Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Bookworm

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Bookworm

By Royall Tyler (1757–1826)

[From a MS. Poem, “The Chestnut Tree.”]

WHO is that meagre, studious wight,

Who sports the habit of our days,

And, in the reigning mode’s despite,

His antique coat and vest displays?

In whose gaunt form, from head to feet,

The antiquarian’s air we trace,

While Hebrew roots and ancient Greek

Plot out the features of his face.

His critic eye is fixed with glee

On a worm-eaten, smoke-dried page;

The time-worn paper seems to be

The relic of some long-past age.

In sooth, it is the manuscript

Of this poor, feeble verse of mine;

Which, in despite of taste and wit,

Has straggled down to future time.

The bookworm’s features scrawl a smile

While gloating on the musty page;

As we admire some ruined pile

Not for its worth, but for its age.

The sprawling letters, yellow text,

The formal phrase, the bald, stiff style,

The spelling quaint, the line perplexed,

Provoke his unaccustomed smile.

Like Kennicut he cites and quotes,

On illustration clear intent,

And in the margin gravely notes

A thousand meanings never meant.