Cassinus and Peter: A Tragical Elegy

Jonathan Swift


Edited by Jack Lynch

Two College Sophs of Cambridge Growth,
Both special Wits, and Lovers both,
Conferring as they us’d to meet,
On Love and Books in Rapture sweet;
(Muse, find me Names to fix my Metre, 1  [5]
Cassinus this, and t’other Peter)
Friend Peter to Cassinus goes,
To chat a while, and warm his Nose:
But, such a Sight was never seen,
The Lad lay swallow’d up in Spleen; 2  [10]
He seem’d as just crept out of Bed;
One greasy Stocking round his Head,
The t’other he sat down to darn
With Threads of diff’rent colour’d Yarn.
His Breeches torn exposing wide [15]
A ragged Shirt, 3  and tawny Hyde.
Scorcht were his Shins, his Legs were bare,
But, well embrown’d with Dirt and Hair.
A Rug was o’er his Shoulders thrown;
A Rug; for Night-gown he had none. [20]
His Jordan 4  stood in Manner fitting
Between his Legs, to spew or spit in.
His antient Pipe in Sable dy’d,
And half unsmoakt, lay by his Side,

   Him thus accoutred 5  Peter found, [25]
With Eyes in Smoak and Weeping drown’d:
The Leavings of his last Night’s Pot
On Embers plac’d, to drink it hot.

   Why, Cassy, thou wilt doze thy Pate: 6 
What makes thee lie a-bed so late? [30]
The Finch, the Linnet and the Thrush,
Their Mattins 7  chant in ev’ry Bush:
And, I have heard thee oft salute
Aurora 8  with thy early Flute.
Heaven send thou hast not got the Hypps. 9  [35]
How? Not a Word come from thy lips?

   Then gave him some familiar Thumps,
A College Joke to cure the Dumps.

   The Swain 10  at last, with Grief opprest,
Cry’d, Cælia! thrice, and sigh’d the rest. [40]

   Dear Cassy, though to ask I dread,
Yet, ask I must. Is Cælia dead?

   How happy I, were that the worst?
But I was fated to be curs’d.

   Come, tell us, has she play’d the Whore? [45]
Oh Peter, wou’d it were no more!

   Why, Plague confound her sandy Locks:
Say, has the small or greater Pox
Sunk down her Nose, 11  or seam’d her Face?
Be easy, ’tis a common Case. [50]

   Oh Peter! Beauty’s but a Varnish,
Which Time and Accidents will tarnish:
But, Cælia has contriv’d to blast
Those Beauties that might ever last.
Nor can Imagination guess, [55]
Nor Eloquence Divine express,
How that ungrateful charming Maid,
My purest Passion has betray’d.
Conceive the most invenom’d Dart, 12 
To pierce an injur’d Lover’s Heart. [60]

   Why, hang her, though she seem’d so coy,
I know she loves the Barber’s Boy.

   Friend Peter, this I could excuse;
For, ev’ry Nymph has Leave to chuse;
Nor, have I Reason to complain: [65]
She loves a more deserving Swain.
But, oh! how ill hast thou divin’d
A Crime that shocks all human Kind;
A Deed unknown to Female Race,
At which the Sun should hide his Face. [70]
Advice in vain you would apply—
Then, leave me to despair and dye.
Yet, kind Arcadians, 13  on my Urn
These Elegies and Sonnets burn,
And on the Marble grave 14  these Rhimes, [75]
A Monument to after-Times:
“Here Cassy lies, by Cælia slain,
And dying, never told his Pain.”
Vain empty World farewel. But hark,
The loud Cerberian triple Bark. 15  [80]
And there — behold Alecto stand,
A Whip of Scorpions in her Hand.
Lo, Charon from his leaky Wherry, 16 
Beck’ning to waft me o’er the Ferry.
I come, I come, — Medusa, see, [85]
Her Serpents hiss direct at me.
Begone; unhand me, hellish Fry;
Avaunt — ye cannot say ’twas I. 17 

   Dear Cassy, thou must purge and bleed; 18 
I fear thou wilt be mad indeed. [90]
But now, by Friendship’s sacred Laws,
I here conjure thee, tell the Cause;
And Cælia’s horrid Fact relate;
Thy Friend would gladly share thy Fate.

   To force it out my Heart must rend; [95]
Yet, when conjur’d by such a Friend—
Think, Peter, how my Soul is rack’d.
These Eyes, these Eyes beheld the Fact.
Now, bend thine Ear; since out it must:
But, when thou seest me laid in Dust, [100]
The Secret thou shalt ne’er impart;
Not to the Nymph that keeps thy Heart;
(How would her Virgin Soul bemoan
A Crime to all her Sex unknown!)
Nor whisper to the tattling Reeds, [105]
The blackest of all Female Deeds.
Nor blab it on the lonely Rocks,
Where Echo sits, and list’ning mocks.
Nor let the Zephyr’s 19  treach’rous Gale
Through Cambridge waft the direful Tale. [110]
Nor to the chatt’ring feather’d Race, 20 
Discover Cælia’s foul Disgrace.
But, if you fail, my Spectre dread
Attending nightly round your Bed;
And yet, I dare confide in you; [115]
So, take my Secret, and adieu.

   Nor wonder how I lost my Wits;
Oh! Cælia, Cælia Cælia sh——.


1. Fix my Metre, “Suit the number of syllables in the line of poetry.”

2. Spleen, “Melancholy; hypochondriacal vapours" (Johnson).

3. Shirt, “The under linen garment of a man" (Johnson).

4. Jordan, “A pot" (Johnson).

5. Accoutred, “decked out.”

6. Pate, “top of the head.”

7. Mattins, morning church services.

8. Aurora, the goddess of the dawn.

9. Hypps, a contraction of “hypochondria.” In Swift’s day it meant not fear of having diseases, but something like the modern notion of clinical depression.

10. Swain, “A pastoral youth" (Johnson).

11. Sunk down her nose: one symptom of advanced syphilis is that the cartilage in the body decays, causing the nose and ears to fall off.

12. Dart, “arrow.”

13. Arcadians, inhabitants of the legendary home of pastoral poetry.

14. Grave, “engrave.”

15. Cerberian triple Bark: Cerberus, the watchdog of Hades, had three heads. The next few lines refer to other figures in Hades.

16. Wherry, “A light boat used on rivers" (Johnson).

17. “See Mackbeth“ Swift’s note. See Macbeth 3.4, which includes the lines “Thou canst not say I did it" and “Avaunt! and quit my sight!"

18. Purge, “A cathartick medicine; a medicine that evacuates the body by stool" (Johnson); bleeding was a common treatment for many medical conditions.

19. Zephyr, “The west wind; and poetically any calm soft wind" (Johnson).

20. Feather’d Race, a poetical way of referring to birds.