The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque, Part 9


Dr. Syntax, Derby Porcelain Manufactory
English 1750-1848, soft-paste porcelain
with polychrome enamel decoration
 

Since it has been a while since we last encountered Dr. Syntax, let’s take look at where he stands. He is traveling around England on his mare Grizzle to sketch and write about the picturesque – an artistic concept, indeed a sort of fad in the first two decades of the 19th century.  This long poem was written by William Comb, illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson, and published by Rudolf Ackermann. It is a satire – or burlesque – on the writings of that seer of the “picturesque,”  the Reverend William Gilpin, whose writings were widely persuasive to many such as landscape architect Humpry Repton and even novelist Jane Austen. But like almost all artistic endeavors, when exaggerated to a great extent, the picturesque was certainly ripe for satire, with its disdain of a calm and serene landscape in favor of twisted trees, wild weather, and ruined buildings.
Being a curate and teacher in the church school, Dr. Syntax’s clerical career has not progressed to the degree he and his wife think he deserves. With this trip, he is attempting to make his fortune and reputation (as did Rev. Gilpin) with a book of his observations.  He has now reached Keswick in the Lake District, and has made friends with Squire Worthy and his family. This squire will figure prominently in the Doctor’s life in the future – but so far, little does he know…

As we meet him once again, Dr. Syntax is having breakfast with Squire Worthy , who is speaking:
Your free-born conduct I commend,
And shall rejoice to call you friend:
Oh ! how it would my spirits cheer
If you were but the Rector here!
Our Parson, I'm concern'd to say.
Had rather drink and game — than pray:
He makes no bones to curse and swear.
In any rout to take a share,
And what's still worse, he'll springe a hare.
I wish his neck he would but break,
Or tumble drunk into the Lake!
For, know, the living's mine to give,
And you should soon the cure receive:
The benefice, I'm sure, is clear
At least three hundred pounds a year."
 
"I thank you. Sir, with all my heart,"
Said Syntax, "but we now must part" …
 
Dr. Syntax, making another of his many errors, rides off until evening…
 
Dr. Syntax Robbed of his Property
 

But as he reach'd the destin'd inn.
The landlord, with officious grin.
At once declar'd he had no bed
Where Syntax could repose his head; …
At least, where such a rev'rend guest
Would think it fit to take his rest:
A main of cocks had fought that day,
And all the gentry chose to stay. …

Dr. Syntax is offered a room by one of the guests and innocently agrees….Dr. Syntax speaks:

“In short, I only want to sleep
Where neither rogue nor knave can creep.
I travel not with change of coats.
But in these bags are all my notes,
Which, should I lose, would prove my ruin,
And be forever my undoing."
Thus as he spoke, a lively blade.
With dangling queue and smart cockade.
Replied at once, "I have a room;
The friend I look'd for is not come;
And of two beds where we may rest.
You, my good Sir, shall have the best;
So you may sleep without alarm;
No living wight shall do you harm…”

Ah, beware Doctor – but so far on this trip when he has been frequently accosted, he has learned nothing of human behavior!  He agrees to share the room with the Captain, and after dinner:

The Doctor and the Captain sat.
Till tir'd of each other's chat.
They both agreed it would be best
To seek the balmy sweets of rest. 
Syntax soon clos'd his weary eye,
Nor thought of any danger nigh;
While, like the ever-watchful snake.
His sharp companion lay awake.
Impatient to assail his prey
When, soon as it was dawn of day.
He gently seiz'd the fancied store;
But, as he pass'd the creaking door.
Syntax awoke, and saw the thief;
When, loudly bawling for relief.
He forward rush'd in naked state,
And caught the culprit at the gate:
Against that gate his head he beat.
Then kick'd him headlong to the street.
The ostler from his bed arose,
In time to hear and see the blows…

Luckily our hero is able to recover his papers. Syntax and the ostler (a stableman from the inn) let the culprit run away – then return to their beds.
 
Excerpts from Canto 16
 
But, while he still enjoy'd his dream,
His story was the gen'ral theme
Of ev'ry tongue, and made a din
Through all the purlieus of the inn.
The ostler told it to the maid.
And she the whole, and more, betray'd;
Nay, in her idle, eager prate.
Mistook the window for the gate:
For, though she lay all snug and quiet.
And slept, unconscious of the riot,
She swore that, all within her view.
The Parson from the window threw
A full-grown man into the street. …
The Barber caught the story next,
Who stuck no closer to the text;
But left a face half-shav'd, and ran
To tell it to the Clergyman. …
“ At the Blue Bell there's been such doing —
The house, I'm certain, it must ruin;
Nay, as I live, I'll tell no further, —
A bishop has committed murther!” …

More exaggerations are spread…

The Blacksmith, while a trav'ller stay'd
That a new horse-shoe might be made,
Inform'd him that a rev'rend Clerk
Last night was strangled in the dark,
No one knew how — 'twas at the Belly
The murd'rer not a soul could tell: 
The Justice though would make a rout,
And try to find the fellow out.—
Thus Rumour spread the simple case,
In ev'ry form throughout the place.

The Doctor now unclos'd his eyes.
And thought that it was time to rise:
So up he got, and down he went.
To scold the Landlord fully bent;

The landlord makes profuse apologies… and finishes:
“…I understand the rogue you bang'd.
And in good time. Sir, he'll be hang'd:
I hope that all your notes you've found, —
I'm told they're worth a thousand pound."
"Prove that," says Syntax, "my dear honey,
And I will give you half the money.
Think not, my friend, I'm such a fool.
That I have been so late at school.
To put my bank-notes in a bag
That hangs across my Grizzle nag;
No, they were notes to make a book;
The thief my meaning, Mend, mistook:
For know, the man would not have found
Them worth — to him — a single pound:
Though much I hope that they will be
The source of many a pound to me."

Thus Syntax cheer'd the Landlord's heart,
Till the time wam'd him to depart;
When soon, along the beaten road.
Poor Grizzle bore her rev'rend load.
The Doctor's pleasant thoughts beguile
The journey onward many a mile;
For many a mile he had not seen
But one unvarying, level green;
Nor had the way one object brought,
That wak'd a picturesquish thought. …
 
 
 
 
 
Dr.  Syntax is tricked into a wager – though he claims he never gambles.  A local yeoman bets Syntax that he cannot get a pound for his mare, the poor and boney Grizzle who has lost most of her ears and tail.  But one of the local fellows comes to the rescue:
 
"A parson, Sir," says one, "distressed,
Would sell that poor, that wretched beast;
And asks, I hear, a pound or two:
I think he'll ne'er get that from you."
"If that's the case," the Yeoman said, —
"I'll ease his heart, and buy the jade.
I'll bid two pounds, my friend, that's plain,
And give him back his beast again."
The Farmer own'd the wager lost.
And op'd his bag to pay the cost;
"No Sir," says Syntax, "'tis to you
To pay where'er you think it due…”
Thus the wager comes to naught and all are satisfied.
Excerpts from Canto 17
Dr. Syntax is invited to a village feast where he engages in the general festivities and tells stories, including a long lecture on the evils of gambling.  Dr. Syntax joins in the music-making by playing the fiddle.
 
Dr. Syntax ... Rural Sports
 
Chorus of Peasants.
"Strike, strike the lyre! awake the sounding shell
How happy we who in these valleys dwell!
How blest we live beneath his gentle sway.
Whom mighty realms and distant seas obey!
Make him, propitious Heaven! your choicest care!
O make him happy as his people are!"
'Twas thus they fiddled, danc'd, and sung;
With harmless glee the village rung:
At length, dull midnight bid them close
A day of joy, with calm repose.
To be continued…