The Prophecy of Famine


Inscribed to C. CHURCHILL.
Si canimus Silvis, silvae sint consule dignae.
Printed for E. CABE, in Avemary Lane. 1763.
Price only One Shilling and Six-Pence.



Si canimus Silvis, silvae sint consule dignae.

ARcadia's plains no more the muse invite,
In Scotia's mountains blake she takes delight;
She wings her way, by female caprice led,
Where snows eternal load each mountain's head;
Where rocks and precipices threat the skies,
And hills o'er hills in distant prospect rise;
Whilst from the lofty cliffs the unshod swains,
Look down with trembling to the outstretch'd plains,
And toys of desperation fill their brains.
[Page 2]
Nice critics censure not Thalia's taste:
In dreary scenes the true sublime is trac'd,
From palaces the soul-wrap't bard retires,
The gloomy heath his labouring bosom fires :
Hence oracles, in times of yore, were found,
With groves impenetrable compass'd round ;
Whose nodding horror fill'd the clowns with awe,
Each fancying prodigies he never saw.
Hence at Moorfields, within the darken'd cell,
Poetic contemplation loves to dwell,
And Bedlam's prophet oft with charcoal scrawls
His incoherent sallies on the walls.
The prophet's visions, and the poet's flame,
Are near allied, both inspiration claim :
The sibyls once their answers gave in verse,
And poems are translated now from herse;
[Page 3]
The Highlander amidst unceasing snows,
With fire poetic and prophetic glows,
And the wild Laplander in rustic lays,
Invokes the sun and sings his Orra' s praise.
Wonder not then the muse should take her flight,
To highlands long renoun'd for second sight,
Where sages deeply red in mystic lore,
Are now whate'er the Druids were before
Thy needful succour to thy bard, oh muse,
For surely much he wants it, don't refuse;
I mean not thee who didst inspire the strain
Of Maro and Theocritus profane,
But thou who erst didst tune fam'd Sternhold's lyre,
And touch'd thy Partridge' hallow'd lips with fire:
Whence, wrap't into futurity's dark womb,
Of states and princes he foretold the doom,
[Page 4]
Tho' laugh'd at as a fool by letter'd pride,
Thus wanton boys God's prophet did deride.
Thou, who when England felt rebellion's rod,
And every trooper preach'd the word of God,
Did on the long-ear'd rabbles hoodwink'd fight,
Pour brightest emanations of new light;
Tho' witlings vile were wickedly inclin'd
To think their prophecies th' effects of wind.
Thou who didst dictate the prophetic rhymes,
Of Shipton, Sibil in these modern times ;
Who didst suggest the haggard Beldames strain,
When they hail'd conquering Glamis Cawdor's thane,
And told him he should fill his mailer's place,
But ne'er be father of a royal race,
Which made the Scot in too much haste to rise,
Stab the old king whilst Morpheus dos'd his eyes.
[Page 5]
Thus they who kill'd their king in times of old,
Grown mild in later ages, only sold.
Come to my aid, O fairy, witch or elf,
For poets ne'er invoke the de'il himself :
By thee inspir'd, my Caledonian lays
Shall last, and crown me with unfading bays.
In Dulmegarry's wild and barren plains,
Where the laird Makentosh despotic reigns,
Where the thatch'd hut a wretched shelter yields,
To sturdy earls returning from the fields,
A husband house there was, if fame say right,
Where porridge erst was supp'd both morn and night,
Where the good man his friends could oft regale,
With whisky strong, or with a cogue of ale,
And the good wife to ev'ry bairn could spare,
Of sowens and of brose an equal share.
The times grown hard, encreas'd the price of meal,
Andrew for water quits his favourite ale;
[Page 6]
The starving bairns round hapless Peggy throng,
And cry for bonnocks all the whole day long.
What can she do in such a dearth of meal ?
She's fain to seek for herbs to make them kale,
A haddock dry'd is deem'd a rare repast,
By wretches often us'd whole days to fast ;
Herring the family but rarely sees,
For ah! three herrings fell for two bawbees.
Andrew as sad as he had once been gay,
Gang'd forth into the field upon a day,
And whilst he pensive walk'd along the deck,
Griev'd to behold of peas and beans no feck ;
His neighbour David he at a distance spy'd,
As down the bray he march'd with ample stride;
David as conny a man as one might see,
With whom he often crack'd with muckle glee,
[Page 7]
For both could read and write, and well could ken
The nation's Interest, tho' but husbandmen ;
Poor folks like these oft see their countries weal,
And Europe's peace adjust when statesmen fail.
How's a' wi' ye? said David: Faith my friend,
Things are at worst, and surely soon should mend,
Said Andrew; or my wife and bairns must die
Of want, for famine, well I wot, is nigh.
Alas, poor country! well we now may say,
Scotland's become a desert, once so gay ;
Thro' all our plains dead silence reigns around,
No more is heard the bag-pipes chearing sound,
No more our laddies sing their Highland lays,
Their reeds are broken, wither'd all their bays;
And well they may neglect the tuneful strain,
Who wants his porridge, courts the muse in vain;
[Page 8]
What starving wretch e'er felt poetic fires?
The verse must halt that poerty inspires ;
Want suits but badly with a songster's glee,
Or with a hungry belly numbers free.
There thou hast said it neighbour, well I wot,
Repli'd, with brow of care, his brother Scot ;
For whatsoever certain folk may think,
A poet surely should both eat and drink :
Oft have I known our Sawny's muse to fail,
Till reinspir'd with whisky or with ale ;
Our pastor oft so deeply skill'd to teach,
Who sermons no man understands can preach,
The cogue must move or he has nought to say,
But sits in silence all the live-long day,
And yet I've heard that even in Aberdeen,
A better Latin scholar ne'er was seen.
[Page 9]
The times indeed were ne'er so hard before,
The rich themselves feel want amidst their store ;
Repli'd his neighbour ; endless are our woes,
The land no more with milk and honey flows :
Erst it was blest with plenty as with grace,
The Scots might boast themselves God's chosen race.
But Caledonia is no more the same,
Alas poor country ! all her sons exclaim ;
And none amidst so great a general woe,
Are seen to smile but bairns who nothing know.
Men die each day, the dismal passing bell,
So often tolls, no man for whom can tell.
And we who live had better far be dead,
Since we have lost life's staff, good oaten bread.
[Page 10]
Quoth Andrew, far away then let us roam,
Like Cain of old, nor stay to starve at home;
Tho' proud south-countrymen poor Scots despise,
By muckle wit we oft in England rise.
When Sawney Glasgow left, he wanted shoes,
But now grown rich, the thriving path pursues,
And soon in London city will acquire,
As muckle wealth as any laird or squire.
Scholars profound who had they here remain'd,
Salt to their porridge hardly could have gain'd ;
In the great city utter learned lays,
By which they pensions get as well as praise.
The English in each science we outshine,
Surpass in knowledge human and divine,
And eke in oratory, all agree
They speak not English half so well as we.
[Page 11]
What English poet can with Ramsay vie?
Sure verses pen'd like his can never die.
Dowglas, a Clerk that merits muckle praise,
In Scottish metre render'd Maro's lays,
And scholars who the latin Lingo ken,
Think him unequall'd by the sons of Men.
England must yield e'en in the present Age,
Say, can it equal great Macpherson's page?
Renown'd Macpherson who in purest herse,
Could all the glories of Fingal rehearse.
I heard our pastor speak of these and more,
For he is deeply vers'd in learned lore :
His neighbour answer'd, Scotchmen are no fools ;
Whether unletter'd hinds or bred in schools.
Our neighbour Jasper Forrest scarce could write,
When first he went a soldier forth to fight,
[Page 12]
But Jasper always well employ'd his Time,
And so became at length a scholar prime ;
Of diligence, preferment is the lot,
He soon was honour'd with the shoulderknot :
Not corp'ral long, the halbert soon he bore,
And pay'd the men with whom he rank'd before.
Success still waits upon the Scottish race,
Each land they visit is their native place.
Skill'd to excel alike in every art,
They play the scholars, soldiers, courtiers part.
To England then let's go, our fortune try;
Others have sped, and so may you and I.
And as the apostles did in times of old,
Go forth without or silver, brass or gold.
Andrew repli'd, I much approve the scheme,
The same our talents, our designs the same,
[Page 13]
A pilgrimage to England let us make,
We need not scrip or staff or purses take,
Nor fear what in our journey may betide,
God for the faithful always does provide.
With us our wives and bairns may safely roam,
They'd better go than stay to starve at home,
We no subsistance here can get at all,
Where'er we go, we'll have the town to call:
In London we may thrive; I have been told,
That there the very streets are pav'd with gold.
London must surely be a conny town,
Where he takes gold in handfuls who stoops down;
Not Glasgow, tho' so rich in buildings rare,
Or Edinburgh, with London can compare;
Let us then hasten both to London town,
There fortune quickly will our labour crown.
[Page 14]
The Scots know how to thrive, like holy Paul,
They strive to make themselves all things to all.
Hence Scotsmen oft are known in courts to rise,
They cringe to men in power, which proves them wise.
For he who would rise high must stoop as low,
Our prudent brethren well this maxim know :
So who to gain the ladder's top intends,
His face towards it turns, while he ascends,
But soon as to the top he can arise,
Proudly to heaven lifts up his daring eyes,
The steps to which he owes his wish'd for height,
Are now the objects of his scorn, and flight.
Hence the Scots, us'd to bear the servile chain,
In wilds where lairds o'er clans despotic reign ;
The Arts of flatterers and of courtiers ken ;
And so find favour in the eyes of men,
[Page 15]
But tyrants they turn out, of power possest,
The worst of masters, tho' of slaves the best.
It is not meet indeed a simple swain,
Like me, should pow'r or grandeur hope t'obtain;
But there are places of a lower fort,
And those may get them, who have friends at court;
As porter I may stand at courtiers gate,
And copy all the virtues of the great ;
Assume great huffing airs, and tell great lies;
Or else become collector of th' excise.
At any rate I fear not much to hit,
For no true Scot e'er wanted mother wit.
Alas my brother, t'other clown repli'd,
Ill suits with times like these so muckle pride,
He should be meek and humble, well I wot,
Who has no flesh nor porridge to his pot,
[Page 16]
With hunger, proud ambition squares but ill ;
Who hopes for greatness, first should eat his fill.
Still I approve of thy design to roam,
A prophet is not honour'd whilst at home:
Cromwell has said, and Cromwell sure was wise,
Who goes he knows not where is like to rise;
But let us, e'er we quit out native land,
Go crack with Robert Weyms, he lives at hand ;
Robert's a knowing man, has muckle wit,
And well I wot, has travell'd far for it;
Th' East Indies, and the West has Robert seen;
In Germany has long a soldier been,
The politics of courts he kens full well,
And can of many a strange adventure tell;
Nor to the present is his ken confin'd,
He's second-sighted tho' by age half blind.
[Page 17]
With wise instruction Robert may direct,
And guide us in the journey we project.
Th' advice I like, his neighbour then repli'd,
Twa heads beat one as wisest men decide ;
Then weighty surely must the councils be,
That are deliberately resolv'd by three.
This said, their way both deeply thoughtful bend,
Where clouds of smoke from Robert's hut ascend,
Blasting a pipe, they Robert quickly spied,
The while their wheels his wife and daughters plied.
The clown his friends with hearty welcome hail'd,
With whisky strong and oaten bread regal'd,
Then bursting forth in a pathetic strain,
Of the hard times gan loudly to complain :
In tone as doleful both his friends repli'd,
And lamentations rung on every side ;
Not Jeremiah many an age agoe
In sadder strains lamented lsrael's woe.
[Page 18]
Thus when complaint had somewhat eas'd each heart,
Andrew declar'd their purpose to depart;
And since they could not bear such weight of woe,
To distant climes in quest of fortune go.
Full wisely you have both resolv'd my friends,
Said Andrew, fortune on the bold attends,
And did not age unnerve my wasted frame,
Like you I'd go in quest of wealth and fame;
But enterprise suits badly with decay,
I now am old and shortly must away.
O might years past long since return once more,
And youthful vigour to my limbs restore ;
Such as I was at Dettingen, when France
Was humbled by Britannia's conquering lance;
When with my sabre keen I slew a Gaul,
Haughty and fierce, and like Goliah tall;
Or when I strove in Cadel Honey's plain,
With James Macknaughton a most vigorous swain,
[Page 19]
And made him my superior force confess,
Tho' few in strength surpass'd him, or address,
With muckle glee I'd gang to London town,
And dread not fortune's inauspicious frown.
But you, whose veins the prime of life supplies,
With youthful blood, who may have hopes to rise,
From Scotland quickly go, where famine reigns,
Success will crown you in Britannia's plains,
Your countrymen are seated at the helm,
Scots now engross most honour in the realm.
A Thane who from the Scottish line does spring,
Is there almost as powerful as the king,
And every Scot finds favour in his eyes ;
If born in Scotland there you'r sure to rise :
Full many a lad who here has ply'd the spade:
There flaunts in lace, and flutters in brocade.
Each vacant place falls to some favour'd Scot,
To rise in church and state is now our lot:
[Page 20]
If then we only seize the happy hour,
Like wasps we soon the honey shall devour ;
And as the Israelites in times of yore,
Seiz'd lands possest by Philistines before,
By heaven favour'd, so the Scottish race
Shall occupy at court each envy'd place:
On them shall fortune all her favours shower,
With riches glutted, and advanc'd to power.
Thus while he spoke, his eyes with sudden glare,
Roll'd in his head, all trembl'd at his stare,
His knotty locks as any carret red,
Were parted and stood upright on his head,
Fach hair describing an exact right line,
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine,
Upon his limbs a dreadful trembling seiz'd,
He foam'd at mouth, his tone of voice he rais'd;
'Tis thus the sybyl in her gloomy cave,
With Phoebus struggl'd e'er she 'gan to rave.
[Page 21]
Thus in the Orkney and the western isles,
Wilds on which bounteous nature rarely smiles,
The second-sighted seems or mad or fool,
But prophesies when he begins to cool,
At length when Robert's fury did subside,
And the God ceas'd the prostrate seer to ride :
He thus continu'd, things to come I spy,
The future's present to my mental eye;
A mighty man of Caledonian race
Shall long possess at court the chiefest place,
And Scotchmen then of every degree,
Shall have their share of power as well as he:
But lo a man shall rise, of daring heart,
And master of the rhetor's powerful art,
Who grievously ournation shall revile,
And lash the powerful with audacious stile;
Declare himself of liberty the friend,
Altho' a place at court's his real end ;
[Page 22]
For men or in or out are much the same ;
To aggrandise themselves is all their aim.
I ken his figure with my mental eye,
His mouth distorted, face that looks a lye;
His leer malignant, and his frightful squint;
All this I see as plain as in a print.
This man, with malice fraught, shall faction chuse,
To brave the powerful and the court abuse;
Audaciously he long shall censure all,
And dip his venal quill in bitter gall:
The people weak, and prone to credit lies,
Shall think this wretch both eloquent and wise ;
Upon our race he shall his venom spit,
And all his ribaldry shall pass for wit :
Our Scottish peer, he vilely shall defame,
And hardly e'en respect the royal name:
But this no marvel is, 'twere surely odd,
He should revere his king who fears not God.
[Page 23]
The quill this man not unassisted draws
Against our nation, Lords espouse his cause ;
And see a parson much bemus'd in beer,
Of all our tribe says things not fit to tell,
For churchmen oft in calumny excel.
Long time they rail, at length the hand of power,
O'ertakes the chief, he's lodg'd within the Tower :
And yet confinement can't his spirit tame,
His insolence unshaken is the same ;
The rabble thinks him steady to his trust,
Inflexible and obstinately just ;
The firmest patriot England e'er could boast,
And Wilkes and liberty's the common toast.
Mean time the king deprives him of command,
No more he's chief of the pacific band :
Soon from the Tower to Westminster he's brought,
There makes a speech with bitter malice fraught,
[Page 24]
The judges deeply learned in the laws,
With thoughtful brow discuss th' important cause ;
And then declare that members all possess,
A privilege undoubted to transgress.
Back to his house the rabble with huzzas,
Attend the chief thus zealous in their cause :
Not Gracchus who in Rome with all his might,
Strove to assert each poor Plebeian's right,
Was more the idol of the menial throng,
Tho' rich Patricians thought him in the wrong.
But whilst each tongue in this man's praise is loud,
The name of Scot's blasphem'd by all the crowd ;
They loud proclaim that we have all the itch
For places and for power, and to grow rich.
Each publican talks loud against th' excise ;
No Scottish ministry each bunter cries,
Where sots meet nightly o'er their pot of ale,
All with one voice against us Scotchmen rail :
[Page 25]
While this intemperate zeal the rabble fires,
Our Scottish peer to sylvan shades retires.
Two factions thus the nation does devide,
And equal warmth is shewn on either side,
The names of whig and tory are reviv'd,
Those names to spread sedition's flames contriv'd.
Still discord waves on high her flaming brand,
And factious venom's shed throughout the land.
Words never yet defin'd each party draws,
And tortures till it quadrates with their cause ;
For all dispute on words obscure depends,
When words are understood, the contest ends.
Two cabalistic words the test excell,
This privilege is call'd, and that libel.
These words obscure who labours to explaint,
Like one who wash'd a negro, strives in vain :
Such knotty points the lawyers must decide,
For long the weighty cause remains untry'd.
[Page 26]
Chicane must all her various arts essay,
The council all their eloquence display.
The serjeant rummage o'er his learned skull,
With parchment stor'd, of erudition full,
And from the book and volume of his brain,
Which precedents unnumber'd does contain,
Must strive to prove in baffl'd reason's spight,
That truth is falshood and that black is white,
And that his client must be in the right.
For 'tis a Rule with all that ken the laws,
That he who sees must have an honest cause :
Hence law-suits long remain,
Since to protract them is the lawyer's gain.
No prophet how this cause will end can say,
E'en prophets cannot fix the law's delay,
And second-sight itself must surely fail,
Where vile equivocation's arts prevail.
[Page 27]
The law's a web spun by the spiders power,
The weak they catch and easily devour ;
It's flimzy texture, flies of greater force
Break thro', it cannot stay their airy course ;
What is a libel to divine remains,
That must decide who loses or who gains,
The truth's no libel, loud one party cries,
Abuse is libel t'other side replies.
But what a libel is God only knows,
Whether it must be wrote in verse or prose ;
If to speak truth may sometimes be too bold,
If all truths are not proper to be told,
The law must then determine, well I wot,
Which are libellous truths and which are not.
I cannot now say more, my second sight
Fails me, and yields to darkness black as night.
He ended, and they saw with great surprise,
A ghastly figure from the ground arise ;
[Page 28]
His haggard eyes with frenzy seem'd to roll,
And in his wither'd hand he held a scroll :
The apparition fill'd each soul with dread,
To see the grave thus render up the dead.
Not Israel's monarch saw with more surprise,
The ghost of Samuel stand before his Eyes,
When Endor's witch her pow'rful art display'd,
And conjur'd up to earth the prophet's shade.
All trembled, and their paleness fear confest,
To them the spectre wan these words address'd :
My countrymen, a martyr's words attend,
You see the fam'd George Knox's ghost ascend :
Erst to the dreadful stake these limbs were ty'd,
To please the bishops I in torments dy'd,
Yet then prophetic spirit did inspire
My breast, and I foretold amidst the fire,
The downfall of my persecuting foes ;
How they should feel an equal weight of woes,
[Page 29]
That their faith too should by the flames be try'd,
With his last breath thus Stephen prophecy'd.
Now has the tomb in which I was inurn'd,
Forth to this breathing world my ghost return'd ;
I rise to earth from Pluto's gloomy reign,
The book of fate commission'd to explain.
Know then the day, the dreadful day's at hand,
When discord shall prevail throughout the land ;
Many shall liberty's fair cause pretend,
Yet all their real aim some private end ;
Shou'd W—ks a victim fall to rigid laws,
As powerful Orators shall prop the cause,
Or should one Minister with dire disgrace,
Retire—as bad shall quickly fill his place:
Libels unnumber'd shall each day be shewn,
With heaps of lumber ev'ry press shall groan ;
Still there will rise new matter for dispute,
And court with country jar without lord B—te ;
[Page 30]
For faction's Hydra sprouts still as it bleeds,
One head cut off, another strait succeeds.
But now attentive listen, oh ! my friends,
Whilst I explain to what this discord tends ;
New hopes shall France from our divisions gain,
Our factions shall be heard with joy by Spain,
For from our discord their advantage flows ;
Thus oft the English combat for their foes.
He said—but then appear'd the dawn of day ;
And the cock crowing summon'd him away.
F I N I S.
This is the full version of the original text


dearth, eating, famine, gold, poor, want

Source text

Title: The Prophecy of Famine

Author: Anon.

Publication date: 1763

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Eighteenth Century Collections Online:

Digital edition

Original author(s): Anon

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) whole


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: Britain > poetry

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.