Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 4/Swift and the Mohawks


In one of his letters to Stella, dated from Harley Street, Swift speaks with angry disgust of the nightly outrages then perpetrating in London by bands of dissolute revellers, who assumed the Indian name of Mohawks, to express their wildness and ferocity. From what we can gather about them, from stray passages in the “Spectator” and elsewhere, it would appear that the Mohawks were in the habit of slitting the noses of poor servant maids, and enclosing bewildered old citizens, on their way home from their tavern clubs, in prickly circles of sword points, besides breaking windows with showers of halfpence, ill-treating old watchmen, and pulling down shop signs, and doing other wanton and selfish mischief. In the following ballad I have confronted them with Swift.

A black sedan through Temple Bar
Comes at the midnight chime,
Just as above the silvering roofs
The moon begins to climb.
There is something stern about the place,
And sad about the time.

That black arch rises like Death’s door,
For rebels’ heads are there;
The moonshine, now a silver crown,
Rests upon each in the air,
So bright that you can see their eyes
Upon the clear stars stare.

A grim man sits in the sedan;
It skirts St. Clement’s tower
As high aloft an angel’s voice
Is meting out the hour;
And on the street the moonbeams broad
Meridian brightness shower.

Fast down the Strand the Mohawks come,
With clash of shivering glass;
With bristling swords and flaming links,
That let no watchman pass;
A yellow gown upon a pole
Leads on the drunken mass.

With hurrying cries of “Scour!” and “Scour!”
The revellers rush on;
Red smoky whirls of drifting flame
Light faces woe-begone—
Such faces only night can show,
Day never on them shone.

Down with the country parson’s chair!”
The drunken Mohawks shout;
Unearth, old fox! no preaching now
Will save your bacon—out!
Or we’ll slit your nose, and float your chair
Down stream—now, sir, come out!”

The jostled chairmen’s trembling hands
Put down the black sedan;
Then out at once—wild beast from cage—
Strides forth a black-browed man,
Who pushes back the line of swords,
And faces all that clan.

Plain, homely, in a rusty gown—
Some village priest, no more—
And yet a lion, and at bay,
Had daunted them no more.
As, all unarmed, the stern man stood,
Backward the foremost bore.

Begone!” he cried, “you swaggering rogues,
You fools and knaves by fits;
Who let bad wine creep up and steal
Your poor besotted wits;
E’en now for you the hangman works,
And chain to collar knits!

Back to your garrets and your dens,
Your greasy dice and cards;
Back, lazy prentices and thieves,
Back to your Bridewell wards!
Go to the hospitals, and pine
With Blood Bowl Alley’s hordes.

For ye the madhouse cries and gapes,
For ye the gibbet creaks;
Go, join the highwayman, and kill
The miser when he squeaks;
Or cower around the glass-house when
The pent-house shelter leaks.

You brood of apes, and dogs, and swine,
Back to your kennels—go—”
(Each bitter word that grim man spoke
Fell like a bruising blow)
—Spawn of the serpent, to your holes,
He calls you from below!”

Those wine-flushed faces pale to see
The sternness of that face;
The banners droop, the tankards sink,
The cowering links give place;
The stuttering mouths, the vacant eyes
Look sober for a space.

The wildest shrinks before that gaze,
Nor dares to brave that eye;
Then, one by one, like snow in thaw,
Melts all that company;
The swords are sheathed, the lights go out,
Hushed is their tipsy glee.

To Harley Street!” Swift cries, and pass’d,
Humming a biting rhyme;
The moon, just now eclipsed, had ceased
To soar, and soaring climb.
There was something stern about the man,
And sad about the time.

Walter Thornbury.