God's Judgment on a Wicked Bishop

Original Text: 
Morning Post (London, Nov. 27, 1799).
2That in winter the corn was growing yet,
3'Twas a piteous sight to see all around
4The grain lie rotting on the ground.
5Every day the starving poor
6Crowded around Bishop Hatto's door,
7For he had a plentiful last-year's store,
8And all the neighbourhood could tell
9His granaries were furnish'd well.
10At last Bishop Hatto appointed a day
11To quiet the poor without delay;
12He bade them to his great Barn repair,
13And they should have food for the winter there.
14Rejoiced such tidings good to hear,
15The poor folk flock'd from far and near;
16The great barn was full as it could hold
17Of women and children, and young and old.
18Then when he saw it could hold no more,
19Bishop Hatto he made fast the door;
20And while for mercy on Christ they call,
21He set fire to the Barn and burnt them all.
22"I'faith 'tis an excellent bonfire!" quoth he,
23"And the country is greatly obliged to me,
24For ridding it in these times forlorn
25Of Rats that only consume the corn."
26So then to his palace returned he,
27And he sat down to supper merrily,
28And he slept that night like an innocent man;
29But Bishop Hatto never slept again.
30In the morning as he enter'd the hall
31Where his picture hung against the wall,
32A sweat like death all over him came,
33For the Rats had eaten it out of the frame.
34As he look'd there came a man from his farm--
35He had a countenance white with alarm;
36"My Lord, I open'd your granaries this morn,
37And the Rats had eaten all your corn."
38Another came running presently,
39And he was pale as pale could be,
40"Fly! my Lord Bishop, fly," quoth he,
41"Ten thousand Rats are coming this way,...
42The Lord forgive you for yesterday!"
43"I'll go to my tower on the Rhine," replied he,
44"'Tis the safest place in Germany;
45The walls are high and the shores are steep,
46And the stream is strong and the water deep."
47Bishop Hatto fearfully hasten'd away,
48And he crost the Rhine without delay,
49And reach'd his tower, and barr'd with care
50All the windows, doors, and loop-holes there.
51He laid him down and closed his eyes;...
52But soon a scream made him arise,
53He started and saw two eyes of flame
54On his pillow from whence the screaming came.
55He listen'd and look'd;... it was only the Cat;
56And the Bishop he grew more fearful for that,
57For she sat screaming, mad with fear
58At the Army of Rats that were drawing near.
59For they have swum over the river so deep,
60And they have climb'd the shores so steep,
61And up the Tower their way is bent,
62To do the work for which they were sent.
63They are not to be told by the dozen or score,
64By thousands they come, and by myriads and more,
65Such numbers had never been heard of before,
66Such a judgment had never been witness'd of yore.
67Down on his knees the Bishop fell,
68And faster and faster his beads did he tell,
69As louder and louder drawing near
70The gnawing of their teeth he could hear.
71And in at the windows and in at the door,
72And through the walls helter-skelter they pour,
73And down from the ceiling and up through the floor,
74From the right and the left, from behind and before,
75From within and without, from above and below,
76And all at once to the Bishop they go.
77They have whetted their teeth against the stones,
78And now they pick the Bishop's bones:
79They gnaw'd the flesh from every limb,
80For they were sent to do judgment on him!


1] The wicked bishop was Hatto I, archbishop of Mainz (891-913). The tower in which he is said to have taken refuge, the so-called Mouse Tower at Bingen, was built actually in the 13th century, to exact river-tolls for the Castle of Ehrenfels. The legend itself seems to appear first in the 14th century. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
J. D. Robins
RPO Edition: 
2RP.2.145; RPO 1996-2000.