THE QUADRUPEDS' PIC-NIC
LONDON WILLIAM PICKERING 1840
C. Whittingham, Tooks Court, Chancery Lane.
The "Quadrupeds' Pic-Nic" is a very humble imitation of Mrs. Dorset's "Peacock at Home." Even in my imitation I find I am not original. The Quadrupeds, it appears, have already had an "Elephants' Ball," and a "Lions' Masquerade."
F. B. C.
THE QUADRUPEDS' PIC-NIC.
No doubt you have heard how the grasshoppers' feasts "Excited the spleen of the birds and the beasts;" How the peacock and turkey "flew into a passion," On finding that insects "pretended to fashion." Now, I often have thought it exceedingly hard, That nought should be said of the beasts by the bard; Who, by some strange neglect, has omitted to state That the quadrupeds gave a magnificent fete; So, out of sheer justice I take up my pen, To tell you the how, and the where, and the when.
The place which they chose was a wild chestnut ground, (And many such spots in the new world are found,) Where the evergreen oak and the cucumber trees Rear aloft their tall branches, and wave in the breeze; Where the hickory, cypress, and cabbage-tree grow, And shade the sweet flowers that blossom below; And the creepers and vines form a beautiful sight, As they climb the tall shaft, and hang down from a height; Or they mix with the long pendant moss which is found Growing high on the branches, yet touching the ground: From amidst the dark foliage the mocking-birds sing, Or mimic the hum of the honey-bees' wing, As they whirl round a flower enjoying the feast, So unsparingly spread for bird, insect, or beast. From afar the bald eagle is seen in the sky, Now darting below, and now soaring on high; Now he takes from the fish-hawk his newly caught prey, And with speed to the forest he bears it away; Whilst the wood is alive with a feathery throng, Who from morning till night fill the air with their song. On one side is the lake where the wild cattle drink, And trample the rice which grows wild on its brink; The freshness untouch'd of earth's beauties declare, Neither pride, pomp, nor envy, have ever been there; Here Nature resides—nothing human is seen; Foot of man hath not pass'd o'er that prairie I ween, Unless some few wandering Indians have pass'd— Of their sorrowing tribe perhaps nearly the last.
I should fail to describe in a picturesque manner The splendid repose of that grassy Savanna; Tall shadows swept out from the forest of pine, } The site was a fair one, the weather so fine, } That even a quadruped thought it divine. }
To this wild grassy spot, on the long look'd for day, Merry parties of beasts made the best of their way; There were bears, long and short-legg'd, black, brown, grey, and white, From different parts, to enjoy the fine sight. The polar bear came in a sledge, and she said That the journey had caused a sharp pain in her head: For, although well protected from snout to her tail, She thought she had got a slight "coup-de-soleil;" So she hastily called for a gallon of ice, Which a monkey in waiting served up in a trice. Then the jaguar, the couguar, and fierce Ocelot, And Sir Hans Armadillo, who came at full trot, Brother Jonathan Beaver, escaped from the trappers, Sloth, Tortoise, and Dormouse, notorious nappers. That beau, the musk-Ox, with his long scented hair, And John Bull just arrived on his travels, were there; Messrs. Martin, Hare, Squirrel, the Ermine, and Stoat, And the rock-mountain sheep, with his cousin, the goat; Then the sociable marmot, and tiny shrew mouse, The raccoon and agouti from hollow-tree house. Chinchilla the soft, musk and Canada rats, Hounds, mastiffs, wolves, foxes, and wild tiger cats; Jerboa just roused from his long winter nap, Opossum, with four little babes in her lap. The morse, seal, and otter—amphibious group! And of bisons (the humpbacked) there came a whole troop. It seems that the elk out of pride staid away, Having just shed his horns, which he does about May. The fallow and red-deer were gone to a lick, With a numerous party, who thought themselves sick; But the antelope, stag, and the Wapiti deer, Notwithstanding the age of the latter, were there. The Esquimaux dogs, red, white, brindled, and black, Who, for fear of the wolves, had arrived in a pack, Were not heard to speak in the course of the day, And were thought by the rest "to have nothing to say." But if they were silent, 'twas clear they could growl, And on meeting the wolf, gave a wild dismal howl; For although 'twas supposed they were slightly connected, In quarrels and fights they'd been often detected; Though 'tis true, all dislikes for this day were forbidden, Yet mutual antipathies could not be hidden. Noble horses of Spanish extraction there came, The chief of whose party was terribly lame; For it seems that in one of his frolicsome scampers, Beneath a hot sun in the wide spreading Pampas, By the rich purple fruit of the Cactus allured, And feeling a thirst that could not be endured, He approach'd it to eat, but his nose was not proof Against the sharp thorns, so he struck with his hoof, When they pierced his bare foot, and so now he limp'd in With his fetlock bound up in a garter-snake's skin: The vampire-bat, surgeon, now offered to bleed it, In case as he thought his poor patient would need it; And added, at least it could do him no harm To try his specific, the juice of the palm.
From the South came the puma, American lion, Of the old house of Leo degenerate scion. The tapir, and also that excellent diver, Alligator, or Cayman, from Amazon river; And with him the Llama, whose sad trick of spitting Was thought by the company very unfitting. But, to shorten my tale, all the New World were there, From the tiny shrew mouse to the fierce grisly bear; Though it seems that the peccary was not invited, For he as a nuisance had just been indicted. From the Old World, the lion and tiger with glee Would have join'd them, but dreaded the journey by sea.
Beneath some fine trees, on the beautiful green, A knot of philosophers was to be seen Looking gravely about, and conversing together; Some on learning and science, and some on the weather. Dr. Mole on geology talk'd in high strain, And declared his researches had not been in vain, And that many geologists would have been glad To have found opportunities such as he had; For whilst searching for food in his underground travel, Midst fossils, roots, shells, hid in chalk, sand, or gravel, He the monstrous remains of great mammoths had seen, Who no longer existed, but who once had been; "The theories about them are various," said he, "As to how they came there, and what they may be; But not one of these I incline to receive, For that they were elephants, who can believe? There was one Mr. Cuvier, who talk'd of the sloth, But to listen to nonsense like this I am loth; From the strength of their limbs, and the make of their paws, From the shape of their bodies, and length of their claws, I am firmly convinced they're related to me, And to this all philosophers ought to agree; For how could such creatures have got into holes, Unless, ('tis my theory,) they had been moles?" He ceased, then just turn'd his diminutive eyes, First round to the company, then to the skies, And receiving applause from all who sate round, He threw up his hill, and escaped underground. Signor Greyhound, a foreigner, talk'd of the swamps, Of the ague and fever, both caused by the damps; Then quickly proceeded the climate to quiz, And exclaim'd, "In Italia we've nothing of this!"
Mr. Hog said that he had sent over his daughter To England, to have all the sciences taught her; And learned she was, all the world must allow, For the Savants pronounced her a wonderful sow. She was heard to grunt forth an unwilling apology, For daring to boast of her skill in Nosology, And presuming to hint what a dab she'd been found, At extracting the root, whether square root, or round.
Some beavers complain'd of that biped call'd man, Who does to their race all the harm that he can, Some of whom, not long since, came to kidnap and pillage The whole of their neighbouring water-bound village, And they guess'd the snake-Indians caught many a score, To stew down the tails for their great Sagamore.
The hedgehog, who always lies snug in his nest, Till his fourfooted neighbours betake them to rest, Now changed his old custom for once in a way, Unroll'd his warm nose, and came forth in the day. He sought for the cow, and implored the good dame Would find out some means to restore his fair fame, For there still was prevailing a cruel belief That oft in the night he came forth as a thief; So he lived in continual danger and strife, Though he never had tasted her milk in his life. On the faith of a hedgehog he dared to affirm, That he seldom found courage to injure a worm. Mrs. Cow was astonish'd; she never had heard A report more untrue, a belief so absurd. She urged that his mouth was too little by half To steal the sweet milk that she meant for Miss Calf; And concluded by saying, "'Tis surely enough To mention (excuse me) your coat is so rough, If even supposing that you should not fear me, I never could suffer your skin to come near me."
An old porcupine, too, just begg'd leave to observe, That reports had been spread which he did not deserve; To say he was "fretful," was using him ill, He would prove the reverse to his very last quill; Though he now bristled up at the simple idea, This was often, with him, but a symptom of fear. As he spoke, a poor toad, who had sate quite aloof In a hovel of earth, with a stone for a roof, Now slowly, on tiptoe, crept out of his hole, And into the midst of the company stole; The quadrupeds gazed as the reptile drew nigh, Half afraid of his looks, though they could not tell why. Mouse's hair stood on end, and, still stranger to say, Miss Chameleon changed colour, and fainted away. Poor bufo confess'd, as he sate in the dark, He had listen'd to porcupine's brilliant remark, And had thought it was due to himself and posterity, T' expose a new case of the poets' temerity. The poets, who kindly, but falsely, had said, That he carried a beautiful gem in his head; A jewel he thought would be quite out of place, With his rustic brown coat, and his sallow green face, And he knew not how people could think it was true, Unless they had seen him when spangled with dew. His Surinam friend could they possibly mean, Who carried her little ones set in her skin. Those alone were the jewels his friend ever wore, Like Cornelia's, the good Roman matron of yore. Having stated the case with regard to attire, He said, with some warmth, that he did not spit fire: And he ask'd why the wise ones omitted to hint Where he carried his tinder, his steel, and his flint: That his time was more usefully spent, he might say, In chasing the vagrants and spectres away. Every member of reptile society knew That of insects and grubs he destroy'd not a few: His wife had just miss'd a huge pioneer spider, Who fled to his home, and then rudely defied her, And e'en bang'd his door in her face to deride her.
The marmot was "tchatting" away without end, With a burrowing owl, his old neighbour and friend, Who, being a bird in whom marmot confided, Had hired his cottage, in which he resided. The landlord just hinted, that when he lived there, He had kept the old hovel in charming repair; The walls neatly mended, the parlour swept clean, And never a cobweb nor grain to be seen; But that now this once pleasant and rural retreat, By his tenant, the owl, was no longer kept neat; That the little round chamber, and long slanting hall, For the want of attention, were likely to fall; Such a mess and confusion he could but deplore, And he thought, at the least, she might plaster the floor, Just turn out of doors all the shells of her eggs, And those heaps of dried beetles' and butterflies' legs. The poor owl, who spoke well in the prairie-dog tongue, Now found an excuse, in the care of her young; Alleged the hard times; that is, beetles were few, So to find them in food she had plenty to do.
The raccoon stood apart in a beautiful glade, Much disturb'd by the noise that the company made, And there with a friend he stay'd fretting and pining, To hear such a bellowing, howling, and whining. "Oh! those red-monkeys' shrieks," his old friend would begin, "Niagara surely don't make such a din; Let us get in this tree, 'tis the squirrel's old barn, And (as Captain Seal says) I'll there spin a yarn. I awoke very early to come to this feast, Ere the sun warm'd the top of that hill in the east, And forth from my lodging proceeded to creep, For the wild turkey's 'gobble' had broken my sleep. Then I climb'd some tall maize plants, and ate up the ears, And enjoy'd the repast, notwithstanding my fears; For great is my awe of the red Indian's gun, And I thought I had caught a slight glimpse of one. I saw, too, a rattlesnake creeping hard by, And heard his tail clatter, and mark'd his red eye. He coil'd himself up, for he spied me right soon, And was wishing, no doubt, for a bit of raccoon; Then, thinking the risk of a rifle in truth, Was better by far than his poisonous tooth, I hasten'd away from the much dreaded place, That I might not be coil'd in his slimy embrace. I rambled along to our nook in the beach, And swallow'd the oysters that lay within reach. Then traversed in haste the Savanna so wide, Till I found the tall pine where you usually hide. Then I scamper'd away o'er the Indigo fields, Soon pass'd the old maple, (what sugar it yields!) I travell'd along to the cabbage-palm quay, Turn'd short by the far-spreading tall tulip tree. Through forest and plain, and through dark dismal swamp, And lighted alone by the firefly's lamp, Which, fluttering around me, now here and now there, Rings of gold to my fancy seem'd form'd in the air, Till now at the brink of the lake I arrive, Reconnoitre the spot, and prepare for a dive, Then plunged in the water, and over I swam, Quickly climb'd the green bank, and so now here I am!
"But I will not detain you with tales of the north, Of the riches and beauties that nature brings forth; I should fail in describing what flowers abound, Rhododendrons and kalmias empurpling the ground; How the laurels' gay berries, of deep coral red, Hang far out from their cones on a bright silver thread; How white lilies, azalias, enliven the green, But will speak of the south, which will vary the scene.
"The Puma, the Llama, and tapir elate, Tell their tales of the Mexican gardens and state; That in midst of a lake those bright swimming isles float, Which are paddled about like a raft or a boat; Then they boast of the flowers, the pepper, and maize, And give one accounts of the natives' strange ways: If a man be annoy'd by his neighbour, they say, He will take his plantation and row it away. The trees are luxuriant, the mora, whose size Fills the wanderer's mind with delight and surprise; The ebony, green-heart, and letter-wood tree, The locust and parasite fig you may see; On the Concourite's branch Ara parrots assemble, Whose blue and red feathers the rainbow resemble. There the trumpeter's sounds and the goatsucker's moans Are mistaken sometimes for the dying man's groans: And faintly is heard near the Essequibo The sad 'whip-poor-will,' and the 'willy-come-go.'"
Here a seal shuffled up, and, just waving his fin, Requested permission a word to put in. "Though the beauties of plain and of forest you know, Yet who can describe all the wonders below? On a soft bed of sponge in the deep sea I lie, And watch the huge shark and the grampus glide by; Or amidst groves of coral I play at bo-peep, Or I float where the porpoise and flying-fish leap. I have seen the thin nautilus trimming her sail, And the Geyser-like waterspout made by the whale; To this lord of the ocean there clung a whole bevy Of parasite barnacles waiting his 'levee.' I have seen the small soldier-crab coated in red, With the shell of a whelk for a home overhead; And the limpet, who, cased in a house of his own, Shuts out all the air, and sticks fast to a stone; And the fights of the quarrelsome swordfish and shark, Which have lasted from morning until it was dark.
"Bright clusters of zoophite flowers I've seen, Sea anemonies, purple, red, orange, and green, That with petal-like fingers waylay the small fry Who gaze on their hues, but gaze only to die; Like the flower that buries a fly in its cup, They draw in their feelers, and swallow them up. One day, after lingering long in that place, The cuttlefish spurted some ink in my face, As it enter'd my eyes, for a time I was blind, From a fish with three hearts this was very unkind.
"In the course of my travels I often have seen Th' effects of the dreadful electric machine; Of the gymnotus eel, with one stroke of his tail He would make the stout African elephant quail, Or the heart of the horny rhinoceros quake, Oh! may he ne'er visit this land or this lake. The small swimming spider, with silky lined cell, I have seen her manoeuvre her own diving-bell. They are endless the wonders of shallow and deep, But I spare you the list, you are falling asleep."
The rest of the party amused themselves well, Seeking insects and fruits in each dingle and dell: Some stroll'd in the shade, others bask'd in the sun, Whilst some with the cubs had a good game of fun. The much injured hedgehog was hunting for plants, The ant-bears, both greater and lesser, caught ants; With their long slimy tongues hanging out from the mouth, Though they thought they preferr'd the great grubs of the south. Some traced out the store of the wild honey-bee, Hoarded up in the trunk of an old hollow tree, Then but sparingly tasted, although it was good, Being told by their dams it was dangerous food. The sloths, two and three toed, were hardly awake; The fox caught his tail, and the Caiman a snake, Which was wriggling along to a lark's low-built nest, To tear the soft young from the mother's warm breast. The sheep and the cow, in apparent dejection, Were quietly chewing the cud of reflection. The cavies and ermines were running a race, Armadillo was off to a grasshopper chace. The cat was surprised to see animals roam, And she purr'd when she thought of her kitten at home.
Report said, a puppy got into a scrape, By making remarks on the walrus's shape, On her great staring eyes, and her ugly thick lips, Her small head, her short neck, and the breadth of her hips; But he said, "upon honour he meant no offence," And she, by forgiving him, shew'd her good sense. The fox (cunning rogue!) too, complain'd of opossum, For smuggling her young to the feast in her bosom; For, as he was peeping and prying about, "He had seen the young scapegraces get in and out."
The land mouse, the water, and long-tail'd mouse, too, Tiny field mouse, that turn'd up nose vixen the shrew, The harvest mouse, fresh from a settler's rick, Were condemn'd by the great ones as not of their clique; These reclined round a mole hill, and each dipp'd his paw In a cocoa-nut bowl fill'd with rice, "en pillau." And the harvest mouse took most exceeding great pains To squeak them a stanza in honour of grains.
"An ear of corn, a grain of rice, Banquet rich for simple mice; A leaf his bed, a hole his house, Who could hurt a harmless mouse?
"Grasshopper, so green and gay, See him as he bounds away! Without bridle, spur, or stirrup, Oh! what music in that chirrup!
"Mosquito humming merrily, Glads us all most cheerily; Admire his transparent wing, But as you look, avoid his sting.
"Squeak! squeak! beware the owl's beak, Our hearts, like our voices, are so very weak."
"Hark! hark! to the sound now my comrades rejoice, 'Tis the bell-bird who calls us, I know well his voice; Campanero, who graciously offer'd his song When the feast was prepared, 'tis his ding-a-dong-dong;" So exclaim'd a poor turnspit, their cook, who'd been toiling All day very busily roasting or broiling. At this moment that spoiler of pic-nics, a shower, Obliged them to rush to the vine-cover'd bower, Where in it—oh! joy to the hungry! they found The repast long expected laid out on the ground. They had raised to the office of "maitre d'hotel" The glutton, (and who could perform it so well?) Who with excellent taste, and an eye to a share, Had collected the following luxuries there:— The cat-fish, the sturgeon, and hickory shad, Bass and gar in such plenty it made their hearts glad; The sun and the moon-fish, the star-fish and dab, The sting-ray and sheepshead, drum, grooper and crab; Turkey-buzzards, swans, eagles, form'd excellent hashes, When flavour'd with tallow-nuts, pompions, and squashes; Baked frogs, "en surprise," from a forest on fire, Flamingoes, removed by a huge Lammergeyer; Gulls, ravens, herons, boobies, bald-coots, water-hens, And yards of strung ortolans, linnets, and wrens; Loons, noddies, and nuthatches cook'd in a stew, Whale blubber "en gras," and guanas "au bleu;" Jerk'd beef from the south, and large watersnake broth, And a great dish of pemmican brought from the north; Green branches of trees from the beaver's damp hut, Bowls of milk from the cow-tree and hickory-nut; Then venison "en cache," maize, wild rice, and, to boot, Guavas, cranberries, mangoes, grapes, shaddock, breadfruit!
Here they sate and discuss'd the magnificent fare Which the glutton had superintended with care. The monkeys in helping were very officious, The bears suck'd their paws, and pronounced it delicious. Of the noise-dreading Mr. Raccoon it was said, That he sopp'd all his food, which was voted ill-bred; And that, puff'd with conceit, he declared he look'd wise, A distinction he owed to his spectacled eyes. 'Twas observed too (you know how the gossips will talk,) Master guinea-pig stuff'd till he hardly could walk, Though which dainty was best it was hard to determine: The meat was too fresh for the epicure ermine; To which glutton answered, "That all he could say Was, that it, like himself, was 'bien mortifiee.'"
All the others declared themselves very well pleased, Though it must be confess'd they were terribly squeezed By the poor little cubs, whom their dams would insert Between the grown quadrupeds' seats at dessert.
The llamas departed while yet it was light, As they always objected to travel by night, And were trotting along, never thinking of harm, When their friends heard the tree-frog foretelling a storm; There he sate on a bough, with his keen glassy eye Most sagaciously blinking and watching the sky, Then he look'd to the east, and thus hoarsely he spoke, "There's a terrible storm coming up, croak! croak! croak!"
The soft cooing ground-dove creeps close to her mate At this sound of alarm, which all living things hate; The snake-bird is startled, and drops from her bough To dive in the stream that runs swiftly below. Whilst perch'd on a tree the wood-pelican's dreams Are disturb'd by the crane's and the crying-bird's screams. The tortoise made off at the mention of rain, And troops of scared quadrupeds scour the plain!
The rest quickly rise from their seats in affright, To see if the warner has told them aright, As they flatter themselves that it may be mere fancy, Or put little faith in the toad's necromancy; They find he speaks truly, the storm is approaching, Dark clouds o'er the beautiful blue are encroaching, The tempest lays low the tall grass in the field, To the furious blasts even forest-trees yield; All is silent at first, then the loud cracking thunder Bursts at once o'er their heads, and o'erwhelms them with wonder! His danger by instinct each quadruped knows, Now confusion has taken the place of repose: The bears shake their coats, and roll off with a growl, Wolves, dogs, wolverenes, scamper off in full howl. With their quills mounting guard, timid porcupines wait, Whilst the Jaguar and Couguar crouch low and retreat. The sloth gently draws himself up on a bough, The raccoon slyly enters the hollow below. Mice, hedgehogs, and tortoises creep to their holes, And their fortified refuge is sought by the moles. Seals and otters plunge silently into the lake, Mrs. Beaver, too, dives with her young in her wake. The tapir returns to his home in the fens, The marmots are off to their underground dens, And the wishtonwish marmot, the kind prairie dog, Makes room in his hole for the tortoise and frog. The hamster runs home, with the pouch in his cheek Stuff'd with various provisions enough for a week; Then stores in his dark lonely cell the rich pelf, For, ill bred and greedy, he cares but for self. No children, no wife, no companion had he, With his very best friend he could never agree, But lived by himself without pleasure or mirth, In a hermit-like vault, five feet deep in the earth; But the sentinel marmot's shrill whistle of fear Echoes loud o'er the plain, and is heard far and near By his joyous allies, for whose safety he cared, And whose dangers, mirth, sorrows, and dwelling he shared. And Mrs. Opossum, good dame, holds her breath, Safely pockets her young, and as usual, feigns death; Till the storm has blown over they lie in their sack, Whilst the seal scrambles home with her cub pic-a-back. Sir Hans Armadillo, coil'd up in a ball, From the edge of a precipice lets himself fall; Being arm'd "cap-a-pie," he rolls safely away, And lives, without doubt, in his hole to this day. The rein-deer most kindly was offer'd to share In her cold wintry drive by the white polar bear; And she proffers a seat in her sledge, for she knows 'Tis a long weary way to her region of snows; Besides, she is eager to join the dear child She had left on an ice-floe alone to run wild. Savage wolf, being greedy, fell into a trap, Mr. Glutton was kill'd e'en whilst taking a nap; And the badger, poor fellow! for shelter must roam, For he finds the red fox has got into his home. On an island of ice floats the walrus away, With her cub in her fins, who upbraided her stay, The joys of the feast deeply sank in her heart, Like the rest of the guests she was loth to depart.
And now, the repast being greatly diminish'd, By ravens and vultures is speedily finish'd. The tempest has ceased, the wilds beasts are at rest, And each tiny quadruped lies in his nest. Once more o'er the landscape the long shadows creep, The repose and the darkness soon lull them to sleep, For nothing is heard in the once noisy land, Save the whip-poor-will telling that night is at hand.
In life, as in prairies, there's danger abroad, While love and kind hearts the best pleasures afford; Though what we are seeking the pleasantest seems, Disappointments and storms oft assail our best schemes.
Howe'er we may plan them, wherever we roam, Our comforts and joys we at last find at home; There we live on in quiet with those we love best, And the voice of affection there lulls us to rest!
C. WHITTINGHAM, TOOKS COURT, CHANCERY LANE, LONDON.