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The history of the following production is briefly this: A lady, fond of blank verse, demanded a poem of that kind from the author, and gave him the Sofa for a subject. He obeyed; and, having much leisure, connected another subject with it; and
pursuing the train of thought to which his situation and turn of mind led him, brought forth at length, instead of the trifle which he at first intended, a serious affair-a volume.
In the poem on the subject of Education, he would be very sorry to stand suspected of having aimed his censure at any particular school. His objections are such, as naturally apply themselves to schools in general. If there were not, as for the most part there is, wilful neglect in those who manage them, and an omission even of such discipline as they are susceptible of, the objects are yet too numerous for minute attention ; and the aching hearts of ten thousand parents, mourning under the bitterest of all disappointments, attest the truth of the allegation. His quarrel, therefore, is with the mischief at large, and not with any particular instance of it.
ARGUMENT OF THE FIRST BOOK,
Historical deduction of seats, from the stool to the Sofa.---A School
boy's ramble.--- A walk in the country.---The scene described.---Rural sounds as well as sights delightful.--- Another walk.---Mistake concerning the charms of solitude corrected.---Colonades commended. Alcove, and the view from it.---The wilderness.---The grove.-The thresher.---The necessity and the benefits of exercise.---The works of nature superior to, and in some instances inimitable by, art.--The wearisomeness of what is commonly called a life of pleasure.--Change of scene sometimes expedient.---A common described, and the character of crazy Kate introduced.---Gipsies.---The blessings of a civilized life. The state most favourable to virtue.-The South Sea Islanders compassionated, but chiefly Omai.---His present state of mind supposed.--Civilized life friendly to virtue, but not great cities. -Great cities, and London in particular, allowed their due praises, but censured.---Fete champetre.--The book concludes with a reflection on the fatal effects of dissipation and effeminacy upon our public measures.
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'lly bank
Thrown up by wintry torrents roaring loud,
Fearless of wrong, repos’d his wearied strength:
Those barb'rous ages past, succeeded next
The birth-day of Invention; weak at first,
Dull 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 drill'd in holes, the solid oak is found,
By worms vor pus eaten through and through.
At length a generation more refind
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 tapestry richly wrought
And woven close, or needlework 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,
Of scarlet crewel, in the cushion fix'd,
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 fix'd 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 two 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 reservd for happier days. So slow
The growth of what is excellent; so hard
Tattain 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 Sofa yields.
0, 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'd the rural walk through lanes
Of grassy swath, close cropp'd by nibbling sheep,
And skirted thick with intertexture firm
Of thorny boughs ; have lov'd the rural walk
O'er hills, through valleys, and by rivers' brink,
E'er sincé 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,
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 emboss