souls. O mean, degenerate race!
But since on me ye call, each suppliant eye
Invites my sovereign aid, lo! here I come,
The bulwark of your fame, though scarce my brews
Are dry from glorious toils, just now achiev'd,
To vindicate your worth. Lo! here I swear,
By all my great forefathers' fair renown,
By that illustrious wicker, where they sate
In comely pride, and in triumphant sloth
Gave law to passive clowns; or on this spot
In glory's prime, young Hobbinol expires,
And from his dearest Ganderetta's arms
Sinks to death's cold embrace; or by this hand
That stranger, big with insolence, shall fall
Prone on the ground, and do your honour right
Forthwith the hilts he seiz'd; but on his arm
Fond Ganderetta hung, and round his neck
Curl'd in a soft embrace. Honour and love
A doubtful contest wag'd, but from her soon
He sprung relentless, all her tears were vain,
Yet oft he turn'd, oft sigh'd, thus pleading mild:
" Ill should I merit these imperial robes,
Ensigns of majesty, by general voice
Conferr'd, should pain, or death itself avail
To shake the steady purpose of my soul.
Peace, fair one! Heaven will protect the man
By thee held dear, and crown thy generous love. "
Her from the listed field the matrons sage
Reluctant drew, and with fair speeches soothed.
Now front to front the fearless champions meet:
Gorgonius like a tower, whose cloudy top
Invades the skies, stood lowering; far beneath
The strippling Hobbinol, with careful eye
Each opening scans, and each unguarded space
Measures intent. While negligently bold,
The bulky combatant, whose heart elate
Disdain'd his puny foe, now fondly deem'd
At one decisive stroke to win, unhurt,
An easy victory; down came at once
The pondrous plant, with fell malicious rage,
Aim'd at his head direct; but the tough hilts,
Swift interpos'd, elude his effort vain.
The cautious Hobbinol, with ready feet
Now shifts his ground, retreating; then again
Advances bold, and his unguarded shins
Batters secure, each well-directed blow
Bites to the quick; thick as the falling hail,
The strokes redoubled peal his hollow sides.
The multitude amaz'd with horror view
The rattling storm, shrink back at every blow,
And seem to feel his wounds; inly he groan'd,
And gnash'd his teeth, and from his blood-shot eye
Red lightning flash'd, the fierce tumultuous rage
Shook all his mighty fabric; once again
Erect he stands, collected, and resolv'd
To conquer, or to die: swift as the bolt
Of angry Jove, the weighty plant descends.
But wary Hobbinol, whose watchful eye
Perceiv'd his kind intent, slip'd on one side
Declining; the vain stroke from such an height,
With such a force impell'd, headlong drew down
The unwieldy champion: on the solid ground
He fell rebounding breathless, and astunn'd,
His trunk extended lay, sore maim'd, from out
His heaving breast he belch'd a crimson flood.
Full leisurely he rose, but conscious shame
Of honour lost his failing strength renew'd.
Rage, and revenge, and ever-during hate,
Blacken'd his stormy front; rash, furious, blind,
And lavish of his blood, of random strokes
He laid on load; without design or art
Onward he press'd outrageous, while his foe
Encircling wheels, or inch by inch retires,
Wise niggard of his strength. Yet all thy care,
O Hobbinol! avail'd not to prevent
One hapless blow; o'er his strong guard the plant
Lapp'd pliant, and its knotty point impress'd
His nervous chine; he wreathed him to and fro
Convolv'd, yet thus distress'd, intrepid bore
His hilts aloft, and guarded well his head.
So when the unwary clown, with hasty step,
Crushes the folded snake, her wounded parts
Groveling she trails along, but her high crest
Erect she bears, in all its speckled pride,
She swells inflam'd, and with her forky tongue
Threatens destruction. With like eager haste,
The' impatient Hobbinol, whose excessive pain
Stung to his heart, a speedy vengeance vow'd,
Nor wanted long the means; a feint he made
With well-dissembled guile, his batter'd shins
Mark'd with his eyes, and menac'd with his plant.
Gorgonius, whose long-suffering legs scarce bore
His cumbrous bulk, to his supporters frail
Indulgent, soon the friendly hilts oppos'd;
Betray'd, deceiv'd, on his unguarded crest
The stroke delusive fell; a dismal groan
Burst from his hollow chest, his trembling hands
Forsook the hilts, across the spacious ring
Backward he reel'd, the crowd affrighted fly
To' escape the falling ruin. But, alas!
'Twas thy hard fate, Twangdillo! to receive
His pondrous trunk, on thee, on helpless thee,
Headlong, and heavy, the foul monster fell.
Beneath a mountain's weight, the unhappy bard
Lay prostrate, nor was more renown'd thy song,
O seer of Thrace! nor more severe thy fate.
His vocal shell, the solace and support
Of wretched age, gave one melodious scream,
And in a thousand fragments strew'd the plain.
The nymphs, sure friends to his harmonious mirth,
Fly to his aid, his hairy breast expose
To each refreshing gale, and with soft hands
His temples chafe; at their persuasive touch
His fleeting soul returns; upon his rump
He sate disconsolate; but when, alas!
He view'd the shatter'd fragments, down again
He sunk expiring; by their friendly care
Once more reviv'd, he thrice assay'd to speak,
And thrice the rising sobs his voice subdu'd;
Till thus at last his wretched plight he mourn'd: —
" Sweet instrument of mirth! sole comfort left
To my declining years! whose sprightly notes
Restor'd my vigour, and renew'd my bloom,
Soft healing balm to every wounded heart!
Despairing, dying swains, from the cold ground
Uprais'd by thee, at thy melodious call,
With ravish'd ears receiv'd the flowing joy.
Gay pleasantry, and care-beguiling joke,
Thy sure attendants were, and at thy voice
All nature smil'd. But, oh! this hand no more
Shall touch thy wanton strings, no more with lays
Alternate, from oblivion dark redeem
The mighty dead, and vindicate their fame.
Vain are thy toils, O Hobbinol! and all
Thy triumphs vain. Who shall record, brave man!
Thy bold exploits? Who shall thy grandeur tell,
Supreme of Kiftsgate? See thy faithful bard,
Despoil'd, undone. O cover me, ye hills!
Whose vocal clifts were taught my joyous song.
Or thou, fair nymph, Avona, on whose banks
The frolic crowd, led by my numerous strains,
Their orgies kept, and frisk'd it o'er the green,
Jocund, and gay, while thy remurmuring streams
Danc'd by, well pleas'd. Oh! let thy friendly waves
O'erwhelm a wretch, and hide this head accurs'd. "
So plains the restless Philomel, her nest
And callow young, the tender growing hope
Of future harmony, and frail return
For all her cares, to barbarous churls a prey;
Darkling she sings, the woods repeat her moan.

Last updated October 28, 2017