Close by those meads, for ever crown’d with flowers,
Where Thames with pride surveys his rising towers,
There stands a structure of majestic frame,
Which from the neighb’ring Hampton takes its name.
Here Britain’s statesmen oft the fall foredoom
Of foreign tyrants, and of nymphs at home;
Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take — and sometimes tea.
Hither the heroes and the nymphs resort,
To taste awhile the pleasures of a court;
In various talk the instructive hours they pass’d,
Who gave the ball, or paid the visit last;
One speaks the glory of the British Queen,
And one describes a charming Indian screen;
A third interprets motions, looks, and eyes;
At every word a reputation dies.
Snuff, or the fan, supply each pause of chat,
With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.
Meanwhile, declining from the noon of day,
The sun obliquely shoots his burning ray;
The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,
And wretches hang that jurymen may dine;
The merchant from the Exchange returns in peace,
And the long labours of the toilet cease.
Belinda now, whom thirst of fame invites,
Burns to encounter two adventurous knights,
At ombre singly to decide their doom,
And swells her breast with conquests yet to come.
Straight the three bands prepare in arras to join,
Each band the number of the sacred Nine.
Soon as she spreads her hand, the aërial guard
Descend, and sit on each important card:
First Ariel perch’d upon a Matadore,
Then each, according to the rank they bore;
For Sylphs, yet mindful of their ancient race,
Are, as when women, wondrous fond of place.
Behold, four Kings in majesty revered,
With hoary whiskers and a forky beard;
And four fair Queens, whose hands sustain a flower,
Th’ expressive emblem of their softer power;
Four Knaves in garbs succinct, a trusty band,
Caps on their heads, and halberts in their hand;
And particolour’d troops, a shining train,
Draw forth to combat on the velvet plain.
The skilful nymph reviews her force with care:
‘Let Spades be Trumps!’ she said, and Trumps they were.
Now move to war her sable Matadores,
In show like leaders of the swarthy Moors.
Spadillio first, unconquerable lord!
Led off two captive Trumps, and swept the board.
As many more Manillio forced to yield,
And march’d a victor from the verdant field.
Him Basto follow’d, but his fate more hard
Gain’d but one Trump and one plebeian card.
With his broad sabre next, a chief in years,
The hoary Majesty of Spades appears,
Puts forth one manly leg, to sight reveal’d,
The rest, his many-colour’d robe conceal’d.
The rebel Knave, who dares his prince engage,
Proves the just victim of his royal rage.
Even mighty Pam, that Kings and Queens o’erthrew
And mow’d down armies in the fights of Loo,
Sad chance of war! now destitute of aid,
Falls undistinguish’d by the victor Spade!
Thus far both armies to Belinda yield;
Now to the Baron fate inclines the field.
His warlike Amazon her host invades,
The imperial consort of the crown of Spades.
The Club’s black tyrant first her victim died,
Spite of his haughty mien, and barbarous pride:
What boots the regal circle on his head,
His giant limbs in state unwieldy spread;
That long behind he trails his pompous robe,
And, of all monarchs, only grasps the globe?
The Baron now his Diamonds pours apace;
The embroider’d King who shows but half his face,
And his refulgent Queen, with powers combined,
Of broken troops an easy conquest find.
Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, in wild disorder seen,
With throngs promiscuous strew the level green.
Thus when dispersed a routed army runs,
Of Asia’s troops, and Afric’s sable sons,
With like confusion different nations fly,
Of various habit and of various dye;
The pierced battalions disunited fall
In heaps on heaps; one fate o’erwhelms them all.
The Knave of Diamonds tries his wily arts,
And wins (oh shameful chance!) the Queen of Hearts.
At this, the blood the virgin’s cheek forsook,
A livid paleness spreads o’er all her look;
She sees, and trembles at the approaching ill,
Just in the jaws of ruin, and Codille.
And now, (as oft in some distemper’d state)
On one nice trick depends the general fate,
An Ace of Hearts steps forth: the King unseen
Lurk’d in her hand, and mourn’d his captive Queen:
He springs to vengeance with an eager pace,
And falls like thunder on the prostrate Ace.
The nymph, exulting, fills with shouts the sky;
The walls, the woods, and long canals reply.
O thoughtless mortals! ever blind to fate,
Too soon dejected, and too soon elate.
Sudden these honours shall be snatch’d away,
And cursed for ever this victorious day.
For lo! the board with cups and spoons is crown’d,
The berries crackle, and the mill turns round;
On shining altars of Japan they raise
The silver lamp; the fiery spirits blaze:
From silver spouts the grateful liquors glide,
While China’s earth receives the smoking tide:
At once they gratify their scent and taste,
And frequent cups prolong the rich repast.
Straight hover round the fair her airy band;
Some, as she sipp’d, the fuming liquor fann’d,
Some o’er her lap their careful plumes display’d,
Trembling, and conscious of the rich brocade.
Coffee (which makes the politician wise,
And see through all things with his half-shut eyes)
Sent up in vapours to the Baron’s brain
New stratagems, the radiant lock to gain.
Ah, cease, rash youth! desist ere ’tis too late,
Fear the just gods, and think of Scylla’s fate!
Changed to a bird, and sent to flit in air,
She dearly pays for Nisus’ injured hair!
But when to mischief mortals bend their will,
How soon they find fit instruments of ill!
Just then, Clarissa drew with tempting grace
A two-edged weapon from her shining case:
So ladies in romance assist their knight,
Present the spear, and arm him for the fight,
He takes the gift with reverence, and extends
The little engine on his fingers’ ends:
This just behind Belinda’s neck he spread,
As o’er the fragrant steams she bends her head.
Swift to the lock a thousand sprites repair,
A thousand wings, by turns, blow back the hair;
And thrice they twitch’d the diamond in her ear;
Thrice she look’d back, and thrice the foe drew near.
Just in that instant, anxious Ariel sought
The close recesses of the virgin’s thought;
As on the nosegay in her breast reclined,
He watch’d the ideas rising in her mind,
Sudden he view’d, in spite of all her art,
An earthly lover lurking at her heart.
Amazed, confused, he found his power expired,
Resign’d to fate, and with a sigh retired.
The Peer now spreads the glittering forfex wide,
To inclose the lock; now joins it to divide.
Even then, before the fatal engine closed,
A wretched Sylph too fondly interposed;
Fate urged the shears, and cut the Sylph in twain,
(But airy substance soon unites again)
The meeting points the sacred hair dissever
From the fair head, for ever, and for ever!
Then flash’d the living lightning from her eyes,
And screams of horror rend the affrighted skies.
Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast,
When husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last;
Or when rich China vessels, fallen from high,
In glittering dust and painted fragments lie!
‘Let wreaths of triumph now my temples twine,
(The victor cried) the glorious prize is mine!
While fish in streams, or birds delight in air,
Or in a coach-and-six the British fair,
As long as Atalantis32 shall be read,
Or the small pillow grace a lady’s bed,
While visits shall be paid on solemn days,
When numerous wax-lights in bright order blaze,
While nymphs take treats, or assignations give,
So long my honour, name, and praise shall live!’
What Time would spare, from steel receives its date,
And monuments, like men, submit to fate!
Steel could the labour of the gods destroy,
And strike to dust the imperial towers of Troy;
Steel could the works of mortal pride confound,
And hew triumphal arches to the ground.
What wonder then, fair nymph! thy hairs should feel,
The conquering force of unresisted steel?
VER. 1. The first edition continues from this line to ver. 24 of this canto.
VER. 12. Originally in the first edition:—
In various talk the cheerful hours they pass’d,
Of who was bit, or who capotted last.
VER. 24. All that follows of the game at ombre, was added since the first edition, till ver. 105, which connected thus:—
Sudden the board with cups and spoons is crown’d.
VER. 105. From hence, the first edition continues to ver 134.
VER. 134. In the first edition it was thus:—
As o’er the fragrant stream she bends her head.
First he expands the glittering forfex wide
To inclose the lock; then joins it to divide:
The meeting points the sacred hair dissever,
From the fair head for ever and for ever.
Ver. 154. All that is between was added afterwards.
32 ‘Atalantis:’ a famous book written about that time by a woman: full of court and party-scandal, and in a loose effeminacy of style and sentiment which well suited the debauched taste of the better vulgar.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59