1799 Poem, Samuel Thomson, ‘The Bonnet — A Poem, Addresed to a Reverend Miser’

Author: Samuel Thomson

Date: 1799

Source: Poem: ‘The Bonnet A Poem, Addresed to a Reverend Miser’, from New Poems, on a variety of different subjects by Samuel Thomson (Belfast: Doherty & Simms, 1799)

Comments: Samuel Thomson (1766–1816) from Lyles Hill near Templepatrick in South Antrim was the editor of the ‘Poets’ Corner’ in the Belfast United Irishman newspaper Northern Star until the paper was closed down in 1797. He exchanged poems with, and visited, Robert Burns, and published three books containing Ulster-Scots poetry — in 1793, 1799 and 1806. An account of his life and poetry can be found in the Introduction to The Country Rhymes of Samuel Thomson, by Philip Robinson and Ernest Scott (Belfast, 1992).

Doc. ref. no.: USLS/TB/Poetry/1700-1799/028




Ye wha hae seen hell’’s horned knight,

Sough owre a midnight brae,

Can only boast o’’ sic a sight

As I saw yesterday.

The following Poem, is such it may be called, had a curious fact for its foundation. A certain Rev. Gentleman, better known by the singularity of his dress than a liberal or charitable disposition, happening on the afternoon of a warm day, in the month of July, one year, to be out, either on a soul-saving or hunger-destroying excursion, passed the Author’s door in the following trim, which curious sight gave rise to the rhyme: — Old black stocking-legs partly conceal’d his shins; by this ’twill be understood his feet were bare; a pair of blue linen breeches, unbuttoned at the knees, worn, rip’d, tatter’d and torn, hung over his Rev. buttocks; a waistcoat of the same cloth with the breeches, but so miserably reduced that one might conceive even the ragman would refuse, unbuttoned, hung on his shoulders. He had on no coat. Let us not forget to render justice to his careful wash-woman, he had on a very well done up shirt.

But what crowned all, was his head incased in a woman’s black bonnet! As his back, apparently more from the negligence of Nature in his formation, than the effect of a burden of years, is wonderfully bent even an unthinking stranger may figure to himself this ludicrous picture. To such as have the honour and happiness to live in the same neighbourhood with the Gentleman, this rude draught will be altogether superfluous. I fondly hope, however, that the singularity of the sight will plead my apology with both those that know him and those that do not. I know, as a worthy Author has said, “That Corbies and Clergy are a shot right kittle”; but Nature, in her freaks, hath given me such a tickleness of intellect, that when I accidentally, or otherwise, meet with any thing risible in itself, even tho’ I should be guilltined for it, ’tis altogether out of my power to keep from laughing.

“Not laugh? beasts, fishes, fowls, nor reptiles can. That’s the peculiar privilege of man.”


“For that (quoth he) let me alone,

“We’ve store of such, and all our own,

“Bred up and tutor’d by our teachers,

“The ablest of conscience-stretchers.”


Ha! — Whar got ye that?

Whar hae ye flung th’ ald wool hat?

Hae ye hung’t up, being auld and torn,

To fright the rooks frae ’mang the corn,

Or thrown’t in spider neuk, to lig

Alang wi’ th’ auld rejected wig?

Tho’ scoff’d and hol’d, depend upon it,

Ye set it better than a bonnet.

Perhaps some loon your absence watches,

And short repasts of pleasure snatches;

And, while stern Jealousy plants her thorns,

Ye clap on this to hide the horns.

Perhaps ye think, an’ ye’re nae goose,

This keeps your Craneum brave and loose;

While that a hat confines the same,

And ideas get owre het at hame.

Reverse o’ these auld brainless bodies,

Wha drone a’ day in dusky studies;

With energy of mind possest,

When labouring out ye study best;

An’ can contrive in a dyke sheugh,

What may do poor fok weel eneugh.

Being fond to keep, to latest date,

Your colour, at the cheapest rate,

(Tho’ ane might trow, to see your buff,

It might amaist be weather proof.)

This cowl prevents the staring sin,

Frae with’ring up your cheek an’ chin.

Unlike these Macaroni fellows,

Wha, flaunting, spread their umberellas,

Tripping, tip toe, in gaudy claithing,

While, save what’s on them, they hae naithing;

Naithing at hame, but empty bags:

Ye store the gowd an’ gang in rags!

I’ve heard ye mair than ance or twice

Assert that all extremes were vice;

If so, your R------ is to blame,

O’er head and ears is one extreme!

But stiff-neck still, you seem to think,

That first an’ foremost — meat an’ drink,

And any kind of thread-bare clothing,

Not bought I mean, but got for nothing,

Are all that’s needful, straight or crooked,

And gold was made — for what? to look at.

While from your rostrum you deride

All ostentation, pomp and pride,

Ah! on yourself cou’d you but look,

And see as you see other fok’,

Ye’d see your humped back support

A turse of pride of other sort.

For pride exists in monie a form;

And surely there’s as little harm

In that which trips in fashion nice,

As that which creeps in rags and lice.

As matron Nature has took pains,

On nought about you but the brains,

L----d, Sir, you shou’d be more exact!

The million tauk behint your back;

Your shape, resembling Hudibrases,

You render worse by these odd dresses;

With an old wife’s bonnet on your pow,

You’d fright the pigs from any sow.

’Twad much amend the matter, faith,

Wad ye but gang in decent claith.

Although at you and your apparel,

’Tis impudence in me to snarl;

But when I see, wi’ auld or young,

Aught odd, I canna had my tongue.

Your graceless flock are grown sae lazy,

An’ lukewarm, they have put your crazy;

In trespasses and sins, they’re dead;

For you they’ll neither drive nor lead!

While like a tug you wingle wi’ them,

Unwilling to be sun’er’d frae them;

When fleechin winna do, ye’ll even

Attempt to frighten them to heaven!

To pass the cot (craving your pardon)

Ye ken’d there woun’d a bleth’rin bard in,

Wha keeks, incog. at man an’ woman,

An’ whan he meets wi’ aught uncommon,

In hamely, aff hand, rural rhymes,

Sends all in print to future times;

For you, I say, to pass his dore,

In siccan garb, mad-like as Caor,

Your R------ was a little out,

You might, he thinks, have gone about.

’Twas mercy, Sir, wi’ siccan hood on,

Nae breeding wife met you the road on!

If onie had, I’ll tak my aith,

Far less has been a woman’s death.

Perhaps ye read this fellow’s book,

An’ there observ’d nae note is took

Of you — ye thought, ance for a joke,

Ye’d try his musie to provoke,

And, right or wrong, to future ages,

Shine on his next edition’s pages;

And so ye shall, dear R------ ------

Thro’ comin’ times, wi’ bonnet on ye,

Link it alang like countra carline,

While gaping rustics will be ferlying,

Taking ye for the witch of En-dor,

(L----d save’s!) or some sic like pretender.

Gude faith, ye’ll aiblins tak’ it ill,

That I hae thus employ’d my quill

On you, and your concerns — but shud ye

E’en gar me girn for’t thro’ a widdie,

To see you wi’ a bonnet skelp it,

O L----d, my sire, I could not help it!

But gin ye be a holy brither,

When ae cheek’s smit, ye’ll turn the ither,

An’ owre this hamely sonnet smile;

To rage is never worth your while.

I fain wad think ye’ll no be wroth;

‘’Tis surely wholesome as sour broth,

The which, ’twas said, you us’d to love,

As cook-maid yet can fairly prove.

She’s aften tauld, that if ye hame

At evening came, with empty wame,

Ye were like a blood-hound or a tiger,

Till sour broth sav’d frae hated beggar,

Wi’ pratoes cauld, allay’d the smart

O hunger knawin at your heart;

Or thick or thin, ’twas all the same,

Coarse things do weel eneugh at hame.

Sin’ that day’s night that ye sae stark,

Had executed three men’s wark,

Ye h’ lost, alack! your popularity,

An’ fa’n amaist beneath vulgarity.

Don’t let your R------ think I flaw;

The following fact will clearly shaw,

And corroborate, to your aversion,

Th’ existing truth of my assertion.

Suppose to pomp and carry clashes,

Is wark for wicked, graceless hashes;

But if examples we can spy,

Frae sic as you spontaneous fly,

To tell a random clash or lee,

Might aiblins be let go free!

The ither night, as I was wa’kin

About the dykes, I heard twa’ ta’kin

Behint a bush; I kept frae view,

And heard what follows — about you!

* * * * * *

[Here, as Tom Gray says,500 stanzas are lost.]

Thus, Sir, you see I am not jestin;

But wha was’t spake o’t? — there’s the question;

And not withstanding how I can, Sir,

’Tis one I am not bound to answer:

Full likely ’tis exaggeration,

Or diabolic defamation,

That falsely has supplanted truth,

And prostitutes each meddling mouth.

Be’t as it will, your R------ may

Dependence put in this I say;

There’s several gentles — fok o’ fashion,

That oft hae pang’d you like a cushion,

Wha wi’ the Devil would rather share

Their conversation and their fare.

If I, as you were haf as able,

To keep an independent table,

I’d see my guts about a thorn,

Before I shou’d incur their scorn,

In any such a low-liv’d way,

Haunting them for their draps o’ tea!

I kenna whether ye hae took note

O this that I am gawn to quote;

But whether ye hae observ’d or no,

I’m sure I always found it so.

While we conveniently can get

But keeping out o’ great fok’s debt,

Accepting nought but what we find

We can again return in kind,

Ay whan we meet them, fitch the beaver,

This is the way to win their favor.

But twice or thrice a week or so,

Gude faith we’ll soon a burden grow,

While from the vera flunkie’s face,

Sour looks will soon explain the case.

Now, Sir, lest I be thought too rude

And impudent, I will conclude:

While ------’s your name, may heaven bless ye;

And earth in better cloathing dress ye;

May your saul ne’er sink to sooty hell,

But ye can pray for that yoursell.

Your patience yet, an inch or twa;

Just ae word ere I gang awa:

Ken whether ye occupy your wit,

To rail at me an’ all I h’ writ;

Wrathfu’ misca’ me, stamp and stare,

Keep up your nieves, I dinna care.

Believe me, Sir, your fist or rung

Wad hurt me far waur than your tongue.

Henceforth I’ll watch an’ no gae near ye,

And then I need na muckle fear ye —

Keep that auld bonnet frae my view,

And pray for me, I’ll sing for you.


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