Trivia (Gay)/Part 3

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3139627Trivia, or The Art of Walking the Streets of London — Trivia, Book III.John Gay




O Trivia! goddess, leave these low abodes,
And traverse o'er the wide ethereal roads.
Celestial queen! put on thy robes of light—
Now Cynthia nam'd, fair regent of the night:
At sight of thee the villain sheathes his sword,5
Nor scales the wall, to steal the wealthy hoard:
O may thy silver lamp, from heav'n's high bow'r,
Direct my footsteps in the midnight hour!
When Night first bids the twinkling stars appear,
Or with her cloudy vest enwraps the air,10
Then swarms the busy street: with caution tread
Where the shop windows falling threat thy head.
Now lab'rers home return, and join their strength
To bear the tott'ring plank, or ladder's length.

Still fix thy eyes intent upon the throng,15
And as the passes open, wind along.
Where the fair columns of St. Clement stand,
Whose straiten'd bounds encroach upon the Strand;
Where the low penthouse bows the walker's head,
And the rough pavement wounds the yielding tread;
Where not a post protects the narrow space,21
And, strung in twines, combs dangle in thy face;
Summon at once thy courage, rouse thy care,
Stand firm, look back, be resolute, beware.
Forth issuing from steep lanes, the collier's steeds
Drag the black load; another cart succeeds:26
Team follows team, crowds heap'd on crowds appear,
And wait impatient till the road grows clear.
Now all the pavement sounds with trampling feet,
And the mix'd hurry barricades the street.30
Entangled here, the waggon's lengthen'd team
Cracks the tough harness; here a pond'rous beam
Lies overturn'd athwart; for slaughter fed,
Here lowing bullocks raise their horned head.
Now oaths grow loud, with coaches coaches jar,35
And the smart blow provokes the sturdy war:

From the high box they whirl the thong around,
And with the twining lash their shins resound:
Their rage ferments, more dang'rous wounds they try,
And the blood gushes down their painful eye.40
And now on foot the frowning warriors light,
And with their pond'rous fists renew the fight;
Blow answers blow, their cheeks are smear'd with blood,
Till down they fall, and, grappling, roll in mud. . . .
So when two boars, in wild Ytene bred,45
Or on Westphalia's fatt'ning chestnuts fed,
Gnash their sharp tusks, and, rous'd with equal fire,
Dispute the reign of some luxurious mire;
In the black flood they wallow o'er and o'er,
Till their arm'd jaws distil with foam and gore.50
Where the mob gathers, swiftly shoot along,
Nor idly mingle in the noisy throng.
Lur'd by the silver hilt, amid the swarm,
The subtle artist will thy side disarm.
Nor is thy flaxen wig with safety worn:55
High on the shoulder, in a basket borne,
Lurks the sly boy, whose hand, to rapine bred,
Plucks off the curling honours of thy head.

Here dives the skulking thief; with practis'd sleight
And unfelt fingers makes thy pockets light.60
Where's now thy watch, with all its trinkets, flown?
And thy late snuff-box is no more thy own.
But, lo! his bolder thefts some tradesman spies:
Swift from his prey the scudding lurcher flies;64
Dext'rous he 'scapes the coach with nimble bounds,
Whilst ev'ry honest tongue "Stop thief!' resounds.—
So speeds the wily fox, alarm'd by fear,
Who lately filch'd the turkey's callow care:
Hounds, following hounds, grow louder as he flies,
And injur'd tenants join the hunters' cries.—70
Breathless he stumbling falls. Ill-fated boy!
Why did not honest work thy youth employ?
Seiz'd by rough hands, he's dragg'd amid the rout,
And stretch'd beneath the pump's incessant spout;
Or plung'd in miry ponds he gasping lies,75
Mud chokes his mouth, and plasters o'er his eyes.
Let not the ballad-singer's shrilling strain,
Amid the swarm, thy list'ning ear detain.
Guard well thy pocket; for these syrens stand
To aid the labours of the diving hand:80

Confed'rate in the cheat, they draw the throng,
And cambric handkerchiefs reward the song.
But soon as coach or cart drives rattling on,
The rabble part, in shoals they backward run:. . . .
So Jove's loud bolts the mingled war divide,85
And Greece and Troy retreat on either side.
If the rude throng pour on with furious pace,
And hap' to break thee from a friend's embrace,
Stop short; nor struggle through the crowd in vain,
But watch with careful eye the passing train.90
Yet I (perhaps too fond), if chance the tide,
Tumultuous, bear my partner from my side,
Impatient venture back; despising harm,
I force my passage where the thickest swarm. . . . .
Thus his lost bride, the Trojan sought in vain95
Through night, and arms, and flames, and hills of slain.
Thus Nisus wander'd o'er the pathless grove,
To find the brave companion of his love:
The pathless grove in vain he wanders o'er;
Euryalus, alas! is now no more.100
That walker who, regardless of his pace,
Turns oft to pore upon the damsel's face,

From side to side by thrusting elbows tost,
Shall strike his aching breast against a post;
Or water, dash'd from fishy stalls, shall stain105
His hapless coat with spirts of scaly rain.
But if unwarily he chance to stray
Where twirling turnstiles intercept the way,
The thwarting passenger shall force them round,
And beat the wretch half breathless to the ground.
Let constant vigilance thy footsteps guide,111
And wary circumspection guard thy side:
Then shalt thou walk unarm'd the dang'rous night,
Nor need th' officious linkboy's smoky light.
Thou never wilt attempt to cross the road115
Where alehouse benches rest the porter's load,
Grievous to heedless shins: no barrow's wheel,
That bruises oft the truant schoolboy's heel,
Behind thee rolling, with insidious pace,
Shall mark thy stockings with a miry trace.120
Let not thy vent'rous steps approach too nigh
Where, gaping wide, low steepy cellars lie:
Should thy shoe wrench aside, down, down you fall,
And overturn the scalding huxter's stall:

The scolding huckster shall not o'er thee moan,
But pence exact for nuts and pears o'erthrown.
Though you through cleanlier alleys wind by day,
To shun the hurries of the public way,
Yet ne'er to those dark paths by night retire;
Mind only safety, and contemn the mire.130
Then no impervious courts thy haste detain,
Nor sneering alewives bid thee turn again.
Where Lincoln's-inn, wide space, is rail'd around,
Cross not with vent'rous step; there oft is found
The lurking thief, who, while the day-light shone,
Made the walls echo with his begging tone:
That crutch, which late compassion moved, shall wound
Thy bleeding head, and fell thee to the ground.
Though thou art tempted by the linkman's call,
Yet trust him not along the lonely wall;140
In the midway he'll quench the flaming brand,
And share the booty with the pilf'ring band:—
Still keep the public streets, where oily rays,
Shot from the crystal lamp, o'erspread the ways.
Happy Augusta! law-defended town145
Here no dark-lanterns shade the villain's frown;

No Spanish jealousies thy lanes infest,
Nor Roman vengeance stabs th' unwary breast:
Here Tyranny ne'er lifts her purple hand,
But Liberty and Justice guard the land:150
No bravoes here profess the bloody trade,
Nor is the church the murd’rer's refuge made.
Let not the chairman, with assuming stride,
Press near the wall, and rudely thrust thy side:
The laws have set him bounds; his servile feet155
Should ne'er encroach where posts defend the street.
Yet who the footman's arrogance can quell
Whose flambeau gilds the sashes of Pall-Mall,
When in long rank a train of torches flame,
To light the midnight visits of the dame?160
Others, perhaps, by happier guidance led,
May where the chairman rests with safety tread:
Whene'er I pass, their poles, unseen below,
Make my knee tremble with the jarring blow.
If wheels bar up the road where streets are cross'd,
With gentle words the coachman's ear accost:166
He ne'er the threat or harsh command obeys,
But with contempt the spatter'd shoe surveys.

Now, man with utmost fortitude thy soul,
To cross the way where carts and coaches roll:170
Yet do not in thy hardy skill confide,
Nor rashly risk the kennel's spacious stride;
Stay till afar the distant wheel you hear,
Like dying thunder in the breaking air:
Thy foot will slide upon the miry stone,175
And passing coaches crush thy tortur'd bone,
Or wheels inclose the road; on either hand,
Pent round with perils, in the midst you stand,
And call for aid in vain; the coachman swears,
And carmen drive, unmindful of thy prayers.180
Where wilt thou turn? ah! whither wilt thou fly?
On ev'ry side the pressing spokes are nigh. . . . .
So sailors, while Charybdis' gulf they shun,
Amaz'd, on Scylla's craggy dangers run.
Be sure observe where brown Ostrea stands,185
Who boasts her shelly ware from Wallfleet sands;
There mayst thou pass, with safe unmiry feet,
Where the rais'd pavement leads athwart the street.
If where Fleet-ditch with muddy current flows
You chance to roam; where oyster-tubs in rows

Are rang'd beside the posts; there stay thy haste,
And with the sav'ry fish indulge thy taste:192
The damsel's knife the gaping shell commands,
While the salt liquor streams between her hands.
The man had sure a palate cover'd o'er195
With brass or steel, that on the rocky shore
First broke the oozy oyster's pearly coat,
And risk'd the living morsel down his throat.
What will not Lux'ry taste! Earth, sea, and air,
Are daily ransack'd for the bill of fare:200
Blood stuff'd in skins is British Christian's food;
And France robs marshes of the croaking brood;
Spongy morels in strong ragouts are found;
And in the soup the slimy snail is drown'd.
When from high spouts the dashing torrents fall,
Ever be watchful to maintain the wall:206
For shouldst thou quit thy ground, the rushing throng
Will with impetuous fury drive along;
All press to gain those honours thou hast lost,
And rudely shove thee far without the post:210
Then to retrieve the shed you strive in vain,
Draggled all o'er, and soak'd in floods of rain.

Yet rather bear the show'r, and toils of mud,
Than in the doubtful quarrel risk thy blood. . . .
O think on Oedipus’ detested state,215
And by his woes be warn'd to shun thy fate.—
Where three roads join’d he met his sire unknown
(Unhappy sire! but more unhappy son!)
Each claim'd the way: their swords the strife decide:
The hoary monarch fell; he groan'd, and died!220
Hence sprung the fatal plague that thinn'd thy reign,
Thy cursed incest! and thy children slain!
Hence wert thou doom'd in endless night to stray
Through Theban streets, and cheerless grope thy way.
Contemplate, mortal! on thy fleeting years:225
See, with black train, the funeral pomp appears!
Whether some heir attends in sable state,
And mourns with outward grief a parent's fate;
Or the fair virgin, nipp'd in beauty's bloom,
A crowd of lovers follows to her tomb;230
Why is the hearse with 'scutcheons blazon'd round,
And with the nodding plume of ostrich crown'd?
No; the dead know it not, nor profit gain:
It only serves to prove the living vain.

How short is life! how frail is human trust!— 235
Is all this pomp for laying dust to dust?. . . .
Where the nail'd hoop defends the painted stall,
Brush not thy sweeping skirt too near the wall:
Thy heedless sleeve will drink the colour'd oil,
And spot indelible thy pocket soil.240
Has not wise Nature strung the legs and feet
With firmest nerves, design'd to walk the street?
Has she not given us hands to grope aright,
Amid the frequent dangers of the night?
And thinkst thou not the double nostril meant245
To warn from oily woes by previous scent?
Who can the various city frauds recite,
With all the petty rapines of the night!
Who now the guinea-dropper's bait regards?
Trick'd by the sharper's dice? or juggler's cards?250
Why should I warn thee ne'er to join the fray,
Where the sham quarrel interrupts the way?
Lives there in these our days so soft a clown,
Brav'd by the bully's oaths or threat'ning frown?
I need not strict enjoin the pocket's care,255
When from the crowded play thou lead'st the fair:—

Who has not here or watch or snuff-box lost,
Or handkerchiefs that India's shuttle boast?
Oh! may thy virtue guard thee through the roads
Of Drury's mazy courts and dark abodes!—260
The harlots' guileful paths, who nightly stand
Where Cath'rine-street descends into the Strand.
Say, vagrant muse! their wiles and subtle arts,
To lure the strangers' unsuspecting hearts;
So shall our youth on healthful sinews tread,265
And city cheeks grow warm with rural red.—
'Tis she who nightly strolls with saunt'ring pace;
No stubborn stays her yielding shape embrace:
Beneath the lamp her tawdry ribands glare,
The new-scour'd manteau, and the slattern air:270
High-draggled petticoats her travels show,
And hollow cheeks with artful blushes glow:
With flatt'ring sounds she soothes the cred'lous ear,
'My noble captain!' 'Charmer!' 'Love!' 'My dear!'
In ridinghood near tavern-doors she plies;275
Or muffled pinners hide her livid eyes.
With empty bandbox she delights to range,
And feigns a distant errand from the 'Change:

Nay, she will oft the quaker's hood profane,
And trudge demure the rounds of Drury-lane.280
She darts from sarcenet ambush wily leers,
Twitches thy sleeve, or with familiar airs
Her fan will pat thy cheek: these snares disdain;
Nor gaze behind thee when she turns again.
I knew a yeoman who, for thirst of gain,285
To the great city drove, from Devon's plain,
His num'rous lowing herd: his herds he sold,
And his deep leathern pocket bagg'd with gold.
Drawn by a fraudful nymph, he gaz'd, he sigh'd:
Unmindful of his home, and distant bride,290
She leads the willing victim to his doom,
Through winding alleys, to her cobweb room.
Thence through the street he reels from post to post,
Valiant with wine, nor knows his treasure lost.
The vagrant wretch th' assembled watchmen spies;
He waves his hanger, and their poles defies:296
Deep in the roundhouse pent, all night he snores,
And the next morn in vain his fate deplores.
Ah, hapless swain! unus'd to pains and ills,
Canst thou forego roast-beef for nauseous pills?300

How wilt thou lift to Heav'n thy eyes and hands,
When the long scroll the surgeon's fees demands!
Or else (ye gods! avert that worst disgrace!)
Thy ruin'd nose falls level with thy face;
Then shall thy wife thy loathsome kiss disdain,305
And wholesome neighbours from thy mug refrain.
Yet there are watchmen, who, with friendly light,
Will teach thy reeling steps to tread aright;
For sixpence will support thy helpless arm,
And home conduct thee safe from nightly harm:310
But if they shake their lanterns, from afar
To call their brethren to confed'rate war,
When rakes resist their pow'r—if hapless you
Should chance to wander with the scouring crew—
Though Fortune yield thee captive, ne'er despair,
But seek the constable's consid'rate ear;316
He will reverse the watchman's harsh decree,
Mov'd by the rhet'rick of a silver fee. . . .
Thus, would you gain some fav'rite courtier's word,
Fee not the petty clerks, but bribe my lord.320
Now is the time that rakes their revels keep—
Kindlers of riot, enemies of sleep.

His scatter'd pence the flying Nicker flings,
And with the copper show'r the casement rings.
Who has not heard the Scourer's midnight fame?
Who has not trembled at the Mohock's name:326
Was there a watchman took his hourly rounds
Safe from their blows, or new-invented wounds?
I pass their desp'rate deeds and mischiefs done,
Where from Snow-hill black steepy torrents run:330
How matrons, hoop'd within the hogshead's womb,
Were tumbled furious thence; the roling tomb
O'er the stones thunders, bounds from side to side:. . .
So Regulus, to save his country, died.
Where a dim gleam the paly lantern throws 335
O'er the mid pavement, heapy rubbish grows;
Or arched vaults their gaping jaws extend,
Or the dark caves to common-sew'rs descend.
Oft, by the winds extinct, the signal lies,
Or smother'd in the glimm'ring socket dies,340
Ere Night has half roll'd round her ebon throne:
In the wide gulf the shatter'd coach, o'erthrown,
Sinks with the snorting steeds; the reins are broke,
And from the crackling axle flies the spoke. . . .

So when fam'd Eddystone's far-shooting ray,345
That led the sailor through the stormy way,
Was from its rocky roots by billows torn,
And the high turret in the whirlwind borne,
Fleets bulg'd their sides against the craggy land,349
And pitchy ruins blacken'd all the strand.
Who then through night would hire the harness'd steed?
And who would choose the rattling wheel for speed?
But hark! Distress, with screaming voice, draws nigher,
And wakes the slumb'ring street with cries of 'Fire!'
At first, a glowing red enwraps the skies,355
And, borne by winds, the scatt'ring sparks arise:
From beam to beam the fierce contagion spreads;
The spiry flames now lift aloft their heads;
Through the burst sash a blazing deluge pours,
And splitting tiles descend in rattling show'rs.360
Now with thick crowds th' enlighten'd pavement swarms:
The fireman sweats beneath his crooked arms;
A leathern casque his vent'rous head defends,
Boldly he climbs where thickest smoke ascends;

Mov'd by the mother's streaming eyes and pray'rs,
The helpless infant through the flame he bears,366
With no less virtue than through hostile fire
The Dardan hero bore his aged sire.
See forceful engines spout their levell'd streams,
To quench the blaze that runs along the beams: 370
The grappling hook plucks rafters from the walls,
And heaps on heaps the smoky ruin falls.
Blown by strong winds, the fiery tempest roars,
Bears down new walls, and pours along the floors;
The heav'ns are all ablaze, the face of Night375
Is cover'd with a sanguine dreadful light:
'T was such a light involv'd thy tow'rs, O Rome!
The dire presage of mighty Cæsar's doom;
When the sun veil'd in rust his mourning head,
And frightful prodigies the skies o'erspread. . . .380
Hark! the drum thunders! far, ye crowds, retire:
Behold! the ready match is tipt with fire.
The nitrous store is laid; the smutty train,
With running blaze, awakes the barrell'd grain;
Flames sudden wrap the walls; with sullen sound,385
The shatter'd pile sinks on the smoky ground. . . . .

So when the years shall have revolved the date,
Th' inevitable hour, of Naples' fate,
Her sapp'd foundations shall with thunders shake,
And heave and toss upon the sulph'rous lake;390
Earth's womb at once the fiery flood shall rend,
And in th' abyss her plunging tow'rs descend.

Consider, reader! what fatigues I've known—

The toils, the perils, of the wintry town;
What riots seen, what bustling crowds I bor'd;
How oft I cross'd where carts and coaches roar'd;
Yet shall I bless my labours, if mankind397
Their future safety from my dangers find.
Thus the bold traveller, inur'd to toil,
Whose steps have printed Asia's desert soil,400
The barb'rous Arab's haunt, or shiv'ring crost
Dark Greenland's mountains of eternal frost,
Whom Providence in length of years restores
To the wish'd harbour of his native shores,
Sets forth his journals to the public view,405
To caution, by his woes, the wandering crew.

And now complete my gen’rous labours lie,
Finish'd and ripe for immortality,
Death shall entomb in dust this mould'ring frame,
But never reach th' eternal part—my fame.410
When W* and G**, mighty names! are dead,
Or but at Chelsea, under custards, read;
When critics crazy bandboxes repair,
And tragedies, turn’d rockets, bounce in air,
High-rais'd on Fleet-street posts, consign'd to fame,
This Work shall shine, and Walkers bless my name.