John Gay Poems >> Trivia ; or, the Art of Walking the Streets of London : Book III
Of Walking the Streets by Night.
O Trivia, goddess, leave these low abodes, And traverse o'er the wide ethereal roads, Celestial queen, put on thy robes of light, Now Cynthia nam'd, fair regent of the night. At sight of thee the villain sheaths his sword, Nor scales the wall, to steal the wealthy hoard. O may thy silver lamp from heaven's high bower Direct my footsteps in the midnight hour! When night first bids the twinkling stars appear, Or with her cloudy vest enwraps the air, Then swarms the busy street; with caution tread Where the shop-windows falling threat thy head; Now labourers home return, and join their strength To bear the tottering plank, or ladder's length; Still fix thy eyes intent upon the throng, And as the passes open, wind along. Where the fair columns of St. Clement stand, Whose straighten'd bounds encroach upon the Strand Where the low pent-house bows the walker's head, And the rough pavement wounds the yielding tread; Where not a post protects the narrow space, And strung in twines, combs dangle in thy face; Summon at once thy courage, rouse thy care, Stand firm, look back, be resolute, beware, Forth issuing from steep lanes, the collier's steeds Drag the black load; another cart succeeds, Team follows team, crowds heap'd on crowds appear, And wait impatient, 'till the road grow clear. Now all the pavement sounds with trampling feet, And the mixt hurry barricades the street; Entangled here, the waggon's lengthen'd team Cracks the tough harness; here a ponderous beam Lies overturn'd athwart; for slaughter fed Here lowing bullocks raise their horned head. Now oaths grow loud, with coaches coaches jar, And the smart blow provokes the sturdy war; From the high box they whirl the thong around, And with the twining lash their shins resound; Their rage ferments, more dangerous wounds they try, And the blood gushes down their painful eye, And now on foot the frowning warriors light, And with their ponderous fists renew the fight; Blow after blow, the cheeks are smear'd with blood, Till down they fall, and grappling roll in mud. So when two boars, in wild Ytene bred, Or on Westphalia's fattening chestnuts fed, Gnash their sharp tusks, and rous'd with equal fire, Dispute the reign of some luxurious mire; In the black flood they wallow o'er and o'er, 'Till their arm'd jaws distil with foam and gore. Where the mob gathers, swiftly shoot along, Nor idly mingle in the noisy throng. Lur'd by the silver hilt, amid the swarm, The subtile artist will thy side disarm. Nor is the flaxen wig with safety worn: High on the shoulder, in a basket borne, Lurks the sly boy; whose hand, to rapine bred, Plucks off the curling honours of thy head. Here dives the skulking thief, with practis'd slight, And unfelt fingers make thy pocket light. Where's now thy watch, with all its trinkets, flown; And thy late snuff-box is no more thy own. But lo! his bolder thefts some tradesman spies, Swift from his prey the scudding lurcher flies; Dextrous he 'scapes the coach with nimble bounds, Whilst every honest tongue 'stop thief' resounds. So speeds the wily fox, alarm'd by fear, Who lately filch'd the turkey's callow care; Hounds following hounds, grow louder as he flies, And injur'd tenants join the hunter's cries. Breathless he stumbling falls: ill-fated boy! Why did not honest work thy youth employ? Seiz'd by rough hands, he's dragg'd amid the rout, And stretch'd beneath the pump's incessant spout: Or plung'd in miry ponds, he gasping lies, Mud choaks his mouth, and plasters o'er his eyes. Let not the ballad-singer's shrilling strain Amid the swarm thy listening ear detain: Guard well thy pocket; for these Sirens stand, To aid the labours of the diving hand; Confederate in the cheat, they draw the throng, And cambric handkerchiefs reward the song. But soon as coach or cart drives rattling on, The rabble part, in shoals they backward run. So Jove's loud bolts the mingled war divide, And Greece and Troy retreat on either side. If the rude throng pour on with furious pace, And hap to break thee from a friend's embrace, Stop short; nor struggle through the crowd in vain, But watch with careful eye the passing train. Yet I (perhaps too fond) if chance the tide Tumultuous, bear my partner from my side, Impatient venture back; despising harm, I force my passage where the thickest swarm. Thus his lost bride the Trojan sought in vain Thro' night, and arms, and flames, and hills of slain Thus Nisus wandere'd o'er the pathless grove, To find the brave companion of his love, The pathless grove in vain he wanders o'er: Euryalus, alas! is now no more. That walker who, regardless of his pace, Turns oft to pore upon the damsel's face, From side to side by rustling elbows tost, Shall strike his aching breast against the post; Or water dash'd from fishy stalls shall stain His hapless coat with spirits of scaly rain. But if unwarily he chance to stray, Where twirling turnstiles intercept the way, The thwarting passenger shall force them round, And beat the wretch half breathless to the ground. Let constant vigilance thy footsteps guide, And wary circumspection guard thy side; Then shalt thou walk unharm'd the dangerous night, Nor need the officious link-boy's smoky light. Thou never wilt attempt to cross the road, Where ale-house benches rest the porter's load, Grievous to heedless shins; no barrow's wheel, That bruises oft the truant school-boy's heel, Behind thee rolling, with insidious pace, Shall mark thy stocking with a miry trace. Let not thy vent'rous steps approach too nigh, Where gaping wide, low steepy cellars lie; Should thy shoe wrench aside, down, down you fall, And overturn the scolding huckster's stall, The scolding huckster shall not o'er thee moan, But pence exact for nuts and pears o'erthrown. Though you through cleanlier alleys wind by day, To shun the hurries of the public way, Yet ne'er to those dark paths by night retire; Mind only safety and contemn the mire. Then no impervious courts thy haste detain, Nor sneering ale-wives bid thee turn again, Where Lincoln's-Inn, wide space, is rail'd around, Cross not with vent'rous steps, there oft is found The lurking thief, who while the day-light shone, Made the walls echo with his begging tone: That crutch which late compassion mov'd shall wound Thy bleeding head, and fell thee to the ground. Though thou art tempted by the link-man's call, Yet trust him not along the lonely wall; In the midway he'll quench the flaming brand, And share the booty with the pilfering band. Still keep the public streets, where oily rays Shot from the crystal lamp, o'erspread the ways. Happy Augusta! law-defended town! Here no dark lanthorns shade the villain's frown; No Spanish jealousies thy lanes infest, Nor Roman vengeance stabs the unwary breast; Here tyranny ne'er lifts her purple hand, But liberty and justice guard the land; No bravos here profess the bloody trade, Nor is the church the murderer's refuge made. Let not the chairman with assuming stride Press near the wall, and rudely thrust thy side; The laws have set him bounds; his service feet Should ne'er encroach where posts defend the street. Yet who the footman's arrogance can quell Whose flambeau gilds the sashes of Pell-mell, When in long rank a train of torches flame, To light the midnight visits of the dame? Others, perhaps, by happier guidance led, May where the chairmen rests with safety tread; Whene'er I pass, their poles unseen below, Make my knee tremble with the jarring blow. If wheels bar up the road where streets are crost, With gentle words the coachman's ear accost; He ne'er the threat, or harsh command obeys, But with contempt the spatter'd shoe surveys. Now man with utmost fortitude thy soul, To cross the way where carts and coaches roll; Yet do not in thy hardy skill confide, Nor rashly risk the kennel's spacious stride; Stay till afar the distant wheel you hear, Like dying thunder in the breaking air; Thy foot will slide upon the miry stone, And passing coaches crush thy tortur'd bone, Or wheels enclose the road; on either hand Pent round with perils, in the midst you stand, And call for aid in vain; the coachman swears, And car-men drive, unmindful of thy prayers. Where wilt thou turn? ah! whither wilt thou fly? On every side the pressing spokes are nigh. So sailors, while Charybdis' gulph they shun, Amaz'd, on Scylla's craggy dangers run. Be sure observe where brown Ostrea stands, Who boasts her shelly ware from Walfleet sands; There mayst thou pass, with safe unmiry feet, Where the rail'd pavement leads athwart the street If where Fleet-ditch with muddy current flows, You chance to roam; where oyster tubs in rows Are rang'd beside the posts; here stay thy haste And with the savoury fish indulge thy taste: The damsel's knife the gaping shell commands, While the salt liquor streams between her hands. The man had sure a palate cover'd o'er With brass or steel, that on the rocky shore First broke the oozy oyster's pearly coat, And risk'd the living morsel down his throat. What will not luxury taste? earth, sea, and air Blood stuff'd in skins in British Christians food, And France robs marshes of the croaking brood; Spongy morells in strong ragousts are found, And in the soup the slimy snail is drown'd. When from high spouts the dashing torrents fall, Ever be watchful to maintain the wall; For should'st thou quit thy ground, the rushing throng Will with impetuous fury drive along; All press to gain those honours thou hast lost, And rudely shove thee far without the post. Then to retrieve the shed you strive in vain, Draggled all o'er, and soak'd in floods of rain. Yet rather bear the shower, and toils of mud, Than in the doubtful quarrel risk thy blood. O think on OEdipus' detested state, And by his woes be warn'd to shun his fate. Where three roads join'd he met his sire unknown; (Unhappy sire, but more unhappy son!) Each claim'd the way, their swords the strife decide, The hoary monarch fell, he groan'd, and died! Hence sprung the fatal plague that thinn'd thy reign, Thy cursed incest! and thy children slain! Hence wert thou doom'd in endless night to stray, Thro' Theban streets, and cheerless grope thy way. Contemplate, mortal, on thy fleeting years; See, with black train the funeral pomp appears! Whether some heir attends in sable state, And mourns with outward grief a parent's fate; Or the fair virgin, nipt in beauty's bloom, A crowd of lovers follow to her tomb. Why is the hearse with scutcheon blazon'd round, And with the nodding plume of ostrich crown'd? No! the dead know it not, nor profit gain; It only serves to prove the living vain. How short is life! how frail is human trust! Is all this pomp for laying dust to dust! Where the nail'd hoop defends the painted stall, Brush not thy sweeping skirt too near the wall; Thy heedless sleeve will drink the colour'd oil, And spot indelible thy pocket soil. Has not wise nature strung the legs and feet With firmest nerves, design'd to walk the street? Has she not given us hands to grope aright, Amidst the frequent dangers of the night? And think'st thou not the double nostril meant, To warn from oily woes by previous scent? Who can the various city-frauds recite, With all the petty rapines of the night? Who now the guinea-dropper's bait regards, Trick'd by the sharper's dice, or juggler's cards! Why should I warn thee ne'er to join the fray, Where the sham quarrel interrupts the way? Lives there in these our days so soft a clown, Brav'd by the bully's oaths or threatening frown; I need not strict enjoin the pocket's care, When from the crowded pay thou lead'st the fair? Who has not here, or watch, or snuff-box lost, Or handkerchiefs that India's shuttle boast? O! may thy virtue guard thee through the roads Of Drury's mazy courts, and dark abodes. The harlots' guileful paths, who nightly stand, Where Katharine-street descends into the Strand. Say, vagrant muse, their wiles and subtile arts, To lure the strangers' unsuspecting hearts: So shall our youth on healthful sinews tread, And city cheeks grow warm with rural red. 'Tis she who nightly strolls with sauntering pace, No stubborn stays her yielding shape embrace; Beneath the lamp her tawdry ribbons glare, The new-scour'd manteau, and the slattern air; High-draggled petticoats her travels show, And hollow cheeks with artful blushes glow; With flattering sounds she sooths the credulous ear My noble captain! charmer! love! my dear! In riding-hood near tavern-doors she plies, Or muffled pinners hide her livid eyes. With empty bandbox she delights to range, And feigns a distant errand from the 'Chance; Nay, she will oft the Quaker's hood profane, And trudge demure the rounds of Drury-land. She darts from sarsnet ambush wily leers, Twitches thy sleeve, or with familiar airs Her fan will pat thy cheek; these snares disdain, Nor gaze behind thee when she turns again. I knew a yeoman, who for thirst or gain, To the great city drove from Devon's plain His numerous lowing herd; his hers he sold, And his deep leathern pocket bagg'd with gold; Drawn by a fraudful nymph, he gazed, and sigh'd; Unmindful of his home, and distant bride, She leads the willing victim to his doom, Through winding alleys to her cobweb room, Thence thro' the street he reels, from post to post, Valiant with wine, nor knows his treasures lost. The vagrant wretch the assembled watchmen spies, He waves his hanger, and their poles defies; Deep in the round-house pent all night he snores, And the next morning vain his fate deplores. Ah hapless swain, unus'd to pains and ills! Canst thou forego roast-beef for nauseous pills? How wilt thou lift to heaven thy eyes and hands, When the long scroll the surgeon's fees demands! Or else (ye gods avert that worst disgrace) Thy ruin'd nose falls level with thy face, Then shall thy wife thy loathsome kiss disdain, And wholesome neighbours from thy mug refrain. Yet there are watchmen who with friendly light Will teach thy reeling steps to tread aright; For sixpence will support thy helpless arm, And home conduct thee, safe from nightly harm; But if they shake their lanthorns from afar To call their brethren confederate war, When rakes resist their power; if hapless you Should chance to wander with the scow'ring crew; Though fortune lead thee captive, ne'er despair, But seek the constable's considerate ear; He will reverse the watchman's harsh decree, Mov'd by the rhetoric of a silver fee. Thus would you gain some favourite courtier's word: Fee not the petty clerks, but bribe my lord. Now is the time that rakes their revels keep: Kindlers of riot, enemies of sleep. His scatter'd pence the flying Nicker flings, And with the copper shower the casement rings. Who has not heard the Scowrer's midnight fame? Who has not trembled at the Mohock's name? Was there a watchman took his hourly rounds, Safe from their blows, or new-invented wounds? I pass their desperate deeds, and mischiefs done Where from Snow-hill black and steepy torrents run; How matrons hoop'd within the hogshead's womb, Were tumbled furious thence, the rolling tomb O'er the stones thunders, bounds from side to side, So Regulus to save his country died. Where a dim gleam the paly lanthorn throws O'er the mid pavement, heapy rubbish grows; Or arching vaults their gaping jaws extend, Or the dark caves to common-shores descend. Oft by the winds extinct the signal lies, Or smother'd in the glimmering socket dies, Ere night has half-roll'd round her ebon throne; In the wide gulph the shatter'd coach o'erthrown Sinks with the snorting steeds: the reins are broke, And from the crackling axle flies the spoke. So when fan'd Eddystone's far-shooting ray, That led the sailor thro' the stormy way, Was from its rocky roots by billows torn, And the high turret in the whirlwind borne, Fleets bulg'd their sides against the craggy land, And pitchy ruins blacken'd all the strand. Who then thro' night would hire the harness'd steed, And who would choose the rattling wheel for speed? But hark! distress with screaming voice draws nigher, And wakes the slumbering street with cries of fire. At first a glowing red enwraps the skies, And borne by winds the scattering sparks arise; From beam to beam the fierce contagion spreads; The spiry flames now lift aloft their heads, Through the burst sash a blazing deluge pours, And splitting tiles descend in rattling showers. Now with thick crowds the enlighten'd pavement swarms, The fire-man sweats beneath his crooked arms, A leathern cask his vent'rous head defends, Boldly he climbs where thickest smoke ascends; Mov'd by the mother's streaming eyes and prayers, The helpless infant through the flame he bears, With no less virtue, than thro' hostile fire The Dardan hero bore his aged sire. See forceful engines spout their levell'd streams, To quench the blaze that runs along the beams; The grappling hook plucks rafters from the walls, And heaps on heaps the smocky ruin falls. Blown by strong winds the fiery tempest roars, Bears down new walls, and pours along the floors; The heavens are all a-blaze, the face of night Is cover'd with a sanguine dreadful light: 'Twas such a light involv'd thy tower, O Rome, The dire presage of mighty Caesar's doom, When the sun veil'd in rust his mourning head, And frightful prodigies the skies o'erspread. Hark! the drum thunders! far, ye crowds, retire Behold! the ready match is tipt with fire, The nitrous store is laid, the smutty train With running blaze awakes the barrel'd grain; Flames sudden wrap the walls; with sullen sound The shatter'd pile sinks on the smoky ground. So when the year shall have revolv'd the date, The inevitable hour of Naples' fate, Her sapp'd foundations shall with thunder shake, And heave and toss upon the sulphurous lake Earth's womb at once the fiery flood shall rend, And in the abyss her plunging towers descend. Consider reader, what fatigues I've known, The toils, the perils of the wintry town; What riots seen, what bustling crowds I bor'd, How oft I cross'd where carts and coaches roar'd; Yet shall I bless my labours, if mankind Their future safety from my dangers find. Thus the bold traveller, (inur'd to toil, Whose steps have printed Asia's desert soil, The barbarous Arabs haunt; or shivering crost Dark Greenland's mountains of eternal frost; Whom Providence in length of years restores To the wish'd harbour of his native shores); Sets forth his journals to the public view, To caution, by his woes, the wandering crew. And now complete my generous labours lie, Finish'd, and ripe for Immortality. Death shall entomb in dust this mouldering frame, But never reach the eternal part, my fame. When W and G, mighty names, are dead; Or but at Chelsea under custards read: When critics crazy bandboxes repair, And tragedies, turn'd rockets, bounce in air: High rais'd on Fleet-street posts, consign'd to fame, This work shall shine, and walkers bless my name.