Elegy, written at a Christmas Feast in the Country.

Edinburgh Magazine or Literary Miscellany NS 20 (December 1802) 461-63.

David Carey

31 quatrains, after Thomas Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard. David Carey describes the modest revels of a cottage Christmas: "Can luxury's sons in bloom, or vigour, vie | With those of industry and toil severe? | Can creams and jellies taste like yonder pye; | Or claret string the nerves like nappy beer?" For the trio of names in Gray's original Carey substitues those of John Howard (the prison reformer) Admiral Nelson, and Robert Burns, whose Cotter's Saturday Night probably suggested this variation on Gray's poem. Carey made considerable changes to the poem when it was republished in Pleasures of Nature (1803).

Walter Hamilton: "D. Carey also published Reign of Fancy, with Lyrical Tales, 1804. Craig Phadric; Visions of Sensibility, with Legendary Tales, Printed at Inverness for the Author, 8vo., 1811. Carey was the son of a manufacturer in Arbroath, Forfarshire, where he was born in 1782. He edited The Inverness Journal for five years, and died at Abroath, October 4th, 1824" Parodies of the Works of English and American Authors (1884-89) 5:14.

The clock proclaims the welcome dinner hour,
The guests are met — and ev'ry brow unbent,
Swift circles round the draught of potent power,
Inspiring mirth, and banishing restraint.

Now crowd the Christmas dainties on the sight,
And all the room is hush'd in silence deep;
Save where the plates with jarring sounds unite,
And busy jaws a ceaseless murmur keep.

Around that friendly board, with plenty spread,
Where joy in every count'nance is exprest,
Each in his easy chair supinely laid,
The sons of toil enjoy their annual feast.

The forest moaning hollow in the gale,
The cold and cheerless winds surcharg'd with snow;
The headlong torrent rushing down the vale;
Compel them not their banquet to forego.

For them no far-fetcht luxuries are spread,
Nor costly Burgundy their care beguiles:
Yet Peace and Plenty at their table-head
Are seen, with all their family of smiles.

Oft did they fast throughout the by-gone year,
Their looks confirm the truth of what I say,
How patiently they bore their lot severe!
How did they welcome this auspicious day!

Oh let not luxury mock their diet plain,
Their flowing cann, and toasts of pretty maids;
Nor titled pride behold with proud disdain,
The poor, but neat, repast that labour spreads.

The crowd, that forms sweet smiling Pleasure's train,
And all to whom dame Fortune shows her face,
Confess alike the iron sway of pain;
The paths of Power are not the paths of Peace.

Nor you, ye Rich! account it as a fault,
Tho' at their board no chosen wines are plac'd,
Where nut-brown ale, in many a potent draught,
Lulls every sorrow, every care to rest.

Can Luxury's sons in bloom or vigour vie
With those of Industry and Toil severe?
Can creams and jellies taste like yonder pye?
Or claret string the nerves like nappy beer?

Perhaps at this carousal might be found,
Some heart that oft has bled at mis'ry's cry;
Hands that could hurl oppression to the ground,
Or wipe the falling tear from Sorrow's eye.

But these hard times a cheerless gloom have thrown
O'er all their smiling prospects of delight;
Chill Penury, with heart-apalling frown,
And hollow eye, now stands before their sight.

Full many a tear bedims Misfortune's eye,
And, streaming from its source, unseen descends.
Full many a sad and unavailing sigh
Is breath'd in secret, and with ether blends.

Some unknown Howard that, with pity smit,
Has oft explor'd Affliction's sad retreat;
Some poor unhonour'd Nelson here may sit;
Some Burns, that sings and struggles with his fate.

Th' applause of jolly topers to obtain,
At feasts to crack a bottle with Lord May'r;
To scour the watch along some dirty lane,
And rend with loud huzzas the midnight air.

Fortune forbids — Nor circumscribes alone
Their pleasures, but their sorrows too confines;
Forbids in private sadly to bemoan
The gout and all the ills debauch combines:

The treacherous perfidy of friends to prove,
To lose at play a fortune, madly driven;
Or, for some loose-rob'd wanton strumpet's love,
Risk life, and all their future hopes of Heaven.

Far from the hamlet, where their fathers grew,
The sons have never wish'd nor sought to stray;
Fortune their humble dwelling never knew,
And Science there ne'er shed her piercing ray.

Yet, e'en their welcome holiday they keep,
A smile of pleasure sparkles in their eyes;
Drest in their Sunday's suits, and drinking deep,
They draw the smile and pity of the wise.

Their wants, their woes, without disguise made known,
The void, in conversation oft supply:
And many saving maxims are laid down,
That teach the poor, lank hunger to defy.

For who, to penury and grief a prey,
At Christmas-tide no signs of pleasure shows?
Flies from the scenes of happiness away,
Nor casts one wistful glance where plenty flows?

At that glad time the face in smiles is drest,
And every honest heart around is gay;
E'en the poor Lab'ror strives to have a feast,
E'en the sad widow wipes her tears away.

For thee who, nor disgusted yet, nor tir'd,
Hast in these humble rhimes their revels read,
If chance, by curiosity inspir'd,
You seek their lowly and sequester'd shade.

Haply some near observing friend may say,
"When all was o'er, we saw him scour along,
Splashing thro' every puddle in his way,
In hopes to gain his home e'er morning sprung.

"There, in yon stream that slowly wanders down
The silent vale, remote from care and strife,
His listless length at midnight hour was thrown,
And scap'd by chance with scarce a sign of life,

"Along yon trackless heath, his dreary way,
Muttering ten thousand curses, he explor'd:
Now starting, wild with terror and dismay,
Now dreading yet th' unfathomable ford.

"All day we miss'd him at the kitchen fire,
Within the barn, and on the bowling green;
No one appear'd of whom you might enquire:
Nor at the plough, or ale-house, was he seen.

"At night, by friends and neighbours homeward led,
Within his easy chair we saw him plac'd.
List, and I'll tell you what his Marion said,
While he enjoy'd the balmy sweet of rest."

Here rests his head, now free from care or mirth,
A man for drinking and misfortunes known;
Cold Poverty presided at his birth,
And ever since, has mark'd him for her own.

Large were the draughts he quaff'd, by passion driv'n,
And Reason's power was lost amid the flow;
He gave his sorrow to the winds of heav'n,
And snatcht a short oblivion to his woe.

No farther seek his frailties to disclose,
Or tell each little failing of his life,
Here they, forgot in silence, should repose—
The bosom of his confidant and Wife.

[pp. 461-63]