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THE TASK.

BOOK I.

THE SOFA.

ARGUMENT OF THE FIRST BOOK. Historical deduction of seats, from the Stool to the Sofa-A

Schoolboy's ramble-A walk in the country--The scene described -Rural sounds as well as sights delightful-Another walkMistake concerning the charms of solitude corrected-Colonnades commended--Alcove, and the view from it-The wildernessThe grove_The thresher-The necessity and benefit of exercise -The works of nature superiour to, and in some instances inimitable by, art–The wearisomeness of what is commonly called a lifo of pleasure-Change of scene sometimes expedient-A common described, and the character of crazy Kate introduced Gipsies—The blessings of civilized life-That state most favourable to virtue–The South Sea islanders compassionated, but chiefly Omai-His present state of mind supposed-Civilized life friendly to virtue, but not great cities--Great cities, and London in particular, allowed their due praise, but censured--Fête champêtre—The book concludes with a reflection on the fatal effects of dissipation and effeminacy upon our public measures.

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I SING the Sofa. I, who lately sang
Truth, Hope, and Charity,* and touch'd with awe
The solemn chords, and, with a trembling hand,
Escap'd with pain from that advent'rous flight,
Now seek repose upon an hunibler theme;
The theme, though humble, yet august and proud
Th’occasion-for the fair commands the song.

Time was, when clothing, sumptuous or for use,
Save their own painted skins, our sires had none.
As vet black breeches were not; satin smooth,
Or velvet soft, or plush with shaggy pile :
The hardy chief, upon the rugged rock
Wash'd by the sea, or on the gravelly bank

See Poems VOL. I.

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Thrown up by wintry torrents roaring loud,
Fearless of wrong, repos’d his weary strength.

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Those barb'rous ages past, succeeded next
The birthday of Invention ; weak at first,
Dull in design, and clumsy to perform.
Joint-stools were then created; on three legs
Upborne they stood. Three legs upholding firm

20 A massy sab, in fashion square or round. On such a stool immortal Alfred sat, And sway'd the sceptre of his infant realms : And such in ancient halls and mansions drear May still be seen ; but perforated sore,

25 And drill’d in holes, the solid oak is found, By worms voracious eating through and through.

At length a generation more refin'd
Improv'd the simple plan; made three legs four,
Gave them a twisted form vermicular,

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And o'er the seat, with plenteous wadding stuffd,
Induc'd a splendid cover, green and blue,
Yellow and red, of tapestry richly wrought
And woven close, or needlework sublime.
There might ye see the piony spread wide, 35
The full-blown rose, the shepherd and his lass,
Lapdog and lambkin with black staring eyes,
And parrots with twin cherries in their beak.

Now came the cane from India, smooth and bright, With nature's varnish ; sever'd into stripes, 40 That interlac'd each other, these supplied Of texture firm a lattice-work, that brac'd The new machine, and it became a chair. But restless was the chair ; the back erect Distress'd the weary loins, that felt no ease ; 45 The slipp'ry seat betrayed the sliding part That press'd it, and the feet hung dangling down, Anxious in vain to find the distant floor. These for the rich; the rest, whom Fate had plac’d In modest mediocrity, content

50 With base materials, sat on well-tann'd hides,

Obdurate and unyielding, glassy smooth,
With here and there a tuft of crimson yarn,
Or scarlet crewel, in the cushion fix'd,
If cushion might be call’d, what harder seem'd

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Than the firm oak, of which the frame was form'd.
No want of timber then was felt or fear'd
In Albion's happy isle. The lumber stood
Pond'rous and fix'd by its own massy weight.
But elbows still were wanting ; these, some say,

60 An alderman of Cripplegate contrived ; And some ascribe th' invention to a priest Burly, and big, and studious of his ease. But rude at first, and not with easy slope Receding wide, they press'd against the ribs, 65 And bruis'd the side ; and, elevated liigh, Taught the rais'd shoulders to invade the ears. Long time elaps’d or e'er our rugged sires Complain'd, though incommodiously pent in, And ill at ease behind. The ladies first

70 'Gan murmur, as became the softer sex. Ingenious Fancy, never better pleas'd Than when employ'd t'accommodate the fair, Heard the sweet moan with pity, and devis'd The soft settee; one elbow at each end,

75 And in the midst an elbow it receiv'd, United, yet divided, twain at once. So sit two kings of Brentford or one throne; And so two citizens, who take the air, Close pack'd, and smiling, in a chaise and one. 80 But relaxation of the languid frame, By soft recumbency of outstretch'd limbs, Was bliss reserv'd for happier days. So slow The growth of what is excellent; so hard T'attain perfection in this nether world.

85 Thus first Necessity invented stools, Convenience next suggested elbow-chairs, And Luxury th' accomplish'd Sofa last.

The nurse sleeps sweetly, hir'd to watch the sick Whom snoring she disturbs. As sweetly he, 90 Who quits the coach-box at a midnight hour, To sleep within the carriage more secure, His legs depending at the open door. Sweet sleep enjoys the curate in his desk, The tedious rector drawling o'er his head ;

95 And sweet the clerk below. But neither sleep Of lazy nurse, who snores the sick man dead; Nor his, who quits the box at midnight hour To slumber in the carriage more secure; Nor sleep enjoy'd by curate in his desk;

100 Nor yet the dozings of the clerk, are sweet, Compar'd with the repose the Sofa yields.

O may I live exempted (while I live Guiltless of pamper'd appetite obscene) From pangs arthritic, that infest the toe

105 Of libertine Excess. The Sofa suits The gouty limb, 'tis true : but gouty limb, Though on a Sofa, may I never feel : For I have lov’d the rural walk through lanes Of grassy swarth, close cropp'd by nibbling sheep, 110 And skirted thick with intertexture firm Of thorny boughs; have lov'd the rural walk O’er hills, through valleys, and by rivers' brink, E’er since a truant boy I pass'd my bounds T'enjoy a ramble on the banks of Thames ; 115 And still remember, not without regret, Of hours, that sorrow since las much endear'd, How oft, my slice of pocket store consum'd, Still hung'ring, pennyless, and far from home, I fed on scarlet hips and stony haws,

120 Or blushing crabs, or berries, that emboss The bramble, black as jet, or sloes austere. Hard fare! but such as boyish appetite Disdains not; nor the palate, undeprav'd By culinary arts, unsav'ry deems.

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No Sofa then awaited my return;
Nor Sofa then I needed. Youth repairs
His wasted spirits quickly, by long toil
Incurring short fatigue; and, though our years,
As life declines, speed rapidly away,

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And not a year but pilfers as he goes
Some youthful grace, that age would gladly keep ;
A tooth or auburn lock, and by degrees
Their length and colour from the locks they spare ;
The elastick spring of an unwearied foot, 135
That mounts the stile with ease, or leaps the fence;
That play of lungs, inhaling and again
Respiring freely the fresh air, that makes
Swift pace or steep ascent no toil to me,
Mine have not pilfer'd get; nor yet impair'd

140 My relish of fair prospect; scenes that sooth'd Or charm'd me young, no longer young, I find Still soothing, and of pow'r to charm me still. And witness, dear companion of my walks, Whose arm this twentieth winter I perceive 145 Fast lock'd in mine, with pleasure such as love, Confirm'd by long experience of thy worth And well-tried virtues, could alone inspireWitness a joy that thou hast doubled long. Thou know'st my praise of nature most sincere, 150 And that my raptures are not conjur'd up To serve occasions of poetic pomp, But genuine, and art partner of them all. How oft upon yon eminence our pace Has slacken’d to a pause, and we have borne 155 The ruffling wind, scarce conscious that it blew, While Admiration, feeding at the eye, And still unsated, dwelt upon the scene Thence, with what pleasure have we just discern'd The distant plough slow moving, and beside 160 His lab’ring team, that swerv'd not from the track, The sturdy swain diminish'd to a boy! Here Ouse, slow winding through a level plain

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