A Long Story

1 In Britain's isle, no matter where,
2 An ancient pile of building stands:
3 The Huntingdons and Hattons there
[*] N: B: the House was built by the Earls of Huntingdon, & came from them to S [i] r Christopher afterwards L [or] d Keeper, Hatton, prefer'd by Q: Elizabeth for his graceful Person & fine Dancing. [Garrett MS.]
4 Employed the power of fairy hands
5 To raise the ceiling's fretted height,
6 Each panel in achievements clothing,
7 Rich windows that exclude the light,
8 And passages that lead to nothing.
9 Full oft within the spacious walls,
10 When he had fifty winters o'er him,
11 My grave Lord-Keeper led the brawls;
[*] [Lord-Keeper] [Sir Christopher] Hatton [Lord Chancellor], prefer'd by Queen Elizabeth for his graceful Person and fine Dancing. [brawls] an old fashion'd Dance. [Garrett MS.]
12 The Seal and Maces danced before him.
13 His bushy beard and shoe-strings green,
14 His high-crowned hat and satin-doublet,
15 Moved the stout heart of England's Queen,
16 Though Pope and Spaniard could not trouble it.
17 What, in the very first beginning!
18 Shame of the versifying tribe!
19 Your history whither are you spinning?
20 Can you do nothing but describe?
21 A house there is (and that's enough)
22 From whence one fatal morning issues
23 A brace of warriors, not in buff,
24 But rustling in their silks and tissues.
25 The first came cap-a-pee from France
26 Her conquering destiny fulfilling,
27 Whom meaner beauties eye askance,
28 And vainly ape her art of killing.
29 The other Amazon kind heaven
30 Had armed with spirit, wit, and satire:
31 But Cobham had the polish given,
32 And tipped her arrows with good-nature.
33 To celebrate her eyes, her air
34 Coarse panegyrics would but tease her.
35 Melissa is her nom de guerre.
36 Alas, who would not wish to please her!
37 With bonnet blue and capucine,
38 And aprons long they hid their armour,
39 And veiled their weapons bright and keen
40 In pity to the country-farmer.
41 Fame in the shape of Mr. P[ur]t
42 (By this time all the parish know it)
43 Had told that thereabouts there lurked
44 A wicked imp they call a poet,
45 Who prowled the country far and near,
46 Bewitched the children of the peasants,
47 Dried up the cows and lamed the deer,
48 And sucked the eggs and killed the pheasants.
49 My lady heard their joint petition,
50 Swore by her coronet and ermine,
51 She'd issue out her high commission
52 To rid the manor of such vermin.
53 The heroines undertook the task;
54 Through lanes unknown, o'er stiles they ventured,
55 Rapped at the door nor stayed to ask,
56 But bounce into the parlour entered.
57 The trembling family they daunt,
58 They flirt, they sing, they laugh, they tattle,
59 Rummage his mother, pinch his aunt,
60 And up stairs in a whirlwind rattle.
61 Each hole and cupboard they explore,
62 Each creek and cranny of his chamber,
63 Run hurry-skurry round the floor,
64 And o'er the bed and tester clamber,
65 Into the drawers and china pry,
66 Papers and books, a huge imbroglio!
67 Under a tea-cup he might lie,
68 Or creased, like dogs-ears, in a folio.
69 On the first marching of the troops
70 The Muses, hopeless of his pardon,
71 Conveyed him underneath their hoops
72 To a small closet in the garden.
73 So Rumour says (who will, believe)
74 But that they left the door ajar,
75 Where, safe and laughing in his sleeve,
76 He heard the distant din of war.
77 Short was his joy. He little knew
78 The power of magic was no fable.
79 Out of the window, whisk, they flew,
80 But left a spell upon the table.
81 The words too eager to unriddle,
82 The poet felt a strange disorder:
83 Transparent birdlime formed the middle,
84 And chains invisible the border.
85 So cunning was the apparatus,
86 The powerful pothooks did so move him,
87 That, will he, nill he, to the Great-House
[*] [Great-House] So the Country People call it. [Garrett MS.]
88 He went, as if the Devil drove him.
89 Yet no his way (no sign of grace,
90 For folks in fear are apt to pray)
91 To Phoebus he preferred his case,
92 And begged his aid that dreadful day.
93 The godhead would have backed his quarrel,
94 But, with a blush on recollection,
95 Owned that his quiver and his laurel
96 'Gainst four such eyes were no protection.
97 The court was sate, the culprit there,
98 Forth from their gloomy mansions creeping
99 The Lady Janes and Joans repair,
100 And from the gallery stand peeping:
101 Such as in silence of the night
102 Come (sweep) along some winding entry
103 (Styack
[*] [Styack] The House-Keeper.
has often seen the sight)
104 Or at the chapel-door stand sentry;
105 In peaked hoods and mantles tarnished,
106 Sour visages, enough to scare ye,
107 High dames of honour once, that garnished
108 The drawing-room of fierce Queen Mary!
109 The peeress comes. The audience stare,
110 And doff their hats with due submission:
111 She curtsies, as she takes her chair,
112 To all the people of condition.
113 The bard with many an artful fib
114 Had in imagination fenced him,
115 Disproved the arguments of Squib,
[*] [Squib] [James Squibb] Groom of the Chambers.
116 And all that Groom
[*] [Groom] The Steward.
could urge against him.
117 But soon his rhetoric forsook him,
118 When he the solemn hall had seen;
119 A sudden fit of ague shook him,
120 He stood as mute as poor Macleane.
[*] [Macleane] A famous Highwayman hang'd the week before.
121 Yet something he was heard to mutter,
122 'How in the park beneath an old-tree
123 '(Without design to hurt the butter,
124 'Or any malice to the poultry,)
125 'He once or twice had penned a sonnet;
126 'Yet hoped that he might save his bacon:
127 'Numbers would give their oaths upon it,
128 'He ne'er was for a conjurer taken. '
129 The ghostly prudes with hagged face
130 Already had condemned the sinner.
131 My lady rose and with a grace
132 She smiled, and bid him come to dinner.
133 'Jesu-Maria! Madam Bridget,
134 'Why, what can the Viscountess mean? '
135 (Cried the square hoods in woeful fidget)
136 'The times are altered quite and clean!
137 'Decorum's turned to mere civility;
138 'Her air and all her manners show it.
139 'Commend me to her affability!
140 'Speak to a commoner and poet! '
(Here 500 stanzas are lost.)
141 And so God save our noble King,
142 And guard us from long-winded lubbers,
143 That to eternity would sing,
144 And keep my lady from her rubbers.


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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): A Long Story
Author: Thomas Gray
Themes: social order; poetry; literature; writing
Genres: narrative verse; fragment

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Source edition

Thomas Gray: English poems. Web. Oxford: Thomas Gray Archive, 2002, p. . http://www.thomasgray.org/texts/poems.shtml

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Typography, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation have been silently modernized. The source of the text is given and all significant editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. This ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.

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