Richard Harris Barham (1788-1845 / England)
A Lay of St. Gengulphus
'Non multo post, Gengulphus, in domo sua dormiens, occisus est a quodam clerico qui cum uxore sua adulterare solebat. Cujus corpus dum in fereto in sepulturam portaretur, multi infirmi de tactu sanati sunt.'
'Cum hoc illius uxori referretur ab ancilla sua, scilicet dominum suum quam martyrem sanctum miracula facere, irridens illa, et subsurrans, ait, 'Ita Gengulphus miracula facitat ut pulvinarium meum cantat,' &c. &c.-- Wolfii Memorab.
Gengulphus comes from the Holy Land,
With his scrip, and his bottle, and sandal shoon;
Full many a day has he been away,
Yet his Lady deems him return'd full soon.
Full many a day has he been away,
Yet scarce had he crossed ayont the sea,
Ere a spruce young spark of a Learned Clerk
Had called on his Lady and stopp'd to tea.
This spruce young guest, so trimly drest,
Stay'd with that Lady, her revels to crown;
They laugh'd; and they ate, and they drank of the best,
And they turn'd the old Castle quite upside down.
They would walk in the park, that spruce young Clerk,
With that frolicsome Lady so frank and free,
Trying balls and plays, and all manner of ways,
To get rid of what French people call Ennui.
Now the festive board, with viands is stored,
Savoury dishes be there, I ween,
Rich puddings and big, and a barbecued pig,
And oxtail soup in a China tureen.
There's a flagon of ale as large as a pail --
When, cockle on hat, and staff in hand,
While on nought they are thinking save eating and drinking,
Gengulphus walks in from the Holy Land!
'You must be pretty deep to catch weazels asleep,'
Says the proverb: that is, 'take the Fair unawares;'
A maid, o'er the banisters chancing to peep,
Whispers, 'Ma'am, here's Gengulphus a-coming upstairs.'
Pig, pudding, and soup, the electrified group,
With the flagon, pop under the sofa in haste,
And contrive to deposit the Clerk in the closet,
As the dish least of all to Gengulphus's taste.
Then oh! what rapture, what joy was exprest,
When 'poor dear Gengulphus' at last appear'd!
She kiss'd, and she press'd 'the dear man' to her breast,
In spite of his great, long, frizzly beard.
Such hugging and squeezing! 'twas almost unpleasing,
A smile on her lip, and a tear in her eye;
She was so very glad, that she seem'd half mad,
And did not know whether to laugh or to cry.
Then she calls up the maid, and the table cloth's laid,
And she sends for a pint of the best Brown Stout;
On the fire, too, she pops some nice mutton chops,
And she mixes a stiff glass of 'Cold Without.'
Then again she began at the 'poor dear' man;
She press'd him to drink, and she press'd him to eat,
And she brought a foot-pan with hot water and bran,
To comfort his 'poor dear' travel-worn feet.
'Nor night nor day since he'd been away,
Had she had any rest' she 'vow'd and declared.'
She 'never could eat one morsel of meat,
For thinking how 'poor dear' Gengulphus fared.'
She 'really did think she had not slept a wink
Since he left her, although he'd been absent so long.'
He here shook his head,-- right little he said;
But he thought she was 'coming it rather too strong.'
Now his palate she tickles with the chops and the pickles,
Till, so great the effect of that stiff gin grog,
His weaken'd body, subdued by the toddy,
Falls out of the chair, and he lies like a log.
Then out comes the Clerk from his secret lair;
He lifts up the legs, and she raises the head,
And, between them, this most reprehensible pair
Undress poor Gengulphus, and put him to bed.
Then the bolster they place athwart his face,
And his night-cap into his mouth they cram;
And she pinches his nose underneath the clothes,
Till the 'poor dear soul' went off like a lamb.
And now they try'd the deed to hide;
For a little bird whisper'd, 'Perchance you may swing;
Here's a corpse in the case with a sad swell'd face,
And a 'Crowner's Quest' is a queer sort of thing!'
So the Clerk and the Wife, they each took a knife,
And the nippers that nipp'd the loaf-sugar for tea;
With the edges and points they sever'd the joints
At the clavicle, elbow, hip, ankle, and knee.
Thus, limb from limb, they dismember'd him
So entirely, that e'en when they came to his wrists,
With those great sugar nippers they nipp'd off his 'flippers,'
As the Clerk, very flippantly, term'd his fists.
When they'd cut off his head, entertaining a dread
Lest folks should remember Gengulphus's face,
They determined to throw it, where no one could know it,
Down the well, and the limbs in some different place.
But first the long beard from the chin they shear'd,
And managed to stuff that sanctified hair,
With a good deal of pushing, all into the cushion,
That filled up the seat of a large arm-chair.
They contrived to pack up the trunk in a sack,
Which they hid in an osier-bed outside the town,
The Clerk bearing arms, legs, and all on his back,
As the late Mr. Greenacre served Mrs. Brown.
But to see now how strangely things sometimes turn out,
And that in a manner the least expected!
Who could surmise a man ever could rise
Who'd been thus carbonado'd, cut up, and dissected?
No doubt 'twould surprise the pupils at Guy's;
I am no unbeliever -- no man can say that o' me --
But St. Thomas himself would scarce trust his own eyes,
If he saw such a thing in his School of Anatomy.
You may deal as you please with Hindoos or Chinese,
Or a Mussulman making his heathen salaam, or
A Jew or a Turk, but it's other guess work
When a man has to do with a Pilgrim or Palmer.
By chance the Prince Bishop, a Royal Divine,
Sends his cards round the neighbourhood next day, and urges his
Wish to receive a snug party to dine
Of the resident clergy, the gentry, and burgesses.
At a quarter past five they are all alive
At the palace, for coaches are fast rolling in;
And to every guest his card had expressed
'Half past' as the hour for 'a greasy chin.'
Some thirty are seated, and handsomely treated
With the choicest Rhine wines in his Highness's stock;
When a Count of the Empire, who felt himself heated,
Requested some water to mix with his Hock.
The Butler, who saw it, sent a maid out to draw it,
But scarce had she given the windlass a twirl,
Ere Gengulphus's head from the well's bottom said
In mild accents, 'Do help us out, that's a good girl!'
Only fancy her dread when she saw a great head
In her bucket;-- with fright she was ready to drop:--
Conceive, if you can, how she roar'd and she ran,
With the head rolling after her bawling out 'Stop!'
She ran and she roar'd till she came to the board
Where the Prince Bishop sat with his party around,
When Gengulphus's poll, which continued to roll
At her heels, on the table bounced up with a bound.
Never touching the cates, or the dishes or plates,
The decanters or glasses, the sweetmeats or fruits,
The head smiles, and begs them to bring him his legs,
As a well-spoken gentleman asks for his boots.
Kicking open the casement, to each one's amazement,
Straight a right leg steps in, all impediment scorns,
And near the head stopping, a left follows hopping
Behind,-- for the left Leg was troubled with corns.
Next, before the beholders, two great brawny shoulders,
And arms on their bent elbows dance through the throng,
While two hands assist, though nipped off at the wrist,
The said shoulders in bearing a body along.
They march up to the head, not one syllable said,
For the thirty guests all stare in wonder and doubt,
As the limbs in their sight arrange and unite,
Till Gengulphus, though dead, looks as sound as a trout.
I will venture to say, from that hour to this day,
Ne'er did such an assembly behold such a scene;
Or a table divide fifteen guests of a side
With a dead body placed in the centre between.
Yes, they stared -- well they might at so novel a sight:
No one uttered a whisper, a sneeze, or a hem,
But sat all bolt upright, and pale with affright;
And they gazed at the dead man, the dead man at them.
The Prince Bishop's Jester, on punning intent,
As he view'd the whole thirty, in jocular terms
Said, 'They put him in mind of a Council of Trente
Engaged in reviewing the Diet of Worms.'
But what should they do?-- Oh! nobody knew
What was best to be done, either stranger or resident.
The Chancellor's self read his Puffendorf through
In vain, for his books could not furnish a precedent.
The Prince Bishop muttered a curse and a prayer,
Which his double capacity hit to a nicety;
His Princely, or Lay half induced him to swear,
His Episcopal moiety said 'Benedicite!'
The Coroner sat on the body that night,
And the jury agreed,-- not a doubt could they harbour,--
'That the chin of the corpse -- the sole thing brought to light --
Had been recently shaved by a very bad barber.'
They sent out Von Taünsend, Von Bürnie, Von Roe,
Von Maine, and Von Rowantz -- through châlets and châteaux,
Towns, villages, hamlets, they told them to go,
And they stuck up placards on the walls of the Stadthaus.
Whereas, a dead Gentleman, surname unknown,
Has been recently found at his Highness's banquet,
Rather shabbily drest in an Amice, or gown
In appearance resembling a second-hand blanket;
'And Whereas, there's great reason indeed to suspect
That some ill-disposed person or persons, with malice
Aforethought, have kill'd and begun to dissect
The said Gentleman, not very far from the palace;
'This is to give notice!-- Whoever shall seize,
And such person or persons to justice surrender,
Shall receive -- such Reward -- as his Highness shall please
On conviction of him, the aforesaid offender.
'And, in order the matter more clearly to trace
To the bottom, his Highness, the Prince Bishop, further,
Of his clemency, offers free Pardon and Grace
To all such as have not been concern'd in the murther.
'Done this day, at our palace,-- July twenty-five,--
(Signed) Johann Von Rüssell. N.B.
Deceased rather in years -- had a squint when alive;
And smells slightly of gin -- linen mark'd with a G.'
The Newspapers, too, made no little ado,
Though a different version each managed to dish up;
Some said 'the Prince Bishop had run a man through,'
Others said 'an assassin had kill'd the Prince Bishop.'
The 'Ghent Herald' fell foul of the 'Bruxelles Gazette,'
The 'Bruxelles Gazette,' with much sneering ironical,
Scorn'd to remain in the 'Ghent Herald's' debt,
And the 'Amsterdam Times' quizzed the 'Nuremberg Chronicle.'
In one thing, indeed, all the journals agreed,
Spite of 'politics,' 'bias,' or 'party collision;'
Viz: to 'give,' when they'd 'further accounts' of the deed,
'Full particulars' soon, in 'a later Edition.'
But now, while on all sides they rode and they ran,
Trying all sorts of means to discover the caitiffs,
Losing patience, the holy Gengulphus began
To think it high time to 'astonish the natives.'
First, a Rittmeister's Frau, who was weak in both eyes,
And supposed the most short-sighted woman in Holland,
Found greater relief, to her joy and surprize,
From one glimpse of his 'squint' than from glasses by Dollond.
By the slightest approach to the tip of his Nose,
Megrims, headache, and vapours were put to the rout;
And one single touch of his precious Great Toes
Was a certain specific for chilblains and gout.
Rheumatics,-- sciatica,-- tic-douloureux!
Apply to his shin-bones -- not one of them lingers;--
All bilious complaints in an instant withdrew,
If the patient was tickled with one of his fingers.
Much virtue was found to reside in his thumbs;
When applied to the chest, they cured scantness of breathing,
Sea-sickness, and colick; or, rubbed on the gums,
Were remarkably soothing to infants in teething.
Whoever saluted the nape of his neck,
Where the mark remained visible still of the knife,
Notwithstanding east winds perspiration might check,
Was safe from sore-throat for the rest of his life.
Thus, while each acute, and each chronic complaint,
Giving way, proved an influence clearly divine,
They perceived the dead Gentleman must be a Saint,
So they lock'd him up, body and bones, in a shrine.
Through country and town his new Saintship's renown,
As a first-rate physician, kept daily increasing,
Till, as Alderman Curtis told Alderman Brown,
It seemed as if 'wonders had never done ceasing.'
The Three Kings of Cologne began, it was known,
A sad falling off in their off' rings to find;
His feats were so many -- still the greatest of any,--
In every sense of the word, was -- behind;
For the German Police were beginning to cease
From exertions which each day more fruitless appear'd,
When Gengulphus himself, his fame still to increase,
Unravell'd the whole by the help of -- his beard!
If you look back you'll see the aforesaid barbe gris,
When divorced from the chin of its murder'd proprietor,
Had been stuffed in the seat of a kind of settee,
Or double-arm'd chair, to keep the thing quieter.
It may seem rather strange, that it did not arrange
Itself in its place when the limbs join'd together;
P'rhaps it could not get out, for the cushion was stout,
And constructed of good, strong, maroon-colour'd leather.
Or, what is more likely, Gengulphus might choose,
For Saints, e'en when dead, still retain their volition,
It should rest there, to aid some particular views
Produced by his very peculiar position.
Be that as it may, the very first day
That the widow Gengulphus sat down on that settee,
What occurr'd almost frighten'd her senses away,
Beside scaring her hand-maidens, Gertrude and Betty.
They were telling their mistress the wonderful deeds
Of the new Saint, to whom all the Town said their orisons;
And especially how, as regards invalids,
His miraculous cures far outrivall'd Von Morison's.
'The cripples,' said they, 'fling their crutches away,
And people born blind now can easily see us!'--
But she, (we presume, a disciple of Hume,)
Shook her head, and said angrily, 'Credat Judæus!'
'Those rascally liars, the Monks and the Friars,
To bring grist to their mill, these devices have hit on.--
He works miracles!-- pooh!-- I'd believe it of you
Just as soon, you great Geese, or the chair that I sit on!'
The Chair!-- at that word -- it seems really absurd,
But the truth must be told,-- what contortions and grins
Distorted her face!-- She sprang up from the place
Just as though she'd been sitting on needles and pins!
For, as if the Saint's beard the rash challenge had heard
Which she utter'd, of what was beneath her forgetful,
Each particular hair stood on end in the chair,
Like a porcupine's quills when the animal's fretful.
That stout maroon leather, they pierced altogether,
Like tenter-hooks holding when clenched from within,
And the maids cried 'Good gracious! how very tenacious!'
-- They as well might endeavour to pull off her skin!
She shriek'd with the pain, but all efforts were vain;
In vain did they strain every sinew and muscle,--
The cushion stuck fast!-- From that hour to her last
She could never get rid of that comfortless 'Bustle!'
And e'en as Macbeth, when devising the death
Of his King, heard 'the very stones prate of his whereabouts;'
So this shocking bad wife heard a voice all her life
Crying 'Murder!' resound from the cushion,-- or thereabouts.
With regard to the Clerk, we are left in the dark,
As to what his fate was; but I cannot imagine he
Got off scot-free, though unnoticed it be
Both by Ribadaneira and Jacques de Voragine:
For cut-throats, we're sure, can be never secure,
And 'History's Muse' still to prove it her pen holds,
As you'll see, if you look in a rather scarce book,
'God's Revenge against Murder,' by one Mr. Reynolds.
Now, you grave married Pilgrims, who wander away,
Like Ulysses of old, (vide Homer and Naso,)
Don't lengthen your stay to three years and a day!
And when you are coming home, just write and say so!
And you, learned Clerks, who're not given to roam,
Stick close to your books, nor lose sight of decorum;
Don't visit a house when the master's from home!
Shun drinking,-- and study the 'Vitæ Sanctorum!'
Above all, you gay Ladies, who fancy neglect
In your spouses, allow not your patience to fail;
But remember Gengulphus's wife!-- and reflect
On the moral enforced by her terrible tale
Comments about this poem (A Lay of St. Gengulphus by Richard Harris Barham )
Top 500 Poems
The Road Not Taken
If You Forget Me
Still I Rise
Edgar Allan Poe
William Ernest Henley
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings