1794 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Steevens

Thomas James Mathias, in Pursuits of Literature (1794 ) 32-33 & n.



Still there are walks which lead to sure renown,
In the lay-habit or the sacred gown;
Will stamp your credit at an easy price,
Learn'd and ingenious, or a Vir Clariss:
Take Markham's Armorie, John Taylor's Sculler,
Or Sir Giles Goosecap, or proverbial Fuller;
Con Upton, Fabell, Dodypoll the nice,
Of Gibbe our cat white Devils or old Vice;
Then lead your readers many a precious dance,
Cap'ring with Bank's Bay Horse in a Trance:
The Housewife's Jewel read with care exact,
Wit from old Books of Cookery extract;
Thoughts to stewed prunes and kissing comfits suit,
Or the potatoe* vigour-stirring root:
And then returning from the antique waste
Be hail'd by Parr, THE GUIDE OF PUBLIC TASTE!

* The commentators on Shakespeare are peculiarly and even zealously studious in minutely explaining and declaring all the various modes and receipts which the age of the Virgin Queen afforded or recommended for the service of the Queen of Love and soft desire. Whole pages are filled with venereal provactives, with the power of kissing comfits, stewed prunes, the virtues of potatoes, cringo-root, &c. &c. Must these comments be stiled the "Pauca suo Gallo quae vel legat ipsa Lycoris?" I sometimes doubt what book I have in my hand. These fair editors give all they can, nor let us dream the rest.
After a very long note on stewed prunes, by Mr. Steevens, vol. v. p. 375, edit. 1778, and vol. viii. p. 529, Edit 1793, (which see,) DOCTOR Farmer adds, very properly: "Mr. Steevens has so fully discussed the subject of stewed prunes, that one can add nothing but the price; (and therefore adds the DOCTOR) in a piece called Banks Bay Horse in a Trance, 1595, we have "a flock of wenches set up with their stewed prunes, NINE for a tester." — At other times these subjects are explained in the learned languages (for the use of scholars) as in vol. iv. p. 311, edit 1778, and in vol. iv. p. 80, edit 1793, by Mr. Steevens. "Urticae marinae omnes pruritum quendam movent, et acrimonia sua VENEREM sopitam et extinctam excitant." Johnston. Hist. Nat. de Exang. Aq. p. 56. I protest I sometimes think these reverend or ir-reverend commentators are about to changes sexes, or have done so, and set up for (what Milton in his apology for Smectymnus calls) "Old Prelatesses with all their young Corinthean Laity." I wonder we have never yet had The Beauties of Mr. Steevens, The Reverend DOCTOR Farmer, Mr. Collins (the potatoe critic), &c. &c. as a convenient manual for young or old men, who would be so. Mr. Collins has given the public four pages in 8vo. small print, on the astonishing virtues of potatoes, "a tempest of provocation," printed by themselves at the end of Troilus and Cressida. This useful note would have been placed with better grace at the end of Love's Labour Lost.