The Reading Baker

A True Story

Where Kennet rolls his rapid wave
By our first Henry’s honour’d grave,
A baker lived, of honest fame.
His weight was never found to blame,
Nor yet had busy scandals said
Alum or gypsum marr’d his bread
Concealed the “sacred thirst” of pelf,
And long’d for days he might be taking
His bread without the pains of baking.

The tempter knows, as sages say
How best to seize his destined prey,
Nor now puts on the form of pleasure
Of flowing bowls or hidden treasure
But lurking mid St Giles’s tombs
A gravestone’s novel form assumes.
And from the hour they fixed his sight
The gravestones, flat, and smooth and white,
The baker haunt at noon or night.
Think not that he was emulous
Of fame or honours posthumous.
He sought them not to deck his grave,
No! t’was his new built oven to pave.
 So long these records there had laid
That none claim’d kindred with the dead.
Tho’ slept perchance, forgotten there
The wise, the valiant, and the fair.
Chiefs that with conquering William came,
And many a high-descended dame
Whose sprightly songs or radiant charms
Oft roused the brave to deeds of arms
And knights whose banners wont to shine
O’er the proud fields of Palestine.
The sculptured brass had long been torn
Th’ heroic names defaced and worn
So on one night of lovely June
When dimly shone the waning moon
And just enough was left of light
To guide the frequent strokes aright
Our baker plied his faithful spade,
And home at length his prize conveyed,
And little cared what terrors rose
In those who heard his frequent blows
Or wanderers who might chance to mark
The distant spectre, tall and dark,
But quite forgetting in his haste
To turn the gravestones that he placed.
Next week old Reading’s huswifes read
Strange legends on their sculptured bread.

A dame whose hypochondriac mind
Still sought for ills it could not find.
A skull and bones appalled — supine
She falls but hides the dreadful sign.
Another, mark of joy and grace
Smiles on a cherub’s lovely face.
A third amazed “Resurgam” read
And thus addressed the threat’ning bread.
“Lie still and quiet, I entreat thee!
Or think not I will dare to eat thee.
Emetic, if I wish to take a
I’ll ask the doctor, not the baker.
Tho’ here perchance the humour lies,
That thou in price alone shalt rise.”

Soon not confined to them alone
Enquiry rose and all was known.
And well the baker’s cheat repaid,
By loss of fame and waning trade.