Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE LAY OF ST. ALOYS; A LEGEND OF BLOIS, by RICHARD HARRIS BARHAM

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE LAY OF ST. ALOYS; A LEGEND OF BLOIS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Saint aloys / was the bishop of blois
Last Line: You never can make a silk purse of a sow's ear!'
Alternate Author Name(s): Ingoldsby, Thomas
Subject(s): Christianity; Saints

Was the Bishop of Blois,
And a pitiful man was he,
He grieved and he pined
For the woes of mankind,
And of brutes in their degree, --
He would rescue the rat
From the claws of the cat,
And set the poor captive free;
Though his cassock was swarming
With all sorts of vermin,
He'd not take the life of a flea! --
Kind, tender, forgiving,
To all things living,
From injury still he'd endeavour to screen 'em,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, -- no difference between 'em --

The Bishop of Blois was a holy man, --
A holy man was he!
For Holy Church
He'd seek and he'd search
As a Bishop in his degree.
From foe and from friend
He'd 'rap and he'd rend,'
To augment her treasurie.
Nought would he give, and little he'd lend,
That Holy Church might have more to spend --

'Count Stephen' (of Blois) 'was a worthy Peer,
His breeches cost him but a crown,
He held them sixpence all too dear,
And so he call'd the Tailor lown!' --
Had it been the Bishop instead of the Count,
And he'd overcharged him to half the amount,
He had knock'd that Tailor down! --
Not for himself! -- He despised the pelf;
He dress'd in sackcloth, he dined off delf;
And, when it was cold, in lieu of a surtout,
The good man would wrap himself up in his virtue.
Alack! that a man so holy as he,
So frank and free in his degree,
And so good and so kind, should mortal be!

Yet so it is -- for loud and clear
From St. Nicholas' tower, on the listening ear,
With solemn swell The deep-toned bell
Flings to the gale a funeral knell;
And hark! -- at its sound, As a cunning old hound,
When he opens, at once causes all the young whelps
Of the cry to put in their less dignified yelps,
So -- the little bells all, No matter how small,
From the steeples both inside and outside the wall
With bell-metal throat Respond to the note,
And join the lament that a prelate so pious is
Forced thus to leave his disconsolate diocese,
Or, as Blois' Lord May'r Is heard to declare,
'Should leave this here world for to go to that there.'

And see, the portals opening wide,
From the Abbey flows the living tide;
Forth from the doors The torrent pours,
Acolytes, Monks, and Friars in scores,
This with his chasuble, that with his rosary,
This from his incense-pot turning his nose awry.
Holy Father, and Holy Mother,
Holy Sister, and Holy Brother,
Holy Son, and Holy Daughter,
Holy Wafer, and Holy Water;
Every one drest Like a guest in his best,
In the smartest of clothes they're permitted to wear,
Serge, sackcloth, and shirts of the same sort of hair
As now we make use of to stuff an arm-chair,
Or weave into gloves at three shillings a pair,
And employ for shampooing in cases rheumatic, -- a
Special specific, I'm told, for Sciatica.

Through groined arch, and by cloister'd stone,
With mosses and ivy long o'ergrown,
Slowly the throng Come passing along,
With many a chaunt and solemn song,
Adapted for holidays, high-days, and Sundays, --
Dies irae, and De profundis,
Miserere, and Domine dirige nos, --
Such as, I hear, to a very slow tune are all
Commonly chaunted by Monks at a funeral,
To secure the defunct's repose,
And to give a broad hint to Old Nick, should the news
Of a prelate's decease bring him there on a cruise,
That he'd better be minding his P's and his Q's,
And not come too near, -- since they can, if they choose,
Make him shake in his hoofs -- as he does not wear shoes.

Still on they go, A goodly show,
With footsteps sure, though certainly slow,
Two by two in a very long row;
With feathers, and Mutes In mourning suits,
Undertaker's men walking in hat-bands and boots, --
Then comes the Crosier, all jewels and gold,
Borne by a lad about eighteen years old;
Next, on a black velvet cushion, the Mitre,
Borne by a younger boy, 'cause it is lighter.
Eight Franciscans, sturdy and strong,
Bear, in the midst, the good Bishop along;
Eight Franciscans, stout and tall,
Walk at the corners, and hold up the pall;
Eight more hold a canopy high over all,
With eight Trumpeters tooting the Dead March in Saul. --
Behind, as Chief Mourner, the Lord Abbot goes, his
Monks coming after him, all with posies,
And white pocket-handkerchiefs up at their noses,
Which they blow whenever his Lordship blows his --
And oh! 'tis a comely sight to see
How Lords and Ladies, of high degree,
Vail, as they pass, upon bended knee,
While quite as polite are the Squires and the Knights,
In their helmets, and hauberks, and cast-iron tights.

Ay, 'tis a comely sight to behold,
As the company march
Through the rounded arch
Of that Cathedral old! --
Singers behind 'em, and singers before 'em,
All of them ranging in due decorum,
Around the inside of the Sanctum Sanctorum,
While brilliant and bright An unwonted light
(I forgot to premise this was all done at night)
The links, and the torches, and flambeaux shed
On the sculptured forms of the Mighty Dead,
That rest below, mostly buried in lead,
And above, recumbent in grim repose,
With their mailed hose,
And their dogs at their toes,
And little boys kneeling beneath them in rows,
Their hands join'd in pray'r, all in very long clothes,
With inscriptions on brass, begging each who survives,
As they some of them seem to have led so-so lives,
To Praie for the Somles of themselves and their wives. --
-- The effect of the music, too, really was fine,
When they let the good prelate down into his shrine,
And by old and young The 'Requiem' was sung;
Not vernacular French, but a classical tongue,
That is -- Latin -- I don't think they meddled with Greek --
In short, the whole thing produced -- so to speak --
What in Blois they would call a Coup d'oeil magnifique!

Yet, surely, when the level ray
Of some mild eve's descending sun
Lights on the village pastor, grey
In years ere ours had well begun --

As there -- in simplest vestment clad,
He speaks, beneath the churchyard tree,
In solemn tones, -- but yet not sad, --
Of what Man is -- what Man shall be!

And clustering round the grave, half hid
By that same quiet churchyard yew,
The rustic mourners bend, to bid
The dust they loved a last adieu --

-- That ray, methinks, that rests so sheen
Upon each briar-bound hillock green,
So calm, so tranquil, so serene,
Gives to the eye a fairer scene
Speaks to the heart with holier breath
Than all this pageantry of Death. --

But chacun a son gout -- this is talking at random --
We all know 'De gustibus non disputandum!'
So canter back, Muse, to the scene of your story
The Cathedral of Blois -- Where the sainted Aloys
Is by this time, you'll find, 'left alone in his glory.'
'In the dead of the night,' though with labour opprest,
Some 'mortals' disdain 'the calm blessings of rest';
Your cracksman, for instance, thinks night-time the best
To break open a door, or the lid of a chest;
And the gipsy who close round your premises prowls,
To ransack your hen-roost, and steal all your fowls,
Always sneaks out at night with the bats and the owls,
-- So do Witches and Warlocks, Ghosts, Goblins, and Ghouls.
To say nothing at all of those troublesome 'Swells'
Who come from the playhouses, 'flash kens,' and 'hells,'
To pull off people's knockers, and ring people's bells.

Well -- 'tis now the hour Ill things have power!
And all who, in Blois, entertain honest views,
Have long been in bed, and enjoying a snooze, --
Nought is waking Save Mischief and 'Faking,'
And a few who are sitting up brewing or baking,
When an ill-looking Infidel, sallow of hue,
Who stands in his slippers some six feet two
(A rather remarkable height for a Jew),
Creeps cautiously out of the churchwarden's pew,
Into which, during service, he managed to slide himself --
While all were intent on the anthem -- and hide himself.

From his lurking-place, With stealthy pace,
Through the 'long-drawn aisle' he begins to crawl,
As you see a cat walk on the top of the wall,
When it's stuck full of glass, and she thinks she shall fall.
-- He proceeds to feel For his flint and his steel
(An invention on which we've improved a great deal
Of late years -- the substitute best to rely on
's what Jones of the Strand calls his Pyrogeneion),
He strikes with despatch! -- his Tinder catches! --
Now, where is his candle? -- and where are his matches? --
'Tis done! -- they are found! --
He stands up and looks round
By the light of a 'dip' of sixteen to the pound!
-- What is it now that makes his nerves to quiver? --
His hand to shake -- and his limbs to shiver? --
Fear? -- Pooh! -- it is only a touch of the liver --
All is silent -- all is still --
It's 'gammon' -- it's 'stuff'! -- he may do what he will
Carefully now he approaches the shrine,
In which, as I've mention'd before, about nine,
They had placed in such state the lamented Divine!
But not to worship -- No! -- No such thing! --

Fancy his fright, When, with all his might
Having forced up the lid, which they'd not fasten'd quite,
Of the marble sarcophagus -- 'All in white'
The dead Bishop started up, bolt upright
On his hinder end, -- and grasp'd him so tight,
That the clutch of a kite, Or a bull-dog's bite
When he's most provoked and in bitterest spite,
May well be conceived in comparison slight,
And having thus 'tackled' him -- blew out his light!!

Oh, dear! Oh, dear! The fright and the fear! --
No one to hear! -- nobody near!
In the dead of the night! -- at a bad time of year! --
A defunct Bishop squatting upright on his bier,
And shouting so loud, that the drum of his ear
He thought would have split as these awful words met it --
Oh, dear! Oh, dear! 'Twas a night of fear!
-- I should just like to know, if the boldest man here,
In his situation would not have felt queer?

The wretched man bawls, And he yells and he squalls,
But there's nothing responds to his shrieks save the walls,
And the desk, and the pulpit, the pews, and the stalls.
Held firmly at bay, Kick and plunge as he may,
His struggles are fruitless -- he can't get away,
He really can't tell what to do or to say,
And being a Pagan, don't know how to pray;
Till through the east window, a few streaks of grey
Announce the approach of the dawn of the day!
Oh, a welcome sight Is the rosy light
Which lovelily heralds a morning bright,
Above all to a wretch kept in durance all night
By a horrid dead gentleman holding him tight, --
Of all sorts of gins that a trespasser can trap,
The most disagreeable kind of a man trap!
-- 'Oh! welcome that bell's Matin chime, which tells
To one caught in this worst of all possible snares,
That the hour is arrived to begin Morning Prayers,
And the Monks and the Friars are coming downstairs! --

Conceive the surprise Of the Choir -- how their eyes
Are distended to twice their original size, --
How some begin bless, -- some anathematise, --
And all look on the thief as Old Nick in disguise.
While the mystified Abbot cries, 'Well! -- I declare! --
-- This is really a very mysterious affair!
Bid the bandy-legg'd Sexton go run for the May'r!'

The May'r and his suite Are soon on their feet
(His worship kept house in the very same street), --
At once he awakes, 'His compliments' makes
'He'll be up at the church in a couple of shakes!
Meanwhile the whole Convent is pulling and hauling,
And bawling and squalling, And terribly mauling,
The thief whose endeavour to follow his calling
Had thus brought him into a grasp so enthralling. --
Now high, now low, They drag 'to and fro,' --
Now this way, now that way they twist him -- but -- No!
The glazed eye of St. Aloys distinctly says, 'Poh!
You may pull as you please, I shall not let him go!'
Nay, more; -- when his Worship at length came to say
He was perfectly ready to take him away,
And fat him to grace the next Auto-da-fe,
Still closer he prest The poor wretch to his breast,
While a voice -- though his jaws still together were jamm'd --
Was heard from his chest, 'If you do, I'll-----' here slamm'd
The great door of the church, -- with so awful a sound
That the close of the good Bishop's sentence was drown'd!

Out spake Frere Jehan, A pitiful man,
Oh! a pitiful man was he!
And he wept and he pined For the sins of mankind,
As a Friar in his degree.
Remember, good gentlefolks,' so he began,
Dear Aloys was always a pitiful man! --
That voice from his chest Has clearly exprest
He has pardon'd the culprit -- and as for the rest,
Before you shall burn him -- he'll see you all blest

The Monks, and the Abbot, the Sexton, and Clerk
Were exceedingly struck with the Friar's remark,
And the Judge, who himself was by no means a shark
Of a Lawyer, and who did not do things in the dark,
But still lean'd (having once been himself a gay spark)
To the merciful side, -- like the late Allan Park, --
Agreed that, indeed, The best way to succeed,
And by which this poor caitiff alone could be freed,
Would be to absolve him, and grant a free pardon,
On a certain condition, and that not a hard one,
Viz. -- 'That he, the said Infidel, straightway should ope
His mind to conviction, and worship the Pope,
And "ev'ry man Jack" in an amice or cope;
And that, to do so, He should forthwith go
To Rome, and salute there his Holiness' toe; --
And never again Read Voltaire or Tom Paine,
Or Percy Bysshe Shelley or Lord Byron's "Cain"; --
His pilgrimage o'er, take St. Francis's habit; --
If anything lay about never to "nab" it;
Or, at worst, if he should light on articles gone astray,
To be sure and deposit them safe in the Monast'ry!'

The oath he took -- As he kiss'd the book,
Nave, transept, and aisle with a thunder-clap shook!
The Bishop sank down with a sanctified look,
And the Thief, released By the Saint deceased
Fell into the arms of a neighbouring Priest!

It skills not now To tell you how
The transmogrified Pagan perform'd his vow;
How he quitted his home, Travell'd to Rome,
And went to St. Peter's and look'd at the Dome,
And obtain'd from the Pope an assurance of bliss,
And kiss'd -- whatever he gave him to kiss --
Toe, relic, embroidery, nought came amiss;
And how Pope Urban Had the man's turban
Hung up in the Sistine chapel, by way
Of a relic -- and how it hangs there to this day. --
Suffice it to tell, Which will do quite as well,
That the whole of the Convent the miracle saw,
And the Abbot's report was sufficient to draw
Ev'ry bon Catholique in la belle France to Blois,
Among others, the Monarch himself, Francois,
The Archbishop of Rheims, and his 'Pious Jackdaw,'
And there was not a man in Church, Chapel, or Meeting-house,
Still less in Cabaret, Hotel, or Eating-house,
But made an oration, And said, 'In the nation
If ever a man deserved canonisation,
It was the kind, pitiful, pious Aloys.' --
So the Pope says -- says he, 'Then a Saint he shall be!' --
So he made him a Saint, and remitted the fee.

What became of the Pagan I really can't say;
But I think I've been told, When he'd enter'd their fold,
And was now a Franciscan some twenty days old,
He got up one fine morning before break of day,
Put the Pyx in his pocket -- and then ran away.


I think we may coax out a moral or two
From the facts which have lately come under our view.
First -- Don't meddle with Saints! for you'll find if you do
They're what Scotch people call 'kittle cattle to shoe'!
And when once they have managed to take you in tow,
It's a deuced hard matter to make them let go!

Now to you, wicked Pagans! -- who wander about,
Up and down Regent Street every night, 'on the scout,' --
Recollect the Police keep a sharpish look-out,
And if once you're suspected, your skirts they will stick to
Till they catch you at last in flagrante delicto! --
Don't the inference draw That because he of Blois
Suffer'd one to bilk 'Old father Antic the Law,'
That our May'rs and our Aldermen -- and we've a city full --
Show themselves, at our Guildhall, quite so pitiful!
Lastly, as to the Pagan who play'd such a trick,
First assuming the tonsure, then cutting his stick,
There is but one thing which occurs to me -- that
Is, -- Don't give too much credit to people who 'rat'!
-- Never forget Early habit's a net
Which entangles us all, more or less, in its mesh;
And 'What's bred in the bone won't come out of the flesh!'
We must all be aware Nature's prone to rebel, as
Old Juvenal tells us, Naturam expellas
Tamen usque recurret! There's no use making Her rat!
So that all that I have on this head to advance
Is, -- whatever they think of these matters in France,
There's a proverb, the truth of which each one allows here,

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