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BEATTIE, BLAIR, AND FALCONER.
With Lives, Critical Dissertations, and Explanatory Notes,
REV. GEORGE GILFILLAN.
Beattie’s Poetical Works
The Life and Poetry of James Beattie The Minstrel; or, the Progress of Genius Miscellaneous Poems
Ode to Hope
Ode to Peace
Ode on Lord Hay’s Birthday
The Judgment of Paris
The Triumph of Melancholy
Elegy, written in the year 1758
On the Report of a Monument to be erected in Westminster Abbey, to the Memory of a late Author (Churchill) The Battle of the Pigmies and Cranes
The Hares. A Fable
The Wolf and Shepherds. A Fable
Song, in imitation of Shakspeare’s “Blow, blow, thou winter wind” To Lady Charlotte Gordon, dressed in a Tartan Scotch Bonnet, with Plumes, &c
Epitaph: being part of an Inscription designed for a Monument erected by a Gentleman to the Memory of his Lady Epitaph on Two Young Men of the name of Leitch, who were drowned in crossing the River Southesk
Epitaph, intended for Himself
Blair’s Poetical Works
The Life of Robert Blair
A Poem, dedicated to the Memory of the late learned and eminent Mr William Law, Professor of Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh
Falconer’s Poetical Works
The Life of William Falconer
Occasional Elegy, in which the preceding narrative is concluded Miscellaneous Poems
A Poem, sacred to the Memory of His Royal Highness Frederick Prince of Wales
Ode on the Duke of York’s second departure from England as Rear-Admiral The Fond Lover. A Ballad
On the Uncommon Scarcity of Poetry in the Gentleman’s Magazine for December last, 1755, by I. W., a sailor Description of a Ninety-Gun Ship
POETICAL WORKS OF JAMES BEATTIE.
THE LIFE AND POETRY OF JAMES BEATTIE.
James Beattie, the author of the “Minstrel” was born at Laurencekirk, in the county of Kincardineshire–a village situated in that beautiful trough of land called the Howe of the Mearns, and surmounted by the ridge of the Garvock Hills, which divide it from the German Ocean–on the 25th day of October 1735. His father, who was a small farmer and shopkeeper, and who is said to have possessed a turn for literature and versifying, died when James was only seven years old; but his brother David, the eldest of a family of six, undertook the superintendence of his education till he was fit to go to the parish school. That school which had been raised to celebrity by Thomas Ruddiman, the grammarian, was now taught by one Milne, whom his pupil describes as also a good grammarian and an excellent Latin scholar, but destitute of taste, and of all the other qualifications of a teacher. Milne preferred Ovid to Virgil; but Beattie’s taste, already giving promise of its future classical bent, was attracted by the less meretricious beantics of Virgil; and this author, in Dryden’s translation, as well as Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” and Thomson’s “Seasons,” were devoured with eagerness, and copied with emulation, by him in the intervals of his school hours. He was assisted in his studies by Mr Thomson, minister of the parish. In 1749, when he reached the age of fourteen, he entered Marischal College, Aberdeen, and such was his proficiency that he took by competition the first of those bursaries or exhibitions which are given to those students who are unable to support the expenses of their own education. Aberdeen has been always distinguished by its eminent professors. Blackwell, Gerard, Reid, Campbell, the subject of this sketch, Brown, Blackie, &c. are only a few of the celebrated names the roll of its two colleges contains. The two first-mentioned were flourishing at the time when young Beattie entered the University. Blackwell was a learned but pedantic Grecian, who wrote with considerable power and great pomp on “Mythology,” “Homer,” and the “Court of Augustus.” Alexander Gerard was the author of some books of some merit, although now nearly forgotten, on the “Genius of Christianity,” on “Taste and Genius,” &c. Under both these Beattie profited very much. He gained a high prize in Blackwell’s class, for an analysis of the fourth book of the “Odyssey.” He did not neglect general reading, nor the art of poetry. He spent much of his leisure in studying and practising music, which he always loved with a passion. We can conceive him, too, the “lone enthusiast,” repairing often to the resounding shore of the ocean, or leaning where a greater than he was by and by to lean, over the Brig of Balgounie, which bends above the deep, dark Don, or walking out pensively to the Bridge of Dee, and watching the calm, translucent, yet strong, victorious river running through its rich green banks and clustering corn-fields to wed the sea. No university in wide Britain can be named with Aberdeen, in point of the wild romantic grandeur of its environs, if we include in these the upper courses of the two rivers which meet beside it and Byron Hall. Macintosh, as well as Beattie, have owned the inspiration which the scenery, still more than the scholastic training of the Northern Metropolis, breathed into their opening minds.
In 1753, having cultivated assiduously every branch of study taught at college except mathematics, for which he had neither taste nor aptitude, Beattie took the degree of A.M. He had hitherto been supported by the kindness of his brother David, but now he was to look out for a profession for himself. The situation of parish schoolmaster at Fordoun falling vacant, he determined to apply for it; and on the 11th of August 1753 he was elected to the office. Fordoun is situated a few miles to the north-east of Laurencekirk, and is surrounded by similar scenery. A series of gentlemen’s seats extend, at brief intervals, from Brechin to Stonehaven, along a ridge of bare and bold mountains, and overlooking a fair and rich plain, so that thus the neighbourhood of Fordoun includes a combination of the soft, the beautiful, the luxuriant, and the nakedly-sublime, which must have fed to satiety the eye and heart of this true poet. Otherwise, the situation could not be called eligible. The salary was small, the society at that time indifferent, and the sphere limited. There were, however, some counter-balancing advantages. Near the village resided Lord Gardenstown, who met Beattie in a romantic glen near his house, with pencil and paper in his hand–entered into conversation with him–found out that he was a poet–and gave him the “Invocation to Venus” in the opening of Lucretius, to translate, which he did on the spot, and thus removed some doubts Lord Gardenstown had entertained as to whether his poetry was actually his own; and, besides, Lord Monboddo, a remarkable man, alike in talent and eccentricity; and both vied with each other in their patronage of the poetical _dominie_ when he had undisturbed leisure for study and solitary communion with nature. On the whole, perhaps, the future “Minstrel” was happier as a parish schoolmaster than in any part of his after life; and perhaps often, in more brilliant but less easy days, would revert with a sigh to the simple school and the stream which murmurs past the small kirkyard of Fordoun.
While there, he wrote a few poetical pieces, which he sent with his initials, and the name of his place of abode, to the _Scots Magazine_. We can fancy him, like the immortal Peter Pattieson, on the day the Magazine was due, walking as far as the little height of Auchcairnie, to watch and weary for the long-expected carrier’s cart wending its slow way from the south and, when the parcel reached his hand, with eager, trembling fingers, opening it up, to have all the joy of virgin authorship awakened in his soul. In these days a poetic production from the country seemed a phenomenon–as great, to use an expression of De Quincey’s, as if “a dragoon horse had struck up ‘Rule Britannia,'” and no doubt, many an eyebrow in Auld Reekie rose in wonder, and many a voice exclaimed, “Who can this be?” when verses so good by J. B. Fordoun, flashed upon the public from time to time. But, although his poetry procured him more fame than he was then aware of, it brought him nothing more, and his way to competence and elevation in society, seemed as completely blocked up as ever.
It would seem that he had, from an early period of his life, looked forward to the Church as his profession; and, having taught for some time in Fordoun, he returned to Aberdeen, to prosecute those preparatory studies which he had for a while abandoned for a parish school and poetry. Here he attended the lectures of Dr Robert Pollock of Marischal College, and Professor John Lumsden of King’s-and performed the exercises prescribed by both. It was at this time that he delivered a discourse in the Divinity Hall in language so lofty, that the Professor challenged him for writing poetry instead of prose–a story reminding us of similar facts in the history of Thomson, Pollok, and others whose names we do not mention–and corroborating the truth, that poetical genius and the halls of philosophy or theology are seldom congenial, and that “musty, fusty, crusty” old professors are in general harsh stepfathers to rising poets.
Whether from chagrin on account of this criticism–and this is the more probable, because Beattie was all along very sensitive to depreciation or abuse–or from some other cause, he determined to abandon the study of Divinity, and to follow teaching as a profession. In 1757, a vacancy occurring in the Grammar School of Aberdeen, Beattie offered himself as a candidate, but failed in the preliminary examination, as he had himself expected, from a want of circumstantial and minute acquaintance with the Latin tongue. A few months after, however, a second vacancy having taken place in the same school, he was elected without the form of a trial, and entered on the discharge of his duties in June 1758. He was now in a more advantageous and a more reputable post–and while discharging its duties with exemplary diligence, he found time for the cultivation of his poetical gift.
In 1760, through the exertions of his friends, especially the Earl of Erroll, and Mr Arbuthnott, Beattie was appointed Professor of Philosophy in Marischal College. It was thought at the time a startling experiment to appoint a man so young–and who had given no proof of peculiar proficiency in philosophical lore–to such an important chair; and was no doubt stigmatised as one of those arrant ‘jobs’ by which the history of Scotch Colleges has been often disgraced. In Beattie’s case, however, as well as in the kindred one of Professor Wilson, the issue was more fortunate than might have been expected. He set manfully to work to supply his deficiencies–read and wrote hard–and in a few years had prepared a very respectable course of lectures–and became able to front, without shame, such men as Gerard and Gregory, Campbell and Reid–with whom he was now associated. In the same year appeared, in a very modest manner, “Proposals for Printing Original Poems and Translations.” In 1761, the volume itself was published–consisting of the pieces formerly printed in the ‘Scots Magazine’, corrected and altered, and of some new productions. The book appeared simultaneously in Edinburgh and London, and was hailed with universal applause; the critics generally maintaining that no poetry so good had been written since Gray’s; which they thought Beattie had taken for his model. He himself entertained, after a while, a very different opinion of their merits; he was, in fact, seized with a fastidious loathing for them; he destroyed every copy he could procure; and on republishing his poetry before his death, he acknowledged only four of these early effusions.
In 1765, he published, in quarto, his “Judgment of Paris,” which met with the unfavourable reception it deserved. He added it to an edition of his poems printed in 1766; but afterwards refused to reprint it. We have given it, however, as well as all his original minor poems, in our edition, including a poem on Churchill, published by him in 1766, and which, acrimonious and unjust as it is, is full of spirit, and shows Beattie in the character of a “good hater.”
In 1763, he had visited London, where almost his only acquaintance was Andrew Millar, the bookseller, and where nothing remarkable occurred except a visit to Pope’s Villa at Twickenham. In 1765, he had been invited by the Earl of Strathmore to meet with Gray, then on a visit at Glammis Castle. Lovelier spot, or more appropriate for the meeting of two poets, does not exist in broad Scotland than the Castle of Glammis, with its tall, vast, antique structure, towering over its ancient park, and shadowed by large ancestral trees–with its interior full of the quiet memories, quaint paintings, and collected curiosities of a thousand years–with its chapel situated in the very groin of the edifice, and in whose dim religious light you see walls surrounded, by some female hand of a past age, with curious pictures–and with its leaden roof, commanding a wide view over forest and lawn, village and stream, mountain, meadow, and all the glories which replenish the long, fair valley of Strathmore. Here the poets met, and spent two delightful days. Beattie was amazed at the taste, the judgment, and the extensive learning of Gray; and Gray, an older and a more fastidious man, was nevertheless delighted with Beattie’s enthusiasm, bonhommie, and heart.
In 1767, he married Mary, the daughter of Dr Dunn, rector of the Grammar School, Aberdeen. She was an amiable and lovely woman. Dr Johnson, when he saw her in London, along with her husband, seemed to think more highly of her than of him. He was not aware, however, of a fact which became afterwards distressingly apparent–that from her mother she inherited a tendency to insanity, which broke out in capricious waywardness, some time before it culminated in madness. We know not but this may explain Dr Johnson’s saying to Boswell–“Beattie,” he said, “when he came first to London, ‘sunk upon’ us that he was married,” ‘i.e.’, tried to hide that he was married. Perhaps the reason of this remark, which so much offended Beattie himself, was, that, afraid of her capricious flightiness being misunderstood, he was at first reluctant to bring her into society. His letter to the contrary was we fear, written for a purpose, and in order to ‘conceal’ the truth.
And now came what Beattie and some of his friends–although not we, nor the literary world now generally–considered the grand epoch of his life–the publication of his “Essay on Truth.” He had for some time been alarmed at the progress of the sceptical philosophy, both at home and abroad, and had expressed that alarm to his friends in his correspondence. At last this fear awoke in him a Quixotic courage, and he sallied forth like the valiant Don, in search of all whom he knew or imagined to be the enemies of Truth–and like him made some considerable mistakes, and showed more zeal than discretion. We may quote here some sensible sentences from one of his biographers.–“That his meaning was excellent, no one can doubt; whether he discovered the right remedy for the harm which he was desirous of removing, is much more questionable. To magnify any branch of human knowledge beyond its just importance, may indeed tend to weaken the force of religious faith; but many acute metaphysicians have been good Christians, and before the question thus agitated can be set at rest, we must suppose a proficiency in those inquiries which he would proscribe as dangerous. After all, we can discover no more reason why sciolists in metaphysics should bring that study into discredit, than that religion itself should be disparaged through the extravagance of fanaticism. To have met the subject fully, he ought to have shown, that not only those opinions he controverts are erroneous, but that all the systems of former metaphysicians were so likewise.” In truth, Beattie would have gained his purpose far better had he been able to have written another such satire against Hume and his followers, as Swift’s “Battle of the Books,” Butler’s “Elephant in the Moon,” or Voltaire’s “Micromegas.” Had he had sufficient wit and sufficient knowledge, the inconsistencies, absurdities, and endless quarrels of metaphysicians might have furnished an admirable field! But wit was hardly one of his qualities, and his knowledge of these subjects was superficial. In fact, the gentle “minstrel” warring against philosophy, reminds us of a plain English scholar attacking the Talmud, or of one who had never crossed the ‘Pons Asinorum’ slandering the Fluxions of Newton.
The essay appeared in 1770, and became instantly popular, passed through five large editions in four years, and was translated into foreign tongues. Hume smiled at it in his sleeve, but attempted no answer. Burke, Johnson, and Warburton, who must have seen through its sounding shallowness, pardoned and praised it for its good intentions, and because its author, though a champion rather showy than strong, was on the right side. Flushed by its success, Beattie, in 1771, revisited London, and obtained admission to the best literary circles–sate under the “peacock-hangings” of Mrs Montague–visited Hagley Park, and became intimate with Lord Lyttelton–chatted cheerily with Boswell and Garrick–listened with wonder to the deep bow-wows of Johnson’s talk–and as he watched the rich alluvial, yet romantic mountain stream of thought, knowledge, and imagery that flowed perpetually from the inspired lips of Burke, perhaps forgot Gray and Glammis Castle, and felt “a greater is here.” These men, in their turn, seem all to have liked Beattie, although the full ‘quid pro quo’ of praise came only from Lord Lyttelton, who vowed that in him Thomson had come back from the shades, much purified and refined by his Elysian sojourn! Beattie, we fear, was a little spoiled by the flatteries he received from Lyttelton and that peculiar clique which circled round him; and hence his prejudice in their favour, and the praise he reciprocates, are enormous. “Lord Lyttelton,” says a writer, “is his private friend, and him he always calls the ‘Great Historian,’ though he is obliged to give his lordship’s name afterwards, to let his readers know of whom he is speaking! From his letters it might appear that all the literary talent, all the taste, and all the virtue of the country, were confined to his circle of friends–Lord Lyttelton, Mrs Montague, Dr Porteous, and Major Mercer.”
In 1773, he again visited London, and the climax of his renown seemed to be reached, when the University of Oxford gave him the degree of LL.D.–when three different times he refused the offer by bishops and archbishops of promotion in the English Church–and when (oh, brave!) he was admitted to an interview with their Majesties, complimented on his “Essay on Truth” by good old George III., who was much better qualified to judge of an essay on turnips, and gifted with a pension of L200 a-year. About the same time he was urged to apply for the Professorship of Moral Philosophy in Edinburgh, which he declined to do, apparently from a terror at the thought of coming so near David Hume–a terror which strikes us as exceedingly ludicrous, when we recollect that, most pernicious as were Hume’s principles, he was in private as harmless, good-natured, and (‘Scottice’) ‘sonsy’ a being as lived.
A few months after the “Essay on Truth” appeared, and while the echoes of its fame were beginning to spread through the world, there had appeared a thin anonymous quarto, entitled the “First Book of the Minstrel.” It slid noiselessly as a star into the world’s air. The critics, finding no name on the title page, were peculiarly severe, and peculiarly senseless, in their treatment of the unpretending volume, which would have been crushed under their heavy strictures, had not–rare event in those days–the public chosen to judge for itself, and to fall in love with the beautiful poem. It consequently soon ran through four editions, each edition containing some corrections and improvements; and in the year 1774 he published the second part, which, now that its author’s name was known, was loudly praised by the Reviews, as well as by the general reader. He always meant to, but never did, add a third.
From the date of his refusal of promotion in the English Church, Beattie had made up his mind to remain in Aberdeen, which is a beautifully built town, and which teemed to him with old associations. He spent his winters in diligently instructing his class, and in summer was often found at Peterhead, a town situated on the most easterly promontory of Scotland, and which was then noted for its medicinal waters. Beattie was troubled with a vertiginous complaint, which he found benefited by the use of the Peterhead Spa. He no doubt also admired and often visited the noble sea scenery to the south of that town.–Slaines Castle, standing on its rock, sheer over the savage surge, and begirt by the perpetual clang of sea-fowl and roar of billows, and the famous Bullers of Buchan, where the sea has forced its way through the solid rock, leaving an arch of triumph to commemorate the passage, and formed a huge round pot where its waters, in the time of storm, rage and fret and foam like a newly imprisoned maniac–a pot which Dr Johnson proposes to substitute for the Red Sea, in the future incarceration of demons.
In 1776, he published, by subscription, a new and splendid edition of his “Essay on Truth,” accompanied by two other essays, much more interesting, on “Poetry and Music,” and on “Laughter and Ludicrous Composition,” and by “Remarks on the Utility of Classical Learning.” This was followed, in 1783, by a volume of “Dissertations on Memory and Imagination, Dreaming,” &c. In 1786 he published a little treatise on the “Christian Evidences,” which he had shown to Bishop Porteous in London, two years before, and been recommended by him to give to the world. Beattie himself preferred it to all his writings, in “closeness of matter and style.” In 1790 and 1793, appeared two volumes on the “Elements of Moral Science,” containing an abridgment of his lectures on Moral Philosophy and Logic. He wrote also, in the “Transactions” of the Royal Society, Edinburgh, a paper on the sixth book of the “AEneid”, and contributed a few notes to an edition of Addison’s works.
His wife long ere this had been separated from him by her malady. By her he had two sons, James Hay, named after the Earl of Errol, and Montague, after the celebrated Mrs Montague. The history of both was hapless. James Hay, who gave high literary promise, and was still more distinguished by his amiable disposition, after having been appointed to be his father’s successor in the chair, died in 1790, at the age of twenty-two, of a consumption. Beattie felt the blow deeply, and published, soon after, the life and remains of the precocious youth. Our readers must all remember the exquisite story of his teaching him the idea of a Creator by sowing his name in cresses in the garden. The loss of Montague, also a youth of much promise, by a rapid fever in 1796, completed the prostration of the poor father. It was the case of Burke over again, but worse, inasmuch as Beattie, a weaker nature, was sometimes driven to seek oblivion in the cup, and as sometimes his reason reeled on its throne, and he went about the house asking where his son was, and whether he had or had not a son. He retired from all society–lost taste for his former pleasures, such as music, which he had once relished so keenly–was seized, in 1799, with a paralytic affection, which deprived him of speech–and languished on, ever and anon visited with new assaults of the same malady, till at last, on the 18th of August 1803, the gifted, amiable, but most miserable “Minstrel” breathed his last. He now lies beside his two dear sons in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Aberdeen, a graceful Latin inscription from the pen of Dr James Gregory of Edinburgh distinguishing the stone which covers his ashes.
Beattie was of the middle size, of slouching gait, and common-place appearance, redeemed by two fine dark eyes, which, melancholy in repose, gleamed and glowed whenever he became animated in conversation. He had warm affections, a tender, shrinking, sensitive disposition, was a kind parent, an attached friend, truly pious, and could be charged with no fault, save an irritability of temper, which grew upon him with his misfortunes and infirmities, and, latterly, that occasional excess to which we have alluded, which sprung rather from dotage and wretchedness than from inclination, and in which he was far more to be pitied than blamed.
Of his pretensions as a philosopher we shall say nothing, save that he has now no name, and is held rather to have struck at and all about Hume, than to have smote him hip and thigh. His essays are exceedingly agreeable reading. Cowper relished no book so well, but they can scarcely be called either profound or brilliant. They soothe, but do not suggest–they tickle, but do not tell us anything new. It is as a poet that his name must survive, and the paean of reception which saluted him in his “Essay on Truth,” entering on stilts, should have been reserved entirely for the “Minstrel,” with the meek harp in his hand.
Much has been said of the effect of fine scenery upon the development of genius. And as this is the theme of one-half of the “Minstrel,” we must be permitted a few remarks on it. The finest scenery in the world cannot, then, ‘create’ genius. A dunce, born in the Vale of Tempe, will remain a dunce still. And, on the other hand, a poet reared in St Giles or the Goosedubs will develop his poetic vein. The true influences, we suspect, of scenery on genius are the following:–1st, Where poetry lies deep and latent in a deep but silent nature, scenery will act like the rod of Moses on the rock in bringing forth the struggling waters–it will prompt to imitation, and gradually supply language. 2d, Early familiarity with the beautiful aspects of nature will enable the youth of genius to realize the descriptions of nature in the great poetic masters, to test their truth, and imbibe their spirit, by comparing them day by day with their archetypes. He can stand on a snow-clad mountain, with Thomson’s “Winter” in his hands. He can walk through a wood of pines, swinging in the tempest, and repeat Coleridge’s “Ode to Schiller.” He can, lying on a twilight hill, with twilight mountains darkening into night around him, and twilight fields and rivers glimmering far below, and one cataract, touching the grand piano of the silence into melancholy music, turn round and see in the north-east the moon rising in that “clouded majesty” of which Milton had spoken long before. He can take the “Lady of the Lake” to the same summit, while afternoon, the everlasting autumn of the day, is shedding its thoughtful and mellow lines over the landscape, and can see in it a counterpart of the scene at the Trosachs–the woodlands, the mountains, the isle, the westland heaven–all, except the chase, the stag, and the stranger, and these the imagination can supply; or he can plunge into the moorlands, and reaching, toward the close of a summer’s day, some insulated peak, can see a storm of wild mountains between him and the west, dark and proud, like captives at the chariot-wheels of the sun, and smitten here and there into reluctant splendour by his beams, and think of all the gorgeous descriptions of sunset and its momentary miracles to be found in Scott, Byron, Wilson, Croly, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Coleridge; or he can from some mighty Ben look abroad over a country–Scotland, and the sea below, the blue heaven above, till, in his enthusiasm, he might deem that he could lay his one hand on the mane of the ocean, and his other on the tresses of the sun, and feels for the first time the force of Beattie’s own fine words–
“All the dread magnificence of Heaven.”
Again, scenery will help sometimes to settle a question with a young mind, whose intellectual and imaginative faculties are nearly equal, whether it shall turn permanently to philosophy or to poetry. Such dilemmas or Hercules choices are not uncommon; and there is a period in life when the sight of a mountain, or a sunset, or an autumn river, amid its yellow woods, can have more power than even a book, or the influence of an older mind, or a young love-passion, in deciding them. Again, early intimacy with fine scenery furnishes the poetic mind with an exhaustless supply of images. These being sown in youth, sown broadcast, and without any effort of the mind to receive or retain them, bear fruit for ever. It is a shower of morning manna, which no after fervours of noon, or chills of evening, are able to melt or freeze. Or, shall we say the mind of the young, especially if gifted, is a daguerreotype plate of the finest construction, and when surrounded by romantic or lovely scenes, it receives and preserves them to the last, and can reproduce them, too, in ever-varying forms, and perpetual succession? And hence, in fine, it follows, that the greatest poets have either been brought up in the country, or have early come in contact with a beautiful nature, as the names of Homer, Virgil, Shakspeare, Milton, Thomson, Burns, Scott, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, Wilson, and Thomas Aird, abundantly prove.
Beattie employs the greater part of his first Canto of the “Minstrel” in showing the influence of Nature on the dawning mind of a poet. And there can be little doubt that it is the scenery of his own native region, and the progress of his own mind, that he has described. “The long, long vale withdrawn,” is the Howe of the Mearns–the “uplands” whence he views it, are the hills of Garvock–the “mountain grey,” is the Grampian ridge to the north-west–the “blue main” is the German Ocean, expanding eastward–and the “vale” where the hermit is overheard pouring out his plaint, may not inaptly be figured by that portion of Glen Esk, which meets the all-beautiful Burn, and where “rocks on rocks are piled by magic spell,” and where, then as now,
“Southward a mountain rose with easy swell, Whose long, long groves eternal murmur made.”
And, besides, there is his famous piece of cloud scenery, beginning,
“And oft the craggy cliff he loved to climb,”
the truth of which any one may attest by walking up, in the cloudy and dark day, the Cairn-a-Mount, a lofty knoll, across which a road leads to Deeside, to the north of the poet’s birthplace, and watching the sea of vapour boiling, shifting, sinking, rising, tumultuating at his feet.
Gray used to contend that, the stanza beginning, “O how canst thou renounce the boundless store?” was absolute inspiration, but objected, we think erroneously, to one word in it as French–“the _garniture_ of fields,” to which Cary very properly produces, in reply, the words from our common version of the Bible–“The Lord _garnished_ the heavens.” We have noticed a stronger objection to a line in this otherwise perfect stanza. It is this–
“All that the mountain’s sheltering bosom shields.”
Here is unquestionably a tautology, since to shield and to shelter convey precisely the same idea.
The charm of the “Minstrel” greatly lies in its blending of the moral elements with the material imagery of the poem. The mind, the growth of which he describes, is not forced into activity, or hatched prematurely by electric heat; it developes sweetly, gradually, and in finest harmony with the beautiful and the great around it–like a fir amidst the plantations of Woodmyre, or a planetree on the far-seen heights of Esslie. The second canto has beautiful passages, but is, on the whole, more vague and fantastic than the first. We regret exceedingly that Beattie never found leisure for writing a third canto, and leading Edwin, whom he had brought to the threshold, within the sanctuary of song, and consecrating him the “High Priest of the Nine,” by baptizing him into the Christian faith. The poem is a dream as well as a fragment–no poetic mind was perhaps ever so thoroughly insulated as that of his hero–but the “dream is one,” it is consistent with itself, and is painted with trembling truth of touch and delicate tenderness of feeling. We feel it to be destitute of profound suggestiveness and massive thought, but its verse is solemnly dignified, its imagery is chastely grand, and a rich chiaroscuro rests like a tropical night upon the whole. Besides the stanzas we have already alluded to, it has some of those brief touches which show the master’s hand: such as–
“Some deem’d him wondrous wise, and some believed him mad;”
or in his curse upon the Cock, the line–
“And ever in thy dreams the ruthless fox appear;”
or the burst of description, how like the scene when the clouds suddenly disperse, and show us
“the evening star.
And from embattled clouds emerging slow, Cynthia came riding in her silver car:
And hoary mountain cliffs shone faintly from afar.”
His smaller poems possess many felicitous lines. The “Ode to Peace” closes splendidly, and the “Hermit” is little inferior to Gray’s “Elegy.” Its burden is the doctrine of the Resurrection, and it breathes a more evangelical spirit than Gray. It begins in gloom, but ends in glory–a glory reflected from the revealed truth of Scripture, which, once believed, seems then to the poet corroborated by those analogies of nature which had previously ministered despair instead of hope–such as the monthly death and resurrection of the moon, and the nightly darkening and morning revelation of the beauties of the landscape. The stanza commencing with “‘Tis night,” may be called perfectly beautiful; and we shall not soon forget that Dr Thomas Brown never quoted it without tears, and that he quoted it, in tones of deep and tremulous pathos, in the last lecture he ever delivered to his students.
On the whole, Beattie may be ranked beside, or near, Campbell, Collins, Gray, and Akenside. Deficient in thought and passion, in creative power, and copious imagination, he is strong in sentiment, in mild tenderness, and in delicate description of nature. Whatever become of his Essay on Truth, or even of his less elaborate and more pleasing Essays on Music, Imagination, and Dreams, the world can never, at any stage of its advancement, forget to read and admire the “Minstrel” and the “Hermit,” or to cherish the memory of their warm-hearted and sorely-tried author.
We now bid the author of the “Minstrel” farewell! We love to think of him wandering in youth through the black plantations of firs, which border on his birthplace, or climbing grey Garvock Hill, and fixing his dark pensive eyes on the distant white sails, hovering like rare wings over the rounded blue-green German deep, or crossing those dreary moors which lie between Stonehaven and Aberdeen, a solitary pedestrian, in search of learning and distinction, in that noble old city–or teaching his son to “consider the cresses of the garden ‘how they grow,'” and to find in them something worth a thousand homilies or elaborate arguments for the being of a God–or taking his last look of the dead body of his last son, Montague, and saying, “Now I have done with the world.” He had many of the powers, all the virtues, and scarcely one of the faults generally supposed to be connected with the character, mind, and temperament of a poet.
THE PROGRESS OF GENIUS.
The design was, to trace the progress of a Poetical Genius, born in a rude age, from the first dawning of fancy and reason, till that period at which he may be supposed capable of appearing in the world as a MINSTREL, that is, as an itinerant poet and musician:–a character which, according to the notions of our forefathers, was not only respectable, but sacred.
I have endeavoured to imitate Spenser in the measure of his verse, and in the harmony, simplicity, and variety of his composition. Antique expressions I have avoided; admitting, however, some old words, where they seemed to suit the subject: but I hope none will be found that are now obsolete, or in any degree not intelligible to a reader of English poetry.
To those who may be disposed to ask what could induce me to write in so difficult a measure, I can only answer, that it pleases my ear, and seems from its Gothic structure and original, to bear some relation to the subject and spirit of the poem. It admits both simplicity and magnificence of sound and of language, beyond any other stanza I am acquainted with. It allows the sententiousness of the couplet, as well as the more complex modulation of blank verse. What some critics have remarked, of its uniformity growing at last tiresome to the ear, will be found to hold true only when the poetry is faulty in other respects.
Me vero primum dulces ante omnia Musae, Quarum sacra fero, ingenti perculsus amore, Accipiant–
Ah! who can tell how hard it is to climb The steep where Fame’s proud temple shines afar? Ah! who can tell how many a soul sublime Has felt the influence of malignant star, And waged with Fortune an eternal war– Check’d by the scoff of Pride, by Envy’s frown, And Poverty’s unconquerable bar–
In life’s low vale remote has pined alone, Then dropp’d into the grave, unpitied and unknown?
And yet the languor of inglorious days, Not equally oppressive is to all;
Him who ne’er listen’d to the voice of praise, The silence of neglect can ne’er appal. There are, who, deaf to mad Ambition’s call, Would shrink to hear the obstreperous trump of Fame; Supremely blest, if to their portion fall Health, competence, and peace. Nor higher aim Had he whose simple tale these artless lines proclaim.
The rolls of fame I will not now explore; Nor need I here describe, in learned lay, How forth the Minstrel fared in days of yore, Right glad of heart, though homely in array; His waving locks and beard all hoary gray; While from his bending shoulder, decent hung His harp, the sole companion of his way, Which to the whistling wild responsive rung: And ever as he went some merry lay he sung.
Fret not thyself, thou glittering child of pride, That a poor villager inspires my strain; With thee let Pageantry and Power abide: The gentle Muses, haunt the sylvan reign; Where through wild groves at eve the lonely swain Enraptured roams, to gaze on Nature’s charms: They hate the sensual and scorn the vain, The parasite their influence never warms, Nor him whose sordid soul the love of gold alarms.
Though richest hues the peacock’s plumes adorn, Yet horror screams from his discordant throat. Rise, sons of harmony, and hail the morn, While warbling larks on russet pinions float: Or seek at noon the woodland scene remote, Where the grey linnets carol from the hill. Oh, let them ne’er, with artificial note, To please a tyrant, strain the little bill, But sing what Heaven inspires, and wander where they will!
Liberal, not lavish, is kind Nature’s hand; Nor was perfection made for man below;
Yet all her schemes with nicest art are plann’d; Good counteracting ill, and gladness woe. With gold and gems if Chilian mountains glow; If bleak and barren Scotia’s hills arise; There plague and poison, lust and rapine grow; Here, peaceful are the vales, and pure the skies, And Freedom fires the soul, and sparkles in the eyes.
Then grieve not, thou, to whom the indulgent Muse Vouchsafes a portion of celestial fire; Nor blame the partial Fates, if they refuse The Imperial banquet and the rich attire. Know thine own worth, and reverence the lyre. Wilt thou debase the heart which God refined? No; let thy heaven-taught soul to Heaven aspire, To fancy, freedom, harmony resign’d;
Ambition’s grovelling crew for ever left behind.
Canst thou forego the pure ethereal soul In each fine sense so exquisitely keen, On the dull couch of Luxury to loll,
Stung with disease, and stupified with spleen; Fain to implore the aid of Flattery’s screen, Even from thyself thy loathsome heart to hide (The mansion then no more of joy serene), Where fear, distrust, malevolence abide, And impotent desire, and disappointed pride?
Oh, how canst thou renounce the boundless store Of charms which Nature to her votary yields? The warbling woodland, the resounding shore, The pomp of groves, and garniture of fields; All that the genial ray of morning gilds, And all that echoes to the song of even, All that the mountain’s sheltering bosom shields, And all the dread magnificence of heaven, Oh, how canst thou renounce, and hope to be forgiven?
These charms shall work thy soul’s eternal health, And love, and gentleness, and joy impart. But these thou must renounce, if lust of wealth E’er win its way to thy corrupted heart: For, ah! it poisons like a scorpion’s dart; Prompting the ungenerous wish, the selfish scheme, The stern resolve, unmoved by pity’s smart, The troublous day, and long distressful dream. Return, my roving Muse, resume thy purposed theme.
There lived in Gothic days, as legends tell, A shepherd-swain, a man of low degree; Whose sires, perchance, in Fairyland might dwell, Sicilian groves, or vales of Arcady;
But he, I ween, was of the north countrie;  A nation famed for song and beauty’s charms; Zealous, yet modest; innocent, though free; Patient of toil; serene amidst alarms; Inflexible in faith; invincible in arms.
The shepherd swain of whom I mention made, On Scotia’s mountains fed his little flock; The sickle, scythe, or plough he never sway’d: An honest heart was almost all his stock; His drink the living water from the rock: The milky dams supplied his board, and lent Their kindly fleece to baffle winter’s shock; And he, though oft with dust and sweat besprent, Did guide and guard their wanderings, wheresoe’er they went.
From labour, health, from health, contentment, springs; Contentment opes the source of every joy. He envied not, he never thought of kings; Nor from those appetites sustain’d annoy, That chance may frustrate, or indulgence cloy; Nor Fate his calm and humble hopes beguiled; He mourn’d no recreant friend, nor mistress coy, For on his vows the blameless Phoebe smiled, And her alone he loved, and loved her from a child.
No jealousy their dawn of love o’ercast, Nor blasted were their wedded days with strife; Each season look’d delightful, as it pass’d, To the fond husband, and the faithful wife. Beyond the lowly vale of shepherd life
They never roam’d: secure beneath the storm Which in Ambition’s lofty hand is rife, Where peace and love are canker’d by the worm Of pride, each bud of joy industrious to deform.
The wight whose tale these artless lines unfold, Was all the offspring of this humble pair: His birth no oracle or seer foretold;
No prodigy appear’d in earth or air, Nor aught that might a strange event declare. You guess each circumstance of Edwin’s birth; The parent’s transport, and the parent’s care; The gossip’s prayer for wealth, and wit, and worth; And one long summer day of indolence and mirth.
And yet poor Edwin was no vulgar boy: Deep thought oft seem’d to fix his infant eye. Dainties he heeded not, nor gaude, nor toy, Save one short pipe of rudest minstrelsy: Silent when glad; affectionate, though shy; And now his look was most demurely sad; And now he laugh’d aloud, yet none knew why. The neighbours stared and sigh’d, yet bless’d the lad: Some deem’d him wondrous wise, and some believed him mad.
But why should I his childish feats display? Concourse, and noise, and toil he ever fled; Nor cared to mingle in the clamorous fray Of squabbling imps; but to the forest sped, Or roam’d at large the lonely mountain’s head, Or, where the maze of some bewilder’d stream To deep untrodden groves his footsteps led, There would he wander wild, till Phoebus’ beam, Shot from the western cliff, released the weary team.
The exploit of strength, dexterity, or speed, To him nor vanity nor joy could bring.
His heart, from cruel sport estranged, would bleed To work the woe of any living thing,
By trap, or net; by arrow, or by sling: Those he detested; those he scorn’d to wield; He wish’d to be the guardian, not the king, Tyrant far less, or traitor of the field. And sure the sylvan reign unbloody joy might yield.
Lo! where the stripling, wrapt in wonder, roves Beneath the precipice o’erhung with pine: And sees, on high, amidst the encircling groves, From cliff to cliff the foaming torrents shine: While waters; woods, and winds in concert join, And Echo swells the chorus to the skies. Would Edwin this majestic scene resign
For aught the huntsman’s puny craft supplies? Ah! no; he better knows great Nature’s charms to prize.
And oft he traced the uplands, to survey, When o’er the sky advanced the kindling dawn, The crimson cloud, blue main, and mountain gray, And lake, dim-gleaming on the smoky lawn: Far to the west the long long vale withdrawn, Where twilight loves to linger for a while; And now he faintly kens the bounding fawn, And villager abroad at early toil.
But, lo! the Sun appears, and heaven, earth, ocean smile!
And oft the craggy cliff he loved to climb, When all in mist the world below was lost. What dreadful pleasure! there to stand sublime, Like shipwreck’d mariner on desert coast, And view the enormous waste of vapour, toss’d In billows, lengthening to the horizon round, Now scoop’d in gulfs, with mountains now emboss’d! And hear the voice of mirth and song rebound, Flocks, herds, and waterfalls, along the hoar profound!
In truth he was a strange and wayward wight, Fond of each gentle, and each dreadful scene. In darkness, and in storm, he found delight: Nor less than when on ocean-wave serene The southern Sun diffused his dazzling sheen,  Even sad vicissitude amused his soul:
And if a sigh would sometimes intervene, And down his cheek a tear of pity roll, A sigh, a tear, so sweet, he wish’d not to control.
“O ye wild groves! O where is now your bloom?” (The Muse interprets thus his tender thought) “Your flowers, your verdure and your balmy gloom, Of late so grateful in the hour of drought? Why do the birds, that song and rapture brought To all your bowers, their mansions now forsake? Ah! why has fickle chance this ruin wrought? For now the storm howls mournful through the brake, And the dead foliage flies in many a shapeless flake.
“Where now the rill, melodious, pure, and cool, And meads, with life and mirth and beauty crown’d? Ah! see, the unsightly slime and sluggish pool, Have all the solitary vale imbrown’d;
Fled each fair form, and mute each melting sound, The raven croaks forlorn on naked spray: And, hark! the river, bursting every mound, Down the vale thunders, and with wasteful sway Uproots the grove, and rolls the shatter’d rocks away.
“Yet such the destiny of all on earth! So flourishes and fades majestic Man.
Fair is the bud his vernal morn brings forth, And fostering gales awhile the nursling fan. Oh, smile, ye heavens serene! ye mildews wan, Ye blighting whirlwinds, spare his balmy prime, Nor lessen of his life the little span! Borne on the swift, though silent wings of Time, Old age comes on apace to ravage all the clime.
“And be it so. Let those deplore their doom, Whose hope still grovels in this dark sojourn: But lofty souls, who look beyond the tomb, Can smile at Fate, and wonder how they mourn. Shall Spring to these sad scenes no more return? Is yonder wave the Sun’s eternal bed?
Soon shall the orient with new lustre burn, And Spring shall soon her vital influence shed, Again attune the grove, again adorn the mead.
“Shall I be left forgotten in the dust, When Fate, relenting, lets the flower revive? Shall Nature’s voice, to man alone unjust, Bid him, though doom’d to perish, hope to live? Is it for this fair Virtue oft must strive With disappointment, penury, and pain?
No! Heaven’s immortal springs shall yet arrive, And man’s majestic beauty bloom again,
Bright through the eternal year of Love’s triumphant reign.”
This truth sublime his simple sire had taught: In sooth, ’twas almost all the shepherd knew. No subtle nor superfluous lore he sought, Nor ever wish’d his Edwin to pursue.
“Let man’s own sphere,” said he, “confine his view; Be man’s peculiar work his sole delight.” And much, and oft, he warn’d him to eschew Falsehood and guile, and aye maintain the right, By pleasure unseduced, unawed by lawless might.
“And from the prayer of Want, and plaint of Woe, O never, never turn away thine ear!
Forlorn, in this bleak wilderness below, Ah! what were man, should Heaven refuse to hear! To others do (the law is not severe)
What to thyself thou wishest to be done. Forgive thy foes; and love thy parents dear, And friends, and native land; nor those alone: All human weal and woe learn thou to make thine own.”
See, in the rear of the warm sunny shower The visionary boy from shelter fly;
For now the storm of summer rain is o’er, And cool, and fresh, and fragrant is the sky. And, lo! in the dark east, expanded high, The rainbow brightens to the setting Sun! Fond fool, that deem’st the streaming glory nigh, How vain the chase thine ardour has begun! ‘Tis fled afar, ere half thy purposed race be run.
Yet couldst thou learn that thus it fares with age, When pleasure, wealth, or power the bosom warm; This baffled hope might tame thy manhood’s rage, And disappointment of her sting disarm. But why should foresight thy fond heart alarm? Perish the lore that deadens young desire! Pursue, poor imp, the imaginary charm, Indulge gay hope, and fancy’s pleasing fire: Fancy and hope too soon shall of themselves expire.
When the long-sounding curfew from afar Loaded with loud lament the lonely gale, Young Edwin, lighted by the evening star, Lingering and listening, wander’d down the vale. There would he dream of graves, and corses pale, And ghosts that to the charnel-dungeon throng, And drag a length of clanking chain, and wail, Till silenced by the owl’s terrific song, Or blast that shrieks by fits the shuddering aisles along.
Or, when the setting Moon, in crimson dyed, Hung o’er the dark and melancholy deep, To haunted stream, remote from man, he hied, Where fays of yore their revels wont to keep; And there let Fancy rove at large, till sleep A vision brought to his entranced sight. And first, a wildly murmuring wind ‘gan creep Shrill to his ringing ear; then tapers bright, With instantaneous gleam, illumed the vault of night.
Anon in view a portal’s blazon’d arch Arose; the trumpet bids the valves unfold; And forth a host of little warriors march, Grasping the diamond lance, and targe of gold. Their look was gentle, their demeanour bold, And green their helms, and green their silk attire; And here and there, right venerably old, The long-robed minstrels wake the warbling wire, And some with mellow breath the martial pipe inspire.
With merriment, and song, and timbrels clear, A troop of dames from myrtle bowers advance; The little warriors doff the targe and spear, And loud enlivening strains provoke the dance. They meet, they dart away, they wheel askance; To right, to left, they thread the flying maze; Now bound aloft with vigorous spring, then glance Rapid along: with many-colour’d rays
Of tapers, gems, and gold, the echoing forests blaze.
The dream is fled. Proud harbinger of day, Who scar’dst the vision with thy clarion shrill, Fell chanticleer; who oft hath reft away My fancied good, and brought substantial ill! Oh, to thy cursed scream, discordant still, Let harmony aye shut her gentle ear:
Thy boastful mirth let jealous rivals spill, Insult thy crest, and glossy pinions tear, And ever in thy dreams the ruthless fox appear!
Forbear, my Muse. Let Love attune thy line. Revoke the spell. Thine Edwin frets not so. For how should he at wicked chance repine, Who feels from every change amusement flow? Even now his eyes with smiles of rapture glow, As on he wanders through the scenes of morn, Where the fresh flowers in living lustre blow, Where thousand pearls the dewy lawns adorn, A thousand notes of joy in every breeze are borne.
But who the melodies of morn can tell? The wild brook babbling down the mountain side; The lowing herd; the sheepfold’s simple bell; The pipe of early shepherd dim descried In the lone valley; echoing far and wide The clamorous horn along the cliffs above; The hollow murmur of the ocean-tide;
The hum of bees, the linnet’s lay of love, And the full choir that wakes the universal grove.
The cottage curs at early pilgrim bark; Crown’d with her pail the tripping milkmaid sings; The whistling ploughman stalks afield; and, hark! Down the rough slope the ponderous waggon rings; Through rustling corn the hare astonish’d springs; Slow tolls the village clock the drowsy hour; The partridge bursts away on whirring wings; Deep mourns the turtle in sequester’d bower, And shrill lark carols clear from her aerial tour.
O Nature, how in every charm supreme! Whose votaries feast on raptures ever new! O for the voice and fire of seraphim,
To sing thy glories with devotion due! Blest be the day I ‘scaped the wrangling crew, From Pyrrho’s maze, and Epicurus’ sty; And held high converse with the godlike few, Who to the enraptured heart, and ear, and eye, Teach beauty, virtue, truth, and love, and melody.
Hence! ye, who snare and stupify the mind, Sophists! of beauty, virtue, joy, the bane! Greedy and fell, though impotent and blind, Who spread your filthy nets in Truth’s fair fane, And ever ply your venom’d fangs amain! Hence to dark Error’s den, whose rankling slime First gave you form! Hence! lest the Muse should deign (Though loth on theme so mean to waste a rhyme), With vengeance to pursue your sacrilegious crime.
But hail, ye mighty masters of the lay, Nature’s true sons, the friends of man and truth! Whose song, sublimely sweet, serenely gay, Amused my childhood, and inform’d my youth. O let your spirit still my bosom soothe, Inspire my dreams, and my wild wanderings guide; Your voice each rugged path of life can smooth, For well I know, wherever ye reside,
There harmony, and peace, and innocence abide.
Ah me! neglected on the lonesome plain, As yet poor Edwin never knew your lore, Save when against the winter’s drenching rain, And driving snow, the cottage shut the door. Then, as instructed by tradition hoar, Her legend when the beldam ‘gan impart, Or chant the old heroic ditty o’er,
Wonder and joy ran thrilling to his heart; Much he the tale admired, but more the tuneful art.
Various and strange was the long-winded tale; And halls, and knights, and feats of arms display’d; Or merry swains, who quaff the nut-brown ale, And sing enamour’d of the nut-brown maid; The moonlight revel of the fairy glade; Or hags, that suckle an infernal brood, And ply in caves the unutterable trade,  ‘Midst fiends and spectres quench the Moon in blood, Yell in the midnight storm, or ride the infuriate flood.
But when to horror his amazement rose, A gentler strain the beldam would rehearse, A tale of rural life, a tale of woes,
The orphan babes, and guardian uncle fierce. O cruel! will no pang of pity pierce
That heart, by lust of lucre sear’d to stone? For sure, if aught of virtue last, or verse, To latest times shall tender souls bemoan Those hopeless orphan babes by thy fell arts undone.
Behold, with berries smear’d, with brambles torn,  The babes, now famish’d, lay them down to die: Amidst the howl of darksome woods forlorn, Folded in one another’s arms they lie; Nor friend, nor stranger, hears their dying cry: “For from the town the man returns no more.” But thou, who Heaven’s just vengeance dar’st defy, This deed with fruitless tears shalt soon deplore, When Death lays waste thy house, and flames consume thy store.
A stifled smile of stern vindictive joy Brighten’d one moment Edwin’s starting tear,– “But why should gold man’s feeble mind decoy, And innocence thus die by doom severe?” O Edwin! while thy heart is yet sincere, The assaults of discontent and doubt repel: Dark even at noontide is our mortal sphere; But let us hope; to doubt is to rebel: Let us exult in hope, that all shall yet be well.
Nor be thy generous indignation check’d, Nor check’d the tender tear to Misery given; From Guilt’s contagious power shall _that_ protect, _This_ soften and refine the soul for Heaven. But dreadful is their doom whom doubt has driven To censure Fate, and pious Hope forego: Like yonder blasted boughs by lightning riven, Perfection, beauty, life, they never know, But frown on all that pass, a monument of woe.
Shall he whose birth, maturity, and age Scarce fill the circle of one summer day, Shall the poor gnat, with discontent and rage, Exclaim that Nature hastens to decay,
If but a cloud obstruct the solar ray, If but a momentary shower descend?
Or shall frail man Heaven’s dread decree gainsay, Which bade the series of events extend Wide through unnumber’d worlds, and ages without end?
One part, one little part, we dimly scan Through the dark medium of life’s feverish dream; Yet dare arraign the whole stupendous plan, If but that little part incongruous seem. Nor is that part perhaps what mortals deem; Oft from apparent ill our blessings rise. O, then, renounce that impious self-esteem, That aims to trace the secrets of the skies: For thou art but of dust; be humble, and be wise.
Thus Heaven enlarged his soul in riper years. For Nature gave him strength and fire, to soar On Fancy’s wing above this vale of tears; Where dark cold-hearted sceptics, creeping, pore Through microscope of metaphysic lore; And much they grope for Truth, but never hit. For why? Their powers, inadequate before, This idle art makes more and more unfit; Yet deem they darkness light, and their vain blunders wit.
Nor was this ancient dame a foe to mirth. Her ballad, jest, and riddle’s quaint device Oft cheer’d the shepherds round their social hearth; Whom levity or spleen could ne’er entice To purchase chat or laughter, at the price Of decency. Nor let it faith exceed,
That Nature forms a rustic taste so nice. Ah! had they been of court or city breed, Such delicacy were right marvellous indeed.
Oft when the winter storm had ceased to rave, He roam’d the snowy waste at even, to view The cloud stupendous, from the Atlantic wave High-towering, sail along the horizon blue; Where, ‘midst the changeful scenery, ever new, Fancy a thousand wondrous forms descries, More wildly great than ever pencil drew, Rocks, torrents, gulfs, and shapes of giant size, And glittering cliffs on cliffs, and fiery ramparts rise.
Thence musing onward to the sounding shore, The lone enthusiast oft would take his way, Listening, with pleasing dread, to the deep roar Of the wide-weltering waves. In black array, When sulphurous clouds roll’d on the autumnal day, Even then he hasten’d from the haunt of man, Along the trembling wilderness to stray, What time the lightning’s fierce career began, And o’er heaven’s rending arch the rattling thunder ran.
Responsive to the lively pipe, when all In sprightly dance the village youth were join’d, Edwin, of melody aye held in thrall,
From the rude gambol far remote reclined, Soothed with the soft notes warbling in the wind, Ah! then all jollity seem’d noise and folly, To the pure soul by Fancy’s fire refined; Ah! what is mirth but turbulence unholy, When with the charm compared of heavenly melancholy?
Is there a heart that music cannot melt? Alas! how is that rugged heart forlorn! Is there, who ne’er those mystic transports felt Of solitude and melancholy born?
He needs not woo the Muse; he is her scorn. The sophist’s rope of cobweb he shall twine; Mope o’er the schoolman’s peevish page; or mourn, And delve for life in Mammon’s dirty mine; Sneak with the scoundrel fox, or grunt with glutton swine.
For Edwin, Fate a nobler doom had plann’d; Song was his favourite and first pursuit. The wild harp rang to his adventurous hand, And languish’d to his breath the plaintive flute. His infant Muse, though artless, was not mute: Of elegance as yet he took no care;
For this of time and culture is the fruit; And Edwin gain’d at last this fruit so rare: As in some future verse I purpose to declare.
Meanwhile, whate’er of beautiful or new, Sublime, or dreadful, in earth, sea, or sky, By chance or search, was offer’d to his view, He scann’d with curious and romantic eye. Whate’er of lore tradition could supply From Gothic tale, or song, or fable old, Roused him, still keen to listen and to pry. At last, though long by penury controll’d And solitude, his soul her graces ‘gan unfold.
Thus on the chill Lapponian’s dreary land, For many a long month lost in snow profound, When Sol from Cancer sends the season bland, And in their northern caves the storms are bound; From silent mountains, straight, with startling sound, Torrents are hurl’d; green hills emerge; and, lo! The trees with foliage, cliffs with flowers are crown’d; Pure rills through vales of verdure warbling go; And wonder, love, and joy, the peasant’s heart o’erflow. 
Here pause, my Gothic lyre, a little while, The leisure hour is all that thou canst claim. But on this verse if Montagu should smile, New strains ere long shall animate thy frame. And her applause to me is more than fame; For still with truth accords her taste refined. At lucre or renown let others aim,
I only wish to please the gentle mind, Whom Nature’s charms inspire, and love of humankind.
[Footnote 1: There is hardly an ancient ‘ballad’ or romance, wherein a minstrel or a harper appears, but he is characterized, by way of eminence, to have been ‘of the north countrie’. It is probable that under this appellation were formerly comprehended all the provinces to the north of the Trent.–See ‘Percy’s Essay on the Minstrels’.]
[Footnote 2: ‘Dazzling sheen:’ Brightness, splendour. The word is used by some late writers, as well as by Milton.]
[Footnote 3: Allusion to Shakspeare:–
‘Mac’. How now, ye secret, black, and midnight hags, What is’t ye do?
‘Wit’. A deed without a name.
(MACBETH, Act 4, Scene 1.)]
[Footnote 4: See the fine old ballad called, ‘The Children in the Wood.’]
[Footnote 5: Spring and autumn are hardly known to the Laplanders. About the time the sun enters Cancer, their fields, which a week before were covered with snow, appear on a sudden full of grass and flowers.–Scheffer’s ‘History of Lapland.’]
Doctrina sed vim promovet insitam,
Rectique cultus pectora roborant.
Of chance or change, O let not man complain, Else shall he never, never cease to wail; For, from the imperial dome, to where the swain Rears the lone cottage in the silent dale, All feel the assault of Fortune’s fickle gale; Art, empire, earth itself, to change are doom’d; Earthquakes have raised to Heaven the humble vale, And gulfs the mountain’s mighty mass entomb’d; And where the Atlantic rolls wide continents have bloom’d. 
But sure to foreign climes we need not range, Nor search the ancient records of our race, To learn the dire effects of time and change, Which in ourselves, alas! we daily trace. Yet at the darken’d eye, the wither’d face, Or hoary hair, I never will repine:
But spare, O Time, whate’er of mental grace, Of candour, love, or sympathy divine,
Whate’er of fancy’s ray, or friendship’s flame is mine.
So I, obsequious to Truth’s dread command, Shall here without reluctance change my lay, And smite the Gothic lyre with harsher hand; Now when I leave that flowery path, for aye, Of childhood, where I sported many a day, Warbling and sauntering carelessly along; Where every face was innocent and gay,
Each vale romantic, tuneful every tongue, Sweet, wild, and artless all, as Edwin’s infant song.
“Perish the lore that deadens young desire,” Is the soft tenor of my song no more.
Edwin, though loved of Heaven, must not aspire To bliss, which mortals never knew before. On trembling wings let youthful fancy soar, Nor always haunt the sunny realms of joy: But now and then the shades of life explore; Though many a sound and sight of woe annoy, And many a qualm of care his rising hopes destroy.
Vigour from toil, from trouble patience grows: The weakly blossom, warm in summer bower, Some tints of transient beauty may disclose; But soon it withers in the chilling hour. Mark yonder oaks! Superior to the power Of all the warring winds of heaven they rise, And from the stormy promontory tower,
And toss their giant arms amid the skies, While each assailing blast increase of strength supplies.
And now the downy cheek and deepen’d voice Gave dignity to Edwin’s blooming prime; And walks of wider circuit were his choice, And vales more wild, and mountains more sublime. One evening, as he framed the careless rhyme, It was his chance to wander far abroad, And o’er a lonely eminence to climb,
Which heretofore his foot had never trod; A vale appear’d below, a deep retired abode.
Thither he hied, enamour’d of the scene; For rocks on rocks piled, as by magic spell, Here scorch’d with lightning, there with ivy green, Fenced from the north and east this savage dell. Southward a mountain rose with easy swell, Whose long long groves eternal murmur made: And toward the western sun a streamlet fell, Where, through the cliffs, the eye remote survey’d Blue hills, and glittering waves, and skies in gold array’d.
Along this narrow valley you might see The wild deer sporting on the meadow ground, And, here and there, a solitary tree,
Or mossy stone, or rock with woodbine crown’d. Oft did the cliffs reverberate the sound Of parted fragments tumbling from on high; And from the summit of that craggy mound The perching eagle oft was heard to cry, Or on resounding wings to shoot athwart the sky.
One cultivated spot there was, that spread Its flowery bosom to the noonday beam,
Where many a rosebud rears its blushing head, And herbs for food with future plenty teem. Soothed by the lulling sound of grove and stream, Romantic visions swarm on Edwin’s soul: He minded not the sun’s last trembling gleam, Nor heard from far the twilight curfew toll; When slowly on his ear these moving accents stole.
“Hail, awful scenes, that calm the troubled breast, And woo the weary to profound repose!
Can passion’s wildest uproar lay to rest, And whisper comfort to the man of woes? Here Innocence may wander, safe from foes, And Contemplation soar on seraph wings. O Solitude! the man who thee foregoes,
When lucre lures him, or ambition stings, Shall never know the source whence real grandeur springs.
“Vain man! is grandeur given to gay attire? Then let the butterfly thy pride upbraid: To friends, attendants, armies bought with hire? It is thy weakness that requires their aid: To palaces, with gold and gems inlaid?
They fear the thief, and tremble in the storm: To hosts, through carnage who to conquest wade? Behold the victor vanquish’d by the worm! Behold what deeds of woe the locust can perform!
“True dignity is his, whose tranquil mind Virtue has raised above the things below; Who, every hope and fear to Heaven resign’d, Shrinks not, though Fortune aim her deadliest blow.” This strain from ‘midst the rocks was heard to flow In solemn sounds. Now beam’d the evening star; And from embattled clouds emerging slow, Cynthia came riding on her silver car;
And hoary mountain-cliffs shone faintly from afar.
Soon did the solemn voice its theme renew (While Edwin, wrapt in wonder, listening stood): “Ye tools and toys of tyranny, adieu,
Scorn’d by the wise, and hated by the good! Ye only can engage the servile brood
Of Levity and Lust, who all their days, Ashamed of truth and liberty, have woo’d And hugg’d the chain that, glittering on their gaze, Seems to outshine the pomp of Heaven’s empyreal blaze
“Like them, abandon’d to Ambition’s sway, I sought for glory in the paths of guile; And fawn’d and smiled, to plunder and betray, Myself betray’d and plunder’d all the while; So gnaw’d the viper the corroding file; But now with pangs of keen remorse, I rue Those years of trouble and debasement vile. Yet why should I this cruel theme pursue? Fly, fly, detested thoughts, for ever from my view!
“The gusts of appetite, the clouds of care, And storms of disappointment, all o’erpast, Henceforth no earthly hope with Heaven shall share This heart, where peace serenely shines at last. And if for me no treasure be amass’d,
And if no future age shall hear my name, I lurk the more secure from fortune’s blast, And with more leisure feed this pious flame, Whose rapture far transcends the fairest hopes of fame.
“The end and the reward of toil is rest. Be all my prayer for virtue and for peace. Of wealth and fame, of pomp and power possess’d, Who ever felt his weight of woe decrease? Ah! what avails the lore of Rome and Greece, The lay heaven-prompted, and harmonious string, The dust of Ophir, or the Tyrian fleece, All that art, fortune, enterprise can bring, If envy, scorn, remorse, or pride the bosom wring?
“Let Vanity adorn the marble tomb
With trophies, rhymes, and ‘scutcheons of renown, In the deep dungeon of some Gothic dome, Where night and desolation ever frown. Mine be the breezy hill that skirts the down, Where a green, grassy turf is all I crave, With here and there a violet bestrewn, Fast by a brook, or fountain’s murmuring wave; And many an evening sun shine sweetly on my grave.
“And thither let the village swain repair; And, light of heart, the village maiden gay, To deck with flowers her half-dishevell’d hair, And celebrate the merry morn of May.
There let the shepherd’s pipe the livelong day Fill all the grove with love’s bewitching woe; And when mild Evening comes in mantle gray, Let not the blooming band make haste to go; No ghost, nor spell, my long and last abode shall know.
“For though I fly to ‘scape from Fortune’s rage, And bear the scars of envy, spite, and scorn, Yet with mankind no horrid war I wage, Yet with no impious spleen my breast is torn: For virtue lost, and ruin’d man I mourn. O man! creation’s pride, Heaven’s darling child, Whom Nature’s best, divinest gifts adorn, Why from thy home are truth and joy exiled, And all thy favourite haunts with blood and tears defiled?
“Along yon glittering sky what glory streams! What majesty attends Night’s lovely queen! Fair laugh our valleys in the vernal beams; And mountains rise, and oceans roll between, And all conspire to beautify the scene. But, in the mental world, what chaos drear! What forms of mournful, loathsome, furious mien! O when shall that Eternal Morn appear, These dreadful forms to chase, this chaos dark to clear?
“O Thou, at whose creative smile, yon Heaven, In all the pomp of beauty, life, and light, Rose from the abyss; when dark Confusion, driven Down, down the bottomless profound of night, Fled, where he ever flies thy piercing sight! O glance on these sad shades one pitying ray, To blast the fury of oppressive might, Melt the hard heart to love and mercy’s sway, And cheer the wandering soul, and light him on the way!”
Silence ensued; and Edwin raised his eyes In tears, for grief lay heavy at his heart. “And is it thus in courtly life,” he cries, “That man to man acts a betrayer’s part? And dares he thus the gifts of Heaven pervert, Each social instinct, and sublime desire? Hail, Poverty! if honour, wealth, and art, If what the great pursue and learn’d admire, Thus dissipate and quench the soul’s ethereal fire!”
He said, and turn’d away; nor did the Sage O’erhear, in silent orisons employ’d.
The Youth, his rising sorrow to assuage, Home, as he hied, the evening scene enjoy’d: For now no cloud obscures the starry void; The yellow moonlight sleeps on all the hills;  Nor is the mind with startling sounds annoy’d; A soothing murmur the lone region fills Of groves, and dying gales, and melancholy rills.
But he from day to day more anxious grew, The voice still seem’d to vibrate on his ear. Nor durst he hope the hermit’s tale untrue; For man he seem’d to love, and Heaven to fear; And none speaks false, where there is none to hear. “Yet, can man’s gentle heart become so fell? No more in vain conjecture let me wear My hours away, but seek the hermit’s cell; ‘Tis he my doubt can clear, perhaps my care dispel.”
At early dawn the Youth his journey took, And many a mountain pass’d and valley wide, Then reach’d the wild; where, in a flowery nook, And seated on a mossy stone, he spied
An ancient man: his harp lay him beside. A stag sprang from the pasture at his call, And, kneeling, lick’d the wither’d hand that tied A wreath of woodbine round his antlers tall, And hung his lofty neck with many a floweret small.
And now the hoary Sage arose, and saw The wanderer approaching: innocence
Smiled on his glowing cheek, but modest awe Depress’d his eye, that fear’d to give offence. “Who art thou, courteous stranger and from whence Why roam thy steps to this sequester’d dale?” “A shepherd boy,” the Youth replied, “far hence My habitation; hear my artless tale;
Nor levity nor falsehood shall thine ear assail
“Late as I roam’d, intent on Nature’s charms, I reach’d at eve this wilderness profound; And, leaning where yon oak expands her arms, Heard these rude cliffs thine awful voice rebound (For in thy speech I recognise the sound). You mourn’d for ruin’d man, and virtue lost, And seem’d to feel of keen remorse the wound, Pondering on former days, by guilt engross’d, Or in the giddy storm of dissipation toss’d.
“But say, in courtly life can craft be learn’d, Where knowledge opens and exalts the soul? Where Fortune lavishes her gifts unearn’d, Can selfishness the liberal heart control? Is glory there achieved by arts as foul As those that felons, fiends, and furies plan? Spiders ensnare, snakes poison, tigers prowl: Love is the godlike attribute of man.
O teach a simple youth this mystery to scan.
“Or else the lamentable strain disclaim, And give me back the calm, contented mind. Which, late exulting, view’d in Nature’s frame Goodness untainted, wisdom unconfined, Grace, grandeur, and utility combined. Restore those tranquil days that saw me still Well pleased with all, but most with humankind; When Fancy roam’d through Nature’s works at will, Uncheck’d by cold distrust, and uninform’d by ill.”
“Wouldst thou,” the Sage replied, “in peace return To the gay dreams of fond romantic youth, Leave me to hide, in this remote sojourn, From every gentle ear the dreadful truth: For if any desultory strain with ruth
And indignation make thine eyes o’erflow, Alas! what comfort could thy anguish soothe, Shouldst thou the extent of human folly know? Be ignorance thy choice, where knowledge leads to woe.
“But let untender thoughts afar be driven; Nor venture to arraign the dread decree. For know, to man, as candidate for heaven, The voice of the Eternal said, Be free: And this divine prerogative to thee
Does virtue, happiness, and heaven convey; For virtue is the child of liberty,
And happiness of virtue; nor can they Be free to keep the path, who are not free to stray.
“Yet leave me not. I would allay that grief, Which else might thy young virtue overpower; And in thy converse I shall find relief, When the dark shades of melancholy lower; For solitude has many a dreary hour,
Even when exempt from grief, remorse, and pain: Come often then; for haply, in my bower, Amusement, knowledge, wisdom thou mayst gain: If I one soul improve, I have not lived in vain.”
And now, at length, to Edwin’s ardent gaze The Muse of history unrolls her page.
But few, alas! the scenes her art displays, To charm his fancy, or his heart engage. Here chiefs their thirst of power in blood assuage, And straight their flames with tenfold fierceness burn Here smiling Virtue prompts the patriot’s rage, But, lo! ere long, is left alone to mourn, And languish in the dust, and clasp the abandon’d urn.
“Ambition’s slippery verge shall mortals tread, Where ruin’s gulf, unfathom’d, yawns beneath? Shall life, shall liberty be lost,” he said, “For the vain toys that Pomp and Power bequeath? The car of victory, the plume, the wreath Defend not from the bolt of fate the brave: No note the clarion of Renown can breathe, To alarm the long night of the lonely grave, Or check the headlong haste of time’s o’erwhelming wave.
“Ah, what avails it to have traced the springs, That whirl of empire the stupendous wheel? Ah, what have I to do with conquering kings, Hands drench’d in blood, and breasts begirt with steel? To those, whom Nature taught to think and feel, Heroes, alas! are things of small concern; Could History man’s secret heart reveal, And what imports a heaven-born mind to learn, Her transcripts to explore what bosom would not yearn?
“This praise, O Cheronean sage  is thine! (Why should this praise to thee alone belong?) All else from Nature’s moral path decline, Lured by the toys that captivate the throng; To herd in cabinets and camps, among
Spoil, carnage, and the cruel pomp of pride; Or chant of heraldry the drowsy song,
How tyrant blood o’er many a region wide, Rolls to a thousand thrones its execrable tide.
“Oh, who of man the story will unfold, Ere victory and empire wrought annoy,
In that Elysian age misnamed of gold), The age of love, and innocence and joy, When all were great and free! man’s sole employ To deck the bosom of his parent earth; Or toward his bower the murmuring stream decoy, To aid the floweret’s long-expected birth, And lull the bed of peace, and crown the board of mirth?
“Sweet were your shades, O ye primeval groves! Whose boughs to man his food and shelter lent, Pure in his pleasures, happy in his loves, His eye still smiling, and his heart content. Then, hand in hand, Health, Sport, and Labour went. Nature supplied the wish she taught to crave. None prowl’d for prey, none watch’d to circumvent; To all an equal lot Heaven’s bounty gave: No vassal fear’d his lord, no tyrant fear’d his slave.