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Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Complete Poetical Works. 1903.

Poems: 1713–17

The Basset-Table

  • An Eclogue
  • This mock pastoral was one of three which made up the original volume of Town Eclogues, published anonymously in 1716. Three more appeared in a later edition. It is now known that only the Basset-Table is Pope’s, the rest being the work of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.


    CARD.The Basset-Table spread, the Tallier come,

    Why stays Smilinda in the dressing-room?

    Rise, pensive nymph! the Tallier waits for you.

    SMIL.Ah, madam! since my Sharper is untrue,

    I joyless make my once adored Alpeu.

    I saw him stand behind Ombrelia’s chair,

    And whisper with that soft deluding air,

    And those feign’d sighs which cheat the list’ning Fair.

    CARD.Is this the cause of your romantic strains?

    A mightier grief my heavy heart sustains:

    As you by love, so I by Fortune crost;

    One, one bad Deal, three Septlevas have lost.

    SMIL.Is that the grief which you compare with mine?

    With ease the smiles of fortune I resign:

    Would all my gold in one bad Deal were gone,

    Were lovely Sharper mine, and mine alone.

    CARD.A lover lost is but a common care,

    And prudent nymphs against that change prepare:

    The Knave of Clubs thrice lost: Oh! who could guess

    This fatal stroke, this unforeseen distress?

    SMIL.See Betty Lovet! very àpropos;

    She all the cares of love and play does know.

    Dear Betty shall th’ important point decide;

    Betty! who oft the pain of each has tried;

    Impartial she shall say who suffers most,

    By cards’ ill usage, or by lovers lost.

    LOV.Tell, tell your griefs; attentive will I stay,

    Though time is precious, and I want some tea.

    CARD.Behold this equipage, by Mathers wrought,

    With fifty guineas (a great pen’worth) bought.

    See on the toothpick Mars and Cupid strive,

    And both the struggling figures seem alive.

    Upon the bottom shines the Queen’s bright face;

    A myrtle foliage round the thimble case.

    Jove, Jove himself does on the scissors shine:

    The metal, and the workmanship, divine.

    SMIL.This snuff-box—once the pledge of Sharper’s love,

    When rival beauties for the present strove;

    At Corticelli’s he the raffle won;

    Then first his passion was in public shown:

    Hazardia blush’d, and turn’d her head aside,

    A rival’s envy (all in vain) to hide.

    This snuffbox—on the hinge see brilliants shine—

    This snuffbox will I stake, the Prize is mine.

    CARD.Alas! far lesser losses than I bear

    Have made a soldier sigh, a lover swear.

    And oh! what makes the disappointment hard,

    ’T was my own Lord that drew the fatal card.

    In complaisance I took the Queen he gave,

    Tho’ my own secret wish was for the Knave.

    The Knave won Sonica, which I had chose,

    And the next pull my Septleva I lose.

    SMIL.But ah! what aggravates the killing smart,

    The cruel thought that stabs me to the heart,

    This curs’d Ombrelia, this undoing Fair,

    By whose vile arts this heavy grief I bear,

    She, at whose name I shed these spiteful tears,

    She owes to me the very charms she wears.

    An awkward thing when first she came to town,

    Her shape unfashion’d, and her face unknown:

    She was my friend; I taught her first to spread

    Upon her sallow cheeks enlivening red;

    I introduced her to the park and plays,

    And by my int’rest Cozens made her Stays.

    Ungrateful wretch! with mimic airs grown pert,

    She dares to steal my favourite lover’s heart.

    CARD.Wretch that I was, how often have I swore,

    When Winnall tallied, I would punt no more!

    I know the bite, yet to my ruin run,

    And see the folly which I cannot shun.

    SMIL.How many maids have Sharper’s vows deceiv’d?

    How many curs’d the moment they believ’d?

    Yet his known falsehoods could no warning prove:

    Ah! what is warning to a maid in love?

    CARD.But of what marble must that breast be form’d,

    To gaze on Basset, and remain unwarm’d?

    When Kings, Queens, Knaves, are set in decent rank,

    Exposed in glorious heaps the tempting Bank,

    Guineas, half-guineas, all the shining train,

    The winner’s pleasure, and the loser’s pain.

    In bright confusion open Rouleaux lie,

    They strike the soul, and glitter in the eye:

    Fired by the sight, all reason I disdain,

    My passions rise, and will not bear the rein.

    Look upon Basset, you who reason boast,

    And see if reason must not there be lost.

    SMIL.What more than marble must that heart compose

    Can harken coldly to my Sharper’s vows?

    Then when he trembles! when his blushes rise!

    When awful love seems melting in his eyes!

    With eager beats his Mechlin cravat moves:

    ‘He loves’—I whisper to myself, ‘He loves!’

    Such unfeign’d passion in his looks appears,

    I lose all mem’ry of my former fears;

    My panting heart confesses all his charms,

    I yield at once, and sink into his arms.

    Think of that moment, you who Prudence boast;

    For such a moment Prudence well were lost.

    CARD. At the Groom-Porter’s batter’d bullies play,

    Some dukes at Mary-bone bowl time away;

    But who the Bowl or rattling Dice compares

    To Basset’s heav’nly joys and pleasing cares?

    SMIL.Soft Simplicetta dotes upon a beau;

    Prudina likes a man, and laughs at show:

    Their several graces in my Sharper meet,

    Strong as the footman, as the master sweet.

    LOV.Cease your contention, which has been too long;

    I grow impatient, and the tea’s too strong.

    Attend, and yield to what I now decide;

    The equipage shall grace Smilinda’s side;

    The snuffbox to Cardelia I decree;

    Now leave complaining, and begin your tea.