1 VESEY! of Verse the judge and friend!
2 Awhile my idle strain attend:
3 Not with the days of early Greece,
4 I mean to ope' my slender piece;
5 The rare Symposium to proclaim,
6 Which crown'd th' Athenians' social name;
7 Or how ASPASIA'S parties shone,
8 The first Bas-bleu at Athens known;
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9 Nor need I stop my tale, to shew,
10 At least to Readers such as you,
11 How all that Rome esteem'd polite,
12 Supp'd with LUCULLUS every night;
13 LUCULLUS, who, from Pontus come,
14 Brought conquests, and brought cherries home:
15 Name but the suppers in th' Apollo,
16 What classic images will follow!
17 How wit flew round, while each might take
18 Conchylia from the Lucrine lake;
19 And Attic Salt, and Garum Sauce,
20 And Lettuce from the Isle of Cos;
21 The first and last from Greece transplanted,
22 Us'd here because the rhyme I wanted:
23 How Pheasants' heads, with cost collected,
24 And Phenicopters' stood neglected,
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25 To laugh at SCIPIO'S lucky hit,
26 POMPEY'S bon-mot, or CAESAR'S wit!
27 Intemperance, list'ning to the tale,
28 Forgot the Mullet growing
* Seneca says, that in his time the Romans were arrived at such a pitch of luxury, that the Mullet was reckoned stale which did not die in the hands of the guest.
29 And Admiration, balanc'd, hung
30 'Twixt PEACOCKS' brains, and TULLY'S tongue.
31 I shall not stop to dwell on these,
32 But be as epic as I please,
33 And plunge at once in medias res.
34 To prove the privilege I plead,
35 I'll quote some Greek I cannot read;
36 Stunn'd by Authority, you yield,
37 And I, not Reason, keep the field.
38 Long was Society, e'er-run
39 By Whist, that desolating Hun;
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40 Long did Quadrille despotic sit,
41 That Vandal of colloquial wit;
42 And Conversation's setting light
43 Lay half-obscur'd in Gothic night;
44 Till LEO'S triple crown, to you,
45 BOSCAWEN sage, bright MONTAGU,
46 Divided, fell; your cares in haste
47 Rescued the ravag'd realms of Taste;
48 And LYTTELTON'S accomplish'd name,
49 And witty PULTNEY shar'd the fame;
50 The Men, not bound by pedant rules,
51 Nor Ladies' precieuses ridicules;
52 For polish'd WALPOLE shew'd the way,
53 How Wits may be both learn'd and gay;
54 And CARTER taught the female train,
55 The deeply wise are never vain;
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56 And she, who SHAKESPEARE'S wrongs redrest,
57 Prov'd that the brightest are the best.
58 O! how unlike the wit that fell,
* The Society at the Hotel de RAMBOUILLET, though composed of polite and ingenious persons, was much tainted with affectation and false taste. See VOITURE, MENAGE, &c.
! at thy quaint Hotel;
60 Where point, and turn, and equivoque,
61 Distorted every word they spoke!
62 All so intolerably bright,
63 Plain Common Sense was put to flight;
64 Each speaker, so ingenious ever,
65 'Twas tiresome to be quite so clever;
66 There twisted Wit forgot to please,
67 And Mood and Figure banish'd ease:
68 Poor exil'd Nature houseless stray'd,
69 'Till SEVIGNE receiv'd the maid.
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70 Tho' here she comes to bless our isle,
71 Not universal is her smile.
72 Muse! snatch the lyre which CAMBRIDGE strung,
73 When he the empty ball-room sung;
74 'Tis tun'd above thy pitch, I doubt,
75 And thou no music wou'dst draw out;
76 Yet, in a lower note, presume
77 To sing the full, dull Drawing-room.
78 Where the dire Circle keeps its station,
79 Each common phrase is an oration;
80 And cracking fans, and whisp'ring Misses,
81 Compose their Conversation blisses.
82 The Matron marks the goodly shew,
83 While the tall daughter eyes the Beau
84 The frigid Beau! Ah! luckless fair,
85 'Tis not for you that studied air;
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86 Ah! not for you that sidelong glance,
87 And all that charming nonchalance;
88 Ah! not for you the three long hours
89 He worship'd the "Cosmetic powers;"
90 That finish'd head which breathes perfume,
91 And kills the nerves of half the room;
92 And all the murders meant to lie
93 In that large, languishing, grey eye;
94 Desist; less wild th' attempt wou'd be,
95 To warm the snows of Rhodope:
96 Too cold to feel, too proud to feign,
97 For him you're wise and fair in vain.
98 Chill shade of that affected Peer,
99 Who dreaded Mirth! come safely here;
100 For here no vulgar joy effaces
101 Thy rage for polish, ton, and graces.
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102 Cold Ceremony's leaden hand,
103 Waves o'er the room her poppy wand;
104 Arrives the stranger; every guest
105 Conspires to torture the distrest;
106 At once they rise so have I seen
107 You guess the simile I mean,
108 Take what comparison you please,
109 The crowded streets, the swarming bees,
110 The pebbles on the shores that lie,
111 The stars, which form the galaxy;
112 This serves t' embellish what is said,
113 And shews, besides, that one has read;
114 At once they rise th' astonish'd guest
115 Back in a corner slinks, distrest;
116 Scar'd at the many bowing round,
117 And shock'd at her own voice's sound,
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118 Forgot the thing she meant to say,
119 Her words, half-utter'd, die away;
120 In sweet oblivion down she sinks,
121 And of her ten appointments thinks:
122 While her loud neighbour on the right,
123 Boasts what she has to do to-night;
124 So very much, you'd swear her pride is
125 To match the labours of ALCIDES;
126 'Tis true, in hyperbolic measure,
127 She nobly calls her labours Pleasure;
128 In this, unlike ALCMENA'S son,
129 She never means they shou'd be done;
130 Her fancy of no limits dreams,
131 No! ne plus ultra bounds her schemes;
132 Fir'd at th' idea, out she flounces,
133 And a new Martyr JOHN announces.
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134 We pass the pleasures vast and various
135 Of Routs, not social, but gregarious;
136 And, pleas'd, to gentler scenes retreat,
137 Where Conversation holds her seat.
138 Small were that art which wou'd ensure
139 The Circle's boasted quadrature!
140 See VESEY'S plastic genius make
141 A Circle every figure take;
142 Nay, shapes and forms which wou'd defy
143 All science of Geometry,
144 Isosceles, and Parallel,
145 Names hard to speak, and hard to spell!
146 Th' enchantress wav'd her wand, and spoke!
147 Her potent wand the Circle broke;
148 The social Spirits hover round,
149 And bless the liberated ground.
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150 Ask you what charms this gift dispense?
151 'Tis the strong spell of COMMON SENSE.
152 Away fell Ceremony flew,
153 And with her bore Detraction too.
154 Nor only Geometric Art,
155 Does this presiding power impart;
156 But Chymists too, who want the essence,
157 Which makes or mars all coalescence,
158 Of her the secret rare might get,
159 How different kinds amalgamate:
160 And he, who wilder studies chose,
161 Find here a new metempsychose;
162 How forms can other forms assume,
163 Within her Pythagoric room;
164 Or be, and stranger is th' event,
165 The very things which Nature meant;
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166 Nor strive, by art and affectation,
167 To cross their genuine destination.
168 Here sober Duchesses are seen,
169 Chaste Wits, and Critics void of spleen;
170 Physicians, fraught with real science,
171 And Whigs and Tories in alliance;
172 Poets, fulfilling Christian duties,
173 Just Lawyers, reasonable Beauties;
174 Bishops who preach, and Peers who pay,
175 And Countesses who seldom play;
176 Learn'd Antiquaries, who, from college,
177 Reject the rust, and bring the knowledge;
178 And, hear it, age, believe it, youth,
179 Polemics, really seeking truth;
180 And Travellers of that rare tribe,
181 Who've seen the countries they describe;
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182 Ladies who point, nor think me partial,
183 An Epigram as well as MARTIAL;
184 Yet in all female worth succeed,
185 As well as those who cannot read.
186 Right pleasant were the task, I ween,
187 To name the groupes which fill the scene;
188 But Rhyme's of such fastidious nature,
189 She proudly scorns all Nomenclature,
190 Nor grace our Northern names her lips,
191 Like HOMER'S Catalogue of Ships.
192 Once faithful Memory! heave a sigh,
193 Here ROSCIUS gladden'd every eye.
194 Why comes not MARO? Far from town,
195 He rears the Urn to Taste, and BROWN;
196 His English garden breathes perfume,
197 And promises perennial bloom.
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198 Here, rigid CATO, awful Sage!
199 Bold Censor of a thoughtless age,
200 Once dealt his pointed moral round,
201 And, not unheeded, fell the sound;
202 The Muse his honour'd memory weeps,
203 For CATO now with ROSCIUS sleeps!
204 Here once HORTENSIUS lov'd to sit,
205 Apostate now from social Wit:
206 Ah! why in wrangling senates waste
207 The noblest parts, the happiest taste?
208 Why Democratic Thunders wield,
209 And quit the Muses' calmer field?
210 Taste thou the gentler joys they give;
211 With HORACE and with LELIUS live.
212 Hail, Conversation, soothing Power,
213 Sweet Goddess of the social hour!
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214 Not with more heart-felt warmth, at least,
215 Does LELIUS bend, thy true High Priest,
216 Than I, the lowest of thy train,
217 These field-flow'rs bring to deck thy fane;
218 Who to thy shrine like him can haste,
219 With warmer zeal, or purer taste?
220 O may thy worship long prevail,
221 And thy true votaries never fail!
222 Long may thy polish'd altars blaze
223 With wax-lights' undiminish'd rays!
224 Still be thy nightly offerings paid,
225 Libations large of Limonade!
226 On silver Vases, loaded, rise
227 The biscuits' ample sacrifice!
228 Nor be the milk-white streams forgot
229 Of thirst-assuaging, cool orgeat;
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230 Rise, incense pure from fragrant Tea,
231 Delicious incense, worthy Thee!
232 Hail, Conversation, heav'nly fair,
233 Thou bliss of life, and balm of care!
234 Call forth the long-forgotten knowlege
235 Of school, of travel, and of college!
236 For thee, best solace of his toil!
237 The sage consumes his midnight oil;
238 And keeps late vigils, to produce
239 Materials for thy future use.
240 If none behold, ah! wherefore fair?
241 Ah! wherefore wise, if none must hear?
242 Our intellectual ore must shine,
243 Not slumber, idly, in the mine.
244 Let Education's moral mint
245 The noblest images imprint;
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246 Let Taste her curious touchstone hold,
247 To try if standard be the gold;
248 But 'tis thy commerce, Conversation,
249 Must give it use by circulation;
250 That noblest commerce of mankind,
251 Whose precious merchandize is MIND!
252 What stoic Traveller wou'd try
253 A sterile soul, and parching sky,
254 Or dare th' intemperate Northern zone,
255 If what he saw must ne'er be known?
256 For this he bids his home farewell,
257 The joy of seeing is to tell.
258 Trust me, he never wou'd have stirr'd,
259 Were he forbid to speak a word;
260 And Curiosity wou'd sleep,
261 If her own secrets she must keep:
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262 The bliss of telling what is past,
263 Becomes her rich reward at last.
264 Yet not from low desire to shine,
265 Does Genius toil in Learning's Mine;
266 Not to indulge in idle vision,
267 But strike new light by strong collision.
268 O'er books the mind inactive lies,
269 Books, the mind's food, not exercise!
270 Her vigorous wing she scarcely feels,
271 'Till use the latest strength reveals;
272 Her slumbering energies call'd forth,
273 She rises, conscious of her worth;
274 And, at her new-found powers elated,
275 Thinks them not rous'd, but new created.
276 Enlighten'd spirits! you, who know
277 What charms from polish'd converse flow,
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278 Speak, for you can, the pure delight
279 When kindred sympathies unite;
280 When correspondent tastes impart
281 Communion sweet from heart to heart;
282 You ne'er the cold gradations need
283 Which vulgar souls to union lead;
284 No dry discussion to unfold
285 The meaning, caught as soon as told:
286 But sparks electric only strike
287 On souls electrical alike;
288 The flash of Intellect expires,
289 Unless it meet congenial fires.
290 The language to th' Elect alone
291 Is, like the Mason's mystery, known;
292 In vain th' unerring sign is made
293 To him who is not of the Trade.
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294 What lively pleasure to divine,
295 The thought implied, the hinted line,
296 To feel Allusion's artful force,
297 And trace the Image to its source!
298 Quick Memory blends her scatter'd rays,
299 'Till Fancy kindles at the blaze;
300 The works of ages start to view,
301 And ancient Wit elicits new.
302 But wit and parts if thus we praise,
303 What nobler altars shou'd we raise,
304 Those sacrifices cou'd we see
305 Which Wit, O Virtue! makes to Thee.
306 At once the rising thought to dash,
307 To quench at once the bursting flash!
308 The shining Mischief to subdue,
309 And lose the praise, and pleasure too!
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310 This is high Principle's controul!
311 This is true continence of soul!
312 Blush, heroes, at your cheap renown,
313 A vanquish'd realm, a plunder'd town!
314 Your conquests were to gain a name,
315 This conquest triumphs over Fame;
316 So pure its essence; 'twere destroy'd.
317 If known, and if commended, void.
318 Amidst the brightest truths believ'd,
319 Amidst the fairest deeds atchiev'd,
320 Shall stand recorded and admir'd,
321 That Virtue sunk what Wit inspir'd!
322 But let the letter'd, and the fair,
323 And, chiefly, let the Wit beware;
324 You, whose warm spirits never fail,
325 Forgive the hint which ends my tale.
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326 Tho' Science nurs'd you in her bow'rs,
327 Tho' Fancy crown your brow with flowers,
328 Each thought, tho' bright Invention fill,
329 Tho' Attic bees each word distil;
330 Yet, if one gracious power refuse
331 Her gentle influence to infuse,
332 In vain shall listening crowds approve,
333 They'll praise you, but they will not love.
334 What is this power, you're loth to mention,
335 This charm, this witchcraft? 'tis ATTENTION:
336 Mute Angel, yes; thy looks dispense
337 The silence of intelligence;
338 Thy graceful form I well discern,
339 In act to listen and to learn;
340 'Tis Thou for talents shalt obtain
341 That pardon Wit wou'd hope in vain;
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342 Thy wond'rous power, thy secret charm,
343 Shall Envy of her sting disarm;
344 Thy silent flattery sooths our spirit,
345 And we forgive eclipsing merit;
346 The sweet atonement screens the fault,
347 And love and praise are cheaply bought.
348 With mild complacency to hear,
349 Tho' somewhat long the tale appear,
350 Tis more than Wit, 'tis moral Beauty,
351 'Tis Pleasure rising out of Duty.


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Title (in Source Edition): THE BAS BLEU.
Author: Hannah More
Themes: wit
Genres: address

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Source edition

More, Hannah, 1745-1833. Florio: a tale: for fine gentlemen and fine ladies: and, the bas bleu; or, conversation: two poems. London: printed for T. Cadell, 1786, pp. []-89. v,[3],89,[3]p. ; 4⁰. (ESTC T35621; OTA K037413.000) (Page images digitized by the University of California Libraries.)

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The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 4.0.0.

Secondary literature

  • Haslett, Moyra. Becoming Bluestockings: contextualising Hannah More's The Bas Bleu. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 33(1) (2010): 89-114. Print.