“Old woman, old woman, will you go a-shearing?
Speak a little louder, for I’m very hard of hearing.”
Of all old women hard of hearing,
The deafest, sure, was Dame Eleanor Spearing!
On her head, it is true,
Two flaps there grew,
That served for a pair of gold rings to go through,
But for any purpose of ears in a parley,
They heard no more than ears of barley.
No hint was needed from D.E.F.
You saw in her face that the woman was deaf;
From her twisted mouth to her eyes so peery,
Each queer feature asked a query;
A look that said in a silent way,
“Who? and What? and How? and Eh?
I’d give my ears to know what you say!”
And well she might! for each auricular
Was deaf as a post — and that post in particular
That stands at the corner of Dyott Street now,
And never hears a word of a row!
Ears that might serve her now and then
As extempore racks for an idle pen;
Or to hang with hoops from jewellers’ shops
With coral, ruby, or garnet drops;
Or, provided the owner so inclined,
Ears to stick a blister behind;
But as for hearing wisdom, or wit,
Falsehood, or folly, or tell-tale-tit,
Or politics, whether of Fox or Pitt,
Sermon, lecture, or musical bit,
Harp, piano, fiddle, or kit,
They might as well, for any such wish,
Have been butter’d, done brown, and laid in a dish!
She was deaf as a post — as said before —
And as deaf as twenty similes more,
Including the adder, that deafest of snakes,
Which never hears the coil it makes.
She was deaf as a house — which modern tricks
Of language would call as deaf as bricks —
For her all human kind were dumb,
Her drum, indeed, was so muffled a drum,
That none could get a sound to come,
Unless the Devil who had Two Sticks!
She was deaf as a stone — say, one of the stones
Demosthenes suck’d to improve his tones;
And surely deafness no further could reach
Than to be in his mouth without hearing his speech!
She was deaf as a nut — for nuts, no doubt,
Are deaf to the grub that’s hollowing out —
As deaf, alas! as the dead and forgotten —
(Gray has noticed the waste of breath,
In addressing the “dull, cold ear of death”),
Or the Felon’s ear that was stuff’d with Cotton —
Or Charles the First in statue quo;
Or the still-born figures of Madame Tussaud,
With their eyes of glass, and their hair of flax,
That only stare whatever you “ax,”
For their ears, you know, are nothing but wax.
She was deaf as the ducks that swam in the pond,
And wouldn’t listen to Mrs. Bond —
As deaf as any Frenchman appears,
When he puts his shoulders into his ears:
And — whatever the citizen tells his son —
As deaf as Gog and Magog at one!
Or, still to be a simile-seeker,
As deaf as dogs’-ears to Enfield’s Speaker!
She was deaf as any tradesman’s dummy,
Or as Pharaoh’s mother’s mother’s mummy;
Whose organs, for fear of our modern sceptics,
Were plugg’d with gums and antiseptics.
She was deaf as a nail — that you cannot hammer
A meaning into for all your clamor —
There never was such a deaf old Gammer!
So formed to worry
Both Lindley and Murray,
By having no ear for Music or Grammar!
Deaf to sounds, as a ship out of soundings,
Deaf to verbs, and all their compoundings,
Adjective, noun, and adverb, and particle,
Deaf to even the definite article —
No verbal message was worth a pin,
Though you hired an earwig to carry it in!
In short, she was twice as deaf as Deaf Burke,
Or all the Deafness in Yearsley’s work,
Who in spite of his skill in hardness of hearing,
Boring, blasting, and pioneering,
To give the dunny organ a clearing,
Could never have cured Dame Eleanor Spearing.
Of course the loss was a great privation,
For one of her sex — whatever her station —
And none the less that the Dame had a turn
For making all families one concern,
And learning whatever there was to learn
In the prattling, tattling village of Tringham —
As who wore silk? and who wore gingham?
And what the Atkins’s shop might bring ’em?
How the Smiths contrived to live? and whether
The fourteen Murphys all pigg’d together?
The wages per week of the Weavers and Skinners,
And what they boil’d for their Sunday dinners?
What plates the Bugsbys had on the shelf,
Crockery, china, wooden, or delf?
And if the parlor of Mrs. O’Grady
Had a wicked French print, or Death and the Lady?
Did Snip and his wife continue to jangle?
Had Mrs. Wilkinson sold her mangle?
What liquor was drunk by Jones and Brown?
And the weekly score they ran up at the Crown?
If the Cobbler could read, and believed in the Pope?
And how the Grubbs were off for soap?
If the Snobbs had furnish’d their room upstairs,
And how they managed for tables and chairs,
Beds, and other household affairs,
Iron, wooden, and Staffordshire wares?
And if they could muster a whole pair of bellows?
In fact, she had much of the spirit that lies
Perdu in a notable set of Paul Prys,
By courtesy called Statistical Fellows —
A prying, spying, inquisitive clan,
Who have gone upon much of the self-same plan,
Jotting the Laboring Class’s riches;
And after poking in pot and pan,
And routing garments in want of stitches,
Have ascertained that a working man
Wears a pair and a quarter of average breeches!
But this, alas! from her loss of hearing,
Was all a seal’d book to Dame Eleanor Spearing;
And often her tears would rise to their founts —
Supposing a little scandal at play
’Twixt Mrs. O’Fie and Mrs. An Fait —
That she couldn’t audit the Gossips’ accounts.
’Tis true, to her cottage still they came,
And ate her muffins just the same,
And drank the tea of the widow’d Dame,
And never swallow’d a thimble the less
Of something the Reader is left to guess,
For all the deafness of Mrs. S.,
Who saw them talk, and chuckle, and cough,
But to see and not share in the social flow,
She might as well have lived, you know,
In one of the houses in Owen’s Row,
Near the New River Head, with its water cut off
And yet the almond-oil she had tried,
And fifty infallible things beside,
Hot, and cold, and thick, and thin,
Dabb’d, and dribbled, and squirted in:
But all remedies fail’d; and though some it was clear
(Like the brandy and salt
We now exalt)
Had made a noise in the public ear,
She was just as deaf as ever, poor dear!
At last — one very fine day in June —
Suppose her sitting,
And humming she didn’t quite know what tune;
For nothing she heard but a sort of a whizz,
Which, unless the sound of the circulation,
Or of Thoughts in the process of fabrication,
By a Spinning-Jennyish operation,
It’s hard to say what buzzing it is.
However, except that ghost of a sound,
She sat in a silence most profound —
The cat was purring about the mat,
But her Mistress heard no more of that
Than if it had been a boatswain’s cat;
And as for the clock the moments nicking,
The Dame only gave it credit for ticking.
The bark of her dog she did not catch;
Nor yet the click of the lifted latch;
Nor yet the creak of the opening door;
Nor yet the fall of a foot on the floor —
But she saw the shadow that crept on her gown
And turn’d its skirt of a darker brown.
And lo! a man! a Pedlar! ay, marry,
With the little back-shop that such tradesmen carry
Stock’d with brooches, ribbons, and rings,
Spectacles, razors, and other odd things,
For lad and lass, as Autolycus sings;
A chapman for goodness and cheapness of ware,
Held a fair dealer enough at a fair,
But deem’d a piratical sort of invader
By him we dub the “regular trader,”
Who — luring the passengers in as they pass
By lamps, gay panels, and mouldings of brass,
And windows with only one huge pane of glass,
And his name in gilt characters, German or Roman —
If he isn’t a Pedlar, at least he’s a Showman!
However, in the stranger came,
And, the moment he met the eyes of the Dame,
Threw her as knowing a nod as though
He had known her fifty long years ago;
And presto! before she could utter “Jack”—
Much less “Robinson”— open’d his pack —
And then from amongst his portable gear,
With even more than a Pedlar’s tact —
(Slick himself might have envied the act)—
Before she had time to be deaf, in fact —
Popp’d a Trumpet into her ear.
“There, Ma’am! try it!
You needn’t buy it —
The last New Patent — and nothing comes nigh it
For affording the Deaf, at a little expense,
The sense of hearing, and hearing of sense!
A Real Blessing — and no mistake,
Invented for poor Humanity’s sake;
For what can be a greater privation
Than playing Dummy to all creation,
And only looking at conversation —
Great Philosophers talking like Platos,
And Members of Parliament moral as Catos,
And your ears as dull as waxy potatoes!
Not to name the mischievous quizzers,
Sharp as knives, but double as scissors,
Who get you to answer quite by guess
Yes for No, and No for Yes.”
(“That’s very true,” says Dame Eleanor S.)
“Try it again! No harm in trying —
I’m sure you’ll find it worth your buying,
A little practice — that is all —
And you’ll hear a whisper, however small,
Through an Act of Parliament party-wall —
Every syllable clear as day,
And even what people are going to say —
I wouldn’t tell a lie, I wouldn’t,
But my Trumpets have heard what Solomon’s couldn’t;
And as for Scott he promises fine,
But can he warrant his horns like mine
Never to hear what a Lady shouldn’t —
Only a guinea — and can’t take less.”
(“That’s very dear,” says Dame Eleanor S.)
“Dear! — Oh dear, to call it dear!
Why it isn’t a horn you buy, but an ear;
Only think, you’ll find on reflection
You’re bargaining, Ma’am, for the Voice of Affection;
For the language of Wisdom, and Virtue, and Truth,
And the sweet little innocent prattle of youth:
Not to mention the striking of clocks —
Cackle of hens — crowing of cocks —
Lowing of cow, and bull, and ox —
Bleating of pretty pastoral flocks —
Murmur of waterfall over the rocks —
Every sound that Echo mocks —
Vocals, fiddles, and musical-box —
And zounds! to call such a concert dear!
But I musn’t swear with my horn in your ear.
Why, in buying that Trumpet you buy all those
That Harper, or any trumpeter, blows
At the Queen’s Levees or the Lord Mayor’s Shows,
At least as far as the music goes,
Including the wonderful lively sound,
Of the Guards’ keg-bugles all the year round:
Come — suppose we call it a pound!
“Come,” said the talkative Man of the Pack,
“Before I put my box on my back,
For this elegant, useful Conductor of Sound,
Come — suppose we call it a pound!
“Only a pound! it’s only the price
Of hearing a Concert once or twice,
It’s only the fee
You might give Mr. C.
And after all not hear his advice,
But common prudence would bid you stump it;
For, not to enlarge,
It’s the regular charge
At a Fancy Fair for a penny trumpet.
Lord! what’s a pound to the blessing of hearing!”
(“A pound’s a pound,” said Dame Eleanor Spearing.)
“Try it again! no harm in trying!
A pound’s a pound there’s no denying;
But think what thousands and thousands of pounds
We pay for nothing but hearing sounds:
Sounds of Equity, Justice, and Law,
Parliamentary jabber and jaw,
Pious cant and moral saw,
Hocus-pocus, and Nong-tong-paw,
And empty sounds not worth a straw;
Why it costs a guinea, as I’m a sinner,
To hear the sounds at a Public Dinner!
One pound one thrown into the puddle,
To listen to Fiddle, Faddle, and Fuddle!
Not to forget the sounds we buy
From those who sell their sounds so high,
That, unless the Managers pitch it strong,
To get a Signora to warble a song,
You must fork out the blunt with a haymaker’s prong!
“It’s not the thing for me — I know it,
To crack my own Trumpet up and blow it;
But it is the best, and time will show it,
There was Mrs. F.
So very deaf,
That she might have worn a percussion-cap,
And been knock’d on the head without hearing it snap.
Well, I sold her a horn, and the very next day
She heard from her husband at Botany Bay!
Come — eighteen shillings — that’s very low,
You’ll save the money as shillings go,
And I never knew so bad a lot,
By hearing whether they ring or not!
“Eighteen shillings! it’s worth the price,
Supposing you’re delicate-minded and nice,
To have the medical man of your choice,
Instead of the one with the strongest voice —
Who comes and asks you, how’s your liver,
And where you ache, and whether you shiver,
And as to your nerves, so apt to quiver,
As if he was hailing a boat in the river!
And then with a shout, like Pat in a riot,
Tells you to keep yourself perfectly quiet!
Or a tradesman comes — as tradesmen will —
Short and crusty about his bill,
Of patience, indeed, a perfect scorner,
And because you’re deaf and unable to pay,
Shouts whatever he has to say,
In a vulgar voice, that goes over the way,
Down the street and round the corner!
Come — speak your mind — it’s ‘No or Yes,’”
(“I’ve half a mind,” said Dame Eleanor S.)
“Try it again — no harm in trying,
Of course you hear me, as easy as lying;
No pain at all, like a surgical trick,
To make you squall, and struggle, and kick,
Like Juno, or Rose,
Whose ear undergoes
Such horrid tugs at membrane and gristle,
For being as deaf as yourself to a whistle!
“You may go to surgical chaps if you choose,
Who will blow up your tubes like copper flues,
Or cut your tonsils right away,
As you’d shell out your almonds for Christmas-day;
And after all a matter of doubt,
Whether you ever would hear the shout:
Of the little blackguards that bawl about,
‘There you go with your tonsils out!’
Why I knew a deaf Welshman, who came from Glamorgan
On purpose to try a surgical spell,
And paid a guinea, and might as well
Have call’d a monkey into his organ!
For the Aurist only took a mug,
And pour’d in his ear some acoustical drug,
That, instead of curing, deafen’d him rather,
As Hamlet’s uncle served Hamlet’s father!
That’s the way with your surgical gentry!
And happy your luck
If you don’t get stuck
Through your liver and lights at a royal entry,
Because you never answer’d the sentry!
“Try it again, dear Madam, try it!
Many would sell their beds to buy it.
I warrant you often wake up in the night,
Ready to shake to a jelly with fright,
And up you must get to strike a light,
And down you go, in you know what,
Whether the weather is chilly or hot —
That’s the way a cold is got —
To see if you heard a noise or not!”
“Why, bless you, a woman with organs like yours
Is hardly safe to step out of doors!
Just fancy a horse that comes full pelt,
But as quiet as if he was ‘shod with felt,’
Till he rushes against you with all his force,
And then I needn’t describe the course,
While he kicks you about without remorse,
How awkward it is to be groom’d by a horse!
Or a bullock comes, as mad as King Lear,
And you never dream that the brute is near,
Till he pokes his horn right into your ear,
Whether you like the thing or lump it —
And all for want of buying a trumpet!
“I’m not a female to fret and vex,
But if I belonged to the sensitive sex,
Exposed to all sorts of indelicate sounds,
I wouldn’t be deaf for a thousand pounds.
Lord! only think of chucking a copper
To Jack or Bob with a timber limb,
Who looks as if he was singing a hymn,
Instead of a song that’s very improper!
Or just suppose in a public place
You see a great fellow a-pulling a face,
With his staring eyes and his mouth like an O —
And how is a poor deaf lady to know —
The lower orders are up to such games —
If he’s calling ‘Green Peas,’ or calling her names?”
(“They’re tenpence a peck!” said the deafest of Dames.)
“’Tis strange what very strong advising,
By word of mouth, or advertising,
By chalking on walls, or placarding on vans,
With fifty other different plans,
The very high pressure, in fact, of pressing,
It needs to persuade one to purchase a blessing!
Whether the Soothing American Syrup,
A Safety Hat, or a Safety Stirrup —
Infallible Pills for the human frame,
Or Rowland’s O-don’t-o (an ominous name),
A Doudney’s suit which the shape so hits
That it beats all others into fits;
A Mechi’s razor for beards unshorn,
Or a Ghost-of-a-Whisper-Catching Horn!
“Try it again, Ma’am, only try!”
Was still the voluble Pedlar’s cry;
“It’s a great privation, there’s no dispute,
To live like the dumb unsociable brute,
And to hear no more of the pro and con,
And how Society’s going on,
Than Mumbo Jumbo or Prester John,
And all for want of this sine quâ non;
Whereas, with a horn that never offends,
You may join the genteelest party that is,
And enjoy all the scandal, and gossip, and quiz,
And be certain to hear of your absent friends; —
Not that elegant ladies, in fact,
In genteel society ever detract,
Or lend a brush when a friend is black’d —
At least as a mere malicious act —
But only talk scandal for fear some fool
Should think they were bred at charity school.
Or, maybe, you like a little flirtation,
Which even the most Don Juanish rake
Would surely object to undertake
At the same high pitch as an altercation.
It’s not for me, of course, to judge
How much a Deaf Lady ought to begrudge;
But half-a-guinea seems no great matter —
Letting alone more rational patter —
Only to hear a parrot chatter:
Not to mention that feather’d wit,
The Starling, who speaks when his tongue is slit;
The Pies and Jays that utter words,
And other Dicky Gossips of birds,
That talk with as much good sense and decorum,
As many Beaks who belong to the quorum.
“Try it — buy it — say ten and six,
The lowest price a miser could fix:
I don’t pretend with horns of mine,
Like some in the advertising line,
To ’magnify sounds‘ on such marvellous scales,
That the sounds of a cod seem as big as a whale’s;
But popular rumors, right or wrong —
Charity sermons, short or long —
Lecture, speech, concerto, or song,
All noises and voices, feeble or strong,
From the hum of a gnat to the clash of a gong,
This tube will deliver distinct and clear;
Or, supposing by chance
You wish to dance,
Why, it’s putting a Horn-pipe into your ear!
Try it — buy it!
Buy it — try it!
The last New Patent, and nothing comes nigh it,
For guiding sounds to their proper tunnel:
Only try till the end of June,
And if you and the Trumpet are out of tune
I’ll turn it gratis into a funnel!”
In short, the Pedlar so beset her —
Lord Bacon couldn’t have gammon’d her better —
With flatteries plump and indirect,
And plied his tongue with such effect —
A tongue that could almost have butter’d a crumpet —
The deaf old woman bought the Trumpet.
The Pedlar was gone. With the horn’s assistance,
She heard his steps die away in the distance;
And then she heard the tick of the clock,
The purring of puss, and the snoring of Shock;
And she purposely dropped a pin that was little,
And heard it fall as plain as a skittle!
’Twas a wonderful Horn, to be but just!
Nor meant to gather dust, must and rust;
So in half a jiffy, or less than that,
In her scarlet cloak and her steeple-hat,
Like old Dame Trot, but without her cat,
The Gossip was hunting all Tringham thorough,
As if she meant to canvass the borough,
Trumpet in hand, or up to the cavity; —
And, sure, had the horn been one of those
The wild Rhinoceros wears on his nose,
It couldn’t have ripped up more depravity!
Depravity! mercy shield her ears!
’Twas plain enough that her village peers
In the ways of vice were no raw beginners;
For whenever she raised the tube to her drum
Such sounds were transmitted as only come
From the very Brass Band of human sinners!
Ribald jest and blasphemous curse
(Bunyan never vented worse),
With all those weeds, not flowers, of speech
Which the Seven Dialecticians teach;
Filthy Conjunctions, and Dissolute Nouns,
And Particles pick’d from the kennels of towns,
With Irregular Verbs for irregular jobs,
Chiefly active in rows and mobs,
Picking Possessive Pronouns’ fobs,
And Interjections as bad as a blight,
Or an Eastern blast, to the blood and the sight;
Fanciful phrases for crime and sin,
And smacking of vulgar lips where Gin,
Garlic, Tobacco, and offals go in —
A jargon so truly adapted, in fact,
To each thievish, obscene, and ferocious act,
So fit for the brute with the human shape,
Savage Baboon, or libidinous Ape,
From their ugly mouths it will certainly come
Should they ever get weary of shamming dumb!
Alas! for the Voice of Virtue and Truth,
And the sweet little innocent prattle of Youth!
The smallest urchin whose tongue could tang,
Shock’d the Dame with a volley of slang,
Fit for Fagin’s juvenile gang;
While the charity chap,
With his muffin cap,
His crimson coat, and his badge so garish,
Playing at dumps, or pitch in the hole,
Cursed his eyes, limbs, body, and soul,
As if they didn’t belong to the Parish!
’Twas awful to hear, as she went along,
The wicked words of the popular song;
Or supposing she listen’d — as gossips will —
At a door ajar, or a window agape,
To catch the sounds they allow’d to escape,
Those sounds belonged to Depravity still!
The dark allusion, or bolder brag
Of the dexterous “dodge”, and the lots of “swag”,
The plunder’d house — or the stolen nag —
The blazing rick, or the darker crime,
That quench’d the spark before its time —
The wanton speech of the wife immoral —
The noise of drunken or deadly quarrel,
With savage menace, which threaten’d the life,
Till the heart seem’d merely a strop “for the knife”;
The human liver, no better than that
Which is sliced and thrown to an old woman’s cat;
And the head, so useful for shaking and nodding,
To be punch’d into holes, like “a shocking bad hat,”
That is only fit to be punch’d into wadding!
In short, wherever she turn’d the horn,
To the highly bred, or the lowly born,
The working man, who look’d over the hedge,
Or the mother nursing her infant pledge,
The sober Quaker, averse to quarrels,
Or the Governess pacing the village through,
With her twelve Young Ladies, two and two,
Looking, as such young ladies do,
Truss’d by Decorum and stuff’d with morals —
Whether she listen’d to Hob or Bob,
Nob or Snob,
The Squire on his cob,
Or Trudge and his ass at a tinkering job,
To the “Saint” who expounded at “Little Zion”—
Or the “Sinner” who kept “the Golden Lion”—
The man teetotally wean’d from liquor —
The Beadle, the Clerk, or the Reverend Vicar —
Nay, the very Pie in its cage of wicker —
She gather’d such meanings, double or single,
That like the bell
With muffins to sell,
Her ear was kept in a constant tingle!
But this was nought to the tales of shame,
The constant runnings of evil fame,
Foul, and dirty, and black as ink,
That her ancient cronies, with nod and wink,
Pour’d in her horn like slops in a sink:
While sitting in conclave, as gossips do,
With their Hyson or Howqua, black or green,
And not a little of feline spleen
Lapp’d up in “Catty packages,” too,
To give a zest of the sipping and supping;
For still by some invisible tether,
Scandal and Tea are link’d together,
As surely as Scarification and Cupping;
Yet never since Scandal drank Bohea —
Or sloe, or whatever it happen’d to be,
For some grocerly thieves
Turn over new leaves,
Without much amending their lives or their tea —
No, never since cup was fill’d or stirr’d
Were such wild and horrible anecdotes heard,
As blacken’d their neighbors of either gender,
Especially that, which is call’d the Tender,
But, instead of the softness we fancy therewith,
Was harden’d in vice as the vice of a smith.
Women! the wretches! had soil’d and marr’d
Whatever to womanly nature belongs;
For the marriage tie they had no regard,
Nay, sped their mates to the sexton’s yard,
(Like Madame Laffarge, who with poisonous pinches
Kept cutting off her L by inches)—
And as for drinking, they drank so hard
That they drank their flat-irons, pokers, and tongs!
The men — they fought and gambled at fairs;
And poach’d — and didn’t respect gray hairs —
Stole linen, money, plate, poultry, and corses;
And broke in houses as well as horses;
Unfolded folds to kill their own mutton —
And would their own mothers and wives for a button:
But not to repeat the deeds they did,
Backsliding in spite of all moral skid,
If all were true that fell from the tongue,
There was not a villager, old or young,
But deserved to be whipp’d, imprison’d, or hung,
Or sent on those travels which nobody hurries
To publish at Colburn’s, or Longman’s, or Murray’s.
Meanwhile the Trumpet, con amore,
Transmitted each vile diabolical story;
And gave the least whisper of slips and falls,
As that Gallery does in the Dome of St. Paul’s,
Which, as all the world knows, by practice or print,
Is famous for making the most of a hint.
Not a murmur of shame,
Or buzz of blame,
Not a flying report that flew at a name,
Not a plausible gloss, or significant note,
Not a word in the scandalous circles afloat,
Of a beam in the eye, or diminutive mote,
But vortex-like that tube of tin
Suck’d the censorious particle in;
And, truth to tell, for as willing an organ
As ever listen’d to serpent’s hiss,
Nor took the viperous sound amiss,
On the snaky head of an ancient Gorgon!
The Dame, it is true, would mutter “Shocking!”
And give her head a sorrowful rocking,
And make a clucking with palate and tongue,
Like the call of Partlet to gather her young,
A sound, when human, that always proclaims
At least a thousand pities and shames;
But still the darker the tale of sin,
Like certain folks, when calamities burst,
Who find a comfort in “hearing the worst,”
The farther she poked the Trumpet in.
Nay, worse, whatever she heard, she spread
East and West, and North and South,
Like the ball which, according to Captain Z,
Went in at his ear, and came out at his mouth.
What wonder between the Horn and the Dame,
Such mischief was made wherever they came,
That the parish of Tringham was all in a flame!
For although it required such loud discharges,
Such peals of thunder as rumbled at Lear,
To turn the smallest of table-beer,
A little whisper breathed into the ear
Will sour a temper “as sour as varges,”
In fact such very ill blood there grew,
From this private circulation of stories,
That the nearest neighbors the village through,
Look’d at each other as yellow and blue,
As any electioneering crew
Wearing the colors of Whigs and Tories.
Ah! well the Poet said, in sooth,
That “whispering tongues can poison Truth,”—
Yea, like a dose of oxalic acid,
Wrench and convulse poor Peace, the placid,
And rack dear Love with internal fuel,
Like arsenic pastry, or what is as cruel,
Sugar of lead, that sweetens gruel —
At least such torments began to wring ’em
From the very morn
When that mischievous Horn
Caught the whisper of tongues in Tringham.
The Social Clubs dissolved in huffs,
And the Sons of Harmony came to cuffs,
While feuds arose and family quarrels,
That discomposed the mechanics of morals,
For screws were loose between brother and brother,
While sisters fasten’d their nails on each other;
Such wrangles, and jangles, and miff, and tiff,
And spar, and jar — and breezes as stiff
As ever upset a friendship — or skiff!
The plighted lovers, who used to walk,
Refused to meet, and declined to talk;
And wish’d for two moons to reflect the sun,
That they mightn’t look together on one;
While wedded affection ran so low,
That the oldest John Anderson snubbed his Jo —
And instead of the toddle adown the hill,
Hand in hand,
As the song has planned,
Scratch’d her, penniless, out of his will!
In short, to describe what came to pass
In a true, though somewhat theatrical way,
Instead of “Love in a Village”— alas!
The piece they perform’d was “The Devil to Pay!”
However, as secrets are brought to light,
And mischief comes home like chickens at night;
And rivers are track’d throughout their course,
And forgeries traced to their proper source; —
And the sow that ought
By the ear is caught —
And the sin to the sinful door is brought;
And the cat at last escapes from the bag —
And the saddle is placed on the proper nag;
And the fog blows off, and the key is found —
And the faulty scent is pick’d out by the hound —
And the fact turns up like a worm from the ground —
And the matter gets wind to waft it about;
And a hint goes abroad, and the murder is out —
And the riddle is guess’d — and the puzzle is known —
So the truth was sniff’d, and the Trumpet was blown!
’Tis a day in November — a day of fog —
But the Tringham people are all agog;
Fathers, Mothers, and Mother’s Sons —
With sticks, and staves, and swords, and guns —
As if in pursuit of a rabid dog;
But their voices — raised to the highest pitch —
Declare that the game is “a Witch! — a Witch!”
Over the Green, and along by The George —
Past the Stocks, and the Church, and the Forge,
And round the Pound, and skirting the Pond,
Till they come to the whitewash’d cottage beyond,
And there at the door they muster and cluster,
And thump, and kick, and bellow, and bluster —
Enough to put Old Nick in a fluster!
A noise, indeed, so loud and long,
And mix’d with expressions so very strong,
That supposing, according to popular fame,
“Wise Woman” and Witch to be the same,
No hag with a broom would unwisely stop,
But up and away through the chimney-top;
Whereas, the moment they burst the door,
Planted fast on her sanded floor,
With her Trumpet up to her organ of hearing,
Lo and behold! — Dame Eleanor Spearing!
Oh! then arises the fearful shout —
Bawl’d and scream’d, and bandied about —
“Seize her! — Drag the old Jezebel out!”
While the Beadle — the foremost of all the band,
Snatches the Horn from her trembling hand —
And after a pause of doubt and fear,
Puts it up to his sharpest ear.
“Now silence — silence — one and all!”
For the Clerk is quoting from Holy Paul!
But before he rehearses
A couple of verses,
The Beadle lets the Trumpet fall:
For instead of the words so pious and humble,
He hears a supernatural grumble.
Enough, enough! and more than enough; —
Twenty impatient hands and rough,
By arm, and leg, and neck, and scruff,
Apron, ‘kerchief, gown of stuff —
Cap, and pinner, sleeve, and cuff —
Are clutching the Witch wherever they can,
With the spite of Woman and fury of Man;
And then — but first they kill her cat,
And murder her dog on the very mat —
And crush the infernal Trumpet flat; —
And then they hurry her through the door
She never, never will enter more!
Away! away! down the dusty lane
They pull her, and haul her, with might and main;
And happy the hawbuck, Tom or Harry,
Dandy, or Sandy, Jerry, or Larry,
Who happens to get “a leg to carry!”
And happy the foot that can give her a kick,
And happy the hand that can find a brick —
And happy the fingers that hold a stick —
Knife to cut, or pin to prick —
And happy the Boy who can lend her a lick; —
Nay, happy the urchin — Charity-bred —
“Who can shy very nigh to her wicked, old head!”
Alas! to think how people’s creeds
Are contradicted by people’s deeds!
But though the wishes that Witches utter
Can play the most diabolical rigs —
Send styes in the eye — and measle the pigs —
Grease horses’ heels — and spoil the butter;
Smut and mildew the corn on the stalk —
And turn new milk to water and chalk —
Blight apples — and give the chickens the pip —
And cramp the stomach — and cripple the hip —
And waste the body — and addle the eggs —
And give a baby bandy legs;
Though in common belief a Witch’s curse
Involves all these horrible things, and worse —
As ignorant bumpkins all profess,
No bumpkin makes a poke the less
At the back or ribs of old Eleanor S.!
As if she were only a sack of barley!
Or gives her credit for greater might
Than the Powers of Darkness confer at night
On that other old woman, the parish Charley!
Ay, now’s the time for a Witch to call
On her Imps and Sucklings one and all —
Newes, Pyewacket, or Peck in the Crown,
(As Matthew Hopkins has handed them down)
Dick, and Willet, and Sugar-and-Sack,
Greedy Grizel, Jarmara the Black,
Vinegar Tom and the rest of the pack —
Ay, now’s the nick for her friend Old Harry
To come “with his tail” like the bold Glengarry,
And drive her foes from their savage job
As a mad Black Bullock would scatter a mob:—
But no such matter is down in the bond;
And spite of her cries that never cease,
But scare the ducks and astonish the geese,
The Dame is dragg’d to the fatal pond!
And now they come to the water’s brim —
And in they bundle her — sink or swim;
Though it’s twenty to one that the wretch must drown,
With twenty sticks to hold her down;
Including the help to the self-same end,
Which a travelling Pedlar stops to lend.
A Pedlar! — Yes! — The same! — the same!
Who sold the Horn to the drowning Dame!
And now is foremost amid the stir
With a token only reveal’d to her;
A token that makes her shudder and shriek,
And point with her finger, and strive to speak —
But before she can utter the name of the Devil,
Her head is under the water level!
There are folks about town — to name no names —
Who much resemble that deafest of Dames!
And over their tea, and muffins, and crumpets,
Circulate many a scandalous word,
And whisper tales they could only have heard
Through some such Diabolical Trumpets!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09