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ed to know it before — that Caroline Bowles is of an "old
family" — to hear tell of

" That ancient manor of my Norman race
In all its feudal greatness;"
30*



354 Wilson's miscellaneous avritings.

though now alas ! (and yet no great pity), the ancient gate-
way is an isolated arch —

"The noble trees,
A triple avenue, its proud approach,
Gone as they ne'er had been ; the dove-cote tower
A desecrated niin ; the old house —
Dear nurse! full fain am I to weep with thee
The flided glories of the ' good old time.' "

And did we say " no great pity 1" We did ; nor will the
sweet singer be angry with us ; for there are other
changes in the course of nature that, to think of even for
a moment, aflect with a profounder sadness than even the
dilapidations of holiest places or most endeared ; and to
them we turn at her bidding — and to her first dim appre-
hension — in the disappearance of the beloved — of death.

" The kindred band is broken. One goes hence,
The very aged. Follows soon, too soon,
Another mo:it endear'd, the next in age.
Then fell from cliildhood's eyes its earliest tears.

Unconscious half,
Incomprehensive of the awful truth ;
But flowing faster when I look'd around
And saw that others wept ; and faster still,
Wlien clinging round my nurse's neck, with face
Half buried there, to hide tlie bursting grief,
I heard her tell how in the churchyard cold,
In the dark pit, the form I loved was laid.
Bitter exceedingly the passionate grief
That wrings to agony the infant heart:
The first sharp sorrow : — Ay — the breaking up
Of that deep tbuntain never to be seal'd.
Till we with time close up the great account.
But that first outbreak, by its own excess
Exiiausted soon ; exhausting the young powers:
The quiv'ring lip relaxes into smiles.
As soothing slumber, softly stealing on ;
Less and loss frequent comes the swelling sob.
Till like a summer breeze it dies away;
While on the silken eyelash, and the check
Flush'd into crimson, hang the large round drops —
Well I remember, from that storm of grief
Diverted soon, with what sensations new
Of female vanity — (inherent sin!)



THE BIRTII-DAY. 355

I saw myself array '(] in mourning frock,

And long crape sash Oli ! many a riper grief

Forgets itself as soon, before a glass
Reflecting the becomingncss of weeds."

To learn to read seems the easiest of all affairs after
having learned to speak. We can conceive how a creature
under two years of age picks up the name of an edible or
an animal, and of a few other things, such as a stool or
a table, or a bed, and so forth ; but we cannot conceive
how it masters the whole English language. We have
known children about that lime of life not merely voluble
or fluent with such small vocabulary, but with a com-
mand of words that might well be called eloquence. Wc
have been assured on good authority, that we ourselves
preached an extemporary sermon the first Sunday of our
fourth year, very superior to our most successful efforts
in that line, even with notes, in these latter times. We
knew the alphabet from the beginning — one day with Little
Primer, which we remember thinking very tedious, sufficed
to give us the complete mastery over him — Big Primer
we cut — Goody-Two-Shoes, though most interesting as a
tale, seemed on the Tuesday too simple in its style to satisfy
such a proficient — and we went j)^^' saltum to Hume's
History of England. Caroline Bowles conquered all difTi-
culties with almost equal facility — and pardon our levity
if it has been at all annoying — for sake of the following
burst of feeling from the pure well-head of a religious heart.

" And soon attaia'd, and sweet the fruit I reap'd.
Oil ! never ending, ever new delight I
Stream swelling still to meet the eager lip !
Receiving as it flows fresii gushing rills
From hidden sources, purer, more profound.
Parents! dear parents! if the latent powers
Cali'd into action by your early cares
(God's blessing on them !) had attam'd no more
Than that acquaintance with His written will,
Your lir;t most pious purpose to instil,
How could I e'er accjuit me of a debt
Might bankrupt gratitude? If scant my stores
Of human learning ; — to my mother-tongues
(A twofold heritage) well nigh confined



356 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

My skill in languages ; — if adverse Fate —

(Heathenish phrase !) — if Providence has fix'd

Barriers impassable 'cross many a path

Anticipation with her hopo-wing'd feet,

Youtlifuiiy buoyant, all undoubting trod; —

If in the mind's infirmity, erewhile,

Thoughts that are almost murmurs whisper low

Stinging comparisons, suggestions sad,

Of what I am, and what I might have been —

This earth, so wide and glorious ! I fast bound

(A human lichen !) to one narrow spot —

A sickly, worthless weed ! Such brave bright spirits,

Starring this nether sphere, and I — lone wretch!

Cut oS'from oral intercourse with all —

' The day far spent,' and oh ! how little known ; —

The night at hand — alas! and nothing done; —

And neither ' word, nor knowledge, nor device,

Nor wisdom, in the grave whereto I go.'

When thoughts like these arise; permitted tests
Proving my frailty — and thy mercy. Lord !
Let but thy ministering angel draw mine eyes
To yonder Book; and lo ! this troublous world
Fades from before me like a morning mist;
And in a spirit, not mine own, I cry,
'Perish all knowledge, but what leads to thee!'"

Let these Wnes tell. But wee Carry is again before us ;
and she lets us into the secret of the intensity of her desire
to be able to read. She had heard Jane — you need not be
told who Jane was — when she was good-natured, tell fine
stories of the lady who walked on the sea of glass to the
ivory hill — and all about those children that met the Fairy
at the well, and the toads, and frogs, and diamonds — and
about the talking-bird and dancing water, and the singing
bough, and Princess Fairstar. Jane told the stories not so
very much amiss ; but the rapt listener longed to read
them for herself in the original print — and she did so, as
if she had had a hundred eyes.

Strange infatuation ! that a person of acknowledged good
sense, as well as genius, like Caroline Bowles, should even
yet, at her mature age. thus more than countenance, nay,
recommend such absurd tales — fairy tales — as fit reading
for children in an enlightened age like this, the age of



THE BIRTH-DAY. 357

reason. Like other bubbles, all burst ! And are not all
bubbles — of earth, or of water — born but to burst ? The
child who does not follow, in an ecstasy of admiration,
each fit intensified by each glory, the slow ascending series
of illumined wonders, painted planet pursuing painted pla-
net, nor yet the extinction of the phenomena seeming to
destroy, but rather to deepen the beautiful mystery of the
day-light stars — tiny balloons in which airy elves are
voyaging — such child, stone-dead to the magic of pipe and
saucer — insensible as a stock to the miracles of soap-suds
— deserves — does he not — to have a plaster clapped on
his mouth — to be burked — huddled into a tea-chest — and
sold to Nox and Erebus ?

Imagination shrivels up like a bit of Indian rubber, in
the air of useful knowledge. No toleration now for any
thing that will not stana the test of truth. Nowhere
Wisdom with children round her knees; every where Wise-
acre with mannikins. Nature is incensed, and sorrows to
be denied the education of her own offspring ; and life is
without her sweetest season, the spring. The imaginative
literature of the nursery has been obliterated by an irrup-
tion more barbarous than of Goths and Huns and Vandals
— for hordes of schoolmasters are abroad, and the realms
of fancy overrun are desolate.

Pray, are little girls yet allowed to have dolls? 'Tis
hardly correct. The spirit of the age is impatient of such
precocity of the maternal affection, and regards with favour
only the cultivation of intellect. But the spirit of the age
ought to reflect on this great truth, that to children dolls
are not children, but grown-up ladies. They have chil-
dren of their own; and though home-loving, are often ap-
parelled for palaces, and with lace-veils and plumes of
feathers prepare to pay visits to kings and queens. Let
us out with it — nor blush at the confession — our first love
was a doll. But our devoted life made no impression on
her wooden heart, and we " flung her over the bridge" in
passionate despair. Released from that bondage, we not
merely " kept a harem in our hearts," but under our bed,
while the chamber-maid fondly imagined they were nine-
pins — and one morning, out of pure malice, swept them all
away in her bakey with other refuse. While yet we were
mourning their loss, lo !



358 Wilson's miscellaneous avritings.

" Like a ladye from a far countree,"

and laid there by hands unseen on the counterpane of our
crib,

" A creature not too bright or good
For human nature's daily food,
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles !"

What flesh so exquisitely beautiful as wax 1 There is a
delicacy in that material, to the inexperienced imagination,
lovelier far than of breathing life. Her face wore one
unchanging smile, so still that sometimes we almost feared
she might be dead. One evening, while we were far off
in the woods, she was spirited away, and we never beheld
her again but in our sleep. We think we see her now I
But hear Miss Bowles.

"Lo! what a train like Bluebeard's wives appear,
So many headless ! half dismember'd some,
With batter'd faces — eyeless — noseless — grim
With crack'd enamel, and unsightly scars —
Some with bald pates, or hempen wigs unfrizzed,
And ghastly stumps, like Greenwich pensioners;
Others mere Torsos — arms, legs, heads, all gone !
But precious all. And chief that veteran doll,
She, from whose venerable face is worn
All prominence of feature: shining brown
(Like chestnut from its prickly coating freed)
VVith equal polish as the wigless skull —
Well I remember, with what bribery won
Of a fair rival — one of waxen mould
(Long coveted possession !) I was brought
The mutilated fav'rite to resign,
The blue-eyed fair one came — perfection's self!
With eager joy I clasp'd her waxen charms;
But then the stipulated sacrifice !
' And must we part V my piteous looks exprcss'd —
(Mute eloquence !) ' And ynitst we part, dear Stump!'
' Oh ! might I keep ye both !' — and both I kept."

Caroline had a genius for drawing in her childhood (and
she is an artist now) and it was her delight to clip out in
paper semblances of all the animals that issued from



THE BIRTH-DAY. 359

Noah's ark. That pastime is common to most children ;
but bless us, what a ditrerence in their handiwork ! She
studied the prints in Goldsmith — traditionary Hkenesses of
lions and lynxes — staring likenesses not to be mistaken —
incorrigible tigers, though punished with more than forty
stripes, and leopards sorry to change their spots. And
was Miss remiss at her needle? Sew — sew, except when
fashioning

"Gay garments for the family of dolls,"

and then the small poetess was happy,

" No matter how they fitted, they were made."

And now, ye statesmen ! home and foreign secretaries,
lord chancellors, and prime ministers, fling your gewgaws
aside, and hear tell of a silver thimble.

" Precious gifl bestow'd
By a kind aunt ; one ever kind and good.
Mine early benefactress ! since approved
By time and trial mine unchanging friend ;
Yet most endear'd by the affecting bond
Of mutual sorrows, mutual sympathies."

'Tis a beautiful flight of fancy, and nothing can well be
more pathetic than the return to reality at the close.

" Yet was that implement (the first possess'd,)
Proudly possess'd indeed, but seldom worn.
Easier to me, and pleasanter, to poke,
As one should poke a skewer, the needle through
With thumb and finger, than in silver thrall
T' imprison the small tip, too tiny still
For smallest thimble ever made to fit.
Dear aunt ! you should have sought in wizard lore
The name of some ariificer, empower'd
By royal patent of the Elfin Court
To make Mab's thimble — if the sprightly queen
Ever indeed vouchsafes in regal sport,
With needle, from the eyelash of a fly,
Pluck'd sharp and shining, and fine cobweb-thread,
T' embroider her light scarf of gossamer.
Not oft 1 doubt ; she better loves to rove



360 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

Where trembling harebells on the green hill side

Wave in their azure beauty ; or to t-iide

On a slant sunbeam down the fragrant tube

Of honeysuckle or sweet columbine,

And sip luxurious the ambrosial feast

Stored there for nature's alchemist, the bee,

Then satiate, and at rest, to sleep secure,

Even in that perfumed chamber, till the sun

Has plough'd with flaming wheels the Atlantic wave,

And the dark beetle, her mail'd sentinel,

Winds her shrill signal to invite her forth.

Not on her waking hour such pomp attends,

As when on Ohio's banks magnolias tall

Embalm the dews of night, and living sparks

Glance through the leaves, and star the deep serene.

But even here, in our romantic isle.

The pearl of ocean, girdled with its foam!

Land of the rainbow ! even here she loves

The dewy freshness of the silent hour.

Whose gentle vvaftings have their incense too.

To scatter in her paths; the faint perfume

Of dog-rose pale, or aromatic breath

Of purple wild thyme, clouding the green sward;

And though in air no sparkling myriads dart

Their glancing fires to light the fairy queen,

Earth hath her stars, a living emerald each !

And by the lustre of those dewy gems

She trips it deftly with her merry train

In mossy dells, around the time-scarr'd trunk

Of giant oak ; or 'neath the witch elm's shade,

Beside some deep dark pool, where one bright star

Trembles reflected ; or in velvet meads.

Where, though the limpid blade of tender grass

Bends not beneath the ' many-twinkling' feet,

Dark circles on the paler sward defined

Reveal at morning where the dance has been;

Oft thickly studded witii a mushroom belt,

The fungus growth of one short summer's night,

Tiie ring so geometrically drawn.

As if the gnomes with scientific skill

(Forming the fairy sports) had mimicked there

The circling rampart of a Celtic camp,

(^r with more apt similitude design'd

The Druid's holy ring of pale gray stones.

Tliere oft tiie milkmaid, when with shining pail

She seeks the glistening pasture, finds dispersed

The relics of tiie banquet; leaves and flowers.



THE BIRTII-DAV. 361

From golden kingcups croppM, and poplars white,

The Clips and trenchers of tlic midnight feast.

All, lucky lass! when stirring with the lark,

On dairy charge intent, she tiiither hies

And finds her task forestalled — the cool tiled floor

P"'looded, fresh sluiced ; stool, shelf, and slab bright rubb'd ;

Scalded and sweet the glazy milk-pans all ;

And scower'd to silver sheen the ready pail;

And brighter still, within its circle left.

The glittering sixpence — industry's reward.

Me more delighted, in the fairy's hannts
To sport, like them an airy gleesome sprite,
Than, prisoner of an hour — e'en that too long,
The needle's task monotonous to ply.
But I have lived to prize the humble art,
To number with the happiest of my life
Those quiet evenings, when with busy hands
I plied the needle, listening as I wrought
(By that mechanical employ, more fix'd
Attention apt to rove) to that dear voice
Which from some fav'rite author read aloud.
The voice is silent, and the task laid by —
Distasteful now, when silence, with a tongue
More audibly intelligent than speech,
For ever whispers round me, ' She is gone.' "

Miss Bowles then alludes to her girlish love of poetry,
and her earliest attempts at verse ; and in one of several
touching passages, indited in the same spirit, with unafTected
humility, adds —

" Nature in me hath still her worshipper,
And in my soul her mighty spirit still
Awakes sweet music, tones, and symphonies.
Struck by the master-hand from every chord.
But prodigal of feeling, she withholds
The glorious power to pour its fulness out;
And in mid-song I falter, faint at heart,
With consciousness that every feeble note
But yields to the awakening harmony
A weak response — a trembling echo still."

" We would not hear thy enemy say so ;" but where
lives enemy of one like thee 'i Not under the cope of
heaven. AH who read thy writings must be thy friends,

VOL. I. 31



362 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

and all lovers of nature must feel) as they peruse them,
that few have painted its beauties with a more delicate
hand of truth. To be creative in after life of the delights
that feed and sustain it, under all changes of place and
time, the love of nature must be inspired into the heart by
communion with her in life's blissful morn. Not other-
wise can that communion be so intimate and familiar as to
" involuntary move harmonious numbers ;" for the heart
and the imagination derive their power from impressions
received farther back than memory can reach, and the
sources of inspiration lie hidden among the golden hills of
the Orient.

Who was the favourite poet of her childhood? Thom-
son. How finely is his genius characterized !

" And was it chance, or thy prevailing taste,
Beloved instructress ! that selected first
(Part of my daily task) a portion short,
CuU'd from thy ' Seasons,' Thomson? — Happy choice,
Howe'er directed, happy choice for me ;
For as I read, new thoughts, new images
Thrill'd through my heart, with undefined delight,
Awakening so th' incipient elements
Of tastes and sympathies, that with my life
Have grown and strengthened ; often on its course,
Yea — on its darkest moments, shedding soft
That ricii warm glow they only can impart;
A sensibility to nature's charms
That seems its living spirit to infuse
(A breathing soul) in things inanimate;
To hold communion with ihe stirring air.
The breath of flowers, the ever shifting clouds,
The rustling leaves, the music of the stream,
To people solitude with airy shapes.
And the dark hour, when night and silence reigns.
With immaterial forms of other worlds :
But best and noblest privilege ! to feel
Pervading nature's all-harmonious whole,
The great Creator's presence, in his works."

The Birth-Day is truly a religious poem ; but though
the spirit of religion pervades it, how unobtrusive its ex-
pression ! Piety fears to make free with holiest words,
and utter them but in the fulness of heart. Religious ser-



THE BIRTH-DAY. 363

vices are nowhere formally described ; but all their due
observances and performances are reverently intimated ;
and we are made to know, in almost all the most serious
or solemn pages — and sometimes, too, in those of lighter
mood —

" That piety is sweet to infant minds."

Yet joy is graciously provided to them from many sources ;
in innocence they do the will of God ; they are not for-
getful of Him, though conscious but of the happiness in
which they swim along ; and their prayers are acceptable
at His throne, though the moment before, or the moment
after they have been uttered, the kneeling child had been
all gleeful, or flies off with her playmates, thoughtless as
lambs frisking in the morning sun.
Caroline had her own flower-garden.

" Flowers of all hues, and Vi/ithout thorn the rose."

Here she is at work.

"Full oft 1 pause with reminiscent eye
Upon the little spot of border-ground
Once called '■my garden.' Proud accession that
To territorial right and power supreme !
To right possessive, the exclusive mine
So soon asserted, e'en by infant tongue.
Methinks the thick-sown parallels I see
Of thriving mustard, herb of rapid growth !
The only one whose magical increase
Keeps pace with young impatience, that expects
Ripe pulse to-morrow from seed sown to-day.
To-morrow and to-morrow passes on,
And still no vestige of ih' incipient plant ;
No longer to be borne, the third day's sun
Beholds the little fingers delving deep
T' unearth the buried seed ; and up it comes
Just swelling into vegetable life;
Of which assured, into the mould again
'Tis stuck, a little Clearer to the top.
Such was the process horticultural
I boldly practised in my new domain :
As little chance of rest, as little chance
To live and thrive had slip or cutting there;
Which failing in three days to sprout amain,



364 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

Was twitched impatient up, with curious eye
Examined; and if fibrous threads appeared,
VVitii renovated hope replanted soon.

" But thriving plants were there, though not of price.
No puny children of a foreign soil,
But hardy natives of our own dear earth,
From many a field and bank, and streamlet side
Transplanted careful, with the adhering mould.
The primrose, with her large indented leaves
And many blossoms pale, expanded there ;
With wild anemone, and hyacinth.
And languid cowslip, lady of the mead.
And violets mingled hues of every sort,
Blue, white, and purple. The more fragrant white
Ev'n from that very root, in many a patch
Extended wide, still scents the garden round.
Maternal love received the childish gift,
A welcome offering, and the lowly flower
(A rustic stranger) bloom'd with cultured sweets;
And still it shares their bed, encroaching oft
(So ignorance presumes) on worthier claims.
She spared it, in the tenderness of love,
Her child's first gift ; and I, for her dear sake,
Who prized the pale intruder, spare it now."

Loved occupations ! Blameless calm delights ! she fer-
vently exclaims — I taste ye with as keen enjoyment still
as in my days of childhood ! She confesses to have laid
aside even this crescent poem on her birth-day, and stolen
forth on a moonless night to search by lantern light among
the leaves for the spoilers that issue from the worm-holes
to prey upon the dewy buds of the peeping larkspur, and
a charming passage closes with some lines that will glad-
den the heart of the amiable author of the " Moral of
Flowers," not more beautiful than many of her own. She
has been speaking of a thaw, and says, —

" Yielding and moist becomes the darkning mould.
And from that snow-heaped border melts away
The drifted wreath ; it shrinks and disappears.
And lo ! as by enchantment, in its place
A rainbow streaks the ground — a flowery prism
Of crocus tribes innumerous to the sun.
Expanding with their gold and purple stars."



THE BlUTH-DAY. 365

Such a rainbow we heard Mary Howitt, with her " soft
low voice, an excellent thing in woman," describe one
evening in Edinburgh — till we saw it on that plain, by the
side of the clear-flowing Trent, near the pleasant town of
Nottingham. You all know what we meant above, when
saying a few words about the religion in this poem, by the
conclusion of the first part. Miss Bowles touches on the
Christian moral to be found in such a sight, and having
spoken of the uses of adversity, " like that pale snow-
wreath," imparting a fertilizing warmth that penetrates the
surface of obdurate worldliness, says —

"Then from the barren waste, no longer such.
Ripening a thousand aniarantliino flowers
Whose fragrance swells to heaven. Desires chastised.
Enlarged atTections, tender cliarilies.
Long suffering mercy, and the snow-drop buds
Of heavenly meekness — These, and thousands more
As beautiful, as kindly, are called forth,
Adversity ! beneath thy fostering shade."

On a grass plat by the house-door there stood an old wil-
low, on a transverse bough of which Mr. Bowles had hung
a swing for his Carry — not unlike, we daresay, that with
its nicely balanced seat (a chair with arms) got up by our-
selves a few summers ago, chiefly for Mrs. Gentle — though
we occasionally take a turn or two, to tranquilize our mind
at a crisis in public affairs. Once, and only once, we had
the hardihood to try how it carried double ; but the conse-
quences of that adventure had nearly been fatal ; for the
chair capsized, and its precious cargo found themselves on
the sward, Mrs. Gentle in a swoon. The scene was by
moonlight, and nothing in the shape of assistance was at
hand. Our belief is that we fell asleep ; and that we and
the morning all awoke together, to the sound of a falling
fountain, and a treeful of birds. But to return from that
digression, there Caroline used

" to sway
With pendulous slow motion, dying off
To scarce perceptible, until at last
Settling to perfect stillness ;"

building all the while many a fair castle in cloud-land, and



Online LibraryJohn WilsonCritical and miscellaneous essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 31 of 34)