1799
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy on a Quid of Tobacco.

Morning Post and Gazetteer (25 April 1799).

Robert Southey


Ten elegiac quatrains, not signed. When reprinted in Robert Southey's Annual Anthology the elegy was signed "Theoderit." The object of the burlesque is less Thomas Gray than the sentimental moralizing on humble subjects so characteristic of poetry in the 1790s: "O vet'ran chaw! thy fibres sav'ry, strong, | Whilst ought remain'd to chew, thy Master chew'd; | Then cast thee here, when all thy juice was gone, | Emblem of selfish man's ingratitude!" Tobacco had long been a staple theme in burlesque verse, not least in imitations of Philips's The Splendid Shilling, whose "Happy the man..." motif seems to be echoed in the last quatrain: "A happy man, O cast-off Quid, is he, | Who, like as thou, hast comforted the poor." The poem was later reprinted as by Southey.

John Ferriar: "This we suppose to be an ironical piece: but we can trace no particular points of imitation, and may therefore be deceived" review of Annual Anthology, Monthly Review NS 31 (April 1800) 355.



It lay before me on the close-graz'd grass,
Beside my path, an old Tobacco Quid:
And shall I by the mute adviser pass
Without one serious thought? now Heaven forbid!

Perhaps some idle Drunkard threw thee there,
Some Husband, spendthrift of his weekly hire,
One who for Wife and Children takes no care,
But sits and tipples by the Alehouse fire.

Ah luckless was the day he learnt to chew!
Embryo of ill, the Quid that pleas'd him first!
Thirsty from that unhappy Quid he grew,
Then to the Alehouse went to quench his thirst.

So great events from causes small arise—
The Forest Oak was once an Acorn Seed;
And many a wretch from drunkenness who dies,
Owes all his evils to the Indian Weed.

Let not temptation, mortal, ere come nigh—
Suspect some ambush in the parsley hid—
From the first kiss of Love, ye Maidens. fly!
Ye Youths, avoid the first Tobacco Quid!

Perhaps, I wrong thee, O thou vet'ran chaw,
And better thoughts my musings should engage;
That thou wert rounded in some toothless jaw,
The joy, perhaps, of solitary age.

One who has suffered Fortune's hardest knocks,
Poor, and with none to tend on his grey hairs,
Yet has a friend in his Tobacco Box,
And, whilst he rolls his Quid, forgets his cares.

Ev'n so it is with human happiness—
Each seeks his own according to his whim—
One toils for Wealth, one Fame alone can bless,
One asks a Quid — a Quid is all to him.

O vet'ran Chaw! thy fibres sav'ry, strong,
Whilst ought remain'd to chew, thy Master chew'd;
Then cast thee here, when all thy juice was gone,
Emblem of selfish man's ingratitude!

A happy man, O cast-off Quid, is he,
Who, like as thou, has comforted the poor—
Happy his age who knows himself like thee—
Thou didst thy duty — Man can do no more.

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