John Gay

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Trivia: or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London, Book II

       Winter my theme confines; whose nitry wind
    Shall crust the slabby mire, and kennels bind;.
    She bids the snow descend in flaky sheets,
    And in her hoary mantle clothe the streets.
5   Let not the virgin tread these slipp’ry roads,
    The gath’ring fleece the hollow patten loads;
    But if thy footsteps slide with clotted frost,
    Strike off the breaking balls against the post.
    On silent wheel the passing coaches roll;
10   Oft look behind, and ward the threat’ning pole.
    In hardened orbs the schoolboy moulds the snow,
    To mark the coachman with a dext’rous throw.
    Why do ye, boys, the kennel’s surface spread,
    To tempt with faithless pass the matron’s tread?
15   How can ye laugh to see the damsel spurn,
    Sink in your frauds and her green stocking mourn?
    At White’s the harnessed chairman idly stands,
    And swings around his waist his tingling hands:
    The sempstress speeds to Change with red-tipped nose;
20   The Belgian stove beneath her footstool glows;
    In half-whipped muslin needles useless lie,
    And shuttlecocks across the counter fly.
    These sports warm harmless; why then will ye prove,
    Deluded maids, the dang’rous flame of love?
25      Where Covent Garden’s famous temple stands,
    That boasts the work of Jones’ immortal hands,
    Columns with plain magnificence appear,
    And graceful porches lead along the square:
    Here oft my course I bend, when lo! from far,
30   I spy the furies of the football war:
    The ‘prentice quits his shop to join the crew,
    Increasing crowds the flying game pursue.
    Thus, as you roll the ball o’er snowy ground,
    The gath’ring globe augments with every round.
35   But whither shall I run? the throng draws nigh,
    The ball now skims the street, now soars on high;
    The dext’rous glazier strong returns the bound,
    And jingling sashes on the penthouse sound.
       O roving Muse, recall that wond’rous year,
40   When winter reigned in bleak Britannia’s air;
    When hoary Thames, with frosted osiers crowned,
    Was three long moons in icy fetters bound.
    The waterman, forlorn along the shore,
    Pensive reclines upon his useless oar,
45   Sees harnessed steeds desert the stony town,
    And wander roads unstable, not their own:
    Wheels o’er the hardened waters smoothly glide,
    And rase* with whitened tracks the slipp’ry tide.
    Here the fat cook piles high the blazing fire,
50   And scarce the spit can turn the steer entire.
    Booths sudden hide the Thames, long streets appear,
    And num’rous games proclaim the crowded fair.
    So when a gen’ral bids the martial train
    Spread their encampment o’er the spacious plain,
55   Thick-rising tents a canvas city build,
    And the loud dice resound through all the field.
    ’Twas here the matron found a doleful fate:
    Let elegiac lay the woe relate,
    Soft as the breath of distant flutes, at hours
60   When silent ev’ning closes up the flow’rs;
    Lulling as falling water’s hollow noise;
    Indulging grief, like Philomela’s voice.
       Doll ev’ry day had walked these treach’rous roads
    Her neck grew warped beneath autumnal loads
65   Of various fruit; she now a basket bore:
    That head, alas! shall basket bear no more
    Each booth she frequent passed, in quest of gain,
    And boys with pleasure heard her shrilling strain.
    Ah Doll! all mortals must resign their breath,
70   And industry itself submit to death!
    The cracking crystal yields, she sinks she dies,
    Her head, chopped off, from her lost shoulders flies;
    ‘Pippins,’ she cried, but death her voice confounds,
    And ‘pip-pip-pip’ along the ice resounds.
75   So when the Thracian furies Orpheus tore,
    And left his bleeding trunk deformed with gore
    His severed head floats down the silver tide,
    His yet warm tongue for his lost consort cried;
    ‘Eurydice’ with quiv’ring voice he mourned,
80   And Heber’s banks ‘Eurydice’ returned.
       But now the western gale the flood unbinds,
    And black’ning clouds move on with warmer winds.
    The wooden town its frail foundation leaves,
    And Thames’ full urn rolls down his plenteous waves;
85   From ev’ry penthouse streams the fleeting snow,
    And with dissolving frost the pavements flow.
       Experienced men, inured to city ways,
    Need not the calendar to count their days.
    When through the town with slow and solemn air,
90   Led by the nostril, walks the muzzled bear;
    Behind him moves majestically dull,
    The pride of Hockley-hole, the surly bull;
    Learn hence the periods of the week to name:
    Mondays and Thursdays are the days of game.
95      When fishy stalls with double store are laid;
    The golden-bellied carp, the broad-finned maid,
    Red-speckled trouts, the salmon’s silver jowl,
    The jointed lobster, and unscaly sole,
    And luscious scallops to allure the tastes
100   Of rigid zealots to delicious fasts;
    Wednesdays and Fridays you’ll observe from hence,
    Days, when our sires were doomed to abstinence.
       When dirty waters from balconies drop,
    And dext’rous damsels twirl the sprinkling mop,
105   And cleanse the spattered sash, and scrub the stairs;
    Know Saturday’s conclusive morn appears.
       Successive cries the seasons’ change declare,
    And mark the monthly progress of the year.
    Hark, how the streets with treble voices ring,
110   To sell the bounteous product of the spring!
    Sweet-smelling flow’rs, and elder’s early bud,
    With nettle’s tender shoots, to cleanse the blood:
    And when June’s thunder cools the sultry skies,
       Ev’n Sundays are profaned by mack’rel cries.
115   Walnuts the fruit’rer’s hand, in autumn, stain,
    Blue plums and juicy pears augment his gain;
    Next, oranges the longing boys entice
    To trust their copper fortunes to the dice.
       When rosemary and bays, the poet’s crown,
120   Are bawled in frequent cries through all the town,
    Then judge the festival of Christmas near,
    Christmas, the joyous period of the year.
    Now with bright holly all your temples strow,
    With laurel green and sacred mistletoe.
125   Now, heav’n-born Charity, thy blessings shed,
    Bid meagre Want uprear her sickly head:
    Bid shiv’ring limbs be warm; let plenty’s bowl
    In humble roofs make glad the needy soul.
    See, see, the heav’n-born maid her blessings shed.
130   Lo! meagre Want uprears her sickly head;
    Clothed are the naked, and the needy glad,
    While selfish Avarice alone is sad.
   
   

First published 1716-30.

Contributed by Robert Clark.