Page images
PDF
EPUB

tivated with these first spring blossoms of French and British genius, called Lais and Fabliaux. All the world is acquainted with the reputation of the Provençal, or southern French lyrical poets, the precursors of Petrarch; but the very existence, in England and north-western France, of a light narrative poetry, of genuine and sometimes exquisite merit, heralding and assisting to inspire the geniuses of Chaucer and Boccaccio, is a fact better known to poetical antiquaries, than familiar, as it deserves to be, to the lovers of verse in general. Its prolixity (the result of a want of information for the many) the reader may soon learn the art of skimming over. The cynical plain-speaking of some of the stories, sometimes on the most revolting subjects, and of an excess almost amounting to a sort of horrible innocence, is still more easily avoided by those who choose to take the alarm. But the gushing tenderness of others, the simple and sensitive words of honest passion and delight, free from the haunting fears of criticism and correctness, the healthy and hearty vigour, sometimes even sublimity, the belief in every thing good and lovely, the fresh and laughing morning lip, carolling in the sunshine and happy in the arms of nature, these are suggesters of first principles in poetry always salutary to recur to, and the more so in proportion as society advances, because custom and convention perpetually tend, not only to make us forget, but be ashamed of them. Above all, it appears to me calculated to do our native poetry good, on a side upon which, great and abundant as it is on all others the very highest, it is not so complete as the rest, I mean, that of animal spirits. It might assist us in that respect, as our graver feelings were encouraged into purity and depth of utterance by the Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, the best gift ever bestowed by critic upon modern genius.”

The story is told in few words. A young and chivalrous knight loves Anne, the daughter of a covetous old man, who prefers wedding her to Sir Grey, the uncle of her lover, on account of his wealth. The uncle obtains from his nephew the gift of a Palfrey, and uses it for the conveyance of his bride to his old mansion, but the Greybeards get sleepy and stupid on their way, and the Palfrey strays from them, and, true to its instinct, conveys the bride to her lover's door. The facts are ultimately told to the King and Queen, who are in the neighbourhood, and they interfering, the youthful couple are made happy.

The following quotation will afford some of those touches, arising from a delicate observation of the effect of emotion, which rank Mr. Hunt in the first class of original writers.

Sir William (the young knight) has been refused by the father of his bride after beseeching his consent.

“ Sir William he boweth as low as before,

And after him closeth the soft room-door,
And he moaneth a moan, and half-staggereth he;
He doubteth which way the stairs may be.
But the lower his bow, and the deeper his moan,
The redder the spot in his cheek hath grown,
And he loatheth the kiss to the hard old hand.
• May the devil,' thought he, 'for his best new brand
Pluck it, and strike to his soul red-hot!
Why scorn me, and mock me? and why, like a sot,
Must I stoop to him, low as his own court plot ?
Will any one tell us,—will Nature declare, –
How father so foul can have daughter so fair?
But her mother of angels dreamt in her sorrow,
And hence came this face,—this dimpled May morrow.'

“ And as he thought thus, from a door there stole
A hand in a tremble, a balm to his soul ;
And soft though it trembled, it close wrung his,
And with it a letter ;-and gone it is.

“ Sir William hath dash'd in the forest awhile,
His being seems all a hasty smile ;
And there, by green light and the cooing of doves,
He readeth the letter of her he loves,
And kisseth, and readeth, again and again ;
His bridle is dropp'd on his palfrey's mane ;
Who turneth an ear, and then, wise beast,
Croppeth the herbage,-a prudent feast :
For Sir William no sooner hath read nine times,
Than he deemeth delay the worst of crimes :
He snatcheth the bridle, and shakes it hard,
And is off for his life on the loud green sward ;
He foameth up steep, and he hisseth in stream,

And saluteth his uncle like one in a dream.” The following account of the old fogies is full of character and warm feeling.

“ Sir Grey and Sir Guy, like proper old boys,
Have met, with a world of coughing and noise ;
And after subsiding, judiciously dine,
Serious the venison, and chirping the wine.
They talk of the court, now gathering all
To the sunny plump smoke of Earl-Mount Hall :
And pity their elders laid up on the shelves,
And abuse ev'ry soul upon earth but themselves :
Only Sir Grey doth it rather to please,
And Sir Guy out of honest old spite and disease :
For Sir Guy hath a face so round and so red,
The whole of his blood seemeth hanging his head;
While Sir Grey's red face is waggish and thin,
And he peereth with uprais'd nose and chin.
“ Nathless, Sir Grey excepteth from blame
His nephew Sir Will, and his youthful fame;
And each soundeth t'other, to learn what hold
The youth and the lady may have of his gold.
Alas! of his gold will neither speak,
Tho' the wine it grew strong, and the tongue grew weak;
And when the sweet maiden herself appears,
With a breath in her bosom, and blush to her ears,
And the large thankful eyes of the look of a bride,
Sir Grey recollecteth no creature beside :
He watcheth her in, he watcheth her out;
He measureth her ancle, but not with his gout;
He chucketh, like chanticleer over a corn,
And thinks it but forty years since he was born.

Why, how now, Sir Grey? methinks you grow young :
How soon are your own wedding bells to be rung?
You stare on my daughter, like one elf-struck.'

“ • Alas! and I am,--the sadder my luck :-
Albeit, Sir Guy, your own shoulders count
Years not many more than mine own amount,
And I trust you don't feign to be too old to wed?'

"• Hoh! hoh! quoth Sir Guy; that was cunningly said.' (Yet he felt flatter'd too, did the white old head.)

What are years?' continued Sir Grey, looking bold : * There are men never young, and men never old. Old and young lips may carol in tune ;

Green laugheth the oak 'gainst the brown mid June.'” The following is episodiacal, but is one of those pleasant in-breaks, with a personal allusion, that the old writers indulged in.

“ Now a murrain, I say, on those foul old men!
I never, myself, shall see fifty again,
And can pity a proper young blooded old fellow,
Whose heart is green, though his cheek be yellow;
For Nature, albeit she never doth wrong,
Yet seemeth in such to keep youth too long :
And 'tis grievous when such an one seeth his bliss
In a face which can see but the wrinkles in his.
Ah! pray let him think there are dames not young,
For whom the bells yet might be handsomely rung.
'Tis true, grey-beards have been, like Jove's of old,
That have met a young lip, nor been thought too bold,
In Norfolk a wondrous old lord hath been seen,
Who at eighty was not more than forty, I ween;
And I myself know a hale elderly man,
In face and in frolic a very good Pan.
But marvels like these are full rare, I wis ;
And when elders in general young ladies would kiss,
I exhort the dear souls to fight and to flee,

Unless they should chance to run against me.” The description of Sir William's throes and passioning is thus very nicely detailed.

“ But in his hamlet hous'd apart,
How far'd meantime Sir William's heart?
Oh, when the sun first went to bed,
Not richer look'd the golden head,
Nor cast a more all-gladdening eye:
He seem'd to say, My heav'n is nigh.'
For he had heard of rare delights
Between those two old feasting knights,
And of a pillion, new and fair,
Ordain'd to go some road as rare ;
With whom? For what sweet rider's art?
Whose, but the dancer's at his heart,
The light, the bright, yet balmy she,
And who shall fetch her home but he?
Who else be summon'd speedily
By the kind uncle full of glee
To fetch away that ecstacy;
So ever since that news, his ear,
Listening with a lofty fear,
Lest it catch one sound too late,
Stood open like a palace gate,
That waits the bride of some great king,
Heard with her trumpets travelling.

At length a letter. Whose ? Sir Guy's,
The father's own. With reverent eyes,
With heart, impatient to give thanks,
And tears that top their glimmering banks,
He opens, reads, turns pale as death ;
His noble bosom gasps for breath :
His Anne has left his love for gold,
But in her kindness manifold
Extorted from his uncle's hoard
Enough to leave him bed and board.
Ah! words like those were never Anne's ;
Too plainly they the coarse old man's;
But still the letter; still the fact;
With pangs on pangs his heart is rack’d.
Love is an angel; has no pride;
She'll mourn his love when he has died;
Yet love is truth; so hates deceit ;
He'll pass, and scorn er, in the street.
Now will he watch her house at night
For glimpse of her by some brief light,
Such as perhaps his own pale face
May show; and then he'll quit the place.
Now he will fly her, hate, detest,
Mock; make a by-word and a jest:
Then he hates hate; and who so low
As strike a woman's fame? No, no:
False love might spite the faithless Anne,
But true was aye the gentleman.
Thus paceth he, 'twixt calm and mad,
Til the mid watch his chamber sad;
And then lies down in his day-dress,
And sleeps for very weariness,
Catching and starting in his moan,
And waking with a life-long groan.
Sometimes he dreams his sorrow makes
Such weeping wail, that as he wakes,
He lifts his pitying hand to try
His cheek, and wonders it is dry.
Sometimes his virgin bride and he
Are hous’d for the first time, and free
To dwell within each other's eyes;
And then he wakes with woful cries.
Sometimes he hears her call for aid ;
Sometimes beholds her bright array'd,
But pale, and with her eyes on earth ;
And once he saw her pass in mirth,
And look at him, nor eye let fall,
And that was wofull'st dream of all.
At length he hears, or thinks he hears,
(Or dreams he still with waking ears ?)
A tinkle of the house's bell!
What news can midnight have to tell ?
He listens. No. No sound again.
The breeze hath stirr'd the window-pane;
Perchance it was the tinkling glass;
Perchance 'twas his own brain, alas!
His own weak brain, which hears the blood
Pulse at his ears,-a tingling flood,

Strange mantler in as strange a cup,
Yet hark again !-He starts ; leans up;
It seems to fear to wake a mouse,

That sound ;—then peals, and wakes the house." We should quote too much were we to follow our own inclination, and therefore shall conclude our samples with the following picture of the lovers now once again with each other.

Hope was theirs. For one sweet hour
Did they, last night, in bliss devour
Each other's questions, answers, eyes,
Nor ever for divine surprise
Could take a proper breath, much less
The supper brought in hastiness
By the glad little gaping page ;
While rose, meantime, his mother sage
To wait upon the lady sweet,
And snore discreetly on the seat,
In the window of the room,
Whence gleam'd her night-cap through the gloom.
Then parted they to lie awake
For transport, spite of all heart-ache:
For heaven's in any roof that covers,
Any one same night, two lovers;
They may be divided still ;
They may want, in all but will;
But they know that each is there,
Each just parted, each in prayer ;
Each more close, because apart,

And every thought clasp'd heart to heart." The illustrations are beautiful and characteristic; and do equal credit to the designer and the engraver. They are conceived and executed in the same spirit as the poem, and are well worthy to accompany it. Messrs. How and Parsons are fast making to themselves a high reputation for the tasteful and artistic style of producing their works. Their productions are more than merely neat or expensive, they have the impress on them of fine taste and just appreciation of art. The illustrations alone are worth the price of the volume.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »