A Story From A Dictionary.

A poem by Henry Austin Dobson

"Sic visum Veneri: cui placet impares
Formas atque animos sub juga aënea
Saevo mittere cum joco."
--Hor. i. 33.


"Love mocks us all"--as Horace said of old:
From sheer perversity, that arch-offender
Still yokes unequally the hot and cold,
The short and tall, the hardened and the tender;
He bids a Socrates espouse a scold,
And makes a Hercules forget his gender:--
Sic visum Veneri! Lest samples fail,
I add a fresh one from the page of BAYLE.

It was in Athens that the thing occurred,
In the last days of Alexander's rule,
While yet in Grove or Portico was heard
The studious murmur of its learned school;--
Nay, 'tis one favoured of Minerva's bird
Who plays therein the hero (or the fool)
With a Megarian, who must then have been
A maid, and beautiful, and just eighteen.

I shan't describe her. Beauty is the same
In Anno Domini as erst B.C.;
The type is still that witching One who came,
Between the furrows, from the bitter sea;
'Tis but to shift accessories and frame,
And this our heroine in a trice would be,
Save that she wore a peplum and a chiton,
Like any modern on the beach at Brighton.

Stay, I forget! Of course the sequel shows
She had some qualities of disposition,
To which, in general, her sex are foes,--
As strange proclivities to erudition,
And lore unfeminine, reserved for those
Who now-a-days descant on "Woman's Mission,"
Or tread instead that "primrose path" to knowledge,
That milder Academe--the Girton College.

The truth is, she admired ... a learned man.
There were no curates in that sunny Greece,
For whom the mind emotional could plan
Fine-art habiliments in gold and fleece;
(This was ere chasuble or cope began
To shake the centres of domestic peace;)
So that "admiring," such as maids give way to,
Turned to the ranks of Zeno and of Plato.

The "object" here was mildly prepossessing,
At least, regarded in a woman's sense;
His forte, it seems, lay chiefly in expressing
Disputed fact in Attic eloquence;
His ways were primitive; and as to dressing,
His toilet was a negative pretence;
He kept, besides, the régime of the Stoic;--
In short, was not, by any means, "heroic."

Sic visum Veneri!--The thing is clear.
Her friends were furious, her lovers nettled;
'Twas much as though the Lady Vere de Vere
On some hedge-schoolmaster her heart had settled.
Unheard! Intolerable!--a lumbering steer
To plod the upland with a mare high-mettled!--
They would, no doubt, with far more pleasure hand her
To curled Euphorion or Anaximander.

And so they used due discipline, of course,
To lead to reason this most erring daughter,
Proceeding even to extremes of force,--
Confinement (solitary), and bread and water;
Then, having lectured her till they were hoarse,
Finding that this to no submission brought her,
At last, (unwisely[1]) to the man they sent,
That he might combat her by argument.

Being, they fancied, but a bloodless thing;
Or else too well forewarned of that commotion
Which poets feign inseparable from Spring
To suffer danger from a school-girl notion;
Also they hoped that she might find her king,
On close inspection, clumsy and Boeotian:--
This was acute enough, and yet, between us,
I think they thought too little about Venus.

Something, I know, of this sort is related
In Garrick's life. However, the man came,
And taking first his mission's end as stated,
Began at once her sentiments to tame,
Working discreetly to the point debated
By steps rhetorical I spare to name;
In other words,--he broke the matter gently.
Meanwhile, the lady looked at him intently,

Wistfully, sadly,--and it put him out,
Although he went on steadily, but faster.
There were some maladies he'd read about
Which seemed, at first, most difficult to master;
They looked intractable at times, no doubt,
But all they needed was a little plaster;
This was a thing physicians long had pondered,
Considered, weighed ... and then ... and then he wandered.

('Tis so embarrassing to have before you
A silent auditor, with candid eyes;
With lips that speak no sentence to restore you,
And aspect, generally, of pained surprise;
Then, if we add that all these things adore you,
'Tis really difficult to syllogise:--
Of course it mattered not to him a feather,
But still he wished ... they'd not been left together.)

"Of one," he said, continuing, "of these
The young especially should be suspicious;
Seeing no ailment in Hippocrates
Could be at once so tedious and capricious;
No seeming apple of Hesperides
More fatal, deadlier, and more delicious--
Pernicious,--he should say,--for all its seeming...."
It seemed to him he simply was blaspheming.

If she had only turned askance, or uttered
Word in reply, or trifled with her brooch,
Or sighed, or cried, grown petulant, or fluttered,
He might (in metaphor) have "called his coach";
Yet still, while patiently he hemmed and stuttered,
She wore her look of wondering reproach;
(And those who read the "Shakespeare of Romances"
Know of what stuff a girl's "dynamic glance" is.)

"But there was still a cure, the wise insisted,
In Love,--or rather, in Philosophy.
Philosophy--no, Love--at best existed
But as an ill for that to remedy:
There was no knot so intricately twisted,
There was no riddle but at last should be
By Love--he meant Philosophy--resolved...."
The truth is, he was getting quite involved.

O sovran Love! how far thy power surpasses
Aught that is taught of Logic or the Schools!
Here was a man, "far seen" in all the classes,
Strengthened of precept, fortified of rules,
Mute as the least articulate of asses;
Nay, at an age when every passion cools,
Conscious of nothing but a sudden yearning
Stronger by far than any force of learning!

Therefore he changed his tone, flung down his wallet,
Described his lot, how pitiable and poor;
The hut of mud,--the miserable pallet,--
The alms solicited from door to door;
The scanty fare of bitter bread and sallet,--
Could she this shame,--this poverty endure?
I scarcely think he knew what he was doing,
But that last line had quite a touch of wooing.

And so she answered him,--those early Greeks
Took little care to keep concealment preying
At any length upon their damask cheeks,--
She answered him by very simply saying,
She could and would:--and said it as one speaks
Who takes no course without much careful weighing....
Was this, perchance, the answer that he hoped?
It might, or might not be. But they eloped.

Sought the free pine-wood and the larger air,--
The leafy sanctuaries, remote and inner,
Where the great heart of nature, beating bare,
Receives benignantly both saint and sinner;--
Leaving propriety to gasp and stare,
And shake its head, like Burleigh, after dinner,
From pure incompetence to mar or mend them:
They fled and wed;--though, mind, I don't defend them.

I don't defend them. 'Twas a serious act,
No doubt too much determined by the senses;
(Alas! when these affinities attract,
We lose the future in the present tenses!)
Besides, the least establishment's a fact
Involving nice adjustment of expenses;
Moreover, too, reflection should reveal
That not remote contingent--la famille.

Yet these, maybe, were happy in their lot.
Milton has said (and surely Milton knows)
That after all, philosophy is "not,--
Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose;"
And some, no doubt, for Love's sake have forgot
Much that is needful in this world of prose:--
Perchance 'twas so with these. But who shall say?
Time has long since swept them and theirs away.

[1] "Unwisely," surely. But 'tis well to mention
That this particular is not invention.

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