1754 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Copper Farthing: or, the School-Boy.

London Chronicle (4 January 1759) 14-15.

Elizabeth Pennington


In Elizabeth Pennington's popular parody of John Philips's The Splendid Shilling, the impoverished poet becomes a wretched schoolboy, and the dun and bailiff of the original become a schoolmaster and his usher: "Thus while my lingering hours I joyless spend, | With magisterial look, and solemn step, | Appears my schoolmaster, tremendous wight, | Dreaded by truant boys; how can I 'scape | Th' expected punishment for task ungot? | Aghast I stand." Thus the Copper Farthing nimbly adapts the matter of Shenstone's The School-Mistress to the manner of the Philips sequence — in both Spenserian archaisms were used to express the essential note of suffering simplicity.

Isaac Reed: "Miss Pennington has happily imitated Mr. Philips' Splendid Shilling, in a burlesque poem called The Copper Farthing.... She died in 1759, aged 25" Supplement to Dodsley (1783) 4:188n.

The Copper Farthing is praised in William Duncombe's Feminead (1754), though it may first have been published in the London Chronicle, where it appears without signature. It was posthumously published in Fawkes and Woty's Poetical Calendar (1763) and several times reprinted. The poet was an obscure member of Samuel Richardson's circle of female friends. Her Christian name is matter of speculation; Duncombe addresses her as "Florimel."

Compare a late contribution to the series on the same topic: The Mince Pie, in Whitehall Evening Post (2 January 1800), signed "Tabitha."



Happy the boy, who dwells remote from school,
Whose pocket or those rattling box contains
A copper farthing! he nor grieving hears
Hot cheese-cakes cry'd, nor sav'ry mutton-pyes;
But with his play-mates, in the dusk of eve,
To well known blacksmith's shop, or churchyard hies;
Where, mindful of the sport that joys his heart,
Marbles or chuck, he instantly begins,
With undissembled pleasure in his face,
To draw the circle, or to pitch the dump;
While I, confin'd within the hated walls
Of school, resounding with a clam'rous din,
By still more hated books environ'd, I,
With tedious lessons and long task to get,
My dismal thoughts employ; or wield my pen
To mark dire characters on paper white:
Not blunter pen or stranger character
Uses the Sage, a chiromancer hight,
Sprung from Aegyptian king, and swarthy race,
Amenophis or Ptolomy, when he,
In search of stolen calf, or money lost,
For wondering ploughman does his art employ;
Or for the wish'd return of sweet-heart dear,
Or apron fine, purloin'd from hawthorn hedge,
For country-maid consults directing stars,
Gemini, Taurus, or chill Capricorn.

Thus while my ling'ring hours I joyless spend,
With magisterial look, and solemn step
Appears my school-master, tremendous wight,
Dreaded by truant boys; how can I 'scape
Th' expected punishment for task ungot?
Aghast I stand, nor fly to covert bench,
Or corner dark, to hide my hapless head;
So great my terror, that it quite bereaves
My limbs the power to fly; slow he ascends
Th' appointed seat, and on his right-hand lies
The bushy rod, compos'd of numerous twigs,
Torn from the birchen tree or bending willow,
Which to the flesh of idle boys portends,
For the neglected task, a poignant smart;
And with him comes another mighty elf,
Yclept an usher. Ah terrific name
To lesser wights! who, if they haply place
In station wrong, pronoun or participle,
Strait by the magick of his voice are rais'd
In attitude above their lov'd compeers,
Where they, reluctant, various torments bear,
Till by their dolorous plaints, that pierce the skies,
They draw kind Pity, moist ey'd goddess, down
To heal with balm of sympathy their woe.
Ye urchins, take, ah! take peculiar care,
For, when ye wot not, much he marks your ways,
And in his mind revolves disastrous deeds
Against th' unwary wretch. So story tells,
That chanticleer, on dunghill's top elate,
With haughty step and watchful eye askance,
Each tiny prominence he views, where haply he
May find conceal'd delicious grub or worm,
To which his maw insatiate forebodes
Certain destruction, while behind or bush
Or pale, encompassing the farmer's yard,
Skulks Reynard, fraught with many a crafty wile
T' ensnare the feather'd race, who, if they stray
Beyond the precincts of their mother's ken,
He strait purloins them from her careful wing,
With his sharp teeth torments their tender frame,
And with the crimson gore distains their sides,
Relentless; nor can all the piercing cries
Of duckling, chick, or turkey, yet unfledg'd,
His heart obdurate move; instant he tears
Each trembling limb, devours the quivering flesh,
Nor leaves a remnant of the bloody feast,
Save a few fluttering feathers scatter'd round,
(That, with their vary'd plumage, whilom deck'd
The slaughter'd prey) to tell the hapless tale.

Thus joyless do I spend those hours the sun
Illuminates; and when the silver moon
Her gentle ray dispenses, and invites
The swains and maids to mix in jovial dance,
Around the tow'ring may-pole of the green,
Where each gay ploughman does his partner chuse
As love or fate directs; or o'er the lawn
The needle thread, or toss the bounding ball,
All chearless I, nor dance nor pleasing sport,
Nor social mirth, nor bowl of nappy ale,
Partake; but, on her drooping raven wing,
Sad melancholy hovers o'er my head,
Pale envy rankles deep within my breast,
And baneful venom sheds. Grim horror too
Attends my thoughts, and fills my gloomy mind
With tales of gliding sprites, in milk white shrouds
Array'd, and rattling chains and yelling ghosts
Irascible! or Fancy (mimick Queen)
To swift Imagination's eye presents
A group of tiny elves, in circling dance,
Or lucious feast employ'd; such elves as danc'd
When Oberon did fair Titania wed;
While I, in wishes impotent and vain,
For liberty dear object of my hopes,
The tedious moments spend; or if perchance
Morpheus invok'd, my heavy eye-lids close,
Dear liberty still haunts my sleeping thoughts,
And in a short-liv'd dream those joys I taste,
Which waking are deny'd; and beat the hoop
With dext'rous hand, or run with feet as swift
As feather'd arrow flies from archer's bow;
Till, from my slumber 'wak'd, too soon I find
It was illusion all, and mock'ry vain.

Thus, comfortless, apall'd, forlorn, I pass
The tardy hours, nor of those viands taste,
Which are on other boys full oft bestow'd
In plenteous manner, by the lib'ral hand
Of friend indulgent; apple-pye, or tart,
Or trembling custard of delicious gout,
Or frothy syllabub in copious bowl:
Hard fate for me! yet harder still betides
Me, hapless youth; my faithful top, that oft
Has chear'd my drooping spirits, and reviv'd
My sad'ning thoughts, when o'er the pavement smooth
It spins, and sleeps, and to its master's hand
Does ample justice, now, alas! become
To all the rude inclemencies of weather,
To time and destiny's relentless doom
A miserable victim, quite decay'd
With many services, and cleft throughout,
All useless lies; ah! sight of saddest woe
To wretched me, of every hope bereft,
Of every gleam of comfort. So the wretch,
Who near or Aetna or Vesuvius dwells,
Beholds the sulph'rous flames, the molten rocks,
And feels the ground trembling beneath his feet,
Till, with a horrid yawn, it opens wide
Before his eyes, all glaring with affright;
Swallows his cultur'd vines, his gardens, house,
With all his soul held dear, his lovely wife,
And prattling babes, the hopes of years to come;
All, all are lost, in ruin terrible!

[pp. 14-15]