1812
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anster Fair. A Poem.

Anster Fair. A Poem.

William Tennant


The six cantos of William Tennant's delightful burlesque epic are set in the sixteenth century during the reign of King James V of Scotland. The poem was originally printed at Anstruther and published anonymously. Tennant, a protege of the elderly Lord Woodhouselee, was at the time of writing a crippled and impoverished provincial clerk. Anster Fair anticipates Frere and Byron in the use of ottava rima in comic verse, nationalizing the stanza by closing it with the Spenserian alexandrine. Spenser is also called to mind in the narrative framing devices, aural word-play, and the abundance of inventive powers. Among English poets, Butler, Pope, and Burns are also sources for a poem admired and reprinted throughout the nineteenth century. Despite his obvious knowledge and brilliance, Tennant was condemned to long years of toiling as a provincial schoolmaster before finally winning appointment as Professor of Oriental Languages at St. Andrews. Compare John Trumbull's Spenserian-Hudibrastic An Epithalamium (1769).

Preface: "The following Poem is presented to the Public with that diffidence and anxiety which every young Author feels when the good or bad fate of his first production must check his rashness and vanity, or enliven his future efforts with the confidence arising from popular approbation. The Poem is written in stanzas of octave rhime, or the ottava rima of the Italians; a measure said to be invented by Boccaccio, and after him employed by Tasso and Ariosto. From these writers it was transferred into English Poetry by Fairfax, in his Translation of 'Jerusalem Delivered,' but since his days, has been by our Poets, perhaps, too little cultivated. The stanza of Fairfax is here shut with the Alexandrine of Spenser, that its close may be more full and sounding. In a humorous Poem, partly descriptive of Scottish manners, it was impossible to avoid using a few Scottish words. Some old English words are likewise admitted. The transactions of ANSTER FAIR may be supposed to have taken place during the reign of James V., a Monarch, whom tradition reports to have had many gamesome rambles in Fife, and with whose liveliness and jollity of temper the merriment of the FAIR did not ill accord: yet a scrupulous congruity with the modes of his times was not intended, and must not be expected. Ancient and modern manners are mixed and jumbled together, to heighten the humour, or variegate the description. Edinburgh, 5th May 1812" (1821) v-vii.

Scots Magazine: "The subject of this humorous little piece is founded on the well-known old song of Maggie Lauder. It begins representing Maggie deliberating upon the multitude of suitors who, from all the neighbourhood, sought the favour of her hand; yet, tho' disposed to enter into the matrimonial state, she is unable to find one on whom her choice can reasonably be fixed. From this dilemma, she is extricated by a very singular interposition. The mustard pot upon the table begins to move; and soon there rises from it an exhalation, filling the whole room, and from the midst of which comes forth Puck, the fairy sovereign. Maggie's surprise may be easily imagined; but it was soon converted into pleasure, when she discovered the beauty and graceful air of her aerial visitor. He then propounds the object of his visit, which is to relieve her from the perplexity in which she was involved. In order that she may determine the lover who may be worthy of her hand, he suggests four trials. The first is an ass race; the second, a race of men wrapt in sacks; the third, a contest of pipers; and the fourth, a trial of skill in story-telling. He who should prove victorious in all these four departments, must, it was conceived, be worthy of the prize contended for. Although some objections might have been started to this mode of investigation, these do not seem to have occurred to Maggie, who closed without hesitation with the proposition of Puck. Proclamation to this effect was immediately made, not only thro' the kingdom of Fife, but over the whole of Scotland. Candidates crowded from all quarters, fully provided with the instruments of competition. The monarch himself, James V., to whom mirth and adventure were always agreeable, set sail with his retinue, in order to be present at this brilliant exhibition. The games are next described with all due pomp. — Maggie, however, does not fall to the lot of any Fifan youth. Rob the Ranter, an accomplished border laird, undertakes all the trials of strength and skill, and in all comes off victorious. The fair object of contestation is, therefore, unanimously declared to be his" 74 (July 1812) 540.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld: "This burlesque performance is written with so much humour, that it would afford uninterrupted amusement if it were shorter: but the author 'goes on, and sings of fairs and shows,' through six cantos. Notwithstanding, therefore, the ingenuity which he displays, he will find few readers disposed to laugh to the end of his song, and still fewer inclined to tolerate the epithets of his own compounding which occur in almost every stanza, such as 'lack-nose-visages;' 'Harp-fumbling Theban;' 'Ocean-thumping hulks;' 'hedge-lined highway;' and 'lynx-sharp eye.' The expression at page 57., 'ice thrice baked beneath the pole,' is absolute nonsense: but pages 58. and 59. contain a description of Maggie Lauder, which, though disfigured by hyperbole, is pleasing and poetical; and on the whole, the poem is creditable to the talents of the writer" Monthly Review NS 69 (December 1812) 432.

Scottish Review: "We wish he could cancel Anster Fair, were it not for the poetical mind which it discloses; but we exhort the author in future to avoid writing a long poem, aspiring to humour, in the Spenserian stanza; and, above all things, to divorce from his poetic embraces the Fairy Queen and her entire suit of attendants" quoted in Analectic Review [Philadelphia] NS 5 (May 1815) 374.

Stephen Simpson: "I have heard this Poem always spoken of, as being written in the Spenserian stanza: with what propriety the reader must determine. Spenser stanzas were composed of nine lines. These of eight ... the only point of strict resemblance is in the terminating Alexandrine. This, the poet himself justly calls the Fairfax stanza having been first introduced into English by that nobleman, when he translated Jerusalem Delivered. It is the ottavi rime (octave rhyme) of Italy. It appears very extraordinary, that so few poets of modern days have attempted the real Spenserian stanza. Since the Castle of Indolence, and the Hermit, we have had nothing but Childe Harold. And yet, if the testimony of one who deservedly sat high amid the choir of monarch minstrels — if the opinion and experience of Dr. Beattie, may be suffered to influence us, no structure of verse can be so well fitted for the display of all the power and variety of poesy. It is charged with heaviness; but heaviness is no more characteristick of this stately verse, that it is of of simple heroick. True it may not always have the fire and spirit of the lyrick, but whenever rapidity is demanded, it may be seen both in Beattie and Byron, that it can be given in this stanza, as far as may be consistent with the dignity of song. The spirit, and fire, and rapidity, must be in the thought; not in the expression.... There are four hundred and forty stanzas in this poem, containing upwards of thre thousand five hundred lines; a wonderful evidence of industry indeed, in a poet! and I think from their structure, and freedom, that they unite all the advantages of the Spenserian stanza, while they avoid all that sluggishness which has been attributed to that measure" The Portico [Baltimore] 4 (December 1817) 448-49.

William Minto: "Even when read after Don Juan, Anster Fair must excite admiration by the flexibility and rapid freedom of its verse. There is no trace of poverty in the ornaments embroidered on the fantastically cut garment; the artist runs riot in the wealth of his fantastic imagination, spending prodigally as if from an inexhaustible purse. Tennant has told us himself that it was in laughing over Peebles to the Play the humorous extravaganza, ascribed to James I of Scotland, that the first thought of Anster Fair occurred to him, and his diction shows that he was a delighted student of Spenser and Shakespeare. It was probably from these native sources and not from the Italian masters that he drew his inspiration. His discipleship to Spenser is proclaimed in the Alexandrine with which be closes his eight-rhyme stanza. But he was no mere imitator and copyist; home-grown popular legends and popular sports supplied him with his materials, and he handled them boldly in his own fashion, transporting them into a many-coloured atmosphere of humorous imagination" The English Poets, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 4:304-05.



While some of Troy and pettish heroes sing,
And some of Rome and chiefs of pious fame,
And some of men that thought it harmless thing
To smite off heads in Mars's bloody game,
And some of Eden's garden gay with spring,
And Hell's dominions terrible to name,—
I sing a theme far livelier, happier, gladder,
I sing of ANSTER FAIR, and bonny MAGGIE LAUDER.

What time from east, from west, from south, from north,
From every hamlet, town, and smoky city,
Laird, clown, and beau, to Anster Fair came forth,
The young, the gay, the handsome, and the witty,
To try in various sport and game their worth,
Whilst prize before them MAGGIE sat, the pretty,
And after many a feat, and joke, and banter,
Fair MAGGIE'S hand was won by mighty ROB the RANTER.

Muse, that from top of thine old Greekish hill,
Didst the harp-fing'ring Theban younker view,
And on his lips bid bees their sweets distil,
And gav'st the chariot that the white swans drew,
O let me scoop, from thine ethereal rill,
Some little palmfuls of the blessed dew,
And lend the swan-drawn car, that safely I,
Like him, may scorn the earth, and burst into the sky.

Our themes are like; for he the games extoll'd
Held in the chariot-shaken Grecian plains,
Where the vain victor, arrogant and bold,
Parsley or laurel got for all his pains.
I sing of sports more worthy to be told,
Where better Prize the Scottish victor gains:
What were the crowns of Greece but wind and bladder,
Compar'd with marriage-bed of bonny MAGGIE LAUDER?

And O that king Apollo would but grant
A little spark of that transcendent flame
That fir'd the Chian rhapsodist to chant
How vied the bowmen for Ulysses' dame,
And him of Rome to sing how Atalant
Plied, dart in hand, the suitor-slaught'ring game,
Till the bright gold, bowl'd forth along the grass,
Betray'd her to a spouse, and stopp'd the bounding lass.

But lo! from bosom of yon southern cloud,
I see the chariot come which Pindar bore;
I see the swans, whose white necks, arching proud,
Glitter with golden yoke, approach my shore:
For me they come — O Phoebus, potent god!
Spare, spare me now — Enough, good king — no more—
A little spark I ask'd in moderation,
Why scorch me ev'n to death with fiery inspiration?

My pulse beats fire — my pericranium glows,
Like baker's oven, with poetic heat;
A thousand bright ideas, spurning prose,
Are in a twinkling hatch'd in Fancy's seat;
Zounds! they will fly, out at my ears and nose,
If through my mouth they find not passage fleet;
I hear them buzzing deep within my noddle,
Like bees that in their hives confus'dly hum and huddle.

How now? — what's this? — my very eyes, I trow,
Drop on my hands their base prosaic scales;
My visual orbs are purg'd from film, and lo!
Instead of ANSTER'S turnip-bearing vales,
I see old Fairyland's mirac'lous show,
Her trees of tinsel kiss'd by freakish gales,
Her ouphes, that cloak'd in leaf-gold skim the breeze,
And fairies swarming thick as mites in rotten cheese.

I see the puny fair-chinn'd goblin rise
Suddenly glorious from his mustard-pot;
I see him wave his hand in seemly wise,
And button round him tight his fulgent coat;
While MAGGIE LAUDER, in a great surprise,
Sits startled on her chair, yet fearing not;
I see him ope his dewy lips; I hear
The strange and strict command address'd to MAGGIE'S ear.

I see the RANTER with bagpipe on back,
As to the fair he rides jocundly on;
I see the crowds that press with speed not slack
Along each road that leads to ANSTER loan;
I see the suitors, that, deep-sheath'd in sack,
Hobble and tumble, bawl and swear, and groan;
I see — but fie, thou brainish Muse! what mean
These vapourings, and brags of what by thee is seen?

Go to — be cooler, and in order tell
To all my good co-townsmen list'ning round,
How every merry incident befel,
Whereby our loan shall ever be renown'd.
Say first, what elf or fairy could impel
Fair MAG, with wit, and wealth, and beauty crown'd,
To put her suitors to such waggish test,
And give her happy bed to him that jumped best?

'Twas on a keen December night; John Frost
Drove through mid air his chariot, icy-wheel'd,
And from the sky's crisp ceiling, star-embost,
Whiff'd off the clouds that the pure blue conceal'd;
The hornless moon amid her brilliant host
Shone, and with silver-sheeted lake and field;
'Twas cutting cold; I'm sure, each trav'ler's nose
Was pinch'd right red that night, and numb'd were all his toes.

Not so were MAGGIE LAUDER'S toes, as she
In her warm chamber at her supper sate,
(For 'twas that hour when burgesses agree
To eat their suppers ere the night grows late).
Alone she sat, and pensive as may be
A young fair lady, wistful of a mate:
Yet with her teeth held now and then a-picking,
Her stomach to refresh, the breast-bone of a chicken.

She thought upon her suitors, that with love
Besiege her chamber all the livelong day,
Aspiring each her virgin heart to move,
With courtship's every troublesome essay;
Calling her, angel, sweeting, fondling, dove,
And other nicknames in love's friv'lous way;
While she, though their addresses still she heard,
Held back from all her heart, and still no beau preferr'd.

What, what! quo' MAG, must thus it be my doom
To spend my prime in maidhood's joyless state,
And waste away my sprightly body's bloom
In spouseless solitude without a mate,
Still toying with my suitors, as they come
Cringing in lowly courtship to my gate?
Fool that I am, to live unwed so long!
More fool, since I am woo'd by such a clam'rous throng!

For was e'er heiress with much gold in chest,
And dower'd with acres of wheat-bearing land,
By such a pack of men, in am'rous quest,
Fawningly spaniel'd to bestow her hand?
Where'er I walk, the air that feeds my breast
Is by the gusty sighs of lovers fann'd;
Each wind that blows wafts love-cards to my lap;
Whilst I — ah, stupid MAG! — avoid each am'rous trap!

Then come, let me my suitors' merits weigh,
And in the worthiest lad my spouse select:—
First, there's our ANSTER merchant, Norman Ray
A powder'd wight with golden buttons deck'd,
That stinks with scent, and chats like popinjay,
And struts with phiz tremendously erect:
Four brigs has he, that on the broad sea swim;—
He is a pompous fool — I cannot think of him.

Next is the maltster Andrew Strang, that takes
His seat i' the Bailie's loft on Sabbath-day,
With paltry visage white as oaten cakes,
As if no blood runs gurgling in his clay.
Heav'ns! what an awkward hunch the fellow makes,
As to the priest he does the bow repay!
Yet he is rich — a very wealthy man, true—
But, by the holy rood, I will have none of Andrew.

Then for the Lairds — there's Melvil of Carnbee,
A handsome gallant, and a beau of spirit;
Who can go down the dance so well as he?
And who can fiddle with such manly merit?
Ay, but he is too much the debauchee—
His cheeks seem sponges oozing port and claret;
In marrying him I should bestow myself ill,
And so, I'll not have you, thou fuddler, Harry Melvil!

There's Cunningham of Barns, that still assails
With verse and billet-doux my gentle heart,
A bookish squire, and good at telling tales,
That rhimes and whines of Cupid, flame, and dart
But, oh! his mouth a sorry smell exhales,
And on his nose sprouts horribly the wart:
What though there be a fund of lore and fun in him?
He has a rotten breath — I cannot think of Cunningham.

Why then, there's Allardyce, that plies his suit
And battery of courtship more and more;
Spruce Lochmalonie, that with booted foot
Each morning wears the threshold of my door;
Auchmoutie, too, and Bruce, that persecute
My tender heart with am'rous buffets sore:—
—Whom to my hand and bed should I promote?—
—Eh-la! what sight is this? — what ails my mustard-pot?

Here broke the lady her soliloquy;
For in a twink her pot of mustard, lo!
Self-mov'd, like Jove's wheel'd stool that rolls on high,
'Gan caper on her table to and fro,
And hopp'd and fidgetted before her eye,
Spontaneous, here and there, a wondrous show:
As leaps, instinct with mercury, a bladder,
So leaps the mustard-pot of bonnie MAGGIE LAUDER.

Soon stopp'd its dance th' ignoble utensil,
When from its round and small recess there came
Thin curling wreaths of paly smoke, that still,
Fed by some magic unapparent flame,
Mount to the chamber's stucco'd roof, and fill
Each nook with fragrance, and refresh the dame:
Ne'er smelt a Phoenix-nest so sweet, I wot,
As smelt the luscious fumes of MAGGIE'S mustard-pot.

It reeked censer-like; then, strange to tell!
Forth from the smoke, that thick and thicker grows,
A fairy of the height of half an ell,
In dwarfish pomp, majestically rose:
His feet, upon the table 'stablish'd well,
Stood trim and splendid in their snake-skin hose;
Gleam'd topaz-like the breeches he had on,
Whose waistband like the bend of summer rainbow shone.

His coat seem'd fashion'd of the threads of gold,
That intertwine the clouds at sun-set hour,
And, certes, Iris with her shuttle bold
Wove the rich garment in her lofty bower;
To form its buttons were the Pleiads old
Pluck'd from their sockets, sure by genie-power,
And sew'd upon the coat's resplendent hem;
Its neck was lovely green, each cuff a sapphire gem.

As when the churlish spirit of the Cape
To Gama, voyaging to Mozambique,
Up-popp'd from sea, a tangle-tassel'd shape,
With mussels sticking inch-thick on his cheek,
And 'gan with tortoise-shell his limbs to scrape,
And yawn'd his monstrous blobberlips to speak;
Brave Gama's hairs stood bristled at the sight,
And on the tarry deck sunk down his men with fright.

So sudden (not so huge and grimly dire)
Uprose to MAGGIE'S stounded eyne the sprite,
As fair a fairy as you could desire,
With ruddy cheek, and chin and temples white;
His eyes seem'd little points of sparkling fire,
That, as he look'd, charm'd with inviting light;
He was, indeed, as bonny a fay and brisk,
As e'er on long moonbeam was seen to ride and frisk.

Around his bosom, by a silken zone,
A little bagpipe gracefully was bound,
Whose pipes like hollow stalks of silvers shone,
The glist'ring tiny avenues of sound;
Beneath his arm the windy bag, full-blown,
Heav'd up its purple like an orange round,
And only waited orders to discharge
Its blast with charming groan into the sky at large.

He wav'd his hand to MAGGIE, as she sat
Amaz'd and startled on her carved chair;
Then took his petty feather-garnish'd hat,
In honour to the lady, from his hair,
And made a bow so dignifiedly flat,
That MAG was witched with his beauish air:
At last he spoke, with voice so soft, so kind,
So sweet, as if his throat with fiddle-strings was lin'd—

Lady! be not offended that I dare,
Thus forward and impertinently rude,
Emerge, uncall'd, into the upper air,
Intruding on a maiden's solitude:
Nay, do not be alarm'd, thou Lady fair!
Why startle so? — I am a fairy good;
Not one of those that, envying beauteous maids,
Speckle their skins with moles, and fill with spleens their heads.

For, as conceal'd in this clay-house of mine,
I overheard thee in a lowly voice
Weighing thy lovers' merits, with design
Now on the worthiest lad to fix thy choice,
I have up-bolted from my paltry shrine
To give thee, sweet-eyed lass, my best advice;
For, by the life of Oberon my king!
To pick good husband out is, sure, a ticklish thing.

And never shall good Tommy Puck permit
Such an assemblage of unwonted charms
To cool some lecher's lewd licentious fit,
And sleep imbounded by his boisterous arms.
What though his fields by twenty ploughs be split,
And golden wheat wave riches on his farms?
His house, is shame — it cannot, shall not be:
A greater, happier doom, O MAG, awaiteth thee.

Strange are indeed the steps by which thou must
Thy glory's happy eminence attain;
But Fate hath fix'd them, and 'tis Fate's t' adjust
The mighty links that ends to means enchain;
Nor may poor Puck his little fingers thrust
Into the links, to break Jove's steel in twain:
Then, MAGGIE, hear, and let my words descend
Into thy soul, for much it boots thee to attend.

To-morrow, when o'er th' Isle of May the sun
Lifts up his forehead bright with golden crown,
Call to thine house the light-heel'd men, that run
Afar, on messages for ANSTER Town,
Fellows of sp'rit, by none in speed outdone,
Of lofty voice, enough a drum to drown,
And bid them hie, post-haste, through all the nation,
And publish, far and near, this famous proclamation:

Let them proclaim, with voice's loudest tone,
That on your next approaching market-day
Shall merry sports be held in ANSTER loan,
With celebration notable and gay;
And that a prize, than gold or precious stone
More precious, shall the victor's toils repay,
Ev'n thy own form with beauties so replete,
—Nay, MAGGIE, start not thus! — thy marriage-bed, my sweet.

First, on the loan shall ride full many an ass,
With stout whip-wielding rider on his back,
Intent with twinkling hoof to pelt the grass,
And pricking up his long ears at the crack.
Next o'er the ground the daring men shall pass,
Half-coffin'd in their cumbrances of sack,
With heads just peeping from their shrines of bag,
Horribly hobbling round, and straining hard for MAG.

Then shall the pipers groaningly begin
In squeaking rivalry their merry strain,
Till Billyness shall echo back the din,
And Innergelly woods shall ring again.
Last, let each man that hopes thy hand to win
By witty product of prolific brain,
Approach, and, confident of Pallas' aid,
Claim by an hum'rous tale possession of thy bed.

Such are the wondrous tests, by which, my love,
The merits of thy husband must be tried;
And he that shall in these superior prove,
(One proper husband shall the Fates provide)
Shall from the loan with thee triumphant move
Homeward, the jolly bridegroom and the bride,
And at thy house shall eat the marriage-feast,
When I'll pop up again. — Here Tommy Puck surceast.

He ceas'd, and to his wee mouth, dewy-wet,
His bagpipe's tube of silver up he held,
And underneath his down-press'd arm he set
His purple bag, that with a tempest swell'd;
He play'd and pip'd so sweet, that never yet
MAG had a piper heard that Puck excell'd:
Had Midas heard a tune so exquisite,
By Heav'n! his long base ears had quiver'd with delight.

Tingle the fire-ir'ns, poker, tongs, and grate,
Responsive to the blithesome melody;
The tables and the chairs inanimate
Wish they had muscles now to trip it high;
Wave back and forwards at a wondrous rate,
The window-curtains, touch'd with sympathy;
Fork, knife, and trencher, almost break their sloth,
And caper on their ends upon the table-cloth.

How then could MAGGIE, splightly, smart, and
Withstand that bagpipe's blithe awak'ning air?
She, as her ear-drum caught the sounds, up-sprung
Like lightning, and despis'd her idle chair,
And into all the dance's graces flung
The bounding members of her body fair:
From nook to nook through all her room she tript,
And whirl'd like whirligig, and reel'd, and bobb'd, and skipt.

At last the little piper ceas'd to play,
And deftly bow'd, and said, "My dear, goodnight;"
Then in a smoke evanish'd clean away,
With all his gaudy apparatus bright.
As breaks soap-bubble, which a boy in play
Blows from his short tobacco-pipe aright,
So broke poor Puck from view, and on the spot
Y-smoking aloes-reek he left his mustard-pot.

Whereat the furious Lady's wriggling feet
Forgot to patter in such pelting wise,
And down she gladly sunk upon her seat,
Fatigued and panting from her exercise.
She sat, and mus'd a while, as it was meet,
On what so late had occupied her eyes;
Then to her bed-room went, and doff'd her gown,
And laid upon her couch her charming person down.

Some say that MAGGIE slept so sound that night,
As never she had slept since she was born;
But sure am I, that, thoughtful of the sprite,
She twenty times upon her bed did turn;
For still appear'd to stand before her sight
The gaudy goblin, glorious from his urn,
And still, within the cavern of her ear,
Th' injunction echoing rung, so strict and strange to hear.

But when the silver-harness'd steeds, that draw
The car of morning up th' empyreal height,
Had snorted day upon North-Berwick-Law,
And from their glist'ring loose manes toss'd the light,
Immediately from bed she rose, (such awe
Of Tommy press'd her soul with anxious weight,)
And donn'd her tissued fragrant morning vest,
And to fulfil his charge her earliest me addrest.

Straight to her house she tarried not to call
Her messengers and heralds swift of foot,
Men skill'd to hop o'er dikes and ditches; all
Gifted with sturdy brazen lungs to boot.
She bade them halt at every town, and bawl
Her proclamation out with mighty bruit,
Inviting loud, to ANSTER loan and FAIR,
The Scottish beaux to jump for her sweet person there.

They took each man his staff into his hand;
They button'd round their bellies close their coats;
They flew divided through the frozen land;
Were never seen such swiftly-trav'lling Scots!
Nor ford, slough, mountain, could their speed withstand;
Such fleetness have the men that feed on oats!
They skirr'd, they flounder'd thro' the sleets and snows,
And puff'd against the winds, that bit in spite each nose.

They halted at each wall-fenc'd town renown'd,
And ev'ry lesser borough of the nation;
And with the trumpet's welkin-rifting sound,
And tuck of drum of loud reverberation,
Tow'rds the four wings of heav'n, they, round and round,
Proclaim'd in Stentor-like vociferation ,
That, on th' approaching day of ANSTER market,
Should merry sports be held: — Hush! listen now and hark it!—

"Ho! beaux and pipers, wits and jumpers, ho!
Ye buxom blades that like to kiss the lasses;
Ye that are skill'd sew'd up in sacks to go;
Ye that excel in horsemanship of asses;
Ye that are smart at telling tales, and know
On Rhime's two stilts to clutch it up Parnassus;
Ho! lads, your sacks, pipes, asses, tales, prepare
To jump, play, ride, and rhime, at ANSTER loan and FAIR!

"First, on the green turf shall each ass draw nigh,
Caparison'd or clouted for the race,
With mounted rider, sedulous to ply
Cudgel or whip, and win the foremost place.
Next shall th' advent'rous men, that dare to try
Their bodies' springiness in hempen case,
Put on their bags, and, with ridic'lous bound,
And sweat, and huge turmoil, pass lab'ring o'er the ground.

Then shall the pipers, gentlemen o' the drone,
Their pipes in gleesome competition screw,
And grace, with loud solemnity of groan,
Each his invented tune to th' audience new.
Last shall each witty bard, to whom is known
The craft of Helicon's rhime-jingling crew,
His story tell in good poetic strains,
And make his learned tongue the midwife to his brains.

"And he whose tongue the wittiest tale shall tell,
Whose bagpipe shall the sweetest tune resound,
Whose heels, tho' clogg'd with sack, shall jump it well,
Whose ass shall foot with fleetest hoof the ground:
He who from all the rest shall bear the bell,
With victory in every trial crown'd,
He (mark it, lads!) to MAGGIE LAUDER'S house
That self same night shall go, and take her for his spouse."—

Here ceas'd the criers of the sturdy lungs;
But here the gossip Fame (whose body's pores
Are nought but open ears and babbling tongues,
That gape and wriggle on her hide in scores)
Began to jabber o'er each city's throngs,
Blaz'ning the news through all the Scottish shores;
Nor had she blabb'd, methinks, so stoutly, since
Queen Dido's peace was broke by Troy's love-truant Prince.

In every Lowland vale and Highland glen,
She nois'd th' approaching fun of ANSTER FAIR:
Ev'n when in sleep were laid the sons of men,
Snoring away on good chaff beds their care,
You might have heard her faintly murm'ring then,
For lack of audience, to the midnight air,
That from Fife's East Nook up to farthest Stornoway,
Fair MAGGIE'S loud report most rapidly was borne away.

And soon the mortals, that design to strive
By meritorious jumping for the prize,
Train up their bodies, ere the day arrive,
To th' lumpish sack-encumber'd exercise:
You might have seen no less than four or five
Hobbling in each town-loan in awkward guise.
E'en little boys, when from the school let out,
Mimick'd the bigger beaux, and leap'd in pokes about.

Through cots and granges, with industrious foot,
By laird and knight were light-heel'd asses sought,
So that no ass of any great repute,
For twenty Scots marks could have then been bought;
Nor e'er, before or since, the long-ear'd brute
Was such a goodly acquisition thought.
The pipers vex'd their ears and pipes, t' invent
Some tune that might the taste of ANSTER MAG content.

Each poet, too, whose lore-manured brain
Is hot of soil, and sprouts up mushroom wit,
Ponder'd his noddle into extreme pain,
T' excogitate, some story nice and fit.
When rack'd had been his scull some hours in vain,
He, to relax his mind a little bit,
Plung'd deep into a sack his precious body,
And school'd it for the race, and hopp'd around his study.

Such was the sore preparatory care
Of all th' ambitious that for April sigh:
Nor sigh the young alone for ANSTER FAIR;
Old men and wives, erewhile content to die,
Who hardly can forsake their easy-chair,
To take, abroad, farewell of sun and sky,
With new desire of life now glowing, pray
That they may just o'erlive our famous market-day.

[(1821) 3-32]

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