1824
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Battle with the Bone.

The Sun (3 July 1824).

A. L. G.


A culinary burlesque in fourteen Spenserian stanzas. The narrative, such as it is, describes the misadventures of Sir Loin, son of Baron Beef: "For on Sir Loin fair honour rose of late, | Once simple Loin but now a doughty knight, | To his huge fat his owed this higher fate, | Bestrew [sic] my heart! but 'twas a goodly sight | To see at once so stout, withal so sleek a wight." Loin has a mishap with a butcher, and finding himself laid out on a platter screams for assistance, which he receives from one Bone, who is "tough indeed." The poem is accompanied by mock commentary on a par with the work it illustrates ("The idea of comparing a sirloin of beef to a butterfly is equally original and striking").

While the headnote presents the poem as of antique manufacture, it would seem to be part of the progeny of John Hookham Frere's Monks and the Giants (1817) — rendered "English" rather than Italian by the use of the Spenserian stanza in place of ottava rima, by the celebration of the national dish, and perhaps also by the coarse-spun quality of the humor, with its implicit suggestion of nursery terrors. In contrast to eighteenth-century burlesques, the anonymous poet makes but little effort to imitate Spenser's themes or manner. Eating and matters associated with it were perennial subjects for burlesque verse, perhaps owing to the Latin word for satire, "satura" (mixed platter).

Headnote: "Mr. Editor. — In ransacking a chest of old papers, belonging to my great grandfather, I happened to stumble on the adjoined composition, which, as it afforded me some amusement at the time, I now send it to you for the edification of your Antiquarian Readers. Who the Author was, or in what age he flourished, it is difficult to ascertain at present. From a passage, however, in the sixth stanza, he must have been living during, or subsequent to, the reign of "Good Queen Bess," who, it will be remembered, first conferred the honour of Knighthood upon a loin of beef.

"According to a memorandum found annexed to the Poem, it was composed by the Author whilst sitting patiently at table, waiting for a savoury slice of beef, but which, it would appear, he was not destined to enjoy, owing to the unskillfulness of the carver (an incident of itself quite sufficient to prove the antiquity of the Poem), who found all his efforts rendered unavailing by the perservering and desperate obtrusion of a huge mass of bone.

"The fertile imagination of the Poet boldly embodied beef and bone, and converting them into heroes, bursts forth in honour of their achievements; but he appears at length to have been obliged to withdraw from the scene of action, to satisfy the cravings of his appetite upon a less heroic and more yielding joint.

"From the worm-eaten state of the Manuscript, it has been found necessary to omit some stanzas, which could not be completely made out. Such as remain are very much at your service, to do with them as you think proper; and, I am, Sir, as usual, Your faithful servant, A. L. G."

Editor's note: "As our Correspondent assigns the above Poem to the age of ELIZABETH, why not, 'if it be not too curious to consider it so,' presume that it was a sportive effusion of the immortal SPENCER. We are glad to recognize a former Correspondent, and hope he will again search among his antique poetic treasures."



To thee, my gentle GODFREY, hight,
I dedicate this lay,
Now hie thee home, while still the light
Of Sol detains the day,
And should some rude, discourteous wight
Assail thee on the way,
Altho' thou be'st in mortal fright,
Full boldly thou shalt say:
"Now hold me not, thou brave Sir Knight,
Hold me not now, I pray,
Indeed, 'tis not from fear to fight,
But now I cannot stay.
For Shoreditch spire is still in sight,
And I have far to stray:"
Tho' speaking fair, he still despite,
May urge thee to the fray,
Then gird thee up thy buckram tight,
And briskly scud away.
Sir Loin been taken by surprize,
Is found in woful plight:
Then Bone comes in, and mainly tries
To save the wounded knight.

I.
Let home-spun Bard attempt with broken lyre,
To carol forth in most unseemly strain,
And think he burn, poor elf! with living fire;—
Let Homer sing the mighty Hector slain,
And paint the battle on great Ilium's plain;
My muse's strength in nobler theme is shewn,
He grovels low with mickle care and pain,
Her seed of Fame in higher ground is strown,
She soars aloft, and sings the Battle with the Bone!

II.
Of the high plain a barren rock which crowns,
(Whose lofty brow seems butting at the skies)
An antique structure on the summit frowns,
But bent, as tho' to watch the lake it tries,
Which flowing calm beneath so sweetly sighs,
That Cynthia thither sends her beams to play,
Till jealous Auster in his fury rise,
And blust'ring loud, now frightens them away,
Or dashing wild among, he drowns them in the spray.

III.
And now, of who within these castle walls
Securely dwelt, the gentle muse must sing,
Be ready Fame! to follow where she calls,
And oh! be sure thy loudest tromp to bring,
To sound a blast as thro' the world shall ring!
No lout so mickle rare by mortal man,
As the bold Baron Beef hath e'er been seen,
Nor by Dan Sol, since first his race began,
And yet he many times hath thro' the welkin ran.

———*———*———*———*———*———

VI.
The Baron hies him to his banquet hall,
(A lofty chamber meet and passing great)
And sends a page, his son, Sir Loin, to call,
And then proclaim a solemn feast of state,
For on Sir Loin fair honour rose of late,
Once simple Loin but now a doughty knight,
To his huge fat his owed this higher fate,
Bestrew my heart! but 'twas a goodly sight
To see at once so stout, withal so sleek a wight.

VII.
I marvel why the muse has ceas'd her lay,
Perchance she's hoarse, and cannot further sing;
Or that her fingers, long unus'd to play,
Too rough have swept the chords and snapp'd a string:
But wherefore doth she weep, and piteous wring
Her hands in doleful plight? Alas! 'tis sad
To hear her sob so bitterly, — poor thing!
Ah me! I fear she must be very bad—
For how she beats her breast as thof she had been mad.

VIII.
"Now truly, Sir, thou dost not guess me right,
I am not hoarse or mad," — the Muse replied—
"Grief drowns my voice, or still, from morn till night,
I cheerfully would sing" — and then she sigh'd—
"Ah woe is me! and whither shall I hide
My load of pain — alas, and well a day!
The great Sir Loin is lost, his father's pride!"
Too far that morning he had hap'd to stray,
When a grim Butcher seiz'd, and bore the prize away.

IX.
Thus have I seen young Butterfly yclad
In dress, that with the rainbow might compare,
When straightway passeth little truant lad,
Who, looking up, hath chanc'd to spye him there,
As, floating careless on the ambient air,
The motley insect flutters round and round;
To work him woe, the urchin doth prepare,
And watching well, till goodly time be found,
Why then he knocketh down Sir Butterfly to the ground.

X.
And he — the son of Beef, how fares he now?
He struggles hard, with all his might and main,
But Butcher holds him very tight, I trow;
And tho' he would escape, he tries in vain,
Bootless his efforts to get free again:—
Then he bethinks him of his father's hall,
But certes this doth but increase his pain:—
Take heed, ye worldlings! and beware his fall
From princely pomp and state, to greasy Butcher's stall!

———*———*———*———*———*———

XIII.
The Lacquey had announc'd the dinner set,
And anon each guest had hied him to his seat,
Good jolly knaves they were who then had met,
And each was wofully inclin'd to eat,
And pay full honour to the jovial treat;
The grace is said — Sir Loin uncover'd lies,
"Ah me! what various ills betide" good meat,
What rapture sparkles in their greedy eyes,
As from his smoking sides the grateful fumes arise!

XIV.
But where's the joint can view th' uplifted knife,
Feel its keen edge with eye serenely bright,
Nor makes one effort to redress his life:—
Beef looks aghast, he sickens at the sight,
Shaken like an aspen leaf with deadly fright,
Then screams aloud, invokes the mighty aid
Of BONE to help him in his woful plight;
Oh may his coming be not long delay'd,
To snatch him from the wrath of savage sharp set blade.

XV.
"Haste hither, BONE!" he cries, with frantic grief,
"Oh hither haste to save my old ally,
Or men will carve and eat up poor Roast Beef
Wilt thou then stand a tame spectator by,
And hear my horrid groans, and see me die;
If once within their hungry clutch I fall,
Vain were all hope to run, or yet to fly,
And, th' I stoutly for assistance call,
They will not heed my cries, but soon demolish all!"

XVI.
Now brandish'd high the angry weapon shone,
And poor Sir Loin, being almost dead with fear,
Yields to his fate — when in steps mighty Bone,
Loudly he bellows forth "Behold me here,
Back with thy craven heart, am I not near?"
Boldly he meets the blade — Oh, wondrous deed!
No marks upon his stone-like breast appear,
Man cuts and slashes with redoubled speed,
But slashes all in vain, for Bone is tough indeed!

XVII.
Fiercer and fiercer still the battle glows,
No chance is there that either part shall yield,
The blood of Beef in copious torrent flows,
And fills the dish — I mean to say the field;—
Well then, until the fate of one is seal'd,
Methinks 'twere not amiss to step aside,
For while such rash and deadly blows are deal'd,
There is in truth much splashing on each side,
And so my raiment would be smear'd if I abide.

XVIII.
"Well, then, to cheat the hours, in uncouth rhymes
I carol forth a song or roundelay
Of Dames, whose beauty shone on other times."
Thou, happy Muse, in Bower of Bliss may stray,
But me, keen hunger calls to watch the fray,
And see if I shall taste roast beef to-day,
What fighting yet? — Then 'twere in vain to stop,
For I shall lose my dinner if I stay,
So I will quickly hie me to a shop,
And quietly devour a patient mutton chop.

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