The Foxes Caught in Their Own Trap

Miss Porden

Or, The Brighton Fracas. A Tale

Daughters of Albion, lend an ear
 While an unvarnished tale I tell
Of mischief foiled by guilty fear
 And strange events that late befell.

Nor you, my Attic audience deem
 That idle fancy framed the story,
Of two brave youths that grace my theme
 One sits with downcast eyes before ye.

Now Sirius raged — to every part
 From London beaux and belles repair
With all the sons of trade and art
 To taste the purer ocean-air.

With these a lawyer high in station
 Fatigued with probits, briefs and cases
Rode forth to spend the long vacation
 At Brighton, prime of watering places.

Arrived in search of board and bed
 He through the streets and alleys strayed
Till by his evil genius led
 He fixed on the Marine Parade.

For there was many a knight and squire
 And damsel gay, and courtly dame;
And there, to set the Steyne on fire
 The lovely young Emilia came.

In prime of health in beauty’s bloom,
 Oppressed with fancied pain and grief
She hoped the scene might chase the gloom,
 And yield her various woes relief.

So soft her soul, the tender fair
 With anguish viewed a drowning fly
Nor could the thought her bosom bear
 That pretty pig or lamb should die.

And if a spider chanced to roam
 Her fits the pitying guests surprise
And if a mouse forsake its home
 She fills the ambient air with cries.

But when the angry thunder rolled
 And vivid flashed the lightning blue
Her shrieks repeated scared the bold
 So loud and shrill her clamours grew.

Soon through her terror and her tears
 The lawyer saw the damsel’s arts
That all her grief and causeless fears
 Were snares to catch unwary hearts.

And pondering in his crafty thought,
 Deep schemes to tease the wretched maid
A youthful officer he sought
 With wicked speed, his plots to aid.

Not ladies think my tale untrue
 That foremost here the lawyer shone
For lawyers (let them have their due)
 Have ever been to mischief prone

Their plan arranged, the lawyer buys
 A phial of phosphoric fire
While to the stores, the soldier hies
 For hissing squibs and crackers dire.

With these the gallant pair designs
 At night the maiden to appall,
With dreadful prophecies, in lines
 Of lambent flame upon the wall.

And when chill fear had seized her soul
 The more her senses to astound
To bid the mimic thunder roll
 And nitrous lightnings stream around.

But mark the end, her guardian sprite
 Decreed their dreadful scheme to spoil,
And that the danger, shame, and fright
 Should on their caitiff heads recoil.

For creeping slow, in conscious fear
 As up the stairs the lawyer goes
He thinks approaching footsteps near
 And starting, down the bottle throws.

The phial breaks, aghast he stands
 Bereft of speech, in wild amaze
As o’er the carpet swift expands
 With fumes of noisome stench, the blaze

Meanwhile the soldier onward came,
 His pockets with combustion fraught,
Unconscious of the spreading flame
 Which soon his igneous cargo caught.

Bounce goes one pocket — Bounce the other —
 In terror down the soldier falls,
The fumes the caitiffs nearly smother
 And fear each guilty soul appalls.

Fie soldier fie — if in such fright
 At noise how great had been your dread,
If in the jeopardy of fight
 The balls had whizzed around your head.

Rise, valiant soldier rise, nor mind
 Your newest regimentals spoiled,
It is a common cause to find
 A man at his own weapons foiled.

“Fire,” cries the lawyer, “Water, fire.”
 And “Fire” the fallen soldier cries,
“Help, or in flames I shall expire,”
 He said, but never strove to rise.

Now from th’ adjacent rooms, a rout
 Of men and maids, and matrons fly,
“Fire, water, fire,” the ladies shout,
 “Fire, water, fire,” the knights reply.

The young, the old, the fat, the lean,
 Half-drest, half naked ran, and one
Brave chief who’d hotter service seen
 Without his leg came hopping on.

Meanwhile the hostess well aware,
 Her chairs and stools were uninsured
Flew swiftly down the kitchen stair
 And there a full fraught tub secured.

In that same vessel, just before
 The cook had cleaned her savoury dishes
And in solution now it bore,
 The scraps of flesh, and fowls, and fishes.

Half sinking with the weight she came,
 And struggling thro’ the motley crew —
She on the soldier, and the flame
 The tub and turbid water threw.

He cried, “I’m drowned, fried, roasted, boiled,”
 Which death the hero thought the worst
I know not, tho’ by phosphorus broiled
 I think he better liked the first.

Nor on the prostrate son of Mars
 Alone the greasy deluge fell
For thanks to his good-natured stars
 It all the lawyer drenched as well.

And dripping wet, a woeful sight
 Like to the grisly fiend he stands
That scares had boys at dead of night
 All smudged and scorched his face and hands.

And now extinguished is the fire
 And joy succeeds to wild dismay
And while its author all enquire
 His guilty looks the wretch betray.

With many a keen sarcastic sneer
 His case the motley circle mourn
And men and maids delighted hear
 The lawyer roasted in his turn.

And now the culprit more to vex
The hostess presses thro’ the crowd
His suppliant mien she little recks
But talks of damages aloud.

Constrained by fear and shame to yield
And eke to save his eyes and head
He plights his word, and from the field
The guests again retire to bed.

But how, amid the wondrous coil
Did lovely young Emilia fare
Did she not “wail and weep the while”
And “fill with cried the ambient air.”

Ah no, mid real ills the maid
Forgot the gracefull Art of Woe
And where the boldest were afraid
No fear uncommon seem’d to know.


Arcile 1810