Monday 9 February 2009

Hornbook's Ghaist - by Francis Boyle

Here's a poem written by Francis Boyle (c1730- post 1811) of Gransha County Down from his 1811 volume Miscellaneous Poems. His was the Gransha near Dundonald rather than the one near Bangor. Although it is often said that Ulster-Scots writers merely imitated the works of Robert Burns, many of Boyle's poems were written before Burns work was published, although this one does appear to have been influenced by Burns.

Interestingly, Robert Burns wrote 'Death and Dr Hornbook' in 1785 as a satire about John Wilson, the son of Glasgow weaver who initially came to teach at Tarbolton and later kept a shop where he also sold drugs and gave out medical advice. A 'hornbook' was a sheet of paper with basic learning tools such as the alphabet, numerals and the Lord's Prayer and this would have been mounted on wood and covered by a protective plate of transparent horn. Burns wrote his poem after hearing Wilson going on about his medical knowledge at the Tarbolton Masonic Lodge. Here's Boyle's poem:


It happen't ance in Donaghadee,
No' monie perches frae the kee,
A gentleman I chanc't to see,
'Mang ither foks,
Wha deign't to talk a while wi' me,
An' sklent his jokes.

He saw that I was auld an' gray,
An' had but little for to say,
My garb was neither mean nor gay,
Just kintra weed,
An' as it was a frosty day,
Had tie't my head.

He took me for some kintra clown,
Wha liv't far distant frae the town;
He'll rue his folly I'll be boun',
To slight my leuk;
I'll spread his fame the kintra roun',
In my new beuk.

I hear he has attain't some skill,
To wait on women when they're ill,
An can prescribe sic dose or pill,
As mak's them worse;
An' braid receipts for them he'll fill,
To swall his purse.

But yet mair famous for his cures
O' batter't bawds, an' pockie whores,
While here an' there he taks his tours,
'Mang brothel-houses;
He sudna scorn my mental pow'rs,
Nor slight the Muses.

These sportin' Does, like Mrs. Clarke,
That win their wages i' the dark,
An' warm their logies wi' their wark,
Which staps their water
They maun gie Hornbook monie a mark
To mak' them better.

Young Tarry-breeks is come ashore,
Thro' storms an' tempests that did roar -
Revisits now his paramour,
The sportin' maid,
An' swears she's sprightly, aft an' fore,
An' fit for trade.

Some folk will say he's but a quack,
But that maun be a great mistak';
He cur't young Jamie, Wull an' Jack,
An' teuk their fees,
An' mim-mouth't Meg, the ridden hack,
O' her disease.

Nae Hornbook bred in shire o' Ayr,
Wi' our new doctor can compare;
My lads, jog on, an' never spare
To warm their tail;
Twa or three days in Hornbook's care,
Will mak' thee hale.

As Jock does live at the sea-side,
He sud bathe aften in the tide;
To brace his nerves, an' clean his hide,
In the saut water;
Perhaps this might allay his pride,

An' stap his clatter.

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