1799
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Reflections on an old Pair of Shoes.

Morning Post and Gazetteer (13 November 1799).

Robert Southey


A late contribution to the series of imitations of Philips's The Splendid Shilling, not signed. The occasion for the poem is the late-eighteenth-century introduction of shoes designed specifically for left and right feet; the subtext is constitutional reform: "the principle of Shoes, | Mistaken, or perverted, many an age, | Now first are understood; so right and left, | Forsooth, they fit them to the nat'ral shape— | Gradual reformers!" Of the Miltonic burlesque not much remains save the use of blank verse, though this ode is plainly intended as a contribution to the sequence of poems on humble objects. The attribution is from Kenneth Curry, The Contributions of Robert Southey to the Morning Post (1984).

Kenneth Curry: "A reading of the poetry published in the Morning Post during the years between 1797 and 1804 reveals a remarkably high level of poetic skill and of receptiveness to the new forms in which poets were writing. A daily newspaper that published poetry several times a week hardly can be expected to print masterpieces in every number, but most of the poems can be said to have performed their function: that of providing momentary delight for the reader by graceful diction and by presenting a theme of no great complexity in a pleasing fashion" The Contributions of Robert Southey to the Morning Post (1984) 2.



Thin and worn out! alas, my poor old Shoes!
My old companions! fellow-travellers
In many an up-hill, down-hill, dirty road!
Gone past all patching! gone beyond the reach
Of cobler, shoe apothecary's skill,
Or graduate master of the gentle craft.
State quacks or patent pills as soon might save
A rotten constitution. There ye lie,
Divorc'd, alas! for ever from the feet,
That late ye fitted well! Mute monitors—
Texts to a mournful sermon — there ye lie,
The victims of that universal lot
All things must one day share — kingdoms and thrones,
And pyramids, yea, haply, earth herself,
Like all her offspring for destruction fram'd.
True that, regardless of all shape and size,
In utter absolute contempt of toes,
Tap'ring to narrow point, pyramidal,
Your maker fram'd you; tort'ring grievously
The fingers of the feet, that lay comprest,
Crowded, and crushing close as a human cargo,
Bound for the Sugar Isles; and kibes and corns
Ensued. Yet soon accustom'd, lay they pack'd,
And prest, insensible, so true it is
Custom is second nature.

But it seems
The weathercock of fashion has veer'd round,
And theoretical Shoemakers preach
New doctrines — that the principle of Shoes,
Mistaken, or perverted, many an age,
Now first are understood; so right and left,
Forsooth, they fit them to the nat'ral shape—
Gradual reformers!

Must I try their plans?
Submit to innovation, and renounce
Old custom, for new theories? And yet
Something must needs be done. It boots not now
To piece and patch; no botching profits aught;
The old supports are gone; the stamina
Worn out; the sole destroyed!

[unpaginated]