Percy Bysshe Shelley
< Peter Bell the Third
Is it a party in a parlour,
Crammed just as they on earth were crammed,
Some sipping punch -- some sipping tea;
But, as you by their faces see,
All silent, and all -- damned!
Peter Bell, William Wordsworth
What means this, my lord?
HAMLET. -- Marry, this is Miching Mallecho; it means mischief.
Hamlet Act III Scene II, William Shakespeare.
DEDICATION. TO THOMAS BROWN, ESQ., THE YOUNGER, H.F.
DEAR TOM--Allow me to request you to introduce Mr.Peter Bell to the respectable family of the Fudges. Although he may fall short of those very considerable personages in the more active properties which characterize the Rat and the Apostate, I suspect that even you, their historian, will confess that he surpasses them in the more peculiarly legitimate qualification of intolerable dulness.
You know Mr. Examiner Hunt; well--it was he who presented me to two of the Mr. Bells. My intimacy with the younger Mr. Bell naturally sprung from this introduction to his brothers. And in presenting him to you, I have the satisfaction of being able to assure you that he is considerably the dullest of the three.
There is this particular advantage in an acquaintance with any one of the Peter Bells, that if you know one Peter Bell, you know three Peter Bells; they are not one, but three; not three, but one. An awful mystery, which, after having caused torrents of blood, and having been hymned by groans enough to deafen the music of the spheres, is at length illustrated to the satisfaction of all parties in the theological world, by the nature of Mr. Peter Bell.
Peter is a polyhedric Peter, or a Peter with many sides. He changes colours like a chameleon, and his coat like a snake. He is a Proteus of a Peter. He was at first sublime, pathetic, impressive, profound; then dull; then prosy and dull; and now dull--oh so very dull! it is an ultra-legitimate dulness.
You will perceive that it is not necessary to consider Hell and the Devil as supernatural machinery. The whole scene of my epic is in 'this world which is'--so Peter informed us before his conversion to "White Obi"--
'The world of all of us, AND WHERE WE FIND OUR HAPPINESS, OR NOT AT ALL.'
Let me observe that I have spent six or seven days in composing this sublime piece; the orb of my moonlike genius has made the fourth part of its revolution round the dull earth which you inhabit, driving you mad, while it has retained its calmness and its splendour, and I have been fitting this its last phase 'to occupy a permanent station in the literature of my country.'
Your works, indeed, dear Tom, sell better; but mine are far superior. The public is no judge; posterity sets all to rights.
Allow me to observe that so much has been written of Peter Bell, that the present history can be considered only, like the Iliad, as a continuation of that series of cyclic poems, which have already been candidates for bestowing immortality upon, at the same time that they receive it from, his character and adventures. In this point of view I have violated no rule of syntax in beginning my composition with a conjunction; the full stop which closes the poem continued by me being, like the full stops at the end of the Iliad and Odyssey, a full stop of a very qualified import.
Hoping that the immortality which you have given to the Fudges, you will receive from them; and in the firm expectation, that when London shall be an habitation of bitterns; when St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey shall stand, shapeless and nameless ruins, in the midst of an unpeopled marsh; when the piers of Waterloo Bridge shall become the nuclei of islets of reeds and osiers, and cast the jagged shadows of their broken arches on the solitary stream, some transatlantic commentator will be weighing in the scales of some new and now unimagined system of criticism, the respective merits of the Bells and the Fudges, and their historians.
I remain, dear Tom, yours sincerely,
MICHING MALLECHO. December 1, 1819.
P.S.--Pray excuse the date of place; so soon as the profits of the publication come in, I mean to hire lodgings in a more respectable street.
Peter Bells, one, two and three, O'er the wide world wandering be. -- First, the antenatal Peter, Wrapped in weeds of the same metre, The so-long-predestined raiment Clothed in which to walk his way meant The second Peter; whose ambition Is to link the proposition, As the mean of two extremes -- (This was learned from Aldric's themes) Shielding from the guilt of schism The orthodoxal syllogism; The First Peter -- he who was Like the shadow in the glass Of the second, yet unripe, His substantial antitype. -- Then came Peter Bell the Second, Who henceforward must be reckoned The body of a double soul, And that portion of the whole Without which the rest would seem Ends of a disjointed dream. -- And the Third is he who has O'er the grave been forced to pass To the other side, which is, -- Go and try else, -- just like this. Peter Bell the First was Peter Smugger, milder, softer, neater, Like the soul before it is Born from that world into this. The next Peter Bell was he, Predevote, like you and me, To good or evil as may come; His was the severer doom, -- For he was an evil Cotter, And a polygamic Potter.1 And the last is Peter Bell, Damned since our first parents fell, Damned eternally to Hell -- Surely he deserves it well!
And Peter Bell, when he had been With fresh-imported Hell-fire warmed, Grew serious -- from his dress and mien 'Twas very plainly to be seen Peter was quite reformed. His eyes turned up, his mouth turned down; His accent caught a nasal twang; He oiled his hair;2 there might be heard The grace of God in every word Which Peter said or sang. But Peter now grew old, and had An ill no doctor could unravel; His torments almost drove him mad; -- Some said it was a fever bad -- Some swore it was the gravel. His holy friends then came about, And with long preaching and persuasion Convinced the patient that, without The smallest shadow of a doubt, He was predestined to damnation. They said -- "Thy name is Peter Bell; Thy skin is of a brimstone hue; Alive or dead -- ay, sick or well -- The one God made to rhyme with hell; The other, I think, rhymes with you." Then Peter set up such a yell! -- The nurse, who with some water gruel Was climbing up the stairs, as well As her old legs could climb them -- fell, And broke them both -- the fall was cruel. The Parson from the casement leapt Into the lake of Windermere -- And many an eel -- though no adept In God's right reason for it -- kept Gnawing his kidneys half a year. And all the rest rushed through the door, And tumbled over one another, And broke their skulls. -- Upon the floor Meanwhile sat Peter Bell, and swore, And cursed his father and his mother; And raved of God, and sin, and death, Blaspheming like an infidel; And said, that with his clenchèd teeth He'd seize the earth from underneath, And drag it with him down to hell. As he was speaking came a spasm, And wrenched his gnashing teeth asunder; Like one who sees a strange phantasm He lay, -- there was a silent chasm Between his upper jaw and under. And yellow death lay on his face; And a fixed smile that was not human Told, as I understand the case, That he was gone to the wrong place: -- I heard all this from the old woman. Then there came down from Langdale Pike A cloud, with lightning, wind and hail; It swept over the mountains like An ocean, -- and I heard it strike The woods and crags of Grasmere vale. And I saw the black storm come Nearer, minute after minute; Its thunder made the cataracts dumb; With hiss, and clash, and hollow hum, It neared as if the Devil was in it. The Devil was in it: -- he had bought Peter for half-a-crown; and when The storm which bore him vanished, nought That in the house that storm had caught Was ever seen again. The gaping neighbours came next day -- They found all vanished from the shore: The Bible, whence he used to pray, Half scorched under a hen-coop lay; Smashed glass -- and nothing more!
The Devil, I safely can aver, Has neither hoof, nor tail, nor sting; Nor is he, as some sages swear, A spirit, neither here nor there, In nothing -- yet in every thing. He is -- what we are; for sometimes The Devil is a gentleman; At others a bard bartering rhymes For sack; a statesman spinning crimes; A swindler, living as he can; A thief, who cometh in the night, With whole boots and net pantaloons, Like some one whom it were not right To mention; -- or the luckless wight From whom he steals nine silver spoons. But in this case he did appear Like a slop-merchant from Wapping, And with smug face, and eye severe, On every side did perk and peer Till he saw Peter dead or napping. He had on an upper Benjamin (For he was of the driving schism) In the which he wrapped his skin From the storm he travelled in, For fear of rheumatism. He called the ghost out of the corse; -- It was exceedingly like Peter, -- Only its voice was hollow and hoarse -- It had a queerish look of course -- Its dress too was a little neater. The Devil knew not his name and lot; Peter knew not that he was Bell: Each had an upper stream of thought, Which made all seem as it was not; Fitting itself to all things well. Peter thought he had parents dear, Brothers, sisters, cousins, cronies, In the fens of Lincolnshire; He perhaps had found them there Had he gone and boldly shown his Solemn phiz in his own village; Where he thought oft when a boy He'd clombe the orchard walls to pillage The produce of his neighbour's tillage, With marvellous pride and joy. And the Devil thought he had, 'Mid the misery and confusion Of an unjust war, just made A fortune by the gainful trade Of giving soldiers rations bad -- The world is full of strange delusion -- That he had a mansion planned In a square like Grosvenor Square, That he was aping fashion, and That he now came to Westmoreland To see what was romantic there. And all this, though quite ideal, -- Ready at a breath to vanish, -- Was a state not more unreal Than the peace he could not feel, Or the care he could not banish. After a little conversation, The Devil told Peter, if he chose, He'd bring him to the world of fashion By giving him a situation In his own service -- and new clothes. And Peter bowed, quite pleased and proud, And after waiting some few days For a new livery -- dirty yellow Turned up with black -- the wretched fellow Was bowled to Hell in the Devil's chaise.
Hell is a city much like London -- A populous and a smoky city; There are all sorts of people undone, And there is little or no fun done; Small justice shown, and still less pity. There is a Castles, and a Canning, A Cobbett, and a Castlereagh; All sorts of caitiff corpses planning All sorts of cozening for trepanning Corpses less corrupt than they. There is a ----, who has lost His wits, or sold them, none knows which; He walks about a double ghost, And though as thin as Fraud almost -- Ever grows more grim and rich. There is a Chancery Court; a King; A manufacturing mob; a set Of thieves who by themselves are sent Similar thieves to represent; An army; and a public debt. Which last is a scheme of paper money, And means -- being interpreted -- "Bees, keep your wax -- give us the honey, And we will plant, while skies are sunny, Flowers, which in winter serve instead." There is a great talk of revolution -- And a great chance of despotism -- German soldiers -- camps -- confusion -- Tumults -- lotteries -- rage -- delusion -- Gin -- suicide -- and methodism; Taxes too, on wine and bread, And meat, and beer, and tea, and cheese, From which those patriots pure are fed, Who gorge before they reel to bed The tenfold essence of all these. There are mincing women, mewing, (Like cats, who amant miserè,3) Of their own virtue, and pursuing Their gentler sisters to that ruin, Without which -- what were chastity?4 Lawyers -- judges -- old hobnobbers Are there -- bailiffs -- chancellors -- Bishops -- great and little robbers -- Rhymesters -- pamphleteers -- stock-jobbers -- Men of glory in the wars, -- Things whose trade is, over ladies To lean, and flirt, and stare, and simper, Till all that is divine in woman Grows cruel, courteous, smooth, inhuman, Crucified 'twixt a smile and whimper. Thrusting, toiling, wailing, moiling, Frowning, preaching -- such a riot! Each with never-ceasing labour, Whilst he thinks he cheats his neighbour, Cheating his own heart of quiet. And all these meet at levees; -- Dinners convivial and political; -- Suppers of epic poets; -- teas, Where small talk dies in agonies; -- Breakfasts professional and critical; Lunches and snacks so aldermanic That one would furnish forth ten dinners, Where reigns a Cretan-tonguèd panic, Lest news Russ, Dutch, or Alemannic Should make some losers, and some winners; -- At conversazioni -- balls -- Conventicles -- and drawing-rooms -- Courts of law -- committees -- calls Of a morning -- clubs -- book-stalls -- Churches -- masquerades -- and tombs. And this is Hell -- and in this smother All are damnable and damned; Each one damning, damns the other They are damned by one another, By none other are they damned. 'Tis a lie to say, "God damns!"5 Where was Heaven's Attorney General When they first gave out such flams? Let there be an end of shams, They are mines of poisonous mineral. Statesmen damn themselves to be Cursed; and lawyers damn their souls To the auction of a fee; Churchmen damn themselves to see God's sweet love in burning coals. The rich are damned, beyond all cure, To taunt, and starve, and trample on The weak and wretched; and the poor Damn their broken hearts to endure Stripe on stripe, with groan on groan. Sometimes the poor are damned indeed To take, -- not means for being blessed, -- But Cobbett's snuff, revenge; that weed From which the worms that it doth feed Squeeze less than they before possessed. And some few, like we know who, Damned -- but God alone knows why -- To believe their minds are given To make this ugly Hell a Heaven; In which faith they live and die. Thus, as in a town, plague-stricken, Each man be he sound or no Must indifferently sicken; As when day begins to thicken, None knows a pigeon from a crow, -- So good and bad, sane and mad, The oppressor and the oppressed; Those who weep to see what others Smile to inflict upon their brothers; Lovers, haters, worst and best; All are damned -- they breathe an air, Thick, infected, joy-dispelling: Each pursues what seems most fair, Mining like moles, through mind, and there Scoop palace-caverns vast, where Care In thronèd state is ever dwelling.
Lo, Peter in Hell's Grosvenor Square, A footman in the Devil's service! And the misjudging world would swear That every man in service there To virtue would prefer vice. But Peter, though now damned, was not What Peter was before damnation. Men oftentimes prepare a lot Which ere it finds them, is not what Suits with their genuine station. All things that Peter saw and felt Had a peculiar aspect to him; And when they came within the belt Of his own nature, seemed to melt, Like cloud to cloud, into him. And so the outward world uniting To that within him, he became Considerably uninviting To those who, meditation slighting, Were moulded in a different frame. And he scorned them, and they scorned him; And he scorned all they did; and they Did all that men of their own trim Are wont to do to please their whim, Drinking, lying, swearing, play. Such were his fellow-servants; thus His virtue, like our own, was built Too much on that indignant fuss Hypocrite Pride stirs up in us To bully one another's guilt. He had a mind which was somehow At once circumference and centre Of all he might or feel or know; Nothing went ever out, although Something did ever enter. He had as much imagination As a pint-pot; -- he never could Fancy another situation, From which to dart his contemplation, Than that wherein he stood. Yet his was individual mind, And new created all he saw In a new manner, and refined Those new creations, and combined Them, by a master-spirit's law. Thus -- though unimaginative -- An apprehension clear, intense, Of his mind's work, had made alive The things it wrought on; I believe Wakening a sort of thought in sense. But from the first 'twas Peter's drift To be a kind of moral eunuch, He touched the hem of Nature's shift, Felt faint -- and never dared uplift The closest, all-concealing tunic. She laughed the while, with an arch smile, And kissed him with a sister's kiss, And said -- "My best Diogenes, I love you well -- but, if you please, Tempt not again my deepest bliss. "'Tis you are cold -- for I, not coy, Yield love for love, frank, warm, and true; And Burns, a Scottish peasant boy -- His errors prove it -- knew my joy More, learnèd friend, than you. "Bocca bacciata non perde ventura, Anzi rinnuova come fa la luna11:-- So thought Boccaccio, whose sweet words might cure a Male prude, like you, from what you now endure, a Low-tide in soul, like a stagnant laguna." Then Peter rubbed his eyes severe, And smoothed his spacious forehead down With his broad palm; -- 'twixt love and fear, He looked, as he no doubt felt, queer, And in his dream sate down. The Devil was no uncommon creature; A leaden-witted thief -- just huddled Out of the dross and scum of nature; A toad-like lump of limb and feature, With mind, and heart, and fancy muddled. He was that heavy, dull, cold thing, The spirit of evil well may be: A drone too base to have a sting; Who gluts, and grimes his lazy wing, And calls lust, luxury. Now he was quite the kind of wight Round whom collect, at a fixed aera, Venison, turtle, hock, and claret, -- Good cheer -- and those who come to share it -- And best East Indian madeira! It was his fancy to invite Men of science, wit, and learning, Who came to lend each other light; He proudly thought that his gold's might Had set those spirits burning. And men of learning, science, wit, Considered him as you and I Think of some rotten tree, and sit Lounging and dining under it, Exposed to the wide sky. And all the while, with loose fat smile, The willing wretch sat winking there, Believing 'twas his power that made That jovial scene -- and that all paid Homage to his unnoticed chair. Though to be sure this place was Hell; He was the Devil -- and all they -- What though the claret circled well, And wit, like ocean, rose and fell? -- Were damned eternally.
Among the guests who often stayed Till the Devil's petits-soupers, A man there came, fair as a maid, And Peter noted what he said, Standing behind his master's chair. He was a mighty poet -- and A subtle-souled psychologist; All things he seemed to understand, Of old or new -- of sea or land -- But his own mind -- which was a mist. This was a man who might have turned Hell into Heaven -- and so in gladness A Heaven unto himself have earned; But he in shadows undiscerned Trusted, -- and damned himself to madness. He spoke of poetry, and how "Divine it was -- a light -- a love -- A spirit which like wind doth blow As it listeth, to and fro; A dew rained down from God above; "A power which comes and goes like dream, And which none can ever trace -- Heaven's light on earth -- Truth's brightest beam." And when he ceased there lay the gleam Of those words upon his face. Now Peter, when he heard such talk, Would, heedless of a broken pate, Stand like a man asleep, or baulk Some wishing guest of knife or fork, Or drop and break his master's plate. At night he oft would start and wake Like a lover, and began In a wild measure songs to make On moor, and glen, and rocky lake, And on the heart of man -- And on the universal sky -- And the wide earth's bosom green, -- And the sweet, strange mystery Of what beyond these things may lie, And yet remain unseen. For in his thought he visited The spots in which, ere dead and damned, He his wayward life had led; Yet knew not whence the thoughts were fed Which thus his fancy crammed. And these obscure remembrances Stirred such harmony in Peter, That, whensoever he should please, He could speak of rocks and trees In poetic metre. For though it was without a sense Of memory, yet he remembered well Many a ditch and quick-set fence; Of lakes he had intelligence, He knew something of heath and fell. He had also dim recollections Of pedlars tramping on their rounds; Milk-pans and pails; and odd collections Of saws, and proverbs; and reflections Old parsons make in burying-grounds. But Peter's verse was clear, and came Announcing from the frozen hearth Of a cold age, that none might tame The soul of that diviner flame It augured to the Earth: Like gentle rains, on the dry plains, Making that green which late was gray, Or like the sudden moon, that stains Some gloomy chamber's window-panes With a broad light like day. For language was in Peter's hand Like clay while he was yet a potter; And he made songs for all the land, Sweet both to feel and understand, As pipkins late to mountain Cotter. And Mr. ---, the bookseller, Gave twenty pounds for some; -- then scorning A footman's yellow coat to wear, Peter, too proud of heart, I fear, Instantly gave the Devil warning. Whereat the Devil took offence, And swore in his soul a great oath then, "That for his damned impertinence He'd bring him to a proper sense Of what was due to gentlemen!"
"O that mine enemy had written A book!" -- cried Job: -- a fearful curse, If to the Arab, as the Briton, 'Twas galling to be critic-bitten: -- The Devil to Peter wished no worse. When Peter's next new book found vent, The Devil to all the first Reviews A copy of it slyly sent, With five-pound note as compliment, And this short notice -- "Pray abuse." Then seriatim, month and quarter, Appeared such mad tirades. -- One said -- "Peter seduced Mrs. Foy's daughter, Then drowned the mother in Ullswater, The last thing as he went to bed." Another -- "Let him shave his head! Where's Dr. Willis? -- Or is he joking? What does the rascal mean or hope, No longer imitating Pope, In that barbarian Shakespeare poking?" One more, "Is incest not enough? And must there be adultery too? Grace after meat? Miscreant and Liar! Thief! Blackguard! Scoundrel! Fool! Hell-fire Is twenty times too good for you. "By that last book of yours WE think You've double damned yourself to scorn; We warned you whilst yet on the brink You stood. From your black name will shrink The babe that is unborn." All these Reviews the Devil made Up in a parcel, which he had Safely to Peter's house conveyed. For carriage, ten-pence Peter paid -- Untied them -- read them -- went half mad. "What!" cried he, "this is my reward For nights of thought, and days of toil? Do poets, but to be abhorred By men of whom they never heard, Consume their spirits' oil? "What have I done to them? -- and who Is Mrs. Foy? 'Tis very cruel To speak of me and Betty so! Adultery! God defend me! Oh! I've half a mind to fight a duel. "Or," cried he, a grave look collecting, "Is it my genius, like the moon, Sets those who stand her face inspecting, That face within their brain reflecting, Like a crazed bell-chime, out of tune?" For Peter did not know the town, But thought, as country readers do, For half a guinea or a crown, He bought oblivion or renown From God's own voice6 in a review. All Peter did on this occasion Was, writing some sad stuff in prose. It is a dangerous invasion When poets criticize; their station Is to delight, not pose. The Devil then sent to Leipsic fair For Born's translation of Kant's book; A world of words, tail foremost, where Right -- wrong -- false -- true -- and foul -- and fair As in a lottery-wheel are shook. Five thousand crammed octavo pages Of German psychologics, -- he Who his furor verborum assuages Thereon, deserves just seven months' wages More than will e'er be due to me. I looked on them nine several days, And then I saw that they were bad; A friend, too, spoke in their dispraise,-- He never read them; -- with amaze I found Sir William Drummond had. When the book came, the Devil sent It to P. Verbovale,7 Esquire, With a brief note of compliment, By that night's Carlisle mail. It went, And set his soul on fire. Fire, which ex luce praebens fumum, Made him beyond the bottom see Of truth's clear well -- when I and you, Ma'am, Go, as we shall do, subter humum, We may know more than he. Now Peter ran to seed in soul Into a walking paradox; For he was neither part nor whole, Nor good, nor bad -- nor knave nor fool; -- Among the woods and rocks Furious he rode, where late he ran, Lashing and spurring his tame hobby; Turned to a formal puritan, A solemn and unsexual man, -- He half believed White Obi. This steed in vision he would ride, High trotting over nine-inch bridges, With Flibbertigibbet, imp of pride, Mocking and mowing by his side -- A mad-brained goblin for a guide -- Over corn-fields, gates, and hedges. After these ghastly rides, he came Home to his heart, and found from thence Much stolen of its accustomed flame; His thoughts grew weak, drowsy, and lame Of their intelligence. To Peter's view, all seemed one hue; He was no Whig, he was no Tory; No Deist and no Christian he; -- He got so subtle, that to be Nothing, was all his glory. One single point in his belief From his organization sprung, The heart-enrooted faith, the chief Ear in his doctrines' blighted sheaf, That "Happiness is wrong"; So thought Calvin and Dominic; So think their fierce successors, who Even now would neither stint nor stick Our flesh from off our bones to pick, If they might "do their do." His morals thus were undermined: -- The old Peter -- the hard, old Potter -- Was born anew within his mind; He grew dull, harsh, sly, unrefined, As when he tramped beside the Otter.8 In the death hues of agony Lambently flashing from a fish, Now Peter felt amused to see Shades like a rainbow's rise and flee, Mixed with a certain hungry wish.9 So in his Country's dying face He looked -- and, lovely as she lay, Seeking in vain his last embrace, Wailing her own abandoned case, With hardened sneer he turned away: And coolly to his own soul said; -- "Do you not think that we might make A poem on her when she's dead: -- Or, no -- a thought is in my head -- Her shroud for a new sheet I'll take: "My wife wants one. -- Let who will bury This mangled corpse! And I and you, My dearest Soul, will then make merry, As the Prince Regent did with Sherry,--" "Ay -- and at last desert me too." And so his Soul would not be gay, But moaned within him; like a fawn Moaning within a cave, it lay Wounded and wasting, day by day, Till all its life of life was gone. As troubled skies stain waters clear, The storm in Peter's heart and mind Now made his verses dark and queer: They were the ghosts of what they were, Shaking dim grave-clothes in the wind. For he now raved enormous folly, Of Baptisms, Sunday-schools, and Graves, 'Twould make George Colman melancholy To have heard him, like a male Molly, Chanting those stupid staves. Yet the Reviews, who heaped abuse On Peter while he wrote for freedom, So soon as in his song they spy The folly which soothes tyranny, Praise him, for those who feed 'em. "He was a man, too great to scan; -- A planet lost in truth's keen rays: -- His virtue, awful and prodigious; -- He was the most sublime, religious, Pure-minded Poet of these days." As soon as he read that, cried Peter, "Eureka! I have found the way To make a better thing of metre Than e'er was made by living creature Up to this blessèd day." Then Peter wrote odes to the Devil; -- In one of which he meekly said: "May Carnage and Slaughter, Thy niece and thy daughter, May Rapine and Famine, Thy gorge ever cramming, Glut thee with living and dead! "May Death and Damnation, And Consternation, Flit up from Hell with pure intent! Slash them at Manchester, Glasgow, Leeds, and Chester; Drench all with blood from Avon to Trent. "Let thy body-guard yeomen Hew down babes and women, And laugh with bold triumph till Heaven be rent! When Moloch in Jewry Munched children with fury, It was thou, Devil, dining with pure intent."10
The Devil now knew his proper cue. -- Soon as he read the ode, he drove To his friend Lord MacMurderchouse's, A man of interest in both houses, And said: -- "For money or for love, "Pray find some cure or sinecure; To feed from the superfluous taxes A friend of ours -- a poet -- fewer Have fluttered tamer to the lure Than he." His lordship stands and racks his Stupid brains, while one might count As many beads as he had boroughs, -- At length replies; from his mean front, Like one who rubs out an account, Smoothing away the unmeaning furrows: "It happens fortunately, dear Sir, I can. I hope I need require No pledge from you, that he will stir In our affairs; -- like Oliver, That he'll be worthy of his hire." These words exchanged, the news sent off To Peter, home the Devil hied, -- Took to his bed; he had no cough, No doctor, -- meat and drink enough, -- Yet that same night he died. The Devil's corpse was leaded down; His decent heirs enjoyed his pelf, Mourning-coaches, many a one, Followed his hearse along the town: -- Where was the Devil himself? When Peter heard of his promotion, His eyes grew like two stars for bliss: There was a bow of sleek devotion Engendering in his back; each motion Seemed a Lord's shoe to kiss. He hired a house, bought plate, and made A genteel drive up to his door, With sifted gravel neatly laid, -- As if defying all who said, Peter was ever poor. But a disease soon struck into The very life and soul of Peter -- He walked about -- slept -- had the hue Of health upon his cheeks -- and few Dug better -- none a heartier eater. And yet a strange and horrid curse Clung upon Peter, night and day; Month after month the thing grew worse, And deadlier than in this my verse I can find strength to say. Peter was dull -- he was at first Dull -- oh, so dull -- so very dull! Whether he talked, wrote, or rehearsed -- Still with this dulness was he cursed -- Dull -- beyond all conception -- dull. No one could read his books -- no mortal, But a few natural friends, would hear him; The parson came not near his portal; His state was like that of the immortal Described by Swift -- no man could bear him. His sister, wife, and children yawned, With a long, slow, and drear ennui, All human patience far beyond; Their hopes of Heaven each would have pawned, Anywhere else to be. But in his verse, and in his prose, The essence of his dulness was Concentred and compressed so close, 'Twould have made Guatimozin doze On his red gridiron of brass. A printer's boy, folding those pages, Fell slumbrously upon one side; Like those famed Seven who slept three ages. To wakeful frenzy's vigil-rages, As opiates, were the same applied. Even the Reviewers who were hired To do the work of his reviewing, With adamantine nerves, grew tired; -- Gaping and torpid they retired, To dream of what they should be doing. And worse and worse, the drowsy curse Yawned in him, till it grew a pest -- A wide contagious atmosphere, Creeping like cold through all things near; A power to infect and to infest. His servant-maids and dogs grew dull; His kitten, late a sportive elf; The woods and lakes, so beautiful, Of dim stupidity were full, All grew dull as Peter's self. The earth under his feet -- the springs, Which lived within it a quick life, The air, the winds of many wings, That fan it with new murmurings, Were dead to their harmonious strife. The birds and beasts within the wood, The insects, and each creeping thing, Were now a silent multitude; Love's work was left unwrought -- no brood Near Peter's house took wing. And every neighbouring cottager Stupidly yawned upon the other: No jackass brayed; no little cur Cocked up his ears; -- no man would stir To save a dying mother. Yet all from that charmed district went But some half-idiot and half-knave, Who rather than pay any rent, Would live with marvellous content, Over his father's grave. No bailiff dared within that space, For fear of the dull charm, to enter; A man would bear upon his face, For fifteen months in any case, The yawn of such a venture. Seven miles above -- below -- around -- This pest of dulness holds its sway; A ghastly life without a sound; To Peter's soul the spell is bound -- How should it ever pass away?
1. The oldest scholiasts read --
A dodecagamic Potter.
This is at once more descriptive and more megalophonous, -- but the alliteration of the text had captivated the vulgar ear of the herd of later commentators.
2. To those who have not duly appreciated the distinction between Whale and Russia oil, this attribute might rather seem to belong to the Dandy than the Evangelic. The effect, when to the windward, is indeed so similar, that it requires a subtle naturalist to discriminate the animals. They belong, however, to distinct genera.
3. One of the attributes in Linnaeus's description of the Cat. To a similar cause the caterwauling of more than one species of this genus is to be referred; -- except, indeed, that the poor quadruped is compelled to quarrel with its own pleasures, whilst the biped is supposed only to quarrel with those of others.
4. What would this husk and excuse for a virtue be without its kernel prostitution, or the kernel prostitution without this husk of a virtue? I wonder the women of the town do not form an association, like the Society for the Suppression of Vice, for the support of what may be called the "King, Church, and Constitution" of their order. But this subject is almost too horrible for a joke.
5. This libel on our national oath, and this accusation of all our countrymen of being in the daily practice of solemnly asseverating the most enormous falsehood, I fear deserves the notice of a more active Attorney General than that here alluded to.
6. Vox populi, vox dei. As Mr. Godwin truly observes of a more famous saying, of some merit as a popular maxim, but totally destitute of philosophical accuracy.
7. Quasi, Qui valet verba: -- i.e. all the words which have been, are, or may be expended by, for, against, with, or on him. A sufficient proof of the utility of this history. Peter's progenitor who selected this name seems to have possessed a pure anticipated cognition of the nature and modesty of this ornament of his posterity.
8. A famous river in the new Atlantis of the Dynastophylic Pantisocratists.
9. See the description of the beautiful colours produced during the agonizing death of a number of trout, in the fourth part of a long poem in blank verse, published within a few years. That poem contains curious evidence of the gradual hardening of a strong but circumscribed sensibility, of the perversion of a penetrating but panic-stricken understanding. The author might have derived a lesson which he had probably forgotten from these sweet and sublime verses: --
"This lesson, Shepherd, let us two divide, Taught both by what she [Nature.] shows and what conceals, Never to blend our pleasure or our pride With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels."
10. It is curious to observe how often extremes meet. Cobbett and Peter use the same language for a different purpose: Peter is indeed a sort of metrical Cobbett. Cobbett is, however, more mischievous than Peter, because he pollutes a holy and now unconquerable cause with the principles of legitimate murder; whilst the other only makes a bad one ridiculous and odious.
If either Peter or Cobbett should see this note, each will feel more indignation at being compared to the other than at any censure implied in the moral perversion laid to
11. A mouth that is kissed does not lose by it, for it always returns like the moon.
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