The Ingoldsby Legends, by Thomas Ingoldsby

Saint Medard: A Legend of Afric.

‘Heus tu! inquit Diabolus, hei mihi! fessis insuper humeris reponenda est sarcina; fer opem quæso!’

‘Le Diable a des vices; — c’est là ce qui le perd. — Il est gourmand. Il eut dans cette minute-là l’idée de joindre l’âme de Medard aux autres âmes qui’il allait emporter. — Se rejeter en arrière, saisir de sa main droite son poignard, et en percer l’outre avec une violence et un rapidité formidable, — c’est ce que fit Medard. Le Diable poussa un grand cri. Les âmes délivrês s’enfuirent par l’issue que le poignard venait de leur ouvrir, laissant dans l’outre leurs noirceurs, leurs crimes, et leurs méchancetés,’ &c., &c.

In good King Dagobert’s palmy days,

When Saints were many, and sins were few,

Old Nick, ’tis said,

Was sore bested

One evening, — and could not tell what to do. —

He had been East, and he had been West,

And far had he journey’d o’er land and sea;

For women and men

Were warier then,

And he could not catch one where he’d now catch three.

He had been North, and he had been South,

From Zembla’s shores unto far Peru,

Ere he fill’d the sack

Which he bore on his back —

Saints were so many, and sins so few!

The way was long, and the day was hot;

His wings were weary; his hoofs were sore;

And scarce could he trail

His nerveless tail,

As it furrow’d the sand on the Red Sea shore!

The day had been hot, and the way was long;

— Hoof-sore, and weary, and faint, was he;

He lower’d his sack,

And the heat of his back,

As he lean’d on a palm-trunk, blasted the tree!

He sat himself down in the palm-tree’s shade,

And he gazed, and he grinn’d in pure delight,

As he peep’d inside

The buffalo’s hide

He had sewn for a sack, and had crammed so tight.

For, though he’d ‘gone over a good deal of ground,’

And game had been scarce, he might well report

That still, he had got

A decentish lot,

And had had, on the whole, not a bad day’s sport.

He had pick’d up in France a Maître de danse, —

A Maîtresse en titre, — two smart Grisettes,

A Courtier at play, —

And an English Roué —

Who had bolted from home without paying his debts. —

— He had caught in Great Britain a Scrivener’s clerk,

A Quaker, — a Baker, — a Doctor of Laws, —

And a jockey of York —

But Paddy from Cork

‘Desaved the ould divil,’ and slipp’d through his claws!

In Moscow a Boyar knouting his wife

— A Corsair’s crew, in the Isles of Greece —

And, under the dome Of St. Peter’s, at Rome,

He had snapp’d up a nice little Cardinal’s Niece. —

He had bagg’d an Inquisitor fresh from Spain —

A mendicant Friar — of Monks a score,

A grave Don, or two,

And a Portuguese Jew,

Whom he nabb’d while clipping a new Moidore.

And he said to himself, as he lick’d his lips,

‘Those nice little Dears! — what a delicate roast! —

— Then, that fine fat Friar,

At a very quick fire,

Dress’d like a Woodcock, and serv’d on toast!’

— At the sight of tit-bits so toothsome and choice

Never did mouth water more than Nick’s;

But, — alas! and alack! —

He had stuff’d his sack

So full that he found himself quite ‘in a fix:’

For, all he could do, or all he could say,

When, a little recruited, he rose to go,

Alas! and alack! —

He could not get the sack

Up again on his shoulders ‘whether or no!’

Old Nick look’d East, Old Nick look’d West,

With many a stretch, and with many a strain,

He bent till his back

Was ready to crack,

And he pull’d, and he tugg’d, — but he tugg’d in vain.

Old Nick look’d North, Old Nick look’d South;

— Weary was Nicholas, weak and faint, —

And he was aware

Of an old man there,

In Palmer’s weeds, who look’d much like a Saint.

Nick eyed the Saint, — then he eyed the Sack —

The greedy old glutton! — and thought, with a grin,

‘Dear heart alive!

If I could but contrive

To pop that elderly gentleman in! —

‘For were I to choose among all the ragoûts

The cuisine can exhibit — flesh, fowl, or fish, —

To myself I can paint

That a barbecued Saint

Would be for my palate the best side-dish!’

Now St. Medard dwelt on the banks of the Nile,

— In a Pyramis fast by the lone Red Sea.

(We call it ‘Semiramis,’

Why not say Pyramis? —

Why should we change the S into a D?)

St. Medard, he was a holy man,

A holy man I ween was he,

And even by day,

When he went to pray,

He would light up a candle, that all might see!

He salaam’d to the East, — He salaam’d to the West; —

— Of the gravest cut, and the holiest brown

Were his Palmer’s weeds, —

And he finger’d his beads

With the right side up, and the wrong side down. —

. . .

(Hiatus in MSS. valde deflendus.)

St. Medard dwelt on the banks of the Nile; —

He had been living there years fourscore, —

And now, ‘taking the air,

And saying a pray’r,’

He was walking at eve on the Red Sea shore.

Little he deem’d — that holy man! —

Of Old Nick’s wiles, and his fraudful tricks, —

When he was aware

Of a Stranger there,

Who seem’d to have got himself into a fix.

Deeply that Stranger groan’d and sigh’d,

That wayfaring Stranger, grisly and grey:—

‘I can’t raise my sack

On my poor old back! —

Oh, lend me a lift, kind Gentleman, pray! —

‘For I have been East, and I have been West,

Foot-sore, weary, and faint am I,

And, unless I get home

Ere the Curfew bome,

Here in this desert I well may die!’

‘Now Heav’n thee save!’ — Nick winced at the words,

As ever he winces at words divine —

‘Now Heav’n thee save! —

What strength I have, —

It’s little, I wis, — shall be freely thine!

‘For foul befall that Christian man

Who shall fail, in a fix, — woe worth the while! —

His hand to lend

To foe or to friend,

Or to help a lame dog over a stile!’

— St. Medard hath boon’d himself for the task:

To hoist up the sack he doth well begin;

But the fardel feels

Like a bag full of eels,

For the folks are all curling, and kicking within. —

St. Medard paused — he began to ‘smoke’ —

For a Saint, — if he isn’t exactly a cat, —

Has a very good nose,

As this world goes,

And not worse than his neighbour’s for ‘smelling a rat.’

The Saint look’d up, and the Saint look’d down;

He ‘smelt the rat,’ and he ‘smoked’ the trick;

— When he came to view

His comical shoe,

He saw in a moment his friend was Nick!

He whipp’d out his oyster-knife, broad and keen —

A Brummagem blade which he always bore,

To aid him to eat,

By way of a treat,

The ‘natives’ he found on the Red Sea shore; —

He whipp’d out his Brummagem blade so keen,

And he made three slits in the Buffalo’s hide,

And all its contents,

Through the rents, and the vents,

Come tumbling out, — and away they all hied!

Away went the Quaker — away went the Baker,

Away went the Friar — that fine fat Ghost,

Whose marrow Old Nick

Had intended to pick,

Dress’d like a Woodcock, and served on toast!

— Away went the nice little Cardinal’s Niece, —

And the pretty Grisettes, — and the Dons from Spain —

And the Corsair’s crew,

And the coin-clipping Jew, —

And they scamper’d, like lamplighters, over the plain. —

— Old Nick is a black-looking fellow at best,

Ay, e’en when he’s pleased; but never before

Had he look’d so black

As on seeing his sack

Thus cut into slits on the Red Sea shore.

You may fancy his rage, and his deep despair,

When he saw himself thus befool’d by one

Whom, in anger wild,

He profanely styled,

‘A stupid, old, snuff-colour’d son of a gun!’

Then his supper — so nice! — that had cost him such pains —

— Such a hard day’s work — now ‘all on the go!’

— ’Twas beyond a joke,

And enough to provoke

The mildest and best-temper’d Fiend below!

Nick snatch’d up one of those great, big stones,

Found in such numbers on Egypt’s plains,

And he hurl’d it straight

At the Saint’s bald pate,

To knock out ‘the gruel he call’d his brains.’

Straight at his pate he hurl’d the weight,

The crushing weight of that great, big stone; —

But St. Medard

Was remarkably hard,

And solid, about the parietal bone.

And, though the whole weight of that great, big stone,

Came straight on his pate, with a great, big thump,

It fail’d to graze

The skin, — or to raise

On the tough epidermis a lump, or bump! —

As the hail bounds off from the pent-house slope, —

As the cannon recoils when it sends its shot, —

As the finger and thumb

Of an old woman come

From the kettle she handles, and finds too hot; —

— Or, as you may see, in the Fleet, or the Bench, —

— Many folks do in the course of their lives, —

The well-struck ball

Rebound from the wall,

When the Gentlemen jail-birds are playing at ‘fives:’

All these, — and a thousand fine similes more, —

Such as all have heard of, or seen, or read

Recorded in print,

May give you a hint

How the stone bounced off from St. Medard’s head!

— And it curl’d, and it twirled, and it whirl’d in air,

As this great, big stone at a tangent flew!

— Just missing his crown,

It at last came down

Plump upon Nick’s Orthopedical shoe!

Oh! what a yell and a screech were there! —

How did he hop, skip, bellow, and roar!

— ‘Oh dear! oh dear!’ —

You might hear him here,

Though we’re such a way off from the Red Sea shore!

It smash’d his shin, and it smash’d his hoof,

Notwithstanding his stout Orthopedical shoe;

And this is the way

That, from that same day,

Old Nick became what the French call Boiteux!

Quakers, and Bakers, Grisettes, and Friars,

And Cardinal’s Nieces, — wherever ye be,

St. Medard bless!

You can scarcely do less

If you of your corps possess any esprit. —

And, mind and take care, yourselves, — and beware

How you get in Nick’s buffalo bag! — if you do

I very much doubt

If you’ll ever get out,

Now sins are so many, and Saints so few!!


Gentle Reader, attend

To the voice of a friend!

And if ever you go to Herne Bay or Southend,

Or any gay wat’ring-place outside the Nore,

Don’t walk out at eve on the lone sea-shore!

— Unless you’re too saintly to care about Nick,

And are sure that your head is sufficiently thick! —

Learn not to be greedy! — and, when you’ve enough,

Don’t be anxious your bags any tighter to stuff —

Recollect that good fortune too far you may push,


Then turn not each thought to increasing your store,

Nor look always like ‘Oliver asking for more!’

Gourmandise is a vice — a sad failing, at least; —

So remember ‘Enough is as good as a feast!’

And don’t set your heart on ‘stew’d,’ ‘fried,’ ‘boil’d,’ or


Nor on delicate ‘Woodcocks served up upon toast!’

Don’t give people nicknames! — don’t, even in fun,

Call any one ‘snuff-coloured Son of a gun!’

Nor fancy, because a man nous seems to lack,

That, whenever you please, you can ‘give him the sack!’

Last of all, as you’d thrive, and still sleep in whole bones,


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56