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Laughing at the King: Selected Poems

Laughing at the King: Selected Poems

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Reveling in the sycophancy and classist pretensions of England’s courts in the late 18th century, this ribald collection of satirical verse specializes in lampooning the public and private lives of the decadent British monarchy. Containing the bitingly controversial social commentary of medical man turned political satirist, Dr. John Wolcott, and penned under the pseudonym of Peter Pindar, this rousing collection pinpoints exactly why Pindar enjoyed great commercial success with his ruthless ridicule of eminent public figures—the favored target being King George III, his vain and materialistic wife, and all of the King’s cronies. Including a revealing introduction and comprehensive contextual material, this rediscovery of a remarkable literary catalog hilariously showcases the witty and wicked verse that once scandalized and delighted the denizens of 18th-century London.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847778253
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 09/01/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 270
File size: 251 KB

About the Author

Peter Pindar is the pseudonym of Dr. John Wolcott, who was a physician, a scholar, and a famed political satirist. Fenella Copplestone is a teacher, a reviewer, and an editor.

Read an Excerpt

Laughing at the King

Selected Poems

By Peter Pindar

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2009 Fenella Copplestone
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-825-3


The Lousiad

An Heroi-Comic Poem 1785–1795

    Prima Syracosio dignata est ludere versu
    Nostra, nec erubuit sylvas habitare, Thalia.
    Cùm canerem Reges et Prælia, Cynthius aurem
    Vellit, et admonuit.

    I, who so lately in my Lyric Lays
    Sung 'to the praise and glory of' R.A.'s;
    And sweetly tuned to Love the melting Line,
    With Ovid's Art, and Sappho's Warmth divine;
    Said (nobly daring), 'Muse, exalt thy wings,
    Love and the Sons of Canvas quit for Kings.' –
    Apollo, laughing at my powers of Song,
    Cried, 'Peter Pindar, prithee hold thy tongue.'
    But I, like Poets self-sufficient grown,
    Replied, 'Apollo, prithee hold thy own.'

        To the Reader


IT is necessary to inform thee, that his Majesty actually discovered, some time ago, as he sat at table, a Louse on his plate! The emotion occasioned by the unexpected appearance of such a Guest, can be better imagined than described.

An edict was, in consequence, passed for shaving the Cooks, Scullions, &c. and the unfortunate Louse condemned to die.

Such is the foundation of the LOUSTAD. With what degree of merit the Poem is executed, the uncritical as well as critical Reader will decide.

The ingenious Author, who ought to be allowed to know somewhat of the matter, hath been heard privately to declare, that in his opinion the Batrachomyomachia of Homer, the Secchia Rapita of Tassoni, the Lutin of Boileau, the Dispensary of Garth, and the Rape of the Lock of Pope, are not to be compared to it; and to exclaim at the same time, with the modest assurance of an Author:

Cedite, scriptores Romani; cedite, Graii: Nil ortum in terris Lousiadâ melius.

Which, for the sake of the mere English Reader, is thus beautifully translated:

Roman and Grecian Authors, great and small, The Author of the LOUSTAD beats you all.

fromCanto the First. September 1785

    THE LOUSE I sing, who, from some head unknown,
    Yet born and educated near a Throne,
    Dropp'd down (so will'd the dread decree of Fate),
    With legs wide sprawling on the Monarch's plate:
    Far from the raptures of a Wife's embrace;
    Far from the gambols of a tender Race,
    Whose little feet he taught with care to tread
    Amidst the wide Dominions of the Head;
    Led them to daily food with fond delight,
    And taught the tiny wanderers where to bite;
    To hide, to run, advance, or turn their tails,
    When hostile Combs attack'd, or vengeful Nails:
    Far from those pleasing scenes ordain'd to roam,
    Like wise Ulysses, from his native home;
    Yet, like that Sage though forced to roam and mourn,
    Like him, – alas! not fated to return,
    Who, full of rags and glory, saw his Boy
    And Wife again, and Dog that died for joy.
    Down dropp'd the luckless Louse, with fear appall'd,
    And wept his Wife and Children as he sprawl'd.

    Now on his legs, amidst a thousand woes,
    The Louse, with Judge-like gravity, arose;
    He wanted not a motive to entreat him,
    Beside the horror that the King might eat him.
    The dread of gasping on the fatal fork,
    Stuck with a piece of mutton, beef, or pork,
    Or drowning 'midst the sauce in dismal dumps,
    Was full enough to make him stir his stumps.
    Vain hope of stealing unperceived away!
    He might as well have tarried where he lay.

    Seen was this Louse, as with the Royal Brood
    Our hungry King amused himself with food:
    Which proves (though scarce believed by one in ten),
    That Kings have appetites like common men;
    And that, like London Aldermen and Mayor,
    They feed on solids less refined than air.
    Paint, heavenly Muse, the look, the very look,
    That of the Sovereign's face possession took,
    When first he saw the Louse, in solemn state,
    Grave as a Spaniard, march across the plate.
    Yet, could a Louse a British King surprise,
    And like a pair of Saucers stretch his Eyes?
    The little Tenant of a mortal head,
    Shake the great Ruler of Three Realms with dread?
    Good Lord! (as Somebody sublimely sings),
    What great effects arise from little things!
    As many a loving Swain and Nymph can tell,
    Who, following Nature's law, have loved too well.
    Not more aghast he look'd when, 'midst the course,
    He tumbled, in a stag-chase, from his horse,
    Where all his Nobles deem'd their Monarch dead;
    But luckily he pitch'd upon his head.

    What dire emotions shook the Monarch's soul!
    Just like two Billiard-balls his Eyes 'gan roll,
    While anger all his Royal heart possess'd,
    That, swelling, wildly bump'd against his breast;
    Bounced at his ribs with all its might so stout,
    As resolutely bent on jumping out,
    T'avenge, with all its powers, the dire disgrace,
    And nobly spit in the offender's face. –
    Thus a large Dumpling to its cell confin'd
    (A very apt allusion, to my mind),
    Lies snug, until the water waxeth hot,
    Then bustles 'midst the tempest of the pot:
    In vain; the lid keeps down the Child of Dough,
    That bouncing, tumbling, sweating, rolls below.

    'How, how? what, what? what's that, what's that?' he cries,
    With rapid accent, and with staring eyes:
    'Look there, look there; what's got into my house?
    A Louse, God bless us! Louse, louse, louse, louse, louse.'
    The Queen look'd down, and then exclaim'd, 'Good la!'
    And with a smile the dappled Stranger saw.
    Each Princess strain'd her lovely neck to see;
    And, with another smile, exclaim'd, 'Good me!' –
    'Good la! Good me! is that all you can say?'
    Our gracious Monarch cries, with huge dismay:
    'What! what! a silly vacant smile take place
    Upon your Majesty's and Children's face,
    While that vile Louse (soon, soon to be unjointed)
    Affronts the presence of the Lord's Anointed!'

    Dash'd, as if tax'd with Hell's most deadly sins,
    The Queen and Princesses drew in their chins,
    Look'd prim, and gave each exclamation o'er,
    And, prudent Damsels, 'word spake never more.'
    Sweet Maids, the beauteous boast of Britain's isle,
    Speak, were those peerless Lips forbid to smile?
    Lips that the soul of simple Nature moves,
    Form'd by the bounteous hands of all the Loves;
    Lips of delight, unstain'd by Satire's gall;
    Lips that I never kiss'd – and never shall.

    Now, to each trembling Page, a poor mute mouse,
    The pious Monarch cried, 'Is this
    your Louse?' –
    'Ah! Sire,' replied each Page with pig-like whine,
    'An't please your Majesty, it is not mine.' –
    'Not thine?' the hasty Monarch cried again:
    'What, what? whose, whose then? who the devil's then?'

    Now at this sad event the Sovereign, sore
    Unhappy, could not take a mouthful more:
    His wiser Queen, her gracious stomach studying,
    Stuck most devoutly to the Beef and Pudding;
    For Germans are a very hearty sort,
    Whether begot in Hog-sties or a Court,
    Who bear (which shows their hearts are not of stone)
    The ills of others better than their own.
    Grim terror seized the souls of all the Pages,
    Of different sizes, and of different ages:
    Frighten'd about their pensions or their bones,
    They on each other gaped like Jacob's Sons.

    Now to a Page, but which we can't determine,
    The growling Monarch gave the plate and Vermin.
    'Watch well that blackguard Animal,' he cries,
    'That, soon or late, to glut my vengeance dies:
    Watch, like a Cat, that vile marauding Louse,
    Or George shall play the devil in the house.
    Some Spirit whispers, that to Cooks I owe
    The precious Visitor that crawls below;
    Yes, yes, the whispering Spirit tells me true,
    And soon shall vengeance all their Locks pursue.
    Cooks, Scourers, Scullions too, with Tails of Pig,
    Shall lose their coxcomb Curls, and wear a Wig.' –
    Thus roared the King, not Hercules so big;
    And all the Palace echoed, 'Wear a Wig!'

    Fear, like an Ague, struck the pale-nosed Cooks,
    And dash'd the beef and mutton from their looks;
    Whilst from each cheek the rose withdrew its red,
    And Pity blubber'd o'er each menaced Head.
    But, lo, the great Cook-Major comes! his Eyes
    Fierce as the reddening Flame that roasts and fries;
    His Cheeks like Bladders, with high passion glowing,
    Or like a fat Dutch Trumpeter's when blowing:
    A neat white apron his huge corpse embraced,
    Tied by two comely strings about his waist;
    An apron that he purchased with his riches,
    To guard from hostile grease his velvet breeches;
    An apron that, in Monmouth-street high-hung,
    Oft to the winds with sweet deportment swung.

    'Ye Sons of Dripping, on your Major look,'
    In sounds of deep-toned thunder cried the Cook:
    'By this white apron, that no more can hope
    To join the piece in Mister Inkle's shop,
    That oft has held the best of Palace-meat,
    And from this forehead wiped the briny sweat;

    I swear this Head disdains to lose its Locks;
    And those that do not, tell them they are blocks.
    Whose Head, my Cooks, such vile disgrace endures?
    Will it be yours, or yours, or yours, or yours?
    Ten thousand Crawlers in that Head be hatch'd,
    For ever itching, but be never scratch'd!
    Then may the charming perquisite of grease
    The mammon of your pocket ne'er increase;
    Grease, that so frequently hath brought you coin,
    From veal, pork, mutton, and the great Sir Loin.
    O Brothers of the Spit, be firm as rocks:
    Lo! to no King on earth I yield these Locks.
    Few are my Hairs behind, by age endear'd;
    But, few or many, they shall not be shear'd.

    'Sooner shall Madame Schwellenberg, the jade,
    Yield up her favourite perquisites of trade;
    Give up her Majesty's old cloaks and gowns,
    Caps, petticoats, and aprons, without frowns
    She who for ever studies mischief; she
    Who soon will be as busy as a Bee,
    To get the liberty of Locks enslaved,
    And every harmless Cook and Scullion shaved.
    She, if by chance a British Servant Maid,
    By some insinuating tongue betray'd,
    Induced the fair forbidden fruit to taste,
    Grows, luckless, somewhat bigger in the waist;
    Rants, storms, swears, turns the Penitent to door,
    Graced with the pretty names of Bitch and Whore,
    To range a Prostitute upon the town,
    Or, if the weeping Wretch think better, drown:–
    But, if a German Spider-brusher fails,
    Whose nose grows sharper, and whose shape tells tales;
    Hush'd is th' affair; the Queen and she, good Dame,
    Both club their wits to hide the growing shame;
    To wed her, get some fool, I mean some wise man;
    Then dub the prudent Cuckold an Exciseman.
    She who hath got more insolence and pride,
    God mend her heart! than half the world beside:

    She who, of guttling fond, stuffs down more meat,
    Heaven help her stomach! than ten men can eat;
    Ten men? aye, more than ten, the hungry Hag;
    Why, zounds, the woman's Stomach's like a Bag:
    She who will swell the uproar of the house,
    And tell the King damned lies about the Louse;
    When probably that Louse (a vile old trull!)
    Was born and nourish'd in her own grey scull.

    'Sooner the room shall Buxom Nanny quit,
    Where oft she charms her Master with her wit;
    Tells tales of every body, every thing,
    From honest Courtiers to the Thieves who swing;
    Waits on her Sovereign while he reads dispatches,
    And wisely winds up State-affairs or Watches.

    'Sooner the Prince (may Heaven his income mend!)
    Shall quit his bottle, mistress, or his friend;
    Laugh at the drop on Misery's languid eye,
    And hear her sinking voice without a sigh;
    Break for the wealth of Realms his sacred word,
    And let the World write Coward on his sword.
    Sooner shall Ham from Fowl and Turkey part,
    And Stuffing leave a Calf's or Bullock's Heart:
    Sooner shall Toasted Cheese take leave of Mustard,
    And from the Codlin Tart be torn the Custard:
    Sooner these hands the glorious Haunch shall spoil,
    And all our Melted Butter turn to Oil.
    Sooner our pious King, with pious face,
    Sit down to dinner without saying grace;
    And every night salvation-prayers put forth
    For Portland, Fox, Burke, Sheridan, and North,
    Sooner shall fashion order frogs and snails,
    And dishclouts stick eternal to our tails. –
    Let George view Ministers with surly looks,
    Abuse 'em, kick 'em; but revere his Cooks.'
    'What! lose our Locks?' replied the Roasting Crew,
    'To Barbers yield 'em? Damme if we do.

    Be shaved like foreign Dogs one daily meets
    Naked, and blue, and shivering, in the streets;
    And from the Palace be ashamed to range,
    For fear the World should think we had the mange;
    By taunting boys made weary of our lives,
    Broad-grinning whores and ridiculing wives?'

    'Rouse, Opposition!' roar'd a tipsy Cook,
    With hands akimbo, and bubonic look:
    "Tis she alone our noble Curls can keep;
    Without her, Ministers would fall asleep:
    'Tis she who makes great men, our Foxes, Pitts,
    And sharpens, Whetstone like, the Nation's Wits;
    Knocks off your knaves and fools, however great,
    And, Broom-like, sweeps the cobwebs of the State:
    In casks like Sulphur that expels bad air,
    And makes, like Thunder-claps, foul weather fair;
    Acts like a Gun, that, fired at gather'd soot,
    Preserves the chimney, and the house to boot;
    Or, like a School-boy's Whip, that keeps up tops,
    The sinking Realm by flagellation props.
    Our Monarch must not be indulged too far;
    Besides, I love a little bit of war.
    Whether to crop our Curls he boasts a right,
    Or not, I do not care the Louse's bite;
    But then, no force-work. No; no force, by Heaven:
    Cooks, Yeomen, Scourers, we will not be driven.
    Try but to force a Pig against his will,
    Behold, the sturdy gentleman stands still;
    Or perhaps, his power to let the driver know,
    Gallops the very road he should not go.
    No force for me. The French, the fawning dogs,
    E'en let them lose their freedom, and eat Frogs:
    Damme, I hate each pale soup-maigre thief;
    Give me my darling Liberty and Beef.'

    He spoke; and from his jaws a lump he slid,
    And, swearing, manful flung to earth his quid.
    Then swelling Pride forbade his tongue to rest,
    While wild emotions labour'd in his breast:

    Now sounds confused his anger made him mutter,
    And, when he thought on shaving, curses sputter.
    Such is the sound (the simile's not weak),
    Form'd by what mortals Bubble call and Squeak,
    When 'midst the frying-pan, in accents savage,
    The Beef so surly quarrels with the Cabbage.

    'Be shaved!' a Scullion loud began to bellow,
    Loud as a Parish-bull, or poor Othello
    Placed by that rogue Iago upon thorns,
    With all the horrors of a pair of Horns.

    'Be shaved like Pigs!' rejoin'd the Scullion's Mate,
    His dishclout shaking, and his pot-crown'd pate:
    'What Barber dares it? – Let him watch his nose,
    And, curse me, dread the rage of these ten toes.'
    So saying, with an oath to raise one's hair,
    He kick'd with threatening foot the yielding air.

    'Be shaved!' an understrapper Turnbroche cried,
    In all the foaming energy of pride:
    'Zounds, let us take his Majesty in hand;
    The King shall find he lives at our command.
    Yes; let him know, with all his wondrous State,
    His teeth and stomach on our wills shall wait:
    We rule the platters, we command the spit,
    And George shall have his mess when we think fit;
    Stay till ourselves shall condescend to eat,
    And then, if we think proper, have his Meat.'

    'Heavens!' cried a Yeoman, with much learning graced,
    In books, as well as meat, a man of taste,
    Who read with vast applause the daily news,
    And kept a close acquaintance with the Muse;

    Conundrum, rebus, made; acrostic, riddle;
    And sung his dying sonnets to the fiddle,
    When Love, with cruel dart, the murdering thief!
    His Heart had spitted, like a Piece of Beef:
    'Are these,' he said, 'of Kings the whims and jokes?
    Then Kings can be as mad as common folks.
    Dame Nature, when a Prince's head she makes,
    No more concern about the inside takes,
    Than of the inside of a bug's or bat's,
    A flea's, a grasshopper's, a cur's, a cat's:
    As careless as the Artist, trunks designing,
    About the trifling circumstance of lining;
    Whether of Cumberland he use the plays,
    Miss Burney's novels, or Miss Seward's lays;
    Or Sacred Dramas of Miss Hannah More,
    Where all the Nine with little Moses snore.
    Whether he doom the Royal Speech to cling,
    Or those of Lords and Commons to the King;
    Where one begs Money, and the others grant
    So easy, freely, friendly, complaisant,
    As if the Cash were really all their own,
    To purchase knick-knacks that disgrace a Throne. –
    Ah me! did people know what trifling things
    Compose those Idols of the Earth, called Kings;
    Those counterparts of that important Fellow,
    The children's wonder, Signor Punchinello;
    Who struts upon the Stage his hour away;
    His outside, gold; his inside, rags and hay;
    No more as God's Viceregents would they shine,
    Nor make the World cut throats for Right Divine.

    'Those Lords of Earth, at Dinner, we have seen
    Sunk, by the merest trifles, with the spleen:
    Oft for an ill-dress'd Egg have heard them groan,
    And seen them quarrel for a Mutton-bone;

    At Salt, or Vinegar, with passion fume,
    And kick Dogs, Chairs, and Pages, round the room.
    Alas! how often have we heard them grunt,
    Whene'er the rushing Rain hath spoil'd a Hunt!

    Their sanguine wishes cross'd, their spirits clogg'd,
    Mere riding Dishclouts homeward they have jogg'd;
    Poor imps, the sport (with all their pride and power)
    Of Nature's diuretic stream, a Shower!
    This we, the Actors in the farce, perceive;
    But this the distant World will ne'er believe,
    Who fancy Kings to all the Virtues born,
    Ne'er by the vulgar storms of Passion torn;
    But blest with Souls so calm, like Summer Seas,
    That smile to Heaven, unruffled by a breeze:
    Who think that Kings, on Wisdom always fed,
    Speak sentences like Bacon's Brazen Head;
    Hear from their lips the vilest nonsense fall,
    Yet think some heavenly Spirit dictates all;
    Conceive their bodies of celestial clay,
    And, though all ailment, sacred from decay;
    To nods and smiles their gaping homage bring,
    And thank their God their eyes have seen a King.
    Lord! in the Circle when our Royal Master
    Pours out his Words as fast as Hail, or faster,
    To country Squires, and Wives of country Squires;
    Like stuck Pigs staring, how each Oaf admires!
    Lo! every Syllable becomes a Gem:
    And if, by chance, the Monarch cough, or hem,
    Seized with the symptoms of a deep surprise,
    Their joints with reverence tremble, and their eyes
    Roll wonder first; then, shrinking back with fear,
    Would hide behind the brains, were any there.
    How taken is this idle World by show!
    Birth, Riches, are the Baals to whom we bow;
    Preferring, with a Soul as black as Soot,
    A Rogue on horseback to a Saint on foot.

    See France, see Portugal, Sicilia, Spain,
    And mark the desert of each Despot's brain;
    Whose tongues should never treat with taunts a fool;
    Who prove that nothing is too mean to rule.
    What could the Prince, high towering like a Steeple,
    Without the Majesty of us the People?
    Go, like the King of Babylon, to grass;
    Or wander, like a Beggar with a pass.
    However modern Kings may Cooks despise,
    Warriors and Kings were Cooks, or History lies:
    Patroclus broil'd Beef-steaks to quell his hunger;
    The mighty Agamemnon potted Conger;
    And Charles of Sweden, 'midst his guns and drums,
    Spread his own Bread and Butter with his thumbs. –
    Be shaved! No: sooner pillories, jails, the stocks,
    Shall pinch this corpse, than Barbers snatch my Locks.'

    'Well hast thou said,' a Scourer bold rejoin'd:
    'Damme, I love the man who speaks his mind.'
    Then in his arms the Orator he took,
    And swore he was an Angel of a Cook.
    Awhile he held him with a Cornish hug;
    Then seized, with glorious grasp, a pewter mug,
    Whose ample womb nor Cyder held nor Ale,
    But Nectar fit for Jove, and brewed by Thrale.
    'A health to Cooks!' he cried, and waved the pot;
    'And he who sighs for titles, is a sot.
    Let Dukes and Lords the World in wealth surpass;
    Yet many a Lion's skin conceals an Ass.
    Lo! this is one among my Golden Rules,
    To think the greatest men the greatest fools:
    The great are judges of an Opera-song,
    And fly a Briton's for a Eunuch's tongue;
    Thus idly squandering for a squawl their riches,
    To faint with rapture at those Cats in Breeches.
    Accept this truth from me, my Lads: the man
    Who first found out a Spit or Frying-pan,
    Did ten times more towards the Public Good,
    Than all the tawdry Titles since the Flood:

    Titles, that Kings may grant to Asses, Mules;
    The scorn of Sages, and the boast of Fools.'

    He ended. All the Cooks exclaim'd, 'Divine!'
    Then whisper'd one another, 'twas 'damned fine.'
    Thus spoke the Scourer like a man inspired,
    Whose Speech the Heroes of the Kitchen fired:
    Grooms, Master-scourers, Scullions, Scullions' Mates,
    With all the Overseers of Knives and Plates,
    Felt their brave Souls like frisky Cyder work,
    Whizzing in opposition to the Cork;
    Earth's Potentates appear'd ignoble things,
    And Cooks of greater consequence than Kings.
    Such is the power of words, where truth unites;
    And such the rage that injured worth excites!
    The Scourer's Speech indeed, with reason blest,
    Inflamed with godlike ardour all the rest.
    Thus if a Barn Heaven's vengeful Lightning draw,
    The flame ethereal darts among the straw;
    Doors, Rafters, Beams, Owls, Weasels, Mice, and Rats,
    And (if unfortunately mousing) Cats;
    All feel the fierce devouring Fire in turn,
    And, mingling in one Conflagration, burn.

    'Sons of the Spit,' the Major cried again,
    'Your noble Speeches prove you blest with brain;
    Brain, that Dame Nature gives not every head,
    But fills the vast vacuity with Lead.

    Yet ere for Opposition we prepare,
    And fight the glorious cause of Heads of Hair,
    Methinks 'twould be but decent to petition,
    And tell the King with firmness our condition.
    Soon as our sad Complaint he hears us utter,
    His gracious Heart may melt away like Butter;
    Fair Mercy shine amidst our gloomy house,
    And anger'd Majesty forget the Louse.'

ADVERTISEMENT: As many people persist in their incredulity with respect to the attack made by the Barbers on the Heads of the harmless Cooks, I shall exhibit a list of the unhappy Sufferers: it is the Palace List, and therefore as authentic as the Gazette:–


Two Master Cooks.
Two Soil-Carriers.
Three Yeomen ditto.
Two Door-Keepers.
Four Grooms.
Eight Boys
Three Children.
Five Pastry People.
Two Master Scourers.
Eight Silver Scullery,
Six Underscourers. for laughing at the
Six Turnbroches.

In all, Fifty-One.

A young Man, named John Bear, would not submit, and lost his place.


Excerpted from Laughing at the King by Peter Pindar. Copyright © 2009 Fenella Copplestone. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
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Table of Contents


Title Page,
A Note on the Text,
Suggestions for Further Reading,
The Lousiad: An Heroi-Comic Poem. 1785–1795,
from Canto the First. September 1785,
(Canto II. 1787),
from Canto the Third. April 1791,
(Canto IV. December 1792),
from Canto the Fifth. November 1795,
Tales of the King,
from An Apologetic Postscript to Ode upon Ode. 1787,
from Instructions to a Celebrated Laureat,
from Peter's Pension. 1788,
from The Royal Tour and Weymouth Amusements. 1795,
About the Author,

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