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those books, so as to put them in practice, as well during
her life and languishing sickness, as at the hour of her
death; in short, she died not only like a Christian, but
like a Roman lady, and so became at once the object of
the grief and comfort of her relations." Of her poetry we
have here two specimens — one a very noble translation
from Felicaia on Providence — the other, " Verses written
on her death-bed at Bath to her husband in London."
They are indeed most affecting.

" Thou who dost all my worldly thoughts employ,
Thou pleasing source of all my earthly joy,
Thou tenderest husband and thou dearest friend,
To thee this first this last adieu I send !
At length the conqueror Death asserts his right,
And will for ever veil mc from thy sight;
He wooes me to him with a cheerful grace.
And not one terror clouds his meagre face;
He promises a lasting rest from pam,
And !-hows that all life's fleeting joys arc vain ;
Th' eternal scenes of heaven he sets in view,
And tells me that no other joys are true.
But love, fond love, would yet resi.^t his power,
Would fain awhile defer the parting liour ;
He brin^^s thy mourning image to my eyes,
And would obstruct my journey to the skies.
But say, lliou dearest, thou unwearied friend !
Say, should'st thou grieve to see my sorrows end 1
Tliou know'st a painful pilgrimage I've past ;
And should'st thou grieve that rest is come at last 1
Rather rejoice to see me shake off life,
And die as I have lived, thy tiiithful wife."


Have not these " breathings," sincere and fervent, from
breasts most pure, proved to your heart's content, that we
were right in what we said above of poetry ? These three
were Christian ladies — in high life, but humble in spirit —
all accomplished in this world's adornments, but intent on
heaven. There is an odour, as of violets, while we press
the pages to our lips.

VVe never had in our hands the poems of Anne, Countess
of Winchelsea, printed in 1713; but we well remember
reading some of them in beautiful manuscript, many years
ago, at Rydal Mount. Wordsworth has immortalized her
in the following sentence: — "It is remarkable that, ex-
cepting a passage or two in the Windsor Forest of Pope,
and some delightful pictures in the poems of Lady Win-
chelsea, the poetry of the period intervening between the
publication of the Paradise Lost and the Seasons, does not
contain a single new image of external nature." She was
the daughter of Sir William Kingsmill of Sidmonton, in
the county of Southampton, maid of honour to the Duchess
of York, second wife of James IL, and married Heneage,
second son of Heneage, Earl of Winchelsea, to which title
he succeeded on the death of his nephew. Mr. Dyce has
given three of her compositions, all excellent — the Atheist
and the Acorn — Life's Progress — and a Nocturnal Re-
verie. In the last are some " of the delightful pictures"
alluded to by Wordsworth :

" In such a night, when every louder wind
Is to its distant cavern safe confined ;
And only gentle Ze|)liyr fans his wings,
And lonely Philomel, still waking, sings;
Or from some tree, famed lor the owl's delight,
Siie, hollowing clear, directs the wanderer right:
In such a night, when passing clouds give place.
Or thinly veil the heaven's mysterious face;
When in some river, overhung with green.
The waving moon, and trembling leaves are seen ;
When freshen'd grass now bears itself upright.
And makes cool banks to pleasing rest invite.
Whence spring the woodbine, and the bramble-rose.
And where the sleepy cowslip sbelter'd grows ;
Whilst now a paler hue the foxglove takes.
Yet chequers still with red the dusky brakes ;

3-14 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

When scatter'd glow-worms, but in twilight fine,
Show trivial beauties, watch their hour to shine;
Whilst Salisb'ry stands the test of every light,
In perfect charms, and perfect virtue bright :
When odours which declined repelling day,
Through temperate air uninterrupted stray;
When darken'd groves their softest shadows wear,
And falling waters we distinctly hear;
When tlirough the gloom more venerable shows
Some ancient fabric, awful in repose ;
W'hile sunburnt hills their swarthy looks conceal.
And swelling hay-cocks thicken up the vale;
When the loosed horse now, as his pasture leads.
Comes slowly grazing through th' adjoining meads,
Whose stealing pace, and lengthen'd shade we fear,
Till torn-up forage in his teeth we hear;
'When nibbling sheep at large pursue their food.
And unmolested kine rechew the cud ;
When curlews cry beneath the village walls,
And to her straggling brood the partridge calls;
Their short-lived jubilee the creatures keep.
Which but endures while tyrant man does sleep;
When a sedate content the spirit feels,
And no fierce light disturbs, whilst it reveals;
But silent musings urge the mind to seek
Something too high for syllables to speak;
Till the free soul to a composedness charm'd.
Finding the elements of rage disarm'd.
O'er all below a solemn quiet grown,
Joys in th' inferior world, and thinks it like her own:
In such a night let me abroad remain.
Till morning breaks, and all's confused again;
Our cares, our toils, our clamours are renew'd,
Of pleasures, seldom reach'd, again pursued."

We find nothing comparable to what we have now
quoted in any of the eflusions of the thirt)'' poetesses — let
us in courtesy so call them — who flourished from the
death of Lady Winchelsca to that of Charlotte Smith.
True, that Lady Mary VVortley Montague is among the
number, but her brilliant genius was not poetical, and
shines in another sphere. Elizabeth Rowc, when Betsy
Singer, was warmly admired by Prior, among whose
poems is an " answer to Mrs. Singer's pastoral on Love
and Friendship." But though she says, finely we think,


"There in a melting, solemn, dying strain,
Let mo all day upon my lyre complain,
And wind op all its soft harmonious strings
To noble, serious, melancholy things;"

her verse is far inferior to her prose, though that be
vicious, — yet there are strains of true feeling in her
Letters from the Dead to the Living. Mrs. Greville's
celebrated Ode to Indifference does not disturb that mood,
and Frances Sheridan's Ode to Patience tries that virtue.
Yet they were both accomplished women, and both odes
were thought admirable in their day. Henrietta, Lady
O'Neil (born 1755 — died 1793), had something of the
true inspiration. Her Ode to the Poppy — too long to be
extjacted — is elegant and eloquent, and speaks the lan-
guage of passion ; and surely the following lines are
natural and pathetic.

" Sweet age of blest delusion ! blooming boys,
Ah ! revel long in childhood's thoughtless joys.
With light and pliant spirits, that can stoop
To follow sportively the rolling hoop;
To watch the sleeping top with gay delight,
Or mark with raptured gaze the sailing kite ;
Or eagerly pursuing Pleasure's call,
Can find it center'd in the bounding ball !
Alas ! the day loill come, when sports like these
Must lose their magic, and their power to please;
Too swiftly fled, the rosy hours of youth
Shall yield their fairy-charms to mournful truth;
Even now, a mother's fond prophetic fear
Sees the dark train of human ills appear;
Views various fortune for each lovely child,
Storms for the bold, and anguish for the mild ;
Beholds already those expressive eyes
Beam a sad certainty of future sighs ;
And dreads each suffering those dear breasts may know
In their long passage through a world of wo ;
Perchance predestined every pang to prove.
That treacherous friends inflict, or fliithless love ;
For ah ! how few have found existence sweet,
\Vhere grief is sure, but happiness deceit!"

Mary Barber was the wife of a shopkeeper in Dublin, and
Mary Leapor a cook, but neither of them had so much of

346 wilsom's miscellaneous writings.

the onens divinior as might have been expected from
their occupation. Molly maives PhiUis, a country maid,
reject the addresses of Sylvanus, a courtier, in favour of
Corydon, on the ground of good eating. The lines are

" Not this will lure me, for I'd have you know,
This night to feast with Corydon I go;
Then beef and coleworts, beans and bacon too,
And the plum-pudding of delicious hue,
Sweet-spiced cakes, and apple-pies good store,
Deck the brown board — and who can wish for morel"

The verse of Ann Yearsley, the milk-woman, we never
tasto^, but suspect it was thin and sour; and we cannot
excuse her for behaving so shamefully to Hannah More.
Esther Chapone, as the world once knew, wrote Letters
on the Improvement of the Mind, and Elizabeth Carter
a translation of Epictetus, and they were ladies of the
greatest learning and respectability ; but the one's Ode to
Solitude, and the other's Ode to Wisdom are really too
much. Besides, they are as like as two peas. Georgiana,
Duchess of Devonshire, the most beautiful of the beautiful,
and richly endowed by nature with mental gifts, wrote
lines — the Passage of the Mountain of St. Gothard —
admired — at least so he said in verse — by Coleridge.
And poor Mary Robinson, with all her frailties, did not
deserve to be strapped in her infirmity by that cruel
cobbler. " Her poems," says Mr. Dyce, " show that she
possessed a good deal of fancy" — which is more than
Gifford did — and " a very pleasing facility of composi-
tion." But no Englishwoman ever wrote verses worthy
of being twice read, who had deviated from virtue.

Contemporaries of Charlotte Smith were Anna Sevvard,
who possessed fine talents, and had she not been spoiled,
would assuredly have excelled most of her sex in descrip-
tion of nature and of passion ; Anne Hunter, all whose
verses are written with elegance and feeling, and whose
" Death Song" is a noble strain, almost worthy of Camp-
bell himself; Anne Barbauld, an honoured name, but in
poetry only an imitator of exquisite skill ; Amelia Opie,
whose " Father and Daughter" will endure " till pity's


self be dead," and of her songs and elegiac strains, sonne
will outlive many connpositions of the sanae kind now
flourishing in fashionable life, whille hers would seem to
be forgotten; and our own Anne Grant, whose "High-
landers," though occasionally somewhat heavy, contains
many pictures entirely true to nature, and breathes of the
heather. But her reputation rests on the wide and firm
foundation of her prose, and she will for ever occupy a
foremost place among our Scottish worthies.

But Britain had as yet produced no great poetess, and
she has produced but one — Joanna Baillie. Her Plays on
the Passions were hailed at once all over the land as works
of genius of the highest kind, while yet the poetry of
Cowper, and Crabbe, and Burns, had lost none of its fresh-
ness — they were secure in their " ])ride of place" during
the successive reigns of Scott and Byron — and now that
her magnificent plan has been completed, the whole may
be regarded with undiminished admiration even by those
who can comprehend the grandeur of Wordsworth. It is
somewhat strange that Scotland should have given birth
but. to a single poetess; nothing strange that of her should
have been born the greatest of all y)oetesses, so we grudge
not to England the glory of all the rest. Those of this
age, alive or dead, transcend in worth those of all her
other ages. Nay, each of the planetary five is more
lustrous than any of their constellations.

We plan and promise, but do not perform. The series
on those luminaries is in our brain, but will not leave their
pia mater. We know not well why it is so, but we often
think together of Charlotte Smith, i\iary Howitt, and Caro-
line Bowles. We are resolved to speak now of Caroline
Bowles ; nor shall the Monarch be suffered to leave the
Roads without this sheet on board.

And now we have been brought "smooth-sliding with-
out step," or, as is our wont, on the wilfulness of wings'
(how unlike to walking or rather wading one's way through
an article like an ordinary human being with splay-feet
and flat-fish soles !) to the poem more immediately before
us, from which we are not without hopes of being able
ere long to bring ourselves to extract not a few pregnant
passages for your delectation. Our hearts — at no time

348 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

cold — warmed towards our critical brethren, as we heard
them ail — all of any mark or likelihood — dailies, weeklies,
and monthlies — (the quarterlies are such laggards in love,
that they generally arrive a year after the fair) enthusiastic
in their praise of this delightful volume. People with a
crick in their neck, a flea in their ear, may abuse the
brotherhood ; but we are deservedly popular among the
tolerably happy ; and no other class of men, we have been
credibly informed, received so many unlooked-for legacies
as the editors of periodical works. In politics it is impos-
sible to be too truculent. He who gives quarter is a fool,
and is cut down by his prisoner. No war worth looking
at, much less mingling in, but that in which we tight under
the bloody flag. May the first radical we meet on the
field run us through the body, if we do not anticipate him;
till then, we give him hearty greeting at the social board,
and make no allusion to politics, except it be to laugh
along with him at Lord Melbourne. But in literature we
feel " that the blue sky bends over all;" and that all the
nations of the earth are or ought to be at peace. All of
us, after a hard-fought day in political warfare, that is, all
of us who are left alive, are glad to lay down our weapons,
and join in celebration of the triumph of some bold son or
bright daughter of song. — How elevating a sight to see us
all crowding round the object of our common admiration,
and emulously binding the brows of genius with victorious
wreaths ! And oh ! what if they be woman's brows !
Then with our admiration mingles love ; and we know of a
surety that while we are honouring genius, we are re-
warding virtue.

" The Birth-Day" is the autobiography of the childhood
of genius by Caroline Bowles. And by what is the child-
hood of genius distinguished from the childhood of you or
me, or any other good old man or woman '/ Read the
Birth-Day, and perhaps you may know. Yet we believe
that there is genius in all childhood. But the creative joy
that makes it great in its simplicity dies a natural death or
is killed, and there is an end of genius. In favoured spirits,
neither few nor many, the joy and the might survive;
they arc the poets and the poetesses of whom Alexander
Dyce and Christopher North delight to show s])ecimens —


nor among them all is there a fairer spirit than Caroline
Bowles. What a memory she has! for you must know
that unless it be accompanied with imagination, memory is
cold and lifeless. The forms it brings before us must be
connected with beauty, that is, with affection or passion.
All minds, even the dullest, remember the days of their
youth ; but all cannot bring back the indescribable bright-
ness of that blessed season. They who would know what
they once were, must not merely recollect, but they must
imagine, the hills and valleys — if any such there were — in
which their childhood played, the torrents, the waterfalls,
the lakes, the heather, the rocks, the heaven's imperial
dome, the raven floating only a little lower than the eagle
in the sky. To imagine what he then heard and saw, he
must imagine his own nature. He must collect from many
vanished hours the power of his untamed heart, and he
must, perhaps, transfuse also something of his maturer
mind into these dreams of his former being, thus linking
the past with the present in a continuous chain, which,
though often invisible, is never broken. So is it too with
the calmer affections that have grown within the shelter of
a roof. We do not merely remember, we imagine our
father's house, the fireside, all his features then most
living, now dead and buried ; the very manner of his
smile, every tone of his voice. We must combine with
all the passionate and plastic power of imagination the
spirit of a thousand happy hours into one moment ; and
we must invest with all that we ever felt to be venerable
such an image as alone can satisfy our filial hearts. It is
thus that imagination, which first aided the growth of all
our holiest and happiest affections, can preserve them to
us unimpaired —

" For she can give us back the dead,
Even in the loveliest looks they wore."

We hope we have said sufficient to show that the sub-
ject of the Birth-Day is full of poetry ; and depend upon it,
should you be disposed to deny it, that, in spite of the
muscularity of your bodily frame, which may be of an
unusual strength, you are in your second childhood, which

VOL. r. 30

350 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

is all unlike your first, on the authority of Shakspeare.
Remember that Wordsworth has wisely said " the child is
father of the man;" and be assured that if " your heart
leaps not up" when you " behold a rainbow in the sky,"
you must be a monster of filial ingratitude. Be born again
then ; and though we do not insist on your changing your
sex, be a boy worthy of dancing in a fairy ring hand-in-
hand with pretty Caroline Bowles,

" Whose hair is thick with many a curl,
That clusters round her head."

For a iew years during " the innocent brightness of the
new-born day," boys and girls, God bless them ! are one
and the same creatures — by degrees they grow, almost
unsuspectingly, each into a different kind of living soul.
Mr. Elton, in his beautiful poem of Boyhood, has shown
us Harry, and here Miss Bowles has shown us Carry, and
now you may know, if you will, how in the education of

" Uprose both living flowers beneath your eyes."

'Tis a cheerful poem the Birth-Day, and the heart of its
producer ofien sings aloud for joy — yet 'tis a mournful
poem too, and we can believe ihat her fair manuscript
was now and then spotted with a tear. For have you not
felt, when looking back on life, how its scenes and inci-
dents, different as they may seem at the first glance of re-
cognition, begin gradually to melt into each other, till they
are indistinguishably blended in one pensive dream 1 In
our happiest hours there may have been something in
common with our most sorrowful — some shade of sadness
cast over them by a ])assing cloud, that, on retros[)ect,
allies them with the sombre spirit of grief. And in like
manner, in our unhappiest hours, there may have been
gleams of gladness that in memory seem almost to give
them the character of peace. They all seem to resemble
one another now that they are all past — the pleasures of
memory are formed of the pains of reality — feelings indif-
ferent, or even distressing, receive a sort of sanctification
in the stillness of the time that is gone by, and all thoughts


and passions become then equalized, just like the humnn
beings whom they adorned or degraded, when they too are
at last gathered together in the bosom of the same earth.

But why will we moralize like a melancholy Jacques,
when we had half promised to be merry? You must ask
Caroline Bowles. For she has infected us with her vein
of sadness, beginning her poem with this line —

" Dark gloomy day of winter's darkest month ;"

And hugging the cold gloom to her heart,

"For memory with a serious reckoning now
Is busy with the past — with other years,
When the return of this, our natal day,
Brought gladness to warm hearts that loved me well."

And as a wayworn traveller lingers on the height pen-
sively to survey the " pleasant plain o'erpast," and feels ere
he descend as if that ridge *' divided summer from winter,"

" So linger I,
Life's lonely pilgrim, on the last hill top,
With thoughtful, tender, retrospective gaze.
Ere turning down the deep descent I go
Of the cold shadowy side."

That is poetry ; for the image, though old as the hills, and
the human heart, and the heavens, is felt as if it were new,
and there is in it an unexpected touch of beauty that en-
dears the poetess to our affections. Such a spirit need
not long be sad ; and with a cheerful voice she exclaims,

" Come in your mellow'd hues, long vanish'd years !
Come in your soften'd outline, passing slow
O'er the charm'd mirror."

She looks and sees her parents —

" And one the good, the gentle, the beloved !
My mother's mother."

Sydney Smith truly tells us, in his pathetic and late
lament for the doomed old cathedral services and ministra-
tions, that this is an age oi persiflage.

" None so mean as do them reverence"

352 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

to sanctities long regarded with awe at once sweet and
solemn ; and in proof thereof, we may cite, " familiar as
household words," the interrogatory often put to one on
the streets by strange men, " How's your mother?" The
notion of any human being caring seriously for his
mother is held to be the utmost extravagance the mind of
man is capable of conceiving ; and in that question is
implied an accusation of folly, the absurd guilt of which,
if seemingly confessed by a stare, rends their convulsed
sides with unextinguishable laughter. " How's your grand-
mother?" is a flight ohose persiflage. How's your great-
grandmother is a query not yet put by man to his kind.

Notwithstanding all this, we sympathize with the poetess
as she says,

"Even now methinks that placid smile I see,
That kindly beamed on all, but chief on me.
Her age's darling ! not of hers alone ;
One yet surviving in a green old age,
Her mother lived ; and when I saw the light,
Rejoicing hail'd her daughter's daughter's child."

But what shall we say of a poetess who, in this age of
•persiflage^ in blank verse celebrates — her nurse ? That
it is childish. Then what an old fool was Homer! and
what a simpleton Ulysses ! That old dog, and that old
nurse alone recognised the king. 'Tis the most affecting
drivel in all the Odyssey. Then let Caroline Bowles put
her dog and her nurse into a poem, and laugh till your
eyes water. The nurse is alive at this day ; and though
it may be a peevish old body, doited and dozey, and better
in the Poor's House, yet there is something in these lines :

" Nor from that kindred, patriarchal group
Be thou excluded, long tried, humble friend !
Old faithful servant! Sole survivor now
Of those beloved, fijr whom thine aged hands
'i'he last sad service tremblingly perform'd
That closed their eyes, and for tlie long, long sleep
Array'd them in the vestments of the grave.
Yes — THOU survivest still to tend and watch
Me, the sad orplian of thy master's house !
JMy cradle hast thou rock'd with patient love
(Love all-enduring, all-indulgent) borne


My cliildhood's wayward fancies, that from thee
Never rebuke or frown encounter'd cold.

Come nearer. — Let me rest my cheek even now
On thy dear shoulder, printed witli a mark
Indelible, of suffering borne for me :
Fruit of contagious contact long endured,
When on the pillow lay my infant head
For days and nights, a helpless dying weight,
So thought by all ; as almost all but thee
Shrank from the little victim of a scourge
Yet uncontroird by Jenner's heaven-taught hand.
And with my growth has grown the debt of love;
For many a day beside my restless bed,
In later years, thy station hast thou kept,
Watching my slumbers; or with fondest wiles
Soothing the fretful, fev'rish hour of pain :
And when at last, with languid frame I rose,
Feeble as infancy, what hand like tiiine,
With such a skilful gentleness, perform'd
The handmaid's office ! — tenderly, as when
A helpless babe, thou oft had'st robed me thus.
Oh ! the vast debt. — Yet to my grateful heart
Not burdensome, not irksome to repay :
For small requital dost thou claim, dear nurse !
. Only to know thy fondly lavish'd cares
Have sometimes power to cheer and comfort me :
Then in thy face reflected, beams the light.
The unwonted gladness, that irradiates mine.
Long may'st thou sit as now, invited oft,
Beside my winter fire, with busy hands
And polished needles, knitting the warm wool ;
Or resting with meek reverence from thy work,
When from tlutt Book, that blessed Book ! I read
The words of truth and life, — thy hope and mine."

Of things that were long before her " Birth-Day" the
poetess, though she has heard them with much variety of
phrase, many a time and off, never wearies hearing from
" Time's faithful chronicler." And we love to gather from
hints of the dear old body's prolixities — though we happen-

Online LibraryJohn WilsonCritical and miscellaneous essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 30 of 34)