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THE TASK. BOOK I.

THE SOFA.

ARGUMENT.

HISTORICAL deduction of seats, from the stool to the sofa. A schoolboy's ramble. A walk in the country. The scene described. Rural sounds as well as sights delightful. Another walk.

Mistake concerning the charms of solitude corrected. Colonnades commended. Alcove, and the view from it. The wilderness. The grove. The thresher. The necessity and the benefits of exercise. The works of nature superior to, and in some instances inimitable by, art. The wearisomeness of what is commonly called a life of pleasure. Change of scene sometimes expedient. A common described, and the character of crazy Kate introduced. Gipsies. The blessings of civilized life. That state most favourable to virtue. The South Sea islanders compassionated, but chiefly Omai. His present state of mind supposed. Civilized life friendly to virtue, but not great cities. Great cities, and London in particular, allowed their due praise, but censured. Fête champêtre. The book coucludes with a reflection on the effects of dissipation and effeminacy upon our public measures.

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THE TASK. BOOK I.

THE SOFA.

I sing the sofa. I who lately sang
Truth, Hope, and Charity,* and touch'd with awe
The solemn chords, and with a trembling hand,
Escaped with pain from that adventurous flight,
Now seek repose upon an humbler theme;
The thème though humble, yet august and proud
The occasion for the Fair commands the song.

Time was, when clothing sumptuous or for use,
Save their own painted skins, our sires had none.
As yet black breeches were not; satin smooth,
Or velvet soft, or plush with shaggy pile :
The hardy chief upon the rugged rock,
Wash'd by the sea, or on the gravelly bank
Thrown up by wintry torrents roaring loud,
Fearless of wrong, reposed his weary strength.
Those barbarous ages past, succeeded next
The birthday of Invention; weak at first,
Dull in design, and clumsy to perform.
Joint-stools were then created; on three legs
Upborne they stood. Three legs upholding firm

* See Poems, vol. i.

A massy slab, in fashion square or round.
On such a stool immortal Alfred sat,
And sway'd the sceptre of his infant realms :
And such in ancient halls and mansions drear
May still be seen ; but perforated sore,
And drill'd in holes, the solid oak is found,
By worms voracious eating through and through.

At length a generation more refined
Improved the simple plan; made three legs four,
Gave them a twisted form vermicular,
And o'er the seat, with plenteous wadding stuff'd,
Induced a splendid cover, green and blue,
Yellow and red, of tapestry richly wrought
And woven close, or needlework sublime.
There might ye see the piony spread wide,
The full blown rose, the shepherd and his lass,
Lapdog and lambkin with black staring eyes,
And parrots with twin cherries in their beak.

Now came the cane from India, smooth and bright With Nature's varnish; sever'd into stripes, That interlaced each other, these supplied Of texture firm a lattice work, that braced The new machine, and it became a chair. But restless was the chair; the back erect Distress'd the weary loins, that felt no ease; The slippery seat betray'd the sliding part That press’d it, and the feet hung dangling down, Anxious in vain to find the distant floor. These for the rich; the rest, whom Fate had placed In modest mediocrity, content

With base materials, sat on well tann’d hides,
Obdurate and unyielding, glassy smooth,
With here and there a tuft of crimson yarn,
Or scarlet crewel, in the cushion fix'd,
If cushion might be call’d, what harder seem’d
Than the firm oak of which the frame was form’d.
No want of timber then was felt or fear'd
In Albion's happy isle. The lumber stood
Ponderous and fix'd by its own massy weight.
But elbows still were wanting; these, some say,
An alderman of Cripplegate contrived;
And some ascribe the invention to a priest,
Burly and big, and studious of his ease.
But rude at first, and not with easy slope
Receding wide, they press'd against the ribs,
And bruised the side; and, elevated high,
Taught the raised shoulders to invade the ears.
Long time elapsed or e'er our rugged sires
Complain'd, though incommodiously pent in,
And ill at ease behind. The ladies first
'Gan murmur, as became the softer sex.
Ingenious Fancy, never better pleased
Than when employ'd to accommodate the fair,
Heard the sweet moan with pity, and devised
The soft settee; one elbow at each end,
And in the midst an elbow it received,
United yet divided, twain at once.
So sit two kings of Brentford on one throne ;
And so two citizens, who take the air,
Close pack'd, and smiling, in a chaise and one.

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