Trivia; or, the Art of Walking the Streets of London

Original Text: 
John Gay, Court Poems (London: J. Roberts, 1706 [i.e., 1716]). B-11 4622 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
2The proper implements for wintry ways;
3Has taught the walker, with judicious eyes,
4To read the various warnings of the skies.
5Now venture, Muse, from home to range the town,
6And for the public safety risk thy own.
7      For ease and for dispatch, the morning's best;
8No tides of passengers the street molest.
9You'll see a draggled damsel, here and there,
11On doors the sallow milk-maid chalks her gains;
12Ah! how unlike the milk-maid of the plains!
13Before proud gates attending asses bray,
14Or arrogate with solemn pace the way;
16The love-sick maid and dwindling beau repair;
19To greet the new-made bride. Are sounds like these
20The proper prelude to a state of peace?
21Now industry awakes her busy sons,
22Full charg'd with news the breathless hawker runs:
23Shops open, coaches roll, carts shake the ground,
24And all the streets with passing cries resound.
25      If cloth'd in black, you tread the busy town
26Or if distinguish'd by the rev'rend gown,
27Three trades avoid; oft in the mingling press,
28The barber's apron soils the sable dress;
29Shun the perfumer's touch with cautious eye,
30Nor let the baker's step advance too nigh;
31Ye walkers too that youthful colours wear,
32Three sullying trades avoid with equal care;
33The little chimney-sweeper skulks along,
34And marks with sooty stains the heedless throng;
35When small-coal murmurs in the hoarser throat,
36From smutty dangers guard thy threaten'd coat:
37The dust-man's cart offends thy clothes and eyes,
38When through the street a cloud of ashes flies;
39But whether black or lighter dyes are worn,
40The chandler's basket, on his shoulder borne,
41With tallow spots thy coat; resign the way,
42To shun the surly butcher's greasy tray,
43Butcher's, whose hands are dy'd with blood's foul stain,
44And always foremost in the hangman's train.
45      Let due civilities be strictly paid.
46The wall surrender to the hooded maid;
47Nor let thy sturdy elbow's hasty rage
48Jostle the feeble steps of trembling age;
49And when the porter bends beneath his load,
50And pants for breath, clear thou the crowded road.
51But, above all, the groping blind direct,
52And from the pressing throng the lame protect.
53You'll sometimes meet a fop, of nicest tread,
54Whose mantling peruke veils his empty head;
55At ev'ry step he dreads the wall to lose,
56And risks, to save a coach, his red-heel'd shoes;
57Him, like the miller, pass with caution by,
58Lest from his shoulder clouds of powder fly.
59But when the bully, with assuming pace,
60Cocks his broad hat, edg'd round with tarnish'd lace,
61Yield not the way; defy his strutting pride,
63He never turns again, nor dares oppose,
64But mutters coward curses as he goes.
65      If drawn by bus'ness to a street unknown,
66Let the sworn porter point thee through the town;
67Be sure observe the signs, for signs remain,
68Like faithful land-marks to the walking train.
69Seek not from prentices to learn the way,
70Those fabling boys will turn thy steps astray;
71Ask the grave tradesman to direct thee right,
72He ne'er deceives, but when he profits by 't.
75Here to sev'n streets sev'n dials count the day,
76And from each other catch the circling ray.
77Here oft the peasant, with enquiring face,
78Bewilder'd, trudges on from place to place;
79He dwells on ev'ry sign with stupid gaze,
80Enters the narrow alley's doubtful maze,
81Tries ev'ry winding court and street in vain,
82And doubles o'er his weary steps again.
84Travers'd the dang'rous labyrinth of Crete;
85But still the wand'ring passes forc'd his stay,
86Till Ariadne's clue unwinds the way.
87But do not thou, like that bold chief, confide
88Thy vent'rous footsteps to a female guide;
89She'll lead thee with delusive smiles along,
91      When waggish boys the stunted besom ply
93E'er thou hast held their hands; some heedless flirt
94Will over-spread thy calves with spatt'ring dirt.
95Where porters hogsheads roll from carts aslope,
96Or brewers down steep cellars stretch the rope,
97Where counted billets are by carmen tost,
437  When rosemary, and bays, the poet's crown,
438Are bawl'd in frequent cries through all the town,
439Then judge the festival of Christmas near,
440Christmas, the joyous period of the year.
441Now with bright holly all your temples strow,
442With laurel green and sacred mistletoe.
443Now, heav'n-born Charity, thy blessings shed;
444Bid meagre Want uprear her sickly head:
445Bid shiv'ring limbs be warm; let plenty's bowl
446In humble roofs make glad the needy soul.
447See, see, the heav'n-born maid her blessings shed;
448Lo! meagre Want uprears her sickly head;
449Cloth'd are the naked, and the needy glad,
450While selfish Avarice alone is sad.
451     Proud coaches pass, regardless of the moan
452Of infant orphans, and the widow's groan;
453While Charity still moves the walker's mind,
454His lib'ral purse relieves the lame and blind.
455Judiciously thy half-pence are bestow'd,
456Where the laborious beggar sweeps the road.
457Whate'er you give, give ever at demand,
458Nor let old age long stretch his palsy'd hand.
459Those who give late are importun'd each day,
460And still are teas'd because they still delay.
461If e'er the miser durst his farthings spare,
462He thinly spreads them through the public square,
463Where, all beside the rail, rang'd beggars lie,
464And from each other catch the doleful cry;
465With heav'n, for two-pence, cheaply wipes his score,
466Lifts up his eyes, and hastes to beggar more.
467     Where the brass knocker, wrapt in flannel band,
468Forbids the thunder of the footman's hand;
470Waits with impatience for the dying breath;
471As vulture, o'er a camp, with hov'ring flight,
472Snuff up the future carnage of the fight.
473Here canst thou pass, unmindful of a pray'r,
474That heav'n in mercy may thy brother spare?


1] First published in three books in 1716. Gay notes in his "Advertisement": "Gentlemen, if there be anything in this poem good enough to displease you, and if it be any advantage to you to ascribe it to some person of greater merit, I shall acquaint you, for your comfort, that, among many other obligations, I owe several hints of it to Dr. Swift."
Trivia: an epithet used of any goddess whose temple stood at the junction of three roads. Here signifies a goddess of streets. Back to Line
10] Billingsgate: on the Thames, a little below London Bridge, the great fish-market of London. Back to Line
15] Asses' milk was in great demand in the early eighteenth century. Cf. The Post Boy (Dec. 6, 1711): "Ass's milk to be had at Richard Stout's, at the sign of the Ass, at Knightsbridge, for three shillings and sixpence per quart; the ass to be brought to the buyer's door." Back to Line
17] drummers. It was customary for drummers to serenade newly-married couples (see Spectator, 364). Back to Line
18] vellum: parchment-like material used for covering of drums. Back to Line
62] kennel: gutter. Back to Line
73] St. Giles: in the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, London. Back to Line
74] sev'n dials: an open area in St. Giles's parish from which seven streets radiate. At one time there was a column in the centre on the summit of which were seven sun-dials, with a dial facing each of the streets. See Evelyn, Diary (Oct. 5, 1694): "went to see the building beginning near St. Giles's, where seven streets make a star from a Doric pillar placed in the middle of a circular area." Back to Line
83] Referring to the story of Theseus's imprisonment in the labyrinth of King Minos of Crete, where he killed the Minotaur and escaped with the help of Ariadne, Minos's daughter, who gave him a clue of thread by which he traced his passage. Cf. Ovid, Heroides, XI. Back to Line
90] fob: watch-pocket. Back to Line
92] slabby: wet and dirty. Back to Line
98] the post. In most of the London streets, a line of posts used to mark the edge of the pavement. Back to Line
469] upholder: undertaker. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.84.