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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Lay of St. Nicholas
By Richard Harris Barham (Thomas Ingoldsby) (1788–1845)
 
          “Statim sacerdoti apparuit diabolus in specie puellæ pulchritudinis miræ, et ecce Divus, fide catholicâ, et cruce, et aquâ benedicta armatus venit, et aspersit aquam in nomine Sanctæ et Individuæ Trinitatis, quam, quasi ardentem, diabolus, nequaquam sustinere valens, mugitibus fugit.”—ROGER HOVEDEN.

“LORD ABBOT! Lord Abbot! I’d fain confess;
  I am a-weary, and worn with woe;
Many a grief doth my heart oppress,
  And haunt me whithersoever I go!”
 
On bended knee spake the beautiful Maid;        5
  “Now lithe and listen, Lord Abbot, to me!”—
“Now naye, fair daughter,” the Lord Abbot said,
  “Now naye, in sooth it may hardly be.
 
“There is Mess Michael, and holy Mess John,
  Sage penitauncers I ween be they!        10
And hard by doth dwell, in St. Catherine’s cell,
  Ambrose, the anchorite old and gray!”
 
—“Oh, I will have none of Ambrose or John,
  Though sage penitauncers I trow they be;
Shrive me may none save the Abbot alone—        15
  Now listen, Lord Abbot, I speak to thee.
 
“Nor think foul scorn, though mitre adorn
  Thy brow, to listen to shrift of mine!
I am a maiden royally born,
  And I come of old Plantagenet’s line.        20
 
“Though hither I stray in lowly array,
  I am a damsel of high degree;
And the Compte of Eu, and the Lord of Ponthieu,
  They serve my father on bended knee!
 
“Counts a many, and Dukes a few,        25
  A suitoring came to my father’s Hall;
But the Duke of Lorraine, with his large domain,
  He pleased my father beyond them all.
 
“Dukes a many, and Counts a few,
  I would have wedded right cheerfullie;        30
But the Duke of Lorraine was uncommonly plain,
  And I vowed that he ne’er should my bridegroom be!
 
“So hither I fly, in lowly guise,
  From their gilded domes and their princely halls;
Fain would I dwell in some holy cell,        35
  Or within some Convent’s peaceful walls!”
 
—Then out and spake that proud Lord Abbot,
  “Now rest thee, fair daughter, withouten fear.
Nor Count nor Duke but shall meet the rebuke
  Of Holy Church an he seek thee here:        40
 
“Holy Church denieth all search
  ’Midst her sanctified ewes and her saintly rams,
And the wolves doth mock who would scathe her flock,
  Or, especially, worry her little pet lambs.
 
“Then lay, fair daughter, thy fears aside,        45
  For here this day shalt thou dine with me!”—
“Now naye, now naye,” the fair maiden cried;
  “In sooth, Lord Abbot, that scarce may be!
 
“Friends would whisper, and foes would frown,
  Sith thou art a Churchman of high degree,        50
And ill mote it match with thy fair renown
  That a wandering damsel dine with thee!
 
“There is Simon the Deacon hath pulse in store,
  With beans and lettuces fair to see:
His lenten fare now let me share,        55
  I pray thee, Lord Abbot, in charitie!”
 
—“Though Simon the Deacon hath pulse in store,
  To our patron Saint foul shame it were
Should wayworn guest, with toil oppressed,
  Meet in his Abbey such churlish fare.        60
 
“There is Peter the Prior, and Francis the Friar,
  And Roger the Monk shall our convives be;
Small scandal I ween shall then be seen:
  They are a goodly companie!”
 
The Abbot hath donned his mitre and ring,        65
  His rich dalmatic, and maniple fine;
And the choristers sing, as the lay-brothers bring
  To the board a magnificent turkey and chine.
 
The turkey and chine, they are done to a nicety;
  Liver, and gizzard, and all are there;        70
Ne’er mote Lord Abbot pronounce Benedicite
  Over more luscious or delicate fare.
 
But no pious stave he, no Pater or Ave
  Pronounced, as he gazed on that maiden’s face;
She asked him for stuffing, she asked him for gravy,        75
  She asked him for gizzard;—but not for grace!
 
Yet gayly the Lord Abbot smiled, and pressed,
  And the blood-red wine in the wine-cup filled;
And he helped his guest to a bit of the breast,
  And he sent the drumsticks down to be grilled.        80
 
There was no lack of the old Sherris sack,
  Of Hippocras fine, or of Malmsey bright;
And aye, as he drained off his cup with a smack,
  He grew less pious and more polite.
 
She pledged him once, and she pledged him twice,        85
  And she drank as Lady ought not to drink;
And he pressed her hand ’neath the table thrice,
  And he winked as Abbot ought not to wink.
 
And Peter the Prior, and Francis the Friar,
  Sat each with a napkin under his chin;        90
But Roger the Monk got excessively drunk,
  So they put him to bed, and they tucked him in!
 
The lay-brothers gazed on each other, amazed;
  And Simon the Deacon, with grief and surprise,
As he peeped through the key-hole, could scarce fancy real        95
  The scene he beheld, or believe his own eyes.
 
In his ear was ringing the Lord Abbot singing—
  He could not distinguish the words very plain,
But ’twas all about “Cole,” and “jolly old Soul,”
  And “Fiddlers,” and “Punch,” and things quite as profane.        100
 
Even Porter Paul, at the sound of such reveling,
  With fervor himself began to bless;
For he thought he must somehow have let the Devil in—
  And perhaps was not very much out in his guess.
 
The Accusing Byers 1 “flew up to Heaven’s Chancery,”        105
  Blushing like scarlet with shame and concern;
The Archangel took down his tale, and in answer he
  Wept (see the works of the late Mr. Sterne).
 
Indeed, it is said, a less taking both were in
  When, after a lapse of a great many years,        110
They booked Uncle Toby five shillings for swearing,
  And blotted the fine out again with their tears!
 
But St. Nicholas’s agony who may paint?
  His senses at first were well-nigh gone;
The beatified saint was ready to faint        115
  When he saw in his Abbey such sad goings on!
 
For never, I ween, had such doings been seen
  There before, from the time that most excellent Prince,
Earl Baldwin of Flanders, and other Commanders,
  Had built and endowed it some centuries since.        120
 
—But hark—’tis a sound from the outermost gate:
  A startling sound from a powerful blow.—
Who knocks so late?—it is half after eight
  By the clock,—and the clock’s five minutes too slow.
 
Never, perhaps, had such loud double raps        125
  Been heard in St. Nicholas’s Abbey before;
All agreed “it was shocking to keep people knocking,”
  But none seemed inclined to “answer the door.”
 
Now a louder bang through the cloisters rang,
  And the gate on its hinges wide open flew;        130
And all were aware of a Palmer there,
  With his cockle, hat, staff, and his sandal shoe.
 
Many a furrow, and many a frown,
  By toil and time on his brow were traced;
And his long loose gown was of ginger brown,        135
  And his rosary dangled below his waist.
 
Now seldom, I ween, is such costume seen,
  Except at a stage-play or masquerade;
But who doth not know it was rather the go
  With Pilgrims and Saints in the second Crusade?        140
 
With noiseless stride did that Palmer glide
  Across that oaken floor;
And he made them all jump, he gave such a thump
  Against the Refectory door!
 
Wide open it flew, and plain to the view        145
  The Lord Abbot they all mote see;
In his hand was a cup and he lifted it up,
  “Here’s the Pope’s good health with three!”
 
Rang in their ears three deafening cheers,
  “Huzza! huzza! huzza!”        150
And one of the party said, “Go it, my hearty!”—
  When outspake that Pilgrim gray—
 
“A boon, Lord Abbot! a boon! a boon!
  Worn is my foot, and empty my scrip;
And nothing to speak of since yesterday noon        155
  Of food, Lord Abbot, hath passed my lip.
 
“And I am come from a far countree,
  And have visited many a holy shrine;
And long have I trod the sacred sod
  Where the Saints do rest in Palestine!”—        160
 
“An thou art come from a far countree,
  And if thou in Paynim lands hast been,
Now rede me aright the most wonderful sight,
  Thou Palmer gray, that thine eyes have seen.
 
“Arede me aright the most wonderful sight,        165
  Gray Palmer, that ever thine eyes did see,
And a manchette of bread, and a good warm bed,
  And a cup o’ the best shall thy guerdon be!”
 
“Oh! I have been east, and I have been west,
  And I have seen many a wonderful sight;        170
But never to me did it happen to see
  A wonder like that which I see this night!
 
“To see a Lord Abbot, in rochet and stole,
  With Prior and Friar,—a strange mar-velle!—
O’er a jolly full bowl, sitting cheek by jowl,        175
  And hob-nobbing away with a Devil from Hell!”
 
He felt in his gown of ginger brown,
  And he pulled out a flask from beneath;
It was rather tough work to get out the cork,
  But he drew it at last with his teeth.        180
 
O’er a pint and a quarter of holy water,
  He made a sacred sign;
And he dashed the whole on the soi-disant daughter
  Of old Plantagenet’s line!
 
Oh! then did she reek, and squeak, and shriek,        185
  With a wild unearthly scream;
And fizzled, and hissed, and produced such a mist,
  They were all half-choked by the steam.
 
Her dove-like eyes turned to coals of fire,
  Her beautiful nose to a horrible snout,        190
Her hands to paws, with nasty great claws,
  And her bosom went in and her tail came out.
 
On her chin there appeared a long Nanny-goat’s beard,
  And her tusks and her teeth no man mote tell;
And her horns and her hoofs gave infallible proofs        195
  ’Twas a frightful Fiend from the nethermost hell!
 
The Palmer threw down his ginger gown,
  His hat and his cockle; and, plain to sight,
Stood St. Nicholas’ self, and his shaven crown
  Had a glow-worm halo of heavenly light.        200
 
The fiend made a grasp the Abbot to clasp;
  But St. Nicholas lifted his holy toe,
And, just in the nick, let fly such a kick
  On his elderly namesake, he made him let go.
 
And out of the window he flew like a shot,        205
  For the foot flew up with a terrible thwack,
And caught the foul demon about the spot
  Where his tail joins on to the small of his back.
 
And he bounded away like a foot-ball at play,
  Till into the bottomless pit he fell slap,        210
Knocking Mammon the meagre o’er pursy Belphegor,
  And Lucifer into Beëlzebub’s lap.
 
Oh! happy the slip from his Succubine grip,
  That saved the Lord Abbot,—though breathless with fright,
In escaping he tumbled, and fractured his hip,        215
  And his left leg was shorter thenceforth than his right!
*        *        *        *        *
On the banks of the Rhine, as he’s stopping to dine,
  From a certain inn-window the traveler is shown
Most picturesque ruins, the scene of these doings,
  Some miles up the river south-east of Cologne.        220
 
And while “sauer-kraut” she sells you, the landlady tells you
  That there, in those walls all roofless and bare,
One Simon, a Deacon, from a lean grew a sleek one
  On filling a ci-devant Abbot’s state chair.
 
How a ci-devant Abbot, all clothed in drab, but        225
  Of texture the coarsest, hair shirt and no shoes
(His mitre and ring, and all that sort of thing
  Laid aside), in yon cave lived a pious recluse;
 
How he rose with the sun, limping “dot and go one,”
  To yon rill of the mountain, in all sorts of weather,        230
Where a Prior and a Friar, who lived somewhat higher
  Up the rock, used to come and eat cresses together;
 
How a thirsty old codger the neighbors called Roger,
  With them drank cold water in lieu of old wine!
What its quality wanted he made up in quantity,        235
  Swigging as though he would empty the Rhine!
 
And how, as their bodily strength failed, the mental man
  Gained tenfold vigor and force in all four;
And how, to the day of their death, the “Old Gentleman”
  Never attempted to kidnap them more.        240
 
And how, when at length, in the odor of sanctity,
  All of them died without grief or complaint,
The monks of St. Nicholas said ’twas ridiculous
  Not to suppose every one was a Saint.
 
And how, in the Abbey, no one was so shabby        245
  As not to say yearly four masses ahead,
On the eve of that supper, and kick on the crupper
  Which Satan received, for the souls of the dead!
 
How folks long held in reverence their reliques and memories,
  How the ci-devant Abbot’s obtained greater still,        250
When some cripples, on touching his fractured os femoris,
  Threw down their crutches and danced a quadrille!
 
And how Abbot Simon (who turned out a prime one)
  These words, which grew into a proverb full soon,
O’er the late Abbot’s grotto, stuck up as a motto,        255
  “Who Suppes with the Deville sholde have a long spoone!”
 
Note 1. The Prince of Peripatetic Informers, and terror of Stage Coachmen, when such things were. [back]
 
 
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