The Wise Men of Gotham

Miss Porden

A Tale

Through Gotham, famed in days of yore,
For wits, and sages, green and hoar,
There flowed a river, dull or clear,
Has never reach’d the Muse’s ear,
But this she knows, two banks it had,
With trees and various herbage clad,
On which was built a bridge of stone,
That man or beast might pass upon.

Two clowns from home, one April day
The genial sun induced to stray,
And on this bridge, the waggish fates,
Together knock’d their empty pates;
From Gotham each derived his birth,
The genuine sons of parent earth.

Their early youth they pass’d together,
Staunch friends through every work and weather,
Till by his prudent sire’s command,
Young Simkin sought a distant land,
There to acquire in mart and fair,
The art of vending crockery ware;
Since when, in wintry white arrayed,
Nine times had nature shivering laid,
And now in robes of vernal green,
The tenth revolving year was seen.

What bows, what shrugs, what kind grimaces,
How long close lock’d in warm embraces,
They stood, of these there needs no pother,
For they displa’d, nor one nor t’other;
Their blood so heavy thick and cold,
In brisker measures scarcely roll’d
Their joy a phrase no finer knew,
Than “How d’ye Sim?” “Thanks how do you?”
Then questions followed pro and con,
Of friends alive, or dead and gone;
Of Cousin Sue, and Sam, and Harry,
Of Uncle John and Sister Mary,
How many daughters Simkin had,
How many boys called Roger dad,
And fifty idle things, of old
By Sym and Roger done and told.

Their greetings o’er, they turned aside,
And gazed upon the passing tide;
When honest Sym, a prudent blade,
And nurtured in the ways of trade;
Cry’d, “What a noble bridge you’ve got.”
“Aye, Sym,” cried Roger, “have we not?”
“Oh that this princely bridge was mine,”
Cried crafty Sym, quoth Roger, “Thine!”
“Oh were it mine just here I’d stand
A turnpike man with ready hand
And every chariot, coach and berlin
Should pay to pass a shilling sterling
And every whiskey cart or chair
Each ox and donkey, horse and mare
The toll my will decreed should pay
Or cross the stream some other way.
From thee,” and here he smartly laid
His palm on Roger’s shoulder blade
“From thee friend Hodge I’ll take no more
For sheep than three good groats a score
From every other hynde I’ll sweep
Just twenty pence for twenty sheep.”
“Thank you for nothing,” Hodge exclaims
While anger all his face enflames
“Ne’er did my sheep one farthing pay
Nor shall they to my dying day.”
“And do you! whol! my kindess scorn?”
Quoth Symkin — “With your sheep return
Not one untoll’d shall pass —” “They shall.”
Quoth Hodge, “I tell you one and all,”
Then over head their cudgels rose,
And down they fell in heavy blows,
That rattled on the flinty ground,
And echoed from the hills around,
As they with arms extended wide,
And bodies bent, and legs astride,
Leap’d to and fro, from left to right,
In boisterous but in bloodless fight,
And sweat and swore, as them between
A flock of fifty sheep had been;
While each gaunt cur, that with them came
Still prompt to fight for food and fame,
Roused by his master’s madding cry,
Rush’d to the fray he knew not why.

While thus they toil’d from side to side
Across the bridge a Miller came,
Renowned for shrewdness far and wide,
And Will the Witty was his name:
Large were his limbs — his horse was poor,
And heavy was the sack he bore,
But William kindly bore his part,
For William had a tender heart,
And tho’ his legs to ease he rode,
On his own back he piled the load,
Contriving thus to reconcile,
Humanity with ease the while.
“Zounds dang it, sirs! why what’s the matter?”
Cries Will, “What means this coil and clatter,
Why break you with your staves the stones
Be still or else I’ll break your bones.”
“These sheep,” cries Hodge, “Shall pass I say.”
“Not till the toll,” cries Sym, “you pay.”
“What sheep?” quoth Will, “no sheep I see
The toll! What toll? This bridge is free.
Is it for this you rage, I fear
All is not clever, mark one hear”

To ease his own and horses back,
Down sapient William throws the sack,
Then slowly from his steed descends,
And bids the late contending friends,
Remove it to the bridge-way side,
Where gravely he the mouth unty’d,
“Now gently raise it on the wall
And bend it that the meal may fall.”
Down falls the meal, and soon like snow,
O’erspreads the wondering waves below.
“Now shake it Hodge,” quoth Will and then
To Simkin “Shake the sack again
And tell me after all your pains
Within the sack what meal remains.”
“Why none,” they answer, “So much brain,”
Quoth Will, “your jobbernowls contain.”

Now who can doubt that justly fame,
Had spread thro’ Gotham William’s name,
And that the wisdom here he’d shown,
Deserved, at least, an Oaken crown;
Yet some will say, that such expense,
To prove two blockheads void of sense,
As clearly proves that Hodge and Sym,
In wisdom well might vie with him.
A point so nice, our faithful guide,
The Muse, forbids us to decide —
But she, with sly and sapient sneer
Tells of a nation, god knows where!
Who when some unimportant jar,
Has plunged two friendly states in war,
To check their fury’s murderous course,
Call out at might cost her force,
And after many a victory won,
And deeds of noblest daring done,
And on the ocean, and the plain
Full many a gallant warrior slain,
Small good results from all her zeal
But she, alas! has lost her meal.