1753 Poem, Anon. (William Starrat), ‘The Gout and the Flea’

Author: Anon. (William Starrat)

Date: 1753

Source: ‘The Gout and the Flea’, an anonymous poem in ‘‘Scotch Poems’’, The Ulster Miscellany, 1753

Comments: This song is one of nine anonymous ‘Scotch Poems’ from the ‘Laggan’ area of North-East Donegal published in The Ulster Miscellany of 1753. In Philip Robinson’s ‘William Starrat of Strabane: the first Ulster-Scots Poet’, Ullans, 5, 1997, he identifies William Starrat as the likely author of at least some of these. Given Starrat’;s well-known friendship and poetical correspondence (in Scots) with Allan Ramsay about 1722, further corroboration of Starrat’;s authorship of these ‘Scotch Poems’ is revealed in the seventh poem (‘An additional Verse to the Widow my Laddie’). The original ‘Widow my Laddie’ was published by Allan Ramsay in his Tea-Table Miscellany …… of Songs in English and Scots, in 1750.

Doc. ref. no.: USLS/TB/Poetry/1700-1799/010

The Gout and the Flea

The GOUT and the FLEA. A Fable.

When luxury and idleness

Did a’ the richer warld possess:

When careless nastiness, and dirt,

Was rife among the poorer sort:

Jove saw, and coost about betimes

For punishments for siccan crimes:

For he, foreby his thunderbouts,

Has rowth o’ plagues, as fleas — and gouts —

Thae same may do, quo’ Jove, faith I

Will send a sample out to try.

Forth came the flea, and eke the gout

While Jove his orders thus gave out:

Near hand a marble-bigging stands,

There lives a man wi’ flocks and lands;

And cross the lone a cotter dwells,

In thir twa houses six your sells;

Ilk ane his house — there ye maun bide,

But whilk in whilk, let fate decide.

They did their honours to the god,

And down Olympus took their road;

And trav’ling on, at length they saw

The houses that maun ha’d the twa.

The flea a greedy saul confess’d,

By hopping off to wale the best:

While the poor limping gout was forc’t,

To hobble hooly to the warst.

The flea hopp’d off, as we have said,

And wan into the rich man’s bed;

Himsel was there; when on his breast,

The weary trav’ller thought to feast:

It bit him sair, — the man haff mad,

Roar’d out wi’ a’ the strength he had,

Fy, bring a light — I’m out o’ breath,

There’s something biting me to death.

They brought the light — the flea they saw,

But nimble hoppy scap’d them a’.

Again it ventures on his hips,

Bites sair, and then the claret sips:

The man, tho’ dozing, felt the pain,

Calls for the light — they hunt again,

While wi’ difficulty the flea,

Darn’d in a lirk, in safety lay.

But the neist morn, the servants run,

And hang the bedclaiths in the sun;

When hoppy like a man dismay’d,

Gi’d twa ’r three lowps, and off he gaid.

There’s many a man in hoppy’s case,

Who, struggling, gain some pompous place.

For naithing sorts wi’ us, we see,

But what the gods themselves decree.

The flea wi’ danger thus turn’d out;

Let’s see what happen’d to the gout.

We left it in the little croove,

Where it had hardly room to move;

Sae thick the cogues and creepies lay,

And in the nook a wad o’ strae:

There the poor man was streek’d at length,

Wi’ ease recruiting wasted strength.

In till the man, poor limpy crawls,

And seiz’d upon his hinder spauls;

The man unus’d to sic a guest,

Could neither sleep, nor lie, nor rest.

Bless me, quo’ he, what’s this I feel?

This maun be witchcraft, or the deel:

That stounds me sae — then wi’ a rair,

(The gout afflicted him sae sair)

He madly plung’d into a pool,

The heat and tingling pain to cool:

But what wi’ water, rubs, and blows:

The weary gout got sma’ repose;

And then neist morn, without remead,

He maun gae dig for daily bread;

Poor limpy cou’d na brook the spade,

He dropp’d his leg, and off he gaid.

As ow’r the lone he bent his way,

He there foregather’d wi’ the flea.

Then to ilk other they complain;

What does great Jove and mortals mean?

Why did great Jove our beings give,

When mortals winna let us live?

Here we maun bide — come let us try

A change of quarters e’er we die.

The gout gaid to the rich man’s house,

Whare he liv’d happily and dowse:

There he gat ease, and flannels warm,

To keep him soft and free frae harm:

There he got morsels nice and fine,

And thrave fou fast, on drams, and wine.

Off to the cottage gaid the flea,

And nestled down in dirt and strae;

Attack’d the man, and bit him weel,

Sometimes he slept, and didna feel:

And when he did, he cou’dna grip it,

Sae nimbly throu’ the strae it skippit.

Cosy it liv’d and e’er the week,

’Twas, like a coach horse, fat and sleek.

Ae sunday ev’ning, after mass,

The gout, and flea, like lad and lass,

Gaid to the place of rendevouz,

"How are you man? And how are you?

Trowth I’m as happy as a lord:

And I’m right happy tak my word."

Weel, quo’ the gout, sin’ baith are sae,

Let us e’en keep the beilds we hae;

Live happy in your humble state,

I’ll bide amang the pamper’d Great.


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