The Prayer-Book!

Here is the next installment of poetry generally attributed to Thomas, the sixth Earl of Harrington (circa 1730).  This particular poem will be continued with the second and final part tomorrow.  Enjoy!

The Prayer-Book

In Paris, when great Louis reigned,
A story happened, or was feigned,
About a lady, who, with care,
Did daily mind her soul’s affair:
From mass to mass she restless went,
And all her time devoutly spent;
At every shrine her prayers addressed,
And twice a week her sins confessed,
At vespers every night appeared,
And sermons every Sunday heard;
And, like a true repenting sinner,
Brought always home the priest to dinner.
“Twas only out of zeal; for she
From carnal thoughts was  wholly free;
And mindful of her soul’s salvation,
Unconscious was of titillation;
The priests to her each Sunday came,
And still were welcome to the dame.

One day, a day above the rest,
When she had all her sins confessed,
She heard a preacher, who, with spirit,
Did laugh at grace, but cried up merit,
And said, “A charitable deed,
“All other virtues did exceed:
“That Christians were as bad as Turks,
“Who did not deal in pious works./
“He did not mean to clothe the poor,
“Nor feed the hungry at the door;
“Heaven might, perhaps, such acts regard,
“And in the other world reward:
“But who to church shall make donation,
“Need never doubt their soul’s salvation;
“Nor vex their hearts with idle stuff, —
“Believe in church, it is enough:
“For to the church such power is given,
“That she can carry you to heaven;
“Nay, were you all in purgatory,
“The church can send you soon to glory.”

Madam believed each word he said,
And, now no more of hell afraid,
Soon as the sweet discourse was done,
Away she to the friar run:
“Dear Sir,” said she, “I humbly pray,
“That you would dine with me to-day.”
The holy man was well content,
While zealous madam homeward went,
And speedily prepared a feast,
for her sweet soul-comforting guest,
Who, by some ailment in his feet,
But slowly crawled along the street;
Yet, when he to her threshold came,
Without reflecting that the dame
Must from her window see what passed,
Pulled  something out, that far surpassed
What any lay-man could produce,
For largeness, length, and eke for use.

Madam, although she thrice had been
A wife, had never the like on’t seen;
Yet thought a friar should refrain,
From touching what seemed so profane;
And though he only meant to piss,
She thought the priest had done amiss.
And to a neighbor showed the sight,
Who looked upon it with delight:
For she was lovely, young, and gay,
And dearly loved the amorous play.
Her spouse was old, and wanted health,
And all her joys she took by stealth.
He dealt in books and many sold,
And had his coffers crammed with gold:
Within his shop his time was passed,
And thought his wife exceeding chaste:

But she had something else to mind,
And was to many a love kind.
At last the priest put up his pipe,
While zealous madam, weeping right,
Begged him to wash his hands, that he
From all pollution might be free.

“Madam, I know not what you mean,”
Said he, “I’m sure my hands are clean,
“Since I have nothing touched to-day,
“Except the book on which I pray.”

” ‘Tis well,” replied old Folio’s wife,
“I’d wish my spouse less store of pelf,
“Had he such books on every shelf.”

Note: printed on the page following the title page was the following: “from a collection of poems that have been generally ascribed to Thomas, sixth Earl of Harrington. He was the son of Charles, the fifth Earl, and Margaret Lesslie, Countess of Rothes; and fought on the Royal side at the battle of Shirreffmuir, along with his brother John Lesslie, Earl of Rothes, and his own son, Lord Binning. These poems, according to Pinkerton, were printed about 1730, and have been reprinted in 1753, 1765, 1767, and 1777. He was also the author of Mia treatise on forest trees, which has gone through several editions. He died in 1735.” However, if these dates are correct (and I am by no means an expert historian in such matters), these poems could only have been written by either the first or second Earl of Harrington (William Stanhope and W.S. Jr.).


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