Anonymous: The Vicar of Bray.

Anonymous: The Vicar of Bray.

To home page.

The publishing of poems by unknown authors is an English tradition. Background to this famous satire comes from a royalist writer of the English civil war period. The poem itself dates from the next century.

In The Worthies of England ( 1662 ) Thomas Fuller says:

First we will dispatch that sole proverb of this county, Berkshire, viz: --

"The Vicar of Bray will be Vicar of Bray still."

Bray, a village well known in this county, so called from the Bibroces, a kind of ancient Britons inhabiting thereabouts. The vivacious vicar hereof living under King Henry the Eighth, King Edward the Sixth, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, was first a Papist, then a Protestant, then a Papist, then a Protestant again. He had seen some martyrs burnt ( two miles off ) at Windsor, and found this fire too hot for his tender temper. This vicar being taxed by one for being a turncoat and an inconstant changeling, -- "Not so," said he, "for I always kept my principle, which is this, to live and die the vicar of Bray." Such many nowadays, who though they cannot turn the wind will turn their mills, and set them so, that wheresoever it bloweth their grist shall certainly be grinded.

The poem's phrase 'turned the cat in pan' refers to a turn-coat, originally a soldier who turned his coat inside-out to show the other side's colors, if they were winning.


The Vicar of Bray

Anonymous satire from The British Musical Miscellany ( 1734 ).


In Good King Charles's golden days,
When Loyalty no harm meant;
A Furious High-Church Man I was,
And so I gain'd Preferment:
Unto my Flock, I daily Preach'd,
Kings are by God appointed,
And Damn'd are those who dare resist,
Or touch the Lord's Annointed.

And this is Law, I will maintain
Until my Dying Day Sir,
That whatsoever King shall Reign,
I will be Vicar of Bray, Sir.

When Royal James, possest the Crown,
And Popery grew in fashion;
The Penal Law I houted down,
And read the Declaration:
The Church of Rome, I found would fit,
Full well my Constitution,
And I had been a Jesuit,
But for the Revolution.

And this is Law, etc.

When William, our Deliverer came,
To heal the Nations Grievance,
I turn'd the Cat in Pan again,
And swore to him Allegiance:
Old Principles I did revoke,
Set Conscience at a distance,
Passive obedience is a Joke,
A Jest is non resistance.

And this is Law, etc.

When Glorious Ann, became our Queen,
The Church of Englands Glory,
Another face of things was seen,
And I became a Tory:
Occasional Conformists base,
I Damn'd, and Moderation,
And thought the Church in danger was,
From such Prevarication.

And this is Law, etc.

When George in Pudding time came o'er,
And Moderate Men look'd big Sir,
My Principles I changed once more,
And so became a Whigg Sir:
And thus Preferment I procur'd,
From our Faiths Great Defender,
And almost every day abjur'd,
The Pope and the Pretender.

And this is Law, etc.

The Illustrious House of Hannover,
And Protestant Succession,
To these I lustily will swear,
Whilst they can keep possession:
For in my Faith and Loyalty,
I never once will faulter,
But George, my Lawful King shall be,
Except the Times shou'd alter.

And this is Law, etc.







Queen Elizabeth I


Michael Drayton ( 1563 - 1631 ): Love's Vitality

Since there's no hope, come, let us kiss and part, --
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me;
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so clearly I myself can free;
Shake hands together, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet in any place again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows,
That we one jot of former love retain;
Now, at the last gasp of Love's failing breath,
When, his pulse failing, passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes, --
Now, if thou wouldst when all have given him over,
From death to life thou yet mightst him recover!






Thomas Campion ( 1567 - 1620 ): Basia.

Turn back, you wanton flyer,
And answer my desire
With mutual greeting.
Yet bend a little nearer, --
True beauty still shines clearer
In closer meeting!
Hearts with hearts delighted
Should strive to be united,
Each other's arms with arms enchaining, --
Hearts with a thought,
Rosy lips with a kiss still entertaining.

What harvests half so sweet is
As still to reap the kisses
Grown ripe in sowing?
And straight to be receiver
Of that which thou art giver,
Rich in bestowing?
There is no strict observing
Of times' or seasons' swerving,
There is ever one fresh spring abiding; --
Then what we sow with our lips
Let us reap, love's gains dividing.






THE DYING MAN IN HIS GARDEN

By GEORGE SEWELL ( - 1626 )

WHY, Damon, with the forward day
Dost thou thy little spot survey,
From tree to tree, with doubtful cheer,
Pursue the progress of the year,
What winds arise, what rains descend,
When thou before that year shalt end?

What do thy noontide walks avail,
To clear the leaf, and pick the snail,
Then wantonly to death decree
An insect usefuller than thee?
Thou and the worm are brotherkind,
As low, as earthy, and as blind.

Vain wretch! canst thou expect to see
The downy peach make court to thee?
Or that thy sense shall ever meet
The bean flower's deep-embosomed sweet
Exhaling with an evening blast?
Thy evenings then will all be past!

Thy narrow pride, thy fancied green
(For vanity's in little seen),
All must be left when Death appears,
In spite of wishes, groans, and tears;
Nor one of all thy plants that grow
But Rosemary will with thee go.






Sir Henry Wotton ( 1568 - 1639 ): A happy Life.

How happy is he born and taught,
That serveth not another's will;
Whose armor is his honest thought,
And simple truth his utmost skill!

Whose passions not his master are,
Whose soul is still prepared for death,
Untied unto the worldly care
Of public fame or private breath:

Who envies none that chance doth raise,
Or vice; who never understood
How deepest wounds are given by praise;
Nor rules of state, but rules of good:

Who hath his life from rumors freed,
Whose conscience is his strong retreat,
Whose state can neither flatterers feed,
Nor ruin make oppressors great:

Who God doth late and early pray,
More of his grace than gifts to lend,
And entertains the harmless day
With a religious book or friend.

This man is freed from servile bands
Of hope to rise, or fear to fall;
Lord of himself, though not of lands,
And, having nothing, yet hath all.






George Wither ( 1588 - 1667 ): The Manly Heart

To top of page.


Shall I, wasting in despair,
Die because a woman's fair?
Or my cheeks make pale with care
'Cause another's rosy are?
Be she fairer than the day
Or the flowery meads in May --
If she be not so to me
What care I how fair she be?

Shall my foolish heart be pined
'Cause I see a woman kind;
Or a well-disposed nature
Joined with a lovely feature?
Be she meeker, kinder, than
Turtledove or pelican,
If she be not so to me
What care I how kind she be?

Shall a woman's virtues move
Me to perish for her love?
Or her merit's value known
Make me quite forget mine own?
Be she with that goodness blest
Which may gain her name of Best;
If she seem not such to me
What care I how good she be?

'Cause her fortune seems too high,
Shall I play the fool and die?
Those that bear a noble mind
Where they want of riches find,
Think that with them they would do
Who without them dare to woo;
And unless that mind I see,
What care I though great she be?

Great or good, or kind or fair,
I will ne'er the more despair;
If she love me, this believe,
I will die ere she shall grieve;
If she slight me when I woo,
I can scorn and let her go;
For if she be not for me,
What care I for whom she be?





Robert Herrick ( 1591 - 1674 )

Robert Herrick



To the virgins to make much of time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a flying;
And this same flower that smiles to-day,
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer:
But being spent the worse and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.





Sir John Suckling ( 1609 - 1641 ):
Prithee, send me back my heart.

I prithee send me back my heart,
Since I cannot have thine;
For if from yours you will not part,
Why, then, shouldst thou have mine?

Yet now I think on't, let it lie,
For th' hast a thief in either eye
Would steal it back again!

Why should two hearts in one breast lie,
And yet not lodge together?
Oh, love! where is thy sympathy,
If thus our breasts thou sever?

But love is such a mystery,
I cannot find it out;
For when I think I'm best resolved,
I then am in most doubt.

Then farewell care, and farewell woe,
I will no longer pine;
As much as she hath mine.







Henry Vaughan ( 1621 - 1695 ): The Bird


Hither thou comest. The busy wind all night
Blew through thy lodging, where thy own warm wing
Thy pillow was. Many a sullen storm,
For which coarse man seems much the fitter born,
Rained on thy bed
And harmless head;
And now as fresh and cheerful as the light
Thy little heart in early hymns doth sing
Unto that Providence whose unseen arm
Curbed them, and clothed thee well and warm.
All things that be praise Him; and had
Their lesson taught them when first made.








THE SONG OF ROREK.

By John William Weidemeyer.


'TWAS on the night of Michaelmas that lordly Orloff's heir
Wed with the noble Russian maid, Dimitry's daughter fair.

With mirth and song, and love and wine, that was a royal day;
The banners streamed, the halls were hung in black and gold array.

'The Twelve Apostles stood in brass, each with a flambeau bright,
To blaze with holy altar sheen throughout the festive night.

The rings were changed, the tabor rolled, the Kyrie was said;
The boyard father drew his sword, and pierced the loaf of bread.

Soon as the priest did drain his cup, and put his pipe aside,
He wiped his lip upon his sleeve, and kissed the blushing bride.

That very night to Novgorod must hasten bride and heir,
And Count Dimitry bade them well with robe and bell prepare.

And when from feast and wedding guest they parted at the door,
He bade two hunters ride behind, two hunters ride before.

"Look to your carbines, men," he called, "and gird your ready knives!"
With one accord they all replied, "We pledge thee with our lives!"

I was the haiduk of that night, and vowed, by horses fleet,
Our sleigh must shoot with arrow speed behind the coursers' feet.

We journeyed speedy, werst by werst, with bell and song and glee,
And I, upon my postal horn, blew many a melody.

I blew farewell to Minka mine, and bade the strain retire
Where she sat winding flaxen thread beside the kitchen fire.

We rode, and rode, by hollow pass, by glen and mountain side,
And with each bell soft accents fell from lips of bonny bride.

The night was drear, the night was chill, the night was lone and bright;
Before us streamed the polar rays in green and golden light.

The gypsy thieves were in their dens; the owl moaned in the trees;
The windmill circled merrily, obedient to the breeze.

Shrill piped the blast in birchen boughs, and mocked the snowy shroud;
Thrice ran a hare across our track; thrice croaked a raven loud.

The horses pawed the frigid sands, and drove them with the wind;
We left the village gallows tree full thirty wersts behind.

We rode, and rode, by forest shade, by brake And riverside;
And as we rode I heard the kiss of groom and bonny bride.

I heard again, -- a boding strain; I heard it all too well;
A neigh, a shout, a groan, a howl,-- then heavy curses fell.

Our horses pricked their wary ears and bounded with affright;
From forest kennels picket wolves were baying in the night.

" Haiduk, haiduk, -- the lash, -- the steeds, -- the wolves!" the lady cried;
The wily baron clutched his blade, and murmured to the bride:--

This all is but a moonlight hunt: the starveling hounds shall bleed,
And you shall be the tourney's queen, to crown the gallant deed! "

The moon it crept behind a cloud, as covered by a storm;
And the gray cloud became a wolf, a monster wolf in form.

"Gramercy, Mother of our Lord, -- gramercy in our needs!"
Hold well together hand and thong, hold well, ye sturdy steeds!

Like unto Tartar cavalry the wolf battalion sped;
Ungunned, unspurred, but well to horse, and sharpened well to head.

The pine stood by, the stars looked on, and listless fell the snow;
The breeze made merry with the trees, nor heeded wolf nor woe.

Now cracked the carbines, -- bleeding beasts were rolling here and there;
'Twas flash and shot and howl,-- and yet the wolves were every-where.

No more they mustered in our wake, their legion ranged beside.
'Twas steed for speed, and wolf for steed, and wolf for lord and bride.

In vain I cited Christian saints, I called Mahomet near:
Methought, though all the saints did fail, the prophet would appear.

A moment, and pursuit is stayed, -- they tear their wounded kind;
A moment, -- then the hellish pack did follow close behind.

The baron silent rose amain, by danger unappalled.
"Strive for your lives, with guns and knives," the mounted guards-men called.

The lady muttered agony, with crucifix and beads;
The wolves were snapping by her side, and leaping at our steeds.

My limbs were numb, my senses dumb, nor reason held its place;
I fell beneath two glaring orbs, within a gaunt embrace.

I roused to hear a volley fired, to hear a martial shout;
And when I oped my stricken eyes the wolves were all to rout.

A hundred scouting Cossacks met and slew the deadly foe;
Fourscore of wolves in throes of death lay bleeding in the snow.

Our lady rested in a swoon, our lord was stained with gore;
But none could tell of what befell the trusty hunters four.





To top of page.

To home page.