1740
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hobbinol, or the Rural Games. A Burlesque Poem.

Hobbinol, or the Rural Games. A Burlesque Poem, in Blank Verse. By William Somervile Esq.

William Somervile


An oft-reprinted blank-verse burlesque poem in three cantos, after the manner of John Philips's Cyder ("Be thou my Guide! while I thy Tract pursue | With Wing unequal" p. 4). The rural games motif is taken from Homer, Virgil, and Milton rather than Spenser, though William Somervile's rustics, described with a wealth of local detail, belong to the tradition of British pastoral as pursued by Spenser, John Gay, and many others. A glance at religious hypocrisy in the third canto recalls Thomas Randolph's "An Eclogue on the Palilia and noble Assemblies revived on Cotswold Hills" in Annalia Dubrensia (1636), and the general air of joyful mayhem anticipates William Tennant's Anster Fair (1812).

The first canto opens with a description of the birth of Hobbinol, Somervile's hero, raised with his cousin Ganderetta to whom he has been devoted since childhood. They are appointed King and Queen of the May festivities, which open with a country dance. Milonides, a veteran of the athletic contests, assembles the crowd and announces the three contests with their appropriate prizes: wrestling, cudgels, and a smock-race. Hobbinol defeats Pastorel in the wrestling match.

Preface: "If any Person should want a Key to this Poem, his Curiosity shall be gratified; I shall in plain Words tell him, 'It is a Satire against the Luxury, the Pride, the Wantonness, and quarrelsome Temper of the middling Sort of People.' As these are the proper and genuine Causes of that barefac'd Knavery, and almost universal Poverty, which reign without Controul in every Place; and as to these, we owe our many bankrupt Farmers, our Trade decay'd, and Lands uncultivated; the Author has Reason to hope that no honest Man, who loves his Country, will think this short Reproof out of Season: For perhaps this merry Way of bantering Men into Virtue, may have a better Effect, than the most serious Admonitions; since many who are proud to be thought Immoral, are not very fond of being Ridiculous" p. vii.

Gentleman's Magazine: "From the forty-seventh volume [of Johnson's Poets] we have received a large share of entertainment. The Chace and Hobbinol of Somervile have long been the subject of admiration: but the unparalleled naivete of Somervile's miscellaneous poetry, and particularly his Fables, is astonishing; and it is still more astonishing that they should be so generally unknown" 49 (December 1779) 599.

C. H. Timperley: "William Somerville, author of the Chase, Hobbinol, Field Sports, and other poems, was born in 1692, and died July 29, 1742. He was buried at Wotton, near Henley in Arden, Warwickshire. Mr. Somerville was an accomplished gentleman, a skiful sportsman, and a justice of the peace" Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:697n.

W. Davenport Adams: "The name of Hobbinol is probably derived from Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar, where it stands for Gabriel Harvey, a man of learning and virtue" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 284.

Edmund Gosse: "The success of The Chase induced him, when he was quite an old man, to sing of fishing and of the bowling green; but on these subjects he was less interesting than on hunting. His Hobbinol, a sort of mock-heroic poem on rural games, written in emulation of The Splendid Shilling of John Philips, was intended to be sprightly, and only succeeded in being ridiculous" The English Poets, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 3:190.

Myra Reynolds: "Hobbinol is a disagreeable poem. Its very ugly rural pictures might perhaps rank as realistic studies of English country life, but so far as any country atmosphere is concerned they are of no importance. The smock-race, the wrestling match, the drunken affray, might as well have taken place in any city slums" The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry (1909) 113.

A. Hamilton Thompson: "Hobbinol, a burlesque narrative in blank verse, dedicated to Hogarth, was inspired by Philips's Splendid Shilling, and is a lively account of the quarrelsome May games of some rustics in the vale of Evesham. In his prefaces, as in that to The Chace, Somerville indulged in a short critical explanation of his chosen form of verse, and defined his burlesque as 'a satire against the luxury, the pride, the wantonness, and quarrelsome temper, of the middling sort of people,' which he condemned as responsible for the decline in trade and the depressed condition of the rural districts. These poems do not add anything to the qualities displayed in The Chace, and the mock heroics of Hobbinol are unduly prolonged into three cantos. Somerville, however, was always lively in description; he knew his subject, whether he wrote of sport, or of the amusements of the Gloucestershire rustic 'from Kiftsgate to remotest Henbury,' and he had a genuine feeling for classical poetry" Cambridge History of English Literature (1913) 10:124-25.

Iolo Williams: "I find most of Somerville's epistles, tales, songs, and the like, dull and feeble, and often very coarse too. But in The Chase, which deals mainly with hare, fox, stag, and otter hunting, and the care of hounds, in Hobbinol, or the Rural Games, especially wrestling and cudgelling for men, and foot-racing for girls, in Field Sports, which treats of falconry, and in The Bowling Green, there is certainly a quality which makes some of the descriptive passages not altogether negligible" By-Ways around Helicon (1922) 79-80.

Dwight Durling: "It is a mock-heroic narrative telling the story of the triumphs of young Hobbinol and his Ganderetta in the May games of Evesham, on the borders of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, and ending with Hobbinol's disgrace when Mopsa appears with his two illegitimate children. There are interesting rural types in the poem, graphic caricatures of real rustics: Hobbinol, the rich farmer's son; Twangdillo, the fiddler; Squire Radamanth; Gorgonius, the butcher; Pusca, the gypsy; and others. The dance, the wrestling match, a fantastic battle of factions among the country folk, both men and women, the cudgel-playing, the dinner under the trees, the smock race in which Ganderetta triumphs, are described in a style which mingles the mock heroic with a reality never lost sight of for long" Georgic Tradition in English Poetry (1935) 65-66.

"The Wicker Chair," in manuscript, may be an earlier version; see R. D. Havens, "William Somervile's Earliest Poem" Modern Language Notes 41 (1926) 80-86.



What old MENALCAS at his Feast reveal'd
I sing, strange Feats of antient Prowess, Deeds
Of high Renown, while all his list'ning Guests
With eager Joy receiv'd the pleasing Tale.

O Thou! who late on VAGA'S flow'ry Banks
Slumb'ring secure, with Stirom well bedew'd,
Fallacious Cask, in sacred Dreams wert taught
By antient SEERS, and MERLIN Prophet old,
To raise ignoble Themes with Strains sublime,
Be thou my Guide! while I thy Tract pursue
With Wing unequal, thro' the wide Expanse
Advent'rous Range, and emulate thy Flights.

In that rich Vale, where with Dobunian Fields
Cornavian Borders meet, far fam'd of old
For MONTFORT'S hapless Fate undaunted Earl;
Where from her fruitful Urn AVONA pours
Her kindly Torrent on the thirsty Glebe,
And pillages the Hills t' enrich the Plains;
On whose luxuriant Banks, Flow'rs of all Hues
Start up Spontaneous; and the teeming Soil
With hasty Shoots prevents its Owner's Pray'r;
The pamper'd wanton Steer, of the sharp Ax
Regardless, that o'er his devoted Head
Hangs menacing, crops his delicious Bane,
Nor knows the Price is Life, with envious Eye
His lab'ring Yoke-fellow beholds his Plight,
And deems him blest, while on his languid Neck
In solemn Sloth he tugs the lingring Plough.
So blind are Mortals, of each others State
Misjudging, self-deceiv'd. Here as Supreme
Stern HOBBINOL in rural Plenty reigns
O'er wide-extended Fields, his large Domain.
Th' obsequious Villages, with Look submiss
Observant of his Eye, or when with Seed
T' impregnate Earth's fat Womb, or when to bring
With clam'rous Joy the bearded Harvest home.

Here, when the distant Sun lengthens the Nights,
When the keen Frosts the shiv'ring Farmer warn
To broach his mellow Cask, and frequent Blasts
Instruct the crackling Billets how to blaze,
In his warm Wicker-Chair, whose pliant Twigs
In close Embraces joyn'd, with spacious Arch
Vault the thick-woven Roof, the bloated Churl
Loiters in State, each Arm reclin'd is prop'd
With yielding Pillows of the softest Down.
In Mind compos'd, from short coeval Tube
He sucks the Vapours bland, thick curling Clouds
Of Smoak around his reeking Temples play;
Joyous he sits, and impotent of Thought
Puffs away Care, and Sorrow from his Heart.
How vain the Pomp of Kings! look down, ye Great,
And view with envious Eye the downy Nest
Unbrib'd by Wealth, and unrestrain'd by Pow'r.

One Son alone had bless'd his bridal Bed,
Whom good CALISTA bore, nor long surviv'd
To share a Mother's Joy, but left the Babe
To his paternal Care. An Orphan Niece
Near the same Time his dying Brother sent,
To claim his kind Support: The helpless Pair
In the same Cradle slept, nurs'd up with Care
By the same tender Hand, on the same Breasts
Alternate hung with Joy; 'till Reason dawn'd,
And a new Light broke out by slow Degrees;
Then on the Floor the pretty Wantons play'd,
Gladding the Farmer's Heart, with growing Hopes,
And Pleasures erst unfelt. When e'er with Cares
Oppress'd, when wearied, or alone he doz'd,
Their harmless Prattle sooth'd his troubled Soul.
Say, HOBBINOL, what Extasies of Joy
Trill'd thro' thy Veins, when climbing for a Kiss
With little Palms they strok'd thy grizly Beard,
Or round thy Wicker whirl'd their ratt'ling Cars?
Thus from their earliest Days bred up, and train'd,
To mutual Fondness, with their Stature grew
The thriving Passion. What Love can decay
That roots so deep! Now rip'ning Manhood curl'd
On the gay striplings Chin; her panting Breasts,
And trembling Blushes glowing on her Cheeks
Her secret Wish betray'd: She at each Mart
All Eyes attracted; but her faithful Shade,
Young HOBBINOL, ne'er wander'd from her Side.
A Frown from him dash'd ev'ry Rival's Hopes.
For he, like PELEUS Son, was prone to Rage,
Inexorable, swift like him of Foot
With Ease cou'd overtake his dastard Foe,
Nor spar'd the suppliant Wretch. And now approach'd
Those merry Days, when all the Nymphs and Swains,
In solemn Festivals and rural Sports,
Pay their glad Homage to the blooming Spring.
Young HOBBINOL by joynt Consent is rais'd
T' imperial Dignity, and in his Hand
Bright GANDERETTA tripp'd, the jovial Queen
Of MAIA'S gaudy Month, profuse of Flow'rs.
From each enamel'd Mead th' attendant Nymphs
Loaded with od'rous Spoils, from these select
Each Flow'r of gorgeous Die, and Garlands weave
Of party-colour'd Sweets; each busy Hand
Adorns the jocund Queen: In her loose Hair,
That to the Winds in Wanton Ringlets plays,
The tufted Cowslips breath their faint Perfumes.
On her refulgent Brow, as Crystal clear,
As Parian Marble smooth, Narcissus hangs
His drooping Head, and views his Image there,
Unhappy Flow'r! Pansies of various hue,
Iris, and Hyacinth, and Asphodel,
To deck the Nymph, their richliest Liv'ries wear,
And lavish all their Pride. Not FLORA'S self
More lovely smiles, when to the dawning Year
Her op'ning Bosom heav'nly Fragrance breaths.

See on yon verdant Lawn, the gath'ring Crowd
Thickens amain; the buxom Nymphs advance
Usher'd by jolly Clowns; Distinctions cease
Lost in the common Joy, and the bold Slave
Leans on his wealthy Master, unreprov'd:
The Sick no Pain can feel, no Wants the Poor.
Round his fond Mother's Neck the smiling Babe
Exulting clings; hard by, decrepit Age
Prop'd on his Staff, with anxious Thought revolves
His Pleasures past, and casts his grave Remarks
Among the heedless Throng. The vig'rous Youth
Strips for the Combat, hopeful to subdue
The Fair one's long Disdain, by Valour now
Glad to convince her coy erroneous Heart,
And prove his Merit equal to her Charms.
Soft Pity pleads his Cause; blushing she views
His brawny Limbs, and his undaunted Eye,
That looks a proud Defiance on his Foes.
Resolv'd, and obstinately firm he stands,
Danger, nor Death he fears; while the rich Prize
Is Victory and Love. On the large Bough
Of a thick-spreading Elm TWANGDILLO sits:
One Leg on Ister's Banks the hardy Swain
Left undismay'd, Bellona's Light'ning scorch'd
His manly Visage, but in Pity left
One Eye secure. He many a painful Bruise
Intrepid felt, and many a gaping Wound,
For brown Kate's Sake, and for his Country's Weal.
Yet still the merry Bard without Regret
Bears his own Ills, and with his sounding Shell,
And comic Phyz, relieves his drooping Friends.
Hark, from aloft his tortur'd Cat-gut squeals,
He tickles ev'ry String, to ev'ry Note
He bends his pliant Neck, his single Eye
Twinkles with Joy, his active Stump beats Time.
Let but this subtle Artist softly touch
The trembling Chords, the faint expiring Swain
Trembles no less, and the fond yielding Maid
Is tweedled into Love. See with what Pomp
The gaudy Bands advance in trim Array!
Love beats in ev'ry Vein, from ev'ry Eye
Darts his contagious Flames. They frisk, they bound:
Now to brisk Airs, and to the speaking Strings
Attentive, in Mid-way the Sexes meet;
Joyous their adverse Fronts they close, and press
To strict Embrace, as resolute to force
And storm a Passage to each others Heart:
'Till by the varying Notes forewarn'd, back they
Recoil disparted: Each with longing Eyes
Pursues his Mate retiring, 'till again
The blended Sexes mix; then Hand in Hand
Fast lock'd, around they fly, or nimbly wheel
In Mazes intricate. The jocund Troop
Pleas'd with their grateful Toil, incessant shake
Their uncouth brawny Limbs, and knock their Heels
Sonorous; down each Brow the trickling Balm
In Torrents flows, exhaling Sweets refresh
The gazing Croud, and heav'nly Fragrance fills
The Circuit wide. So danc'd in Days of Yore,
When ORPHEUS play'd a Lesson to the Brutes,
The list'ning Savages; the speckled Pard
Dandled the Kid, and with the bounding Roe
The Lion gambol'd. But what heavn'ly Muse
With equal Lays shall GANDERETTA sing,
When Goddess-like, she skims the verdant Plain
Gracefully gliding? Ev'ry ravish'd Eye
The Nymph attracts, and ev'ry Heart she wounds,
Thee most, transported HOBBINOL! Lo, now,
Now to thy op'ning Arms she skuds along,
With yielding Blushes glowing on her Cheeks,
And Eyes that sweetly languish; but too soon,
Too soon, alas! she flies thy vain Embrace,
But flies to be pursu'd; nimbly she trips,
And darts a Glance so tender, as she turns,
That with new Hopes reliev'd, thy Joys revive,
Thy Stature's rais'd, and thou art more than Man.
Thy stately Port, and more majestic Air,
And ev'ry sprightly Motion speaks thy Love.

Forthwith in hoary Majesty appears
One of gigantic Size, but Visage wan,
MILONIDES the Strong, renown'd of old
For Feats of Arms, but, bending now with Years,
His Trunk unwieldy from the verdant Turf
He rears deliberate, and with his Plant
Of toughest Virgin Oak in rising aids
His trembling Limbs; his bald and wrinkled Front,
Entrench'd with many a glorious Scar, bespeaks
Submissive Rev'rence. He with Count'nance grim
Boasts his past Deeds, and with redoubled Strokes
Marshalls the Croud, and forms the Circle wide.
Stern Arbiter! like some huge Rock he stands,
That breaks th' incumbent Waves; they thronging press
In Troops confus'd, and rear their foaming Heads
Each above each, but from superior Force
Shrinking repell'd, compose of stateliest View
A liquid Theatre. With Hands uplift,
And Voice Stentorian, he proclaims aloud
Each rural Prize. "To him whose active Foot
Foils his bold Foe, and rivets him to Earth,
This Pair of Gloves, by curious Virgin Hands
Embroider'd, seam'd with Silk, and fring'd with Gold.
To him, who best the stubborn Hilts can wield,
And bloody Marks of his Displeasure leave
On his Opponent's Head, this Beaver white
With Silver Edging grac'd, and Scarlet Plume.
Ye taper Maidens! whose impetuous Speed
Outflies the Roe, nor bends the tender Grass,
See here this Prize, this rich lac'd Smock behold,
White as your Bosom, as your Kisses soft.
Blest Nymph! whom bounteous Heav'n's peculiar Grace
Allots this pompous Vest, and worthy deems
To win a Virgin, and to wear a Bride."

The Gifts refulgent dazle all the Croud,
In speechless Admiration fix'd, unmov'd.
Ev'n he, who now each glorious Palm displays,
In sullen Silence views his batter'd Limbs,
And sighs his Vigour spent. Not so appall'd
Young PASTOREL, for active Strength renown'd:
Him Ida bore a Mountain Shepherdess;
On the bleak Woald the new-born Infant lay,
Expos'd to Winter Snows, and Northern Blasts
Severe. As Heroes old, whom from great Jove
Derive their proud Descent, so might he boast
His Line paternal: But be thou, my Muse!
No leaky Blab, nor painful Umbrage give
To wealth Squire, nor doughty Knight, or Peer
Of high Degree. Him ev'ry shouting Ring
In Triumph crown'd, him ev'ry Champion fear'd,
From Kiftsgate to remotest Henbury.
High in the midst the brawny Wrestler stands,
A stately tow'ring Object; the tough Belt
Measures his ample Breast, and shades around
His Shoulders broad; proudly secure he kens
The tempting Prize, in his presumptuous Thought
Already gain'd; with partial Look the Croud
Approve his Claim; but HOBBINOL enrag'd
To see th' important Gifts so cheaply won,
And uncontested Honours tamely lost,
With lowly Rev'rence thus accosts his Queen.

"Fair Goddess! be propitious to my Vows;
Smile on thy Slave, nor HERCULES himself
Shall rob us of this Palm: That Boaster vain
Far other Port shall learn." She with a Look
That pierc'd his inmost Soul, smiling applauds
His gen'rous Ardour, with aspiring Hope
Distends his Breast, and stirs the Man within.
Yet much, alas! she fears, for much she loves.
So from her Arms the Paphian Queen dismiss'd
The Warriour God, on glorious Slaughter bent,
Provok'd his Rage, and with her Eyes inflam'd
Her haughty Paramour. Swift as the Winds
Dispel the fleeting Mists, at once he strips
His Royal Robes; and with a Frown, that chill'd
The Blood of the proud Youth, active he bounds
High o'er the Heads of Multitudes reclin'd:
But as beseem'd one, whose plain honest Heart,
Nor Passion foul, nor Malice dark as Hell,
But Honour pure, and Love divine had fir'd.
His Hand presenting, on his sturdy Foe
Disdainfully he smiles; then quick as Thought,
With his Left-hand the Belt, and with his Right
His Shoulder seiz'd fast-gripping; his right Foot
Essay'd the Champion's Strength, but firm he stood,
Fix'd as a Mountain-Ash, and in his Turn
Repaid the bold Affront; his horny Fist
Fast on his Back he clos'd, and shook in Air
The cumb'rous Load. Nor Rest, nor Pause allow'd,
Their watchful Eyes instruct their busy Feet;
They pant, they heave, each Nerve, each Sinew's strain'd.
Grasping they close, beneath each painful Gripe
The livid Tumours rise, in briny Streams
The Sweat distills, and from their batter'd Shins
The clotted Gore disdains the beaten Ground.
Each Swain his Wish, each trembling Nymph conceals
Her secret Dread; while ev'ry panting Breast
Alternate Fears, and Hopes, depress or raise.
Thus long in dubious Scale the Contest hung,
'Till PASTOREL impatient of Delay,
Collecting all his Force, a furious Stroke
At his left Ancle aim'd; 'twas Death to fall,
To stand impossible. O GANDERETTA!
What Horrors seize thy Soul! On thy pale Cheeks
The Roses fade. But wav'ring long in Air,
Nor firm on Foot, nor as yet wholly fall'n,
On his Right Knee he slip'd, and nimbly scap'd
The foul Disgrace. Thus on the slacken'd Rope
The wingy-footed Artist, frail Support!
Stands tott'ring; now in dreadful Shrieks the Crowd
Lament his sudden Fate, and yield him lost:
He on his Hams, or on his brawny Rump
Sliding secure, derides their vain Distress.
Upstarts the vig'rous HOBB'NOL undismay'd,
From Mother-Earth like old ANTAEUS rais'd,
With might redoubled. Clamour and Applause
Shake all the neighb'ring Hills, Avona's Banks
Return him loud Acclaim: With ardent Eyes
Fierce as a Tyger rushing from his Lair,
He grasp'd the Wrist of his insulting Foe.
Then with quick Wheel oblique, his Shoulder Point
Beneath his Breast his fix'd, and whirl'd aloft
High o'er his Head the sprawling Youth he flung:
The hollow Ground rebellow'd as he fell.
The Croud press forward with tumultuous Din;
Those to relieve their faint expiring Friend,
With Gratulations these. Hands, Tongues, and Caps,
Outragious Joy proclaim, shrill Fiddles squeak,
Hoarse Bagpipes roar, and GANDERETTA smiles.

[pp. 3-18]

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