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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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1810.10
The True Story[1]
“S. A.”
[Samuel Ashby]
The Gentleman's Magazine, LXXX (December, 1810), p. 568

Sons of the Arts, of Genius, and the Nine,
'Tis not to you that Fortune opes her mine;
    Hard is the fate ye meet for praise and glory!
Plagued by the clown, the idiot, and the sot,
Such is the Wit's, the Poet's, Artist's lot!
     Exempli gratia, take authentic story.

From London came an Artist of the Brush,
And through the country made pedestrian push
    For subjects new—as landscapes, ruins, charts,
Majestic oaks, and castles; and, perchance,
Poor, hungry biped! just as if from France!
He hop'd to find, along his dirty dance,
    Food for himself as well as for the Arts!

And as little curious prying wight,
Sketch'd from the mould'ring cloister's broken site,
Soon by the spot some farmer hobbinowls
Came jogging—nothing vicious in their jowls—
    And, seeing poor Apelles, one cried, "I
Dars for to say, that waggabone we sees
There, with his rule and plummet on his knees,
    Is nothing more, nor less, than a French Spy!"

Next, to the public-house the clowns repair'd,
And told the case, while brother Joskins star'd;
    "As how, a strange, outlandish man, they see'd,
A Mounsheer Spy! and if so be—as how"—
When, lo! appears the Painter, makes his bow,
    And shews his sketch and name, to who could read.
Strait, midst the rustic herd, a Chief arose,
And thrice he snuff'd up wisdom through the nose,
    As erst Thersites[2] did amongst the Greeks—
A merchant this, in brandy, rum, and gin,
And to Thersites near, in parts, akin;
Could read, and, literati say, could write,
Hem, snuffle, spit, and grin, most erudite!
    "Silence!" they cry, "our parish spokesman speaks."

He thus: "Sir Painter, to be plain, we doubts
That you design, by lurking hereabouts,
    To map our forts and harbours, sound our moats;
While thus, to blind us harmless country-folks,
You sham to draw old antient walls and oaks,
    Anon to show the French to cut our throats.
We're loyal friend! your looks betray the spy!
These gem'men all think so—and so thinks I!
    You 'fore our Justus must disprove the fact;
Swear you are he his-self, the painter Rooker;
If not—God bless the King! we must, odzooker!
    Straitway commit you on the vagrant act."
The Painter then, "Most worthy sirs! I prize
You much, you are so loyal and so wise;
    I joy our gracious King such subjects rules.
Now to his Worship; pray debate no further;
I'll swear I am myself, and not another:
    That asses still are asses, fools are fools."


Notes

1. The poem, according to a note from the author, is based upon an experience which befell the Royal Academy painter, Rooker, in a Suffolk Village.

2. The most deformed man and impudent talker among the Greeks at Troy—a chatterer and uncontrolled of speech. See Iliad, II, 212 seq.

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September 2004

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