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THE VIRTUOSO; IN IMITATION OF SPENCER'S STYLE AND STANZA, by             Poem Explanation     Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: Whilom by silver thame's gentle stream
Last Line: And eagerly pursues imaginary joys.
Subject(s): Art Patronage; Museums; Paintings & Painters; Poetry & Poets; Spenser, Edmund (1552-1599); Patrons Of The Arts; Art Gallerys


WHILOM by silver Thames's gentle stream,
In London town there dwelt a subtile wight;
A wight of mickle wealth, and mickle fame,
Both learn'd and quaint; a Virtuoso hight.
Uncommon things, and rare, were his delight;
From musings deep his brain ne'er gotten ease,
Nor ceasen he from study, day nor night;
Until (advancing onward by degrees)
He knew whatever breeds on earth, or air, or seas.


He many a creature did anatomize,
Almost unpeopling water, air, and land;
Beasts, fishes, birds, snails, caterpillars, flies,
Were laid full low by his relentless hand,
That oft with gory crimson was distain'd.
He many a dog destroy'd, and many a cat;
Of fleas his bed, of frogs the marshes drain'd,
Could tellen if a mite were lean or fat,
And read a lecture o'er the entrails of a gnat.


He knew the various modes of ancient times,
Their arts and fashions of each different guise;
Their weddings, funerals, punishments for crimes,
Their strength, their learning eke, and rarities;
Of old habiliments, each sort and size,
Male, female, high and low, to him were known;
Each gladiator-dress, and stage disguise;
With learned, clerkly phrase he could have shown
How the Greek tunic differ'd from the Roman gown.


A curious medallist, I wot, he was,
And boasted many a course of ancient coin;
Well as his wife's he knewen every face,
From Julius Cæsar down to Constantine.
For some rare sculpture he would oft ypine
(As green-sick damoiselles for husbands do);
And when obtained, with enraptured eyne
He'd run it o'er and o'er with greedy view,
And look and look again, as he would look it through.


His rich museum, of dimensions fair,
With goods that spoke the owner's mind was fraught;
Things curious, ancient, value-worth, and rare,
From sea and land, from Greece and Rome were brought,
Which he with mighty sums of gold had bought,—
On these all tides with joyous eyes he pored,
And, soothe to say, himself he greater thought,
When he beheld his cabinets thus stored,
Than if he'd been of Albion's wealthy cities lord.


Here in a corner stood a rich scrutoire,
With many a curiosity replete;
In seemly order furnish'd every drawer,
Products of art or nature as was meet;
Air-pumps and prisms were placed beneath his feet;
A Memphian mummy-king hung o'er his head;
Here phials, with live insects small and great:
There stood a tripod of the Pythian maid;
Above, a crocodile diffused a grateful shade.


Fast by the window did a table stand,
Where hodiern and antique rarities,
From Egypt, Greece, and Rome, from sea and land,
Were thick-besprent, of every sort and size;
Here a Bahaman spider's carcase lies,
There a dire serpent's golden skin doth shine;
Here Indian feathers, fruits, and glittering flies;
There gums and amber found beneath the line,
The beak of Ibis here, and there an Antonine.


Close at his back, or whispering in his ear,
There stood a sprite ycleped Phantasy;
Which, whereso'er he went, was always near:
Her look was wild, and roving was her eye;
Her hair was deck'd with flowers of every dye;
Her glistering robes were of more various hue
Than the fair bow that paints the cloudy sky,
Or all the spangled drops of morning dew;
Their colour changing still at every view.


Yet in this shape all tides she did not stay,
Various as the chameleon that she bore;
Now a grand monarch with a crown of hay,
Now a mendicant in silks and golden ore:
A statesman, now equipp'd to chase the boar,
Or cowled monk, lean, feeble, and unfed;
A clown-like lord, or swain of country lore;
Now scribbling dunce in sacred laurel clad,
Or papal father now, in homely weeds array'd.


The wight whose brain this phantom's power doth fill,
On whom she doth with constant care attend,
Will for a dreadful giant take a mill,
Or a grand palace in a hog-stye find:
(From her dire influence me may heaven defend!)
All things with vitiated sight he spies,
Neglects his family, forgets his friend;
Seeks painted trifles, and fantastic toys,
And eagerly pursues imaginary joys.

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