A Familiar Epistle from College to a Friend in the Country.

    A public fair is annually held in September, on Sturbitch plain, near Cambridge, and proclaimed with much pomp and ceremony.—Some incidents which occurred at its celebration in 1802, are here described. The want of discipline hinted at in the latter part of the poem, has already been lashed by Cowper.

FROM Granta’s fair plains where together in youth,
We pursued the dear footsteps of Science and truth;
Or (to speak less like Poets) where studious of ease,
We slumber’d and saunter’d to gain our degrees;
I address you, dear Charles, and bid blessing attend
The man I revere, and can claim as my friend!
Yet, what news can I send, when the walls of a College,
Are the bounds of my world, th’ extent of my knowledge;
What news, where each day opes with chapel at seven
And closes with barring the gates e’re eleven?
Yet since I have vow’d to compose you a letter
Accept this relation for want of a better.

I had scarcely return’d from the summer Vacation,
And in Christ’s second story recover’d my station;*
When the annual wonders of Sturbitch laid wait
For the wise men of England to worship the fête!
O! had but myself and the muses, to back us,
The spirit of Homer, or Virgil, or Flaccus,
With what pomp might we sing of bless’d Granta’s renown,
When the fair was proclaim’d thro’ the country and town;
With what pomp might we tell what arrangements were made,
For these “mysteries of Athens,” this “second crusade!
First then—paint to your fancy a coach sent express
From the City of London to carry the mess;
The Chancellor’s vice-roy, in vestments of scarlet,
Not unlike altogether fam’d Babylon’s harlot,
With masters and tutors—physicians and doctors,
Moderators—Scrutators—and Taxers—and Proctors;
And as if the poor Vice were unable to bear,
All the cargo of Doctrine to hallow the fare,
To assist in the farce came his Honor the Mayor!

Then as soon as they ceas’d their permission to preach,
And the ground was made holy and pure by their speech,
O! ye Heavens! what a fight fit for C—rt-s to view,
Or to charm with desire Epicurus’ crew; [Page 30]
When the party—both Clergy—and Galens—and Feetail,
Emptied barrels of oysters by wholesale and retail
With porter and mutton and other good eating,
Which they forc’d the poor proctors to give them in treating!

’Twould be vain to recount all the scenes and the train
That rose (as by magic) on Sturbitche’s plain!
Here gingerbread husbands—queens—princes and wives;
Lay scatter’d with thimbles and scissars and knives;
Here petticoats—breeches—chemises and bedding
Here coffins for fun’rals—here rings for a wedding;
Here “Baxter’s last words, and expiring treasure,”
Were heap’d on “Joe Millars” and “W——n of pleasure;”
Here bibles and prayer-books (O! shame on the binder)
Were bound up with “Tally-i-o and the grinder.”

Nor less were the live-stock, a mixture of face
Which ev’n Hogarth himself had been puzzled to trace
Here mounted on high stood a mountebank teacher,
Here mounted still higher a methodist preacher;
Here Punch and his puppets—here Harlequin’s motions,
Here a quack, with his blisters, cathartic’s and potions;
Here a hucks’ter—a Jew—and a smart city Tailor,
Here a sharper of note—turn’d a blind begging sailor;
Here a Thespian theatre form’d in a cart,
Where each was a dozen—and acted each part;
Here a booth fill’d with wine serv’d by waiters the quickest,
With a snug little bar and the “quod petis hic est!”
Here dancing and fiddling and tennis and Ball,
Alternately shook the pro-tempore hall;
  Here psalms, cards and dice,
Revelation and vice,
  Dissipation and piety meet;
Here the merry and grave,
Here the good and the knave,
Promiscuous throng the retreat!
But what struck one the most was a cargo of Dames*
(No matter their ages, their dresses, or names;
Who came down from the City, like Sylphs from above,
To initiate the Freshmen in mysteries of Love!
Whilst the lads just let loose from the bars of a school,
Unrestrain’d by the rod,—undirected by rule)
Impatient to claim the bless’d title of man,
Tho’ as yet o’er their cheeks not a razor had ran; [Page 31]
Made libations in plenty (perchance too, between us
To their future regret) both to Bacchus and Venus!
Nor if Freshmen and Sophs follow’d fashion’s example,
Were their betters remiss in promoting the sample;
The tutor, dear Charles, who so often has pos’d you
With sections and angles, and oftener dos’d you;
With a tribe of his brethren whose souls being mellow
And empty their heads—claim the title of Fellow;
Came high mounted on hunters—and arm’d Cap-à-pee,
With the Jacket and whip that denote their degree!
Some, less jovial than these, who the fair could acknowledge
At least three-score times since they enter’d at College,*
Less ambitious of fame, were contented to sit,
And feast on the riches of Harlequin’s wit!

But the foremost for pleasure so hearty and jolly,
Were the proctors, those rev’rend correctors of Folly;
Those bailiffs of Granta—those watchmen of evil
Who search allies and lanes, the vile haunts of the D—l;
Were espied in a booth giving lectures at ease,
To two Cyprian frail ones who sat on their knees!

Thus a fortnight went by, e’re these mysteries were over,
Whilst the gyps like their masters were feeding in clover;*
When the genius of Cambridge (like Greece) had a notion,
That a custom so sacred should close with devotion;
So on Sunday to finish the hallow’d transaction,
St. Mary’s was chang’d to the temple of action!
There in Golgotha sat the Vice Chancellor’s red,
And around him the Caput (fair Science’s head!)
On his right sat nobility gilded and glaz’d,
And beneath him the tinsel of Barony blaz’d;
Whilst we the offscourings of genius and learning
Were huddled above scarcely worth your discerning.
Then—led by the bedels those guardians of grace
Who wield the proud sceptre the Chancellor’s mace,
Who should mount on the pulpit but H——d the hack*
Who carries divinity’s load on his back,
And steals every Sabbath for many a ninny
A sermon from Blair which he reads for a guinea!
And lastly at night the fam’d S——n of King’s,
Soar’d high on the rant of absurdity’s wings;* [Page 32]
And held forth in the meeting that well-belov’d station,
So pleasant for forming a snug assignation;
Where, whilst Maudlinites lengthen then sorrowful face,*
And tremble for regeneration and grace;
Their lost Academical brethren are paying,
Their orisons to love—and their purses displaying!

Such a medley as this, my dear Charles, you’l conclude
Has afforded my fancy abundance of food;
And to tell you the truth (for I never will flatter,)
I have thought a good deal on so serious a matter;
When I rove thro’ the scenes where our Bacon and Barrow,
And Dryden first feed upon Genius’ marrow,
O! me—thinks, could our regal promoters of art,
Who on Granta first labor’d its charms to impart;
Could our founders but rise from their Westminster station*
And gaze at this moment on Cam’s situation;
With what praise would they load the dear empire of science
Which has still bid the arms of oppression defiance;
And which ever encreasing in glory and worth,
Now displays it’s meridian of wisdom on earth!
When they built these rude cloisters, as mansions of Truth
For the progress of Talent, and guidance of youth,
An usurper had seiz’d the tutorial rein
And bound independence in Discipline’s chain;
It was “Order!”—her spirit pervaded the soul
And the life of the place, with incessant controul;
Then the bell of the Chapel that summon’d to pray,
Would not hear of a tardy, or suffer delay;
Then no Sizar with stockings ungarter’d was seen
To haste, e’re the psalms should begin, o’er the green;
Then the Schools were created for art, not for pleasure,
And the youths enter’d college for toil not for leisure;
Whilst the masters themselves were oppress’d with the shame,
And consider’d their office as more than a name;
Whilst the Preachers submitted in person to preach
The Students to learn—and the Teachers to teach;
And our Milton himself (tho’ now prais’d as a God)
Was compell’d when obstrep’rous to strip to the rod!*

Thus Order had long held the sceptre of Camus,
And the night of dependence and slavery o’ercame us, [Page 33]
Till Fashion dear Fashion, in glory arose,
To give freedom to belles and emancipate beaux;
Till she trumph’d o’er discipline—trampled on law,
And bade statutes and precepts remain as a flaw!
O! witness ye streets fill’d with horses and chaises,
Let your pavement that rattles speak Albion’s praises,
Ye Gogmagog summits whose turf knows the face,*
Of each gambler that ruins himself in the race;
Ye schools whose acquittal of learning and bond is,*
When you give in your question a “recte respondes;”
Ye readers who preach to the bare Chapel walls,
Ye dinners that smoke unregarded in halls;
But chiefly, dear Sturbitch, O! witness the glory,

That the freedom of Fashion thus places before ye;
O! witness the pomp when your festival rose,
The dear charms of its progress—the tears at it’s close!

With thoughts and reflections like these I’ve replenish’d
My mind, from the moment the rebeck had finish’d

And reflections like these I might ever pursue,
Did not time my dear Charles, call my bosom to you!
For you on whom Granta no longer bestows
“Philosophical slumbers, and learned repose;
For you who are chain’d to the horrors of life,
With the country—a Curacy—children—and wife!
Who are wasting your time and annoying your mind
With efforts and schemes for the good of mankind;
For you who afar from the world’s glorious riot
Conceive it (how falsely!) a bliss to be quiet,
Whilst I pity your errors, and mourn for your lot,
Your merits and friendship shall ne’er be forgot;
And tho’ hurried away by the impulse of pleasure,
Which Granta presents without limit or measure;
Yet still will I steal a few moments of view,
To gaze, my dear Charles, with compassion on you;
Like a Seraph exalted ’midst thrones of the bless’d,
Still deign to look down from my mansions of rest;
And to give you a taste of Cælestial mirth,
Shall on Monday revisit your cottage on earth! [Page 34]

* Christ’s College [back]

* It is hoped a relation of this fact, will not be construed in licentiousness [back]

* Consequently not much under four-score years of age [back]

* Gyps-College Servants [back]

* No disparagement is intended to this worthy usurer in Theology [back]

* The facetious author of Skeletons of Sermons! [back]

* The sober students of Magdalen. (Maudlin) College [back]

* Westminster Abbey [back]

* Milton was the last who suffered corporal punishment, in College [back]

* The Gogmagog hills [back]

* The only exercise absolutely required of a candidate for the degree of A.B.— is to give his “question” and receive an answer —“recté respondes” etc.etc. [back]