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Short poem

Anna Lætitia Barbauld (1743-1825)

An Inventory of the Furniture in Dr. Priestley's Study

              1A map of every country known,
              2With not a foot to call his own.
              3A list of folks that kicked a dust
              4On this poor globe, from Ptol. the First;
              5He hopes,-- indeed it is but fair,--
              6Some day to get a corner there.
              7A group of all the British kings,
              8Fair emblem! on a packthread swings.
              9The Fathers, ranged in goodly row,
            10A decent, venerable show,
            11Writ a great while ago, they tell us,
            12And many an inch o'ertop their fellows.
            13A Juvenal to hunt for mottos;
            14And Ovid's tales of nymphs and grottos.
            15The meek-robed lawyers all in white;
            16Pure as the lamb,-- at least, to sight.
            17A shelf of bottles, jar and phial,
            18By which the rogues he can defy all,--
            19All filled with lightning keen and genuine,
            20And many a little imp he'll pen you in;
            21Which, like Le Sage's sprite, let out,
            22Among the neighbours makes a rout;
            23Brings down the lightning on their houses,
            24And kills their geese, and frights their spouses.
            25A rare thermometer, by which
            26He settles, to the nicest pitch,
            27The just degrees of heat, to raise
            28Sermons, or politics, or plays.
            29Papers and books, a strange mixed olio,
            30From shilling touch to pompous folio;
            31Answer, remark, reply, rejoinder,
            32Fresh from the mint, all stamped and coined here;
            33Like new-made glass, set by to cool,
            34Before it bears the workman's tool.
            35A blotted proof-sheet, wet from Bowling.
            36--"How can a man his anger hold in?"--
            37Forgotten rimes, and college themes,
            38Worm-eaten plans, and embryo schemes;--
            39A mass of heterogeneous matter,
            40A chaos dark, no land nor water;--
            41New books, like new-born infants, stand,
            42Waiting the printer's clothing hand;--
            43Others, a mottly ragged brood,
            44Their limbs unfashioned all, and rude,
            45Like Cadmus' half-formed men appear;
            46One rears a helm, one lifts a spear,
            47And feet were lopped and fingers torn
            48Before their fellow limbs were born;
            49A leg began to kick and sprawl
            50Before the head was seen at all,
            51Which quiet as a mushroom lay
            52Till crumbling hillocks gave it way;
            53And all, like controversial writing,
            54Were born with teeth, and sprung up fighting.

            55"But what is this," I hear you cry,
            56"Which saucily provokes my eye?"--
            57A thing unknown, without a name,
            58Born of the air and doomed to flame.


1] Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), clergyman, chemist, and discoverer of oxygen.

4] Ptolemy I, king of Egypt (died 283 BC).

9] The Fathers: of the universal (medieval) Catholic church.

13] Juvenal: Roman satirical poet (ca. 60-ca. AD 140).

14] Ovid's tales: Metamorphoses of Publius Ovidius Naso 43 BC-AD 17).

17] phial: vial, such as a Leyden jar, used for storing electricity.

21] Le Sage's sprite: René LeSage's Le Diable Boiteux (1707), dramatized by Samuel Foote in The Devil upon Two Sticks (1768; note from McCarty and Kraft's edition, p. 248): about the adventures of the devil Asmodeus.

29] olio: jumbled hodgepodge of materials.

35] Bowling: unidentified printer.

45] Cadmus' half-formed men: a story told in Ovid's Metamorphoses,III.88-123, about the founder of Thebes.

57] hydrogen, or perhaps (yet unrecognized at this time) oxygen.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, Volume I (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster-Row, 1825), pp. 55-58. PR 4057 B7 1825 v.1 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1825
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 4:2002/1/18

Composition date: 1771
Composition date note: summer (See McCarthy and Kraft)
Form: tetrameter couplets

Other poems by Anna Lætitia Barbauld