vol II date / index
St. Placidus, &c. A. D. 546. St. Galla, 6th Cent.
The cantering of TIM TIMS* startles him who told of his "youthful days," at the school wherein poor "Starkey" cyphered part of his little life. C. L. "getting well, but weak" from painful and severe indisposition, is "off and away" for a short discursion. Better health to him, and good be to him all his life. Here he is.
(For Hone's Every-Day Book.)
Mr. Collier, in his "Poetical Decameron" (Third Conversation) notices a Tract, printed in 1595, with the author's initials only, A. B., entitled "the Noblenesse of the Asse: a work rare, learned, and excellent." He has selected the following pretty passage from it. "He (the Ass) refuseth no burthen, he goes whither he is sent without any contradiction. He lifts not his foote against any one; he is no fugitive, nor malicious affected. He doth all things in good sort, and to his liking that hath cause to employ him. If strokes be given him, he cares not for them; and, as our modern poet singeth,
"Thou wouldst (perhaps) he should become thy foe,
And to that end dost beat him many times;
He cares not for himselfe, much lesse thy blow."*
Certainly Nature, foreseeing the cruel usage which this useful servant to man should receive at man's hand, did prudently in furnishing him with a tegument impervious to ordinary stripes. The malice of a child, or a weak hand, can make feeble impressions on him. His back offers no mark to a puny foeman. To a common whip or switch his hide presents an absolute insensibility. You might as well pretend to scourge a school-boy with a tough pair of leather breeches on. His jerkin is well fortified. And therefore the Costermongers "between the years 1790 and 1800" did more politicly than piously in lifting up a part of his upper garment. I well remember that beastly and bloody custom. I have often longed to see one of those refiners in discipline himself at the cart's tail, with just such a convenient spot laid bare to the tender mercies of the whipster. But since Nature has resumed her rights, it is to be hoped, that this patient creature does not suffer to extremities; and that to the savages who still belabour his poor carcase with their blows (considering the sort of anvil they are laid upon) he might in some sort, if he could speak, exclaim with the philosopher, "Lay on: you beat but upon the case of Anaxarchus."
Contemplating this natural safeguard, this fortified exterior, it is with pain I view the sleek, foppish, combed and curried, person of this animal, as he is transmuted and disnaturalized, at Watering Places, &c. where they affect to make a palfrey of him. Fie on all such sophistications! — It will never do, Master Groom. Something of his honest shaggy exterior will still peep up in spite of you—his good, rough, native, pine-apple coating. You cannot "refine a scorpion into a fish, though you rince it and scour it with ever so cleanly cookery."*
The modern poet, quoted by A. B., proceeds to celebrate a virtue, for which no one to this day had been aware that the Ass was remarkable.
One other gift this beast hath as his owne,
Wherewith the rest could not be furnished;
On man himselfe the same was not bestowne,
To wit—on him is ne'er engendered
The hatefull vermine that doth teare the skin
And to the bode [body] doth make his passage in.
And truly when one thinks on the suit of impenetrable armour with which Nature (like Vulcan to another Achilles) has provided him, these subtle enemies to our repose, would have shown some dexterity in getting into his quarters. As the bogs of Ireland by tradition expel toads and reptiles, he may well defy these small deer in his fastnesses. It seems the latter had not arrived at the exquisite policy adopted by the human vermin "between 1790 and 1800."
But the most singular and delightful gift of the Ass, according to the writer of this pamphlet, is his voice; the "goodly sweet, and continual brayings" of which, "whereof they forme a melodious and proportionable kinde of musicke," seem to have affected him with no ordinary pleasure. "Nor thinke I," he adds, "that any of our immoderne musitians can deny, but that their song is full of exceeding pleasure to be heard; because therein is to be discerned both concord, discord, singing in the meane, the beginning to sing in large compasse, then following on to rise and fall, the halfe note, whole note, musicke of five voices, firme singing by four voices, three together or one voice and a halfe. Then their variable contrarieties amongst them, when one delivers forth a long tenor, or a short, the pausing for time, breathing in measure, breaking the minim or very least moment of time. Last of all to heare the musicke of five or six voices chaunged to so many of Asses, is amongst them to heare a song of world without end."
There is no accounting for ears; or for that laudable enthusiasm with which an Author is tempted to invest a favourite subject with the most incompatible perfections. I should otherwise, for my own taste, have been inclined rather to have given a place to these extraordinary musicians at that banquet of nothing-less-than-sweet sounds, imagined by old Jeremy Collier (Essays, 1698; Part. 2.—On Music.) where, after describing the inspirating effects of martial music in a battle, he hazards an ingenious conjecture, whether a sort of Anti-music might not be invented, which should have quite the contrary effect of "sinking the spirits, shaking the nerves, curdling the blood, and inspiring despair, and cowardice and consternation." "'Tis probable" he says, "the roaring of lions, the warbling of cats and screech-owls, together with a mixture of the howling of dogs, judiciously imitated and compounded, might go a great way in this invention." The dose, we confess, is pretty potent, and skilfully enough prepared. But what shall we say to the Ass of Silenus (quoted by TIMS), who, if we may trust to classic lore, by his own proper sounds, without thanks to cat or screech-owl, dismaid and put to rout a whole army of giants? Here was Anti-music with a vengeance; a whole Pan-Dis-Harmonicon in a single lungs of leather!
But I keep you trifling too long on this Asinine subject. I have already past the Pons Asinorum, and will desist, remembering the old pedantic pun of Jem Boyer, my schoolmaster:—
Ass in præsenti seldom makes a WISE MAN in futuro.
Starlike Camomile. Boltonia Asteroides.
Dedicated to St. Placidus.
Notes [all notes are Hone's unless otherwise indicated]:
1. Ante, p. 1308. [return]
2. Who this modern poet was, says Mr. C., is a secret worth discovering.—The wood-cut on the title of the Pamphlet is—an Ass with a wreath of laurel round his neck. [return]
3. Milton: from memory. [return]