Elizabeth Smith, “The Hare and Many Friends”

Elizabeth Smith, “The Hare and Many Friends”

 England, 1785

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sampler size: 18½” x 12½” • framed size: 15¼” x 21½” • sold

Samplers made in 18th century England can include wonderfully wordy texts surrounded by praiseworthy borders of flower blossoms on leafy vines. Elizabeth Smith’s sampler, worked, “in the Eleventh Year of her age in the year 1785,” is a stellar example of this genre. She stitched, word for word (and almost 500 of them!), The Hare and Many Friends, which was written by John Gay (1685-1732), noted English poet. This was part of a collection of his poems published in 1727; this particular poem became very popular, ultimately eclipsed by Aesop’s Fables which told the same story in prose. Please see below for a transcription of the sampler.

The sampler is vertical in format, in the style of many 18th century samplers, and various horizontal bands provide decoration near the top of the sampler, again an 18th century device. Elizabeth’s border is particularly fine, with detailed depictions of many specific flowers and leaves, executed in a good vocabulary of stitches. A needleworked red and tan ribbon forms a handsome bowknot in the center of the lower border and the vertical vine of flowers rising between the columns of text adds greatly to the decorative appeal of the sampler.  

Worked in silk on wool, it is in excellent condition. It has been conservation mounted and is in a molded oak frame.

Transcription:

“Friendship, like love, is but a name, / Unless to one you stint the flame. / The child, whom many Father’s share, / Hath seldom known a father’s care. / ’Tis thus in friendships; who depend / On many, rarely find a friend. / A Hare who, in a civil way, / Comply’d with ev’ry thing, like GAY, / Was known by all the bestial train, / Who haunt the wood, or graze the plain. / Her care was, never to offend, / And ev’ry creature was her friend. / As forth she went at early dawn / To taste the dew-besprinkled lawn, / Behind she hears the hunter’s cries, / And from the deep-mouth’d thunder flies. / She starts, she stops, she pants for breath; / She hears the near advance of death; / She doubles to mislead the hound, / And measures back her mazy round; / Till fainting in the public way, / Half-dead with fear, she gasping lay. / What transport in her bosom grew, / When first the Horse appear’d in view! / Let me, says she, your back ascend, / And owe my safety to a friend. / You know my feet betray my flight; / To friendship ev’ry burden’s light. / The Horse reply’d, Poor honest Puss, / It grieves my heart to see thee thus; / Be comforted, relief is near; / For all your friends are in the rear. / She next the stately Bull implor’d, / And thus replied the mighty lord. / Since ev’ry beast alive can tell / That I sincerely wish you well, / I may, without offence, pretend / To take the freedom of a friend. / Love calls me hence; a fav’rite cow / Expects me near yon barley-mow; / And when a lady’s in the case, / You know all other things give place. / To leave you thus might seem unkind; / But see, the Goat is just behind; / The Goat remark’d her Pulse was high, / Her languid head, her heavy eye: / My back, says he, may do you harm; / The Sheep’s at hand, and wool is warm. / The Sheep was feeble, and complain’d / His sides a load of wool sustain’d, / Said he was slow, confess’d his fears; / For hounds eat sheep, as well as Hares / She now the trotting Calf address’d, / To save from death a friend distress’d. / Shall I, says he, of tender age, / In this important care engage? / Older and abler pass’d you by; / How strong are those! how weak am I! / Should I presume to bear you hence, / Those friends of mine may take offence. / Excuse me then. You know my heart, / But dearest friends, alas! must part. / How shall we all lament! Adieu: / For see the hounds are just in view.”

 

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