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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 7/Baucis and Philemon





Imitated from the Eighth Book of Ovid.

IN ancient times, as story tells,
The saints would often leave their cells,
And stroll about, but hide their quality,
To try good people's hospitality.
It happen'd on a winter night,5
As authors of the legend write,
Two brother hermits, saints by trade,
Taking their tour in masquerade,
Disguis'd in tatter'd habits, went
To a small village down in Kent;10
Where, in the strollers' canting strain,
They begg'd from door to door in vain,
Tried every tone might pity win;
But not a soul would let them in.
Our wandering saints, in woeful state,15
Treated at this ungodly rate,
Having through all the village past,
To a small cottage came at last!
Where dwelt a good old honest ye'man,
Call'd in the neighbourhood Philemon;20
Who kindly did these saints invite
In his poor hut to pass the night;
And then the hospitable sire
Bid goody Baucis mend the fire;
While he from out the chimney took25
A flitch of bacon off the hook,
And freely from the fattest side
Cut out large slices to be fry'd;
Then step'd aside to fetch them drink,
Fill'd a large jug up to the brink,30
And saw it fairly twice go round;
Yet (what is wonderful!) they found,
'Twas still replenish'd to the top,
As if they ne'er had touch'd a drop.
The good old couple were amaz'd,35
And often on each other gaz'd;
For both were frighten'd to the heart,
And just began to cry, What ar't!
Then softly turn'd aside, to view
Whether the lights were burning blue.40
The gentle pilgrims, soon aware on't,
Told them their calling, and their errand:
Good folks, you need not be afraid,
We are but saints, the hermits said;
No hurt shall come to you or yours:45
But for that pack of churlish boors,
Not fit to live on Christian ground,
They and their houses shall be drown'd;
While you shall see your cottage rise,
And grow a church before your eyes.50
They scarce had spoke, when fair and soft,
The roof began to mount aloft;
Aloft rose every beam and rafter;
The heavy wall climb'd slowly after.
The chimney widen'd, and grew higher,55
Became a steeple with a spire.
The kettle to the top was hoist,
And there stood fasten'd to a joist,
But with the upside down, to show
Its inclination for below:60
In vain; for a superiour force
Apply'd at bottom stops its course:
Doom'd ever in suspense to dwell,
'Tis now no kettle, but a bell.
A wooden jack, which had almost65
Lost by disuse the art to roast,
A sudden alteration feels,
Increas'd by new intestine wheels;
And, what exalts the wonder more,
The number made the motion slower.70
The flier, though it had leaden feet,
Turn'd round so quick you scarce could see 't;
But, slacken'd by some secret power,
Now hardly moves an inch an hour.
The jack and chimney, near allied,75
Had never left each other's side:
The chimney to a steeple grown,
The jack would not be left alone;
But, up against the steeple rear'd,
Became a clock, and still adher'd;80
And still its love to houshold cares,
By a shrill voice at noon, declares,
Warning the cookmaid not to burn
That roast meat, which it cannot turn.
The groaning-chair began to crawl,85
Like a huge snail, along the wall;
There stuck aloft in publick view,
And with small change, a pulpit grew.
The porringers, that in a row
Hung high, and made a glittering show,90
To a less noble substance chang'd,
Were now but leathern buckets rang'd.
The ballads, pasted on the wall,
Of Joan of France, and English Mall[2],
Fair Rosamond, and Robinhood,95
The Little Children in the Wood,
Now seem'd to look abundance better,
Improv'd in picture, size, and letter;
And, high in order plac'd, describe
The heraldry of every tribe[3].100
A bedstead of the antique mode,
Compact of timber many a load,
Such as our ancestors did use,
Was metamorphosed into pews;
Which still their ancient nature keep,105
By lodging folks dispos'd to sleep.
The cottage, by such feats as these,
Grown to a church by just degrees,
The hermits then desir'd their host
To ask for what he fancy'd most.110
Philemon, having paus'd a while,
Return'd them thanks in homely style;
Then said, My house is grown so fine,
Methinks, I still would call it mine.
I'm old, and fain would live at ease;115
Make me the parson if you please.
He spoke, and presently he feels
His grazier's coat fall down his heels:
He sees, yet hardly can believe,
About each arm a pudding-sleeve;120
His waistcoat to a cassock grew
And both assum'd a sable hue;
But, being old, continu'd just
As threadbare, and as full of dust.
His talk was now of tithes and dues:125
He smok'd his pipe, and read the news;
Knew how to preach old sermons next,
Vamp'd in the preface and the text;
At christenings well could act his part,
And had the service all by heart;130
Wish'd women might have children fast,
And thought whose sow had farrow'd last;
Against dissenters would repine,
And stood up firm for right divine;
Found his head fill'd with many a system:135
But classick authors, he ne'er miss'd 'em.
Thus having furbish'd up a parson,
Dame Baucis next they play'd their farce on.
Instead of homespun coifs, were seen
Good pinners edg'd with colberteen;140
Her petticoat, transform'd apace,
Became black sattin flounc'd with lace.
Plain Goody would no longer down,
'Twas Madam, in her grogram gown.
Philemon was in great surprise,145
And hardly could believe his eyes,
Amaz'd to see her look so prim;
And she admir'd as much at him.
Thus happy in their change of life,
Were several years this man and wife:150
When on a day which prov'd their last,
Discoursing o'er old stories past,
They went by chance, amid their talk,
To the churchyard to take a walk;
When Baucis hastily cry'd out,155
My dear, I see your forehead sprout!
Sprout! quoth the man; what's this you tell us?
I hope you don't believe me jealous!
But yet, methinks, I feel it true;
And really yours is budding too 160
Nay, now I cannot stir my foot;
it feels as if 'twere taking root.
Description would but tire my muse,
In short, they both were turn'd to yews.
Old goodman Dobson of the green165
Remembers he the trees has seen;
He'll talk of them from noon till night,
And goes with folks to show the sight;
On Sundays, after evening prayer,
He gathers all the parish there;170
Points out the place of either yew;
Here Baucis, there Philemon, grew:
Till once a parson of our town,
To mend his barn, cut Baucis down;
At which, 'tis hard to be believ'd175
How much the other tree was griev'd,
Grew scrubbed, died atop, was stunted:
So the next parson stubb'd and burnt it.

  1. This poem is very fine; and though in the same strain with Prior's Ladle, is yet superiour.Goldsmith.
  2. Mall Frith, the Roaring Girl. See Granger.
  3. The tribes of Israel are sometimes distinguished in country churches by the ensigns given to them by Jacob.