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The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Lay of St. Cuthbert, or, The Devil’s Dinner-Party

By Richard Harris Barham (Thomas Ingoldsby) (1788–1845)

  • A Legend of the North Countree
  • Nobilis quidam, cui nomen Monsr. Lescrop, Chivaler, cum invitasset convivas, et, hora convivii jam instante et apparatu facto, spe frustratus esset, excusantibus se convivis cur non compararent, prorupit iratus in hæc verba: “Veniant igitur omnes dæmones, si nullus hominum mecum esse potest!”
  • Quod cum fieret, et Dominus, et famuli, et ancillæ, a domo properantes, forte obliti, infantem in cunis jacentem secum non auferent, Dæmones incipiunt commessari et vociferari, prospicereque per fenestras formis ursorum, luporum, felium, et monstrare pocula vino repleta. Ah, inquit pater, ubi infans meus? Vix cum hæc dixisset, unus ex Dæmonibus ulnis suis infantem ad fenestram gestat, etc.—Chronicon de Bolton.

  • IT’S in Bolton Hall, and the clock strikes One,

    And the roast meat’s brown and the boiled meat’s done,

    And the barbecued sucking-pig’s crisped to a turn,

    And the pancakes are fried and beginning to burn;

    The fat stubble-goose

    Swims in gravy and juice,

    With the mustard and apple-sauce ready for use;

    Fish, flesh, and fowl, and all of the best,

    Want nothing but eating—they’re all ready drest,

    But where is the Host, and where is the Guest?

    Pantler and serving-man, henchman and page

    Stand sniffing the duck-stuffing (onion and sage),

    And the scullions and cooks,

    With fidgety looks,

    Are grumbling and mutt’ring, and scowling as black

    As cooks always do when the dinner’s put back;

    For though the board’s deckt, and the napery, fair

    As the unsunned snow-flake, is spread out with care,

    And the Dais is furnished with stool and with chair,

    And plate of orféverie costly and rare,

    Apostle-spoons, salt-cellar, all are there,

    And Mess John in his place,

    With his rubicund face,

    And his hands ready folded, prepared to say Grace,

    Yet where is the Host?—and his convives—where?

    The Scroope sits lonely in Bolton Hall,

    And he watches the dial that hangs by the wall,

    He watches the large hand, he watches the small,

    And he fidgets and looks

    As cross as the cooks,

    And he utters—a word which we’ll soften to “Zooks!”

    And he cries, “What on earth has become of them all?—

    What can delay

    De Vaux and De Saye?

    What makes Sir Gilbert de Umfraville stay?

    What’s gone with Poyntz, and Sir Reginald Braye?

    Why are Ralph Ufford and Marny away?

    And De Nokes and De Styles, and Lord Marmaduke Grey?

    And De Roe?

    And De Doe?

    Poynings and Vavasour—where be they?

    Fitz-Walter, Fitz-Osbert, Fitz-Hugh, and Fitz-John,

    And the Mandevilles, père et filz (father and son);

    Their cards said ‘Dinner precisely at One!’

    There’s nothing I hate, in

    The world, like waiting!

    It’s a monstrous great bore, when a Gentleman feels

    A good appetite, thus to be kept from his meals!”

    It’s in Bolton Hall, and the clock strikes Two!

    And the scullions and cooks are themselves “in a stew,”

    And the kitchen-maids stand, and don’t know what to do,

    For the rich plum-puddings are bursting their bags,

    And the mutton and turnips are boiling to rags,

    And the fish is all spoiled,

    And the butter’s all oiled,

    And the soup’s got cold in the silver tureen,

    And there’s nothing, in short, that is fit to be seen!

    While Sir Guy Le Scroope continues to fume,

    And to fret by himself in the tapestried room,

    And still fidgets and looks

    More cross than the cooks,

    And repeats that bad word, which we’ve softened to “Zooks!”

    Two o’clock’s come, and Two o’clock’s gone,

    And the large and the small hands move steadily on,

    Still nobody’s there,

    No De Roos, or De Clare,

    To taste of the Scroope’s most delicate fare,

    Or to quaff off a health unto Bolton’s Heir,

    That nice little boy who sits in his chair,

    Some four years old, and a few months to spare,

    With his laughing blue eyes and his long curly hair,

    Now sucking his thumb, and now munching his pear.

    Again Sir Guy the silence broke,

    “It’s hard upon Three!—it’s just on the stroke!

    Come, serve up the dinner!—A joke is a joke”—

    Little he deems that Stephen de Hoaques,

    Who “his fun,” as the Yankees say, everywhere “pokes,”

    And is always a great deal too fond of his jokes,

    Has written a circular note to De Nokes,

    And De Styles and De Roe, and the rest of the folks,

    One and all,

    Great and small,

    Who were asked to the Hall

    To dine there and sup, and wind up with a ball,

    And had told all the party a great bouncing lie, he

    Cooked up, that the “fête was postponed sine die,

    The dear little curly-wigged heir of Le Scroope

    Being taken alarmingly ill with the croop!”

    When the clock struck Three,

    And the Page on his knee

    Said, “An’t please you, Sir Guy Le Scroope, On a servi!”

    And the Knight found the banquet-hall empty and clear,

    With nobody near

    To partake of his cheer,

    He stamped, and he stormed—then his language!—Oh dear!

    ’Twas awful to see, and ’twas awful to hear!

    And he cried to the button-decked Page at his knee,

    Who had told him so civilly “On a servi,”

    “Ten thousand fiends seize them, wherever they be!

    —The Devil take them! and the Devil take thee!


    In a terrible fume

    He bounced out of the room,

    He bounced out of the house—and page, footman, and groom

    Bounced after their master; for scarce had they heard

    Of this left-handed grace the last finishing word,

    Ere the horn at the gate of the Barbican tower

    Was blown with a loud twenty-trumpeter power,

    And in rush’d a troop

    Of strange guests!—such a group

    As had ne’er before darkened the door of the Scroope!

    This looks like De Saye—yet—it is not De Saye—

    And this is—no, ’tis not—Sir Reginald Braye,—

    This has somewhat the favor of Marmaduke Grey—

    But stay!—Where on earth did he get those long nails?

    Why, they’re claws!—then Good Gracious!—they’ve all of them tails!

    That can’t be De Vaux—why, his nose is a bill,

    Or, I would say a beak!—and he can’t keep it still!—

    Is that Poynings?—Oh, Gemini! look at his feet!!

    Why, they’re absolute hoofs!—is it gout or his corns,

    That have crumpled them up so?—by Jingo, he’s horns!

    Run! run!—There’s Fitz-Walter, Fitz-Hugh, and Fitz-John,

    And the Mandevilles, père et filz (father and son),

    And Fitz-Osbert, and Ufford—they’ve all got them on!

    Then their great saucer eyes—

    It’s the Father of lies

    And his Imps—run! run! run!—they’re all fiends in disguise,

    Who’ve partly assumed, with more sombre complexions,

    The forms of Sir Guy Le Scroope’s friends and connections,

    And He—at the top there—that grim-looking elf—

    Run! run!—that’s the “muckle-horned Clootie” himself!

    And now what a din

    Without and within!

    For the courtyard is full of them.—How they begin

    To mop, and to mowe, and to make faces, and grin!

    Cock their tails up together,

    Like cows in hot weather,

    And butt at each other, all eating and drinking,

    The viands and wine disappearing like winking,

    And then such a lot

    As together had got!

    Master Cabbage, the steward, who’d made a machine

    To calculate with, and count noses,—I ween

    The cleverest thing of the kind ever seen,—

    Declared, when he’d made

    By the said machine’s aid,

    Up, what’s now called the “tottle” of those he surveyed,

    There were just—how he proved it I cannot divine—

    Nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety and nine.

    Exclusive of Him

    Who, giant in limb,

    And black as the crow they denominate Jim,

    With a tail like a bull, and a head like a bear,

    Stands forth at the window—and what holds he there,

    Which he hugs with such care,

    And pokes out in the air,

    And grasps as its limbs from each other he’d tear?

    Oh! grief and despair!

    I vow and declare

    It’s Le Scroope’s poor, dear, sweet, little, curly-wigged Heir!

    Whom the nurse had forgot and left there in his chair,

    Alternately sucking his thumb and his pear.

    What words can express

    The dismay and distress

    Of Sir Guy, when he found what a terrible mess

    His cursing and banning had now got him into?

    That words, which to use are a shame and a sin too,

    Had thus on their speaker recoiled, and his malison

    Placed in the hands of the Devil’s own “pal” his son!—

    He sobbed and he sighed,

    And he screamed, and he cried,

    And behaved like a man that is mad or in liquor—he

    Tore his peaked beard, and he dashed off his “Vicary,”

    Stamped on the jasey

    As though he were crazy,

    And staggering about just as if he were “hazy,”

    Exclaimed, “Fifty pounds!” (a large sum in those times)

    “To the person, whoever he may be, that climbs

    To that window above there, en ogive, and painted,

    And brings down my curly-wi’—” Here Sir Guy fainted!

    With many a moan,

    And many a groan,

    What with tweaks of the nose, and some eau de Cologne,

    He revived,—Reason once more remounted her throne,

    Or rather the instinct of Nature—’twere treason

    To her, in the Scroope’s case, perhaps, to say Reason—

    But what saw he then—Oh! my goodness! a sight

    Enough to have banished his reason outright!—

    In that broad banquet-hall

    The fiends one and all

    Regardless of shriek, and of squeak, and of squall,

    From one to another were tossing that small

    Pretty, curly-wigged boy, as if playing at ball;

    Yet none of his friends or his vassals might dare

    To fly to the rescue or rush up the stair,

    And bring down in safety his curly-wigged Heir!

    Well a day! Well a day!

    All he can say

    Is but just so much trouble and time thrown away;

    Not a man can be tempted to join the mêlée:

    E’en those words cabalistic, “I promise to pay

    Fifty pounds on demand,” have for once lost their sway,

    And there the Knight stands

    Wringing his hands

    In his agony—when on a sudden, one ray

    Of hope darts through his midriff!—His Saint!—

    Oh, it’s funny

    And almost absurd,

    That it never occurred!—

    “Ay! the Scroope’s Patron Saint!—he’s the man for my money!

    Saint—who is it?—really I’m sadly to blame,—

    On my word I’m afraid,—I confess it with shame,—

    That I’ve almost forgot the good Gentleman’s name,—

    Cut—let me see—Cutbeard?—no—CUTHBERT!—egad!

    St. Cuthbert of Bolton!—I’m right—he’s the lad!

    O holy St. Cuthbert, if forbears of mine—

    Of myself I say little—have knelt at your shrine,

    And have lashed their bare backs, and—no matter—with twine,

    Oh! list to the vow

    Which I make to you now,

    Only snatch my poor little boy out of the row

    Which that Imp’s kicking up with his fiendish bow-wow,

    And his head like a bear, and his tail like a cow!

    Bring him back here in safety!—perform but this task,

    And I’ll give—Oh!—I’ll give you whatever you ask!—

    There is not a shrine

    In the county shall shine

    With a brilliancy half so resplendent as thine,

    Or have so many candles, or look half so fine!—

    Haste, holy St. Cuthbert, then,—hasten in pity!—”

    Conceive his surprise

    When a strange voice replies,

    “It’s a bargain!—but, mind, sir, THE BEST SPERMACETI!”

    Say, whose that voice?—whose that form by his side,

    That old, old, gray man, with his beard long and wide,

    In his coarse Palmer’s weeds,

    And his cockle and beads?—

    And how did he come?—did he walk?—did he ride?

    Oh! none could determine,—oh! none could decide,—

    The fact is, I don’t believe any one tried;

    For while every one stared, with a dignified stride

    And without a word more,

    He marched on before,

    Up a flight of stone steps, and so through the front door,

    To the banqueting-hall that was on the first floor,

    While the fiendish assembly were making a rare

    Little shuttlecock there of the curly-wigged Heir.

    —I wish, gentle Reader, that you could have seen

    The pause that ensued when he stepped in between,

    With his resolute air, and his dignified mien,

    And said, in a tone most decided though mild,

    “Come! I’ll trouble you just to hand over that child!”

    The Demoniac crowd

    In an instant seemed cowed;

    Not one of the crew volunteered a reply,

    All shrunk from the glance of that keen-flashing eye,

    Save one horrid Humgruffin, who seemed by his talk,

    And the airs he assumed, to be cock of the walk.

    He quailed not before it, but saucily met it,

    And as saucily said, “Don’t you wish you may get it?”

    My goodness!—the look that the old Palmer gave!

    And his frown!—’twas quite dreadful to witness—“Why, slave!

    You rascal!” quoth he,

    “This language to ME!

    At once, Mr. Nicholas! down on your knee,

    And hand me that curly-wigged boy!—I command it—

    Come!—none of your nonsense!—you know I won’t stand it.”

    Old Nicholas trembled,—he shook in his shoes,

    And seemed half inclined, but afraid, to refuse.

    “Well, Cuthbert,” said he,

    “If so it must be,

    For you’ve had your own way from the first time I knew ye;—

    Take your curly-wigged brat, and much good may he do ye!

    But I’ll have in exchange”—here his eye flashed with rage—

    “That chap with the buttons—he gave me the Page!”

    “Come, come,” the saint answered, “you very well know

    The young man’s no more his than your own to bestow.

    Touch one button of his if you dare, Nick—no! no!

    Cut your stick, sir—come, mizzle! be off with you! go!”—

    The Devil grew hot—

    “If I do I’ll be shot!

    An you come to that, Cuthbert, I’ll tell you what’s what;

    He has asked us to dine here, and go we will not!

    Why, you Skinflint,—at least

    You may leave us the feast!

    Here we’ve come all that way from our brimstone abode,

    Ten million good leagues, sir, as ever you strode,

    And the deuce of a luncheon we’ve had on the road—

    ‘Go!’—‘Mizzle!’ indeed—Mr. Saint, who are you,

    I should like to know?—‘Go!’ I’ll be hanged if I do!

    He invited us all—we’ve a right here—it’s known

    That a Baron may do what he likes with his own—

    Here, Asmodeus—a slice of that beef;—now the mustard!—

    What have you got?—oh, apple-pie—try it with custard.”

    The Saint made a pause

    As uncertain, because

    He knew Nick is pretty well “up” in the laws,

    And they might be on his side—and then, he’d such claws!

    On the whole, it was better, he thought, to retire

    With the curly-wigged boy he’d picked out of the fire,

    And give up the victuals—to retrace his path,

    And to compromise—(spite of the Member for Bath).

    So to Old Nick’s appeal,

    As he turned on his heel,

    He replied, “Well, I’ll leave you the mutton and veal,

    And the soup à la Reine, and the sauce Bechamel;

    As the Scroope did invite you to dinner, I feel

    I can’t well turn you out—’twould be hardly genteel—

    But be moderate, pray,—and remember thus much,

    Since you’re treated as Gentlemen—show yourselves such,

    And don’t make it late,

    But mind and go straight

    Home to bed when you’ve finished—and don’t steal the plate,

    Nor wrench off the knocker, or bell from the gate.

    Walk away, like respectable Devils, in peace,

    And don’t ‘lark’ with the watch, or annoy the police!”

    Having thus said his say,

    That Palmer gray

    Took up little La Scroope, and walked coolly away,

    While the Demons all set up a “Hip! hip! hurrah!”

    Then fell, tooth and nail, on the victuals, as they

    Had been guests at Guildhall upon Lord Mayor’s day,

    All scrambling and scuffling for what was before ’em,

    No care for precedence or common decorum.

    Few ate more hearty

    Than Madame Astarte,

    And Hecate,—considered the Belles of the party.

    Between them was seated Leviathan, eager

    To “do the polite,” and take wine with Belphegor;

    Here was Morbleu (a French devil), supping soup-meagre,

    And there, munching leeks, Davy Jones of Tredegar

    (A Welsh one), who’d left the domains of Ap Morgan

    To “follow the sea,”—and next him Demogorgon,—

    Then Pan with his pipes, and Fauns grinding the organ

    To Mammon and Belial, and half a score dancers,

    Who’d joined with Medusa to get up ‘the Lancers’;

    Here’s Lucifer lying blind drunk with Scotch ale,

    While Beelzebub’s tying huge knots in his tail.

    There’s Setebos, storming because Mephistopheles

    Gave him the lie,

    Said he’d “blacken his eye,”

    And dashed in his face a whole cup of hot coffee-lees;—

    Ramping and roaring,

    Hiccoughing, snoring,

    Never was seen such a riot before in

    A gentleman’s house, or such profligate reveling

    At any soirée—where they don’t let the Devil in.

    Hark! as sure as fate

    The clock’s striking Eight!

    (An hour which our ancestors called “getting late,”)

    When Nick, who by this time was rather elate,

    Rose up and addressed them:—
    “’Tis full time,” he said,

    “For all elderly Devils to be in their bed;

    For my own part I mean to be jogging, because

    I don’t find myself now quite so young as I was;

    But, Gentlemen, ere I depart from my post

    I must call on you all for one bumper—the toast

    Which I have to propose is,—OUR EXCELLENT HOST!

    Many thanks for his kind hospitality—may

    We also be able

    To see at our table

    Himself, and enjoy, in a family way,

    His good company down-stairs at no distant day!

    You’d, I’m sure, think me rude

    If I did not include,

    In the toast my young friend there, the curly-wigged Heir!

    He’s in very good hands, for you’re all well aware

    That St. Cuthbert has taken him under his care;

    Though I must not say ‘bless,’—

    Why, you’ll easily guess,—

    May our curly-wigged Friend’s shadow never be less!”

    Nick took off his heel-taps—bowed—smiled—with an air

    Most graciously grim,—and vacated the chair.

    Of course the élite

    Rose at once on their feet,

    And followed their leader, and beat a retreat;

    When a sky-larking Imp took the President’s seat,

    And requesting that each would replenish his cup,

    Said, “Where we have dined, my boys, there let us sup!”—

    It was three in the morning before they broke up!!!


    I scarcely need say

    Sir Guy didn’t delay

    To fulfill his vow made to St. Cuthbert, or pay

    For the candles he’d promised, or make light as day

    The shrine he assured him he’d render so gay.

    In fact, when the votaries came there to pray,

    All said there was naught to compare with it—nay,

    For fear that the Abbey

    Might think he was shabby,

    Four Brethren, thenceforward, two cleric, two lay,

    He ordained should take charge of a new-founded chantry,

    With six marcs apiece, and some claims on the pantry;

    In short, the whole county

    Declared, through his bounty,

    The Abbey of Bolton exhibited fresh scenes

    From any displayed since Sir William de Meschines

    And Cecily Roumeli came to this nation

    With William the Norman, and laid its foundation.

    For the rest, it is said,

    And I know I have read

    In some Chronicle—whose, has gone out of my head—

    That what with these candles, and other expenses,

    Which no man would go to if quite in his senses,

    He reduced and brought low

    His property so,

    That at last he’d not much of it left to bestow;

    And that many years after that terrible feast,

    Sir Guy, in the Abbey, was living a priest;

    And there, in one thousand and—something—deceased.

    (It’s supposed by this trick

    He bamboozled Old Nick,

    And slipped through his fingers remarkably “slick.”)

    While as to young Curly-wig,—dear little Soul,

    Would you know more of him, you must look at “The Roll,”

    Which records the dispute,

    And the subsequent suit,

    Commenced in “Thirteen sev’nty-five,”—which took root

    In Le Grosvenor’s assuming the arms Le Scroope swore

    That none but his ancestors, ever before,

    In foray, joust, battle, or tournament wore,

    To wit, “On a Prussian-blue Field, a Bend Or;”

    While the Grosvenor averred that his ancestors bore

    The same, and Scroope lied like a—somebody tore

    Off the simile,—so I can tell you no more,

    Till some A double S shall the fragment restore.

    This Legend sound maxims exemplifies—e.g.

    1mo.Should anything tease you,

    Annoy, or displease you,

    Remember what Lilly says, “Animum rege!”

    And as for that shocking bad habit of swearing,—

    In all good society voted past bearing,—

    Eschew it! and leave it to dustmen and mobs,

    Nor commit yourself much beyond “Zooks!” or “Odsbobs!”

    2do.When asked out to dine by a Person of Quality,

    Mind, and observe the most strict punctuality!

    For should you come late,

    And make dinner wait,

    And the victuals get cold, you’ll incur, sure as fate,

    The Master’s displeasure, the Mistress’s hate.

    And though both may perhaps be too well-bred to swear,

    They’ll heartily wish you—I will not say Where.

    3tio.Look well to your Maid-servants!—say you expect them

    To see to the children, and not to neglect them!

    And if you’re a widower, just throw a cursory

    Glance in, at times, when you go near the Nursery.

    Perhaps it’s as well to keep children from plums,

    And from pears in the season,—and sucking their thumbs!

    4to.To sum up the whole with a “saw” of much use,

    Be just and be generous,—don’t be profuse!

    Pay the debts that you owe,—keep your word to your friends,


    For of this be assured, if you “go it” too fast,

    You’ll be “dished” like Sir Guy,

    And like him, perhaps, die

    A poor, old, half-starved Country Parson at last!