Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
75. From “Curiosity”
By Charles Sprague

THE NEWS! our morning, noon, evening cry,
Day unto day repeats it till we die.
For this the cit, the critic, and the fop,
Dally the hour away in Tonsor’s shop;
For this the gossip takes her daily route,        5
And wears your threshold and your patience out;
For this we leave the parson in the lurch,
And pause to prattle on the way to church;
Even when some coffined friend we gather round,
We ask, “What news?” then lay him in the ground;        10
To this the breakfast owes its sweetest zest,
For this the dinner cools, the bed remains unpressed.
  What gives each tale of scandal to the street,
The kitchen’s wonder, and the parlor’s treat?
See the pert housemaid to the keyhole fly,        15
When husband storms, wife frets, or lovers sigh;
See Tom ransack your pockets for each note,
And read your secrets while he cleans your coat;
See, yes, to listen see even madam deign,
When the smug seamstress pours her ready strain;        20
This wings the lie that malice breeds in fear,—
No tongue so vile but finds a kindred ear;
Swift flies each tale of laughter, shame, or folly,
Caught by Paul Pry and carried home to Polly;
On this each foul calumniator leans,        25
And nods and hints the villany he means:
Full well he knows what latent wildfire lies
In the close whisper and the dark surmise;
A muffled word, a wordless wink has woke
A warmer throb than if a Dexter spoke;        30
And he, o’er Everett’s periods who would nod,
To track a secret, half the town has trod.
  O thou, from whose rank breath nor sex can save,
Nor sacred virtue, nor the powerless grave,—
Felon unwhipped! than whom in yonder cells        35
Full many a groaning wretch less guilty dwells,
Blush—if of honest blood a drop remains
To steal its lonely way along thy veins,
Blush—if the bronze, long hardened on thy cheek,
Has left a spot where that poor drop can speak;        40
Blush to be branded with the slanderer’s name,
And, though thou dreadst not sin, at least dread shame.
We hear, indeed, but shudder while we hear
The insidious falsehood and the heartless jeer;
For each dark libel that thou lickest to shape,        45
Thou mayest from law but not from scorn escape;
The pointed finger, cold, averted eye,
Insulted virtue’s hiss—thou canst not fly.

LOOK now, directed by yon candle’s blaze,
Where the false shutter half its trust betrays—        50
Mark that fair girl reclining in her bed,
Its curtain round her polished shoulders spread:
Dark midnight reigns, the storm is up in power;
What keeps her waking in that dreary hour?
See where the volume on her pillow lies—        55
Claims Radcliffe or Chapone those frequent sighs?
’T is some wild legend—now her kind eye fills,
And now cold terror every fibre chills;
Still she reads on—in fiction’s labyrinth lost,
Of tyrant fathers, and of true love crossed;        60
Of clanking fetters, low, mysterious groans,
Blood-crusted daggers, and uncoffined bones,
Pale, gliding ghosts, with fingers dropping gore,
And blue flames dancing round a dungeon door;—
Still she reads on—even though to read she fears,        65
And in each key-hole moan strange voices hears,
While every shadow that withdraws her look
Glares in her face, the goblin of her book;
Still o’er the leaves her craving eye is cast,
On all she feasts, yet hungers for the last;        70
Counts what remains, now sighs there are no more,
And now even those half tempted to skip o’er;
At length, the bad all killed, the good all pleased,
Her thirsting Curiosity appeased,
She shuts the dear, dear book, that made her weep,        75
Puts out her light, and turns away to sleep.


Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2020 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit · Free Essays