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THE TASK,

BOOK I.

THE SOFA.

I sing the SOFA. I, who lately sang
Truth, Hope, and Charity,* and touch'd with awe
The solemn chords, and with a trembling hand,
Escap'd with pain from that advent'rous flight,
Now seek repose upon an humbler theme;
The theme though humble, yet august and proud
Th' occasion....for the Fair commands the

song.

Time was, when clothing sumptuous or for use Save their own painted skins, our sires had none As yet black breeches were not ; satin smooth, Or velvet soft, or plush with shaggy pile : The hardy chief upon the rugged rock Wash'd by the sea, or on the grav’ly bank

• See Poems, Vol. I.

Thrown up by wintry torrents roaring loud,
Fearless of wrong, repos'd his weary strength.
Those barb'rous ages past, succeeded next
The birth-day of invention ; weak at first,
Duh in design, and clumsy to perform.
Joint-stools were then created : on three legs
Upborne they stood. Three legs upholding firm
A massy slab, in fashion square or round.
On such a stool immortal Alfred sat,
And sway'd the sceptre of his infant realms :
And such in ancient halls and mansions drear
May still be seen ; but perforated sore,
And, drilld in holes, the solid oak is found,
By worms voracious eating through and through.

At length a generation more refin'd. Improv'd the simple plan; made three legs four, Gave them a twisted form vermicular, And o'er the seat, with plenteous wadding stuff’d, Induc'd a splendid cover, green and blue, Yellow and red, of tap’stry richly wrought And woven close, or needle-work sublime. There might ye see the piony spread wide, The full blown rose, the shepherd and his lass, Lap-dog and lambkin with black staring eyes, And parrots with twin cherries in their beak.

Now came the cane from India, smooth and bright With Nature's varnish ; sever'd into stripes

That interlac'd each other, these supplied
Of texture firm a lattice-work, that brac'd
The new machine, and it became a chair.
But restless was the chair ; the back erect
Distress'd the weary loins, that felt no ease ;
The slipp'ry seat betray'd the sliding part
That press'd it, and the feet hung dangling down,
Anxious in vain to find the distant floor.
These for the rich : the rest, whom fate had plac'd
In modest mediocrity, content
With base materials, sat on well-tann'd hides,
Obdurate and unyielding, glassy smooth,
With here and there a tuft of crimson yarn,
Or scarlet crewel, in the cushion fixt;
If cushion might be call'd, what harder seem'd
Than the firm oak of which the frame was form’d.
No want of timber then was felt or fear'd
In Albion's happy isle. The lumber stood
Pond'rous and fixt by its own massy weight.
But elbows still were wanting; these, some say,
An alderman of Cripplegate contriv'd :
And some ascribe th' invention to a priest
Burly and big, and studious of his ease.
But, rude at first, and not with easy slope
Receding wide, they press'd against the ribs,
And bruis’d the side ; and, elevated high,
Taught the rais'd shoulders to invade the ears.
Long time elaps'd or e'er our rugged sires
Complain'd, though incommodiously pent in,

And ill at ease behind. The ladies first
'Gan murmur,

as became the softer sex.
Ingenious fancy, never better pleas'd
Than when employ'd t'accommodate the fair,
Heard the sweet moan with pity, and devis'd
The soft settee; one elbow at each end,
And in the midst an elbow it receiv'd,
United yet divided, twain at once.
So sit too kings of Brentford on one throne ;
And so two citizens who take the air,
Close pack'd and smiling, in a chaise and one.
But relaxation of the languid frame,
By soft recumbency of outstretch'd limbs,
Was bliss reserv'd for happier days. So slow
The growth of what is excellent ; so hard
T attain perfection in this nether world.
Thus first necessity invented stools,
Convenience next suggested elbow-chairs,
And luxury, th' accomplish'd sofa last.

The nurse sleeps sweetly, hir'd to watch the sick, Whom snoring she disturbs. As sweetly he Who quits the coach-box at the midnight hour To sleep within the carriage more secure, His legs depending at the open door. Sweet.sleep enjoys the curate in his desk, The tedious rector drawling o'er his head; And sweet the clerk below. But neither sleep Of lazy nurse, who snores the sick man dead,

Nor his who quits the box at midnight hour
To slumber in the carriage more secure,
Nor sleep enjoy'd by curate in his desk,
Nor yet the dozings of the clerk, are sweet,
Compar'd with the repose the sora yields.

Oh may I live exempted (while I live Guiltless of pamper'd appetite obscene). From pangs arthritic, that infest the toe Of libertine excess. The SOFA suits The gouty limb, 'tis true ; but gouty limb, Though on a SOFA, may I never feel : For I have lov'u the rural walk through lanes Of grassy swarth, close cropt by nibbling sheep, And skirted thick with intertexture firm Of thorny boughs ; have lov' the rural walk O’er hills, through vallies, and by river's brink, E'er since a truant boy I pass'd my bounds T' enjoy a ramble on the banks of Thames ; And still remember, nor without regret Of hours that sorrow since has much endear'd, How oft, my slice of pocket store consum’d, Still hung'ring, pennyless and far from home, I fed on scarlet hips and stony haws, Or blushing crabs, or berries, that imboss The bramble, black as jet, or sloes austere. Hard fare! but such as boyish appetite Disdains not ; nor the palate, undeprav'd By culinary arts, unsav'ry deems.

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