Preliminary Particulars

      Sprung from a race that had long till’d the soil,
And first disrobed it of its native trees,
He wish’d to heir their lands, but not their toil,
And thought the ploughman’s life no life of ease;—
      “’Tis wrong (said he) these pretty hands to wound
“With felling oaks, or delving in the ground:
“I, who at least have forty pounds in cash
“And in a country store might cut a dash,
“Why should I till these barren fields (he said)
“I who have learnt to cypher, write and read,
“These fields that shrubs, and weeds, and brambles bear,
“That pay me not, and only bring me care!”
      Some thoughts had he, long while, to quit the sod,
In sea-port towns to try his luck in trade,
But, then, their ways of living seem’d most odd—
For dusty streets to leave his native shade,
From grassy plats to pebbled walks removed—
The more he thought of them, the less he loved:
The city springs he could not drink, and still
Preferr’d the fountain near some bushy hill:
      And yet no splendid objects there were seen,
No distant hills, in gaudy colours clad,
Look where you would, the prospect was but mean,
Scrub oaks, and scatter’d pines, and willows sad—
Banks of a shallow river, stain’d with mud;
A stream, where never swell’d the tide of flood,
Nor lofty ship her topsails did unlose,
Nor sailor sail’d, except in long canoes.
      It would have puzzled Faustus, to have told,
What did attach him to this paltry spot;
Where even the house he heir’d was very old,
And all its outworks hardly worth a groat:
Yet so it was, the fancy took his brain
A country shop might here some custom gain:
Whiskey, he knew, would always be in vogue,
While there are country squires to take a cogue,
Laces and lawns would draw each rural maid,
And one must have her shawl, and one her shade.—

The Shop Described and the Merchant’s Outset

      Hard by the road a pigmy building stood,
Thatch’d was its roof, and earthen were its floors;
So small its size, that, in a jesting mood,
It might be call’d a house turn’d out of doors—
Yet here, adjacent to an aged oak,
Full fifty years old dad his hams did smoke,
Nor ceas’d the trade, ‘till worn with years and spent,
To Pluto’s smoke-house he, himself, was sent.
      Hither our merchant turn’d his curious eye,
And mused awhile upon this sable shell;
      “Here father smoked his hogs (he said) and why
“In truth, may not our garret do as well?”
So, down he took his hams and bacon flitches,
Resolv’d to fill the place with other riches;
From every hole and cranny brush’d the soot,
And fixt up shelves throughout the crazy hut;
A counter, too, most cunningly was plann’d,
Behind whose breast-work none but he might stand,
Excepting now and then, by special grace,
Some brother merchant from some other place.
      Now, muster’d up his cash, and said his prayers,
In Sunday suit he rigs himself for town,
Two raw-boned steeds (design’d for great affairs)
Are to the waggon hitch’d, old Bay and Brown;
Who ne’er had been before a league from home,
But now are doom’d full many a mile to roam,
Like merchant-ships, a various freight to bring
Of ribbons, lawns, and many a tawdry thing.
Molasses too, blest sweet, was not forgot,
And island Rum, that every taste delights,
And teas, for maid and matron must be bought,
Rosin and catgut strings for fiddling wights—
But why should I his invoice here repeat?
‘Twould be like counting grains in pecks of wheat.
Half Europe’s goods were on his invoice found,
And all was to be bought with forty pound!
      Soon as the early dawn proclaim’d the day,
He cock’d his hat with pins, and comb’d his hair:
Curious it was, and laughable to see
The village-merchant, mounted in his chair:
Shelves, piled with lawns and linens, in his head,
Coatings and stuffs, and cloths, and scarlets red—
All that would suit man, woman, girl, or boy;
Muslins and muslinets, jeans, grograms, corduroy.
      Alack! said I, he little, little dreams
That all the cash he guards with studious care—
His cash! the mother of a thousand schemes,
Will hardly buy a load of earthen ware!
But why should I excite the hidden tear
By whispering truths ungrateful to his ear;
Still let him travel on, with scheming pate,
As disappointment never comes too late.—

His Journey to the Metropolis; and Mercantile Transactions

Through woods obscure and rough perplexing ways,
Slow and alone, he urged the clumsy wheel;
Now stopping short, to let his horses graze,
Now treating them with straw and Indian meal:
At length a lofty steeple caught his eye,
“Higher (thought he) than ever kite did fly:—
But so it is, these churchmen are so proud
They ever will be climbing to a cloud;
Bound on a sky-blue cruise, they always rig
The longest steeple, and the largest wig.”
      Now safe arrived upon the pebbled way,
Where well-born steeds the rattling coaches trail,
Where shops on shops are seen—and ladies gay
Walk with their curtains some, and some their veil;
Where sons of art their various labors shew
And one cries fish! and one cries muffins ho!
Amaz’d, alike, the merchant, and his pair
Of scare-crow steeds, did nothing else but stare;
So new was all the scene, that, smit with awe,
They grinn’d, and gaz’d, and gap’d at all they saw,
And often stopp’d, to ask at every door,
“Sirs, can you tell us where’s the cheapest store!”
      “The cheapest store (a sly retailer said)
“Cheaper than cheap, guid faith, I have to sell;
“Here are some colour’d cloths that never fade:
“No other shop can serve you half so well;
“Wanting some money now, to pay my rent,
“I’ll sell them at a loss of ten per cent.—
“Hum-hums are here—and muslins—what you please—
“Bandanas, baftas, pullcats, India teas;
“Improv’d by age, and now grown very old,
“And given away, you may depend—not sold!”
      Lured by the bait the wily shopman laid,
He gave his steeds their mess of straw and meal,
Then gazing round the shop, thus, cautious said,
“Well, if you sell so cheap, I think we’ll deal;
“But pray remember, ’tis for goods I’m come,
“For, as to polecats, we’ve enough at home—
“Full forty pounds I have, and that in gold
“(Enough to make a trading man look bold)
“Unrig your shelves, and let me take a peep;
“’Tis odds I leave them bare, you sell so cheap.”
      The city merchant stood, with lengthen’d jaws;
And stared awhile, then made this short reply—
      “You clear my shelves! (he said)—this trunk of gauze
“Is more than all your forty pounds can buy:—
“On yonder board, whose burthen seems so small
“That one man’s pocket might contain it all,
“More value lies, than you and all your race
“From Adam down, could purchase or possess.”
      Convinced, he turn’d him to another street,
Where humbler shopmen from the crowd retreat;
Here caught his eye coarse callicoes and crape,
Pipes and tobacco, ticklenburghs and tape.
Pitchers and pots, of value not so high
But he might sell, and forty pounds would buy.
      Some jugs, some pots, some fifty ells of tape,
A keg of wine, a cask of low proof rum,
Bung’d close—for fear the spirit should escape
That many a sot was waiting for at home;
A gross of pipes, a case of home-made gin,
Tea, powder, shot—small parcels he laid in;
Molasses, too, for swichell-loving wights,
(Swichell, that wings Sangrado’s boldest flights,
When bursting forth the wild ideas roll,
Flash’d from that farthing-candle, call’d his soul:)
All these he bought, and would have purchased more,
To furnish out his Lilliputian store;
But cash fell short—and they who smiled while yet
The cash remain’d, now took a serious fit:—
No more the shop-girl could his talk endure,
But, like her cat, sat sullen and demure.—
The dull retailer found no more to say,
But shook his head, and wish’d to sneak away,
Leaving his house-dog, now, to make reply,
And watch the counter with a lynx’s eye.—
Our merchant took the hint, and off he went,
Resolv’d to sell at twenty-five per cent.

The Merchant’s Return

Returning far o’er many a hill and stone
And much in dread his earthen ware would break,
Thoughtful he rode, and uttering many a groan
Lest at some worm-hole vent his cask should leak—
His cask, that held the joys of rural squire
Which even, ’twas said, the parson did admire,
And valued more than all the dusty pages
That Calvin penn’d, and fifty other sages—
Once high in fame—beprais’d in verse and prose,
But now unthumb’d, enjoy a sweet repose.
      At dusk of eve he reach’d his old abode,
Around him quick his anxious townsmen came,
One ask’d what luck had happ’d him on the road,
And one ungear’d the mud-bespatter’d team.
While on his cask each glanced a loving eye,
Patient, to all he gave a brisk reply—
Told all that had befallen him on his way,
What wonders in the town detain’d his stay—
“Houses as high as yonder white-oak tree
“And boats of monstrous size that go to sea,
“Streets throng’d with busy folk, like swarming hive;
“The Lord knows how they all contrive to live—
“No ploughs I saw, no hoes, no care, no charge,
“In fact, they all are gentlemen at large,
“And goods so thick on every window lie,
“They all seem born to sell—and none to buy.”

The Catastrophe, or the Broken Merchant

Alack-a-day! on life’s uncertain road
How many plagues, what evils must befal;—
Jove has on none unmingled bliss bestow’d,
But disappointment is the lot of all:
Thieves rob our stores, in spite of locks and keys,
Cats steal our cream, and rats infest our cheese,
The gayest coat a grease-spot may assail,
Or Susan pin a dish-clout to its tail,—
      Our village-merchant (trust me) had his share
Of vile mis-haps—for now, the goods unpackt,
Discover’d, what might make a deacon swear,
Jugs, cream-pots, pipes, and grog-bowls sadly crackt—
A general groan throughout the crowd was heard;
Most pitied him, and some his ruin fear’d;
Poor wight! ’twas sad to see him fret and chafe,
While each enquir’d, “Sir, is the rum-cask safe?”
      Alas! even that some mischief had endured;—
One rascal hoop had started near the chine!—
Then curiously the bung-hole they explored,
With stem of pipe, the leakage to define—
Five gallons must be charged to loss and gain!—
“—Five gallons! (cry’d the merchant, writh’d with pain)
“Now may the cooper never see full flask,
“But still be driving at an empty cask—
“Five gallons might have mellowed down the ‘squire
“And made the captain strut a full inch higher;
“Five gallons might have prompted many a song,
“And made a frolic more than five days long:
“Five gallons now are lost, and—sad to think,
“That when they leak’d—no soul was there to drink!”
      Now, slightly treated with a proof-glass dram,
Each neighbour took his leave, and went to bed,
All but our merchant: he, with grief o’ercome,
Revolv’d strange notions in his scheming head—
“For losses such as these, (thought he) ’tis meant,
“That goods are sold at twenty-five per cent:
“No doubt these trading men know what is just,
“’Tis twenty-five times what they cost at first!”
      So rigging off his shelves by light of candle,
The dismal smoke-house walls began to shine:
Here, stood his tea-pots—some without a handle—
A broken jar—and there his keg of wine;
Pipes, many a dozen, ordered in a row;
Jugs, mugs, and grog-bowls—less for sale than show:
The leaky cask, replenish’d from the well,
Roll’d to its birth—but we no tales will tell.—
      Catching the eye in elegant display,
All was arranged and snug, by break of day:
The blue dram-bottle, on the counter plac’d,
Stood, all prepared for him that buys to taste;—
Sure bait! by which the man of cash is taken,
As rats are caught by cheese or scraps of bacon.
      Now from all parts the rural people ran,
With ready cash, to buy what might be bought:
One went to choose a pot, and one a pan,
And they that had no pence their produce brought,
A hog, a calf, safe halter’d by the neck;
Potatoes (Ireland’s glory) many a peck;
Bacon and cheese, of real value more
Than India’s gems, or all Potosi’s ore.
      Some questions ask’d, the folks began to stare—
No soul would purchase, pipe, or pot, or pan:
Each shook his head—hung back—“Your goods so dear!
“In fact (said they) the devil’s in the man!
“Rum ne’er shall meet my lips (cry’d honest Sam)
“In shape of toddy, punch, grog, sling, or dram;
“No cash of mine you’ll get (said pouting Kate)
“While gauze is valued at so dear a rate.”
      Thus things dragg’d on for many a tedious day;
No custom came; and nought but discontent
Gloom’d through the shop.—“Well, let them have their way,
(The merchant said) I’ll sell at cent per cent,
“By which, ’tis plain, I scarce myself can save,
“For cent per cent is just the price I gave.”
      “Now! (cry’d the squire who still had kept his pence)
“Now, Sir, you reason like a man of sense!
“Custom will now from every quarter come;
“In joyous streams shall flow the inspiring rum,
“’Till every soul in pleasing dreams be sunk,
“And even our Socrates himself—is drunk!”
      Soon were the shelves disburthen’d of their load;
In three short hours the kegs of wine ran dry—
Swift from its tap even dull molasses flow’d;
Each saw the rum cask wasting, with a sigh—
The farce concluded, as it was foreseen—
With empty shelves—long trust—and law suits keen—
The woods resounding with a curse on trade,—
An empty purse—sour looks—and hanging head.—

The Puncheon’s Eulogy

“Here lies a worthy corpse (Sangrado said)
“Its debt to Commerce now, no doubt, is paid.—
“Well—’twas a vile disease that kill’d it, sure,
“A quick consumption, that no art could cure!
“Thus shall we all, when life’s vain dream is out,
“Be lodg’d in corners dark, or kick’d about!
“Time is the tapster of our race below,
“That turns the key, and bids the juices flow:
“Quitting my books, henceforth be mine the task
“To moralize upon this empty cask—
“Thank heaven we’ve had the taste—so far ’twas well;
“And still, thro’ mercy, may enjoy the smell!”


Well!—strange it is, that men will still apply
      Things to themselves, that authors never meant:
Each country merchant asks me, “Is it I
      On whom your rhyming ridicule is spent?”
Friends, hold your tongues—such myriads of your race
      Adorn Columbia’s fertile, favour’d climes,
A man might rove seven years from place to place
      Ere he would know the subject of my rhymes.—
Perhaps in Jersey is this creature known,
Perhaps New-England claims him for her own:
And if from Fancy’s world this wight I drew,
What is the imagin’d character to you?”

This poem is in the public domain.