A burlesque epistle in the manner of Philips's The Splendid Shilling dated "April 15, 1750," and addressed "To a Friend in London." William Dodd deplores the absence of company at Cambridge during the vacation: "as by the dinner bell, | Once sound most grateful, call'd, the dusty stairs, | (Despotic empire where Arachne holds | Her curious webs, midst death-denouncing beats, | Incessant weaving) as adown I move | My hunger-stirr'd, yet grief-stay'd languid limbs, | A scene how dull crouds sullen on my view!" pp. 30-31. The poem contributes to the long-running series of Philips burlesques on academic subjects.
Known as the "Macaroni Parson," Dodd was something of a real-life burlesque before his execution for forgery. In this early poem he makes the most of the "academic gothic" soon to become so fashionable, introducing some of the less common Spenserian archaisms. In passing, Dodd mentions missing the conversation of "D***" who himself, the note informs us, enjoyed the conversation of Samuel Richardson. This would be the poet John Duncombe, who was elected Fellow of Corpus Christi College in 1751.
"Vacation at College," published in 1767, contains more detailed descriptions of college life than are to be found in most such epistles, and is moreover copiously illustrated with notes of which the following will serve as a sample: "There are twelve of every year constantly honoured with that appellation ["Wrangler"], as a mark of their superior merit. Many are the privileges they used to enjoy, which by imperceptible degrees, have dwindled away to one only, that of chusing each a squire, and visiting all the fair ladies of the town, from whom they demand — nought but a kiss. And the good-natured ladies never were averse to so laudable a custom. But mark the unkindness of our times! even this privilege is taken away, and the Wranglers must no more joyously ravish the balmy blessings from the coy and struggling fair: scarce a dry eye was seen on the day when the wranglers were last expected, the peeping maidens observed, now and then, one with down-cast looks steal along the streets, and muffle up his inglorious face in dismal black, proper emblem of the cruel destiny. — The year 1750 is, and will be, remembered with grief, by every Cambridge virgin, and future Wrangler" 35n.
While gaily smiling through the wilds of love,
The laughing hours, and rose-lip'd Hebe leads
Thee, midst the jolly choir of maidens trim,
Daughters of pleasance; list, oh list awhile,
From love and mirth's brisk music, to the strains,
Hoarse-ecchoing, of thy solitary friend!
While, how slow pace along his ling'ring hours,
'Midst Granta's gloomy walls, he sorrowing tells,
And paints the awful scene! O friend to woe!
Sad muse, in sable stole right meekly clad,
Thy melancholy young who leadest forth
Slow, mournful, musing, to the mirky tomb,
Midst darkness horrible (save where the moon
With intercepted light, serves but to make
The scene more solemn) and his midnight song,
Grief-dictated, inspirest — Goddess come,
And thro' the live-long, tedious, lonely day,
Assist me while I drag laborious on.
Ah! what avails it, that the sleepy bell
Breaks through the silence of the morn, and calls
To solitary prayers? since there no face
Of friendly aspect on my hunger smiles,
Inviting to the breakfast's kind repast!
Chance thro' the ill-frequented house of God
The meagre visage of a fellow stares,
Himself who grudges food: and, diet thin,
Pines to afford a miserable size!
Hence to keen appetite, and hunger strong,
What hopes can well? reflections thus severe,
Food to desire, not so to ravenous maws,
Yet why indulge? since fate's decrees stand fix'd,
And fruitless 'tis to hope reverse our doom!
Come then, thou lonely loaf, thou pensive cup,
And 'midst the tortur'd kettle's hissing plaints,
Let me eat, sip, and yawn o'er pamphlet dull.
Where's now the jocund pun, the merry jibe,
Erst laughter-usher'd midst belov'd compeers?
Where's now the social walk, the friendly chat,
As thronging thick to Cloacina's fane?
In sort not unresembling Gallic dames
Of decency nought heedful: how unlike
The virgin modesty of British maids?
How pant their little hearts, how glow their cheeks
With elegance of blushes, if descried
Of nature's wants ought conscious! oh go on,
Ye sole sweet chearers of my musing hours,
Still delicate, and still by grace refin'd
Height'ning the marriage bliss, to every joy,
To every rapture adding new increase.
If on my gloom of solitude ere breaks
Of pleasure glimmering ray, 'tis all from you,
From sweet reflection on the absent fair,
Soul of my soul — with whom whyleare when blest,
How gay was nature, and each scene how trim!
How chang'd, how alter'd now! for lo! (the morn
Midst thoughts thus pensive, or midst travelling dull,
O'er the wild maze of philosophic ground,
At length o'erpast) as by the dinner bell,
Once sound most grateful, call'd, the dusty stairs,
(Despotic empire where Arachne holds
Her curious webs, midst death-denouncing beats,
Incessant weaving) as adown I move
My hunger-stirr'd, yet grief-stay'd languid limbs,
A scene how dull crouds sullen on my view!
Clos'd every antique window thro' the dome,
(Black with the smoke of many a rolling year)
Whence, or in night-cap white, or, some more gay,
In velvet soft of many a varied hue,
Peep'd forth, on barber calling shrill and loud,
Dreading the loss of dinner, numerous heads!
No barbers trim are now! No more they skim
The well-shav'd lawn, its beard regardless grows
To length uncouth, and wild neglected grass
O'er every plat uncultivated reigns!
No barbers trim are now! no more with wig
Well-powder'd, white or brown, of don more grave,
Or scholar blythe meet emblems, haste those sires
Of news, and spruce consummators of dress!
No more the jolly Jips, with heart a foe
To thought or sorrow, carol out their songs,
Loud-echoing thro' the mirth-devoted court,
As to the butteries, with their paper friend
Jocund they jog along, and o'er their ale
Measure their masters merits by their gifts!
To penury, alas, and pinching want
Condemn'd, the long vacation loud they curse,
And pray with me, October's bell to hear,
To sophs more dread than curfeu! so thro' life
The weal of one still proves another's woe.
Of gracious Alma Mater's desert plight
Meet representative, yon matron view,
With years and labour bent, on lonely step,
Entrance of stair-case, where her masters lov'd
Erst won, all pensive plac'd; her heavy head
Her feeble arm upholds; her heavy heart,
Ah me, what now remaineth to uphold?
How pleasing late with lusty Sol to rise,
And to the room of midnight revelry,
Late jolly seat, repair! there, there what joy
The ruins of the rout to traverse o'er,
And with the luscious fragments feast her taste
Luxurious, and o'erwhelm her thirsty gule!
Careless of morrow, by the mellow youth
All things are to her rapine left a prey!
How pants her heart, while silently secure
She ravages the scene! and as the bee
From morning flowers, with honey-loaded thigh
Hastes happy to the hive — so homeward fares,
With spoils replete, the merry-hearted dame.
What wonder now she mourns, when revel-routs,
When feasts and spoils like these are found no more?
So wept, so griev'd the Macedonian chief,
When all the world dread ravag'd, and o'er-run,
No other world remain'd for future deeds,
Future destruction, blood-shed, spoils, and death!
Scant strew'd with cloth full black its antique boards,
(For such unphilosophic eyes wou'd deem,
What tables Granta's wiser sons yclepe,)
The hall, whence frighted hospitality
Wan takes her flight, with lonely steps and slow
Musing I enter, and with sighs behold
My solitary trencher! banquets rich,
And choicest dainties all their relish lose,
If temper'd not with sweet society!
Stiff thro' the hall, the lowering of my cap,
And reverential meek respect demands
One moving, dull, alone, distrest like me,
Of big authority, and that great name,
Fellow, in Granta's walls sonorous deem'd,
Full proud, and swoln with mighty littleness!
Sick of the mimic pageant, down I haste
My sparing dinner; and full glad avoid
A wight so hateful to judicious eyes:
Left to his own dull silence, and to gnaw
Malign his cancred and perturbed gall!
But as on forest dreary waste and wide,
The traveller bewilder'd looks agast,
And doubts which way to turn his sober steed,
Each equally perplexing, each alike
Lonely and desert: so from every scene
Friendly society and comfort fled,
In hesitation sighing, long I stand,
Where to direct my faint and feeble feet!
Along the silent streets, whose awful gloom
Adds horror to my melancholy soul,
I steal on unregarded: friendly face,
Round-cap, or square, ne'er greet my passing steps
With salutation pleasing: nor the shops
Of Thurlbourn, Merrill — or than those more sweet,
That, where the beauteous wife's bright visage gives
Beauty to books, and lustre to their backs,
One acceptable greeting e'er afford!
Not one lov'd friend — 'tis silence, darkness all!
And yet awhile, methinks, my cares are still'd,
And dawn of comfort rays upon my gloom,
As in profoundest meditation lost,
Beside the door-case leaning I behold,
In fond imagination's eye, the walk
Hight Regent, by the babbling sophists throng'd,
For stern dispute in mental armour clad.
Slow tolls the bell: bright glory holds aloft
Her splendid crown, where gaily stamp'd in gold,
Great Wrangler glows, and panting honour throbs
In each fierce combatant's aspiring heart!
He comes, behold, the dread decider comes—
As from the east the giant-sun breaks forth,
To run his course, on each beholder's eye!
He comes, ascend the rostrum, mount on high,
Great Cato of fair science, and confound
The syllogistic slaves of cavil sly!
See the press thickens, hark the fight begins,
Tongue-doughty — oh, of ignorance ye sons!
How ill for you in unknown guise they treat
Of subjects deep, important! else what funds,
What mighty crops of science might ye reap,
And grow in wisdom wealthy! so yon son,
(Or Cambro-Briton, or from northern climes,
Late footing o'er the hard and pebbly soil)
As by that pillar leaning, all agape,
Thus witnessing his wonder and applause,
Right sapient deems, while in his troubled thoughts
He scorns the ignorance of northern climes:
And prickt with emulation hies him home
To plod o'er hallow'd Euclid's sacred page!
Not so the happy disputants: releas'd
And crown'd with high applause, jocund they haste
To drench their thirsty souls in chearing wine:
Pleas'd talking o'er the glories of the day,
And taking off each argument afresh.
Thus from the chace, around the rosy cups
The jolly-hearted hunters stun the ear
With feats atchiev'd by each, while every fence
Again is sprung, each beast again pursued,
And in imagination slain anew.
Where, roving fancy, whither was I borne!—
These active scenes are wrapt in slumber now,
The still schools droop, the desart rostrum mourns;
And pensive silence with her down-fixt eyes
Walks solitary round the sorrowing walls.
Vain is it, once the coffee-house supplied
Reviving coffee, or heart-chearing tea,
And with them pamphlets in long happy roll,
Food for the hungry mind! how dreary all
As ent'ring there, I pace along the room!
The languid Dockrill drops his wonted smiles,
Pale Dockerilla on her elbow leans,
And views the long, long order, shining trim,
(Ah that they shine!) of coffee-pots forlorn!
While each with me in deep complaining joins
And ruminates full sad on happier days.
Vain is the hope for ought of comfort here:
Quick let me wander to those pleasing scenes,
Where nymphs whilome right gaily trimm'd, advanc'd,
And spread their gawdy plumage to the sun.
But vanish'd is the sun from Granta's skies,
With it the summer's vanish'd — and the pride
Of summer, each gay butterfly is gone!
No more the high-arch'd walk of lovely Clare,
No more proud Trinity's delightful round,
No more the rural grove of awful Kings,
Or Johnian scenes for solitude devis'd,
Are with the bevy bright of gownsmen blythe
And beauteous ladies, elegantly throng'd.
No more the Commoner with gold distinct,
And cursing regulations, treads the green,
With step superior; while perchance his side,
Some humbler fellow, very meek, attends,
Full supple, big with hopes of benefice!
No more ——*———*———*———*———
No more 'midst laughter loud, meet scorn of sage,
The thoughtless youth full idly loll along,
And deem themselves important! here I reign
Sole monarch; and if nought can give me joy,
At least am free from ought to raise my spleen.
Here only am I blest while nature's works,
And every beauty thro' the laughing fields,
Contemplating, delighted: while my limbs,
Beside the gurgling spring, which murmuring rills
Adown the steep, amidst the whispering breeze
Soft sighing of the gently waving boughs,
Indulgently I spread; and feed my thoughts
With thy perfections and thy works, great king
Of universal nature; — sure to lead
To that most perfect loveliest of thy works,
(Sweet meditation!) her, who holds my heart,
And is, whate'er has been of beauty feign'd!
Away, ye sons of midnight revelry,
Who to a wanton Venus make your court!
Think not to lure me with those gallant joys,
More boasted of than known: one hour of love,
Of innocent delight, of guileless bliss,
Of converse delicate, refin'd and pure,
Exceeds your utmost pleasures, and may vie
With all the transports of lascivious love!
No wonder, Lucy, wrapt in thoughts of thee,
Quick move along the nimble-footed hours,
When with thee oft, so oft, too winged prov'd,
Then fleeter than a snail-pac'd moment now.
The hour of prayer approaches: home I tend,
And as the silent melancholy court
Yawning I enter, 'chance a dismal scrape,
From hand of forlorn Fiddler, wounds my ear,
And to the scene adds horror. So the howl
Of triple-mouthed Cerberus bursting dread
Thro' the dull silence of hell's awful gloom,
New terror struck thro' pale Aeneas' soul
Dire woe-begone, and made e'en hell more horrible.
The house of prayer, or supper, nought presents
Or new or meet to mend the dull-spent day:
How shall the long, long tedious evening pass?
Where are the social friends, the flowing cups
Midst converse pleasing jovially put round,
Midst mirth and laughter, honest joke and joy?
Where is the evening, held more social yet,
Midst conversation, open'd and refin'd,
On themes that well might suit an Attic ear?
Ah D * * * now where art thou? blest indeed
In converse with the man, the world admires.
And I — small comfort — to reflection left
Of what I once enjoy'd! — upbraidings hence
The hours move on, and proud Augusta's walls
Shall all those comforts to my soul afford,
Granta unkindly to my wish denies.
So might mankind be blest: learn, mortals, learn,
The present state contented to support,
Let flattering hope the future prospects crown!
Thus in dull round drags on each self-same day,
And every hour well knows the next's employ;
The day of God except: then ruling change
Usurps her wonted sway: The pulpit then
New fund of matter to engage my soul,
Or raise my laughter, as with * * fill'd
* * * * or * * * * graciously supplies.
So in our days, when late the parting earth
Yawn'd, threat'ning dissolution, some with awe,
With souls religious, felt the warning shock,
And pick'd morality from every shake.
While others, looser throng, with laughter vain,
And idle observation, deem'd it light,
While with gay pleasures closely compass'd round,
They rioted in jovisaunce secure,
And unregarding, or with smiles could hear
"The wreck of matter and the crush of worlds."