1780 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A School Eclogue.

Monthly Magazine 8 (August 1799) 544-45.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld


A school-yard contention burlesquing Virgil, notable for its varied catalogue of juvenile objects of desire. The School Eclogue was several times printed anonymously before it appeard in Anna Laetitia Barbauld's posthumous Works (1825). The manner and tone of this descriptive piece is closer to Robert Southey's recently-published Botany Bay Eclogues than to John Gay's The Shepherd's Week or Shenstone's The School-Mistress — the new mode of simplicity has pared away almost all of the traditional pastoral machinery.

William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft: "Mentions of Palgrave and Suffolk in ll. 90-91 imply that this parody of Virgil was written during ALB's Palgrave years [1774-85]" Poems (1994) 281n.

"A School Eclogue" found its way into the Port Folio, a Philadelphia publication, which also published "Summer, an Academick Eclogue" in NS 5 (23 January 1808) 59-60.

It was at Palgrave School in the 1770s that William Taylor of Norwich met Frank Sayers, whose memoir he would later write: "Among the instructions bestowed at Palgrave, Dr. Sayers has repeatedly observed to me, that he most valued the lessons of English composition superintended by Mrs. Barbauld. On Wednesdays and Saturdays the boys were called in separate classes to her apartment: she read a fable, a short story, or a moral essay, to them aloud, and then sent them back into the schoolroom to write it out on the slates in their own words. Each exercise was separately overlooked by her; the faults of grammar were obliterated, the vulgarisms were chastised, the idle epithets were cancelled, and a distinct reason was always assigned for every correction; so that the arts of enditing and of criticising were in some degree learnt together. Many a lad from the great schools, who excels in Latin and Greek, cannot write properly a vernacular letter, for want of some such discipline" memoir in Sayers, Collective Works (1823) xii.



EDWARD:
Hist, William! Hist! What means that air so gay?
Thy looks, thy dress, bespeak some holiday;
Thy hat is brush'd; thy hands, with wond'rous pains,
Are cleans'd from garden mould and inky stains;
Thy glossy shoes confess the lacquey's care;
And recent from the comb shines thy sleek hair.
What god, what saint, this prodigy has wrought?
Declare the cause; and ease my lab'ring thought?

WILLIAM.
John, faithful John, is with the horses come,
Mamma prevails, and I am sent for home.

EDWARD:
Thrice happy who such welcome tidings greet!
Thrice happy who reviews his native seat!
For him the matron spreads her candy's hoard,
And early strawberries crown the smiling board;
For him crush'd gooseberries with rich cream combine,
And bending boughs their fragrant fruit resign:
Custards and sillabubs his taste invite;
Sports fill the day, and feasts prolong the night.
Think not I envy, I admire thy fate;
Yet, ah! what different tasks thy comrades wait!
Some in the grammar's thorny maze to toil,
Some with rude strokes the snowy paper soil,
Some o'er barbaric climes in maps to roam,
Far from their mother-tongue, and dear lov'd home.
Harsh names, of uncouth sound, their memories load,
And oft their shoulders feel th' unpleasant goad.

WILLIAM.
Doubt not our turn will come some future time.
Now, Harry, hear us twain contend in rhyme,
For yet thy horses have not eat their hay,
And unconsum'd as yet th' allotted hour of play.

HENRY.
Then spout alternate, I consent to hear,
Let no false rhyme offend my critic ear;
But say, what prizes shall the victor hold?
I guess your pockets are not lin'd with gold!

WILLIAM.
A ship these hands have built, in ev'ry part
Carv'd, rigg'd, and painted, with the nicest art;
The ridgy sides are black with pitchy store,
From stem to stern 'tis twice ten inches o'er.
The lofty mast, a strait, smooth hazel fram'd,
The tackling silk, the charming Sally nam'd;
And — but take heed lest thou divulge the tale,
The lappet of my shirt supply'd the sail;
An azure ribband for a pennant flies:
Now, if thy verse excel, be this the prize.

EDWARD:
For me at home the careful housewives make,
With plums and almonds rich, an ample cake.
Smooth is the top, a plain of shining ice,
The West its sweetness gives, the East its spice:
From soft Ionian isles, well known to fame,
Ulysses' once, the luscious currant came.
The green transparent citron Spain bestows,
And from her golden groves the orange glows.
So vast the heaving mass, it scarce has room
Within th' oven's dark capacious womb;
'Twill be consign'd to the next carrier's care,
I cannot yield it all — be half thy share.

WILLIAM.
Well does the gift thy liquorish palate suit,
I know who rob'd the orchard of its fruit.
When all were wrapt in sleep, one early morn,
While yet the dew-drop trembled on the thorn,
I mark'd when o'er the quickset hedge you leapt,
And, sly, beneath the gooseberry bushes crept.
Then shook the trees, a show'r of apples fell,
And, where the hoard you kept, I know full well;
The mellow gooseberries did themselves produce,
For thro' thy pocket oozed the viscous juice.

EDWARD.
I scorn a tell-tale, or I cou'd declare
How, leave unask'd, you sought the neighbouring fair;
Then home by moon-light spurred your jaded steed,
And scarce returned before the hour of bed.
Think how thy trembling heart had felt affright,
Had not our master supped abroad that night.

WILLIAM.
On the smooth, white-washed ceiling near thy bed,
Mixed with thy own, is Anna's cypher read;
From wreaths of dusky smoke the letters flow;
Whose band the waving candle held, I know.
Fines and jobations shall thy soul appal,
Whene'er our mistress spies the sully'd wall.

EDWARD:
Uncon'd her lesson once, in idle mood,
Trembling before the master Anna stood;
I marked what prompter near her took his place,
And, whispering, sav'd the virgin from disgrace;
Much is the youth bely'd, and much the maid,
Or more than words the whisper soft convey'd.

WILLIAM.
Think not I blush to own so bright a flame,
Even boys for her assume the lover's name;
As far as alleys beyond taws we prize,
Or venison pasty ranks above school pies;
As much as peaches beyond apples please,
Or Parmesan excels a Suffolk cheese;
Or P— donkeys lag behind a steed,
So far do Anna's charms all other charms exceed.

EDWARD:
Tell, if thou canst, where is that creature bred,
Whose wide-stretch'd mouth is larger than its head;
Guess, and my great Apollo thou shalt be,
And cake and ship shall both remain with thee.

WILLIAM.
Explain thou first, what portent late was seen,
With strides impetuous, posting o'er the green,
Three heads, like Cerberus, the monster bore,
And one was sidelong fix'd, and two before;
Eight legs, depending from his ample sides,
Each well-built flank unequally divides;
For five on this, on that side three are found,
Four swiftly move, and four not touch the ground.
Long time the moving prodigy I view'd,
By gazing men, and barking dogs pursu'd.

HARRY.
Cease! cease your carols both! For lo the bell
With jarring notes, has rung out pleasure's knell.
Your startled comrades, e'er the game be done,
Quit their unfinish'd sports, and trembling run.
Haste to your forms before the master call!
With thoughtful step he paces o'er the hall,
Does with stern looks each playful loiterer greet,
Counts with his eye, and marks each vacant seat;
Intense, the buzzing murmur grows around,
Loud, thro' the dome, the usher's strokes resound.
Sneak off, and to your places slily steal,
Before the prowess of his arm you feel.

[pp. 544-45]