Epistle from Erasmus on Earth to Cicero in the Shades


A S 't is now, my dear Tully, some weeks since I started
By railroad for earth, having vowed ere we parted
To drop you a line by the Dead-Letter post,
Just to say how I thrive in my new line of ghost,
And how deucedly odd this live world all appears,
To a man who 's been dead now for three hundred years,
I take up my pen, and with news of this earth
Hope to waken by turns both your spleen and your mirth.

In my way to these shores, taking Italy first,
Lest the change from Elysium too sudden should burst,
I forgot not to visit those haunts where of yore
You took lessons from Paetus in cookery's lore.
Turned aside from the calls of the rostrum and Muse,
To discuss the rich merits of rotis and stews,
And preferred to all honors of triumph or trophy,
A supper on prawns with that rogue, little Sophy.

Having dwelt on such classical musings-awhile,
I set off by a steam-boat for this happy isle,
(A conveyance you ne'er, I think, sailed by, my Tully,
And therefore, per next, I 'll describe it more fully,)
Having heard on the way what distresses me greatly,
That England 's o'errun by idolaters lately,
Stark, staring adorers of wood and of stone,
Who will let neither stick, stock or statue alone.
Such the sad news I heard from a tall man in black,
Who from sports continental was hurrying back,
To look after his tithes; — seeing, doubtless, 't would follow,
That just as of old your great idol, Apollo,
Devoured all the Tenths, so the idols in question,
These wood and stone gods, may have equal digestion,
And the idolatrous crew whom this Rector despises,
May eat up the tithe-pig which he idolizes.

'T is all but too true — grim Idolatry reigns
In full pomp over England's lost cities and plains!
On arriving just now, as my first thought and care
Was as usual to seek out some near House of Prayer,
Some calm holy spot, fit for Christians to pray on,
I was shown to — what think you? — a downright Pantheon!
A grand, pillared temple with niches and halls,
Full of idols and gods, which they nickname St. Paul's; —
Tho' 't is clearly the place where the idolatrous crew
Whom the Rector complained of, their dark rites pursue;
And, 'mong all the " strange gods " Abr'ham's father carved out,
That he ever carv'd stranger than these I much doubt.

Were it even, my dear t ULLY , your Hebes and Graces,
And such pretty things, that usurpt the Saints places,
I should n't much mind, — for in this classic dome
Such folks from Olympus would feel quite at home,
But the gods they 've got here! — such a queer omnium gatherum
Of misbegot things that no poet would father 'em; —
Britannias in light summer-wear for the skies, —
Old Thames turned to stone, to his no small surprise, —
Father Nile, too, — a portrait, (inspite of what 's said,
That no mortal e'er yet got a glimpse of his head ,)
And a Ganges which India would think somewhat fat for 't,
Unless 't was some full-grown Director had sat for 't; —
Not to mention the et caeteras of Genii and Sphinxes,
Fame, Victory, and other such semi-clad minxes; —
Sea Captains, — the idols here most idolized;
And of whom some, alas! might too well be comprized
Among ready-made Saints, as they died cannonized ;
With a multitude more of odd cockneyfied deities,
Shrined in such pomp that quite shocking to see it 't is;
Nor know I what better the Rector could do
Than to shrine there his own beloved quadruped too;
As most surely a tithe-pig, whate'er the world thinks, is
A much fitter beast for a church than a Sphinx is.

But I 'm called off to dinner — grace just has been said,
And my host waits for nobody, living or dead.
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