Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A DAY: AN EPISTLE TO JOHN WILKES, OF AYLESBURY, ESQ., by JOHN ARMSTRONG



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A DAY: AN EPISTLE TO JOHN WILKES, OF AYLESBURY, ESQ., by            
First Line: Escaped from london, now four moons and more
Last Line: We march for hoxter—ever, ever yours.
Subject(s): Wilkes, John (1725-1797)


ESCAPED from London, now four moons and more,
I greet gay Wilkes from Fulda's wasted shore,
Where clothed with wood a hundred hills ascend,
Where Nature many a paradise has planned:

A land that, e'en amid contending arms,
Late smiled with culture, and luxuriant charms;
But now the hostile scythe has bared her soil,
And her sad peasants starve for all their toil.

What news to-day?—I ask you not what rogue,
What paltry imp of fortune's now in vogue;
What forward blundering fool was last preferr'd.
By mere pretence distinguished from the herd;
With what new cheat the gaping town was smit;
What crazy scribbler reigns the present wit;
What stuff for winter the two Booths have mix'd;
What bouncing mimic grows a Roscius next.
Wave all such news: I've seen too much, my friend,
To stare at any wonders of that kind.

News, none have I: you know I never had;
I never long'd the day's dull lie to spread;
I left to gossips that sweet luxury,
More in the secrets of the great than I;
To nurses, midwives, all the slippery train,
That swallow all, and bring up all again:
Or did I e'er a brief event relate,
You found it soon at length in the gazette.

Now for the weather—This is England still,
For aught I find, as good, and quite as ill.
Even now the ponderous rain perpetual falls,
Drowns every camp, and crowds our hospitals.
This soaking deluge all unstrings my frame,
Dilutes my sense, and suffocates my flame—
'Tis that which makes these present lines so tame.
The parching east wind still pursues me too—
Is there no climate where this fiend ne'er flew?
By Heaven, it slays Japan, perhaps Peru!
It blasts all Earth with its envenomed breath,
That scatters discord, rage, diseases, death.
'Twas the first plague that burst Pandora's chest,
And with a livid smile sowed all around the rest.

Heaven guard my friend from every plague that flies;
Still grant him health, whence all the pleasures rise.
But oft diseases from slow causes creep,
And in this doctrine as (thank Heaven) I'm deep,

* * * * * * * * * *

Meantime excuse me that I slily snatch
The only theme in which I shine your match.

You study early: some indulge at night,
Their prudish Muse steals in by candle-light;
Shy as the Athenian bard, she shuns the day,
And finds December genial more than May.
But happier you who court the early Sun,
For morning visits no debauch draw on,
Nor so the spirits, health, or sight impair,
As those that pass in the raw midnight air.

The task of breakfast o'er; that peevish, pale,
That lounging, yawning, most ungenial meal;
Rush out, before these fools rush in to worry ye,
Whose business is to be idle in a hurry,
Who kill your time as frankly as their own,
And feel no civil hints e'er to be gone.
These flies all fairly flung, whene'er the house,
Your country's business, or your friend's, allows,
Rush out, enjoy the fields and the fresh air;
Ride, walk, or drive, the weather foul or fair.
Yet in the torrid months I would reverse
This method, leave behind both prose and verse;
With the gray dawn the hills and forest roam,
And wait the sultry noon embower'd at home,
While every rural sound improves the breeze,
The railing stream, the busy rooks, and murmur of the bees.

You'll hardly choose these cheerful jaunts alone—
Except when some deep scheme is carrying on.
With you at Chelsea oft may I behold
The hopeful bud of sense her bloom unfold,
With you I'd walk to * * * *
To rich, insipid Hackney, if you will:
With you no matter where; while we're together,
I scorn no spot on earth, and curse no weather.

When dinner comes, amid the various feast,
That crowns your genial board, where every guest,
Or grave, or gay, is happy and at home,
And none e'er sighed for the mind's elbow-room;
I warn you still to make your chief repast
On one plain dish, and trifle with the rest.

* * * * * * * * * *

Beef, in a fever, if your stomach crave it,
Ox-cheek, or mawkish cod, be sure you have it.
For still the constitution, even the case,
Directs the stomach; this informs the taste;
And what the taste in her capricious fits
Coyly, or even indifferently admits,
The peevish stomach or disdains to toil,
Or indolently works to vapid chyle.
This instinct of the taste so seldom errs,
That if you love, yet smart for cucumbers,
Or plums of bad repute, you'll likely find
'Twas for you separated what Nature joined,
The spicy kernel here, and there the rind.

* * * * * * * * * *

'Tis strange how blindly we from Nature stray!
The only creatures we that miss their way!
'To err is human,' man's prerogative,
Who's too much sense by Nature's laws to live:
Wiser than Nature, he must thwart her plan,
And ever will be spoiling, where he can.
'Tis well he cannot ocean change to cream,
Nor earth to a gilded cake; not e'en could tame
Niagara's steep abyss to crawl down stairs,
Or dress in roses the dire Cordelliers:
But what he can he does: well can he trim
A charming spot into a childish whim;
Can every generous gift of Nature spoil,
And rates their merits by his cost and toil.
Whate'er the land, whate'er the seas produce,
Of perfect texture, and exalted juice,
He pampers, or to fulsome fat, or drains,
Refines and bleaches, till no taste remains.

* * * * * * * * * *

Enough to fatten fools, or drive the dray,
But plagues and death to those of finer clay.

No corner else, 'tis not to be denied,
Of all our isle so rankly is supplied
With gross productions, and adulterate fare,
As our renowned abode, whose name I spare.
They cram all poultry, that the hungry fox
Would loathe to touch them; e'en their boasted ox
Sometimes is glutted so with unctuous spoil,
That what seems beef is rather rape-seed oil.
D'ye know what brawn is?—O the unhappy beast!
He stands eternal, and is doomed to feast
Till—but the nauseous process I forbear—
Only, beware of brawn—be sure, beware!
Yet brawn has taste—it has; their veal has none,
Save what the butcher's breath inspires alone;
Just Heaven one day may send them hail for wheat,
Who spoil all veal because it should be white.
'Tis hard to say of what compounded paste
Their bread is wrought, for it betrays no taste,
Whether 'tis flour and chalk, or chalk and flour,
Shell'd and refined till it has taste no more;
But if the lump be white, and white enough,
No matter how insipid, dry or tough.
In salt itself the sapid savour fails,
Burnt alum for the love of white prevails:
While tasteless cole-seed we for mustard swallow,
'Tis void of zest indeed—but still 'tis yellow.
Parsnip or parsley-root, the rogues will soon
Scrape for horse-radish, and 'twill pass unknown,
For by the colour, not the taste, we prove all,
As hens will sit on chalk, if 'tis but oval.

I must with caution the cook's reign invade,
Hot as the fire, and hasty from his trade,

* * * * * * * * * *

A cook of genius, bid him roast a hare,
By all that's hot and horrible would swear,
Parch native dryness! zounds, that's not the thing—
But stew him, and he might half dine a king.
His generous broth I should almost prefer
To turtle soup, though turtle travels far.

You think me nice perhaps: yet I could dine
On roasted rabbit; or fat turkey and chine;
Or fulsome haslet; or most drily cram
My throat with tasteless fillet and wet ham:
But let me ne'er of mutton-saddle eat,
That solid phantom, that most specious cheat;
Yet loin is passable, he was no fool
Who said the half is better than the whole:

* * * * * * * * * *

But I have cooked and carved enough and more;
We come to drinking next. 'Till dinner's o'er,
I would all claret, even champaign forbear;
Give me fresh water—bless me with small-beer.
But still, whate'er you drink, with cautious lip
Approach, survey, and e'er you swallow, sip;
For often, O defend all honest throats!
The reeling wasp on the drench'd borage floats.
I've known a dame, sage else as a divine,
For brandy whip off ipecacuan wine;
And I'm as sure amid your careless glee,
You'll swallow port one time for cote-rotie.
But you aware of that Lethean flood,
Will scarce repeat the dose—forbid you should!
'Tis such a deadly foe to all that's bright,
'Twould soon encumber e'en your fancy's flight:
And if 'tis true what some wise preacher says,
That we our generous ancestors disgrace,
The fault from this pernicious fountain flows,
Hence half our follies, half our crimes and woes;
And ere our maudlin genius mounts again,
'Twill cause a sea of claret and champaign
Of this retarding glue to rinse the nation's brain.
The mud-fed carp refines amid the springs,
And time and burgundy might do great things:
But health and pleasure we for trade despise,
For Portugal's grudged gold our genius dies.
O hapless race! O land to be bewailed!
With murders, treasons, horrid deaths appalled;
Where dark-red skies with livid thunders frown,
While Earth convulsive shakes her cities down;
Where Hell in Heaven's name holds her impious court,
And the grape bleeds out that black poison, port;
Sad poison to themselves, to us still worse,
Brewed and rebrewed, a double, treble curse.

Tossed in the crowd of various rules, I find
Still some material business left behind:

* * * * * * * * * *

The fig, the gooseberry, beyond all grapes,
Mellower to eat, as rich to drink perhaps.
But pleasures of this kind are best enjoyed,
Beneath the tree, or by the fountain side,
Ere the quick soul and dewy bloom exhale,
And vainly melt into the thankless gale.

* * * * * * * * * *

Who from the full meal yield to natural rest,
A short repose; 'tis strange how soon you'll find
A second morn rise cheerful on your mind:
Besides, it softly, kindly, soothes away
The saddest hour to some that damps the day.
But if you're coy to sleep, before you spread
Some easy-trotting poet's lines—you're dead
At once: even these may hasten your repose,
Now rapid verse, now halting nearer prose;
There smooth, here rough, what I suppose you'd choose,
As men of taste hate sameness in the Muse:
Yes, I'd adjourn all drinking till 'tis late,
And then indulge, but at a moderate rate.
By Heaven, not ... with all his genial wit,
Should ever tempt me after twelve to sit—
You laugh—at noon you say: I mean at night.

I long to read your name once more again,
But while at Cassel, all such longing's vain.
Yet Cassel else no sad retreat I find,
While good and amiable Gayot is my friend,
Generous and plain, the friend of human-kind;
Who scorns the little-minded's partial view;
One you would love, one that would relish you.
With him sometimes I sup, and often dine,
And find his presence cordial more than wine.
There lively, genial, friendly, Goy and I
Touch glasses oft to one whose company
Would—but what's this?—Farewell—within two hours
We march for Hoxter—ever, ever yours.





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