(Read Before A Meeting Of The Danville Scribbler Club.)
Dear friends, to-night the inspiration of my theme
Is not the baseless fabric of a weird, fantastic dream--
For truth, combined with justice, doth impel,
And therefore it is fact--not fiction--that I tell.
"Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again"--
A maxim true as holy writ;--then it is plain,
If rudely woven by an untaught hand it be,
Sustains but transitory wrong and injury.
And thus it is, in homely rhyme, I venture forth,
Relating nothing here but under oath;
And if, perchance, at times it sounds a little strange,
You know that truth o'er fiction hath a wider range.
These stanzas three I hope you'll deem explanatory--
As introductory and preliminary to the story--
A preface simply used before I introduce
The proper characters essential for our use.
And just one moment more attention I will claim,
And crave indulgence while I here explain,
That "character" is used in a Pickwickian sense--
So truth and justice need not take offense.
'Twas when the Autumn leaves, with russet hue,
Scarce quivered in the gentle wind, and when the dew
Lay sparkling on the grass, beneath the argent moon,
A tragedy took place--of which I'll tell you soon.
And ever and anon a fleecy, drifting cloud,
Meek Dian's face would veil with filmy shroud,
And lend to wood and field that softened ray
Unmatched in beauty from the glaring god of day!
But I will tell the story as 'twas told to me,
And vouched for by some others--two or three--
Whose word to doubt would be a heinous sin--
So, armed with truth, in confidence I will begin.
Ah, memory! Thou art a fickle jade,
And oft responsible when grave mistakes are made,
And therefore 'tis with caution that I hesitate
When truthful things I undertake to state.
This much is due to accuracy and circumspection,
As well as to a rather faulty recollection;
And so I'll trespass on your patience now no more,
But straightway tell the story--as I said before.
All good beginnings have that natural trend
Which safely leads to a successful end,
And stories all should have their plots well laid--
Which neither prose nor verse can do, when haste is made.
'Tis said "procrastination is the thief of time,"
And this might seem to be the object of my rhyme.
Had I not told you, as I should have done,
The reason why the story's not begun.
'Tis my sole object, then, to give without delay,
The narrative in a direct and proper way,
For as you know some critics may be here
Whom scribbling rhymesters may, with justice, fear.
"What shameless bards we have! And yet, 'tis true,
There are as mad, abandoned critics, too!"
This couplet, penned by Pope, is ever new--
But then, dear friends, the second line was not for you!
I only quote that you may comprehend
How modesty in me has missed its end,
And why it is I ever undertook to write
The story that I'm going to tell--sometime to-night.
An introduction that will keep the listener in suspense
I deem derogatory to good taste and sense;
And this is also why I'll nothing put as prefatory
Before I launch right out into the story.
I'm going to make it thrilling, crisp and short,
In purest diction drest, with gems of thought
So intermingled with the story's warp and woof,
That from beginning I can scarcely keep aloof.
I'll put quotation marks to shrive me of the sin
Of plagiarism when such language I begin--
That every one of you may plainly see
I tell the story as 'twas told to me.
So calmly, coolly then, I think I will proceed
To give you now the story--taking heed
To curtail all that truth and justice will permit--
Remembering that "brevity's the soul of wit."
But undue haste would cause me to forget
And mar the memory of its telling with regret
If I had overlooked some startling fact,
Which on both truth and justice would re-act!
And now, dear friends, don't think that you are "sold"
If still as yet the story's left untold--
But paper, ink, your patience, and my time
Are all exhausted in this race with rhyme!