Critical Review, 35 (May 1802), 67–75
Critical Review, 35 (May 1802), 67–75
[Review of] Rural Tales, Ballads, and Songs. By Robert Bloomfield. 8vo. 4s. Boards. Vernor and Hood. 1802.
THIS volume cannot be better introduced than by the author's preface—a manly and modest performance, highly honourable to his feelings and his abilities.
'The poems here offered to the public were chiefly written during the interval between the concluding, and the publishing of "The Farmer's Boy," an interval of nearly two years. The pieces of a later date are, "The Widow to her Hour-Glass," "The Fakenham Ghost," "Walter and Jane," &c. At the time of publishing The Farmer's Boy, circumstances occurred which rendered it necessary to submit these poems, to the perusal of my friends: under whose approbation I now give them, with some confidence as to their moral merit, to the judgement of the public. And as they treat of village manners, and rural scenes, it appears to me not ill-timed to avow, that I have hopes of meeting in some degree the approbation of my country. I was not prepared for the decided, and I may surely say extraordinary attention which the public has shown towards The Farmer's Boy: the consequence has been such as my true friends will rejoice to hear; it has produced me many essential blessings. And I feel peculiarly gratified in finding that a poor man in England may assert the dignity of Virtue, and speak of the imperishable beauties of Nature, and be heard—and heard, perhaps, with greater attention for his being poor.
'Whoever thinks of me or my concerns, must necessarily indulge the pleasing idea of gratitude, and join a thought of my first great friend Mr. Lofft. And on this head, I believe every reader, who has himself any feeling, will judge rightly of mine: if otherwise, I would much rather he would lay down this volume, and grasp hold of such fleeting pleasures as the world's business may afford him. I speak not of that gentleman as a public character, or as a scholar. Of the former I know but little, and of the latter nothing. But I know from experience, and I glory in this fair opportunity of saying it, that his private life is a lesson of morality; his manners gentle, his heart sincere: and I regard it as one of the most fortunate circumstances of my life, that my introduction to public notice fell to so zealous and unwearied a friend.
'I have received many honourable testimonies of esteem from strangers; letters without a name; but filled with the most cordial advice, and almost a parental anxiety, for my safety under so great a share of public applause. I beg to refer such friends to the great teacher Time: and hope that he will hereafter, give me my deserts, and no more.' p. iii.
When we took up the Farmer's Boy, no popular opinion had been pronounced upon its merit. Robert Bloomfield was a name unknown to us and to the world; and amid the volumes of insipidity which it is our lot to examine, we were delighted to meet with excellence that we had not expected. The present volume appears with less advantage; it has a more difficult test to encounter. To acquire reputation has ever been easier than to preserve it. Mr. Bloomfield's poems will now be compared with what he formerly produced; and the Farmer's Boy is his most dangerous rival.
The first piece in the volume is entitled Richard and Kate, or Fair-Day; a Suffolk Ballad. The opening is uncommonly spirited.
'Come, Goody, stop your humdrum wheel,
Sweep up your orts, and get your hat;
Old joys reviv'd once more I feel,
Tis Fair-day;-ay, and more than that.
'Have you. forgot, Kate, prithee say,
How many seasons here we've tarry'd?
Tis forty years; this very day,
Since you and I, old girl, were married!
'Look out;—the sun shines warm and bright,
The stiles are low, the paths all dry;
I know you cut your corns last night:
Come; be as free from care as I:' P. 1.
Walter and Jane, or the Poor Blacksmith.—This is one of Mr. Bloomfield's latest productions.
'Bright was the summer sky, the mornings gay,
And Jane was young and cheerful as the day.
Not yet to Love but Mirth she paid her vows;
And Echo mock'd her as she call'd her cows.
Tufts of green broom, that full in blossom vied,
And grac'd, with spotted gold the upland side,
The level fogs o'erlook'd; too high to share;
So lovely Jane o'erlook'd the clouds of care;
No meadow-flow'r rose fresher to the view,
That met her morning footsteps in the dew;
Where, if a nodding stranger ey'd her charms,
The blush of innocence was up in arms,
Love's random glances struck the unguarded mind,
And Beauty's magic made him look behind.
'Duly as morning blush'd or twilight came,
Secure of greeting smiles and village fame,
She pass'd the straw-roof d shed, in ranges where
Hung many a well-turn'd shoe and glitt'ring share;
Where Walter, as the charmer tripp'd along;
Would stop his roaring bellows and his song.—
'Dawn of affection; Love's delicious sigh,
Caught from the lightnings of a speaking eye,
That leads the heart to rapture or to woe,
'Twas Walter's fate thy mad'ning power to know;
And scarce to know, ere in its infant twine,
As the blast shakes the tendrils of the vine,
The budding bliss that full of promise grew
The chilling blight of separation knew.
Scarce had he told his heart's unquiet case,
And Jane to shun him ceas'd to mend her pace,
And learnt to listen trembling as he spoke,
And fondly judge his words beyond a joke;
When, at the goal that bounds our prospects here,
Jane's widow'd mistress ended her career:
Blessings attended her divided store,
The mansion sold, (Jane's peaceful home no more,)
A distant village own'd her for its queen,
Another service, and another scene;
But could another scene so pleasing prove,
Twelve weary miles from Walter and from Love?
The maid grew thoughtful: yet to fate resign'd,
Knew not the worth of what she'd left behind.
'He, when at eve releas'd from toil and heat,
Soon miss'd the smiles that taught his heart to beat:
Each sabbath-day of late was wont to prove
Hope's liberal feast, the holiday of Love:
But now, upon his spirit's ebbing strength
Came each dull hour's intolerable length.
The next had scarcely dawn'd when Walter hied
O'er hill and dale, Affection for his guide:
O'er the brown heath his pathless journey lay,
Where screaming lapwings hail'd the op'ning day.
High rose the sun, th'anxious lover sigh'd;
His slipp'ry soles bespoke the dew was dried
As o'er the tufted furze elate he sprung;
Trifling impediments; his heart was light,
For love and beauty glow'd in fancy's sight;
And soon he gaz'd on Jane's enchanting face,
Renew'd his passion,—but destroy'd his peace.
Truth, at whose shrine he bow'd, inflicted pain;
And Conscience whisper'd, 'never come again.'
For now, his tide of gladness to oppose,
A clay-cold damp of doubts and fears arose;
Clouds, which involve, midst Love and Reason's strife,
The poor man's prospect when he takes a wife.
Though gay his journeys in the Summer's prime,
Each seem'd the repetition of a crime;
He never left her but with many a sigh,
When tears stole down his face, she knew not why.
Severe his task those visits to forego,
And feed his heart with voluntary woe,
Yet this he did; the wan moon circling found
His evenings cheerless, and his rest unsound;
And saw th'unquenched flame his bosom swell;
What were his doubts, thus let the story tell.
'A month's sharp conflict only serv'd to prove
The pow'r, as well as truth, of Walter's love.
Absence more strongly on his mind pourtray'd
His own sweet, injur'd, unoffending maid.
Once more he'd go; full resolute awhile,
But heard his native bells on every stile;
The sound recall'd. him with a pow'rful charm,
The heath wide open'd, and the day was warm
There, where a bed of tempting green he found,
Increasing anguish weigh'd him to the round;
His well-grown limb the scatter'd daisies press'd,
While his clinch'd hand fell heavy on his breast.
'Why do I go in cruel sport to say,
'I love thee Jane, appoint the happy day?'
Why seek her sweet ingenuous reply,
Then grasp her hand, and proffer—poverty?
Why; if I love her and adore her name,
Why act like time and sickness on her frame?
Why should my scanty pittance nip her rime,
And chace away the rose before its time?' p. 15
Walter's meditations are disturbed by Jane herself.
'Flusht was her cheek; she seem'd the full-blown flower,
For warmth gave loveliness a double power;
Round her fair brow the deep confusion ran,
A waving handkerchief became her fan,
Her lips, where dwelt sweet love and smiling ease
Puff'd gently back the warm assailing breeze.
'I've travel'd all these weary miles with pain,
To see my native village once again;
And show my true regard for neighbour Hind;
Not like you, Walter, she was always kind.'
'Twas thus, each soft sensation laid aside,
She buoy'd her spirits up with maiden pride,
Disclaim'd her love, e'en while she felt the sting;
What, come for Walter's sake!' 'Twas no such thing:
But when astonishment his tongue releas'd,
Pride's usurpation in an instant ceas'd:
By force he caught her hand as passing by,
And gaz'd upon her half averted eye;
His heart's distraction, and his boding fears
She heard, and answer'd, with a flood of tears;
Precious relief; sure friends that forward press
To tell the mind's unspeakable distress.
Ye youths, whom crimson'd health and genuine fire
Bear joyous on the wings of young desire,
Ye, who still bow to Love's almighty sway,
What could true passion, what could Walter say?
Age, tell me true, nor shake your locks in vain,
Tread back your paths, and be in love again
In your young days did such a favouring hour,
Show you the littleness of wealth and pow'r
Advent'rous climbers of the mountain's brow,
While Love, their master, spreads his couch below.
'My dearest Jane,' the untaught Walter cried,
As half repell'd he pleaded by her side;
'My dearest Jane; think of me as you may'—
Thus— still unutter'd what he strove to say,
They breath'd in sighs the anguish of their minds,
And took the path that led to neighbour Hind's.' P. 23.
'What ails thee, Jane?' the wary matron cried:
With heaving breast the modest maid repyl'd,
Now gently moving back her wooden chair
To shun the current of the cooling air;
'Not much, good Dame; I'm weary by the way;
Perhaps, anon, I've something else to say.'
Now, while the Seed-cake crumbled on her knee,
And Snowy Jasmine peeped in to see;
And the transparent lilac at the door,
Full to the sun its purple honors bore,
The clam'rous hen her fearless brood display'd,
And march'd around: while thus the matron said
'Jane has been weeping, Walter;—prithee why?
I've seen her laugh, and dance, but never cry.
But I can guess; with her you should have been;
When late I saw you loit'ring on the green;
I'm an old woman, and the truth may tell
I say then; Boy, you have not us'd her well.'
Jane felt for Walter; felt his cruel pain,
While Pity's voice brought forth her tears again.
'Don't scold him, neighbour, he has much to say,
Indeed he came and met me by the way.'
The dame resum'd—'Why then, my children, why
Do such young bosoms heave the piteous sigh?
The ills of Life to you are yet unknown;
Death's sev'ring shaft, and Poverty's cold frown
I've felt them both, by turns;—but as they pass'd,
Strong was my trust, and here I am at last.
When I dwelt young and cheerful down the lane
(And, though I say it; I was much like Jane,)
O'er flow'ry fields with Hind I lov'd to stray,
And talk, and laugh, and fool the time away;
And Care defied; who not one pain could give,
Till the thought came of how we were to live;
And then Love plied his arrows thicker still:
And prov'd victorious;—as he always will.
We brav'd Life's storm together; while that drone,
Your poor old, uncle, Walter, liv'd alone.
He died the other day: when round his bed
No tender soothing tear Affection shed—
Affection! 'twas a plant he never knew;—
Why should he feast on fruits-he never grew?' P. 26.
The old woman's wisdom encourages Walter:—he confesses the fears he had felt and is interrupted in the avowal, by the entrance of the Squire who comes to give him twenty guineas—the legacy of his uncle;—and offers him a house by the road-side to carry on his trade.
'Goody, her dim eyes wiping, rais'd her brow,
And saw the young pair look they knew not how;
Perils and power while humble minds forego,
Who gives them half a kingdom gives them woe;
Comforts may be procur'd and want defied,
Heavens! with how small a sum, when right applied!
Give Love and honest Industry their way,
Clear but the sun-rise of Life's little day
Those we term poor shall oft, that wealth obtain,
For which th'ambitious sigh, but sigh in vain
Wealth that still brightens, as its stores increase;
The calm of Conscience, and the reign of Peace.' P. 32.
Mr. Lofft has bestowed no exaggerated praise upon this poem in saying that it exhibits 'much of the clear, animated, easy narrative, the familiar but graceful diction, and the change of numbers so interesting in Dryden.'
The Miller's Maid.—This poem has the same power of versification as the foregoing; but the story is improbable. The discovery too nearly resembles the trick of novel-mongers.
The next piece we must quote at length.—
'THE WIDOW TO HER HOUR-GLASS.
'Come, friend, I'll turn thee up again:
Companion of the lonely hour!
Spring thirty times hath fed with rain
And cloath'd with leaves my humble bower,
Since thou hast stood,
In frame of wood,
On chest or window by my side:
At every birth still thou wert near,
Still spoke thine admonitions clear.—
And, when my husband died,
I've often watch'd thy streaming sand
And seen the growing mountain rise,
And often found Life's hopes to stand
On props as weak in Wisdom's eyes
Its conic crown
Still sliding down,
Again heap'd up, then down again
The sand above more hollow grew;
Like days and years still filt'ring through,
And mingling joy and pain.
While thus I spin and sometimes sing,
(For now and then my heart will glow)
Thou measur'st Time's expanding wing:
By thee the noontide hour I know:
Though silent thou,
Still shalt thou flow,
And jog along the destin'd way:
But when I glean the sultry fields.
When Earth her yellow harvest yields,
Thou get'st a holiday.
Steady as Truth, on either end
Thy daily task performing well,
Thou'rt Meditation's constant friend,
And strik'st the heart without a bell:
Come lovely May!
Thy lengthen'd day
Shall gild once more my native plain:
Curl inward here, sweet woodbine flow'r;—
'Companion of the lonely hour,
I'll turn thee up again.' P. 59.
Market-Night.—Mr. Bloomfield sometimes deviates in this poem from his usual truth. A farmer's wife does not apostrophize the winds and the echo,—nor call upon the guardian spirits—
Where woods, and pits, and hollow ways,
The lone night-trav'ler's fancy swell
With fearful tales, of older days—.' P. 64.
Every-day rhymers can write thus: but it is in such passages as the following we discover that the poet is delineating feelings which he understands.
'Where have you stay'd put down your load.
How have you borne the storm, the cold?
What horrors did I not forbode——
That beast is worth his weight in gold.' P. 68.
The Fakenham Ghost.—A spirited little tale. A woman is followed by an ass's foal in the dark, and mistakes it for a spirit. The circumstance actually happened.
The next poem is the complaint of an old French mariner, whose children have all been slain in the war.—Dolly, which follows, commences beautifully.
'The bat began with giddy wing
His circuit round the shed, the tree;
And clouds of dancing ghosts to sing
A summer-night's serenity.
Darkness crept slowly o'er the East!
Upon the barn-roof watch'd the cat;
Sweet breath'd the ruminating beast
At rest where Dolly musing sat.' P. 83.
Lines, occasioned by a Visit to Whittlebury Forest; addressed to my Children.—This is a fine poem.
'Thy dells by wint'ry currents worn,
Secluded haunts, how, dear to me!
From all but Nature's converse borne,
No ear to hear, no eye to see.
Their honour'd leaves the green oaks rear'd
And crown'd the upland's graceful swell;
While answering, through the vale was heard
Each distant heifer's tinkling bell.
Hail, greenwood shades, that stretching far,
Defy e'en Summer's noontide pow'r,
When August in his burning car
Withholds the cloud, withholds the show'r.
The deep-ton'd low from either hill,
Down hazel aisles and arches green;
(The herd's rude tracks from rill to rill)
Roar'd echoing through the solemn scene:
From my charm'd heart the numbers sprung,
Though, birds had ceas'd the choral lay:
I pour'd wild raptures from my tongue,
And gave delicious tears their way.
Then, darker shadows seeking still,
Where human foot had seldom stray'd,
I read aloud to every Hill
Sweet Emma's love, 'the Nut-brown Maid,'
Shaking his matted mane on high
The gazing colt would raise his head;
Or, tim'rous Doe would rushing fly,
And leave to me her grassy bed.' P. 91.
The remaining poems are only not so good as those which we have noticed, because they are not so long. The Epigram upon the Translation of the Farmer's Boy into Latin is well pointed. We quote the concluding poem its spirit and freedom are truly original,
'THE WINTER SONG
'Dear Boy, throw that icicle down,
And sweep this deep snow from, the door:
Old Winter comes on with a frown;
A terrible frown for the poor.
In a season so rude and forlorn
How can age, how can infancy bear
The silent neglect and the scorn
Of those who have plenty to spare?
Fresh broach'd is my cask of old ale,
Well-tim'd now the frost is set in;
Here's Job come to tell us a tale,
We'll make him at home to a pin.
While my wife and I bask o'er the fire,
The roll of the seasons will prove,
That Time may diminish desire,
But cannot extinguish true love
O the pleasures of neighbourly chat,
If you can but keep scandal away,
To learn what the world has been at,
And what the great orators say;
Though the wind through the crevices sing,
And hail down the chimney rebound;
I'm happier than many a king
While the bellows blow bass to the sound.
Abundance was never my lot:
But out of the trifle that's given,
That no curse may alight on my cot,
I'll distribute the bounty of heaven;
The fool and the slave gather wealth
But if I add nought to my store,
Yet while I keep conscience in health,
I've a mine that will never grow poor.' P. 117.
We hope, and believe, that, the, success of this volume will equal that of the Farmer's Boy; as we are sure that its merits are not inferior. The manner in which that poem has been received is honourable to the public taste and to the public feeling. Neglected genius has too long been the reproach of England. To enumerate the dead would be useless; but it is not yet too late to mention the living, whose merits have in vain appealed to the public. We allude to a self-taught man, as humble in his situation as 'the Farmer's Boy,' whose genius has been admitted, and whose profound learning in the antiquities of his own country will be acknowledged and regretted when it is too late—Edward Williams, the Welsh bard.