Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

"But when he came, his children twain,
And eke his loving wife,

With briny tears did wet the floor

For good Sir Charles's life.

"Oh, good Sir Charles,' said Canterlone,
'Bad tidings I do bring.'

'Speak boldly, man,' said brave Sir Charles,

'What says the traitor king?'

"I grieve to tell, before yon sun
Does from the welkin fly,

He hath upon his honor sworn
That thou shalt surely die.'

"We all must die,' said brave Sir Charles,

'Of that I am not afeared.

What boots to live a little space?

Thank Jesus, I'm prepared."

In spite of the intercession of Sir Charles's friends, among whom is worthy Mr. Cannynge of Bristol, the king refuses to repeal his sentence, and the knight, after an affecting leave-taking with his wife and children, is led out to execution.

"Before him went the councilmen

In scarlet robes and gold,

And tassels spangling in the sun,
Much glorious to behold.

"The friars of St. Augustine next
Appeared to the sight,

All clad in homely russet weeds
Of godly monkish plight.

"In different parts a godly psalm

Most sweetly they did chant;

Behind their backs six minstrels came,
Who tuned the strange bataunt.

"Then five and twenty archers came;
Each one the bow did bend,
From rescue of King Henry's friends,
Sir Charles for to defend.

"Bold as a lion came Sir Charles,
Drawn on a cloth-laid sled

By two black steeds in trappings white,
With plumes upon their head.

"Behind him five and twenty more
Of archers strong and stout,
With bended bow each one in hand,
Marched in goodly rout.

"Saint James's friars marched next,
Each one his part did chant;
Behind their backs six minstrels came,
Who tuned the strange bataunt.

"Then came the mayor and aldermen,
In cloth of scarlet decked;
And their attending men, each one
Like eastern princes tricked.

"And after them a multitude
Of citizens did throng;

The windows were all full of heads
As he did pass along."

In the midst of this gorgeous procession the knight goes on to death steadfast and unafraid; he mounts the scaffold without trembling, and beards the king as a traitor; and with a prayer, —

"Then kneeling down, he laid his head

Most seemly on the block;
Which from his body fair at once
The able headsman stroke.

"And out the blood began to flow,
And round the scaffold twine;
And tears enough to wash 't away
Did flow from each man's eyen.

"Thus was the end of Bawdin's fate.
God prosper long our king,
And grant he may with Bawdin's soul
In heaven God's mercy sing!"

Pesides the poems which Chatterton pretended were written by Rowley, he published almost as many others under his own name. These are not equal in merit to the Rowley poems, but they show promise of a genius which would have grown and ripened with age. As a specimen of his style when he was not trying to conceal himself

behind the name of the fifteenth century monk, we will read a few stanzas from an Elegy he wrote on Mr. Phillips, his teacher in Bristol Free School, whose death he laments in a measure like that of Gray's Elegy. He begins by praising Phillips as a poet (Phillips had written verses while Chatterton was his pupil), and then bewails his loss as a friend in these lines:

"Wet with the dew, the yellow hawthorns bow;

The loud winds whistle through the echoing cave;
Far o'er the lea the breathing cattle low,

And the full Avon lifts the darkened wave.

"Now as the mantle of the evening swells,
Upon my mind I feel a thickening gloom ;
Ah! could I charm by necromantic spells
The soul of Phillips from the deathly tomb!

"Then would we wander through this darkened vale
In converse such as heavenly spirits use,
And, borne upon the pinions of the gale,
Hymn the Creator and invoke the muse.

"Now rest, my muse, but only rest to weep
A friend most dear by every sacred tie;
Unknown to me be comfort, peace, or sleep;
Phillips is dead, - 't is pleasure then to die.

"Few are the pleasures Chatterton e'er knew,

Short were the moments of his transient peace;
But melancholy robbed him of those few,

And this hath bid all future comfort cease."

These verses are crude and boyish; but it is the crudity of genius, not the sort of precocity that exhausts itself in one or two efforts. We must believe that if Chatterton had only been strong and patient enough to wait a little longer, or if he had found one helping hand stretched out to hold him up in time of sorest need, he might have stood in the front rank of poets.

The works of Percy, Macpherson, and Chatterton were all published within a period of less than ten years. These reprints of old English songs, these fragments restored from old Celtic bards, even the ballads in which poor Chatterton

imitated the lays of an elder age, all indicated a return to a fresher and more natural school of poetry. For almost a century popular taste had been held in a sort of bondage by Dryden and Pope and the poets who followed them. Even the untaught lay of the earliest minstrel was refreshing to ears which were tired of the see-saw verses, rhymed in pairs, which had so long been heard. Thus we see it is quite natural that this should lead finally to a reaction towards something new and fresh in poetic treatment, and to a change in popular taste.




WILLIAM COWPER stands midway between two events in the history of poetry, the going out of Pope, and the coming in of Wordsworth. He was

1731-1800 a boy of thirteen when Pope died, with the reputation of being the greatest of English poets; and in 1800, the year of Cowper's death, a few persons were beginning to suspect that Wordsworth was the foremost poet of a new order. If we look closely into Cowper's poetry, I think we shall find in it a remembrance of Pope, and a prophecy of Wordsworth.

At six

His life was early clouded with a great sorrow. years, he lost his mother. One of his most feeling poems, Lines on Receipt of my Mother's Picture, speaks of this grief:

"My mother! when I learned that thou wast dead,
Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed?

Hovered thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son,
Wretch even then, life's journey just begun?
Perhaps thou gav'st me, though unfelt, a kiss ;
Perhaps a tear, if souls can weep in bliss.

"I heard the bell tolled on thy burial day,
I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away,
And, turning from my nursery window, drew
A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu."

[ocr errors]

The sadness which began so young was made deeper by his fear of becoming insane, for insanity threatened him early in life, and also by his morbid religious fears. Although a pious, pure-souled man, the gloomy doctrines of his belief took such hold on his mind that they made him miserable through life, and hung like a black pall over the future.

Yet his poetry is by no means all sadness, and is sometimes bright and gay. He began to write later than most poets, and writing became his chief pleasure, helping to avert that insanity which had twice attacked him. He published first a volume of short poems. Later appeared The Task, the longest and most famous of all his works. This begins with the praise of the sofa; traces its growth from a three-legged stool to a luxurious couch; and then, leading away from the fireside by which the sofa is placed, the poem leads into rural wanderings, in which the poet talks of Nature and her lessons. The measure is blank verse, and although in subject it is not unlike some of those long didactic poems written earlier than Cowper, it is in a natural and hearty tone that makes it far superior to most poetry of the didactic style.

Perhaps Cowper's most widely read poem is the ballad of John Gilpin. The story was told him one evening by a lady who had encouraged him to write, and who suggested the subject of The Task to him. The picture of Gilpin galloping off on a horse that would not be stopped so touched Cowper's sense of humor that he could hardly sleep for laughter the night after hearing it, and could not rest till he had put it into a ballad.

The last poem he wrote was The Castaway, the dreariest and saddest of poems.

one of

This seems like a

picture of Cowper's own mind, and he himself traces the

likeness in the first and last stanzas:

[ocr errors]

"Obscurest night involved the sky,

The Atlantic billows roared,
When such a destined wretch as I,
Washed headlong from on board,

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »