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Observed with piously romantic zeal
Through half a summer. Heaven forgave full sure
The unconscious profanation, and the sin,
If sin there was, be on thy head, old friend,
Pathetic Gesner ! for thy touching song
(That most poetic prose) recording sad
The earliest annals of the hunian race,
And death's first triumph, fill'd me, heart and brain,
With stirring fancies, in my very dreams
Exciting strange desires to realize.
What to the inward vision was reveal'd,
Haunting it like a passion. For I saw.
Plain as in substance, that first human iiome
In the first earti)ly garden; — saw the flowers
Set round her leafy bower by banish'd Eve,
And water'd with her tears, as they recall'd
Faintly the forfeit Eden; the small rills
She taught to wander 'inongst their blooming tribes,
Completing — not the semblance, but the shade.



THE BIRTII-DAY. 379

But beautiful, most beautiful methouglit
The altar of green turf, whereon were laid
Offerinj^s as yet unstain'd with blood — choice fruits,
And fairest flowers fresh cnll'd,

'And God must still,' —
So with myself I argued — 'surely love
Such pure, sweet offerings. There can be no harm
In laying them, as Eve was wont, each day
On such an altar; — what if I could make
Something resembling that!' To work I went
With the strong purpose, which is strength and power;
And in a certain unfrequented nook
Of our long rambling garden, fenced about
By thorns and bushes, thick with summer leaves,
And threaded by a little water course
(No substitute contemptible methought
For Eve's meandering rills,) uprose full soon
A mound of mossy turf, that when complete,
I call'd an altar: and with simple faith —
Ay — and with feelings of adoring love
Hallowing the childish error — laid thereon
Daily my floral tribute — yet from prayer,
Wherewith I long'd to consecrate the act.
Refraining with an undefined fear
(Instinctive) of offence: and there was doubt
Of perfect blamelessness (unconscious doubt)
In the suspicious, unrelaxing care
With which I kept my secret. All's not well.
When heart?, that should be open as the day,
Shrink from inspection. So by slow degrees
I grew uneasy and afraid, and long'd
To cast off the strange burthen — and at last
Ceasing my visits to ' the sacred grove,'
T soon forgot, absorb'd in fresh pursuits.
The long neglected altar — till one day.
When coming winter, witli his herald blasts
Had thinn'd the covert's leafiness, I saw
Old Ephraim in his clearing progress pause.
And strike his spade against a mossy heap,
Wash'd low by autumn's rains, and litter'd romid
Among the thick strewn leaves, with spars and shells,
And broken pottery, and shrivell'd things.
That had been garlands.

'This is Missy's work,'
Quoth the old man, and shook his hend, and smiled —



380 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

' Lord bless her ! how the child has toil'd and moird
To scrape up all the rubbish. Here's enough
To load a jackass!'

Desecrated shrine !
Such was thy fate, demolish'd as he spoke ;
And of my Idyl the concluding page."

Ephraim, the old gardener is a well-drawn character,
and so is Priscilla his wife. The picture of their house-
hold is painted with infinite spirit, and to the very life.
Wilkie would be pleased with it — nor do we know that
Miss Bowles's pen is not almost equal, in such portraiture,
to his pencil, as it used to be long ago, when the great
master chiefly busied himself with the shows of humble
life. Of all the many articles of choice furniture, and
rarities not correctly included in that term, the most at-
tractive to Carry's

" Rapt soul, settling in her eyes,"

was a Cuckoo Clock ! To our mind there is in the pas-
sage descriptive of the sudden and permanent passion for
this rare device, the most vivid evidence of the poetical
character, while to our heart the close is the perfection of
the pathetic.

" But chief — surpassing all — a cuckoo clock !
That crowning wonder ! miracle of art!
How have I stood entranced uncounted minutes.
With held-in breath, and eyes intently fix'd
On that small magic door, that when complete
Th' expiring hour — the irreversible —
Flew open with a startling suddenness
That, though expected, sent the rushing blood
In mantling fluslies o'er my upturn'd face ;
And as the bird (that more than mortal fowl !)
With perfect mimicry of natural tone,
Note after note exact time's message told,
How my heart's pulse kept time with the charni'd voice !
And when it ceased made simultaneous pause
As the small door clapt to, and all was still.

" Long did I meditate — yea, often dream
By day and night, at school-time and at play —



TUE BIIITH-DAV. 381

Alas ! at holiest seasons, even at church

The vision haunted me, — of that rare thing,

And hiri tiurpassing happiness to whom

Fate should assign its fellow. TJiereupon

Sprang up crude notions, vague incipient schemes

Of future independence: INot like those

Fermenting in the youthful brain of her

Maternally, on fashionable system,

Train'd up betimes i' the way that she should go

To the one great end — a good establishment.

Yet similar in some sort, were our views

Toward contingent power. ' When I'm a woman

I'll have,' quoth I,— so far the will and when

Tallied exactly, but our difference lay

Touching the end to be achieved. With me,

Aoi settlements, and pin-money, and spouse

Appendant, but in unencumber'd right

Of womanhood — a house and cuckoo clock !

Hark ! as I iiang reflective o'er my task.

The pen fresh nibb'd and full, held idly yet;

What sound comes clicking through the half-closed door,

Distinct, monotonous] 'Tis even so;

Years past, the pledge (self-pligiited) was redeem'd ;

There hangs with its companionable voice

The cuckoo clock in this mine house. — Ay, mine;

But left unto me desolate."

One quotation more we have room for, equal, so we
think, to any thing of the kind in our modern poetry.

" Then — most happy child!
Most favDur'd ! I was sent a frequent guest,
Secure of w'elcome, to the loveliest home
Of all the country, o'er whose quiet walls
Brooded the twin-doves — Holiness and Peace:
There with thine aged partner didst thou dwell.
Pastor and master ! servant of thy Lord,
Faithful as he, the labours of whose love
Recorded by thy pen, embalm for aye
The name of Gilpin heir'd by thee — right heir
Of the saint's mantle. Holy Bernard's life.
Its apostolic graces unimpair'd,
Renew'd in William's, virtuous parish priest!

"Let me live o'er again, in fond detail.
One of those happy visits. Leave obtain'd,



382 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

Methought the clock stood still. Four hours past noon,

And not yet started on our three mile walk !

And six the vicarage tea hour primitive,

And I should lose that precious hour, most prized.

When in the old man's study, at his feet

Or nestling close beside him, I might sit

With eye, ear, soul intent on his mild voice.

And face benign, and words so simply wise.

Framed for his childish hearer. 'Let us go !'

And like a fawn I bounded on before,

When lagging Jane came forth, and off we went.

Sultry the hour, and hot the dusty way.

Though here and there by leafy skreen o'erarch'd —

And the long broiling liill ! and that last mile

When the small frame wax'd weary ! the glib tongue

Slackening its motion with the languid limbs.

But joy was in the heart, howe'er suppress'd

Its outward show exuberant ; and, at length,

Lo ! the last turning — lo ! the well-known door,

Festoon'd about with garlands picturesque.

Of trailing evergreens. Who's weary now?

Sounding the bell with that impatient pull

That quickens Mistress Molly's answering steps

To most unusual promptness. Turns the lock —

The door uncloses — Molly's smiling face

Welcomes unask'd. One eager, forward spring,

And farewell to tlie glaring world without;

The glaring, bustling, noisy, parch'd-up world!

And hail repose and verdure, turf and flowers.

Perfume of lillies, through the leafy gloom

White gleaming; and the full, rich, mellow note

Of song-thrush, hidden in the tall thick bay

Beside the study window !

The old house
Through flickering shadows of high-arching boughs,
Caught gleams of sunlight on its time-stain'd walls,
And frieze of mantling vine; and lower down,
Train'd among jasmines to the southern bow,
Moss roses, bursting into richest bloom,
Blush'd by the open window. There she sate,
The venerable lady (her white hair
White as the snowy coif,) upon her book
Or needlework intent ; and near at hand
The maiden sister friend (a life-long guest)
At her coarse sempstresship — another Dorcas,
Unwearying in the work of charity.



THE BIRTII-DAY. 383

"Oh ! kindest greeting ! as the door unclosed
That welcomed the half-bold haU'-bashfiil guest;
And brought me bounding on at half a word
To meet the proli'er'd kiss. Oli kindest care !
Considerate of my long, hot, dusty walk,
Of iiat and tippet that divested nic,
And clinging gloves; and from the glowing cheek
And hot brow, parted back the clustering curls,
Applying grateful coolness of clear lymph,
Distill'd from fragrant elder — sovereign wash
For sunburnt skm and freckled ! Kindest care,
That follow'd up those offices of love
By cautionary charge to sit and rest
' Quite still till tea time.' Kindest care, I trow,
But little relish'd. Restless was my rest.
And wistful eyes still wandering to the door,
Reveal'd ' the secret of my discontent,'
And told where I would be. The lady smiled,
And shook her head, and said, —

' Well ! go your ways
And ask admittance at that certain door
You know so well.' All weariness was gone —
Blithe as a bird, thus freed, away I flew.
And in three seconds at the well-known door
Tapp'd gently; and a gentle voice within
Asking ' Who's there !' ' It's me,' I answer'd low,
Grammatically clear. ' Let me come in.'
The gentle voice rejoin'd ; and in I stole,
Bashfully silent, as the good man's smile,
And hand extended, drew me to his chair;
And there, all eye and ear, I stood full long,
Still tongueless, as it seem'd ; love-tempering awe
Chaining my words up. But so kindly his.
His aspect so benign, his winning art
So graciously conforming ; in short time
Awe was absorb'd in love, and then unchain'd
By perfect confidence, the little tongue
Question'd and answer'd with as careless ease
As might be, from irreverend boldness free.
True love may cast out fear, but not respect,
That fears the very shadow of ofTence.

" How holy was the calm of that small room !
How tenderly the evening light stole in.
As 'twere in reverence of its sanctity !
Here and there touching with a golden gleam



384 mtlson's miscellaneous mritings.

Book-shelf or picture-frame, or brightening up
The nosegay set with daily care (love's own)
Upon the study table. Dallying there
Among the books and papers, and with beam
Of softest radiance, starring like a glory
The old man's high bald head and noble brow —
There still I found him, busy with his pen —
(Oh pen of varied power! found faithful ever,
Faithful and fearless in the one great cause) —
Or some grave tome, or lighter work of taste
(His no ascetic, harsh, soul-narrowing creed),
Or ihat unrivall'd pencil, with few strokes,
And sober tinting slight, that wrought effects
Most magical — the poetry of art!
Lovely simplicity ! (true wisdom's grace)
That condescending to a simple child,
Spread out before me hoards of graphic treasures ;
Smiling encouragement, as I express'd
Delight or censure (for in full good faith
I play'd the critic), and vouchsafing mild
T' explain or vindicate; in seeming sport
Instructing ever; and on graver themes
Winning my heart to listen, as he taught
Things that pertain to life.

Oh precious seed !
Sown early ; soon, too soon the sower's hand,
The immediate mortal instrument withdrawn,
Tares of this evil world sprang thickly up.
Choking your promise. But the soil beneath
(Nor rock nor shifting sand) retain'd ye still,
God's mercy willing it, until his hand.
Chastening as fathers chasten, clear'd at last
Th' encumber'd surface, and the grain sprang up —
But hath it flourish'd ? — hath it yet borne fruit
Acceptable ! Oh Father ! leave it not
For lack of moisture yet to fall away !"

We have now reached the close of the " Birth-Day,"
and of this number of Maga, which we are confident will
be felt to be a delightful one, were it but for our profuse
quotations from this delightful poem. It has already had
a pretty wide circulation ; but in a few days hence it will
have been perused by thousands and tens of thousands, in
our pages — and by and by the volume itself will find its



THE BIRTir-DAY. 385

way into many a quiet " homestead" seldom visited by
books. The plan of the poem might be extended so as to
include another season — or age of life. Yet it is now a
whole ; and we believe that it is best it should remain in
its present shape. Let us hope ere long to have another
volume.



VOL. I. 33



ARIA.

(SOTTO VOCE.)
(Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1834.)

We used to spend the opening year in the country —
but for a good many seasons have been tied to town by
fetters as fine as frostwork filigree, which we could not
break without destroying a whole world, of endearment.
That seems an obscure image — but it means what the
Germans would call in English — our winter environment.
We are imprisoned in a net of our own weaving — an in-
visible net — yet we can see it when we choose — ^just as a
bird can see, when he chooses, the wires of his cage, that
are invisible in his happiness, as he keeps hopping and
fluttering about all day long, or haply dreaming on his
perch with his poll under his plumes — as free in confine-
ment as if let loose into the boundless sky. That seems
an obscure image too; but we mean what Wordsworth says,
that the prison to which we doom ourselves is in truth no
prison at all — and we have improved on that idea, for
we have built our own — and are prisoner, turnkey, and
jailer all in one, and 'tis noiseless as the house of sleep.
Or what if we declare that Christopher North is a king in
his palace, with no subjects but his own thoughts — his
rule peaceful over those lights and shadows — and undis-
puted to reign over them his right divine.

The opening year in a town, now, answers in all things
to our heart's desire. How beautiful the smoky air!
The clouds have a homely look as they hang over the
happy families of houses, and seem as if they loved their



AuiA. 387

birthplace; — all unlike those heartless clouds that keep
stravaiging over mountain tops, and have no domicile in
the sky ! — Poets speak of living rocks, but what is their
life to that of houses ? Who ever saw a rock with eyes —
that is, with windows ? Stone-blind all, and stone-deaf,
and with hearts of stone ; whereas who ever saw a house
without eyes — that is, windows? Our own is an Argus;
yet the good old Conservative grudges not the assessed
taxes, his optics are as cheerful as the day that lends them
light, and Ihcy love to salute the setting sun, as if a hun-
dred beacons, level above level, were kindled along a
mountain side. He might safely be pronounced a mad-
man who preferred an avenue of trees to a street. Why,
trees have no chimneys ; and, were you to kindle a fire in
the hollow of an oak, you would soon be as dead as a Druid.
It won't do to talk to us of sap, and the circulation of sap.
A grove in winter, bole and branch — leaves it has none —
is as dry as a volume of sermons. But a street, or a
square, is full of " vital sparks of heavenly flame" as a
volume of poetry, and the heart's blood circulates through
the system like rosy wine.

But a truce to comparisons ; for we are beginning to
feel contrition for our crime against the country, and, with
humbled head and heart, we beseech you to pardon us —
ye rocks of Pavey-Ark, the pillared palace of the storms
— ye clouds, now wreathing a diadem for the forehead of
Helvellyn — ye trees, that hang the shadows of your undy-
ing beauty over the " one perfect chrysolite" of blessed
Windermere !

Our meaning is transparent now as the hand of an ap-
parition waving peace and goodwill to all dwellers in the
land of dreams. In plainer but not simpler words (for
words are like flowers, often radiant in their simplicity —
witness the lily, and Solomon's Song,) contributors, and
subscribers, and readers, all, we wish you a happy new
year, in town or in country — or in ships at sea!

A hajjpy new year ! — Ah ! ere this Aria, sung sotto
voce, reach your ears, (eyes are ears, and ears eyes,) the
week of all weeks will be over and gone, and the new
year will seem growing out of the old year's ashes ! —



388 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

For the year is your only Phoenix. But what with time
to do has a wish — a hope, — a prayer? Their power is
in the Spirit that gives them birth, and there they are
immortal — for spirit never dies. And what is spirit but
the well-head of thoughts and feelings flowing and over-
flowing all life, yet leaving the well-head full of water as
ever — so lucid, that on your gazing intently into its depths,
it seems to become a large soft spiritual eye, reflecting the
heavens and the earth ! And no one knows what the
heavens and the earth are, till he has seen them there —
for that God made the heavens and the earth we feel from
that beautiful revelation — and where feeling is not, know-
ledge is dead, and a blank the universe. Love is life.
The unloving merely breathe. A single sweet beat of the
heart is token of something spiritual that will be with us
again in Paradise. " O, bliss and beauty ! are these our
feelings" — thought we once in a dream — "all circling in
the stuishine — faii'-plumed in a flight of doves !" The
vision kept sailing on the sky — to and fro for our delight
— no sound on their wings more than on their breasts —
and they melted away in light as if they were composed
of light — and in the hush we heard high-up and far-ofF
music — as of an angel's song.

That was a dream of the mysterious night ; but now we
are broad awake — and see no emblematical phantoms, but
the mere sights of the common day. But sutTicient for the
day is the beauty thereof — and it inspires us with affection
for all beneath the skies. Will the whole world, then,
promise henceforth to love us — and we will promise hence-
forth to love the whole world ?

It seems the easiest of all easy things to be kind and
good — and then it is so pleasant ! " Self-love and social
are the same," beyond ?ll question ; and in that lies the
nobility of our nature. The intensest feeling of self is that
of belonging to a brotherhood. All selves then know
they have duties which are in truth loves — and loves arc
joys — whether breathed in silence, or uttered in words, or
embodied in actions — and if they fdled all life, then all
life would be good — and heaven would be no more than a
better earth. And how may all men go to heaven? By



ARIA. 389

making for themselves a heaven on earth, and thus pre-
paring their spirits to breathe empyreal air, when they
have dropped the dust. And how may they make for
themselves a heaven on earth? By building up a happy

HOME FOR THE HEART. Much, but not all oh ! HOt

nearly all — is in the site. But it must be within the pre-
cincts of the holy ground — and within hearing of the
waters of life.

Pleasures of Imagination ! Pleasures of Memory ! Plea-
sures of Hope ! All three most delightful poems — yet all
the thoughts and ail the feelings that inspired them — ethe-
realized — will not make — faith ! " The dayspring from
on high hath visited us!" Blessed is he who feels the
beauty and the glory of that one line — nor need his heart
die within him, were a voice to be heard at midnight say-
ing — " This New-Year's day shall be thy last !"

Singing ? One voice — one young voice — all by its
sweet, sad, solitary self, singing a Christmas Hymn !
Listening to that music is like looking at the sky with all
its stars !

Was it a spirit ?

" Millions of spiritual creatures walk unseen,
Sole or responsive to each other's voice,
Hymning their great Creator."

But that singer, like ourselves, is mortal ; and in that
thought, to our hearts, lies the pathos of her prayers.
The angels, veiling their faces with their wings, sing, in
their bliss, hallelujahs round the throne of heaven ; but
she, a poor child of clay, with her face veiled but with the
shades of humility and contrition, while

" Some natural tears she drops, but wipes them soon," —

sings, in her sorrow, supplications to be suffered to see
afar-offits everlasting gates — opening not surely for her
own sake — for all of woman born arc sinful — and even she
— in what love calls her innocence — feels that her fallen
being does of itself deserve but to die ! The hymn is fad-

33*



390 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

ing — and fading away, likcr and liker an echo, and our
spirit having lost it in the distance returns back holier to
the heart-hush of home !

Again ! and with the voice of a lute, "One of old Scot-
land's songs so sad and slow !" ITer heart is now blame-
lessly with things of earth. " Sad and slow !" and most
purely sweet! Almost mournful although it be, it breathes
of happiness — for the joy dearest to the soul has ever a
faint tinge of grief ! O innocent enchantress ! thou encir-
clest us with wavering haze of beautiful imagery, by the
spell of that voice awaking after a mood of awe, but for
thy own delight. From the long dim tracts of the past
come strangely-blended recognitions of wo and bliss, un-
distinguishable now to our own heart — nor knows that
heart if it be a dream of imagination or of memory. Yet
why should we wonder? In our happiest hours there
may have been something in common with our most sor-
rowful — some shade of sadness cast over them by a pass-
ing cloud, that now allies them in retrospect with the
sombre spirit of grief; and in our unhappiest hours there
may have been gleams of gladness, that seem now to give
the return the calm character of peace! Do not all
thoughts and feelings, almost all events seem to resemble
each other — when they are dreamt of as all past? All
I'cceive a sort of sanctification in the stillness of the time
that has gone by — just like the human being whom they
adorned or degraded — when they too are at last buried to-
gether in the bosom of the same earth.

We are all of us getting old — or older ; nor would we,
for our own parts — if we could — renew our youth. Me-
thinks the river of life is nobler as it nears the sea. The
young are dancing in their skiffs on the pellucid shallows
near the source on the Sacred Mountains of the golden
East. They whose lot it is to be in their prime, are drop-
ping down the longer and wider reaches, that seem wheel-
ing by with their silvan amphitheatres, as if the beauty
were moving mornwards, while the voyagers are stationary
among the shadows, or slowly descending the stream to
meet the meridian day. Many forget

" The torronl'R smootlincFS ore it il;i?]i bojuv; !"



AUIA. 391

and are lost in the roaring whirlpool. Under Providence
we see ourselves on the river expanded into a sea-like lake,
or arm of the sea — and for all our soul has escaped and
suffered, we look up to the stars in gratitude — and down
to the stars — for the water too is lull of stars as well as
the sky — faint and dim indeed — biit blended, by the per-
vading spirit of beauty, wilh the brighter and bolder lumi-
naries reposing on infinitude !

And may we even have a thought now of the labours of
our leisure — of but small avail perhaps for others' instruc-
tion or delight, yet blameless at least — and not altogether
without a salutary influence on our own life, thus some-
times saved from " thoughts that make the heart sink,"
and to our own imagination enveloped in no unlovely light
— such as from clear or clouded moon sleeps quietly or
fitfully on a river seeming subdued by the radiance, and
forgetful of all its own native noise. Maga surely is no un-
gentle being — and her countenance at this moment wears
something of the sweetness of Calypso's smile. We have
begun again, you see, to turn over the leaves of old Homer.
Yet we confess it is with sadness — for Sotheby, the ac-
complished, the kind, the good, and the venerable, is dead
— and at the thought

" Drops a sad serious tear upon our playful pen."

Our commentaries on the Iliad were approved by him



Online LibraryJohn WilsonCritical and miscellaneous essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 33 of 34)