Sometimes the least distinctive looking items turn out to have a charm all of their own. When I came across the two handwritten pages above, in a book entitled ‘A General System of Chemical Knowledge; and its Application to the Phenomena of Nature and Art’, it wasn’t clear exactly what I’d found. Then I noticed that the lines rhymed – it was a poem! But this was no romantic love sonnet. It’s actually about the author’s deep dissatisfaction with local road drainage – an ode to the road, as it were. Specifically, the target of the would-be bard’s poison pen is the method of road construction developed by John Loudon McAdam in the early 19th century, which involved simply covering the native soil with a compacted layer of evenly sized stones. Below is my attempt at transcribing his words:
Old Oswold’s town in days of old
Was famed for neatness soever told
Its reputation’s gone I fear
Dirty now as dead Ellesmere.
The road called new which leads to town
Has mud enough a child to drown
To call it new, the term’s abused
Pre-Adamite, I vote be used.
The deluge’s traces still remain
Well kept in order by the rain
Macadam’s followers seem amazed
That by their stones they’re not erased.
Near the swamps a mansion stands
Kept for the sick by generous hands
When from his sleep a patient wakes
He sees around a land of lakes.