The Phantom Curate. A Fable

A poem by William Schwenck Gilbert

A BISHOP once I will not name his see
Annoyed his clergy in the mode conventional;
From pulpit shackles never set them free,
And found a sin where sin was unintentional.
All pleasures ended in abuse auricular
The Bishop was so terribly particular.

Though, on the whole, a wise and upright man,
He sought to make of human pleasures clearances;
And form his priests on that much-lauded plan
Which pays undue attention to appearances.
He couldn't do good deeds without a psalm in 'em,
Although, in truth, he bore away the palm in 'em.

Enraged to find a deacon at a dance,
Or catch a curate at some mild frivolity,
He sought by open censure to enhance
Their dread of joining harmless social jollity.
Yet he enjoyed (a fact of notoriety)
The ordinary pleasures of society.

One evening, sitting at a pantomime
(Forbidden treat to those who stood in fear of him),
Roaring at jokes, sans metre, sense, or rhyme,
He turned, and saw immediately in rear of him,
His peace of mind upsetting, and annoying it,
A curate, also heartily enjoying it.

Again, 't was Christmas Eve, and to enhance
His children's pleasure in their harmless rollicking,
He, like a good old fellow, stood to dance;
When something checked the current of his frolicking:
That curate, with a maid he treated lover-ly,
Stood up and figured with him in the "Coverley!"

Once, yielding to an universal choice
(The company's demand was an emphatic one,
For the old Bishop had a glorious voice),
In a quartet he joined an operatic one.
Harmless enough, though ne'er a word of grace in it,
When, lo! that curate came and took the bass in it!

One day, when passing through a quiet street,
He stopped awhile and joined a Punch's gathering;
And chuckled more than solemn folk think meet,
To see that gentleman his Judy lathering;
And heard, as Punch was being treated penalty,
That phantom curate laughing all hyaenally.

Now at a picnic, 'mid fair golden curls,
Bright eyes, straw hats, bottines that fit amazingly,
A croquet-bout is planned by all the girls;
And he, consenting, speaks of croquet praisingly;
But suddenly declines to play at all in it
The curate fiend has come to take a ball in it!

Next, when at quiet sea-side village, freed
From cares episcopal and ties monarchical,
He grows his beard, and smokes his fragrant weed,
In manner anything but hierarchical
He sees and fixes an unearthly stare on it
That curate's face, with half a yard of hair on it!

At length he gave a charge, and spake this word:
"Vicars, your curates to enjoyment urge ye may;
To check their harmless pleasuring's absurd;
What laymen do without reproach, my clergy may."
He spake, and lo! at this concluding word of him,
The curate vanished no one since has heard of him.

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