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A LONG STORY.
In the year 1750 Mr. Gray finished his celebrated Elegy, and
communicated it to his friend Mr. Walpole, whose good taste was too much charmed to suffer bim to withhold the sight of it from his acquaintance; accordingly it was shown about for some time in manuscript, and received with all the applause it so justly merited. Amongst the rest of the fashionable world, Lady Cobham, who resided at StokePogis, and to whom the mapsion-house and park belonged, had read and admired it. Wishing to be acquainted with the author, her relation Miss Speed, and Lady Schaub then at her house, andertook to bring this about, by making him the first visit. He had been accustomed to spend bis summer vacations from Cambridge, at the house occupied by Mrs. Rogers his aunt, wbither his mother and her sister, Miss Antrobus, bad also retired, situated at the entrance upon Stoke Common, called West End, and about a mile from the manor house. He happened to be from home when the ladies arrived at the sequestered habitation, and when he relarned, was not a little surprised to find, written on one of his papers in the parlour, the following note: Lady Schaub's compliments to Mr. Gray ; she is sorry not to have found him at home, to tell him that Lady Brown is very well.” Such a compliment necessitated him to return the visit; and as the heginning of the acquaintance seemed to have a romantic character, he very soon composed the following ludicrous account of the adventure, for the amusement of the ladies in question, which he entitled, “ A LONG STORY.”
In Britain's isle, no matter where,
An ancient pile of building stands *:
Employ'd the power of fairy hands * In the 16th century, the house belonged to the Earls of To raise the ceiling's fretted height*,
Each pannel in achievements clothing, Rich windows that exclude the light,
And passages, that lead to nothing.
When he had fifty winters o'er him,
The seals and maces danc'd before hius.
His high-crown'd hat, and satin doublet, Moy'd the stout heart of England's queen,
Though Pope and Spaniard could not trouble it. What, in the very first beginning !
Shame of the versifying tribe !
Can you do nothing but describe? Hantingdon, and to the family of Hatton. On the death of Lady Cobham, 1760, the estate was purchased from her executors by the late Hon. Thomas Penn, Lord Proprietary of Pennsylvania : his son, the present John Peun, Esq. finding the interior of the ancient mansion in a state of considerable decay, it was taken down in the year 1789, with the exception of a wing, which was preserved, partly for the sake of its effect as a ruin, harmonizing with the church-yard, the poet's house, and the surrounding scenery.
* The style of building called Queen Elizabeth's, is here admirably described, both with regard to its beauties and defects, the third and fourth stanzas delineate the fantastic manners of the time with equal truth and humour.
+ Sir Christopher Hatton, promoted by Queen Elizabeth for his graceful person and fine dancing.
Brawls were figure-dances then in fashion.
A house there is (and that's enough)
From whence one fatal morning issues A brace of warriors, not in buff,
But rustling in their silks and tissues. The first came cap-a-pee from France*,
Her conqu’ring destiny fulfilling, Whom meaner beauties eye askance,
And vainly ape her art of killing. The other amazont kind heav'n
Had arm'd with spirit, wit, and satire ; But Cobham had the polish giv’n,
And tipp'd ber arrows with good-nature. To celebrate her eyes, her air
Coarse panegyrics wonld but tease her, Melissa is her “ nom de guerre.”
Alas, who would not wish to please her! With bonnet blue and eapuchine,
And aprons long, they hid their armour; And veil'd their weapons, bright and keen,
In pity to the country farmer. Fame, in the shape of Mr. Purt 1,
(By this time all the parish know it) Had told that thereabouts there lurk'd
A wicked imp they call a poet:
* The Lady's husband, Sir Luke Schaub, had been ambassador at Paris some years before.
+ Miss Harriet Speed, Lady C.'s relation, afterwards married to the Count de Viry, Sardinian Envoy at the court of London.
The Rev. Mr. Part, tutor to the Duke of Bridgwater, then at Eton school.
Who prowl'd the country far and near,
Bewitch'd the children of the peasants, Dried up the cows, and lam'd the deer,
And suck'd the eggs, and kill'd the pheasants. My lady heard their joint petition,
Swore by her coronet and ermine, She'd issue out ber high commission
To rid the manor of such vermin *. The heroines undertook the task,
'Through lanes unknown, o'er stiles they ventur'dt, Rapp'd at the door, nor stay'd to ask,
But bounce into the parlour enter'd. The trembling family they daunt,
They flirt, they sing, they laugh, they tattle, Rummage his mother, pinch bis aunt,
And up stairs in a whirlwind rattle: Each hole and cupboard they explore,
Each creek and cranny of his chamber, Run hurry-skurry round the floor,
And o'er the bed and tester clamber;
* Henry the Fourth, in the fourth year of his reign, issued out the following commission against this species of vermin :-“ And it is enacted, that no master-rimour, minstrel, or other vagabond, be in any wise sustained in the land of Wales, to make commoiths, or gatherings upon the people there."
+ The walk from Stoke old mansion, to the house occupied by the poet's family, is peculiarly retired. The house is the property of Captain Salter, and it has belonged to his family for many generations. It is a charming spot for a summer residence, but has undergone great alterations and improvements since Gray gave it op in 1758.
Into the drawers and cbina pry,
Papers and books, a huge imbroglio! Under a tea-cup he might lie*,
Or, creased, like dog's-ears, in a folio. On the first marching of the troops,
The Muses, hopeless of bis pardon,
To a small closet in the garden.
But that they left the door ajar,
He heard the distant din of war.
* There is a very great similarity between the style of part of this poem, and Prior's Tale of the • Dove:' as for instance in the following stanzas, which Gray must have had in his mind at the time.
“ With one great peal they rap the door,
Like footmen on a visiting day:
“Her keys he takes, her door unlocks,
Through wardrobe and through closet bounces,
Tarns all her furbelows and flounces.
“ I marvel much, she smiling said,
Your poultry cannot yet be found :
Or may be in the tea-pot drown'd.”