Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland (Author: William Allingham)
A Dinner at Lisnamoy House
Chilly and dim th' autumnal fields; but bright
Sir Ulick's table glows with waxen light;
Alternate fair and brown, the seemly guests
With smiling nonsense aid the varied zests;
5] The solemn liveries with observance wait,
And smoothly pour the wine and shift the plate;
Each thing fulfils a justly measured part,
And all like nature seems, where all is art.
The steps of banquet keeping time and place,
10] With bland succession and unconscious grace,
The dishes circle in a savoury train,
The small-talk bubbles with the brisk champagne;
Till Beauty now glides rustling from the room,
And men in freer groups their chairs resume.
Say who they are, whom Irish Fates combine
To crack those filberts and to sip that wine?
The pompous Head of all the Harvey clan;
Shrewd Vicar Boyd, who seems a simple man;
Lord Crashtons' son, with whiskers large and fair,
20] His chief distinction, and his fondest care;
Hard Finlay; Laurence Bloomfield next in place;
Fat Agent Pigot with his joking face;
James Duff, a northern tory, big and coarse;
Dysart, who shrewdly bets on dog and horse;
25] With these, great Nassau Blunderbore, whose fame
Fills all the journals,hear him now declaim,
When Bloomfield, sifting out some little fact.
Would fain have answer quiet and exact:
All Papists are but rebels in disguise,
30] And if they dared, this very night would rise;
The law from mere compulsion they obey,
Their priests and demagogues have genuine sway;
Mainly the first, a dark and dangerous band,
The creeping rulers of this wretched land,
35] Their faith a lie, their purity a cheat,
(Want of detection proves their plans complete)
Dogmatic vassals of insidious Rome,
Courted by coward governments at home,
Ambitious, cunning, false, yet firm of will,
40] Improve them, you but help their power of ill.
Each Papist is his Queen's and Landlord's foe,
And every Priest conspires to keep him so!
Such is the well-worn theme. Such theme to-night
Great Nassau pounds with fourfold main and might;
45] For Ribbonism has flourished high its head,
Has sworn a trembling farmer, dragg'd from bed,
To quash his lawsuit,promised mortal harm
To him who ventures on the vacant farm
Snatch'd from a poor industrious innocent,
50] Whose only fault was owing five years' rent,
Puts fear and hate, acknowledged or conceal'd,
To haunt each hearth, and lurk in every field.
Boyd listens blandly, Boyd the shrewd divine,
Who loves his money, and who likes his wine,
55] Who travels, has a house in Mountjoy-square,
And to his parish comes for change of air,
Blames, ex-officio, popery and dissent,
Though doctrines breed him little discontent,
Lets parish questions to the Curate go,
60] (The Curate's views are high,his pay but low)
A trim old parson, Boyd; whose smile urbane
Will soothe, although perhaps you talk in vain;
Blest with four daughters, and, as fame resounds,
For each a fortune of five thousand pounds.
65] The first is cleverwriteth books, be sure;
The second Sunday-schools the drowsy poor
By rote, on unintelligible things;
Another of the damsels plays and sings;
The fourth professes, merely, flaxen curls.
70] What is their mother?slave to these four girls.
I can't think ill of every popish priest,
Says Boyd, our own are harmless men, at least;
Vulgar no doubt, and very wrong, of course,
But still, admit the truth, we might have worse.
Sir!responds Nassau, (Bloomfield in his eye)
We live amidst one huge conspiracy!
For Papal Ireland hates, in common cause,
The church, the constitution, and the laws.
Priest, politicians, with their cunning views,
80] The blindfold passions of the peasants use;
This wicked league if once their Altar spoke
Would break and vanish, like a ring of smoke.
And feel them twitch the blood-stain' d Ribbon's end.
Why! angry Duff breaks in, to crown it all,
Here's Pigot threaten' d in a murder-scrawl.
Sooner than let this Ballytullagh stand,
I'd tear it down, by Jove, with my own hand,
90] Must do our duty, and with one accord.
Elections too draw near, and if we flinch
They'll seize an ella milefor every inch.
By George I leave no man of mine in doubt,
Vote as I bid you, or I turn you out!
95] True Orangemen were Blunderbore and Duff,
Each spoke his mind, and each made noise enough;
The one on force of argument relied,
The argument of force was all the other's pride.
These people, on the side of Tullagh Hill,
100] Says Agent Pigot, merely hold at will
Some spots of tillage in a mountain tract,
O'er which they stray' d, and deem'd it theirs in fact.
Half-savage long, reduced to bounds at last,
From grumbling to defiance they have pass'd;
105] With men and money help the Ribbon Lodge;
Full time, I think, to ask our friends to budge!
To get his own, Sir Ulick would have paid,
But this have I, on principle, gainsaid;
These folk deserve no kindness, have no claim;
110] Count down fee-simple, they would yell the same.
Faith, gentlemen, this country sorely needs
A quicker clearance of its human weeds;
But still, the proper system is begun,
And forty holdings we shall change to one.
115] Bloomfield, his inexperience much confess'd,
Doubts if the large dispeopled farms be best,
Best in a wide sense, best for all the world,
(At this expression sundry lips were curl'd)
I wish, but know not how, each peasant's hand
120] Might work, nay, hope to win, a share of land;
For ownership, however small it be,
Breeds diligence, content, and loyalty,
And tirelessly compels the rudest field,
Inch after inch, its very most to yield.
125] Wealth might its true prerogatives retain;
And no man lose, and all men greatly gain.
This, Bloomfield chiefly to the Vicar said,
Who courteously demurr'd with shake of head.
Ah, my dear sir, our philanthropic dreams
130] Are finebut human nature mars our schemes!
If Boyd had such, he well knew how to shake
Those dreams away, and thus live wide-awake.
Loud hemm'd Sir Ulick, in his pompous tone,
A platitudinarian too-well known,
135] Whom meetings with respectful torpor heard,
And all his private circle duly fear'd.
How polish' d, grave, and dignified he is,
Strutting along in dull periphrasis,
With mental back impossible to bend!
140] Pinchbeck he quotes, his economic friend,
That tenant-right is robbery or worse;
That little holdings are a country's curse;
Does he that merely tills turn owner? Why,
Who could inherit land, who sell or buy?
145] Which may have reason in it: but at best
Pinchbeck in some poor scrap of truth is drest,
And, like the Kaffir who has chanced to find
A coat of Europe, dons it front-behind.
Now Finlay, of the cold sarcastic eye,
150] And voice for ever tuneless, hard, and dry:
Land is of course, like other things you buy,
Investment for your money. Find or make
A contract,law will punish if you break.
Supposing legal contract there be none,
155] Then, he who occupies your house in town,
Or country farm (what matters which) must know
That when the owner bids him, he should go.
He has no lease, though he desires to stay,
Why, then, so much the worse for him, you say.
160] He has a lease, and pays but little rent,
A lucky man! and you must bide content;
He wants a lease; then, such and such the terms,
Or you declare you will not let your farms.
Contracts are contracts; law is law; and land
165] Is property: thus much I understand.
Fat Pigot turn'd to every one who spoke,
And laugh' d when each was done, as at a joke.
His fun is somewhat threadbare, but you half
Believe it rich, so hearty is his laugh;
170] And not ill-furnish'd he with jest and tale.
Beetroot beside his glowing cheek were pale.
Kind to his household, jolly with his friends,
Business begun, all Pigot's feeling ends;
With jovial voice and look, his hand, like Fate's
175] Can freeze the dwellers upon four estates,
Whose slavish flattery finds a self-redress,
A sort of freedom, in its own excess.
Their mother-wit,debased through dismal years
Of rapine and oppression, blood and tears,
180] To craft and cunning,twists in reptile form,
A slimy, soft, and poison-bearing worm.
Be silent, noisy tongues on either shore!
Denounce, defend, recriminate no more!
In history's record England reads her blame,
185] Ireland her grief, her folly, and her shame;
Let each peruse with humble soul and sage.
And, from the past, amend the future page.
But, meanwhile, of the Present shall be read
One dirty leaf,a coffin decks its head,
190] From Pigot's bulky pocket, by desire,
Emitted, for the table to admire:
Take Notis, Big gut, if one claw you lay
On Tullah, you'll for ever roo the day
So change your tune, and quickly, or by God
195] This warnin is your lastwe'll have your blud.
Sined, Captin Starlite.Funny letter, eh?
The Honourable George is heard to say.
Good marksays Dysart, with a nod and laugh.
For pot-shots, Duff observes, too good by half.
200] Got a six-shooter? Tom rejoins: let's see.
No! cry the rest. Says Pigot, Trust to me,
And hides the weapon. Tom approves not such:
I'll bet, with your revolver, you don't touch
My hat at twenty yards, two shots in five.
205] You must have daily practice, man alive!
Practice is everything, and firing quick,
Before a lazy finger does the trick;
That's how my uncle finish'd Major Crowe,
A splendid marksman, only rather slow.
210] Fire from the hip! cries Tom in cheerful mood,
And cracks a nut in proper attitude.
Mayn't get the chance, growls Finlay. It was time,
Sir Ulick thought, to meet this growth of crime,
But how?shall counter-terror bid it cease
215] By Proclamation and more big Police?
Spies and rewards, thought Dysart; turning out
All tenants, Duff said, in one rabble-rout.
Where should they go to? They may go to h.
But Bloomfield to his own reflections fell:
220] Owners are owners we decide in haste,
Might three men choose to keep a county waste?
Is there no spirit in the world of things
Whereon his gyve in vain the lawyer flings?
Can we, by politics of coin or birth,
225] Own, like a house or hunter, God's round earth?
Or, is that different property? We're tried
In turn as leaders. Families subside,
As they have risen, like billows of a tide,
Heirs lifted to the top-surge one by one.
230] But continuity from sire to son,
No further, quibbles in the North-star's face:
One man is deadanother's in his place.
A trust, to help our fellow-men, we own;
True right of property is this alone.
235] Chieftains there must be; and the low man clings
With long affection to unworthy kings;
Ev'n here, would fain be faithful to his lord
And Bloomfield sigh'd and look'd around the board.
To throw my life to loss with men like these?
240] Why should I? of a sudden this brought ease.
Where earth gives most of what to me is best
To live is mine, my privilege confess'd,
My duty too"but here some side-wind caught
The sail out-spread of his quick-moving thought:
245] Duty with duty it is hard to weigh,
To rule the very power you must obey,
Doubt Judgment, of your doubting doubtful too.
The pain of too much freedom Bloomfield knew.
For all the choice was in his proper hand;
250] No shadow-barrier in his road to stand
Of others' expectation; none could say,
Parting next week, that he had plann'd to stay,
Nor wonder if th' ensuing seven years' rent
In banker's bills should over sea be sent,
255] While Pigot, well-accustom' d viceroy, reign' d,
And far off tenants fruitlessly complain' d.
While Blooinfield's mind experienced this unrest,
His face was calm, his converse self-possest;
The noble sprig beside him sees no gloom;
260] Come down to shoot the country, I presume?
Good cocking in Sir Ulick's upper wood
Cover for grouse on Croghan, doocid good.
Queer fellows, though, the common fellows round
And every one a poacherdoes your ground
265] Touch on the river? So we sit and talk,
A finger round the crystal flower-bell-stalk
Brimm'd with cool claret, fruit and biscuits munch,
And some in secret pine for whisky-punch,
Or vapour of the soothing weed. But soon
270] All reassemble in the White Saloon,
With decent forms of speech and gestures fit,
Which clothe mere dulness with a kind of wit.
Though press'd to stay, and bid with serious brow
Remember he is not in England now,
275] Laurence will homeward ride, and ride alone;
Deaf, blind, insensible as stock or stone
To three Miss Harveys and to four Miss Boyds,
The charm of song and every smile avoids,
Yielding that bower of beauty and of tea
280] To George's whiskers, and our mild A.B.,
Too busy Curate to present more soon
His well-brush' d hair and voice's gentle croon.
How does a man with seventy pounds a-year
In virgin linen every day appear?
285] Spotless his shirts are, spotless too his life;
Stiff in cravat, and dialectic strife,
He shuns the popish priests, and flogs the Pope,
nor may the Methodist for mercy hope;
Much milk of human kindness, too, he carries,
290] A little sour'd with dogma, through the parish,
And plays a half-divine, half-human part
With many a pious flirting female heart.
Enoughon dangerous matter we presume;
Shut smoothly, door of silken drawing-room!
295] Let Lady Harvey lead the reverend man
Profoundly to discuss his favourite plan
Whereby we might convert all Papists, in
Say three short years, and crush the Man of Sin:
Dear Lady Harvey! this benighted land
300] Ah, yes! your trials we can understand
Those dreadful Priests""The cause of Scriptural Truth ...
Our Church in danger ... Government ... Maynooth"
And leaving lovely damsels as they may
To quote Evangeline, Traviata play,
305] We move with Laurence on his homeward way.
All down the leafy way as Bloomfield rode,
O'er man and horse the latticed moonshine flow'd,
Like films of sorcery, or sacred rite
Of sprinkling by the holy priestess, Night;
310] Strange pools of mist were on the lower ground,
Moonlight above, and silence deep around,
Except the measured footfalls. In a shade
By thicker growths of laurustinus made,
Our young Squire heard not, or unheeding heard,
315] One whispering bough that stealthily was stirr'd;
Saw not the glitter of an ambush' d eye
That glared upon the landlord moving by.
In meditation through the leaves he rode;
O'er man and horse the web of moonshine flow'd;
320] Then on the open highway swiftlier sped,
Where spectral gates and walls behind him fled.
Within, his soul was seething. Should he stay,
Toil, wrangle, risk his blood, from day to day?
Or from the tumult quietly withdraw,
325] And soon forget what he no longer saw?
Was all his duty to his rental bound?
Might he not better serve on other ground?
It matters not for whom, or how, or where
Be what you're fit for, all the world has share.
330] 'These men are in their element, and do
Much work; it may be, are victorious too.
Novels and newspapers alone afford
Th' angelic peasant and his fiendish lord.
Ev'n Duff has kindness; Harvey's wit is small
335] Yet leaves him average mortal after all;
Pigot is business-like and bold, not base,
One looks not there for Shelley's mind or face.
Such have a manly spirit of their own,
Which roughly in a rugged world is shown.
340] And what know I of tenants or of land?'
Here conscience took once more the upper hand:
'Somewhat you know of men, and Heavenly Laws;
Permit not selfish sloth to win the cause;
The right choice wins a strength, wrong choice a plea.'
345] Perplex' d in mood, his mansion enters he,
With varying step along the lonely floors
And dismal dark neglected corridors.
A long discussion may, for good or ill,
Be sharply ended by despotic will.
350] 'I'll quit the place before to-morrow night!
Party with party, church with church may fight,
Rich fools with poor,I cannot set them right.'
But to the council-chamber of his head
Rush'd in a tale that he had long since read,
355] An ancient story, putting all astray,
As Csesar's self was stopt upon his way.
Imperial Hadrian, with his lofty knights,
Prancing through pillar'd gateway, Dion writes,
There saw a Widow kneeling to implore,
360] Since none could rescue save her emperor,
An audience of her suit; to whom he said
I have no time to hearken. Hope and dread
Together gone, she cried Then cease to reign!
Whereat, amidst a check'd and wondering train,
365] The Roman wheel' d his horse and heard.
This wrought Another change of hue upon his thought.
'Twere hard to reign, to abdicate more hard.
Is living free, like other men, debarr'd
Shut eyes, and open (says the World) your mouth,
370] And take what fortune sends you, foolish youth!
Would things go better here, supposing I,
Not Pigot, govern'd? ought I not to try?
Or are they dreams, my poetry and art,
And love and faith too, all life's finer part
375] Fit but for conversation, books, the stage,
And not for men whom actual toils engage?'
His heart beat, and he felt as faint within
As one who has a whole day fasting been,
Irresolution's sickness; so combined
380] Are all the powers of body and of mind.
Moreover, looking on himself, he saw
A crisis of his life. There was Heaven's Law,
Cloudy, but firm and sure. He saw the crime
(Touching all future pleasures with a slime)
385] To stand before a true task face to face,
Then turn away, though secret the disgrace.
Man's life is double: hard its clues to give
Within, Without, and thus completely live.
Custom of pray'r with wandering soul he kept;
390] Desired to sleep, but not till daylight slept.