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Poem by William Shenstone
Charms of Precedence
A Tale "Sir, will you please to walk before?"— "No, pray, Sir—you are next the door."— "Upon mine honour, I'll not stir."— "Sir, I'm at home; consider, Sir"— "Excuse me, Sir; I'll not go first."— "Well, if I must be rude, I must— But yet I wish I could evade it— 'Tis strangely clownish, be persuaded." Go forward, Cits! go forward, Squires! Nor scruple each, what each admires. Life squares not, Friends! with your proceeding, It flies while you display your breeding; Such breeding as one's grannum preaches, Or some old dancing-master teaches. Oh! for some rude tumultuous fellow, Half crazy, or, at least, half mellow, To come behind you unawares, And fairly push you both down stairs! But Death's at hand—let me advise ye Go forward, Friends! or he'll surprise ye. Besides, how insincere you are! Do ye not flatter, lie, forswear, And daily cheat, and weekly pray, And all for this—to lead the way? Such is my theme, which means to prove, That though we drink, or game, or love, As that, or this, is most in fashion, Precedence is our ruling passion. When college-students take degrees, And pay the beadle's endless fees, What moves that scientific body, But the first cutting at a gaudy? And whence such shoals, in bare conditions, That starve and languish as physicians, Content to trudge the streets, and stare at The fat apothecary's chariot? But that in Charlotte's chamber (see Molière's Médecin malgré lui), The leech, howe'er his fortunes vary, Still walks before the apothecary. Flavia in vain has wit and charms, And all that shines, and all that warms; In vain all human race adore her, For—Lady Mary ranks before her. O Celia! gentle Celia! tell us, You, who are neither vain nor jealous! The softest breast, the mildest mien! Would you not feel some little spleen, Nor bite your lip, nor furl your brow, If Florimel, your equal now, Should, one day, gain precedence of ye? First served—though in a dish of coffee? Placed first, although where you are found You gain the eyes of all around? Named first, though not with half the fame That waits my charming Celia's name? Hard fortune! barely to inspire Our fix'd esteem, and fond desire! Barely, where'er you go, to prove The source of universal love! Yet be content, observing this, Honour's the offspring of caprice; And worth, howe'er you have pursued it, Has now no power—but to exclude it: You'll find your general reputation A kind of supplemental station. Poor Swift, with all his worth, could ne'er, He tells us, hope to rise a peer; So, to supply it, wrote for fame, And well the wit secured his aim. A common patriot has a drift Not quite so innocent as Swift: In Britain's cause he rants, he labours; "He's honest, faith,"—have patience, Neighbours, For patriots may sometimes deceive, May beg their friends' reluctant leave, To serve them in a higher sphere, And drop their virtue to get there.— As Lucian tells us, in his fashion, How souls put off each earthly passion, Ere on Elysium's flowery strand Old Charon suffer'd them to land; So, ere we meet a court's caresses, No doubt our souls must change their dresses; And souls there be, who, bound that way, Attire themselves ten times a-day. If then 'tis rank which all men covet, And saints alike and sinners love it; If place, for which our courtiers throng So thick, that few can get along, For which such servile toils are seen, Who's happier than a king?—a queen! Howe'er men aim at elevation, 'Tis properly a female passion: Women and beaus, beyond all measure, Are charm'd with rank's ecstatic pleasure. Sir, if your drift I rightly scan, You'd hint a beau was not a man: Say, women then are fond of places; I waive all disputable cases. A man, perhaps, would something linger, Were his loved rank to cost—a finger; Or were an ear, or toe, the price on 't, He might deliberate once or twice on 't; Perhaps ask Gataker's advice on 't; And many, as their frames grow old, Would hardly purchase it with gold. But women wish precedence ever; 'Tis their whole life's supreme endeavour; It fires their youth with jealous rage, And strongly animates their age: Perhaps they would not sell outright, Or maim a limb—that was in sight; Yet on worse terms they sometimes choose it, Nor even in punishment refuse it, Pre-eminence in pain! you cry, All fierce and pregnant with reply: But lend your patience and your ear, An argument shall make it clear. But hold, an argument may fail, Beside, my title says, A Tale. Where Avon rolls her winding stream, Avon! the Muses' favourite theme; Avon! that fills the farmers' purses, And decks with flowers both farms and verses, She visits many a fertile vale— Such was the scene of this my Tale; For 'tis in Evesham's Yale, or near it, That folks with laughter tell and hear it. The soil with annual plenty bless'd Was by young Corydon possess'd. His youth alone I lay before ye, As most material to my story: For strength and vigour too, he had them, And 'twere not much amiss to add them. Thrice happy lout! whose wide domain, Now green with grass, now gilt with grain, In russet robes of clover deep, Or thinly veil'd, and white with sheep; Now fragrant with the bean's perfume, Now purpled with the pulse's bloom, Might well with bright allusion store me,— But happier bards have been before me! Amongst the various year's increase The stripling own'd a field of pease, Which, when at night he ceased his labours, Were haunted by some female neighbours. Each morn discover'd to his sight The shameful havoc of the night: Traces of this they left behind them, But no instructions where to find them. The devil's works are plain and evil, But few or none have seen the devil. Old Noll, indeed, if we may credit The words of Echard, who has said it, Contrived with Satan how to fool us, And bargain'd face to face to rule us; But then Old Noll was one in ten, And sought him more than other men. Our shepherd, too, with like attention, May meet the female fiends we mention. He rose one morn at break of day, And near the field in ambush lay; When, lo! a brace of girls appears, The third, a matron much in years. Smiling, amidst the pease, the sinners Sat down to cull their future dinners And caring little who might own them, Made free as though themselves had sown them. 'Tis worth a sage's observation, How love can make a jest of passion Anger had forced the swain from bed, His early dues to love unpaid! And Love a god that keeps a pother, And will be paid one time or other, Now banish'd Anger out of door, And claim'd the debt withheld before. If Anger bid our youth revile, Love form'd his features to a smile And knowing well 'twas all grimace To threaten with a smiling face, He in few words express'd his mind— And none would deem them much unkind. The amorous youth, for their offence, Demanded instant recompence; That recompence from each, which shame Forbids a bashful Muse to name: Yet, more this sentence to discover, 'Tis what Bet —— grants her lover, When he, to make the strumpet willing, Has spent his fortune—to a shilling. Each stood awhile, as 'twere, suspended, And loth to do, what—each intended. At length, with soft pathetic sighs, The matron, bent with age, replies: "'Tis vain to strive—justice, I know, And our ill stars, will have it so— But let my tears your wrath assuage, And show some deference for age: I from a distant village came, Am old, God knows, and something lame; And if we yield, as yield we must, Despatch my crazy body first." Our shepherd, like the Phrygian swain, When circled round on Ida's plain With goddesses, he stood suspended, And Pallas's grave speech was ended, Own'd what she ask'd might be his duty, But paid the compliment to beauty.
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