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First Line: Well, dear mr. Wright, I must send you a line
Last Line: Huzza! Father malebranche and shorthand for ever.
Subject(s): Auctions; Books; Malebranche, Nicolas De (1638-1715); Portraits; Reading

WELL, dear Mr. Wright, I must send you a line:
The purchase is made, Father Malebranche is mine.
The adventure is past which I longed to achieve,
And I'm so overjoyed you will hardly believe.
If you will but have patience, I'll tell you, dear friend,
The whole history out from beginning to end.
Excuse the long tale; I could talk, Mr. Wright,
About this same picture from morning to night.

The morning it lowered like the morning in Cato,
And brought on, methought, as important a day too;
But about ten o'clock it began to be clear;
And the fate of our capital piece drawing near,
Having supped off to breakfast some common decoction,
Away trudges I in all haste to the auction;
Should have called upon you, but the Weaver Committee
Forbade me that pleasure;—the more was the pity.

The clock struck eleven as I entered the room,
Where Rembrandt and Guido stood waiting their doom,
With Holbein and Rubens, Van Dyck, Tintoret,
Jordano, Poussin, Carlo Dolci, et caet.
When at length in the corner perceiving the Père,
'Ha,' quoth I to his face, 'my old friend, are you there?'
And methought the face smiled, just as though it would say,
'What, you're come, Mr. Byrom, to fetch me away!'

Now before I had time to return it an answer,
Comes a shorthander by, Jemmy Ord was the man, sir:
'So, Doctor, good morrow.'—'So, Jemmy, bon jour.'
'Some rare pictures here.'—'So there are to be sure.'
'Shall we look at some of 'em?'—'With all my heart, Jemmy.'
So I walked up and down, and my old pupil wi' me,
Making still such remarks as our wisdoms thought proper,
Where things were hit off in wood, canvas or copper.

When at length about noon Mr. Auctioneer Cox,
With his book and his hammer, mounts into his box:
'Lot the first—number one'—then advanced his upholder
With Malebranche: so Atlas bore heaven on his shoulder.
Then my heart, sir, it went pit-a-pat, in good sooth,
To see the sweet face of the searcher of truth:
Ha, thought I to myself, if it cost me a million,
This right honest head then shall grace my pavilion.

Thus stood lot the first both in number and worth,
If pictures were prized for the men they set forth:
I'm sure to my thinking, compared to this number,
Most lots in the room seemed to be but mere lumber.
The head then appearing, Cox left us to see't,
And fell to discoursing concerning the feet:
'So long and so broad—'tis a very fine head—
Please to enter it, gentlemen'—was all that he said.

Had I been in his place, not a stroke of an hammer
Till the force had been tried both of rhetoric and grammar;
'A very fine head!'—had thy head been as fine,
All the heads in the house had veiled bonnets to thine:
Not a word whose it was—but in short 'twas a head—
'Put it up what you please'—and so somebody said,
'Half a piece'—and so on—For three pounds and a crown,
To sum up my good fortune, I fetched him me down.

There were three or four bidders, I cannot tell whether,
But they never could come two upon me together;
For as soon as one spoke, then immediately pop
I advanced something more, fear the hammer should drop.
I considered, should Cox take a whim of a sudden,
What a hurry it would put a man's Lancashire blood in!
'Once—twice—three pounds five'—so, nemine con,
Came an absolute rap—and thrice happy was John.

'Who bought it?' quoth Cox. 'Here's the money,' quoth I,
Still willing to make the securest reply:
And the safest receipt that a body can trust
For preventing disputes is—down with your dust!
So I bought it, and paid for't, and boldly I say
'Twas the best purchase made at Cadogan's that day;
The works the man wrote are the finest in nature,
And a most clever piece is his genuine portraiture.

For the rest of the pictures, and how they were sold,
To others there present I leave to be told:
They seemed to go off, as at most other sales,
Just as folks' money, judgement or fancy prevails;
Some cheap and some dear; such an image as this
Comes a trifle to me: and an old wooden Swiss
Wench's head, God knows who—forty-eight guineas—if her
Grace of Marlborough likes it—so fancy will differ.

When the business was over, and the crowd somewhat gone,
Whip into a coach I convey number one.
'Drive along, honest friend, fast as e'er you can pin.'
So he did, and 'tis now safe and sound at Gray's Inn.
Done at Paris, it says, from the life by one Gery
(Who that was I can't tell, but I wish his heart merry)
In the year ninety-eight; sixty just from the birth
Of the greatest divine that e'er lived upon earth.

And now if, some evening when you are at leisure,
You'll come and rejoice with me over my treasure,
With a friend or two with you, that will in free sort
Let us mix metaphysics and shorthand and port,
We'll talk of his book, or what else you've a mind,
Take a glass, read or write, as we see we're inclined:
Such friends and such freedom! What can be more clever?
Huzza! Father Malebranche and shorthand for ever.

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