THERE was a youth--but woe is me :
I quite forgot his name, and he,
Without some label round his neck,
Is like one pea among a peck.
Go search the country up and down,
Port, city, village, parish, town,
And, saving just the face and name,
You shall behold the very same
Wherever pleasure's train resorts,
From the Land's End to Johnny Groat's ;
And thousands such have swelled the herd
From William, down to George the Third.
To life he started--thanks to fate,
In contact with a good estate :
Provided thus, and quite at ease,
He takes for granted all he sees ;
Ne'er sends a thought, nor lifts an eye,
To ask what am I ? where ? and why ?--
All that is no affair of his,
Somehow he came--and there he is !
Without such philosophic stuff,
Alive and well, and that's enough.
Thoughts ! why, if all that crawl like train
Of caterpillars through his brains,
With every syllable let fall,
Bon mot, and compliment, and all,
Were melted down in furnace fire,
I doubt if shred of golden wire,
To make, amongst it all would linger,
A ring for Tom Thumb's little finger.
Yet, think not that he comes below
The modern, average ratio--
The current coin of fashion's mint--
The common, ball-room going stint.
Of trifling cost his stock in trade is,
Whose business is to please the ladies ;
Or who to honours may aspire
Of a town beau or country squire.
The cant of fashion and of vice
To learn, slight effort will suffice :
And he was furnished with that knowledge,
Even before he went to college.
And thus, without the toil of thought,
Favour and flattery may be bought.
No need to win the laurel, now,
For lady's smile or vassal's bow ;
To lie exposed in patriot camp,
Or study by the midnight lamp.
Nature and art might vainly strive
To keep his intellect alive.
--'Twould not have forced an exclamation
Worthy a note of admiration,
If he had been on Gibeon's hill,
And seen the sun and moon stand still.
What prodigy was ever known
To raise the pitch of fashion's tone !
Or make it yield, by any chance,
That studied air of nonchalance,
Which after all, however graced,
Is apathy, and want of taste.
The vulgar every station fill,
St. Giles' or James's --which you will ;
Spruce drapers in their masters' shops,
Rank with right honourable fops :
No real distinction marks the kinds--
The raw material of their minds.
But mind claims rank that cannot yield
To blazoned arms and crested shield
Above the need and reach it stands
Of diamond stars from royal hands ;
Nor waits the nod of courtly state,
To bid it be, or not be great.
The regions where it wings its way
Are set with brighter stars than they :
With calm contempt it thence looks down
On fortune's favour or its frown ;
Looks down on those who vainly try,
By strange inversion of the eye,
From that poor mole-hill where they sit,
To cast a downward look on it :
As robin, from his pear-tree height,
Looks down upon the eagle's flight.
Before our youth had learnt his letters,
They taught him to despise his betters
And if some things have been forgot,
That lesson certainly has not.
The haunts his genius chiefly graces
Are tables, stables, taverns, races ;--
The things of which he most afraid is,
Are tradesmen's bills, and learned ladies
He deems the first a grievous bore,
But loathes the latter even more
Than solitude or rainy weather,
Unless they happen both together.
Soft his existence rolls away,
To-morrow plenteous as to-day :
He lives, enjoys, and lives anew,--
And when he dies,--what shall we do !
Down a close street, whose darksome shops display
Old clothes and iron on both sides the way ;
Loathsome and wretched, whence the eye in pain
Averted turns, nor seeks to view again ;
Where lowest dregs of human nature dwell,
More loathsome than the rags and rust they sell ;--
A pale mechanic rents an attic floor,
By many a shattered stair you gain the door :
'Tis one poor room, whose blackened wails are hung
With dust that settled there when he was young.
The rusty grate two massy bricks displays
To fill the sides and make a frugal blaze.
The door unhinged, the window patched and broke,
The panes obscured by half a century's smoke :
There stands the bench at which his life is spent,
Worn, grooved, and bored, and worm-devoured, and bent,
Where daily, undisturbed by foes or friends,
In one unvaried attitude he bends.
His tools, long practised, seem to understand
Scarce less their functions, than his own right hand.
With these he drives his craft with patient skill :
Year after year would find him at it still :
The noisy world around is changing all,
War follows peace, and kingdoms rise and fall ;
France rages now, and Spain, and now the Turk ;
Now victory sounds ;--but there he sits at work !
A man might see him so, then bid adieu, --
Make a long voyage to China or Peru ;
There traffic, settle, build ; at length might come
Altered, and old, and weather-beaten, home,
And find him on the same square foot of floor
On which he left him twenty years before.
--The self-same bench, and attitude, and stool,
The same quick movement of his cunning tool
The very distance 'twixt his knees and chin,
As though he had but stepped just out and in.
Such is his fate--and yet you might descry
A latent spark of meaning in his eye,
--That crowded shelf, beside his bench contains
One old worn volume that employs his brains :
With algebraic lore its page is spread,
Where a and b contend with x and z ;
Sold by some student from an Oxford hall,
--Bought by the pound upon a broker's stall.
On this it is his sole delight to pore,
Early and late, when working time is o'er :
But oft he stops, bewildered and perplexed,
At some hard problem in the learned text ;
Pressing his hand upon his puzzled brain
At what the dullest school-boy could explain.
From needful sleep the precious hour he saves
To give his thirsty mind the stream it craves :
There, with his slender rush beside him placed,
He drinks the knowledge in with greedy haste.
At early morning, when the frosty air
Brightens Orion and the northern Bear,
His distant window 'mid the dusky row,
Holds a dim light to passenger below.
--A light more dim is flashing on his mind,
That shows its darkness, and its view confined.
Had science shone around his early days,
How had his soul expanded in the blaze !
But penury bound him, and his mind in vain
Struggles and writhes beneath her iron chain.
--At length the taper fades, and distant cry
Of early sweep bespeaks the morning nigh ;
Slowly it breaks,--and that rejoicing ray
That wakes the healthful country into day,
Tips the green hills, slants o'er the level plain,
Reddens the pool, and stream, and cottage pane,
And field, and garden, park, and stately hall,--
Now darts obliquely on his wretched wall.
He knows the wonted signal ; shuts his book,
Slowly consigns it to its dusky nook ;
Looks out awhile, with fixt and absent stare,
On crowded roofs, seen through the foggy air ;
Stirs up the embers, takes his sickly draught,
Sighs at his fortunes, and resumes his craft.
Jane Taylor's Other Poems
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Comments about this poem (A Pair by Jane Taylor )
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William Ernest Henley
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