Helen Darbishire and Ernest De Selincourt (eds), The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Vol. 3: Miscellaneous Sonnets; Memorials of Various Tours; Poems to National Independence and Liberty; The Egyptian Maid; The River Duddon Series; The White Doe and Other Narrative Poems; Ecclesiastical Sonnets (Second Edition)

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Editor’s NoteVI

THE MODERN ATHENS

[Composed 1831?]

  • Critical Apparatus1"Now that a Parthenon ascends to crown
  • Critical Apparatus2Our Calton Hill, sage Pallas! 'tis most fit
  • Critical Apparatus3This thy dear city by the name be known
  • 4Of Modem Athens."—But opinions split
  • 5Upon this point of taste, and Mother Wit
  • Critical Apparatus6Cries out "'Auld Reekie!' guid and honest Town
  • Critical Apparatus7Of Edinbro', put the sad misnomer down;
  • 8This alias of Conceit, away with it!"
  • Critical Apparatus9Let none provoke for questionable smiles
  • 10From an outlandish Goddess the just scorn
  • 11Of thy staunch gothic Patron, grave St. Giles:
  • 12—Far better than such heathen foppery
  • 13The homeliest Title thou hast ever borne
  • 14Before or since the times of, "Wha wants me?"

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Editor’s Note
p. 410. VI. The Modern Athens: Probably written by W. after his visit to Edinburgh in 1831; the imitation of the Parthenon had been erected on Calton Hill in 1822. Dr. Meikle of the National Library of Scotland informs me that "Wha wants me" was the title of a well-known political ballad on Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, at the time when he was virtually ruler of Scotland, and refers me to the following passage from J. H. Lovat-Fraser's Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville (1916):
"In 1792 Mr Courtenay twitted Melville in the House of Commons with offering his services on every change of administration, by calling out 'Wha wants me?' The phrase gave rise to a ballad entitled, 'Wha wants me?' which was sung for months in the streets of Edinburgh to the tune of My daddy is a canker'd carle. Melville himself was frequently serenaded with it while in the Scottish capital, but as he always regarded gibes at his inconsistency with indifference, if not amusement, the singers grew tired of troubling him. Another ballad with the same title as the last, sung to the tune of He's low down, he's in the broom, is in the British Museum Library. One verse runs:
  • Dear Pitt! is it not hard indeed,
  • Such wicked jibes should pass,
  • Against the pure and patriot creed
  • Of thy belov'd Dundas?
  • But let them praise, or let them blame,
  • I care not a bawbee;
  • My text shall ever be the same—
  • 'Sirs, wha wants me?'
  •        Wha wants me, my friends?
  • Wha wants me?
  • My text shall ever be the same—
  • 'Sirs, wha wants me?'"
But the phrase "wha wants me" is older than the ballad. Dr. Malcolm, of the Signet Library, informs me that it was a well-known street-cry in Edinburgh. Before there were public lavatories a man went through the streets with a pail and cloak crying "Wha wants me?" The cloak was then thrown round the person who availed himself of the offer.
Critical Apparatus
VI. 1 ascends] must rise MS. 1
Critical Apparatus
2 The Calton Hill, Ambition cries 'tis fit MS. 1
Critical Apparatus
3 thy dear] learned MS. 1
Critical Apparatus
6 Cries out] exclaims MS. guid and] black, guid MS. 1
Critical Apparatus
7 sad misnomer] affectation MS. 1
Critical Apparatus
9–10
  • Fool! if thou think that tutelary smiles
  • Of Pallas will repay thee for the scorn
MS. 1
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