Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.

Stoke Pogis

A Long Story

By Thomas Gray (1716–1771)

  • Mr. Gray’s Elegy, previous to its publication, was handed about in MS., and had, amongst other admirers, the Lady Cobham, who resided in the mansion-house at Stoke Pogis. The performance inducing her to wish for the author’s acquaintance, Lady Schaub and Miss Speed, then at her house, undertook to introduce her to it. These two ladies waited upon the author at his aunt’s solitary habitation, where he at that time resided, and, not finding him at home, they left a card behind them. Mr. Gray, surprised at such a compliment, returned the visit; and as the beginning of this intercourse bore some appearance of romance, he gave the humorous and lively account of it which the Long Story contains.

  • IN Britain’s isle, no matter where,

    An ancient pile of building stands;

    The Huntingdons and Hattons there

    Employed the power of fairy hands.

    To raise the ceilings’ fretted height,

    Each panel in achievements clothing,

    Rich windows that exclude the light,

    And passages that lead to nothing.

    Full oft within the spacious walls,

    When he had fifty winters o’er him,

    My grave lord-keeper led the brawls:

    The seal and maces danced before him.

    His bushy beard and shoe-strings green,

    His high-crowned hat and satin doublet,

    Moved the stout heart of England’s queen,

    Though pope and Spaniard could not trouble it.

    What, in the very first beginning,

    Shame of the versifying tribe!

    Your history whither are you spinning?

    Can you do nothing but describe?

    A house there is (and that ’s enough)

    From whence one fatal morning issues

    A brace of warriors, not in buff,

    But rustling in their silks and tissues.

    The first came cap-a-pie from France,

    Her conquering destiny fulfilling,

    Whom meaner beauties eye askance,

    And vainly ape her art of killing.

    The other Amazon kind Heaven

    Had armed with spirit, wit, and satire;

    But Cobham had the polish given,

    And tipped her arrows with good-nature.

    To celebrate her eyes, her air—

    Coarse panegyrics would but tease her;

    Melissa is her nom de guerre:

    Alas! who would not wish to please her?

    With bonnet blue and capuchin,

    And aprons long, they hid their armor,

    And veiled their weapons bright and keen

    In pity to the country farmer.

    Fame in the shape of Mr. P—t

    (By this time all the parish know it)

    Had told that thereabouts there lurked

    A wicked imp they called a poet,

    Who prowled the country far and near,

    Bewitched the children of the peasants,

    Dried up the cows and lamed the deer,

    And sucked the eggs and killed the pheasants.

    My lady heard their joint petition;

    Swore by her coronet and ermine,

    She ’d issue out her high commission

    To rid the manor of such vermin.

    The heroines undertook the task;

    Through lanes unknown, o’er stiles they ventured,

    Rapped at the door, nor stayed to ask,

    But bounce into the parlor entered.

    The trembling family they daunt,

    They flirt, they sing, they laugh, they tattle.

    Rummage his mother, pinch his aunt,

    And upstairs in a whirlwind rattle.

    Each hole and cupboard they explore,

    Each creek and cranny of his chamber,

    Run hurry-scurry round the floor,

    And o’er the bed and tester clamber;

    Into the drawers and china pry,

    Papers and books, a huge imbroglio!

    Under a teacup he might lie,

    Or creased like dog’s ears in a folio.

    On the first marching of the troops,

    The muses, hopeless of his pardon,

    Conveyed him underneath their hoops

    To a small closet in the garden.

    So rumor says, (who will believe?)

    But that they left the door ajar,

    Where, safe, and laughing in his sleeve,

    He heard the distant din of war.

    Short was his joy; he little knew

    The power of magic was no fable;

    Out of the window whisk they flew,

    But left a spell upon the table.

    The words too eager to unriddle,

    The poet felt a strange disorder;

    Transparent birdlime formed the middle,

    And chains invisible the border.

    So cunning was the apparatus,

    The powerful pothooks did so move him,

    That will he nill he to the great house

    He went as if the devil drove him.

    Yet on his way (no sign of grace,

    For folks in fear are apt to pray)

    To Phœbus he preferred his case,

    And begged his aid that dreadful day.

    The godhead would have backed his quarrel,

    But with a blush, on recollection,

    Owned that his quiver and his laurel

    ’Gainst four such eyes were no protection.

    The court was sat, the culprit there:

    Forth from their gloomy mansions creeping,

    The Lady Janes and Jones repair,

    And from the gallery stand peeping;

    Such as in silence of the night

    Come (sweep) along some winding entry,

    (Styack has often seen the sight),

    Or at the chapel door stand sentry;

    In peaked hoods and mantle tarnished,

    Sour visages enough to scare ye,

    High dames of honor once that garnished

    The drawing-room of fierce Queen Mary!

    The peeress comes: the audience stare,

    And doff their hats with due submission;

    She courtesies, as she takes her chair,

    To all the people of condition.

    The bard with many an artful fib

    Had in imagination fenced him,

    Disproved the arguments of Squib,

    And all that Groom could urge against him.

    But soon his rhetoric forsook him

    When he the solemn hall had seen;

    A sudden fit of ague shook him;

    He stood as mute as poor Macleane.

    Yet something he was heard to mutter,

    “How in the park, beneath an old tree,

    (Without design to hurt the butter,

    Or any malice to the poultry,)

    He once or twice had penned a sonnet,

    Yet hoped that he might save his bacon;

    Numbers would give their oaths upon it,

    He ne’er was for a conjuror taken.”

    The ghostly prudes, with hagged face,

    Already had condemned the sinner:

    My lady rose, and with a grace—

    She smiled, and bid him come to dinner.

    “Jesu Maria! Madam Bridget,

    Why, what can the Viscountess mean!”

    Cried the square hoods, in woful fidget;

    “The times are altered quite and clean!

    “Decorum ’s turned to mere civility!

    Her air and all her manners show it:

    Commend me to her affability!

    Speak to a commoner and poet!”

    [Here 500 stanzas are lost.]

    And so God save our noble king,

    And guard us from long-winded lubbers,

    That to eternity would sing,

    And keep my lady from her rubbers.