Thomas Hood: 'Poetical Works' (4)

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HER CHILDHOOD.


Our youth! our childhood! that spring of springs!
'Tis surely one of the blessedest things
    That nature ever intended!
When the rich are wealthy beyond their wealth,
And the poor are rich in spirits and health,
    And all with their lots contented!

There's little Phelim, he sings like a thrush,
In the selfsame pair of patchwork plush,
    With the selfsame empty pockets,
That tempted his daddy so often to cut
His throat, or jump in the water-butt—
But what cares Phelim? an empty nut
    Would sooner bring tears to their sockets.


-60-


Give him a collar without a skirt,
(That's the Irish linen for shirt)
    And a slice of bread with a taste of dirt,
(That's Poverty's Irish butter)
And what does he lack to make him blest?
Some oyster-shells, or a sparrow's nest,
    A candle-end and a gutter.

But to leave the happy Phelim alone,
Gnawing, perchance, a marrowless bone,
    For which no dog would quarrel—
Turn we to little Miss Kilmansegg,
Cutting her first little toothy-peg
    With a fifty-guinea coral—
        A peg upon which
        About poor and rich
    Reflection might hang a moral.

Born in wealth, and wealthily nursed,
Capp'd, papp'd, napp'd, and lapp'd from the first
    On the knees of Prodigality,
Her childhood was one eternal round
Of the game of going on Tickler's ground
    Picking up gold—in reality.

With extempore carts she never play'd,
Or the odds and ends of a Tinker's Trade,
Or little dirt pies and puddings made,
    Like children happy and squalid;
The very puppet she had to pet,
Like a bait for the "Nix my Dolly" set,
    Was a Dolly of gold—and solid!

Gold! and gold! 'twas the burden still!
To gain the Heiress's early good-will
    There was much corruption and bribery—
The yearly cost of her golden toys
Would have given half London's Charity Boys
And Charity Girls the annual joys
    Of a holiday dinner at Highbury.


-65-


Bon-bons she ate from the gilt cornet;
And gilded queens on St. Bartlemy's day;
    Till her fancy was tinged by her presents—
And first a Goldfinch excited her wish,
Then a spherical bowl with its Golden fish,
    And then two Golden Pheasants.

Nay, once she squall'd and scream'd like wild—
And it shows how the bias we give to a child
    Is a thing most weighty and solemn:—
But whence was wonder or blame to spring
If little Miss K.,—after such a swing—
Made a dust for the flaming gilded thing
    On the top of the Fish Street column?


________________

HER EDUCATION.


According to metaphysical creed,
To the earliest books that children read
    For much good or much bad they are debtors—
But before with their A B C they start,
There are things in morals, as well as art,
That play a very important part—
    "Impressions before the letters."

Dame Education begins the pile,
Mayhap in the graceful Corinthian style,
    But alas for the elevation!
If the Lady's maid or Gossip the Nurse
With a load of rubbish, or something worse,
    Have made a rotten foundation.

Even thus with little Miss Kilmansegg,
Before she learnt her E for egg,
    Ere her Governess came, or her Masters—
Teachers of quite a different kind
Had "cramm'd" her beforehand, and put her mind
    In a go-cart on golden casters.


-70-


Long before her A B and C,
They had taught her by heart her L. S. D.
    And as how she was born a great Heiress;
And as sure as London is built of bricks,
My Lord would ask her the day to fix,
To ride in a fine gilt coach and six,
    Like Her Worship the Lady May'ress.

Instead of stories from Edgeworth's page,
The true golden lore for our golden age,
    Or lessons from Barbauld and Trimmer,
Teaching the worth of Virtue and Health,
All that she knew was the Virtue of Wealth,
Provided by vulgar nursery stealth
    With a Book of Leaf Gold for a primer.

The very metal of merit they told,
And praised her for being as "good as gold"!
    Till she grew as a peacock haughty;
Of money they talk'd the whole day round,
And weigh'd desert, like grapes, by the pound,
Till she had an idea from the very sound
    That people with nought were naughty.

They praised—poor children with nothing at all!
Lord! how you twaddle and waddle and squall
    Like common-bred geese and ganders!
What sad little bad little figures you make
To the rich Miss K., whose plainest seed-cake
    Was stuff'd with corianders!

They praised her falls, as well as her walk,
Flatterers make cream cheese of chalk,
They praised—how they praised—her very small talk,
    As if it fell from the Solon;
Or the girl who at each pretty phrase let drop
A ruby comma, or pearl full-stop,
    Or an emerald semi-colon.


-75-


They praised her spirit, and now and then
The Nurse brought her own little "nevy" Ben,
    To play with the future May'ress,
And when he got raps, and taps, and slaps,
Scratches, and pinches, snips, and snaps,
    As if from a Tigress or Bearess,
They told him how Lords would court that hand,
And always gave him to understand,
        While he rubb'd, poor soul,
        His carroty poll,
    That his hair has been pull'd by "a Hairess."

Such were the lessons from maid and nurse,
    Governess help'd to make still worse,
Giving an appetite so perverse
    Fresh diet whereon to batten—
Beginning with A B C to hold
Like a royal playbill printed in gold
    On a square of pearl-white satin

The books to teach the verbs and nouns,
And those about countries, cities, and towns,
Instead of their sober drabs and browns,
    Were in crimson silk, with gilt edges;—
Her Butler, and Enfield, and Entick—in short
Her "Early Lessons" of every sort,
    Look'd like Souvenirs, Keepsakes, and Pledges.

Old Johnson shone out in as fine array
As he did one night when he went to the play;
Chambaud like a beau of King Charles's day—
    Lindley Murray in like conditions—
Each weary, unwelcome, irksome task,
Appear'd in a fancy dress and a mask;—
If you wish for similar copies, ask
    For Howell and James's Editions.

Novels she read to amuse her mind,
But always the affluent match-making kind
    That ends with Promessi Sposi,
And a father-in-law so wealthy and grand,
He could give cheque-mate to Coutts in the Strand;
    So, along with a ring and posy,
He endows the Bride with Golconda off hand,
    And gives the Groom Potosi.


-80-


Plays she perused—but she liked the best
Those comedy gentlefolks always possess'd
    Of fortunes so truly romantic—
Of money so ready that right or wrong
It always is ready to go for a song,
    Throwing it, going it, pitching it strong—
They ought to have purses as green and long
    As the cucumber call'd the Gigantic.

Then Eastern Tales she loved for the sake
Of the Purse of Oriental make,
    And the thousand pieces they put in it—
But Pastoral scenes on her heart fell cold,
For Nature with her had lost its hold,
No field but the Field of the Cloth of Gold
    Would ever have caught her foot in it.

What more?   She learnt to sing, and dance,
To sit on a horse, although he should prance,
And to speak a French not spoken in France
    Any more than at Babel's building—
And she painted shells, and flowers, and Turks,
But her great delight was in Fancy Works
    That are done with gold or gilding.

Gold! still gold!—the bright and the dead,
With golden beads, and gold lace, and gold thread
She work'd in gold, as if for her bread;
    The metal had so undermined her,
Gold ran in her thoughts and fill'd her brain,
She was golden-headed as Peter's cane
    With which he walked behind her.


________________

HER ACCIDENT.


The horse that carried Miss Kilmansegg,
And a better nether lifted leg,
    Was a very rich bay, call'd Banker—
A horse of a breed and a mettle so rare,—
By Bullion out of an Ingot mare,—
That for action, the best of figures, and air,
    It made many good judges hanker.


-85-


And when she took a ride in the Park,
Equestrian Lord, or pedestrian Clerk,
    Was thrown in an amorous fever,
To see the Heiress how well she sat,
With her groom behind her, Bob or Nat,
In green, half smother'd with gold, and a hat
    With more gold lace than beaver.

And then when Banker obtain'd a pat,
To see how he arch'd his neck at that!
    He snorted with pride and pleasure!
Like the Steed in the fable so lofty and grand,
Who gave the poor Ass to understand
That he didn't carry a bag of sand,
    But a burden of golden treasure.

A load of treasure?—alas! alas!
Had her horse been fed upon English grass,
    And shelter'd in Yorkshire spinneys,
Had he scour'd the sand with the Desert Ass,
    Or where the American whinnies—
But a hunter from Erin's turf and gorse,
A regular thoroughbred Irish horse,
Why, he ran away, as a matter of course,
    With a girl worth her weight in guineas!

Mayhap 'tis the trick of such pamper'd nags
To shy at the sight of a beggar in rags,—
    But away, like the bolt of a rabbit,—
Away went the horse in the madness of fright,
And away went the horsewoman mocking the sight—
Was yonder blue flash a flash of blue light,
    Or only the skirt of her habit?

Away she flies, with the groom behind,—
It looks like a race of the Calmuck kind,
    When Hymen himself is the starter,
And the Maid rides first in the fourfooted strife,
Riding, striding, as if for her life,
While the Lover rides after to catch him a wife,
    Although it's catching a Tartar.


-90-


But the Groom has lost his glittering hat!
Though he does not sigh and pull up for that—
Alas! his horse is a tit for Tat
    To sell to a very low bidder—
His wind is ruin'd, his shoulder is sprung,
Things, though a horse be handsome and young,
    A purchaser will consider.

But still flies the Heiress through stones and dust,
Oh, for a fall, if she must,
    On the gentle lap of Flora!
But still, thank Heaven! she clings to her seat—
Away! away! she could ride a dead heat
With the Dead who ride so fast and fleet,
    In the Ballad of Leonora!

Away she gallops!—it's awful work!
It's faster than Turpin's ride to York,
    On Bess that notable clipper!
She has circled the Ring!—she crosses the Park!
Mazeppa, although he was stripp'd so stark,
    Mazeppa couldn't outstrip her!

The fields seem running away with the folks!
The Elms are having a race for the Oaks
    At a pace that all Jockeys disparages!
All, all is racing! the Serpentine
Seems rushing past like the "arrowy Rhine,"
The houses have got on a railway line,
    And are off like the first-class carriages!

She'll lose her life! she is losing her breath!
A cruel chase, she is chasing Death,
    As female shriekings forewarn her:
And now—as gratis as blood of Guelph—
She clears that gate, which has clear'd itself
    Since then, at Hyde Park Corner!


-95-


Alas! for the hope of the Kilmanseggs!
For her head, her brains, her body, and legs,
    Her life's not worth a copper!
                Willy-nilly,
                In Piccadilly,
    A hundred hearts turn sick and chilly,
    A hundred voices cry, "Stop her!"
And one old gentleman stares and stands,
Shakes his head and lifts his hands,
    And says, "How very improper!"

On and on!—what a perilous run!
The iron rails seem all mingling in one,
    To shut out the Green Park scenery!
And now the Cellar its dangers reveals,
She shudders—she shrieks—she's doom'd, she feels,
To be torn by powers of horses and wheels,
    Like a spinner by steam machinery!

Sick with horror she shuts her eyes,
But the very stones seem uttering cries,
    As they did to that Persian daughter,
When she climb'd up the steep vociferous hill,
Her little silver flagon to fill
    With the magical Golden Water!

    "Batter her! shatter her!
    Throw and scatter her!"
Shouts each stony-hearted chatterer!
    "Dash at the heavy Dover!
Spill her! kill her! tear and tatter her!
Smash her! crash her!" (the stones didn't flatter her!)
    "Kick her brains out! let her blood spatter her!
    Roll on her over and over!"

For so she gather'd the awful sense
Of the street in its past unmacadamized tense,
    As the wild horse overran it,—
His four heels making the clatter of six,
Like a Devil's tattoo, play'd with iron sticks
    On a kettle-drum of granite!


-100-


On! still on! she's dazzled with hints
Of oranges, ribbons, and color'd prints,
A Kaleidoscope jumble of shapes and tints,
    And human faces all flashing,
Bright and brief as the sparks from the flints,
    That the desperate hoof keeps dashing!

On and on! still frightfully fast!
Dover Street, Bond Street, all are past!
But—yes—no—yes!—they're down at last!
    The Furies and Fates have found them!
Down they go with sparkle and crash,
Like a Bark that's struck by the lightning flash—
        There's a shriek—and a sob—
        And the dense dark mob
Like a billow closes around them!

*               *               *               *               *              *
*               *               *               *               *              *


                        "She breathes!"
                        "She don't!"
                        "She'll recover!"
                        "She won't!"
    "She's stirring! she's living, by Nemesis!"
Gold, still gold! on counter and shelf!
Golden dishes as plenty as delf;
Miss Kilmansegg's coming again to herself
    On an opulent Goldsmith's premises!

Gold! fine gold!—both yellow and red,
Beaten, and molten—polish'd, and dead—
To see the gold with profusion spread
    In all forms of its manufacture!
But what avails gold to Miss Kilmansegg,
When the femoral bone of her dexter log
    Has met with a compound fracture?

Gold may soothe Adversity's smart;
Nay, help to bind up a broken heart;
But to try it on any other part
    Were as certain a disappointment,
As if one should rub the dish and plate,
Taken out of a Staffordshire crate—
In the hope of a Golden Service of State—
    With Singleton's "Golden Ointment."


________________

-105-

HER PRECIOUS LEG.


"As the twig is bent, the tree's inclined,"
Is an adage often recall'd to mind,
    Referring to juvenile bias:
And never so well is the verity seen,
As when to the weak, warp'd side we lean,
While Life's tempests and hurricanes try us.

Even thus with Miss K. and her broken limb:
By a very, very remarkable whim,
    She show'd her early tuition:
While the buds of character came into blow
With a certain tinge that served to show
The nursery culture long ago,
    As the graft is known by fruition!

For the King's Physician, who nursed the case,
His verdict gave with an awful face,
    And three others concurr'd to egg it;
That the Patient to give old Death the slip,
Like the Pope, instead of a personal trip,
    Must send her Leg as a Legate.

The limb was doom'd—it couldn't be saved!
And like other people the patient behaved,
Nay, bravely that cruel parting braved,
    Which makes some persons so falter,
They rather would part, without a groan,
With the flesh of their flesh, and bone of their bone,
    They obtain'd at St. George's altar.

But when it came to fitting the stump
With a proxy limb—then flatly and plump
    She spoke, in the spirit olden;
She couldn't—she shouldn't—she wouldn't have wood!
Nor a leg of cork, if she never stood,
And she swore an oath, or something as good,
    The proxy limb should be golden!


-110-


A wooden leg! what, a sort of peg,
    For your common Jockeys and Jennies!
No, no, her mother might worry and plague—
Weep, go down on her knees, and beg,
But nothing would move Miss Kilmansegg!
She could—she would have a Golden Leg,
    If it cost ten thousand guineas!

Wood indeed, in Forest or Park,
With its sylvan honours and feudal bark,
    Is an aristocratic article:
But split and sawn, and hack'd about town,
Serving all needs of pauper or clown,
Trod on! stagger'd on!   Wood cut down
    Is vulgar—fibre and particle!

And Cork!—when the noble Cork Tree shades
A lovely group of Castilian maids,
    'Tis a thing for a song or sonnet!—
But cork, as it stops the bottle of gin,
Or bungs the beer—the small beer—in,
It pierced her heart like a corking-pin,
    To think of standing upon it!

A Leg of Gold—solid gold throughout,
Nothing else, whether slim or stout,
    Should ever support her, God willing!
She must—she could—she would have her whim,
Her father, she turn'd a deaf ear to him—
    He might kill her—she didn't mind killing!
He was welcome to cut off her other limb—
    He might cut her all off with a shilling!

All other promised gifts were in vain.
Golden Girdle, or Golden Chain,
She writhed with impatience more than pain,
    And utter'd "pshaws!" and "pishes!"
But a Leg of Gold as she lay in bed,
It danced before her—it ran in her head!
    It jump'd with her dearest wishes!


-115-


"Gold—gold—gold!   Oh, let it be gold!"
Asleep or awake that tale she told,
    And when she grew delirious:
Till her parents resolved to grant her wish,
If they melted down plate, and goblet, and dish,
    The case was getting so serious.

So a Leg was made in a comely mould,
Of gold, fine virgin glittering gold,
    As solid as man could make it—
Solid in foot, and calf, and shank,
A prodigious sum of money it sank;
In fact 'twas a Branch of the family Bank,
    And no easy matter to break it.

All sterling metal—not half-and-half,
The Goldsmith's mark was stamp'd on the calf—
    'Twas pure as from Mexican barter!
And to make it more costly, just over the knee,
Where another ligature used to be,
Was a circle of jewels, worth shillings to see,
    A new-fangled Badge of the Garter!

'Twas a splendid, brilliant, beautiful Leg,
Fit for the Court of Scander-Beg,
That Precious Leg of Miss Kilmansegg!
    For, thanks to parental bounty,
Secure from Mortification's touch,
She stood on a Member that cost as much
    As a Member for all the County!


________________

HER FAME.


To gratify stern ambition's whims,
What hundreds and thousands of precious limbs
    On a field of battle we scatter!
Sever'd by sword, or bullet, or saw,
Off they go, all bleeding and raw,—
But the public seems to get the lock-jaw,
    So little is said on the matter!


-120-


Legs, the tightest that ever were seen,
The tightest, the lightest, that danced on the green,
    Cutting capers to sweet Kitty Clover;
Shatter'd, scatter'd, cut, and bowl'd down,
Off they go, worse off for renown,
A line in the Times, or a talk about town,
    Than the leg that a fly runs over!

But the Precious Leg of Miss Kilmansegg,
That gowden, goolden, golden leg,
    Was the theme of all conversation!
Had it been a Pillar of Church and State,
Or a prop to support the whole Dead Weight,
It could not have furnished more debate
    To the heads and tails of the nation!

East and west, and north and south,
Though useless for either hunger or drouth,—
The Leg was in everybody's mouth,
    To use a poetical figure,
Rumour, in taking her ravenous swim,
Saw, and seized on the tempting limb,
    Like a shark on the leg of a nigger.

Wilful murder fell very dead;
Debates in the House were hardly read;
In vain the Police Reports were fed
    With Irish riots and rumpuses
The Leg! the Leg! was the great event,
Through every circle in life it went,
    Like the leg of a pair of compasses.

The last new Novel seem'd tame and flat,
The Leg, a novelty newer than that,
    Had tripp'd up the heels of Fiction!
It Burked the very essays of Burke,
And, alas! how Wealth over Wit plays the Turk!
As a regular piece of goldsmith's work,
    Got the better of Goldsmith's diction.


-125-


"A leg of gold! what, of solid gold?"
Cried rich and poor, and young and old,—
    And Master and Miss and Madam—
'Twas the talk of 'Change—the Alley—the Bank—
And with men of scientific rank,
It made as much stir as the fossil shank
    Of a Lizard coeval with Adam!

Of course with Greenwich and Chelsea elves,
Men who had lost a limb themselves,
    Its interest did not dwindle—
But Bill, and Ben, and Jack, and Tom
Could hardly have spun more yarns therefrom,
    If the leg had been a spindle.

Meanwhile the story went to and fro,
Till, gathering like the ball of snow,
By the time it got to Stratford-le-Bow,
    Through Exaggeration's touches,
The Heiress and hope of the Kilmanseggs
Was propp'd on two fine Golden Legs,
    And a pair of Golden Crutches!

Never had Leg so great a run!
'Twas the "go" and the "Kick" thrown into one!
The mode—the new thing under the sun,
    The rage—the fancy—the passion!
Bonnets were named, and hats were worn,
A la Golden Leg instead of Leghorn,
        And stockings and shoes,
            Of golden hues,
    Took the lead in the walks of fashion!

The Golden Leg had a vast career,
It was sung and danced—and to show how near
    Low Folly to lofty approaches,
Down to society's very dregs,
The Belles of Wapping wore "Kilmanseggs,"
And St. Gile's Beaux sported Golden Legs
    In their pinchbeck pins and brooches!


________________

-130-

HER FIRST STEP.


Supposing the Trunk and Limbs of Man
Shared, on the allegorical plan,
    By the Passions that mark Humanity,
Whichever might claim the head, or heart,
The stomach, or any other part,
    The Legs would be seized by Vanity.

There's Bardus, a six-foot column of fop,
A lighthouse without any light atop,
    Whose height would attract beholders,
If he had not lost some inches clear
By looking down at his kerseymere,
Ogling the limbs he holds so dear,
    Till he got a stoop in his shoulders.

Talk of Art, of Science, or Books,
And down go the everlasting looks,
    To his rural beauties so wedded!
Try him, wherever you will, you find
His mind in his legs, and his legs in his mind,
All prongs and folly—in short a kind
    Of fork—that is Fiddle-headed.

What wonder, then, if Miss Kilmansegg,
With a splendid, brilliant, beautiful leg,
Fit for the court of Scander-Beg,
Disdain'd to hide it like Joan or Meg,
    In petticoats stuff'd or quilted?
Not she! 'twas her convalescent whim
To dazzle the world with her precious limb,—
    Nay, to go a little high-kilted.

So cards were sent for that sort of mob
Where Tartars and Africans hob-and-nob,
And the Cherokee talks of his cab and cob
    To Polish or Lapland lovers—
Cards like that hieroglyphical call
To a geographical Fancy Ball
    On the recent Post-Office covers.


-135-


For if Lion-hunters—and great ones too—
Would mob a savage from Latakoo,
Or squeeze for a glimpse of Prince Le Boo,
    That unfortunate Sandwich scion—
Hundreds of first-rate people, no doubt,
Would gladly, madly, rush to a rout
    That promised a Golden Lion!


________________

HER FANCY BALL.


Of all the spirits of evil fame,
That hurt the soul or injure the frame,
    And poison what's honest and hearty,
There's none more needs a Mathew to preach
A cooling, antiphlogistic speech,
            To praise and enforce
            A temperate course,
    Than the Evil Spirit of Party.

Go to the House of Commons, or Lords,
And they seem to be busy with simple words
    In their popular sense or pedantic—
But, alas! with their cheers, and sneers, and jeers,
They're really busy, whatever appears,
Putting peas in each other's ears,
    To drive their enemies frantic!

Thus Tories like to worry the Whigs,
Who treat them in turn like Schwalbach pigs,
Giving them lashes, thrashes, and digs,
    With their writhing and pain delighted—
But after all that's said, and more,
The malice and spite of Party are poor
To the malice and spite of a party next door,
    To a party not invited.

On with the cap and out with the light,
Weariness bids the world good night,
    At least for the usual season;
But hark! a clatter of horses' heels;
And Sleep and Silence are broken on wheels,
    Like Wilful Murder and Treason!


-140-


Another crash—and the carriage goes—
Again poor Weariness seeks the repose
    That Nature demands, imperious;
But Echo takes up the burden now,
With a rattling chorus of row-de-dow-dow,
Till Silence herself seems making a row,
    Like a Quaker gone delirious!

'Tis night—a winter night—and the stars
Are shining like winkin'—Venus and Mars
Are rolling along in their golden cars
    Through the sky's serene expansion—
But vainly the stars dispense their rays,
Venus and Mars are lost in the blaze
    Of the Kilmanseggs' luminous mansion!

Up jumps Fear in a terrible fright!
His bedchamber windows look so bright,—
    With light all the Square is glutted!
Up he jumps, like a sole from the pan,
And a tremor sickens his inward man,
For he feels as only a gentleman can,
    Who thinks he's being "gutted."

Again Fear settles, all snug and warm;
But only to dream of a dreadful storm
    From Autumn's sulphurous locker;
But the only electrical body that falls
Wears a negative coat, and positive smalls,
And draws the peal that so appals
    From the Kilmanseggs' brazen knocker!

'Tis Curiosity's Benefit night—
And perchance 'tis the English Second-Sight,
    But whatever it be, so be it—
As the friends and guests of Miss Kilmansegg
Crowd in to look at her Golden Leg,
        As many more
        Mob round the door,
    To see them going to see it!


-145-


In they go—in jackets and cloaks,
Plumes and bonnets, turbans and toques,
    As if to a Congress of Nations:
Greeks and Malays, with daggers and dirks,
Spaniards, Jews, Chinese, and Turks—
Some like original foreign works,
    But mostly like bad translations.

In they go, and to work like a pack,
Juan, Moses, and Shacabac,
Tom, and Jerry and Springheel'd Jack,—
    For some of low Fancy are lovers—
Skirting, zigzagging, casting about,
Here and there, and in and out,
With a crush, and a rush, for a full-bodied rout
    In one of the stiffest of covers.

In they went, and hunted about,
Open-mouth'd like chub and trout,
And some with the upper lip thrust out,
    Like that fish for routing, a barbel—
While Sir Jacob stood to welcome the crowd,
And rubb'd his hands, and smiled aloud,
And bow'd, and bow'd, and bow'd, and bow'd,
    Like a man who is sawing marble.

For Princes were there, and Noble Peers;
Dukes descended from Norman spears;
Earls that dated from early years;
    And lords in vast variety—
Besides the Gentry both new and old—
For people who stand on legs of gold
    Are sure to stand well with society.

"But where—where—where?" with one accord,
Cried Moses and Mufti, Jack and my Lord,
    Wang-Fong and Il Bondocani—
When slow, and heavy, and dead as a dump,
They heard a foot begin to stump,
            Thump! lump!
            Lump! thump!
    Like the Spectre in "Don Giovanni"!


-150-


And lo! the Heiress, Miss Kilmansegg,
With her splendid, brilliant, beautiful leg,
    In the garb of a Goddess olden—
Like chaste Diana going to hunt,
With a golden spear—which of course was blunt,
And a tunic loop'd up to a gem in front,
    To show the Leg that was Golden!

Gold! still gold; her Crescent behold,
That should be silver, but would be gold;
    And her robe's auriferous spangles!
Her golden stomacher—how she would melt!
Her golden quiver, and golden belt,
    Where a golden bugle dangles!

And her jewell'd Garter!   Oh Sin, oh Shame!
Let Pride and Vanity bear the blame,
That bring such blots on female fame!
    But to be a true recorder,
Besides its thin transparent stuff,
The tunic was loop'd quite high enough
    To give a glimpse of the Order!

But what have sin or shame to do
With a Golden Leg—and a stout one too?
    Away with all Prudery's panics!
That the precious metal, by thick and thin,
Will cover square acres of land or sin,
            Is a fact made plain
            Again and again,
    In Morals as well as Mechanics.

A few, indeed, of her proper sex,
Who seem'd to feel her foot on their necks,
And fear'd their charms would meet with checks
    From so rare and splendid a blazon—
A few cried "fie!"—and "forward"—and "bold!"
And said of the Leg it might be gold,
    But to them it look'd like brazen!


-155-


'Twas hard they hinted for flesh and blood,
Virtue and Beauty, and all that's good,
    To strike to mere dross their topgallants—
But what were Beauty, or Virtue, or Worth,
Gentle manners, or gentle birth,
Nay, what the most talented head on earth
    To a Leg worth fifty Talents!

But the men sang quite another hymn
Of glory and praise to the precious Limb—
Age, sordid Age, admired the whim
    And its indecorum pardon'd—
While half of the young—ay, more than half—
Bow'd down and worshipp'd the Golden Calf,
    Like the Jews when their hearts were harden'd.

A Golden Leg!—what fancies it fired!
What golden wishes and hopes inspired!
    To give but a mere abridgment—
What a leg to leg-bail Embarrassment's serf!
What a leg for a Leg to take on the turf!
    What a leg for a marching regiment!

A Golden Leg!—whatever Love sings,
'Twas worth a bushel of "Plain Gold Rings"
    With which the Romantic wheedles.
'Twas worth all the legs in stockings and socks—
'Twas a leg that might be put in the Stocks,
    N.B.—Not the parish beadle's!

And Lady K. nid-nodded her head,
Lapp'd in a turban fancy-bred,
Just like a love-apple huge and red,
    Some Mussul-womanish mystery;
        But whatever she meant
            To represent,
    She talked like the Muse of History.


-160-


She told how the filial leg was lost;
And then how much the gold one cost;
    With its weight to a Trojan fraction:
And how it took off, and how it put on;
And call'd on Devil, Duke, and Don,
Mahomet, Moses, and Prester John,
    To notice its beautiful action.

And then of the Leg she went in quest;
And led it where the light was best;
And made it lay itself up to rest
    In postures for painter's studies:
It cost more tricks and trouble by half,
Than it takes to exhibit a six-legg'd Calf
    To a boothful of country Cuddies.

Nor yet did the Heiress herself omit
The arts that help to make a hit,
    And preserve a prominent station.
She talk'd and laugh'd far more than her share;
And took a part in "Rich and Rare
Were the gems she wore"—and the gems were there,
    Like a Song with an Illustration.

She even stood up with a Count of France
To dance—alas! the measures we dance
    When Vanity plays the piper!
Vanity, Vanity, apt to betray,
And lead all sorts of legs astray,
Wood, or metal, or human clay,—
    Since Satan first play'd the Viper!

But first she doff'd her hunting gear,
And favor'd Tom Tug with her golden spear
    To row with down the river—
A Bonz had her golden bow to hold;
A Hermit her belt and bugle of gold;
    And an Abbot her golden quiver.


-165-


And then a space was clear'd on the floor,
And she walk'd the Minuet de la Cour,
With all the pomp of a Pompadour,
    But although she began andante,
Conceive the faces of all the Rout,
When she finished off with a whirligig bout,
And the Precious Leg stuck stiffly out
    Like the leg of a Figuranté.

So the courtly dance was goldenly done,
And golden opinions, of course, it won
    From all different sorts of people—
Chiming, ding-dong, with flattering phrase,
In one vociferous peal of praise,
Like the peal that rings on Royal days
    From Loyalty's parish steeple.

And yet, had the leg been one of those
That danced for bread in flesh-colour'd hose,
    With Rosina's pastora bevy,
The jeers it had met,—the shouts! the scoff!
The cutting advice to "take itself off"
    For sounding but half so heavy.

Had it been a leg like those, perchance,
That teach little girls and boys to dance,
To set, poussette, recede, and advance,
    With the steps and figures most proper,—
Had it hopp'd for a weekly or quarterly sum,
How little of praise or grist would have come
    To a mill with such a hopper!

But the Leg was none of those limbs forlorn—
Bartering capers and hops for corn—
That meet with public hisses and scorn,
    Or the morning journal denounces—
Had it pleased to caper from morning till dusk,
There was all the music of "Money Musk"
    In its ponderous bangs and bounces.


-170


But hark;—as slow as the strokes of a pump,
            Lump, thump!
            Thump, lump!
As the Giant of Castle Otranto might stump,
    To a lower room from an upper—
Down she goes with a noisy dint,
For, taking the crimson turban's hint,
A noble Lord at the Head of the Mint
    Is leading the Leg to supper!

But the supper, alas! must rest untold,
With its blaze of light and its glitter of gold,
    For to paint that scene of glamour,
It would need the Great Enchanter's charm,
Who waves over Palace, and Cot, and Farm,
An arm like the Goldbeater's Golden Arm
    That wields a Golden Hammer.

He—only He—could fitly state
The massive service of golden plate,
    With the proper phrase and expansion—
The Rare Selection of Foreign Wines—
The Alps Of Ice and Mountains Of Pines,
The punch in Oceans and sugary shrines,
The Temple Of Taste from Gunter's Designs—
In short, all that Wealth with A Feast combines,
    In a Splendid Family Mansion.

Suffice it each mask'd outlandish guest
Ate and drank of the very best,
    According to critical conners—
And then they pledged the Hostess and Host,
But the Golden Leg was the standing toast,
            And as somebody swore,
            Walk'd off with more
Than its share of the "Hips!" and honours!

            "Miss Kilmansegg!—
            Full-glasses I beg!—
Miss Kilmansegg and her Precious Leg!"
    And away went the bottle careering!
Wine in bumpers! and shouts in peals!
Till the Clown didn't know his head from his heels,
The Mussulman's eyes danced two-some reels,
    And the Quaker was hoarse from cheering!


________________

-175-

HER DREAM.


Miss Kilmansegg took off her leg,
And laid it down like a cribbage-peg,
    For the Rout was done and the riot:
The Square was hush'd; not a sound was heard;
The sky was gray, and no creature stirr'd,
Except one little precocious bird,
    That chirp'd—and then was quiet.

So still without,—so still within;—
            It had been a sin
            To drop a pin—
So intense is silence after a din,
    It seem'd like Death's rehearsal!
To stir the air no eddy came;
And the taper burnt with as still a flame,
As to flicker had been a burning shame,
    In a calm so universal.

The time for sleep had come at last;
And there was the bed, so soft, so vast,
    Quite a field of Bedfordshire clover;
Softer, cooler, and calmer, no doubt,
From the piece of work just ravell'd out,
For one of the pleasures of having a rout
    Is the pleasure of having it over.

No sordid pallet, or truckle mean,
Of straw, and rug, and tatters unclean;
But a splendid, gilded, carved machine,
    That was fit for a Royal Chamber.
On the top was a gorgeous golden wreath;
And the damask curtains hung beneath,
    Like clouds of crimson and amber;

Curtains, held up by two little plump things,
With golden bodies and golden wings,—
    Mere fins for such solidities—
            Two cupids, in short,
            Of the regular sort,
    But the housemaid call'd them "Cupidities."


-180-


No patchwork quilt, all seams and scars,
But velvet, powder'd with golden stars,
    A fit mantle for Night-Commanders!
And the pillow, as white as snow undimm'd
And as cool as the pool that the breeze has skimmed,
Was cased in the finest cambric, and trimm'd
    With the costliest lace of Flanders.

And the bed—of the Eider's softest down,
'Twas a place to revel, to smother, to drown
    In a bliss inferr'd by the Poet;
For if Ignorance be indeed a bliss,
What blessed ignorance equals this,
    To sleep—and not to know it?

Oh bed! oh bed! delicious bed!
That heaven upon earth to the weary head;
But a place that to name would be ill-bred,
    To the head with a wakeful trouble—
'Tis held by such a different lease!
To one, a place of comfort and peace,
All stuff'd with the down of stubble geese,
    To another with only the stubble!

To one, a perfect Halcyon nest,
All calm, and balm, and quiet, and rest,
    And soft as the fur of the cony—
To another, so restless for body and head,
That the bed seems borrow'd from Nettlebed,
    And the pillow from Stratford the Stony!

To the happy, a first-class carriage of ease,
To the Land of Nod, or where you please;
    But alas! for the watchers and weepers,
Who turn, and turn, and turn again,
But turn, and turn, and turn in vain,
            With an anxious brain,
            And thoughts in a train
    That does not run upon sleepers!


-185-


Wide awake as the mousing owl,
Night-hawk, or other nocturnal fowl,—
    But more profitless vigils keeping,—
Wide awake in the dark they stare,
Filling with phantoms the vacant air,
As if that Crookback'd Tyrant Care
    Had plotted to kill them sleeping.

And oh! when the blessed diurnal light
Is quench'd by the providential night,
    To render our slumber more certain!
Pity, pity the wretches that weep,
For they must be wretched, who cannot sleep
    When God himself draws the curtain!

The careful Betty the pillow beats,
And airs the blankets, and smooths the sheets,
    And gives the mattress a shaking—
But vainly Betty performs her part,
If a ruffled head and a rumpled heart,
    As well as the couch want making.

There's Morbid, all bile, and verjuice, and nerves,
Where other people would make preserves,
    He turns his fruits into pickles:
Jealous, envious, and fretful by day,
At night, to his own sharp fancies a prey,
He lies like a hedgehog roll'd up the wrong way,
    Tormenting himself with his prickles.

But a child—that bids the world good night
In downright earnest and cuts it quite—
    A Cherub no Art can copy,—
'Tis a perfect picture to see him lie
As if he had supp'd on a dormouse pie,
(An ancient classical dish, by the bye)
    With a sauce of syrup of poppy.


-190-


Oh, bed! bed! bed! delicious bed!
That heaven upon earth to the weary head,
    Whether lofty or low its condition!
But instead of putting our plagues on shelves,
In our blankets how often we toss ourselves,
Or are toss'd by such allegorical elves
    As Pride, Hate, Greed, and Ambition!

The independent Miss Kilmansegg
Took off her independent Leg
    And laid it beneath her pillow,
And then on the bed her frame she cast,
The time for repose had come at last,
But long, long, after the storm is past
    Rolls the turbid, turbulent billow.

No part she had in vulgar cares
That belong to common household affairs—
Nocturnal annoyances such as theirs,
    Who lie with a shrewd surmising,
That while they are couchant (a bitter cup!)
Their bread and butter are getting up,
    And the coals, confound them, are rising.

No fear she had her sleep to postpone,
Like the crippled Widow who weeps alone,
    And cannot make a doze her own,
For the dread that mayhap on the morrow,
The true and Christian reading to baulk,
A broker will take up her bed and walk,
    By way of curing her sorrow.

No cause like these she had to bewail:
But the breath of applause had blown a gale,
And winds from that quarter seldom fail
    To cause some human commotion;
But whenever such breezes coincide
            With the very spring-tide
            Of human pride,
    There's no such swell on the ocean!


-195-


Peace, and ease, and slumber lost,
She turn'd, and roll'd, and tumbled and toss'd,
    With a tumult that would not settle.
A common case, indeed, with such
As have too little, or think too much,
    Of the precious and glittering metal.

Gold!—she saw at her golden foot
The Peer whose tree had an olden root,
The Proud, the Great, the Learned to boot,
    The handsome, the gay, and the witty—
The Man of Science—of Arms—of Art,
The man who deals but at Pleasure's mart,
    And the man who deals in the City.

Gold, still gold—and true to the mould!
In the very scheme of her dream it told;
    For, by magical transmutation,
From her Leg through her body it seem'd to go,
Till, gold above, and gold below.
She was gold, all gold, from her little gold toe
    To her organ of Veneration!

And still she retain'd through Fancy's art
The Golden Bow, and the Golden Dart,
With which she had play'd a Goddess's part
    In her recent glorification:
And still, like one of the selfsame brood,
On a Plinth of the selfsame metal she stood
    For the whole world's adoration.

And hymns and incense around her roll'd,
From Golden Harps and Censers of Gold,—
For Fancy in dreams is as uncontroll'd
    As a horse without a bridle:
What wonder, then, from all checks exempt,
If, inspired by the Golden Leg, she dreamt
    She was turn'd to a Golden Idol?


________________

-200-

HER COURTSHIP.


When leaving Eden's happy land
The grieving Angel led by the hand
    Our banish'd Father and Mother,
Forgotten amid their awful doom,
The tears, the fears, and the future's gloom,
On each brow was a wreath of Paradise bloom,
    That our Parents had twined for each other.

It was only while sitting like figures of stone,
For the grieving Angel had skyward flown,
As they sat, those Two in the world alone,
    With disconsolate hearts nigh cloven,
That scenting the gust of happier hours,
They look'd around for the precious flow'rs,
And lo!—a last relic of Eden's dear bow'rs—
    The chaplet that Love had woven!

And still, when a pair of Lovers meet,
There's a sweetness in air, unearthly sweet,
That savours still of that happy retreat
    Where Eve by Adam was courted:
Whilst the joyous Thrush, and the gentle Dove,
Woo'd their mates in the boughs above,
    And the Serpent, as yet, only sported.

Who hath not felt that breath in the air,
A perfume and freshness strange and rare,
A warmth in the light, and a bliss everywhere,
    When young hearts yearn together?
All sweets below, and all sunny above,
Oh! there's nothing in life like making love,
    Save making hay in fine weather!

Who hath not found amongst his flow'rs
A blossom too bright for this world of ours,
    Like a rose among snows of Sweden?
But to turn again to Miss Kilmansegg,
Where must Love have gone to beg,
If such a thing as a Golden Leg
    Had put its foot in Eden!


-205-


And yet—to tell the rigid truth—
Her favour was sought by Age and Youth—
    For the prey will find a prowler!
She was follow'd, flatter'd, courted, address'd,
Woo'd, and coo'd, and wheedled, and press'd,
By suitors from North, South, East, and West,
    Like that Heiress, in song, Tibbie Fowler!

But, alas! alas! for the Woman's fate,
Who has from a mob to choose a mate!
    'Tis a strange and painful mystery!
But the more the eggs, the worse the hatch;
The more the fish, the worse the catch;
The more the sparks, the worse the match;
    Is a fact in Woman's history.

Give her between a brace to pick,
And, mayhap, with luck to help the trick,
She will take the Faustus, and leave the Old Nick—
    But her future bliss to baffle,
Amongst a score let her have a voice,
And she'll have as little cause to rejoice,
As if she had won the "Man of her choice"
    In a matrimonial raffle!

Thus, even thus, with the Heiress and Hope,
Fulfilling the adage of too much rope,
    With so ample a competition,
She chose the least worthy of all the group,
Just as the vulture makes a stoop,
And singles out from the herd or troop
    The beast of the worst condition.

A Foreign Count—who came incog.,
Not under a cloud, but under a fog,
    In a Calais packet's fore-cabin,
To charm some lady British-born,
With his eyes as black as the fruit of the thorn,
And his hooky nose, and his beard half-shorn,
    Like a half-converted Rabbin.


-210-


And because the Sex confess a charm
In the man who has slash'd a head or arm
    Or has been a throat's undoing,
He was dress'd like one of the glorious trade,
At least when glory is off parade,
With a stock, and a frock, well trimm'd with braid,
    And frogs—that went a-wooing.

Moreover, as Counts are apt to do,
On the left-hand side of his dark surtout,
At one of those holes that buttons go through,
    (To be a precise recorder,)
A ribbon he wore, or rather a scrap,
About an inch of ribbon mayhap.
That one of his rivals, a whimsical chap,
    Described as his "Retail Order."

And then—and much it help'd his chance—
He could sing, and play first fiddle, and dance,
Perform charades, and Proverbs of France—
    Act the tender, and do the cruel;
For amongst his other killing parts,
He had broken a brace of female hearts,
    And murder'd three men in duel!

Savage at heart, and false of tongue,
Subtle with age, and smooth to the young,
    Like a snake in his coiling and curling—
Such was the Count—to give him a niche—
Who came to court that Heiress rich,
And knelt at her foot—one needn't say which—
    Besieging her castle of Stirling.

With pray'rs and vows he open'd his trench,
And plied her with English, Spanish, and French
    In phrases the most sentimental:
And quoted poems in High and Low Dutch,
With now and then an Italian touch,
Till she yielded, without resisting much,
    To homage so continental.


-215-


And then—the sordid bargain to close—
With a miniature sketch of his hooky nose,
And his dear dark eyes, as black as sloes,
And his beard and whiskers as black as those,
    The lady's consent he requited—
And instead of the lock that lovers beg,
The Count received from Miss Kilmansegg
A model, in small, of her Precious Leg—
    And so the couple were plighted!

But, oh! the love that gold must crown!
Better—better, the love of the clown,
Who admires his lass in her Sunday gown,
    As if all the fairies had dress'd her!
Whose brain to no crooked thought gives birth,
Except that he never will part on earth
    With his true love's crooked tester!

Alas! for the love that's link'd with gold!
Better—better a thousand times told—
    More honest, happy, and laudable,
The downright loving of pretty Cis,
Who wipes her lips, though there's nothing amiss,
And takes a kiss, and gives a kiss,
    In which her heart is audible!

Pretty Cis, so smiling and bright,
Who loves—as she labours—with all her might,
    And without any sordid leaven!
Who blushes as red as haws and hips,
Down to her very finger-tips,
For Roger's blue ribbons—to her, like strips
    Cut out of the azure of Heaven!


________________

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