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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

The Canterbury Gilpin. — First Part

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The Canterbury Gilpin.

First Part.

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The prowess of the snorting steed,
And skilful charioteer,
Since Troy besieged has been a theme,
The muses have held dear.

Dear to the muse, and dear to man,
The horse race leads the way
In all our sports, since man and horse
Combine in the display.

Pedestrian sports of every kind
Must take a second place;
These lack the double charm that gives
Excitement to the race.

And hence through all the range of time,
Whenever sports are sung,
Equestrian games, if there at all,
Come first the lyre to tune.

Though honour's his whose pen portrays
The athlete's strength and speed,
His subject rises if he mounts
His hero on a steed.

page 9

So doubtless they that saw so thought,
When first the untamed horse,
Some savage rode across the Steppe,
Scarce guiding well its course.

So think we in the present day,
When horse and horseman's trained
To such perfection, that it seems
No more can be attained.

The highest of our honours we
Must with the steed divide;
And if a hero would be great,
That hero, he must ride.

In modern times when high-trained bloods
The Derby do contest,
Rider and horse, with equal pride,
Stand ranged within the list.

The thousands upon thousands there,
All babelous yet intent,
Decide beforehand, right or wrong,
How ends the great event.

A signal given. And no more
May one his neighbour see;
And eyes there are that watch the course
With fierce intensity,

Noting the varying chance that first
May this or that horse place;
While hope or fear, in many breasts,
Rides yet a keener race.

And now the horse and rider keen
Are one in this; they aim
To keep the vantage they have got,
Or vantage ground to gain.

page 10

Like drifting clouds before a gale,
Around the course they fly;
Or like an eagle on the wing
That cleaves the nether sky;

While sways the crowd as if impelled,
Like waves, beneath the blast,
That break upon a rocky beach,
Yet cannot sink to rest.

The race must end, and then, O then!
Surges excitement's tide!
'Tis run, and lost, and won, and quick
The news spreads far and wide.

Whether in chariot we would ride,
With Nestor's skilful son;
Or from a vantage ground behold
The latest Derby won;

Alike we join a noted race.
How many he between,
Sung and unsung, I may not tell,
Since such is not my theme.

These for a trophy strive; much more
Must horse and rider strain
To reach the goal, when life's the prize,
They struggle to retain.

For then no longer 'tis in sport;
The race is changed in kind,
Not only is the prize in front,
The penalty's behind.

Such fearful rides must form a theme
For every country's muse—
A living foe, the flames, the flood,
From these we pick and choose.

page 11

And scarce a poet's page we turn,
But that we find the ride
Of some great hero is the point
Where centres all his pride.

John Gilpin rode a noble race,
Though 'twas in fable sung;
And all have read of Tarn's famed ride
Across the "Brig O'Doon."

And later still, we all have rode
With brave young Lochinvar;
These, and Mazeppa's dreadful ride
A few examples are.

And yet another famous race
Is waiting to be sung,—
A race in some respects unique,
That lately hath been run,—

This race began in Christchurch town,
The reader will not doubt;
Though where it ended has not been
So easy to make out.

He who knows best is reticent
When friends do him implore;
And if a friend should say "I know,"
But holds his tongue the more.

Yet it leaked out, as those things will,
Which fondly we would hide,
Though where and how, for reasons grave,
We will not now decide.

A Gilpin might my hero prove,
I hoped, that hope was vain;
Too surely must I cast my verse
In quite another strain,

page 12

Since more Mazeppa-like my tale,
Save that we lack the maid;
Nor did our hero back return
With fierce revengeful blade.

Yet from the wild the steed untamed,
Like Byron's far famed horse,
Was brought, and showed in limb and frame,
Fleetness, endurance, force.

Amid the mountains of the west,
Far from the dun brown plain,
The Alpy giants upward soar,
And send afar their fame.

These constant winter mantles white
With ever deepening snow,
Relieved but by the avalanche,
Or silent glacier's flow.

Ages untold those heights have stood,
And watched the Ocean eat
Or yield again the lower lands,
That mantle round their feet.

Calmly they watched old Neptune thus
Waging remorseless war,
Unthinking that his stolen spear
Should yet repulse his car.

The winds from Neptune's steaming brow
Waft to the low-lands rain;
But solid ice now piles the slopes
Of all the mountain chain.

The glacier ever swelling still
To greater length attains;
With carried Titan loads once more
It reinstates the plains.

page 13

And fiery Vulcan still maintained
The never ending store
Of stony wreck, which, east and west,
Drove the retreating shore.

Yet who shall wage a ceaseless war,
Nor suffer from its rage?
The mountains stand, yet paid the price
Of the great glacier age.

We reap the benefit, and till
The hot-contested plain;
And looking westward, we may thank
The mountains for our gain.

(Heaven grant this gain may be assured
To those who till the soil,
That their just rights may be maintained,
Whose hands are hard with toil).

The arsenals, that yielded forth
Munitions for the fray,
Show what the struggle was, and is,
In places to this day.

Yet still where once the rigid rocks
Were by the ice-mass worn
Lies many a vale with verdure bless'd,
Which trees and shrubs adorn.

A mountain torrent, rushing o'er
Its rugged stony bed,
Leaves, first on this side then on that,
Green glades with flowers o'erspread.

The mountain spurs, now dark with wood,
Do shelter and divide
The level ground, which, thus embayed,
Strange forms of life doth hide.

page 14

In every vale—and many they—
These fairy glades abound,
And thence they lead to wider fields
Where freer scope is found.

But still the watch-towers pierce the air,
As in the days of yore;
And still the glaciers slowly glide,
And avalanches roar.

This was the native region of
The steed our hero rode;
But not a sire of his had seen
A bridle or been shod.

Where Browning's Pass 'mid snow divides
An Alp on either hand,
The royal brood from which he sprang
Roamed free o'er all the land.

And still, as fable tells he did,
He might have eaten air
In freedom, but in evil hour
He fell into a snare.

Yet, with a soul above deceit,
Suspicion was not his,
The shackles, bound upon his legs,
Half pleased, were half a quiz.

The smile upon his captor's face
That broadened to a grin,
Indexed alone an honest heart,
As it was read by him.

From hence, the wonder of the age
Was straight conveyed to town,
A princely Moa in the flesh,
A bird of great renown.

page 15

Now Rumor runs and Fable rides—
What steed so fleet as they?
And far and wide electric wires
The startling news convey.

'Twas said a mountain had brought forth;
Only one truth was said,
That S-, the famous Nimrod, had
A princely capture made.

And soon the news was brought to town,
Which slumbering peaceful lay:—
"The latest wonder of the world
Will be in town to-day,

To-morrow at the latest;" and
(As fire takes the town),
Echo the tale repeated, till
By all the news was known.

Uprose the town in raptures, and
Many a busy brain
So turned the shapeless story o'er,
That it told fresh again.

And so the captor and the prize
Still in importance grew,
Till some began to wonder if
The tale was really true.

* * *

Amid tall trees, a spacious pile
The country's treasures hides;
Treasures of time, whose use for us
A Savant great decides.

The noisy news, spread o'er the town,
Soon reached the Savant here;
He shook his head, he stroked his beard,
And stood 'twixt hope and fear.

page 16

But credence pressed him, till at last
He hailed the news as true;
And soon he acted. His clear head
Saw quickly what to do.

The fleetest horse that Christchurch held
Was soon at his command.
Give, said he to his messenger,
Whatever they demand.

And so was sold the wingless bird,
That hath a world-wide fame;
To Science known but by its bones,
But yet well known by name.

Just when yon snowclad pyramid
Seemed to devour the sun,
The long expected then arrived,
Two Moas? No! but one.

A fair round sum was given to
Its captors to divide.
It passed to other hands, a prize
He gloried to describe.

Long had this subject vexed the wise,
Were Moas still extant;
With such a proof before his eyes,
Could more the sceptic want?

Some senseless ass describes the last
In agonizing throe,
While murdered by a savage horde,
Ten thousand years ago.

Yet here is proof that wiser brains
Construed and read aright,
That Moas lived to present times
On plain and mountain height.

page 17

Of such were thousands in the land,
Since last these isles arose,
'Mid fiery strife, from Ocean's bed,
Upheaved 'mid earthquake throes.

Back to the misty Miocene,
Along the page of time,
We read the history of the race
Which we Dinornis name.

When chilly death grasped every height,
Ere the wide plain was seen,
Despite the rigour of the clime,
They braved the Pliocene.

E're Man, their last relentless foe,
Had barbed his shaft with stone,
This feathered race had seen its prime,
Its youth had come and gone.

Now Maori hunted, o'er the hills
Fell old and young the same.
Hunger spared not the germs of life,
The nest it yielded them.

Craft with a thousand subtle schemes
Led persecution on.
There came a day, long past it seems,
The race no more was known.

The fastness of the desert wild
The savage had not dared,
To future times, but all unknown,
A remnant yet had spared.

And now another race of men
Appeared upon the scene;
And Savants groping through the past
Saw dimly what had been.

page 18

But facts too oft took colour from
A brain-disordered sight
And so opinion grouped itself,
Around two points of light.

Two schools maintained a common plea,
But differed on this fact:—
Fell the last Moa only now,
Or fifty centuries back.

And other pleas that rose from this
Did complicate the strife;
Nor cooled its ardour, till it looked
Like war, war to the knife.

So shifts and so returns the field,
To where the fight began;
And now the Moa is discussed,
Now Palaeolithic Man.

Blows stoutly dealt on either side
Made printer's devils groan,
And puzzled many an honest wight
Who shared the fight at home.

Exhaustion brought a treacherous lull;
No truce was in the calm;
Each watched his foeman's weakest point,
And did the victory claim.

And now the hour of triumph's come;
Contention's bone is here;
The prize has fallen to the truth,
For truth has naught to fear.

By what strange chance should it be thus?
Or what kind fortune threw
The prize within the fittest hands
Of all the knowing few?

page 19

This first of living Moas seen
By savant or by hind,
Though taken as their average type,
Would not have shamed his kind.

Proudly, not sixteen hands but feet,
His head rose in the air;
His limbs were lithe, yet wondrous strength
Was plainly seated there.

His levelled back and arching neck
Shewed grace in every line;
His head was beauty in itself,
His eye a diamond mine.

No gaudy plumage needed he
To drape his majesty;
So nature, ever true to taste,
Clothed him in sober gray.

No gauds or ornaments enhance
What's noble in itself;
When nature smiled, for other forms
She kept her bright-hued wealth.

See, as befits those sinewy legs,
What armature is there,
Laid on with the profoundest skill,
That comes of subtle care.

Set free and in his native wild,
O what a sight to see!
Though nature gave not wings for flight,
Few birds so swift as he.

Who at a bound might reach his back,
An athlete must be trained;
A Moa horse! no saddle-flap
His plumage yet had stained.

page 20

O such a horse, and who shall ride?
Or who shall worthy be?
Or who shall dare? let him who dares,
Well to his trappings see.

To ride a moa like a horse,
Well, the idea charms;
I hail the fields of pure romance,
And here my fancy warms.

Fiction outstrips the truth; Ah, no!
This notion was not mine,
And I must yet contented write
The truth in every line.

Delighted since, at last, he had,
A living moa found;
Sudden a thought possessed the Sage,
That he would ride 'it round,

That folk might see the noble bird
For which their money went;
And so a special riding rig
Was from the saddler's sent

The day arrived, the hour was near,
And crowds assemble round
The portal of the wide Domain,
Where this strange steed stood bound.

And Christchurch had a holiday
To witness the event;
From all the bells, o'er all the town,
So norous joy was sent.

Her Sages met not to debate,
Nor to have honour done,
But this to do, to honour him
Who had their chief become.

page 21

The heroes of the Sumner Cave
Were foremost in the throng;
They bore the brunt of all the strife,
And set right what was wrong.

When dared a filching nondescript
To steel a march on them,
With dignity they did assert
Their so-called rights again.

And now they held a blazing shield
Unspotted to the light,
And if a fly dared light thereon,
They slew the parasite.

Beneath the roof, where doth the pride
Of former ages lie;
They have assembled, here was brought
The Moa. Ask not why.

Yet if thou never hast beheld
The relics of this kind
That Glenmark yielded here set up;
See these, and pleasure find.

And now the living Moa stood
Amid his kindred's bones,
While his huge frame was close compared,
Adding insult to wrongs.

(Man arrogantly doth conclude,
That he alone respects
The relics of his kind when dead;
But mercy this suspects.)

Of Didiformis, first a leg,
Was 'gainst his own compared;
And the due ratio of its size
Was by the Sage declared.

page 22

See how, he cried, the South hath erred,
And how withouten fail
My theory holds, long since I saw
What now these facts entail.

Then Owen's monograph was spread,
And soon he pointed where
The due proportion was defined,
With an exactness rare.

The multiple, diameter,
And length are not the same;
And, by this rule, 'tis needful that
This gets another name.

Then cried the Sage, "with wider scope
This law applied to man
Might point distinctions, where we group
The huge and small the same.

Well could I love to think myself
Of species quite distinct
From yonder dwarf, whose gainless form
Shows the misshapen imp."

Affinity and homologue,
With many kindred terms,
Are freely used as this great man
Upon his subject warms.

The smile of those around repayed
His anxious care to please;
But are our pleasures always such
As give our neighbours ease.

Then for a contrast Gracilis
And Gravis were arrayed;
Palapteryx ingens then was next
Against our bird displayed.

page 23

Next Elephantopus for strength,
And Maximus for size
(Nor saw they that a watery flood
Swam in the Moa's eyes.

Our freedom lost, yet if caressed
We slavery might bear;
But disregard of all we feel
Makes ev'n the meekest dare.

A tyrant does not always use
The obvious forms of power;
Sneering he smiles, nor thinks his smile
Brings the avenging hour.

We were not born but to be free,
And each restraint that chains
The free impulse that springs of right,
Adds misery to our pains.

Nature will not allow a man
To yield his right for ever;
Nor can he crush his free-born soul
That still its bonds would sever.

Not on our fellow man alone
We tyranny deplore;
The Moa felt this in his heart,
And so his eyes ran o'er.

Yet for himself not all his grief,
But what his eyes had seen,
(The sacrilege upon his kind)
Yet more afflicted him.

Then they in triumph led him forth
For wonder and display;
And loud and long the people cheered
The bird in trappings gay.

page 24

A feathered biped for a steed
The Savant had bestrode,
And sixteen stone of flesh and blood
Were sure sufficient load.

At length the gates were open flung,
And issued forth the pair;
The lion-hearted rider's pride
The sages round did share.

But the poor bird was in a plight,
Guarded lest he should run,
And hobbled too that safely so
The journey might be done.

First the procession did
proceed The city streets about;
And that the show was wondrous rare
There could be little doubt.

Up Cashel street, Colombo street,
With slow and stately pace,
A royal ride; the rider smiled
With condescending grace.

Below, the pavements overflowed As pressed
the crowd along;
From window high and balcony,
Beauty with smiles looked on.

Peeled yet again the bells, and throats
Ten thousand rent the air,
And proudly thus our hero rode,
To halt in Market square.

End of First Part.