Verse > William Blake > Poetical Works
William Blake (1757–1827).  The Poetical Works.  1908.
On Friends and Foes
And his legs carried it like a long fork
—AND 1 his legs carried it like a long fork,
Reached all the way from Chichester to York,
From York all across Scotland to the sea;
This was a man of men, as seems to me.
Not only in his mouth his own soul lay,        5
But my soul also would he bear away.
Like as a pedlar bears his weary pack,
He would bear my soul buckled to his back.
But once, alas! committing a mistake,
He bore the wretched soul of William Blake        10
That he might turn it into eggs of gold;
But neither back nor mouth those eggs could hold.
His under jaw dropp’d as those eggs he laid,
And all my eggs are addled and decay’d.
The Examiner, whose very name is Hunt,        15
Call’d Death a madman, trembling for the affront
Like trembling hare sits on his weakly paper
On which he used to dance and sport and caper.
Yorkshire Jack Hemp and Quibble, blushing daw,
Clapp’d Death into the corner of their jaw,        20
And Felpham Billy rode out every morn,
Horseback with Death, over the fields of corn;
Who with iron hand cuff’d, in the afternoon,
The ears of Billy’s Lawyer and Dragoon.
And Cur my lawyer, and Daddy, Jack Hemp’s parson,        25
Both went to law with Death to keep our ears on.
For how to starve Death we had laid a plot
Against his price—but Death was in the pot.
He made them pay his price, alackaday!
He knew both Law and Gospel better than they.        30
O that I ne’er had seen that William Blake,
Or could from Death Assassinette wake!
We thought—Alas, that such a thought could be!—
That Blake would etch for him and draw for me.
For ’twas a kind of bargain Screwmuch made        35
That Blake’s designs should be by us display’d,
Because he makes designs so very cheap.
Then Screwmuch at Blake’s soul took a long leap.
’Twas not a mouse. ’Twas Death in a disguise.
And I, alas! live to weep out my eyes.        40
And Death sits laughing on their monuments
On which he ’s written ‘Receivèd the contents.’
But I have writ—so sorrowful my thought is—
His epitaph; for my tears are aquafortis.
‘Come, Artists, knock your head against this stone,        45
For sorrow that our friend Bob Screwmuch ’s gone.’
And now the Muses upon me smile and laugh
I’ll also write my own dear epitaph,
And I’ll be buried near a dyke
That my friends may weep as much as they like:        50
‘Here lies Stewhard the Friend of all [mankind;
He has not left one enemy behind.]’
Note 1. XXVIII This biographical fragment, of which the opening lines are lacking, was probably composed soon after Sept. 17, 1809, when the article on ‘Mr. Blake’s Exhibition’ appeared in Leigh Hunt’s Examiner (no. 90). The speaker ‘Stewhard’ is evidently Stothard, and the ‘he’ of the opening lines Cromek, elsewhere called ‘Bob Screwmuch’. ‘Death’ is a nickname for Blake (possibly because of his association with Blair’s Grave); ‘Yorkshire Jack Hemp’ for Flaxman; ‘Felpham Billy’ for Hayley; and ‘Daddy, Jack Hemp’s parson’ for Dr. Malkin of the Father’s Memoirs; while Chichester was the scene of Blake’s trial for high treason at the instance of the ‘Dragoon’ (see Gilchrist I, chap. xix). 8, 14 I give here the original and clearer readings. Later Blake changed l. 8 to ‘So Stewhard’s soul he buckled to his back’, and l. 14 to ‘And Stewhard’s eggs’, &c., but failed to make corresponding changes of person in the rest of the poem. 16 trembling for the affront] Deadly the affront MS. 1st rdg. del. 19 Yorkshire] And Yorkshire MS. 1st rdg. del.
43, 44
But I have writ with tears, as aquafortis,
This Epitaph—so sorrowful my thought is.
MS. 1st rdg. del.
51 In the MS. ‘Here lies Stewhard the Friend of all, &c.’ I complete the couplet from the ‘Epitaph on John Trot’ (p. 221). [back]

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