The Trustee's Lament
The Trustee's Lament
Per aspera ad astra.
(Scene: Outside the gate of the Astronomical Observatory at Albany.)
There was a time when I was blest;
The stars might rise in East or West
With all their sines and wonders;
I cared for neither great nor small,
As pointedly unmoved by all
As, on the top of steeple tall,
A lightning-rod at thunders.
What did I care for Science then?
I was a man with fellow-men,
And called the Bear the Dipper;
Segment meant piece of pie,--no more;
Cosine, the parallelogram that bore
JOHN SMITH & CO. above a door;
Arc, what called Noah skipper.
No axes weighed upon my mind,
(Unless I had a few to grind.)
And as for my astronomy,
Had Hedgecock's quadrant then been known,
I might a lamp-post's height have shown
By gas-tronomic skill,--if none
Find fault with the metonymy.
O hours of innocence! O ways
How far from these unhappy days
When all is vicy-versy!
No flower more peaceful took its due
Than I, who then no difference knew
'Twixt Ursy Major and my true
Old crony, Major Hersey.
Now in long broils and feuds we roast,
Like Strasburg geese that living toast
To make a liver-paté,--
And all because we fondly strove
To set the city of our love
In scientific fame above
Her sister Cincinnati!
We built our tower and furnished it
With everything folks said was fit,
From coping-stone to grounsel;
And then, to give a knowing air,
Just nominally assigned its care
To that unmanageable affair,
A Scientific Council.
We built it, not that one or two
Astronomers the stars might view
And count the comets' hair-roots,
But that it might by all be said
How very freely we had bled,--
We were not laying out a bed
To force their early square-roots.
The observations we wished made
Were on the spirit we'd displayed,
Worthy of Athens' high days;
But they've put in a man who thinks
Only of planets' nodes and winks,
So full of astronomic kinks
He eats star-fish on Fridays.
The instruments we did not mean
For seeing through, but to be seen
At tap of Trustee's knuckle;
But the Director locks the gate,
And makes ourselves and strangers wait
While he is ciphering on a slate
The rust of Saturn's buckle.
So on the wall's outside we stand,
Admire the keyhole's contour grand
And gateposts' sturdy granite;--
But, ah, is Science safe, we say,
With one who treats Trustees this way?
Who knows but he may snub, some day,
A well-conducted planet?
Who knows what mischief he may brew
With such a telescope brand-new
At the four-hundredth power?
He may bring some new comet down
So near that it'll singe the town
And do the Burgess-Corps crisp-brown
Ere they can storm his tower.
We wanted (having got our show)
Some man, that had a name or so,
To be our public showman;
But this one shuts and locks the gate:
Who'll answer but he'll peculate,
(And, faith, some stars are missed of late,)
Now that he's watched by no man?
Our own discoveries he may steal,
Or put night's candles out, to deal
At junkshops with the sockets:
Savants, in other lands or this,
If any theory you miss
Whereon your cipher graven is,
Don't fail to search his pockets!
Lock up your comets: if that fails,
Then notch their ears and clip their tails,
That you at need may swear to 'em;
And watch your nebulous flocks at night,
For, if your palings are not tight,
He may, to gratify his spite,
Let in the Little Bear to 'em.
Then he's so quarrelsome, we've fears
He'll set the very Twins by the ears,--
So mad, if you resist him,
He'd get Aquarius to play
A milkman's trick, some cloudy day,
And water all the Milky Way
To starve some sucking system.
But plaints are vain! through wrath or pride,
The Council all espouse his side
And will our missives con no more;
And who that knows what savants are,
Each snappish as a Leyden jar,
Will hope to soothe the wordy war
'Twixt Ologist and Onomer?
Search a Reform Convention, where
He- and she-resiarehs prepare
To get the world in their power,
You will not, when 'tis loudest, find
Such gifts to hug and snarl combined
As drive each astronomic mind
With fifty-score Great-Bear-power!
No! put the Bootees on your foot,
Elope with Virgo, strive to shoot
That arrow of O'Ryan's,
Drain Georgian Ciders to the lees,
Attempt what crackbrained thing you please,
But dream not you can e'er appease
An angry man of science!
Ah, would I were, as I was once,
To fair Astronomy a dunce,
Or launching jeux d'esprit at her,
Of light zodiacal making light,
Deaf to all tales of comets bright,
And knowing but such stars as might
Roll r-rs at our theatre!
Then calm I drew my night-cap on,
Nor bondsman was for what went on
Ere morning in the heavens;
Twas no concern of mine to fix
The Pleiades at seven or six,--
But now the omnium genitrix
Seems all at sixes and sevens.
Alas, 'twas in an evil hour
We signed the paper for the tower,
With Mrs. D. to head it!
For, if the Council have their way,
We've merely had, as Frenchmen say,
The painful maladie du pay,
While they get all the credit!
Boys, henceforth doomed to spell Trustees,
Think not it ends in double ease
To those who hold the office;
Shun Science as you would Despair,
Sit not in Cassiopeia's chair,
Nor hope from Berenice's hair
To bring away your trophies!