THE HOLY FAIR.
A robe of seeming truth and trust
Did crafty observation;
And secret hung, with poison’d crust,
The dirk of Defamation:
A mask that like the gorget show’d,
Dye-varying on the pigeon;
And for a mantle large and broad,
He wrapt him in Religion.
The scene of this fine poem is the church-yard of Mauchline, and the
subject handled so cleverly and sharply is the laxity of manners
visible in matters so solemn and terrible as the administration of the
sacrament. “This was indeed,” says Lockhart, “an extraordinary
performance: no partisan of any sect could whisper that malice had
formed its principal inspiration, or that its chief attraction lay in
the boldness with which individuals, entitled and accustomed to
respect, were held up to ridicule: it was acknowledged, amidst the
sternest mutterings of wrath, that national manners were once more in
the hands of a national poet.” “It is no doubt,” says Hogg, “a
reckless piece of satire, but it is a clever one, and must have cut to
the bone. But much as I admire the poem I must regret that it is
partly borrowed from Ferguson.”
Upon a simmer Sunday morn,
When Nature’s face is fair,
I walked forth to view the corn,
An’ snuff the caller air.
The rising sun owre Galston muirs,
Wi’ glorious light was glintin’;
The hares were hirplin down the furs,
The lav’rocks they were chantin’
Fu’ sweet that day.
As lightsomely I glowr’d abroad,
To see a scene sae gay,
Three hizzies, early at the road,
Cam skelpin up the way;
Twa had manteeles o’ dolefu’ black,
But ane wi’ lyart lining;
The third, that gaed a-wee a-back,
Was in the fashion shining
Fu’ gay that day.
The twa appear’d like sisters twin,
In feature, form, an’ claes;
Their visage, wither’d, lang, an’ thin,
An’ sour as ony slaes:
The third cam up, hap-step-an’-lowp,
As light as ony lambie,
An’ wi’ a curchie low did stoop,
As soon as e’er she saw me,
Fu’ kind that day.
Wi’ bonnet aff, quoth I, “Sweet lass,
I think ye seem to ken me;
I’m sure I’ve seen that bonnie face,
But yet I canna name ye.”
Quo’ she, an’ laughin’ as she spak,
An’ taks me by the hands,
“Ye, for my sake, hae gi’en the feck,
Of a’ the ten commands
A screed some day.
“My name is Fun–your cronie dear,
The nearest friend ye hae;
An’ this is Superstition here,
An’ that’s Hypocrisy.
I’m gaun to Mauchline holy fair,
To spend an hour in daffin:
Gin ye’ll go there, yon runkl’d pair,
We will get famous laughin’
At them this day.”
Quoth I, “With a’ my heart I’ll do’t;
I’ll get my Sunday’s sark on,
An’ meet you on the holy spot;
Faith, we’se hae fine remarkin’!”
Then I gaed hame at crowdie-time
An’ soon I made me ready;
For roads were clad, frae side to side,
Wi’ monie a wearie body,
In droves that day.
Here farmers gash, in ridin’ graith
Gaed hoddin by their cottars;
There, swankies young, in braw braid-claith,
Are springin’ o’er the gutters.
The lasses, skelpin barefit, thrang,
In silks an’ scarlets glitter;
Wi’ sweet-milk cheese, in monie a whang,
An’ farls bak’d wi’ butter,
Fu’ crump that day.
When by the plate we set our nose,
Weel heaped up wi’ ha’pence,
A greedy glowr Black Bonnet throws,
An’ we maun draw our tippence.
Then in we go to see the show,
On ev’ry side they’re gath’rin’,
Some carrying dails, some chairs an’ stools,
An’ some are busy blethrin’
Right loud that day.
Here stands a shed to fend the show’rs,
An’ screen our countra gentry,
There, racer Jess, and twa-three wh-res,
Are blinkin’ at the entry.
Here sits a raw of titlin’ jades,
Wi’ heaving breast and bare neck,
An’ there’s a batch o’ wabster lads,
Blackguarding frae Kilmarnock
For fun this day.
Here some are thinkin’ on their sins,
An’ some upo’ their claes;
Ane curses feet that fyl’d his shins,
Anither sighs an’ prays:
On this hand sits a chosen swatch,
Wi’ screw’d up grace-proud faces;
On that a set o’ chaps at watch,
Thrang winkin’ on the lasses
To chairs that day.
O happy is that man an’ blest!
Nae wonder that it pride him!
Wha’s ain dear lass that he likes best,
Comes clinkin’ down beside him;
Wi’ arm repos’d on the chair back,
He sweetly does compose him;
Which, by degrees, slips round her neck,
An’s loof upon her bosom,
Unkenn’d that day.
Now a’ the congregation o’er
Is silent expectation;
For Moodie speeds the holy door,
Wi’ tidings o’ damnation.
Should Hornie, as in ancient days,
‘Mang sons o’ God present him,
The vera sight o’ Moodie’s face,
To’s ain het hame had sent him
Wi’ fright that day.
Hear how he clears the points o’ faith
Wi’ ratlin’ an’ wi’ thumpin’!
Now meekly calm, now wild in wrath,
He’s stampin an’ he’s jumpin’!
His lengthen’d chin, his turn’d-up snout,
His eldritch squeel and gestures,
Oh, how they fire the heart devout,
Like cantharidian plasters,
On sic a day.
But hark! the tent has chang’d its voice:
There’s peace an’ rest nae langer:
For a’ the real judges rise,
They canna sit for anger.
Smith opens out his cauld harangues,
On practice and on morals;
An’ aff the godly pour in thrangs,
To gie the jars an’ barrels
A lift that day.
What signifies his barren shine,
Of moral pow’rs and reason?
His English style, an’ gestures fine,
Are a’ clean out o’ season.
Like Socrates or Antonine,
Or some auld pagan heathen,
The moral man he does define,
But ne’er a word o’ faith in
That’s right that day.
In guid time comes an antidote
Against sic poison’d nostrum;
For Peebles, frae the water-fit,
Ascends the holy rostrum:
See, up he’s got the word o’ God,
An’ meek an’ mim has view’d it,
While Common-Sense has ta’en the road,
An’ aff, an’ up the Cowgate,
Fast, fast, that day.
Wee Miller, neist the guard relieves,
An’ orthodoxy raibles,
Tho’ in his heart he weel believes,
An’ thinks it auld wives’ fables:
But faith! the birkie wants a manse,
So, cannily he hums them;
Altho’ his carnal wit an’ sense
Like hafflins-ways o’ercomes him
At times that day.
Now but an’ ben, the Change-house fills,
Wi’ yill-caup commentators:
Here’s crying out for bakes and gills,
An’ there the pint-stowp clatters;
While thick an’ thrang, an’ loud an’ lang,
Wi’ logic, an’ wi’ scripture,
They raise a din, that, in the end,
Is like to breed a rupture
O’ wrath that day.
Leeze me on drink! it gies us mair
Than either school or college:
It kindles wit, it waukens lair,
It pangs us fou’ o’ knowledge,
Be’t whisky gill, or penny wheep,
Or any stronger potion,
It never fails, on drinking deep,
To kittle up our notion
By night or day.
The lads an’ lasses, blythely bent
To mind baith saul an’ body,
Sit round the table, weel content,
An’ steer about the toddy.
On this ane’s dress, an’ that ane’s leuk,
They’re making observations;
While some are cozie i’ the neuk,
An’ formin’ assignations
To meet some day.
But now the Lord’s ain trumpet touts,
Till a’ the hills are rairin’,
An’ echoes back return the shouts:
Black Russell is na’ sparin’:
His piercing words, like Highlan’ swords,
Divide the joints and marrow;
His talk o’ Hell, where devils dwell,
Our vera sauls does harrow
Wi’ fright that day.
A vast, unbottom’d boundless pit,
Fill’d fou o’ lowin’ brunstane,
Wha’s ragin’ flame, an’ scorchin’ heat,
Wad melt the hardest whunstane!
The half asleep start up wi’ fear,
An’ think they hear it roarin’,
When presently it does appear,
‘Twas but some neibor snorin’
Asleep that day.
‘Twad be owre lang a tale to tell
How monie stories past,
An’ how they crowded to the yill,
When they were a’ dismist:
How drink gaed round, in cogs an’ caups,
Amang the furms an’ benches:
An’ cheese an’ bread, frae women’s laps,
Was dealt about in lunches,
An’ dawds that day.
In comes a gaucie, gash guidwife,
An’ sits down by the fire,
Syne draws her kebbuck an’ her knife;
The lasses they are shyer.
The auld guidmen, about the grace,
Frae side to side they bother,
Till some ane by his bonnet lays,
An’ gi’es them’t like a tether,
Fu’ lang that day.
Waesucks! for him that gets nae lass,
Or lasses that hae naething;
Sma’ need has he to say a grace,
Or melvie his braw claithing!
O wives, be mindfu’ ance yoursel
How bonnie lads ye wanted,
An’ dinna, for a kebbuck-heel,
Let lasses be affronted
On sic a day!
Now Clinkumbell, wi’ ratlin tow,
Begins to jow an’ croon;
Some swagger hame, the best they dow,
Some wait the afternoon.
At slaps the billies halt a blink,
Till lasses strip their shoon:
Wi’ faith an’ hope, an’ love an’ drink,
They’re a’ in famous tune
For crack that day.
How monie hearts this day converts
O’ sinners and o’ lasses!
Their hearts o’ stane, gin night, are gane,
As saft as ony flesh is.
There’s some are fou o’ love divine;
There’s some are fou o’ brandy;
An’ monie jobs that day begin
May end in houghmagandie
Some ither day.