1800 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Coffee House.

The Harp of Erin, containing the Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Dermody. In Two Volumes. [James G. Raymond, ed.]

Thomas Dermody


Six regular and irregular Spenserian stanzas: a Spenserian "house of" poem that depicts the denizens of a contemporary coffee-house ("Is France yet conquer'd, are the Russians beat?") in the manner of Thomson's The Castle of Indolence — or perhaps the more Hogarthian manner of Pope's The Alley. Much of Dermody's imagery derives the common stock of eighteenth-century imitations of Philips's The Splendid Shilling. If nothing else, this satirical melange indicates an acute awareness of the tradition of eighteenth-century Spenserian poetry.

Charles Brockden Brown?: "His talents were of an inferior order. He has considerable sweetness of versification, and a copious and easy flow of expression; but we find little original in his conceptions; he is a great copyist: and, where he does not give way to a vein of puerile parody, or vulgar mock heroick, seems generally contented with amplifying, in loose and declamatory language, the ideas which he borrows from popular authors. After all, it is by no means so difficult to write tolerable poetry as the world appears to imagine; nor is the merit of this kind of labour so great as to atone for the want of common decency, or to monopolize the charity on which virtuous misfortune has so much stronger a claim. There are quantities of poetry as good as most of Dermody's, which pass quietly to oblivion every six months, without ever being missed by the world" "Account of Thomas Dermody" Literary Magazine and American Register [Philadelphia] 6 (September 1806) 172.



Nymph of the sleepy weed, thy poet aid;
O! bid him, a-la-Turk! thy favour find;
Wrap his drear head with dullness' genuine shade,
His soul in chains indisoluble bind;
Let thick tobacco clothe his vap'ry mind
With tenfold smoke, from tubes triumphant play'd:
So shall he rise the Mahomet of rhyme,
Shew all thy shrine, in majesty display'd;
Bid cut and dry the ceiling scale sublime,
And shatter'd cups well-fraught, in loud harmonious chime.

Like Alghiere borne on Virgil's back,
Porterly load! I pierce the house of smoke;
Facetious jokes around me hov'ring crack,
And tables groan with many a brilliant stroke.
There stalks the comic in a tarnish'd frock,
While tragedy in boots with stern attack,
Bids the loud waiter like a lion roar.
Sage politics, there seeks his nightly snack;
Philosophy, the wall with saws scrapes o'er,
And geometry sublime, uproots the oaken floor.

Lo! yon pale wight of haggard semblance dire,
That on the brown-crush'd paper vents his rage,
An essayist he, who claims a muse of fire,
Author I wot, full meet, for such a page;
See, when the party-wits in talk engage,
How stern he rolls his eye-balls, fraught with ire;
Shrugg'd shoulders testify his fell dismay,
And goosequill waved in many a frantic gyse:
Anon, with hasty strides he starts away,
To damning pamphlet, poem, farce, wild pantomime, and play.

Lo! careful miser counting o'er his purse,
Sprinkling light guineas with the heavier coin;
He mumbleth ev'ry reck'ning with a curse,
And for a farthing prays to pow'rs divine;
Ne had he Ormus, or Golconda-mine,
Would he be satisfy'd, still carking worse;
Eftsoons, he teemeth with a baser plot,
Candle to steal, perdye, unto his nurse;
Poor nurse! who seldom boileth chearful pot,
But from the neighb'ring shop conveyeth pottage hot.

The newspapers appear; what busy hum?
Is France yet conquer'd, are the Russians beat?
How many gone to goal, or kingdom come?
What is the price of India stock, and meat?
Which of the aldermen gave last grand treat?
Did Lady Padewsoy neglect her drum?
Or Lady Lapdog's bitch in panic die?
Are courtiers honest, ministers struck dumb?
What maids of honour loud for husbands cry?
Who dived the deepest sea, or soar'd the loftiest sky?

Thus in rough parley do they waste the night,
Ambitious of most noise, and least pretence.
Critique, o'erpow'rs miss Muse with horrid might,
And Ignorance with saddle presseth Sense:
The present combats with the future tense;
Grammar himself, shrewd rogue, prepares for flight:
From slightest hints here duels dire commence;
A cough, a wink, provokes the bloody fight;
So rash those heedless men, who ne'er are in the right.

[2:113-15]