1817
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Search after Happiness; or the Quest of Sultaun Solimaun. (In imitation of Byron).

The Sale Room No. 5 (1 February 1817).

Sir Walter Scott


A comic oriental tale in 22 stanzas, the first a Spenserian. In this little-known poem Scott adapts his easy way of versifying to the Italian burlesque recently introduced in John Hookham Frere's The Monks and the Giants and popularized by Byron's Beppo. The Sultan Solimaun, suffering from a bout of melancholia, visits Arabia, France, England, and Scotland in pursuit of the magical shirt his mother says will cure his ills. This shirt, he is told, will be worn by a happy man: a rare commodity, as the Sultan discovers. The man is eventually discovered in Ireland — the most wretched nation of the miserable lot — though the Sultan returns returns without his shirt. In a series of comic representations of national characters the Tory poet describes the anger, poverty, and disappointment following in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. The return to life as usual involves a return to the usual complaints.

Author's note: "The hint of the following tale is taken from La Camiscia Magica, a novel of Giam Battista Casti."

The Sale Room was a periodical paper published by Scott and John Ballantyne; Lockhart reports that this poem was the only item in it that met with any success. It was reprinted "with other poems" in a Philadelphia edition in 1820.

Walter Scott to James Morritt: "I hope to send you in a couple of days Harold the Dauntless, which has not turned out so good as I thought it would have done. I begin to get too old and stupid, I think, for poetry, and will certainly never again venture on a grand scale. For amusement, and to help a little publication that is going on here, I have spun a doggerel tale called The Search after Happiness, of which I shall send you a copy by post, if it is of a frankable size; if not, I can put it up with the Dauntless. Among other misfortunes of Harold is his name, but the thing was partly printed before Childe Harold was in question" 30 January 1817; in Lockhart, Life of Scott (1837-38; 1902) 3:137.

Robert Shelton Mackenzie: "John Ballantyne was next brother to James, Scott's printer and confidential friend, and like him, was in the secret of the Waverley Novels. In 1809, he was started by Scott and his brother, in the publishing house of John Ballantyne and Company, at Edinburgh, in opposition to Constable. One of his first publications was Scott's Lady of the Lake. After the success of Waverley, he published a wretched novel, The Widow's Lodgings. The publishing business did not succeed, and the firm was dissolved. John Ballantyne then became an auctioneer, a business for which he was well qualified. In 1817, Scott contributed several minor poems to a periodical of his called The Sale Room. Ballantyne died June 1821, aged 45" Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 1:37n.



I.
O, for a glance of that gay Muse's eye
That lightened on Bandello's laughing tale,
And twinkled with a lustre shrewd and sly
When Giam Battista bade her vision hail!
Yet fear not, ladies, the naive detail
Given by the natives of that land canorous;
Italian license loves to leap the pale,
We Britons have the fear of shame before us,
And, if not wise in mirth, at least must be decorous.

II.
In the far eastern clime, no great while since,
Lived Sultaun Solimaun, a mighty prince,
Whose eyes, as oft as they performed their round,
Beheld all others fixed upon the ground;
Whose ears received the same unvaried phrase,
"Sultaun! thy vassal hears and he obeys!"
All have their tastes — this may the fancy strike
Of such grave folks as pomp and grandeur like;
For me, I love the honest heart and warm
Of Monarch who can amble round his farm,
Or, when the toil of state no more annoys,
In chimney corner seek domestic joys—
I love a Prince will bid the bottle pass,
Exchanging with his subjects glance and glass;
In fitting time can, gayest of the gay,
Keep up the jest and mingle in the lay—
Such Monarchs best our free-born humours suit,
But Despots must be stately, stern, and mute.

III.
This Solimaun, Serendib had in sway—
And where's Serendib? may some critic say.—
Good lack, mine honest friend, consult the chart,
Scare not my Pegasus before I start!
If Rennell has it not, you'll find mayhap
The isle laid down in Captain Sinbad's map,—
Famed mariner! whose merciless narrations
Drove every friend and kinsman out of patience,
Till, fain to find a guest who thought them shorter,
He deigned to tell them over to a porter—
The last edition see by Long: and Co.,
Rees, Hurst, and Orme, our fathers in the Row.

IV.
Serendib found, — deem not my tale a fiction—
This Sultaun, whether lacking contradiction—
(A sort of stimulant which hath its uses
To raise the spirits and reform the juices,
Sovereign specific for all sorts of cures
In my wife's practice and perhaps in yours,)
The Sultaun lacking this same wholesome bitter,
Or cordial smooth for princes' palate fitter—
Or if some Mollah had hag-rid his dreams
With Degial, Ginnistan, and such wild themes
Belonging to the Mollah's subtle craft,
I wot not — but the Sultaun never laugh'd,
Scarce ate or drank, and took a melancholy
That scorn'd all remedy profane or holy;
In his long list of melancholies, mad,
Or mazed, or dumb, hath Burton none so bad.

V.
Physicians soon arrived, sage, ware, and tried,
As e'er scrawl'd jargon in a darken'd room;
With heedful glance the Sultaun's tongue they eyed,
Peep'd in his bath, and God knows where beside,
And then in solemn accent spoke their doom,
"His Majesty is very far from well."
Then each to work with his specific fell:
The Hakim Ibrahim "instanter" brought
His unguent Mahazzim al Zerdukkaut,
While Roompot, a practitioner more wily,
Relied on his Munaskif al fillfily.
More and yet more in deep array appear,
And some the front assail and some the rear;
Their remedies to reinforce and vary,
Came surgeon eke, and eke apothecary;
Till the tired Monarch, though of words grown chary.
Yet dropt, to recompense their fruitless labour,
Some hint about a bowstring or a sabre.
There lack'd, I promise you, no longer speeches
To rid the palace of those learned leeches.

VI.
Then was the council call'd — by their advice,
(They deemed the matter ticklish all, and nice,
And sought to shift it off from their own shoulders)
Tartars and couriers in all speed were sent,
To call a sort of Eastern parliament
Of feudatory chieftains and freeholders—
Such have the Persians at this very day,
My learned Malcolm calls them "couroultai";
I'm not prepared to show in this slight song
That to Serendib the same forms belong,—
E'en let the learn'd go search, and tell me if I'm wrong.

VII.
The Omrahs, each with hand on scymitar,
Gave, like Sempronius, still their voice for war—
"The sabre of the Suitaun in its sheath
Too long has slept nor own'd the work of death:
Let the Tambourgi bid his signal rattle,
Bang the loud gong and raise the shout of battle!
This dreary cloud that dims our sovereign's day
Shall from his kindled bosom flit away,
When the bold Lootie wheels his courser round
And the arm'd elephant shall shake the ground.
Each Noble pants to own the glorious summons—
And for the charges — Lo! your faithful Commons!"—
The Riots who attended in their places—
(Serendib-language calls a farmer Riot)
Look'd ruefully in one another's faces,
From this oration auguring much disquiet,
Double assessment, forage, and free quarters;
And fearing these as China-men the Tartars,
Or as the whisker'd vermin fear the mousers,
Each fumbled in the pocket of his trousers.

VIII.
And next came forth the reverend Convocation,
Bald heads, white beards, and many a turban green;
Imaun and Mollah there of every station,
Santon, Fakir, and Calendar were seen.
Their votes were various — some advised a Mosque
With fitting revenues should be erected,
With seemly gardens and with gay Kiosque,
To recreate a band of priests selected;
Others opined that through the realms a dole
Be made to holy men, whose prayers might profit
The Sultaun's weal in body and in soul;
But their long-headed chief, the Sheik Ul-Sofit,
More closely touch'd the point; — "Thy studious mood,"
Quoth he, "O Prince! hath thicken'd all thy blood,
And dull'd thy brain with labour beyond measure;
Wherefore relax a space and take thy pleasure,
And toy with beauty or tell o'er thy treasure;
From all the cares of state, my liege, enlarge thee,
And leave the burden to thy faithful clergy."

IX.
These counsels sage availed not a whit,
And so the patient (as is not uncommon
Where grave physicians lose their time and wit)
Resolved to take advice of an old woman;
His mother she, a dame who once was beauteous,
And still was called so by each subject duteous.
Now, whether Fatima was witch in earnest,
Or only made believe, I cannot say—
But she profess'd to cure disease the sternest,
By dint of magic amulet or lay;
And, when all other skill in vain was shown,
She deem'd it fitting time to use her own.

X.
"Sympathia magica hath wonders done,"
(Thus did old Fatima bespeak her son,)
"It works upon the fibres and the pores,
And thus, insensibly, our health restores,
And it must help us here. — Thou must endure
The ill, my son, or travel for the cure.
Search land and sea, and get, where'er you can,
The inmost vesture of a happy man,
I mean his SHIRT, my son, which, taken warm
And fresh from off his back, shall chase your harm,
Bid every current of your veins rejoice,
And your dull heart leap light as shepherd-boy's."—
Such was the counsel from his mother came.
I know not if she had some under-game,
As Doctors have, who bid their patients roam
And live abroad when sure to die at home;
Or if she thought, that somehow or another,
Queen Regent sounded better than Queen Mother;
But, says the Chronicle (who will go look it,)
That such was her advice — the Sultaun took it.

XI.
All are on board — the Sultaun and his train,
In gilded galley prompt to plough the main:
The old Rais was the first who question'd, "Whither?"
They paused — "Arabia," thought the pensive Prince,
"Was called The Happy many ages since—
For Mokha, Rais." — And they came safely thither.
But not in Araby with all her balm,
Not where Judea weeps beneath her palm,
Nor in rich Egypt, not in Nubian waste,
Could there the step of happiness be traced.
One Copt alone profess'd to have seen her smile,
When Bruce his goblet fill'd at infant Nile:
She bless'd the dauntless traveller as he quaff'd,
But vanish'd from him with the ended draught.

XII.
"Enough of turbans," said the weary King,
"These dolimans of ours are not the thing;
Try we the Giaours, these men of coat and cap, I
Incline to think some of them must be happy;
At least, they have as fair a cause as any can,
They drink good wine and keep no Ramazan.
Then northward, ho!" — The vessel cuts the sea,
And fair Italia lies upon her lee.—
But fair Italia, she who once unfurl'd
Her eagle-banners o'er a conquer'd world,
Long from her throne of domination tumbled;
Lay, by her quondam vassals, sorely humbled,
The Pope himself look'd pensive, pale, and lean,
And was not half the man he once had been.
"While these the priest and those the noble fleeces,
Our poor old boot," they said, "is torn to pieces.
Its top the vengeful claws of Austria feel,
And the Great Devil is rending toe and heel.
If happiness you seek, to tell you truly,
We think she dwells with one Giovanni Bulli;
A tramontane, a heretic — the buck,
Poffaredio! still has all the luck;
By land or ocean never strikes his flag—
And then — a perfect walking money-bag."
Off set our Prince to seek John Bull's abode,
But first took France — it lay upon the road.

XIII.
Monsieur Baboon, after much late commotion,
Was agitated like a settling ocean,
Quite out of sorts and could not tell what ail'd him,
Only the glory of his house had fail'd him;
Besides; some tumors on his noddle biding
Gave indication of a recent hideing.
Our Prince, though Sultauns of such things are heedless,
Thought it a thing indelicate and needless
To ask, if at that moment he was happy.
And Monsieur, seeing that he was "comme il faut," a
Loud voice mustered up, for "Vive le Roi!"
Then whisper'd, "Ave you any news of Nappy?"
The Sultaun answered him with a cross question,—
"Pray, can you tell me aught of one John Bull,
That dwells somewhere beyond your herring-pool?"
The query seem'd of difficult digestion,
The party shrugg'd, and grinn'd, and took his snuff,
And found his whole good-breeding scarce enough.

XIV.
Twitching his visage into as many puckers
As damsels wont to put into their tuckers,
Ere liberal Fashion damn'd both lace and lawn,
And bade the veil of modesty be drawn,—
Replied the Frenchman, after a brief pause,
"Jean Bool! — I vas not know him — yes, I vas—
I vas remember dat, von year or two,
I saw him at von place called Vaterloo—
Ma foi! il stest tres joliment battu,
Dat is for Englishmen, — m'entendez vous?
But den he had wit him one damn son-gun,
Rogue I no like — dey call him Vellington."
Monsieur's politeness could not hide his fret,
So Solimaun took leave and crossed the strait.

XV.
John Bull was in his very worst of moods,
Raving of sterile farms and unsold goods;
His sugar-loaves and bales about he threw,
And on his counter beat the Devil's tattoo.
His wars were ended and the victory won,
But then 'twas reckoning-day with honest John,
And authors vouch, 'twas still this Worthy's way,
"Never to grumble, till he came to pay;
And then he always thinks, his temper's such,
The work too little and the pay too much."
Yet, grumbler as he is, so kind and hearty,
That when his mortal foe was on the floor,
And past the power to harm his quiet more,
Poor John had wellnigh wept for Buonaparte!
Such was the wight whom Solimaun salam'd,—
"And who are you," John answer'd, "and be d—d?"

XVI.
"A stranger, come to see the happiest man—
So, signior, all avouch — in Frangistan."—
"Happy? my tenants breaking on my hand;
Unstock'd my pastures and untill'd my land;
Sugar and rum a drug, and mice and moths
The sole consumers of my good broad-cloths—
Happy? — why, cursed war and racking tax
Have left us scarcely raiment to our backs."
"In that case, Signior, I may take my leave;
I came to ask a favour — but I grieve"—
"Favour?" said John, and eyed the Sultaun hard,
"It 's my belief you came to break the yard—
But, stay, you look like some poor foreign sinner—
Take that, to buy yourself a shirt and dinner."—
With that he chucked a guinea at his head;
But with due dignity the Sultaun said,—
"Permit me, sir, your bounty to decline;
A shirt indeed I seek, but none of thine.
Signior, I kiss your hands, so fare you well."
And John said, — "Kiss my breech, and go to hell!"

XVII.
Next door to John there dwelt his sister Peg,
Once a wild lass as ever shook a leg
When the blithe bagpipe blew — but, soberer now,
She "doucely" span her flax and milk'd her cow.
And whereas erst she was a needy slattern,
Nor now of wealth or cleanliness a pattern,
Yet once a-month her house was partly swept,
And once a-week a plenteous board she kept.
And whereas, eke, the vixen used her claws,
And teeth, of yore, on slender provocation,
She now was grown amenable to laws,
A quiet soul as any in the nation;
The sole remembrance of her warlike joys
Was in old songs she sang to please her boys.
John Bull, whom, in their years of early strife
She wont to lead a cat-and-doggish life,
Now found the woman, as he said, a neighbour,
Who look'd to the main chance, declined no labour,
Loved a long grace and spoke a northern jargon,
And was d—d close in making of a bargain.

XVII.
The Sultaun enter'd, and he made his leg,
And with decorum curtsied sister Peg;
(She loved a book, and knew a thing or two,
And guessed at once with whom she had to do)
She bade him "sit into the fire," and took
Her dram, her cake, her kebbuck from the nook;
Asked him "about the news from Eastern parts;
And of her absent bairns, puir Highland hearts!
If peace brought down the price of tea and pepper,
And if the "nitmugs" were grown "ony" cheaper;—
Were there nae "speerings" of our Mungo Park—
Ye'll be the gentleman that wants the sark?
If ye wad buy a web o' auld wife's spinning,
I'll warrant ye it's a weel-wearing linen."

XIX.
Then up got Peg, and round the house 'gan scuttle,
In search of goods her customer to nail,
Until the Sultaun strain'd his princely throttle,
And hollowed, "Ma'am, that is not what I ail.
Pray, are you happy, ma'am, in this snug glen?"
"Happy?" said Peg; "What for d'ye want to ken?
Besides, just think upon this by-gane year,
Grain wadna pay the yoking of the pleugh."
"What say you to the present?" — "Meal's sae dear,
To make their "brose" my bairns have scarce aneugh."
"The devil take the shirt," said Solimaun,
"I think my quest will end as it began.
Farewell, ma'am; nay, no ceremony, I beg"—
"Ye'll no be for the linen then?" said Peg.

XX.
Now, for the land of verdant Erin
The Sultaun's royal bark is steering,
The emerald isle, where honest Paddy dwells,
The cousin of John Bull, as story tells.
For a long space had John, with words of thunder,
Hard looks, and harder knocks, kept Paddy under,
Till the poor lad, like boy that's flogg'd unduly,
Had gotten somewhat restive and unruly.
Hard was his lot and lodging, you'll allow,
A wigwam that would hardly serve a sow;
His landlord, and of middle-men two brace,
Had screw'd his rent up — to the starving-place;
His garment was a top-coat, and an old one,
His meal was a potatoe, and a cold one;
But still for fun or frolic, and all that,
In the round world was not the match of Pat.

XXI.
The Sultaun saw him on a holiday,
Which is with Paddy still a jolly day:
When mass is ended, and his load of sins
Confess'd, and Mother Church hath from her binns
Dealt forth a bonus of imputed merit,
Then is Pat's time for fancy, whim, and spirit;
To jest, to sing, to caper fair and free,
And dance as light as leaf upon the tree!
"By Mahomet," said Sultaun Solimaun,
"That ragged fellow is our very man!
Rush in and seize him — do not do him hurt,
But, will he nill he, let me have his shirt!"

XXII.
Shilela their plan was wellnigh after balking,
(Much less provocation will set it a-walking,)
But the odds that foiled Hercules foil'd Paddy Whack;
They seized, and they floor'd, and they stripped him — Alack!
Up-bubboo! Paddy had not — a shirt to his back!!!
And the king, disappointed, with sorrow and shame,
Went back to Serendib as sad as he came.

[Edinburgh Annual Register for 1815 (1817) cclvii-cclxvi]