Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE TASK.

BOOK I.

The Sofa.

Historical deduction of seats, from the stool to the Sofa.-A

schoolboy's ramble.- A walk in the country. The scene described.—Rural sounds as well as sights delightful. Another walk.--Mistake concerning the charins of solitude corrected. - Colonnades commended. — Alcove, and the view from it. The wilderness.--The grove.- The thresher. .-Tbe necessity and the benefits of exercise.—The works of nature superior to and, in some instances, inimitable by art.-The wearisomeness of what is commonly called a life of pleasure.-Change of scene sometimes expedient.-A common described, and the character of crazy Kate introduced.-Gipsies. The blessings of civilized life.—That state most favourable to virtue. — The South Sea Islanders compassionated, but cbiefly Omai.—His present state of mind supposed.-Civilized life friendly to virtue, but not great cities.-Great cities, and London in particular, allowed their due praise, but censured.-Fête champêtre.-The book concludes with a reflection on the fatal effects of dissipation and effeminacy upon our public measures.

I sing the Sofa. I who lately sang
Truth, Hope, and Charity, and touched with awe
The solemn chords, and with a trembling hand,
Escaped with pain from that adventurous flight,
Now seek repose upon an humbler theme;
The theme though humble, yet august and proud
The occasion-for the Fair commands the song.

Time was, when clothing sumptuous or for use, Save their own painted skins, our sires had none. As yet black breeches were not; satin smooth, Or velvet soft, or plush with shaggy pile: The hardy chief upon the rugged rock Wash'd by the sea, or on the gravelly bank' Thrown up by wintry torrents roaring loud, Fearless of wrong, reposed his weary strength. Those barbarous ages past, succeeded next The birthday of invention; weak at first, Dull in design, and clumsy to perform. Jointstools were then created; on three legs Upborne they stood. Three legs upholding firm A massy slab, in fashion square or round. On such a stool immortal Alfred sat, And sway'd the sceptre of his infant realms: And such in ancient halls and mansions drear May still be seen; but perforated sore, And drilld in holes, the solid oak is found, By worms voracious eating through and through.

At length a generation more refined Improved the simple plan; made three legs four, Gave them a twisted form vermicular, And o’er the seat, with plenteous wadding stuff’d, Induced a splendid cover, green and blue, Yellow and red, of tapestry richly wrought And woven close, or needlework sublime. There might you see the piony spread wide, The full-blown rose, the shepherd and his lass, Lapdog and lambkin with black staring eyes, And parrots with twin cherries in their beak.

Now came the cane from India smooth and bright With Nature's varnish; sever'd into stripes, That interlaced each other, these supplied

Of texture firm a latticework, that braced
The new machine, and it became a chair.
But restless was the chair; the back erect
Distress'd the weary loins, that felt no ease;
The slippery seat betray'd the sliding part
That press’d it, and the feet hung dangling down,
Anxious in vain to find the distant floor.
These for the rich: the rest, whom Fate had placed
In modest mediocrity, content
With base materials, sat on well tann'd hides,
Obdurate and unyielding, glassy smooth,
With here and there a tuft of crimson yarn,
Or scarlet crewel, in the cushion fix'd,
If cushion might be call’d, what harder seem'd
Than the firm oak, of which the frame was form’d.
No want of timber then was felt or fear'd
In Albion's happy isle. The lumber stood .
Ponderous and fix'd by its own massy weight.
But elbows still were wanting; these, some say,
An alderman of Cripplegate contrived;
And some ascribe the invention to a priest,
Burly, and big, and studious of his ease.
But, rude at first, and not with easy slope
Receding wide, they press’d against the ribs,
And bruised the side; and, elevated high,
Taught the raised shoulders to invade the ears.
Long time elapsed or e'er our rugged sires
Complain'd, though incommodiously pent in,
And ill at ease behind. The ladies first
Gan murmur, as became the softer sex.
Ingenious Fancy, never better pleased
Than when employ'd to’accommodate the fair,
Heard the sweet moan with pity, and devised
The soft settee; one elbow at each end,

And in the midst an elbow it received,
United yet divided, twain at once.
So sit two kings of Brentford on one throne;
And so two citizens who take the air,
Close pack’d, and smiling, in a chaise and one.
But relaxation of the languid frame,
The soft recumbency of outstretch'd limbs,
Was bliss reserved for happier days. So slow
The growth of what is excellent; so hard
To'attain perfection in this nether world.
Thus first Necessity invented stools,
Convenience next suggested elbow chairs,
And Luxury the accomplish'd Sofa last.

The nurse sleeps sweetly, hired to watch the sick,
Whom snoring she disturbs. As sweetly he,
Who quits the coach-box at the midnight hour,
To sleep within the carriage more secure,
His legs depending at the open door.
Sweet sleep enjoys the curate in his desk,
The tedious rector drawling o'er his head;
And sweet the clerk below. But neither sleep
Of lazy nurse, who snores the sick man dead;
Nor his, who quits the box at midnight hour,
To slumber in the carriage more secure;
Nor sleep enjoy’d by curate in his desk;
Nor yet the dozings of the clerk, are sweet,
Compared with the repose the Sofa yields.

O may I live exempted (while I live Guiltless of pamper'd appetite obscene) From pangs arthritic, that infest the toe Of libertine Excess. The Sofa suits The gouty limb, 'tis true; but gouty limb, Though on a Sofa, may I never feel: For I have loved the rural walk through lanes

Of grassy swarth, close cropp'd by nibbling sheep,
And skirted thick with intertexture firm
Of thorny boughs; have loved the rural walk
O'er hills, through valleys, and by rivers' brink,
E’er since a truant boy I pass'd my bounds,
To’enjoy a ramble on the banks of Thames;
And still remember, nor without regret
Of hours, that sorrow since has much endear'd,
How oft, my slice of pocket store consumed,
Still hungering, pennyless, and far from home,
I fed on scarlet hips and stony haws,
Or blushing crabs, or berries that emboss
The bramble black as jet, or sloes austere,
Hard fare! but such as boyish appetite
Disdains not; nor the palate, undepraved
By culinary arts, unsavoury deems.
No Sofa then awaited my return;
Nor Sofa then I needed. Youth repairs
His wasted spirits quickly, by long toil
Incurring short fatigue; and though our years,
As life declines, speed rapidly away,
And not a year but pilfers as he goes
Some youthful grace, that age would gladly keep;
A tooth, or auburn lock, and by degrees
Their length and colour from the locks they spare; .
The' elastic spring of an unwearied foot,
That mounts the stile with ease, or leaps the fence,
That play of lungs, inhaling and again .
Respiring freely the fresh air, that makes
Swift pace or steep ascent no toil to me,
Mine have not pilfer'd yet; nor yet impair'd
My relish of fair prospect; scenes that sooth'd
Or charm'd me young, no longer young, I find
Still soothing, and of power to charm me still.

« PreviousContinue »