“A plague o’ both the houses!”— MERCUTIO.
As latterly I chanced to pass
A Public House, from which, alas!
The Arms of Oxford dangle!
My ear was startled by a din,
That made me tremble in my skin,
A dreadful hubbub from within,
Of voices in a wrangle —
Voices loud, and voices high,
With now and then a party-cry,
Such as used in times gone by
To scare the British border;
When foes from North and South of Tweed —
Neighbors — and of Christian creed —
Met in hate to fight and bleed,
Upsetting Social Order.
Surprised, I turn’d me to the crowd,
Attracted by that tumult loud,
And ask’d a gazer, beetle-brow’d,
The cause of such disquiet.
When lo! the solemn-looking man,
First shook his head on Burleigh’s plan,
And then, with fluent tongue, began
His version of the riot:
A row! — why yes — a pretty row, you might hear from this to Garmany,
And what is worse, it’s all got up among the Sons of Harmony,
The more’s the shame for them as used to be in time and tune,
And all unite in chorus like the singing-birds in June!
Ah! many a pleasant chant I’ve heard in passing here along,
When Swiveller was President a-knocking down a song;
But Dick’s resign’d the post, you see, and all them shouts and hollers
Is ‘cause two other candidates, some sort of larned scholars,
Are squabbling to be Chairman of the Glorious Apollers!
Lord knows their names, I’m sure I don’t, no more than any yokel,
But I never heard of either as connected with the vocal;
Nay, some do say, although of course the public rumor varies,
They’ve no more warble in ’em than a pair of hen canaries;
Though that might pass if they were dabs at t’other sort of thing,
For a man may make a song, you know, although he cannot sing;
But lork! it’s many folk’s belief they’re only good at prosing,
For Catnach swears he never saw a verse of their composing;
And when a piece of poetry has stood its public trials,
If pop’lar, it gets printed off at once in Seven Dials,
And then about all sorts of streets, by every little monkey,
It’s chanted like the “Dog’s Meat Man,” or “If I had a Donkey.”
Whereas, as Mr. Catnach says, and not a bad judge neither,
No ballad — worth a ha’penny — has ever come from either,
And him as writ “Jim Crow,” he says, and got such lots of dollars,
Would make a better Chairman for the Glorious Apollers.
Howsomever that’s the meaning of the squabble that arouses
This neighborhood, and quite disturbs all decent Heads of Houses,
Who want to have their dinners and their parties, as is reason,
In Christian peace and charity according to the season.
But from Number Thirty-Nine — since this electioneering job,
Ay, as far as Number Ninety, there’s an everlasting mob;
Till the thing is quite a nuisance, for no creature passes by,
But he gets a card, a pamphlet, or a summut in his eye;
And a pretty noise there is! — what with canvassers and spouters,
For in course each side is furnish’d with its backers and its touters;
And surely among the Clergy to such pitches it is carried,
You can hardly find a Parson to get buried or get married;
Or supposing any accident that suddenly alarms,
If you’re dying for a surgeon, you must fetch him from the “Arms”;
While the Schoolmasters and Tooters are neglecting of their scholars,
To write about a Chairman for the Glorious Apollers.
Well, that, sir, is the racket; and the more the sin and shame
Of them that help to stir it up, and propagate the same;
Instead of vocal ditties, and the social flowing cup —
But they’ll be the House’s ruin, or the shutting of it up,
With their riots and their hubbubs, like a garden full of bears,
While they’ve damaged many articles and broken lots of squares,
And kept their noble Club Room in a perfect dust and smother,
By throwing Morning Heralds, Times, and Standards at each other;
Not to name the ugly language Gemmen oughtn’t to repeat,
And the names they call each other — for I’ve heard ’em in the street —
Such as Traitors, Guys, and Judasses, and Vipers and what not,
For Pasley and his divers ain’t so blowing-up a lot.
And then such awful swearing! — for there’s one of them that cusses
Enough to shock the cads that hang on opposition ‘busses;
For he cusses every member that’s agin him at the poll,
As I wouldn’t cuss a donkey, tho’ it hasn’t got a soul;
And he cusses all their families, Jack, Harry, Bob or Jim,
To the babby in the cradle, if they don’t agree with him.
Whereby, altho’ as yet they have not took to use their fives,
Or, according as the fashion is, to sticking with their knives,
I’m bound they’ll be some milling yet, and shakings by the collars,
Afore they choose a Chairman for the Glorious Apollers!
To be sure it is a pity to be blowing such a squall,
Instead of clouds, and every man his song, and then his call —
And as if there wasn’t Whigs enough and Tories to fall out,
Besides polities in plenty for our splits to be about —
Why, a cornfield is sufficient, sir, as anybody knows,
For to furnish them in plenty who are fond of picking crows —
Not to name the Maynooth Catholics, and other Irish stews,
To agitate society and loosen all its screws;
And which all may be agreeable and proper to their spheres —
But it’s not the thing for musicals to set us by the ears.
And as to College larning, my opinion for to broach,
And I’ve had it from my cousin, and he driv a college coach,
And so knows the University, and all as there belongs,
And he says that Oxford’s famouser for sausages than songs,
And seldom turns a poet out like Hudson that can chant,
As well as make such ditties as the Free and Easies want,
Or other Tavern Melodists I can’t just call to mind —
But it’s not the classic system for to propagate the kind,
Whereby it so may happen as that neither of them Scholars
May be the proper Chairman for the Glorious Apollers!
For my part in the matter, if so be I had a voice,
It’s the best among the vocalists I’d honor with the choice;
Or a Poet as could furnish a new Ballad to the bunch;
Or at any rate the surest hand at mixing of the punch;
‘Cause why, the members meet for that and other tuneful frolics —
And not to say, like Muffincaps, their Catichiz and Collec’s.
But you see them there Itinerants that preach so long and loud,
And always takes advantage like the prigs of any crowd,
Have brought their jangling voices, and as far as they can compass,
Have turn’d a tavern shindy to a seriouser rumpus,
And him as knows most hymns — altho’ I can’t see how it follers —
They want to be the Chairman of the Glorious Apollers!
Well, that’s the row — and who can guess the upshot after all?
Whether Harmony will ever make the “Arms” her House of call,
Or whether this here mobbing — as some longish heads foretell it,
Will grow to such a riot that the Oxford Blues must quell it,
Howsomever, for the present, there’s no sign of any peace,
For the hubbub keeps a-growing, and defies the New Police; —
But if I was in the Vestry, and a leading sort of Man,
Or a Member of the Vocals, to get backers for my plan,
Why, I’d settle all the squabble in the twinkle of a needle,
For I’d have another candidate — and that’s the Parish Beadle,
Who makes such lots of Poetry, himself, or else by proxy,
And no one never has no doubts about his orthodoxy;
Whereby — if folks was wise — instead of either of them Scholars,
And straining their own lungs along of contradictious hollers,
They’ll lend their ears to reason, and take my advice as follers,
Namely — Bumble for the Chairman of the Glorious Apollers!
† “The Row at the Oxford Arms” (to quote its alternative title) is a squib on the contest at Oxford, in 1841-42, for the Professorship of Poetry. The candidates, it will be remembered, were Isaac Williams and Mr. (afterwards Archdeacon) Garbett. The struggle was the more intense that it was openly acknowledged to be a trial of strength between the adherents of the “Oxford Movement” and the Evangelical Party.
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55