Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  The Jackdaw of Rheims

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Richard Harris Barham 1788–1845

The Jackdaw of Rheims


THE JACKDAW sat on the Cardinal’s chair!

Bishop and abbot and prior were there;

Many a monk, and many a friar,

Many a knight, and many a squire,

With a great many more of lesser degree,—

In sooth, a goodly company;

And they serv’d the Lord Primate on bended knee.

Never, I ween,

Was a prouder seen,

Read of in books, or dreamt of in dreams,

Than the Cardinal Lord Archbishop of Rheims!

In and out

Through the motley rout,

That little Jackdaw kept hopping about;

Here and there

Like a dog in a fair,

Over comfits and cates,

And dishes and plates,

Cowl and cope, and rochet and pall,

Mitre and crosier! he hopp’d upon all!

With a saucy air,

He perch’d on the chair

Where, in state, the great Lord Cardinal sat,

In the great Lord Cardinal’s great red hat;

And he peer’d in the face

Of his Lordship’s Grace,

With a satisfied look, as if he would say,

“We two are the greatest folks here to-day!”

And the priests, with awe,

As such freaks they saw,

Said, “The Devil must be in that little Jackdaw!”

The feast was over, the board was clear’d,

The flawns and the custards had all disappear’d,

And six little Singing-boys,—dear little souls!

In nice clean faces, and nice white stoles,

Came in order due,

Two by two,

Marching that grand refectory through.

A nice little boy held a golden ewer,

Emboss’d and fill’d with water, as pure

As any that flows between Rheims and Namur,

Which a nice little boy stood ready to catch

In a fine golden hand-basin made to match.

Two nice little boys, rather more grown,

Carried lavender-water and eau-de-Cologne;

And a nice little boy had a nice cake of soap,

Worthy of washing the hands of the Pope.

One little boy more

A napkin bore,

Of the best white diaper, fringed with pink,

And a Cardinal’s hat mark’d in “permanent ink.”

The great Lord Cardinal turns at the sight

Of these nice little boys dress’d all in white:

From his finger he draws

His costly turquoise;

And, not thinking at all about little Jackdaws,

Deposits it straight

By the side of his plate,

While the nice little boys on his Eminence wait;

Till, when nobody’s dreaming of any such thing,

That little Jackdaw hops off with the ring!

There ’s a cry and a shout,

And a deuce of a rout,

And nobody seems to know what they ’re about,

But the monks have their pockets all turn’d inside out;

The friars are kneeling,

And hunting, and feeling

The carpet, the floor, and the walls, and the ceiling.

The Cardinal drew

Off each plum-color’d shoe,

And left his red stockings expos’d to the view:

He peeps, and he feels

In the toes and the heels;

They turn up the dishes,—they turn up the plates,—

They take up the poker and poke out the grates,

—They turn up the rugs,

They examine the mugs:

But no!—no such thing;

They can’t find THE RING!

And the Abbot declar’d that, “when nobody twigg’d it,

Some rascal or other had popp’d in and prigg’d it!”

The Cardinal rose with a dignified look,

He call’d for his candle, his bell, and his book:

In holy anger, and pious grief,

He solemnly curs’d that rascally thief!

He curs’d him at board, he curs’d him in bed,

From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head!

He curs’d him in sleeping, that every night

He should dream of the devil, and wake in a fright;

He curs’d him in eating, he curs’d him in drinking,

He curs’d him in coughing, in sneezing, in winking;

He curs’d him in sitting, in standing, in lying;

He curs’d him in walking, in riding, in flying;

He curs’d him in living, he curs’d him in dying!

Never was heard such a terrible curse!

But what gave rise

To no little surprise,

Nobody seem’d one penny the worse!

The day was gone,

The night came on,

The monks and the friars they search’d till dawn;

When the sacristan saw,

On crumpled claw,

Come limping a poor little lame Jackdaw.

No longer gay,

As on yesterday;

His feathers all seem’d to be turn’d the wrong way;

His pinions droop’d—he could hardly stand,

His head was as bald as the palm of your hand;

His eye so dim,

So wasted each limb,

That, heedless of grammar, they all cried,


That ’s the scamp that has done this scandalous thing!

That ’s the thief that has got my Lord Cardinal’s Ring!”

The poor little Jackdaw,

When the monks he saw,

Feebly gave vent to the ghost of a caw;

And turn’d his bald head, as much as to say,

“Pray, be so good as to walk this way!”

Slower and slower

He limp’d on before,

Till they came to the back of the belfry-door,

Where the first thing they saw,

Midst the sticks and the straw,

Was the RING, in the nest of that little Jackdaw.

Then the great Lord Cardinal call’d for his book,

And off that terrible curse he took;

The mute expression

Serv’d in lieu of confession,

And, being thus coupled with full restitution,

The Jackdaw got plenary absolution!

—When those words were heard,

That poor little bird

Was so changed in a moment, ’t was really absurd.

He grew sleek and fat;

In addition to that,

A fresh crop of feathers came thick as a mat.

His tail waggled more

Even than before;

But no longer it wagg’d with an impudent air,

No longer he perch’d on the Cardinal’s chair.

He hopp’d now about

With a gait devout;

At matins, at vespers, he never was out;

And, so far from any more pilfering deeds,

He always seem’d telling the Confessor’s beads.

If any one lied, or if any one swore,

Or slumber’d in pray’r-time and happen’d to snore,

That good Jackdaw

Would give a great “Caw!”

As much as to say, “Don’t do so any more!”

While many remark’d, as his manners they saw,

That they “never had known such a pious Jackdaw!”

He long liv’d the pride

Of that country side,

And at last in the odor of sanctity died;

When, as words were too faint

His merits to paint,

The Conclave determin’d to make him a Saint;

And on newly-made Saints and Popes, as you know,

It ’s the custom, at Rome, new names to bestow,

So they canoniz’d him by the name of Jem Crow!