Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN EPISTLE TO J. BL-K-N, ESQ.: ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, by JOHN BYROM



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AN EPISTLE TO J. BL-K-N, ESQ.: ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The point mr. Bl-k-n, disputed upon
Last Line: And rejoice in the health of its master;—adieu!
Subject(s): Food & Eating; John The Baptist, Saint (1st Century); Locusts; Vegetables


THE point, Mr. Bl—k—n, disputed upon,
"Whether insects or herbs were the food of St. John,"
Is a singular proof how a learned pretence
Can prevail with some folks over natural sense,
So consistent with herbs, as you know was allow'd.—
But the dust that is rais'd by a critical crowd
Has so blinded their eyes, that plain, simple truth
Is obscur'd by a posse of Classics, forsooth!

Diodorus and Strabo, Solinus and Ælian,
And authorities down from the Aristotelian,
Have mention'd whole clans that were wont to subsist
In the East upon Locusts as big as your fist:
Therefore so did the Baptist;—now, were it all true
That reporters affirm, but not one of them knew,
What follows but hearsay how savages eat,
And how locusts sometimes are necessity's meat?

If amongst their old tales they had chanc'd to determine
That the Jews were accustom'd to feed on these vermine,
It would have been something; or did they produce
Any one single hermit that stor'd them for use,
Having pick'd them, and dry'd them, and smok'd in the sun,—
For, this before eating, they tell us, was done,—
The example were patter than any they bring
To support such an awkward, improbable thing.

Hermitical food the poetical tribe
Of Classics have happen'd sometimes to describe,
And their native descriptions are constantly found
To relate in some shape to the fruits of the ground;
If exception occurs, one may venture to say
That the Locust conceit never came in their way,
Or let its defender declare, if he knows,
Any one single instance in verse or in prose.

"But the word which the text has made use of," 'tis said,
"Means the animal Locust, wherever 'tis read,
"Of a species which Jews were permitted to eat;
"There is therefore no need of a plantal conceit,
"Of tops, summits, or buds, pods, or berries of trees,
"For to this," the sole proof is, "no Classic agrees;
"And the Latin Locustœ came, only from want
"Of attention, to signify tops of a plant."

It would take up a volume to clear the mistakes,
Which in this single case Classic prejudice makes,
Thro' attachment to writers, who pass a relation
Which others had sign'd without examination;
As the authors have done, who have read and have writ
That Locusts are food which the law did permit:
And the place, which they quote for a proof that it did,
Is one that will prove them expressly forbid.

I appeal to the Hebrew, and for the Greek word
To the twenty-third Iliad, where once it occurr'd,
And where the old Prince of the Classics, one sees,
Never once thought of insects, but branches of trees,
As the context evinces; tho', all to a man,
Translators adopt the Locustical plan.
How the Latin Locustœ should get a wrong sense
Is their bus'ness to prove, who object the pretence.

But the classical Greek, tho' it often confirm,
Cannot always explain a New Testament term,
Any more than an Old one; and therefore, to pass
All authorities by of a Paganish class,
Let them ask the Greek Fathers, who full as well knew
Their own tongue and the Gospel, which meaning is true.
But for insects to find a plain proof in their Greek
Will cut a librarian out work for a week.

For herbs here is one, which, unless it is match'd,
Ought to carry this question as fairly dispatch'd,—
Isidorus, Greek Father of critical fame,
Has a letter concerning this very Greek name,
Dismissing the doubt which a querist had got,
If the Baptist did eat animalcules or not;
"God forbid," says the Father, "a thing so absurd!
"The summits of plants is the sense of the word."

Such an ancient decision, so quite a propos,
Disperses at once all the Classical show
Of a learning that builds upon Africa's East,
And the tales, how wild people were fabled to feast
Upon fancied huge locusts, which never appear,—
Or huge or unhuge,—but five months in the year,
To be hoarded, and pickled in salt and in smoke,—
How Saint John is employ'd by these Critical folk!

Where the Locust could feed, such an abstinent saint
Of food for his purpose could never have want.
If the desart was sandy and made such a need,
How account for the Locusts descending to feed?
In short, Mr. Bl—k—n, they cannot escape
The charge of "absurd," in all manner of shape;
If they can, let them do it;—meanwhile I conclude
That St. John's was the plantal not animal food.

Thus, Sir, I have stated, as brief as I'm able,
The friendly debate that we had at your table,
Where the kind entertainer, I found, was inclin'd,
And acknowledge the pleasure, to be of my mind.
Having only to add, now I make my report,
That howe'er we may differ in points of this sort,
Our reception at Orford all pleas'd we review,
And rejoice in the health of its master;—Adieu!





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