Hans Carvel

A poem by Matthew Prior

Hans Carvel, impotent and old,
Married a lass of London mould.
Handsome? Enough; extremely gay;
Loved music, company, and play:
High flights she had, and wit at will,
And so her tongue lay seldom still;
For in all visits who but she
To argue or to repartee?

She made it plain that human passion
Was order'd by predestination;
That if weak women went astray,
Their stars were more in fault than they.
Whole tragedies she had by heart;
Enter'd into Roxana's part;
To triumph in her rival's blood
The action certainly was good.
How like a vine young Ammon curl'd!
Oh that dear conqueror of the world!
She pity'd Betterton in age
That ridiculed the godlike rage.

She, first of all the town, was told
Where newest India things were sold;
So in a morning, without bodice,
Slipt sometimes out to Mrs. Thody's
To cheapen tea, to buy a screen;
What else could so much virtue mean?
For to prevent the least reproach
Betty went with her in the coach.

But when no very great affair
Excited her peculiar care,
She without fail was waked at ten,
Drank chocolate, then slept again:
At twelve she rose; with much ado
Her clothes were huddled on by two:
Then, does my lady dine at home?
Yes, sure;, but is the colonel come?
Next, how to spend the afternoon,
And not come home again too soon,
The change, the city, or the play,
As each was proper for the day;
A turn in summer to Hyde-park,
When it grew tolerably dark.

Wife's pleasure causes husband's pain;
Strange fancies come in Hans's brain:
He thought of what he did not name,
And would reform but durst not name,
At first he therefore preach'd his wife
The comforts of a pious life;
Told her how transient beauty was;
That all must die, and flesh was grass:
He bought her sermons, psalms, and graces,
And doubled down the useful places:
But still the weight of worldly care
Allow'd her little time for prayer;
And Cleopatra was read o'er,
While Scot, and Wake, and twenty more,
That teach one to deny one's self,
Stood unmolested on the shelf.
An untouch'd bible graced her toilette;
No fear that thumb of hers should spoil it,
In short, the trade was still the same;
The dame went out, the colonel came.

What's to be done? poor Carvel cried;
Another battery must be tried:
What if to spells I had recourse?
'Tis but to hinder something worse.
The end must justify the means;
He only sins who ill intends:
Since therefore 'tis to combat evil
'Tis lawful to employ the devil.

Forthwith the devil did appear,
(For name him and he's always near)
Not in the shape in which he plies
At miss's elbow when she lies,
Or stands before the nursery doors
To take the naughty boy that roars,
But without tail, or eye, or claw,
Like a grave barrister at law.

Hans Carvel, lay aside your grief,
The devil says; I bring relief.
Relief! says Hans; pray let me crave
Your name Sir, Satan, Sir, your slave.
I did not look upon your feet;
You'll pardon me,, Ay, now I see't.
And pray, Sir, when came you from hell?
Our friends there, did you leave them well?
All well; but, pr'ythee, honest Hans
(Says Satan) leave your complaisance:
The truth is this; I cannot stay
Flaring in sunshine all the day,
For, entre nous, we hellish sprites
Love more the fresco of the nights;
And oftener our receipts convey
In dreams than any other way,
I tell you, therefore, as a friend,
Ere morning dawns your fears shall end:
Go then this evening, Master Carvel,
Lay down your fowls, and broach your barrel;
Let friends and wine dissolve your care
Whilst I the great receipt prepare,
To-night I'll bring it by my faith:
Believe for once what Satan saith.

Away went Hans; glad not a little;
Obey'd the devil to a tittle;
Invited friends some half a dozen,
The colonel and my lady's cousin.
The meat was served, the bowls were crown'd,
Catches were sung, and healths went round;
Barbadoes' waters for the close,
Till Hans had fairly got his dose;
The colonel toasted to the best;
The dame moved off to be undress'd;
The chimes went twelve, the guests withdrew
But when or how Hans hardly knew:
Some modern anecdotes aver
He nodded in his elbow chair,
From thence was carried off to bed;
John held his heels, and Nan his head;
My lady was disturb'd; new sorrow!
Which Hans must answer for to-morrow.

In bed then view this happy pair,
And think how Hymen triumph'd there;
Hans fast asleep as soon as laid,
The duty of the night unpaid;
The waking dame with thoughts oppress'd
That made her hate both him and rest:
By such a husband, such a wife!
'Twas Acme's and Septimius' life:
The lady sigh'd, the lover snored,
The punctual devil kept his word;
Appear'd to Honest Hans again,
But not at all by Madam seen,
Fit for the finger of a king,
Dear Hans, said he, this jewel take,
And wear it long for Satan's sake;
'Twill do your business to a hair;
For long as you this ring shall wear,
As sure as I look over Lincoln
That ne'er shall happen which you think on.

Hans took the ring with joy extreme,
(All this was only in a dream)
And thrusting it beyond his joint.
'Tis done, he cried: I've gain'd my point.,
What point, said she, you ugly beast?
You neither give me joy nor rest.
'Tis done, What's done, you drunken bear?
You've thrust your finger G d knows where.

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