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When Winchester Races

When Winchester races first took their beginning

It is said the good people forgot their old Saint

Not applying at all for the leave of Saint Swithin

And that William of Wykeham’s approval was faint.

The races however were fixed and determined

The company came and the Weather was charming

The Lords and the Ladies were satine’d and ermined

And nobody saw any future alarming.–

But when the old Saint was informed of these doings

He made but one Spring from his Shrine to the Roof

Of the Palace which now lies so sadly in ruins

And then he addressed them all standing aloof.

‘Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved

When once we are buried you think we are gone

But behold me immortal! By vice you’re enslaved

You have sinned and must suffer, ten farther he said

These races and revels and dissolute measures

With which you’re debasing a neighboring Plain

Let them stand–You shall meet with your curse in your pleasures

Set off for your course, I’ll pursue with my rain.

Ye cannot but know my command o’er July

Henceforward I’ll triumph in shewing my powers

Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry

The curse upon Venta is July in showers–‘.

 

This is Jane Austen’s last poem, written on July 15, 1817, only days before her death on July 18, 1817. The light tone belies the serious state of her health at this time. Venta was another, older name for Winchester, the town where Austen spent her last days under the care of her physician, Mr. Lyford. As you may surmise, July 15 is St. Swithin’s day, sacred to the memory of St. Swithin, Bishop of Winchester and a day long associated with rain. Not the finest condition for a race!

 

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