Archive for September 1st, 2021

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Old Ham Fresh Drest by Michael Massey Robinson

Booted and spurr’d, our gallant wight
Returning late one winter’s night
From toil, hard ware and duty,
Took Pancras church-yard in his way;
For near that spot, the gossips say,
He kept a pamper’d beauty.

Darkness and silence reign’d around,
When lo! the church-bell gave a found,
Such as chill terror brings,
When some pale spirit, long since sled,
Haunts the black caverns of the dead,
To tell of – WICKED THINGS!

But left the world should think it strange,
A marry’d man shou’d, rake-like, range,
This will explain the matter;
The WIDOW late had slipt her breath,
And even died a nat’ral death!
Tho’ Justice murmur’d at her!

So circumstanc’d, ’tis not uncommon
For widowers to keep a woman,
Altho’ not over chaste:
For beauty has a thousand charms
To lure to its devoted arms
A trading cull of taste.

We bards that use familiar rhyme,
Never affect a style sublime,
Nor heed we little errors;
The reader therefore will excuse
The lapse of a plain-dealing muse,
ALBEIT SHE SINGS OF TERRORS!

Involuntary as surprise;
Our hero paus’d and rubb’d his eyes,
And thought he must be dreaming;
When lo!
another dismal found,
With groans terrific teeming!

“What could possess me,” thus he cried,
“So late at counting-house to ‘bide!
I’d better mend my pace.
It is not that I’m apt to fear;
But none wou’d like this knell to hear
In such a lonely place!

With quicken’d steps he brush’d along,
The ling’ring path seem’d length’ning on,
For conscience was not stout;
Silent the bell – but swift as light
A spectre slitted by his sight,
And cried, “THE DEED WILL OUT!”

If ‘midst the busy scenes of life,
We seek to calm internal strife
And snatch a cheerful hour,
The jocund tale, the flowing bowl,
Will shed oblivion o’er the foul,
And check reflexion’s pow’r.

But when dark solitude pervades
The midnight scene – and silent shades
Are wrapt in awful gloom,
Where is the mind impair’d by GUILT?
Where is the hand that BLOOD has spilt,
That shrinks not at its doom?

Ah! what avails each grand parade
By the proud hand of fashion made,
And scenes of splendid riot?
What charm can health or wealth impart?
What tranquil moment knows the heart
When CONSCIENCE is not quiet?

What! though a borough could be found,
And bought for thirty thousand pound,
What comfort would be in it?
Altho’ to mark a soaring mind,
A tradesman tries that way to find
A seat in England’s f-n-e.

***************
In the court records it states that “This stanza appears too personal to be introduced at present”
***************

Is there not wrap’t in Fate’s dark womb,
A tale for ages yet to come?
A foul, unnat’ral deed?
Did not black Avarice conspire
With all the rage of lustful fire?
DID NOT THE VICTIM BLEED?

Oh! that fair Charity, mild maid,
Indulgent to the widow’s shade,
Cou’d check conjecture’s course.
That busy memory no more
Might the mysterious deed explore,
Or trace its FATAL SOURCE!

But – ! let the muse resume her strain,
And to her tale return again;
Whilom of ghosts she sung-
When a grim spectre struck his sight,
Distinguish’d by a glimm’ring light,
It seem’d to bear along.

“THE DEED WILL OUT ,” the phantom cried,
And forwards mov’d from side to side,
To intercept his rout;
Whilst our pale traveller dismay’d,
With falt’ring speech address’d the shade,
And ask’d, “WHAT DEED WILL OUT?”

“Pause thee a while, and lift!” – it said,
And sigh’d and shook its aged head.
(Our hero trembling stood!)
“Why in the early scenes of age,
“Didst thou in such a deed engage?”
Remember – BLOOD for BLOOD!

“Of years, not five times five are past,
“Since, circled round thy humble waist,
“The dingy apron hung, –
“Thy heart then no soul mischief brew’d;
“Thy mind a moral track pursu’d;
“And guileless was thy tongue:

“Till dire ambition, like a fiend,
“That hurls destruction, without end,
“On each devoted slave,
“Burst forth. – Then lust assum’d a name
“To hide a secret guilty flame,
“And doom me to the grave!

“The poison’d chalice (fatal draught!)
“To my unconscious lips was brought –

*Note: This poem was sent to a London ironmonger as part of an extortion attempt and accuses the ironmonger of the murder of his former employer. The extortion attempt failed and the writer was sentenced to death. The sentence was changed to one of transportation and the writer arrived in Botany Bay (Australia) in 1798 as a convict. This version of the poem is from the record of the trial and is missing a stanza which the court deemed ‘too personal’ and appears unfinished.

From: Old Bailey Proceedings Online, February 1796, trial of MICHAEL ROBINSON (t17960217-71).
(https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t17960217-71-defend917&div=t17960217-71#highlight)

Date: 1796

By: Michael Massey Robinson (1744-1826)