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THE TASK

BOOK I.

THE SOFA. I sing the Sofa. I who latelysang Truth, Hope, and Charity, and touch'd with awe The solemn chords, and with a trembling hand, Escaped 2 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 3 their own painted skins, our sires had none,

" I who erewbile the happy garden sung
By one man's disobedience lost, now sing, &c.

Paradise Regained, i. 1.

I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song.

Paradise Lost, i. 13. 2 Thee I revisit now with bolder wing,

Escaped the Stygian pool. Par. Lost, iii. 13. 3. A painted vest Prince Vortiger had on, Which from a naked Pict his grandsire won.

Howard's British Princes. Yet in another of his poems Cowper saysTaught thee to clothe thy pink'd and painted hide.

Expostulation.

As yet 4 black breeches were not, sattin smooth, 10
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.

15
Those barbarous ages past, succeeded next
The birthday of invention, weak at first,
Dull in design, and clumsy to perform.
Joint-stools were then created; on three legs
Upborne they stood,—three legs upholding firm 20
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 drill’d 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 stuffd Induced a splendid cover green and blue, Yellow and red, of tapestry richly wrought And woven close, or needle-work sublime. There might ye see the piony spread wide, 35 The full-blown rose, the shepherd and his lass, Lap-dog 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 40

* As yet this world was not. Par. Lost, v. 577.

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30

50

That interlaced each other, these supplied
Of texture firm a lattice-work, 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; 45
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 fixt:
If cushion might be call’d, what harder seem'd 55
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 fixt by its own massy weight.
But elbows still were wanting ; these, some say, 60
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

The other shape,
If shape it might be call’d, that shape had none.

Pur. Lost, iii. 666. 6 The arch'd and ponderous roof; by its own weight Made steadfast and immoveable.

Congreve. Mourning Bride. S. C.-9.

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