Just three sections to go before we come to the end of Dr. Syntax’s first set of adventures. As we have followed the good reverend for the last eight or nine months, we have found him continually frustrated by his inability to find the picturesque…not only does he have extended misadventures, the poor man is confronted with one jolly scene after another, few of them fulfilling the strictures of Dr. Gilpin. It’s all meant as a satire on the early nineteenth century’s obsession with wild beauty…sometimes referred to as the Romantic Movement.
In this scene, Dr. Syntax encounters a Dairy Maid, most mundane but necessary.
Excerpts from Canto XVIII:
Now Nature’s beauties caught his eye,
Array’d in gay simplicity:
And as he pass’d the road along,
The blackbird’s note, the thrush’s song…
When lo! a dairy met his view,
Where, full of cream, in order due.
The pans, the bowls, the jugs were plac’d.
Which tempted the Divine to taste;
But he found something better there:
A village damsel, young and fair,
Attracted his admiring eye:
Who, as he enter’d, heaved a sigh. …
Now Syntax, as we all must know,
Ne’er heard a sigh or tale of woe,
But instant wish’d to bring relief.
To dry the tear and soothe the grief.
“Come here, sweet girl,” he softly said;
“Tell me your cares — nor be afraid:
Come here, and seat you by my side;
You’ll find in me a friendly guide.
Relate your sorrows, — tell the truth;
What is it ? does some perjur’d youth
Unfaithful to his promise prove,
Nor make the fond return of love! …
The maid’s mama is not so interested in having the elderly doctor comfort her daughter, but as always with Dr. Syntax, he allays her complaints and manages to have a nice meal and be put up for the night at the farm. Again, making lemonade from the lemons…
Excerpts from Canto XIX:
Dr. Syntax takes up his pen and brushes and contemplates the scenery:
I’ll add no more; for, to my mind, The scene’s complete, and well design’d.
There are, indeed, who would insert
Those pigs which wallow in the dirt;
And though I hold a pig is good
Upon a dish, prepar’d for food,
I do not fear to say the brute
Does not my taste in painting suit;…
For, to say truth, I don’t inherit
This self-same picturesquish spirit,
That looks to nought but what is rough,
And ne’er thinks Nature coarse enough.
Their system does my genius shock.
Who see such graces in a dock;
Whose eye the picturesque admires
In straggling brambles, and in briers;
Nay, can a real beauty see
In a decay’d and rotten tree.
Disappointed in his growing impatience with the concepts of the picturesque landscape, Dr. Syntax travels onward: A city’s stately form appear’d: Upon the shore the mass was rear’d.
With glistening spires, while below
Masts like a forest seem’d to grow.
‘Twas Liverpool, that splendid mart.
Imperial London’s counterpart.
Where wand’ring Mersey’s rapid streams
Rival the honours of the Thames,
And bear, on each returning tide,
Whate’er by commerce is supplied,
Whate’er the winds can hurry o’er
From ev’ry clime and distant shore.
Eventually, Dr. Syntax encounters some men who are interested in his journey:
Excerpts from Canto XX
…The exciseman, a right village sage,
(For he could cast accounts and gauge,)
Spoke for the rest — who would be proud
To hear his Rev’rence read aloud.
He bow’d assent, and straight began
To state what beauty is in man;
Or on the surface of the earth. …
Of all things in the realms of nature,
Or senseless forms, or living creature:
In short, he thus profess’d to show.
Through all the vast expanse below,
From what concentered state of things
The varying form of beauty springs;
But, as he read, though full of grace,
Though strong expression mark’d his face,
Though his feet struck the sounding floor.
And his voice thunder’d through the door,
Each hearer, as th’ infection crept
O’er the numb’d sense, unconscious slept!
One dropp’d his pipe — another snor’d,
His bed of down an oaken board;
The cobbler yawn’d, then sank to rest,
His chin reclining on his breast;
All slept at length but Tom and Sue,
For they had something else to do.
Syntax heard nought; the enraptnr’d elf
Saw and heard nothing but himself:
But, when a swineherd’s bugle sounded.
The Doctor then, amaz’d — confounded.
Beheld the death-like scene about him;
And, thinking it was form’d to flout him,
He frown’d disdain — then struck his head,
Caught up a light, and rush’d to bed.
End of Canto XX; Illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson