You know “The Teacups,” that congenial set
Which round the Teapot you have often met;
The grave DICTATOR, him you knew of old,–
Knew as the shepherd of another fold
Grayer he looks, less youthful, but the same
As when you called him by a different name.
Near him the MISTRESS, whose experienced skill
Has taught her duly every cup to fill;
“Weak;” “strong;” “cool;” “lukewarm;” “hot as you can pour;”
“No sweetening;” “sugared;” “two lumps;” “one lump more.”
Next, the PROFESSOR, whose scholastic phrase
At every turn the teacher’s tongue betrays,
Trying so hard to make his speech precise
The captious listener finds it overnice.
Nor be forgotten our ANNEXES twain,
Nor HE, the owner of the squinting brain,
Which, while its curious fancies we pursue,
Oft makes us question, “Are we crack-brained too?”
Along the board our growing list extends,
As one by one we count our clustering friends,–
The youthful DOCTOR waiting for his share
Of fits and fevers when his crown gets bare;
In strong, dark lines our square-nibbed pen should draw
The lordly presence of the MAN OF LAW;
Our bashful TUTOR claims a humbler place,
A lighter touch, his slender form to trace.
Mark the fair lady he is seated by,–
Some say he is her lover,–some deny,–
Watch them together,–time alone can show
If dead-ripe friendship turns to love or no.
Where in my list of phrases shall I seek
The fitting words of NUMBER FIVE to speak?
Such task demands a readier pen than mine,–
What if I steal the Tutor’s Valentine?
Why should I call her gracious, winning, fair?
Why with the loveliest of her sex compare?
Those varied charms have many a Muse inspired,–
At last their worn superlatives have tired;
Wit, beauty, sweetness, each alluring grace,
All these in honeyed verse have found their place;
I need them not,–two little words I find
Which hold them all in happiest form combined;
No more with baffled language will I strive,–
All in one breath I utter: Number Five!
Now count our teaspoons–if you care to learn
How many tinkling cups were served in turn,–
Add all together, you will find them ten,–
Our young MUSICIAN joined us now and then.
Our bright DELILAH you must needs recall,
The comely handmaid, youngest of us all;
Need I remind you how the little maid
Came at a pinch to our Professor’s aid,–
Trimmed his long locks with unrelenting shears
And eased his looks of half a score of years?
Sometimes, at table, as you well must know,
The stream of talk will all at once run low,
The air seems smitten with a sudden chill,
The wit grows silent and the gossip still;
This was our poet’s chance, the hour of need,
When rhymes and stories we were used to read.
One day a whisper round the teacups stole,–
“No scrap of paper in the silver bowl!”
(Our “poet’s corner” may I not expect
My kindly reader still may recollect?)
“What! not a line to keep our souls alive?”
Spoke in her silvery accents Number Five.
“No matter, something we must find to read,–
Find it or make it,–yes, we must indeed!
Now I remember I have seen at times
Some curious stories in a book of rhymes,–
How certain secrets, long in silence sealed,
In after days were guessed at or revealed.
Those stories, doubtless, some of you must know,–
They all were written many a year ago;
But an old story, be it false or true,
Twice told, well told, is twice as good as new;
Wait but three sips and I will go myself,
And fetch the book of verses from its shelf.”
No time was lost in finding what she sought,–
Gone but one moment,–lo! the book is brought.
“Now, then, Professor, fortune has decreed
That you, this evening, shall be first to read,–
Lucky for us that listen, for in fact
Who reads this poem must know how to act.”
Right well she knew that in his greener age
He had a mighty hankering for the stage.
The patient audience had not long to wait;
Pleased with his chance, he smiled and took the bait;
Through his wild hair his coaxing fingers ran,–
He spread the page before him and began.