The Auction (1778)

Combe, William
Matthew Darly, ‘The City Rout’, 1776 [British Museum]


"Now let her triumph—but the time may come,
When Christie's Hammer shall pronounce her doom;"

Dark was the morn which usher'd in the day,
That bore Vainetta from herself away.
The low'ring clouds, in pity for her pain,
Distill'd their drops of sympathizing rain.
Capricious Sleep, that thro' the troubled night
Had left her soul a prey to sad affright,
At morning's dawn dispell'd her tort'ring fears,
And for a few short hours dried up her tears.
Now gaudy Fancy, with her painted Train
Of antic Visions, sported o'er her brain,
And scatter'd airy pleasures as she pass'd;
Alas! those pleasures were not made to last!

Too soon from dreams of joy the Fair-one 'woke,
The creaking door her golden slumbers broke.
Starting, in wild disorder up she rose:
The quick but sad remembrance of her woes,
With recollected torture, eager prest
Its thorny sorrows on her tender breast.
In silent haste the toilette is prepar'd;
But, ah! Vainetta's eyes no longer dar'd,
With watchful look and lengthen'd zeal, to trace
The doubtful beauty of her bloated face,
Now hideous grown with anxious, pining care,
Hagg'd with despite and blubber'd with despair.
When grateful fumes of chocolate arise,
She views the Dresden equipage, and sighs;
Sighs to reflect she may no more behold
Its glossy whiteness, gay with streaky gold;
Sighs, that in Gr---n-street no longer she
Can idly dawdle o'er her morning's tea,
And glean the new-born scandal of the Town,
As proud of other's follies as her own .
In vain the attending Ministers divide
The flowing tresses, or, in borrow'd pride,
Attach the ringlets: Quick, her hands displace,
With rude attack, the honours of her face.
Before the once-lov'd shrine she cannot stay;
Half-dress'd and unberoug'd, she hastes away;
And, weeping, bellows, in distracted tone,
“A chair! A chair! I languish to be gone!”
Onward thro' many a gilded room she pass'd,
And on the gaudy splendors look'd her last;
Look'd and bemoan'd her unrelenting fate,
That sunk her so beneath the Vulgar Great ;
Then hid her weeping eyes, and inly mourn'd,
That she who dar'd depise should now be scorn'd.
Enrag'd, upon a couch, her length she threw,
And in these accents spoke her sad Adieu!

“Wou'd I had dy'd before my Taste had shewn
“A brilliant Pattern to an envious Town;
“That now, ungrateful, triumphs in my pain;
“Or worse, insults me with a pitying strain.
“Sure some ill-omen'd Sprite was sent to guide
“My youthful footsteps in the paths of Pride,
“Whose magic power, and unresisted art,
“In secret chains secur'd my thoughtless heart;
“And in one giddy moment turn'd to nought
“Each thrifty precept that my Mother taught.
“But Life's a scene of misery and woe,
“No age or state does real comfort know.
“In early days, beneath a Parent's care,
“Forc'd to my morning and my evening prayer,
“I learn'd the saintly look, and hypocritic air.
“In a small room, and full three stories high,
“A kind of grown-up Miss's Nursery,
“I passed my time beneath that harsh restraint,
“Which language cannot tell, nor fancy paint;
“Our youthful, playsome spirits, kept in awe
“By the stern rigours of maternal law,
“Ne'er aim'd at higher joys than to bestow
“Our eager gazings on the streets below.
“Happy indeed, if, on the First of May,
“The dancing chimney-sweeper came that way.
“No balmy fluids did our breakfast grace,
“Thin, wat'ry porridge ill supplied their place;
“Nor ever did the fragrant butter spread
“Its yellow surface on the scanty bread.
“At length the time arriv'd that I was shewn,
“In all the honours of my mother's gown,
“To meet the sneers and censures of the Town.
“Yet to preserve my pride, my Sisters wore
“Each faded robe that I could wear no more.
“But, ah! this World, which I so long'd to see,
“Prov'd an uninteresting scene to me!

“No gentle whisper from the gazing throng,
“Gave sweet importance as I pass'd along:
“Instead of praises wheresoe'er we came,
“Continued censure hung upon our name.
“Around the Fair the youthful Nobles bow'd;
“We stood alone unnotic'd in the crowd.
“At length the unexpected Hymen came:
“Pleas'd with its freedom, tho' without its flame,
“I rush'd into the pleasures of the Ton,
“Laugh'd at the world, and was myself alone.
“Dress, Equipage, Diversions, all supply
“Fresh fuel for the flame of Vanity.
“But, oh! Diversions, Equipage, and Dress,
“Did not procure the expected happiness!
“To make it worse, one Mother shook her head,
“The other sorrow'd o'er my barren bed;
“While scare-brain V**s hopp'd from fair to fair,
“As careless of himself as of an heir.
“But still, at times, the World's gay, giddy scene
“Banish'd the vapours, and dispell'd the spleen;
“Some pleasure yet was found amid the smart,
“—The World saw not the sorrow at my heart.
“Shrouded in splendor, I could well beguile
“The secret care with hypocritic smile.
“But Fortune snatch'd the gilded mask away,
“And forc'd the hidden sorrow into day;
“Expos'd me to the taunting sneers of those
“Who, lessen'd by my triumphs, were my foes;
“And strew'd our names, with long-continu'd rage,
“Upon the Mornin's foul and tainted page.
“Devon in laughter will my fate bewail,
“And antic Derby triumph in the tale.
“Now let her triumph—but the time may come,
“When Christie's Hammer shall pronounce her doom;
“That magic symbol, whose Circean art
“Will from these walls make every charm depart;
“Tear all their gay and splendid trappings down,
“And scatter them throughout the greedy Town.

“Ye glitt'ring Lustres, whose reflecting ray
“Charm'd wond'ring night with all the glare of day,
“Perhaps it may be your disgraceful doom
“To decorate some vile Assembly-room.
“Thou crystal Mirror! whose transparent face
“With gratitude return'd the frequent grace
“To every Belle and Beau that glanc'd aside
“To snatch the faithful image of their pride;
“Who knows, but in some City-Tavern plac'd,
“To glutton eyes you may reflect the feast!
“Some purse-proud Cit, who, tir'd of foggy air,
“Deserts old Broad-street for St. James's-square,
“May press this downy Couch, and loll in yonder Chair.
“Ye splendid forms, the gay and costly boast
“Of Seve and Dresden, where will you be lost!
“No more from you will sav'ry incense rise,
“To wake the sense to evening sacrifice;
“O'er some old-fashion'd gaudy chimney plac'd,
“Your Owner, bless'd with pride, but void of taste,
“May leave your beauties to the dust a prey,
“And let your orient colours fade away.
“Ye silken Sofas, gay in streaky dress
“Of varied colours, in what dark recess
“Will you be hid? To paltry crimson dy'd,
“You may become the Brothel's only pride!
“Such is my fate; and such the sad rewards
“Of Folly, Fashion, Vanity, and Cards.
“Oh then, farewel! ye gay, much-lov'd delights!
“Ye days of pleasure, and ye festive nights!
“The ribbon'd steed, the varnish'd Vis-a-vis,
“The figure of the Dame of Quality;
“The envy-stirring Plume, and splendid Dress,
“Pride, Pomp, and circumstance of happiness,
“That oft throughout the wond'ring Town has shone;
“Farewel! Vainetta's occupation's gone!

“Oh Brother B---! had I been like you,
“To ev'ry sordid interest meanly true;
“Like you had borne, with smiles, the general sneer
“Of all degrees, from Thomas to a Peer;
“Then had I 'scap'd this mortifying woe,
“Nor soaring high, had sunk so very low.
“—And must I quit the dear enchanting Ton
“For Henley's Shades, and Step-Dame Gr**son!
“Or sometimes be admitted, as a treat,
“To take my beef's cheek-pye in G**r-street!
“Or, mid the vapours of a sulky day,
“To weep with ever-weeping D***a!”

She could no more; but with a parting eye
Glanc'd o'er the scene of splendid misery:
Then sought, with dubious haste, th'attending Chair:
Its hackney'd bearers hurry off their fare.
One solitary Footman walk'd before,
And gave the unwelcome rap at H**'s door:
There poor Vainetta enter'd, with a sigh,
To learn new systems of Oeconomy.


Combe, William. The Auction. A Town Eclogue. By the honourable Mr. ---: [i.e. William Combe] The third edition. London : printed for J. Bew, No. 28, Pater-Noster-Row, 1778. Full text from ECCO.