The Mouse and The Oyster

by DR. SAMUEL BOWDEN (active 1726-1771)

Occasion’d by a Mouse caught in an Oyster-Shell.
Wrote at the Command of the Right Honourable Lord Viscount WEYMOUTH.

Divina opici rodebant carmina Mures.

Let loftier pens the hero’s acts relate,
I sing the Mouse’s memorable fate;
Nor let a critic ear the theme refuse,
Immortal made by the Maeonian Muse.
‘Twas when the shades of night o’erspread the plain,
When bats, and fairies, mice, and meteors reign;

When lab’ring hinds forget the toils of day,
And Philomel begins her lonely lay;

A daring Mouse, that dauntless long defy’d
The various arts which Abigail had try’d,
His destin’d doom receiv’d,—for soon or late
Both Mice and Monarchs must submit to fate.

Oft was the moon with silver lustre crown’d,
Since the nocturnal vagrant march’d his round.
Soon as his foe, the sun, had took its flight,
Tript forth the little pyrate of the night;
With cautious tread,—secure from fell mishap,
Of tabby tyrant, or tremendous trap.

So from some port of Sallee, or Algier,
Their star-light course advent’rous corsairs steer,
Intent some bark, from Naples fraught, to seize,
Or some rich merchant from Levantine seas.
Still at the head of his rapacious clan,
He skipt from shelf to shelf, and pan to pan:
With nose sagacious snuffs the baited gin,
Wary and conscious of the snare within.

In vain the cook, alarm’d with frequent fear,
On shelves aloft conceals the daily geer:
Puddings in vain,—that smoak but once a week,
On cupboard high a sanctuary seek;
Vent’rous he storms the garrison sublime,
Or saps that closet which he cannot climb.

When pantry fails—books oft’ confess his rage,
And hungry ruin spreads from page to page.
The sacred theft here mangl’d bibles shew;
Here mystic Bunyan mourns, and there De-Foe.
Romances, riddles, tales of monks, and witches;
With songs of Robin Hood, and dying speeches.
Thus liv’d the wily Mouse on various prey,
Plunder’d all night, and slumber’d all the day.

When ruddy morn wak’d the more ruddy maid,
What scenes of ruin were around display’d!
Bright basons here in painted fragments lie,
And there the squallid relicks of a pie.
Oft’ in polluted loaves, aghast! she sees
Arch’d caverns yawn, and sepulchres of cheese.
Not more tremendous lookt the Cyclop’s den,
Or Cuma’s grot, describ’d by Maro’s pen.

But the lamented saucer grieves her most,
Whose brims blue letters in a circle boast:
That saucer, which her swain last rural wake
Gave her, adorn’d with motto, and with cake;
‘Twas then, with weeping eyes, revenge she swore,
And threw the last sad remnants on the floor;

Invok’d both Gods and Daemons in despair,
And mutter’d half a curse, and half a pray’r.
Not with less grief the Trojan heroes found
Their prostrate banquets scatter’d on the ground;
When from on high rapacious Harpys flew,
With claws obscene, and all the feast o’erthrew.

Thus long, unharm’d, the Epicure patrol’d,
And fearless o’er the silent mansions strol’d;
Luxurious nights in pleasing plunder past,
Nor wot that this was doom’d to be his last.
For now the time — the destin’d time, was sent;
So fate ordain’d, — and who can fate prevent?

Once more night’s shades involv’d the haunted house;
Once more from covert bolts the advent’rous Mouse,
As usual, ranging for nocturnal prey,
In some ill hour, he crept where Oysters lay.
The Fish, commission’d from the wat’ry throng,
With tegument of scaly armour strong,
Lay with expanded mouth — an horrid cell!
What pen the dire catastrophe can tell?

Stretcht on the shore, thus ready for surprize,
With jaws expanded, Nile’s dread monster lies.
Th’ insatiate thief, now fond of some new dish,
Explores the dark apartment of the fish;
Conscious of bearded touch, the Oyster fell,
And caught the head of caitiff in the shell.

In vain the victim labours to get free
From durance hard, and dread captivity:
Lockt in the close embrace—dire fate! he lies
In pillory safe—pants, struggles, squeaks, and dies.
Instructed thus—let Epicures beware,
Warn’d of their fate—nor seek luxurious fare.

But when the Cook beheld her foe confin’d,
O say what raptures fill’d her anxious mind?
What acclamations fill the joyful house?
What wond’ring crouds behold the captive Mouse?

Still hangs the shell—a monument sublime,
Safe where no boys can reach, no cats can climb:
Where ostrich-eggs, and birds presaging weather,
Dry’d herbs, dry’d hams, and halcyons swing together.

And when beneath the jovial master smoaks,
And cracks his nuts,—his bottles,—or his jokes,
This tale he tells, to grace the rescu’d Pie;
And to the trophy’d relic points on high.

Samuel Bowden was a physician at Frome, Somersetshire, known as “The Poet of Frome.” It is believed he was the brother of Presbyterian minister, John Bowden. Dr. Bowden was commissioned to write this poem by Thomas Thynne, the 2nd Viscount of Weymouth, after seeing the skeleton of a mouse inside an oyster shell on display in a museum. The poem was later parodied in The Oxford Sausage, using the same “Aesop fable style” title, as well as certain lines like “both Mice and Monarchs must submit to fate.”

Dr. Bowden’s exact years of birth and death are not known; however, “The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Eighteenth-Century Writers and Writing 1660 – 1789” lists him as being active from 1726, so he must have been born at least 20 years earlier. This particular poem was written in 1736.

Samuel Bowden Contemporaries
Jonathan Swift
Thomas Warton
Gilbert Elliot
Thomas Gray

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