Treasure Island

John Arthur Phillips

(1842-1907 / Canada)

The Splendid Shilling


-- -- Sing, Heavenly Muse,
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime,
A Shilling, Breeches, and Chimera's Dire.


Happy the Man, who void of Cares and Strife,
In Silken, or in Leathern Purse retains
A Splendid Shilling: He nor hears with Pain
New Oysters cry'd, nor sighs for chearful Ale;
But with his Friends, when nightly Mists arise,
To Juniper's, Magpye, or Town-Hall repairs:
Where, mindful of the Nymph, whose wanton Eye
Transfix'd his Soul, and kindled Amorous Flames,
Chloe, or Phillis; he each Circling Glass
Wisheth her Health, and Joy, and equal Love.
Mean while he smoaks, and laughs at merry Tale,
Or Pun ambiguous, or Conundrum quaint.
But I, whom griping Penury surrounds,
And Hunger, sure Attendant upon Want,
With scanty Offals, and small acid Tiff
(Wretched Repast!) my meagre Corps sustain:
Then Solitary walk, or doze at home
In Garret vile, and with a warming puff
Regale chill'd Fingers; or from Tube as black
As Winter-Chimney, or well-polish'd Jet,
Exhale Mundungus, ill-perfuming Scent:
Not blacker Tube, nor of a shorter Size
Smoaks Cambro-Britain (vers'd in Pedigree,
Sprung from Cadwalader and Arthur, Kings
Full famous in Romantic tale) when he
O'er many a craggy Hill, and barren Cliff,
Upon a Cargo of fam'd Cestrian Cheese,
High over-shadowing rides, with a design
To vend his Wares, or at th' Arvonian Mart,
Or Maridunum, or the ancient Town
Eclip'd Brechinia, or where Vaga's Stream
Encircles Ariconium, fruitful Soil,
Whence flow Nectareous Wines, that well may vye
With Massic, Setin, or renown'd Falern.

Thus while my joyless Minutes tedious flow
With Looks demure, and silent Pace, a Dunn,
Horrible Monster! hated by Gods and Men,
To my aerial Citadel ascends;
With Vocal Heel thrice thund'ring at my Gates,
With hideous Accent thrice he calls; I know
The Voice ill-boding, and the solemn Sound.
What shou'd I do? or whither turn? amaz'd,
Confounded, to the dark Recess I fly
Of Woodhole; strait my bristling Hairs erect
Thrô sudden Fear; a chilly Sweat bedews
My shud'ring Limbs, and (wonderful to tell!)
My Tongue forgets her Faculty of Speech;
So horrible he seems! his faded Brow
Entrench'd with many a Frown, and Conic Beard,
And spreading Band, admir'd by Modern Saints,
Disastrous Acts forebode; in his Right Hand
Long Scrolls of Paper solemnly he waves,
With Characters, and Figures dire inscrib'd
Grievous to mortal Eyes; (ye Gods avert
Such Plagues from righteous Men!) behind him stalks
Another Monster, not unlike himself,
Sullen of Aspect, by the Vulgar call'd
A Catchpole, whose polluted Hands the Gods
With Force incredible, and Magick Charms
Erst have indu'd, if he his ample Palm
Should haply on ill-fated Shoulder lay
Of Debtor, strait his Body, to the Touch
Obsequious, (as whilom Knights were wont)
To some enchanted Castle is convey'd,
Where Gates impregnable, and coercive Chains
In Durance strict detain him, 'till in form
Of Mony, Pallas sets the Captive free.

Beware, ye Debtors, when ye walk beware,
Be circumspect; oft with insidious Ken
This Caitif eyes your Steps aloof, and oft
Lies perdue in a Nook or gloomy Cave,
Prompt to enchant some inadvertent wretch
With his unhallow'd Touch. So (Poets sing)
Grimalkin to Domestick Vermin sworn
An everlasting Foe, with watchful Eye,
Lyes nightly brooding o'er a chinky gap,
Protending her fell Claws, to thoughtless Mice
Sure Ruin. So her disembowell'd Web
Arachne in a Hall, or Kitchin spreads,
Obvious to vagrant Flies: She secret stands
Within her woven Cell; the Humming Prey,
Regardless of their Fate, rush on the toils
Inextricable, nor will aught avail
Their Arts, nor Arms, nor Shapes of lovely Hue;
The Wasp insidious, and the buzzing Drone,
And Butterfly proud of expanded wings
Distinct with Gold, entangled in her Snares,
Useless Resistance make: With eager strides,
She tow'ring flies to her expected Spoils;
Then with envenom'd Jaws the vital Blood
Drinks of reluctant Foes, and to her Cave
Their bulky Carcasses triumphant drags.

So pass my Days. But when Nocturnal Shades
This World invelop, and th' inclement Air
Persuades Men to repel benumming Frosts,
With pleasant Wines, and crackling blaze of Wood;
Me Lonely sitting, nor the glimmering Light
Of Make-weight Candle, nor the joyous Talk
Of loving Friend delights; distress'd, forlorn,
Amidst the horrors of the tedious Night,
Darkling I sigh, and feed with dismal Thoughts
My anxious Mind; or sometimes mournful Verse
Indite, and sing of Groves and Myrtle Shades,
Or desperate Lady near a purling Stream,
Or Lover pendent on a Willow-Tree:
Mean while I Labour with eternal Drought,
And restless Wish, and Rave; my parched Throat
Finds no Relief, nor heavy Eyes Repose:
But if a Slumber haply does Invade
My weary Limbs, my Fancy's still awake,
Thoughtful of Drink, and Eager in a Dream,
Tipples Imaginary Pots of Ale;
In Vain; awake, I find the settled Thirst
Still gnawing, and the pleasant Phantom curse.

Thus do I live from Pleasure quite debarr'd,
Nor taste the Fruits that the Sun's genial Rays
Mature, John-Apple, nor the downy Peach,
Nor Walnut in rough-furrow'd Coat secure,
Nor Medlar, Fruit delicious in decay;
Afflictions Great! yet Greater still remain:
My Galligaskins that have long withstood
The Winter's Fury, and Encroaching Frosts,
By Time subdu'd, (what will not Time subdue!)
An horrid Chasm disclose, with Orifice
Wide, Discontinuous; at which the Winds
Eurus and Auster, and the dreadful Force
Of Boreas, that congeals the Cronian Waves,
Tumultuous enter with dire chilling Blasts,
Portending Agues. Thus a well-fraught Ship
Long sail'd secure, or thrô th' Ægean Deep,
Or the Ionian, 'till Cruising near
The Lilybean Shoar, with hideous Crush
On Scylla, or Charybdis (dang'rous Rocks)
She strikes rebounding, whence the shatter'd Oak,
So fierce a Shock unable to withstand,
Admits the Sea; in at the gaping Side
The crouding Waves Gush with impetuous Rage,
Resistless, Overwhelming; Horrors seize
The Mariners, Death in their Eyes appears,
They stare, they lave, they pump, they swear, they pray:
(Vain Efforts!) still the battering Waves rush in
Implacable, 'till delug'd by the Foam,
The Ship sinks found'ring in the vast Abyss.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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