Object of the week: Taffy the Welsh Mouse

POST BY JGraffius

Manuscript of Taffy the Welsh Mouse
Manuscript of Taffy the Welsh Mouse

Having celebrated St David’s Day earlier this week, it seems appropriate that this week’s Object from the Stonyhurst College collection focuses on Wales.  ‘The Mouse Trap’ is a poem written in English and Latin by John Formby, when he was a student at St. Omers in 1729, aged 17. Such poems were written by pupils to be performed on suitable occasions, and it is very likely that The Mouse Trap was declaimed by John Formby on St David’s Day in 1729.

It is believed that John Formby is in fact the alias of John Rigby, born in 1712 to John and Anne Rigby of Billinge, near Wigan. He left St Omers in 1732 and joined the Society of Jesus, returning to teach at St. Omers in 1742 before moving to work on the missions in Durham, then Liverpool in 1749. It was in Liverpool, in 1758, that he died and is buried at Eastham Church.

Formby’s poem tells the tale of a mouse, Taffy, in Cambria (Wales) desperately trying to escape the wrath of ‘The Cat’, by hiding within a piece of cheese. This simple tale reflects on those priests who had to flee their persecution and hide amongst the rocks and caves. As the poem continues so we learn of the fate of Taffy the Welsh Mouse, who is sadly caught by The Cat and killed.

‘…But while ye world this general plague did bear,
Cambria lamented her unequal share.
Drawn hither by ye powerful scent of Cheese,
Which mice prefer to other rarities;
Who tho’ by gentle paces they attack,
Yet frequent nibblings soon an entrance make,
To the very Bowles of a Cheese they speed,
And all intrenched in Eatables lye hid...’

‘A surley growl the dire resolve portends,
Without remorse his reeling bowels rends
And mangled limbs of dreadful conflict ends….

… Oh, Taffy!
May ever thy works secure to fame,
And Cambria ever celebrate thy Name.
Oft as the sun brings round the circling year,
May we remember thee, thou great deliverer:
May then her sons their Country’s Glory speak,
And bind their scented Temples with a verdant Leek.’