1799
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Snuff

Morning Post and Gazetteer (28 May 1799).

Robert Southey


This unsigned blank-verse ode is a late contribution to the series of imitations of Philips's The Splendid Shilling. The topic, ever-popular among burlesque poets, is tobacco: "Why, but for thee, the uses of the nose | Were half unknown, and its capacity | Of joy." Within the short compass of the ode Robert Southey manages to work in the unfolding of the seasons, the discovery of the New World, and, with a nod to earlier poems in the sequence, schoolboy terrors. A few weeks later the Morning Post would publish a Gray burlesque, "Elegy on a Quid of Tobacco."



A delicate pinch! oh how it tingles up
The titillated nose, and fills the eyes
And breast, till in one comfortable sneeze,
The full collected pleasure bursts at last!
Most rare COLUMBUS! Thou shalt be for this,
The only CHRISTOPHER in my calendar!
Why, but for thee, the uses of the nose
Were half unknown, and its capacity
Of joy. The summer gale, that from the heath
At mid noon glittering with the golden furze,
Rears its balsamic odor, but provokes,
Not satisfies the sense; and all the flowers
That with their unsubstantial fragrance tempt
And disappoint, bloom for so short a space
That half the year the nostrils keep Lent,
But that the kind Tobacconist admits
No winter in his work; when Nature sleeps
His wheels roll on, and still administer
A plenitude of smell, a tangible joy.
What is Peru and those Brazillian mines,
To thee Virginia? Those unhappy realms
That furnish gold for knaves, and gems for fools!
But thine are common comforts — to omit
Pipe-panegyric and tobacco-praise,
Think but what gen'ral joy the snuff box gives,
Europe, and in thy benefactors' roll
Above PIZARRO write our RALEIGH'S name.
Him let the sage Apothecary bless,
When sorely puzzl'd by perplexing ease
He rears between his knees his gold-tipt cane,
Takes snuff like a Physician, and looks wise.
Him let the school-boy bless, for when he sees
The thumb and finger of authority
Stuft up the nostrils; when hat, head and wig
All shake; when on the waistcoat black the dust,
Or drop falls brown, soon shall the brow severe
Relax, and from vituperative lips
Words that of birds remind not, sounds of praise,
And jokes, that must be laugh'd at, still proceed.

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