Facts, Figures, and Fancies/The Deserted Parks
THE DESERTED PARKS.
'SOLITUDINEM FACIUNT: PARCUM APPELLANT.'
Museum! loveliest building of the plain
Where Cherwell winds towards the distant main;
How often have I loitered o'er thy green,
Where humble happiness endeared the scene!
How often have I paused on every charm,
The rustic couple walking arm in arm—
The groups of trees, with seats beneath the shade
For prattling babes and whisp'ring lovers made—
The never-failing brawl, the busy mill
Where tiny urchins vied in fistic skill—
(Two phrases only have that dusky race
Caught from the learned influence of the place;
Phrases in their simplicity sublime,
'Scramble a copper!' 'Please, Sir, what's the time?')
These round thy walks their cheerful influence shed;
These were thy charms—but all these charms are fled.
Amidst thy bowers the tyrant's hand is seen,
And rude pavilions sadden all thy green;
One selfish pastime grasps the whole domain,
And half a faction swallows up the plain;
Adown thy glades, all sacrificed to cricket,
The hollow-sounding bat now guards the wicket;
Sunk are thy mounds in shapeless level all,
Lest aught impede the swiftly rolling ball;
And trembling, shrinking from the fatal blow,
Far, far away thy hapless children go.
Ill fares the place, to luxury a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and minds decay;
Athletic sports may flourish or may fade,
Fashion may make them, even as it has made;
But the broad Parks, the city's joy and pride,
When once destroyed can never be supplied!
Ye friends to truth, ye statesmen, who survey
The rich man's joys increase, the poor's decay,
'Tis yours to judge, how wide the limits stand
Between a splendid and a happy land.
Proud swells go by with laugh of hollow joy,
And shouting Folly hails them with 'Ahoy!'
Funds even beyond the miser's wish abound,
And rich men flock from all the world around.
Yet count our gains. This wealth is but a name,
That leaves our useful products still the same.
Not so the loss. The man of wealth and pride
Takes up a space that many poor supplied;
Space for the game, and all its instruments,
Space for pavilions and for scorers' tents;
The ball, that raps his shins in padding cased,
Has worn the verdure to an arid waste;
His Park, where these exclusive sports are seen,
Indignant spurns the rustic from the green;
While through the plain, consigned to silence all,
In barren splendour flits the russet ball.
In peaceful converse with his brother Don,
Here oft the calm Professor wandered on;
Strange words he used—men drank with wondering ears
The languages called 'dead,' the tongues of other years.
(Enough of Heber! Let me once again
Attune my verse to Goldsmith's liquid strain.)
A man he was to undergraduates dear,
And passing rich with forty pounds a year.
And so, I ween, he would have been till now,
Had not his friends ('twere long to tell you how)
Prevailed on him, Jack-Horner-like, to try
Some method to evaluate his pie,
And win from those dark depths, with skilful thumb,
Five times a hundredweight of luscious plum—
Yet for no thirst of wealth, no love of praise,
In learned labour he consumed his days!
O luxury! thou cursed by Heaven's decree.
How ill exchanged are things like these for thee!
How do thy potions, with insidious joy,
Diffuse their pleasures only to destroy;
Iced cobbler, Badminton, and shandy-gaff.
Rouse the loud jest and idiotic laugh;
Inspired by them, to tipsy greatness grown,
Men boast a florid vigour not their own;
At every draught more wild and wild they grow;
While pitying friends observe 'I told you so!'
Till, summoned to their post, at the first ball,
A feeble under-hand, their wickets fall.
Even now the devastation is begun,
And half the business of destruction done;
Even now, methinks while pondering here in pity,
I see the rural Virtues leave the city.
Contented Toil, and calm scholastic Care,
And frugal Moderation, all are there;
Resolute Industry that scorns the lure
Of careless mirth—that dwells apart secure—
To science gives her days, her midnight oil,
Cheered by the sympathy of others' toil—
Courtly Refinement, and that Taste in dress
That brooks no meanness, yet avoids excess—
All these I see, with slow reluctant pace
Desert the long-beloved and honoured place!
While yet 'tis time, Oxonia, rise and fling
The spoiler from thee: grant no parleying!
Teach him that eloquence, against the wrong,
Though very poor, may still be very strong;
That party-interests we must forego,
When hostile to 'pro bono publico';
That faction's empire hastens to its end,
When once mankind to common sense attend;
While independent votes may win the day
Even against the potent spell of 'Play!'
- May, 1867.