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British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism 1793-1815, by Betty T. Bennet, Edited by Orianne Smith

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1797.2
The Depredations of the Rats
"D. W. D."
The European Magazine, XXXI (January 1797), pp. 38-39

A Ludicrous Tale.

Shenstone, in merry vein, hath told
How once these vermin were so bold
    A college-room to seek:
Tho' meat serve vermin less refin'd
These rats sought what improv'd the mind,
    Therefore digested Greek.

They fed on Homer, Pindar too
And other authors, old and new,
    Fam'd in the class of learning;
Yea, both in prose and poetry,
In logic and geometry,
    These rats were all-discerning.

Tho' Shenstone's rats were rats of taste,
Tho' they all other rats surpass'd
    In learning and condition;
Yet will we find among our rats,
Long undisturbed by dogs or cats,
    The greatest politician.

Know then, that in an upper room,
Where oft the host was wont to come
    To read the affairs of State,
At night, when all were hush'd in sleep,
These rats would from the wainscot creep,
    And range in quest of meat.

One night they ran across the floor,
And squalling search'd the closet o'er,
    No meat, alas! was found;
Then one, of fruitless labour tir'd,
At length to higher aims aspir'd
    And leap'd up from the ground.

This rat, in eager search of pelf,
Survey'd with prying eyes each shelf,
    That nothing might escape her;
But here was neither cheese, nor meal,
Nor mutton, beef, nor pork, nor veal,
    Nay, nought, alas! but paper.

The rest ascended from the floor,
And gain'd the shelf above the door,
    Where lay Paine's Rights of Men;
Here did these pilfering rats devour
As much sedition in an hour
    As Tom could write in ten.

Poor Jacobin! well might he weep,
Well might wild dreams confuse his sleep
    Whilst they consum'd the libel,[1]
The book which he so much approv'd,
The book which he had always lov'd
    Much better than the Bible.

Addresses, pamphlets, fell a prey,
The newspapers of yesterday
    They ate; nay, what is further,
These hungry pilferers thought no more
Of gnawing Couriers[2] by the score
    Than Frenchmen think of murther.

Such havoc mark'd their steps until
Each greedy rat obtain'd his fill
    Of politics and news;
Cram'd with sedition, down they came,
And with them fell a picture frame
    Which they could not refuse:

Its glass was broken by the fall,
But mark, my friend! this was not all;
    The paper still was whole;
Soon these corroding vermin tore
The print, but, being fill'd before,
    They lodg'd it in their hole.

This was an emblem of the tree
Of Gallia's mimic liberty,
    Which never bore good fruit;
How can we then with justice blame
This troop of rats which thither came
    To cut off branch and root?

But when they back return'd again,
Alas! the influence of Tom Paine
    Began its usual works;
No wonder.—can th' effect be good
To any who devour the food
    Wherein rebellion lurks?

The rats in discord spent the night,
The master, at the approach of light,
    Came bustling to his room;
He enter'd, look'd around confus'd,
Then shook his head, while thus he mus'd:
    "How wretched is my doom

"Prints, pamphlets, Paine's true Rights of Men,
"And all the labours of his pen,
    "All, all are eaten up!
"'Tis plain enough these thievish vermin
"Last night did all at once determine
    "On politics to sup."

Ten sharp spring-traps were then prepar'd,
In which these rats might be ensnar'd;
    For soon the troubled master
Had plotted their destruction, whence
He thought to reap some recompence
    For this bewail'd disaster.

Next night the vermin trotted out
In quest of prey, and ran about;
    But mark their sudden fall!
The baits invite them, sad mishaps!
They tasted, but—off went the traps,
    And guillotin'd them all.

Had they not meddled with Tom Paine,
'Tis ten to one they'd not been slain;
    Of this no more we'll mention;
But only say, sedition's bait.
With its sure offspring, evil fate,
    Cut off the whole convention.

Thus perish'd both, the writings first,
And next the rats; which were the worst
    Let Reason's voice determine:
By Reason 'twill not be denied,
The books deserv'd to be destroy'd
    Much rather than the vermin.

Christleton, Dec. 20.


Notes

1. [Author's note]: "Paine's defamatory production entitled 'The Age of Reason.'"

2. The Courier was an anti-war paper at this time.

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September 2004

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