Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Vision of Skulls—a Little Rowlandson for Halloween

Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Rowlandson, The Vision of Skulls
Loretta reports:

Halloween seems an appropriate time for an excerpt from The English Dance of Death. In this volume, Thomas Rowlandson takes on a popular artistic subject, focusing on his countrymen, with William Combe writing a narrative based on the pictures (the method they used in the Tour of Doctor Syntax). In this excerpt from “The Vision of Skulls,” Sir Thomas describes a dream to his wife.

—The Phantom gave three heads a stroke
With his fierce Torch, and thus they spoke.
—Said one, "I was a soldier brave,
Who found in war an early grave;
But, e'er in Honour's field I died—
I slew the Hero by my side."
The Hero, by his side, exclaim'd,
—" 'Twas my right arm your prowess tam'd:
It was my sabre's well-aim'd blow,
 That laid your glittering figure low."
"Ho," cried a third, "pray cease your pother,
I saw you both kill one another."—
—Thus, though no arms, or legs had they,
 I thought they threaten'd an affray;
And seem'd, without alarm or dread,
To long to play the Loggerhead.
I thought their clamour ne'er would cease:
But the Torch wav'd, and all was peace.
It seem'd most strange the sight I saw,
That heads should speak 'gainst Nature's law,
Without a Tongue,—nor move a Jaw.
'I humbly told the Guide, that I Was of the class of Chivalry.
But that I was a Civic Knight,
Who had much rather eat than fight.
—Turn and look up, methought he said,
At the huge Sculls above your head,
Which are so thick, they might defy
The balls of any musketry.
Those which there meet your curious ken,
Belong'd to Knights and Aldermen,
Who to the Sword's heroic work
Preferr'd the feats of Knife and Fork;
And, as they grin, the Jaws between,
Their well-us'd, worn-out teeth are seen.—
But all these mortal remnants stood,
In such exact similitude,
I could not see, with all my care,
If any of my friends were there.
—I then enquir'd, if no offence,
And hop'd 'twas not impertinence,
If he might tell whose fleshless face
Was to fill up an empty space,
Which seem'd so large, that I could swear,
It was preserv'd for some Lord Mayor.
He wav'd his Torch, and lost in smoke,
'Twas thus I thought the Spectre spoke.—
—That place, Sir Simon, is your due:
And shortly will be filled by you.—
Intro to English Dance of Death
The English Dance of Death, From the Designs of Thomas Rowlandson with Metrical Illustrations, by the Author of “Doctor Syntax.” Vol 1 (1815)

Images: The Vision of Skulls
Excerpt from introduction to The English Dance of Death

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