In those old days which poets say were golden --
(Perhaps they laid the gilding on themselves:
And, if they did, I'm all the more beholden
To those brown dwellers in my dusty shelves,
Who talk to me 'in language quaint and olden'
Of gods and demigods and fauns and elves,
Pan with his pipes, and Bacchus with his leopards,
And staid young goddesses who flirt with shepherds:)
In those old days, the Nymph called Etiquette
(Appalling thought to dwell on) was not born.
They had their May, but no Mayfair as yet,
No fashions varying as the hues of morn.
Just as they pleased they dressed and drank and ate,
Sang hymns to Ceres (their John Barleycorn)
And danced unchaperoned, and laughed unchecked,
And were no doubt extremely incorrect.
Yet do I think their theory was pleasant:
And oft, I own, my 'wayward fancy roams'
Back to those times, so different from the present;
When no one smoked cigars, nor gave At-homes,
Nor smote a billiard-ball, nor winged a pheasant,
Nor 'did' her hair by means of long-tailed combs,
Nor migrated to Brighton once a year,
Nor -- most astonishing of all -- drank Beer.
No, they did not drink Beer, 'which brings me to'
(As Gilpin said) 'the middle of my song.'
Not that 'the middle' is precisely true,
Or else I should not tax your patience long:
If I had said 'beginning,' it might do;
But I have a dislike to quoting wrong:
I was unlucky -- sinned against, not sinning --
When Cowper wrote down 'middle' for 'beginning.'
So to proceed. That abstinence from Malt
Has always struck me as extremely curious.
The Greek mind must have had some vital fault,
That they should stick to liquors so injurious --
(Wine, water, tempered p'raps with Attic salt) --
And not at once invent that mild, luxurious,
And artful beverage, Beer. How the digestion
Got on without it, is a startling question.
Had they digestions? and an actual body
Such as dyspepsia might make attacks on?
Were they abstract ideas -- (like Tom Noddy
And Mr. Briggs) -- or men, like Jones and Jackson?
Then nectar -- was that beer, or whisky-toddy?
Some say the Gaelic mixture, I the Saxon:
I think a strict adherence to the latter
Might make some Scots less pigheaded, and fatter.
Besides, Bon Gaultier definitely shows
That the real beverage for feasting gods on
Is a soft compound, grateful to the nose
And also to the palate, known as 'Hidgson.'
I know a man -- a tailor's son -- who rose
To be a peer: and this I would lay odds on,
(Though in his Memoirs it may not appear,)
That that man owed his rise to copious Beer.
O Beer! O Hodgson, Guinness, Allsopp, Bass!
Names that should be on every infant's tongue!
Shall days and months and years and centuries pass,
And still your merits be unrecked, unsung?
Oh! I have gazed into my foaming glass,
And wished that lyre could yet again be strung
Which once rang prophet-like through Greece, and taught her
Misguided sons that the best drink was water.
How would he now recant that wild opinion,
And sing -- as would that I could sing -- of you!
I was not born (alas!) the 'Muses' minion,'
I'm not poetical, not even blue:
And he, we know, but strives with waxen pinion,
Whoe'er he is that entertains the view
Of emulating Pindar, and will be
Sponsor at last to some now nameless sea.
Oh! when the green slopes of Arcadia burned
With all the lustre of the dying day,
And on Cithæron's brow the reaper turned,
(Humming, of course, in his delightful way,
How Lycidas was dead, and how concerned
The Nymphs were when they saw his lifeless clay;
And how rock told to rock the dreadful story
That poor young Lycidas was gone to glory:)
What would that lone and labouring soul have given,
At that soft moment for a pewter pot!
How had the mists that dimmed his eye been riven,
And Lycidas and sorrow all forgot!
If his own grandmother had died unshriven,
In two short seconds he'd have recked it not;
Such power hath Beer. The heart which Grief hath cankered
Hath one unfailing remedy -- the Tankard.
Coffee is good, and so no doubt is cocoa;
Tea did for Johnson and the Chinamen:
When 'Dulce est desipere in loco'
Was written, real Falernian winged the pen.
When a rapt audience has encored 'Fra Poco'
Or 'Casta Diva,' I have heard that then
The Prima Donna, smiling herself out,
Recruits her flagging powers with bottled stout.
But what is coffee, but a noxious berry,
Born to keep used-up Londoners awake?
What is Falernian, what is Port or Sherry,
But vile concoctions to make dull heads ache?
Nay stout itself -- (though good with oysters, very) --
Is not a thing your reading man should take.
He that would shine, and petrify his tutor,
Should drink draught Allsopp in its 'native pewter.'
But hark! a sound is stealing on my ear --
A soft and silvery sound -- I know it well.
Its tinkling tells me that a time is near
Precious to me -- it is the Dinner Bell.
O blessed Bell! Thou bringest beef and beer,
Thou bringest good things more than tongue may tell:
Seared is, of course, my heart -- but unsubdued
Is, and shall be, my appetite for food.
I go. Untaught and feeble is my pen:
But on one statement I may safely venture:
That few of our most highly gifted men
Have more appreciation of their trencher.
I go. One pound of British beef, and then
What Mr. Swiveller called a 'modest quencher';
That home-returning, I may 'soothly say,'
'Fate cannot touch me: I have dined to-day.'