OR, HALF A LOAF IS BETTER THAN NO BREAD IN A DIALOGUE BETWEEN JACK ANVIL AND TOM HOD, TO THE TUNE OF—“A COBBLER THERE WAS”
Written in Ninety-five, a Year of Scarcity and Alarm
By Hannah More
“Come, neighbors, no longer be patient and quiet,
Come, let us go kick up a bit of a riot;
I’m hungry, my lads, but I’ve little to eat,
So we’ll pull down the mills, and we’ll seize all the meat:
I’ll give you good sport, boys, as ever you saw;
So a fig for the justice, a fig for the law.
Then his pitchfork Tom seized.—“Hold a moment,” says Jack,
“I’ll show thee thy blunder, brave boy, in a crack.
And if I don’t prove we had better be still,
I’ll assist thee straightway to pull down every mill;
I’ll show thee how passion thy reason does cheat,
Or I’ll join thee in plunder for bread and for meat.
“What a whimsey to think thus our bellies to fill!
For we stop all the grinding by breaking the mill!
What a whimsey to think we shall get more to eat
By abusing the butchers who get us the meat!
What a whimsey to think we shall mend our spare diet
By breeding disturbance, by murder and riot!
“Because I am dry, ’twould be foolish, I think,
To pull out my tap, and to spill all my drink;
Because I am hungry and want to be fed,
That is sure no wise reason for wasting my bread:
And just such wise reasons for mending their diet
Are used by those blockheads who rush into riot.
But still I would mark how God our land blesses;
For though in Old England the times are but sad,
Abroad, I am told, they are ten times as bad;
In the land of the pope there is scarce any grain,
And ’tis worse still, they say, both in Holland and Spain,
“Let us look to the harvest our wants to beguile;
See the lands with rich crops how they everywhere smile!
Meantime to assist us, by each western breeze,
Some corn is brought daily across the salt seas.
Of tea we’ll drink little, of gin none at all,
And we’ll patiently wait, and the prices will fall.
“But if we’re not quiet, then let us not wonder
If things grow much worse by our riot and plunder;
And let us remember, whenever we meet,
The more ale we drink, boys, the less we shall eat.
On those days spent in riot, no bread you brought home,
Had you spent them in labor, you must have had some.
“‘A dinner of herbs,’ says the wise man, ‘with quiet,
Is better than beef amid discord and riot.’
If the thing could be helped, I’m a foe to all strife,
And I pray for a peace every night of my life;
But in matters of state not an inch will I budge,
Because I conceive I’m no very good judge.
“But though poor, I can work, my brave boy, with the best;
Let the king and the parliament manage the rest;
I lament both the war and the taxes together,
Though I verily think they don’t alter the weather.
The king, as I take it, with very good reason,
May prevent a bad law, but can’t help a bad season.
“The parliament men, although great is their power,
Yet they cannot contrive us a bit of a shower;
And I never yet heard, though our rulers are wise,
That they know very well how to manage the skies;
For the best of them all, as they found to their cost,
Were not able to hinder last winter’s hard frost.
“Besides, I must share in the wants of the times,
Because I have had my full share in its crimes;
And I’m apt to believe the distress which is sent,
Is to punish and cure us of all discontent.
But harvest is coming—potatoes are come!
Our prospect clears up; ye complainers, be dumb!
“And though I’ve no money, and though I’ve no lands,
I’ve head on my shoulders, and a pair of good hands;
So I’ll work the whole day, and on Sundays I’ll seek
At church how to bear all the wants of the week.
The gentlefolks too will afford us supplies;
They’ll subscribe—and they’ll give up their puddings and pies.
“Then before I’m induced to take part in a riot,
I’ll ask this short question—‘What shall I get by it?’
So I’ll e’en wait a little, till cheaper the bread,
For a mittimus hangs o’er each rioter’s head;
And when of two evils I’m asked which is best,
I’d rather be hungry than hanged, I protest.
Quoth Tom, “Thou art right; if I rise, I’m a Turk:”
So he threw down his pitchfork, and went to his work.