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have become almost entirely obsolete in the capital. tempt to emulate the merits and aroid the errors Even the Civil Wars, which gave so much occasion with which the old ballad was encumbered ; and in for poetry, produced rather song and satire, than the the effort to accomplish this, a species of composition ballad or popular epic. The curious reader may satis- was discovered, which is capable of being subjected fy himself on this point, should he wish to ascertain to peculiar rules of criticism, and of exhibiting excelthe truth of the allegation, by looking through D’Ur- lences of its own. fey's large and curious collection, when he will be In writing for the use of the general reader, rather aware that the few ballads which it contains are the than the poetical antiquary, I shall be readily excused most ancient productions in the book, and very sel- from entering into any inquiry respecting the authors dom take their date after the commencement of the who first showed the way in this peculiar department seventeenth century.
of modern poetry, which I may term the imitation of In Scotland, on the contrary, the old minstrel bal- the old ballad, especially that of the latter or Elizalad long continued to preserve its popularity. Even bethan era. One of the oldest, according to my the last contests of Jacobitism were recited with great recollection, which pretends to engraft modern refinevigour in ballads of the time, the authors of some of ment upon ancient simplicity, is extremely beautiful, which are known and remembered ; nor is there a more both from the words, and the simple and affecting spirited ballad preserved than that of Mr. Skirving, melody to which they are usually sung. The title is, (father of Skirving the artist,) upon the battle of Pres-“ Lord Henry and Fair Catherine.” It begins thus : tonpans, so late as 1745. But this was owing to circumstances connected with the habits of the people in “In ancient days, in Britain's isle, a remote and rude country, which could not exist in
Lord Henry well was known; the richer and wealthier provinces of England.
No knight in all the land more famed,
Or more deserved renown. On the whole, however, the ancient Heroic ballad, as it was called, seemed to be fast declining among
“ His thoughts were all on honour bent, the more enlightened and literary part of both coun
He ne'er would stoop to love : tries ; and if retained by the lower classes in Scotland,
No lady in the land had power it had in England ceased to exist, or degenerated into
His frozen heart to move." doggerel of the last degree of vileness.
Subjects the most interesting were abandoned to Early in the eighteenth century, this peculiar species the poorest rhymers, and one would have thought of composition became popular. We find Tickell, the that, as in an ass-race, the prize had been destined to friend of Addison, who produced the beautiful ballad, the slowest of those who competed for the prize. The “Of Leinster famed for maidens fair,” Mallet, Goldmelancholy fate of Miss Ray,3 who fell by the hands smith, Shenstone, Percy, and many others, followed of a frantic lover, could only inspire the Grub Street an example which had much to recommend it, espe. muse with such verses as these,—that is, if I remember cially as it presented considerable facilities to those them correctly :
who wished, at as little exertion of trouble as possible,
to attain for themselves a certain degree of literary " A Sandwich favourite was this fair,
Before, however, treating of the professed imitators
of Ancient Ballad Poetry, I ought to say a word upon
those who have written their imitations with the pre“A clergyman, 0 wicked one,
conceived purpose of passing them for ancient. In Covent Garden shot her;
There is no small degree of cant in the violent inNo time to cry upon her God,
vectives with which impostors of this nature have It's hoped He's not forgot her."
been assailed. In fact, the case of each is special, If it be true, as in other cases, that when things are and ought to be separately considered, according to at the worst they must mend, it was certainly time to its own circumstances. If a young, perhaps a female expect an amelioration in the department in which author, chooses to circulate a beautiful poem, we will such doggerel passed current.
suppose that of Hardyknute, under the disguise of Accordingly, previous to this time, a new species of antiquity, the public is surely more enriched by the poetry seems to have arisen, which, in some cases, contribution than injured by the deception. It is endeavoured to pass itself as the production of genu- hardly possible, indeed, without a power of poetical ine antiquity, and, in others, honestly avowed an at- genius, and acquaintance with ancient language and
President of the Royal Society of London (Mr. Davies Gil- then First Lord of the Admiralty, was assassinated by Mr bert) has not disdained the trouble of preserving it from obli- Hackman, “in a fit of frantic jealous love," as Boswell er. vion.
presses it, in 1779. See Croker's Boswell, vol. iv. p. 254.-Ed. 1 Pills to Purge Melancholy.
Hardyknute was the first poem that I ever learnt-the 2 See Hogg's Jacobite Relics, vol. i.-Ep.
last that I shall forget."-MS. note of Sir Walter Scott on a 3 Miss Ray, the beautiful mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, leaf of Allan Ramsay's Tea table Miscellany.
manners possessed by very few, to succeed in deceiv- on this occasion, (disowning, at the same time, all ing those who have made this branch of literature purpose of imposition,) as having written, at the retheir study. The very desire to unite modern refine- quest of the late Mr. Ritson, one or two things of this ment with the verve of the ancient minstrels, will kind; among others, a continuation of the romance itself betray the masquerade. A minute acquaintance of Thomas of Ercildoune, the only one which chances with ancient customs, and with ancient history, is also to be preserved.2 And he thinks himself entitled to demanded, to sustain a part which, as it must rest on state, that a modern poet engaged in such a task, is deception, cannot be altogether an honourable one. much in the situation of an architect of the present
Two of the most distinguished authors of this class day, who, if acquainted with his profession, finds no have, in this manner, been detected; being deficient difficulty in copying the external forms of a Gothic in the knowledge requisite to support their genius in castle or abbey; but when it is completed, can hardly, the disguise they meditated. Hardyknute, for in- by any artificial tints or cement, supply the spots, stance, already mentioned, is irreconcilable with all weather-stains, and hues of different kinds, with chronology, and a chief with a Norwegian name is which time alone had invested the venerable fabric strangely introduced as the first of the nobles brought which he desires to imitate. to resist a Norse invasion, at the battle of Largs: the Leaving this branch of the subject, in which the “ needlework so rare,” introduced by the fair autho- difficulty of passing off what is modern for what is ress, must have been certainly long posterior to the ancient cannot be matter of regret, we may bestow reign of Alexander III. In Chatterton's ballad of with advantage some brief consideration on the fair “Sir Charles Baudwin,” we find an anxious attempt trade of manufacturing modern antiques, not for the to represent the composition as ancient, and some en- purpose of passing them as contraband goods on the tries in the public accounts of Bristol were appealed skilful antiquary, but in order to obtain the credit to in corroboration. But neither was this ingenious due to authors as successful imitators of the ancient but most urhappy young man, with all his powers of simplicity, while their system admits of a considerable poetry, and with the antiquarian knowledge which infusion of modern refinement. Two classes of imitahe had collected with indiscriminating but astonish- tion may be referred to as belonging to this species of ing research, able to impose on that part of the public composition. When they approach each other, there qualified to judge of the compositions, which it had may be some difficulty in assigning to individual poems occurred to him to pass off as those of a monk of the their peculiar character, but in general the difference !4th century. It was in vain that he in each word is distinctly marked. The distinction lies betwixt the doubled the consonants, like the sentinels of an en- authors of ballads or legendary poems, who have atdangered army. The art used to disguise and mispell tempted to imitate the language, the manners, and the words only overdid what was intended, and the sentiments of the ancient poems which were their afforded sure evidence that the poems published as prototypes ; and those, on the contrary, who, without antiques had been, in fact, tampered with by a modern endeavouring to do so, have struck out a particular artist, as the newly forged medals of modern days path for themselves, which cannot, with strict prostand convicted of imposture from the very touches priety be termed either ancient or modern. of the file, by which there is an attempt to imitate In the actual imitation of the ancient ballad, Dr. the cracks and fissures produced by the hammer Percy, whose researches made him well acquainted upon the original.
with that department of poetry, was peculiarly sucI have only met, in my researches into these mat- cessful. The “ Hermit of Warkworth," the “ Childe ters, with one poem, which, if it had been produced of Elle," and other minstrel tales of his composition, as ancient, could not have been detected on internal must always be remembered with fondness by those evidence. It is the “War Song upon the victory at who have perused them in that period of life when Brunnanburg, translated from the Anglo-Saxon into the feelings are strong, and the taste for poetry, espeAnglo-Norman,” by the Right Honourable John cially of this simple nature, is keen and poignant. Hookham Frere. See Ellis's Specimens of Ancient This learned and amiable prelate was also remarkable English Poetry, vol. i. p. 32. The accomplished for his power of restoring the ancient ballad, by Editor tells us, that this very singular poem was in- throwing in touches of poetry, so adapted to its tone tended as an imitation of the style and language of and tenor, as to assimilate with its original structure, the fourteenth century, and was written during the and impress every one who considered the subject as controversy occasioned by the poems attributed to being coeval with the rest of the piece. It must be Rowley. Mr. Ellis adds, “the reader will probably owned, that such freedoms, when assumed by a prohear with some surprise, that this singular instance of fessed antiquary, addressing himself to antiquaries, critical ingenuity was the composition of an Eton and for the sake of illustrating literary antiquities, schoolboy.”
are subject to great and licentious abuse; and herein The author may be permitted to speak as an artist the severity of Ritson was to a certain extent justified.
1 See Appendix, Note A.
2 See Sir Tristrem, Scott's Poetical Works, vol. v. ; edition
But when the license is avowed, and practised with whose hand the ancient Scottish harp has not sounded out the intention to deceive, it cannot be objected to a bold and distinguished tone. Miss Anne Bannerbut by scrupulous pedantry.
man likewise should not be forgotten, whose “ Tales The poet, perhaps, most capable, by verses, lines, of Superstition and Chivalry” appeared about 1802. even single words, to relieve and heighten the charac- They were perhaps too mystical and too abrupt; yet ter of ancient poetry, was the Scottish bard Robert if it be the purpose of this kind of ballad poetry powerBurns. We are not here speaking of the avowed ly- fully to excite the imagination, without pretending to rical poems of his own composition, which he commu- satisfy it, few persons have succeeded better than this nicated to Mr. George Thomson, but of the manner gifted lady, whose volume is peculiarly fit to be read in which he recomposed and repaired the old songs in a lonely house by a decaying lamp. and fragments for the collection of Johnson and As we have already hinted, a numerous class of tho others, when, if his memory supplied the theme, or authors (some of them of the very first class) who general subject of the song, such as it existed in Scot- condescended to imitate the simplicity of ancient tish lore, his genius contributed that part which was poetry, gave themselves no trouble to observe the costo give life and immortality to the whole. If this tume, style, or manner, either of the old minstrel or praise should be thought extravagant, the reader may ballad-singer, but assumed a structure of a separate compare his splendid lyric, “ My heart's in the High- and peculiar kind, which could not be correctly termed lands,” with the tame and scarcely half-intelligible either ancient or modern, although made the vehicle remains of that song as preserved by Mr. Peter Buchan. of beauties which were common to both. The discreOr, what is perhaps a still more magnificent example pancy between the mark which they avowed their purof what we mean, “ Macpherson's Farewell,” with all pose of shooting at, and that at which they really took its spirit and grandeur, as repaired by Burns, may be aim, is best illustrated by a production of one of the collated with the original poem called “ Macpherson's most distinguised of their number. Goldsmith deLament,” or sometimes the “ Ruffian's Rant.” In scribes the young family of his Vicar of Wakefield, as Burns' brilliant rifacimento, the same strain of wild amusing themselves with conversing about poetry. ideas is expressed as we find in the original ; but with Mr. Burchell observes, that the British poets, who an infusion of the savage and impassioned spirit of imitated the classics, have especially contributed to Highland chivalry, which gives a splendour to the introduce a false taste, by loading their lines with composition, of which we find not a trace in the rude- epithets, so as to present a combination of luxuriant ness of the ancient ditty. I can bear witness to the images, without plot or connexion,-a string of epi. older verses having been current while I was a child, thets that improve the sound, without carrying on the but I never knew a line of the inspired edition of the sense. But when an example of popular poetry is Ayrshire bard until the appearance of Johnson's Mu- produced as free from the fault which the critic has
just censured, it is the well-known and beautifal poem Besides Percy, Burns, and others, we must not omit of Edwin and Angelina! which, in felicitous attention to mention Mr. Finlay, whose beautiful song, to the language, and in fanciful ornament of imagery,
is as unlike to a minstrel ballad, as a lady assuming “ There came a knight from the field of the slain,"
the dress of a Shepherdess for a masquerade, is ditieis so happily descriptive of antique manners; or Mickle, rent from the actual Sisly of Salisbury Plain. Tickell's whose accurate and interesting imitations of the an- beautiful ballad is equally formed upon a pastoral, cient ballad we have already mentioned with appro- sentimental, and ideal model, not, however, less beaubation in the former Essay on Ballad Composition. tifully executed; and the attention of Addison's friend These, with others of modern date, at the head of had been probably directed to the ballad stanza (for whom we must place Thomas Moore, have aimed at the stanza is all which is imitated) by the praise be striking the ancient harp with the same bold and stowed on Chevy Chase in the Spectator. rough note to which it was awakened by the ancient Upon a later occasion, the subject of Mallet's fine minstrels. Southey, Wordsworth, and other distin- poem, Edwin and Emma, being absolutely rural in guished names of the present century, have, in re- itself, and occurring at the hamlet of Bowes, in Yorkpeated instances, dignified this branch of literature ; shire, might have seduced the poet from the beau idéal but no one more than Coleridge, in the wild and ima- which he had pictured to himself, into something ginative tale of the “ Ancient Mariner,” which dis- more immediately allied to common life. But Mallet plays so much beauty with such eccentricity. We was not a man to neglect what was esteemed fashionshould act most unjustly in this department of Scottish able, and poor Hannah Railton and her lover Wrightballad poetry, not to mention the names of Leyden, son were enveloped in the elegant but tinsel frippery Hogg, and Allan Cunningham. They have all three appertaining to Edwin and Emma; for the similes, rehonoured their country, by arriving at distinction from flections, and suggestions of the poet are, in fact, too a humble origin, and there is none of them under intrusive and too well said to suffer the reader to feel
the full taste of the tragic tale. The verses are doubt1 Jolinson's “ Musical Museum," in 6 vols., was lately re-less beautiful, but I must own the simple prose of the printed at Edinburgh.
Curate's letter, who gives the narrative of the tale as
It really happened, has to me a tone of serious veracity music. In either case, however, it frequently hapmore affecting than the ornaments of Mallet's fiction. pens that the scholar, getting tired of the palling The same author's ballad, “ William and Margaret,” and monotonous character of the poetry or music has, in some degree, the same fault. A disembodied | which he produces, becomes desirous to strike a more spirit is not a person before whom the living spectator independent note, even at the risk of its being a more takes leisure to make remarks of a moral kind, as, difficult one.
The same simplicity involves an inconvenience fatal “ So will the fairest face appear,
to the continued popularity of any species of poetry, When youth and years are flown, And such the robe that Kings must wcar
by exposing it in a peculiar degree to ridicule and to When death has reft their crown."
parody. Dr. Johnson, whose style of poetry was of a
very different and more stately description, could riUpon the whole, the ballad, though the best of Mal- dicule the ballads of Percy, in such stanzas as these,let's writing, is certainly inferior to its original, which I presume to be the very fine and even terrific old
“ The tender infant, meek and mild, Scottish tale, beginning,
Fell down upon a stone;
The nurse took up the squalling child, “ There came a ghost to Margaret's door."
But still the child squall'd on;" It may be found in Allan Ramsay’s “ Tea-table Mis- with various slipshod imitations of the same quality. cellany."
It did not require his talents to pursue this vein of We need only stop to mention another very beau- raillery, for it was such as most men could imitate, tiful piece of this fanciful kind, by Dr. Cartwright, and all could enjoy. It is, therefore, little wonderful called Armin and Elvira, containing some excellent that this sort of composition should be repeatedly laid poetry, expressed with unusual felicity. I have a aside for considerable periods of time, and certainly vision of having met this accomplished gentleman in as little so, that it should have been repeatedly revived, my very early youth, and am the less likely to be mis- like some forgotten melody, and have again obtained taken, as he was the first living poet I recollect to some degree of popularity, until it sunk once more have seen.' His poem had the distinguished honour under satire, as well as parody, but, above all, the to be much admired by our celebrated philosopher, effects of satiety. Dugald Stewart, who was wont to quote with much During the thirty years that I have paid some atpathos, the picture of resignation in the following tention to literary matters, the taste for the ancient stanza :
ballad melody, and for the closer or more distant imi
tation of that strain of poetry, has more than once “And while his eye to Heaven he raised,
avisen, and more than once subsided, in consequence, Its silent waters stolo away."9
perhaps, of too unlimited indulgence. That this has After enumerating so many persons of undoubted been the case in other countries, we know; for the genius, who have cultivated the Arcadian style of Spanish poet, when he found that the beautiful Mopoetry, (for to such it may be compared,) it would be risco romances were excluding all other topics, confers endless to enumerate the various Sir Eldreds of the upon them a hearty malediction. hills and downs whose stories were woven into legend- A period when this particular taste for the popular ary tales which came at length to be the name as- ballad was in the most extravagant degree of fashion, signed to this half-ancient half-modern style of com- became the occasion, unexpectedly indeed, of my deposition.
serting the profession to which I was educated, and In general I may observe, that the supposed facility in which I had sufficiently advantageous prospects for of this species of composition, the alluring simplicity a person of limited ambition. I have, in a former of which was held sufficient to support it, afforded publication, undertaken to mention this circumstance; great attractions for those whose ambition led them and I will endeavour to do so with becoming brevity, to exercise their untried talents in verse, but who and without more egotism than is positively exacted were desirous to do so with the least possible expense by the nature of the story. of thought. The task seems to present, at least to the I may, in the first place, remark, that although the inexperienced acolyte of the Muses, the same advan- assertion has been made, and that by persons who tages which an instrument of sweet sound and small seemed satisfied with their authority, it is a mistake compass offers to those who begin their studies in to suppose that my situation in life or place in society
1 If I am right in what must be a very early recollection, I 29w Mr. Cartwright (then a student of medicine at the Edinburgh University) at the house of my maternal grandfather, John Rutherford, M.D.
3 Percy was ospecially annoyed, according to Boswell, with
“I put my hat upon my head,
And walked into the Strand,
With his hat in his band."-ED.
Happily altered by an admiring foreigner, who read
“ The silent waters stole away."
were materially altered by such success as I attained could hardly yet comprehend, had long confined him. in literary attempts. My birth, without giving the self to song-writing. Names which are now known least pretension to distinction, was that of a gentle- and distinguished wherever the English language is man, and connected me with several respectable fami- spoken, were then only beginning to be mentioned ; lies and accomplished persons. My education had and, unless among the small number of persons who been a good one, although I was deprived of its full habitually devote a part of their leisure to literature, benefit by indifferent health, just at the period when even those of Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, I ought to have been most sedulous in improving it. were still but little known. The realms of Parnassus, The young men with whom I was brought up, and like many a kingdom at the period, seemed to lie open lived most familiarly, were those, who, from opportu- to the first bold invader, whether he should be a daring nities, birth, and talents, might be expected to make usurper, or could show a legitimate title of sovethe greatest advances in the career for which we were reignty. all destined; and I have the pleasure still to preserve As far back as 1788, a new species of literature bemy youthful intimacy with no inconsiderable number gan to be introduced into this country. Germany, long of them, whom their merit has carried forward to the known as a powerful branch of the European confehighest honours of their profession. Neither was I in deracy, was then, for the first time, heard of as the a situation to be embarrassed by the res angusta domi, cradle of a style of poetry and literature, of a kind which might have otherwise brought painful additional much more analogous to that of Britain, than either obstructions to a path in which progress is proverbially the French, Spanish, or Italian schools, though all slow. I enjoyed a moderate degree of business for three had been at various times cultivated and imimy standing, and the friendship of more than one tated among us. The names of Lessing, Klopstock, person of consideration and influence efficiently dis- Schiller, and other German poets of eminence, were posed to aid my views in life. The private fortune, only known in Britain very imperfectly." The Soralso, which I might expect, and finally inherited, from rows of Werter" was the only composition that had my family, did not, indeed amount to affluence, but attained any degree of popularity, and the success of placed me considerably beyond all apprehension of that remarkable novel, notwithstanding the distinwant. I mention these particulars merely because guished genius of the author, was retarded by the nathey are true. Many better men than myself have ture of its incidents. To the other compositions of owed their rise from indigence and obscurity to their Goethe, whose talents were destined to illuminate the own talents, which were, doubtless, much more ade- age in which he flourished, the English remained quate to the task of raising them than any which I strangers, and much more so to Schiller, Bürger, and possess. But although it would be absurd and un- a whole cycle of foreigners of distinguished merit gracious in me to deny, that I owe to literature many The obscurity to which German literature seemed to marks of distinction to which I could not otherwise be condemned, did not arise from want of brilliancy have aspired, and particularly that of securing the in the lights by which it was illuminated, but from the acquaintance, and even the friendship, of many re- palpable thickness of the darkness by which they markable persons of the age, to whom I could not were surrounded. Frederick II. of Prussia had given otherwise have made my way; it would, on the other a partial and ungracious testimony against his native hand, be ridiculous to affect gratitude to the public language and native literature, and impolitically and favour, either for my general position in society, or the unwisely, as well as unjustly, had yielded to the means of supporting it with decency, matters which | French that superiority in letters, which, after his had been otherwise secured under the usual chances death, paved the way for their obtaining, for a time, of human affairs. Thus much I have thought it ne- an equal superiority in arms. That great Prince, by cessary to say upon a subject, which is, after all, of setting the example of undervaluing his country in very little consequence to any one but myself. I pro- one respect, raised a belief in its general inferiority, ceed to detail the circumstances which engaged me in and destroyed the manly pride with which a nation literary pursuits.
is naturally disposed to regard its own peculiar manDuring the last ten years of the eighteenth century, ners and peculiar literature. the art of poetry was at a remarkably low ebb in Bri- Unmoved by the scornful neglect of its sovereigns tain. Hayley, to whom fashion had some years be- and nobles, and encouraged by the tide of native fore ascribed a higher degree of reputation than genius, which flowed in upon the nation, German posterity has confirmed, had now lost his reputa- literature began to assume a new, interesting, and tion for talent, though he still lived beloved and re- highly impressive character, to which it became imspected as an amiable and accomplished man. The possible for strangers to shut their eyes. That it exBard of Memory slumbered on his laurels, and He of hibited the faults of exaggeration and false taste, Hope had scarce begun to attract his share of public almost inseparable from the first attempts at the attention. Cowper, a poet of deep feeling and bright heroic and at the pathetic, cannot be denied. It was, genius, was still alive, indeed ; but the hypochondria, in a word, the first crop of a rich soil, which throws which was his mental malady, impeded his popula- out weeds as well as flowers with a prolific abunrity. Burns, whose genius our southern neighbours dance.