Rip Van Winkle. Canto I.

Poem By Oliver Wendell Holmes

OLD Rip Van Winkle had a grandson, Rip,
Of the paternal block a genuine chip,—­
A lazy, sleepy, curious kind of chap;
He, like his grandsire, took a mighty nap,
Whereof the story I propose to tell
In two brief cantos, if you listen well.

The times were hard when Rip to manhood grew;
They always will be when there’s work to do.
He tried at farming,—­found it rather slow,—­
And then at teaching—­what he did n’t know;
Then took to hanging round the tavern bars,
To frequent toddies and long-nine cigars,
Till Dame Van Winkle, out of patience, vexed
With preaching homilies, having for their text
A mop, a broomstick, aught that might avail
To point a moral or adorn a tale,
Exclaimed, “I have it! Now, then, Mr. V.
He’s good for something,—­make him an M. D.!”

The die was cast; the youngster was content;
They packed his shirts and stockings, and he went.
How hard he studied it were vain to tell;
He drowsed through Wistar, nodded over Bell,
Slept sound with Cooper, snored aloud on Good;
Heard heaps of lectures,—­doubtless understood,—­
A constant listener, for he did not fail
To carve his name on every bench and rail.

Months grew to years; at last he counted three,
And Rip Van Winkle found himself M. D.
Illustrious title! in a gilded frame
He set the sheepskin with his Latin name,
RIPUM VAN WINKLUM, QUEM we—­SCIMUS—­know
IDONEUM ESSE—­to do so and so.
He hired an office; soon its walls displayed
His new diploma and his stock in trade,
A mighty arsenal to subdue disease,
Of various names, whereof I mention these
Lancets and bougies, great and little squirt,
Rhubarb and Senna, Snakeroot, Thoroughwort,
Ant. Tart., Vin. Colch., Pil. Cochiae, and Black Drop,
Tinctures of Opium, Gentian, Henbane, Hop,
Pulv. Ipecacuanhae, which for lack
Of breath to utter men call Ipecac,
Camphor and Kino, Turpentine, Tolu,
Cubebs, “Copeevy,” Vitriol,—­white and blue,—­
Fennel and Flaxseed, Slippery Elm and Squill,
And roots of Sassafras, and “Sassaf’rill,”
Brandy,—­for colics,—­Pinkroot, death on worms,—­
Valerian, calmer of hysteric squirms,
Musk, Assafoetida, the resinous gum
Named from its odor,—­well, it does smell some,—­
Jalap, that works not wisely, but too well,
Ten pounds of Bark and six of Calomel.

For outward griefs he had an ample store,
Some twenty jars and gallipots, or more:
Ceratum simplex—­housewives oft compile
The same at home, and call it “wax and ile;”
Unguentum resinosum—­change its name,
The “drawing salve” of many an ancient dame;
Argenti Nitras, also Spanish flies,
Whose virtue makes the water-bladders rise—­
(Some say that spread upon a toper’s skin
They draw no water, only rum or gin);
Leeches, sweet vermin! don’t they charm the sick?
And Sticking-plaster—­how it hates to stick
Emplastrum Ferri—­ditto Picis, Pitch;
Washes and Powders, Brimstone for the - ­which,
Scabies or Psora, is thy chosen name
Since Hahnemann’s goose-quill scratched thee into fame,
Proved thee the source of every nameless ill,
Whose sole specific is a moonshine pill,
Till saucy Science, with a quiet grin,
Held up the Acarus, crawling on a pin?
—­Mountains have labored and have brought forth mice
The Dutchman’s theory hatched a brood of—­twice
I’ve well-nigh said them—­words unfitting quite
For these fair precincts and for ears polite.

The surest foot may chance at last to slip,
And so at length it proved with Doctor Rip.
One full-sized bottle stood upon the shelf,
Which held the medicine that he took himself;
Whate’er the reason, it must be confessed
He filled that bottle oftener than the rest;
What drug it held I don’t presume to know—­
The gilded label said “Elixir Pro.”

One day the Doctor found the bottle full,
And, being thirsty, took a vigorous pull,
Put back the “Elixir” where ’t was always found,
And had old Dobbin saddled and brought round.
—­You know those old-time rhubarb-colored nags
That carried Doctors and their saddle-bags;
Sagacious beasts! they stopped at every place
Where blinds were shut—­knew every patient’s case—­
Looked up and thought—­The baby’s in a fit—­
That won’t last long—­he’ll soon be through with it;
But shook their heads before the knockered door
Where some old lady told the story o’er
Whose endless stream of tribulation flows
For gastric griefs and peristaltic woes.

What jack-o’-lantern led him from his way,
And where it led him, it were hard to say;
Enough that wandering many a weary mile
Through paths the mountain sheep trod single file,
O’ercome by feelings such as patients know
Who dose too freely with “Elixir Pro.,”
He tumbl—­dismounted, slightly in a heap,
And lay, promiscuous, lapped in balmy sleep.

Night followed night, and day succeeded day,
But snoring still the slumbering Doctor lay.
Poor Dobbin, starving, thought upon his stall,
And straggled homeward, saddle-bags and all.
The village people hunted all around,
But Rip was missing,—­never could be found.
“Drownded,” they guessed;—­for more than half a year
The pouts and eels did taste uncommon queer;
Some said of apple-brandy—­other some
Found a strong flavor of New England rum.

Why can’t a fellow hear the fine things said
About a fellow when a fellow’s dead?
The best of doctors—­so the press declared—­
A public blessing while his life was spared,
True to his country, bounteous to the poor,
In all things temperate, sober, just, and pure;
The best of husbands! echoed Mrs. Van,
And set her cap to catch another man.

So ends this Canto—­if it’s quantum suff.,
We’ll just stop here and say we’ve had enough,
And leave poor Rip to sleep for thirty years;
I grind the organ—­if you lend your ears
To hear my second Canto, after that
We ’ll send around the monkey with the hat.

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