Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-Grinder
By George Canning (1770–1827)
NEEDY knife-grinder! whither are you going?
Rough is the road; your wheel is out of order.
Bleak blows the blast;—your hat has got a hole in ’t;
        So have your breeches!
Weary knife-grinder! little think the proud ones,        5
Who in their coaches roll along the turnpike-
Road, what hard work ’tis crying all day, “Knives and
        Scissors to grind O.”
Tell me, knife-grinder, how came you to grind knives?
Did some rich man tyrannically use you?        10
Was it the squire? or parson of the parish?
        Or the attorney?
Was it the squire for killing of his game? or
Covetous parson for his tithes distraining?
Or roguish lawyer made you lose your little        15
        All in a lawsuit?
(Have you not read the Rights of Man by Tom Paine?)
Drops of compassion tremble on my eyelids,
Ready to fall as soon as you have told your
        Pitiful story.        20
Story! God bless you! I have none to tell, sir;
Only, last night, a drinking at the Chequers,
This poor old hat and breeches, as you see, were
        Torn in a scuffle.
Constables came up for to take me into        25
Custody; they took me before the justice;
Justice Oldmixon put me in the parish
        Stocks for a vagrant.
I should be glad to drink your honor’s health in
A pot of beer, if you will give me sixpence;        30
But for my part, I never love to meddle
        With politics, sir.
I give thee sixpence! I will see thee damned first,—
Wretch! whom no sense of wrong can rouse to vengeance,—
Sordid, unfeeling, reprobate, degraded,        35
        Spiritless outcast!

  [Kicks the knife-grinder, overturns his wheel, and exit in a transport of republican enthusiasm and universal philanthropy.]

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