Seward Letters, 1798

Letter VII.

 Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 5, pp 38-44}

                                                                                                 Lichfield, Jan. 29, 1798.

            For how brilliant a letter in allusive wit, and in every sort of elegance, am I indebted to dear Miss Ponsonby.  It came to sooth the sense of violent rheumatic pain and imprisonment.  Ealier had I acknowledged a packet so welcome, but no sooner was I able to employ myself, than the Cambrian Orpheus, Randall of Wrexham, became [39] my guest.  He staid near three weeks.  During that period, no hour of sequenstration could be obtained for my pen; I was not sufficiently recovered to anticipate in my uprising the winter’s dawn, and from breakfast till dinner I had a constant succession of company to listen to the enchantments of the pedal harp, while musical parties, either at home or abroad, engrossed every evening.

            Mr Saville took the whole management of the benefit-concert, which he had planned for Mr Randall, and spared no fatigue, no exertion, for the interest of his friend.  Considering the luckless occurrence that week, of three smart weddings in the environs, detaining families who would otherwise have been there, the room was better filled than we expected.  With breathless attention, succeeded by loud applause, the audience listened to lyric excellence, unrivalled surely in brilliant execution, and tasteful variation.  My description of his powers in the Chester paper last week, you probably saw.

            But I reproach myself for having commenced a second page before one sigh has breathe to my revered friends, for the untimely death of my dear correspondent, the amiable, pensive, intelligent, Miss Wingfield.  Ah, yes!

“That gentle spirit hath aspired the clouds.”

 [40] I do not think she was happy, though she would not acknowledge either sickness or sorrow.  Like Shakespeare’s Viola, “she smiled at grief,” while she avoided the circles of the gay and the dissipated, and sought rather to lose the sense of disappointment amidst her books and correspondence.

            Averse as I am to writing epitaph, from the exhausted powers of its narrow limited, I could not recollect that I had paid that tribute to the memory of her cousin, Miss Bagot, whom I had never seen, and be silent over the tomb of my friend.  I inclose a copy.

            Poor Mrs Morhall too! — the sable flag has spread wide over Shrewsbury.  The surprise her announced decease excited, was stronger from the robust health of her complexion and frame.  They were lavishly promissory of vital duration.  The hospitalities and gaieties of that town will have an heavy miss of her taste, her exertion, and the liberal elegance of her table.  She was a lively fashionable women, with a kinder heart than generally belongs to that class of beings.  Her husband idolized her, and his anguish on this event will at present be the keenest; but time has consolations for him, which it has not for that [footnote: Colonel Dowdeswell, who lived with Mr Morhall, from the time he was struck with blindness.] good unfortunate man, whose “universal blank of [41] all creation’s works,” her cheerful and unwearied attentions cheered and gilded.

            I am glad my poem on the future existence of brutes, yet unpublished, has found so much favour in your and Lady Eleanor’s sight, and in that the general level of my compositions.  Animated description of what is, and metaphysic reasoning on what, from fair inference, must be, can have no pretence to vie with the creations of fancy on Delphic ground.  If I was asked which of all my metrical compositions had, in my own opinion, the best right to pre-eminence there, I believe I should say my pictures of Erebus, in the extracts I sent you from my yet abortive Telemachus — in short, the whole episode of the descent of Orpheus.  Its descriptions and supernatural imagery, while they are strictly classical, have no debts to any one of the ancient or modern poets, except for the mere names, local and personal, and to Ovid for the outline, and no more than the outline of the fable.  Neither has my Atalanta and Hippomenes, in the same work, any more extensive obligation to that poet.

            Accept my best thanks for the compositions which you took the kind trouble of transcribing with so much accuracy, and of ornamenting with so much taste.  Earl Walter is another grand [42] imitation of Dryden’s poetic paraphrase of Boccace’s story of Theodore and Honoria.  In one respect, Earl Walter exceeds its original.  In Dryden’s poem, the hunted lady’s guilt is not imprinted on the reader’s mind before her punishment commences; –therefore our detestation of her conduct is not strongly enough excited to prompt the stern vindictive smile of conscious justice, over the retributory doom so violent and severe.  Of Earl Walter, our detestation is previously excited, and we enjoy the sufferings of a wretch who had been callous to pity, and deaf to the pleadings of mercy.

            The versification of the Chace, alias Earl Walter, is often too rough and careless.

Hark forward! forward! halloo! ho!

cannot, as a verse, be endured by a nice poetic ear.

            Spencer’s Leonora is extremely superior in the construction of the verse, besides that its terrific features are more grand and original — and so indeed are several of the images in those extracts, from a paraphrase of the eleven-times translated Leonora, by the author of this poem, the Chace; with which extracts Mr Saville was favoured by your friends the Scotch ladies.

            [43] Your description of your valley, deluged by the late long-continued wetness, and of the power of your gentle gravelly elevation in its bosom; to digest all the rain the Heavens can afford it, delights me.

            The gentlemen of the Staffordshire fox-hunt gave us a ball last week, which concentered all the rank, fashion, and beauty of the country, in one splendid focus.  No assembly of such overflowing numbers and such brilliance, has been witnessed at Lichfield since our vicars hall was opened in my thirteenth year.  The hunt uniform is orange.  Every lady in the room that was not in mourning, wore her white muslin profusely decorated with ribbons of that glowing hue: and the female group resembled a large bed of mingled snow-drops and yellow crocuses, the floral harbingers of spring.  Sir Robert Williams, the acting president, went through the ceremonies of the evening with the most attentive politeness.  Like Ariel, he was everywhere, and “did his spiriting gently.”

            Mr Chris. Smith’s song, with the Proteus power which the lover there assigns to his own spirit, is fancifully pretty, but more resembles the ingenious metaphysic conceits of the Italian, than the sombre wildness and daring strength of the German poetry, from which you say this song was [44] paraphrazed.  His Monody on Mr Hanbury has many passages of great poetic beauty.

            With affectionate devoirs to Lady Eleanor, and every sense of grateful attachment to you both, I remain, dearest Madam, &c.

*

Letter XII.

 Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler, and Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 5, pp 75-80}

                                                                                                 Lichfield, April 24, 1798.

            The frame for Honora’s exact, though accidental, resemblance in the print of Romney’s Serena reading by candle light, is at length arrived.  I dare believe my charming friends will think the figure, countenance, and features, express the sweetness, intelligence, and grace, with which the strains, honoured by their mutual partiality, invest the fair friend of my youth.

            You must each have been deeply disquieted by the miserable scenes which have been acted in your native Ireland since I had last the honour to address you.  None of your particular friends are, I trust, on the dire list of those who have fallen the victims of its assassinations.  Had my gallant friend, the murdered Colonel St George, the happiness of your acquaintance? — Of him at last you must well know, from you [76] intimacy with his lovely and accomplished sister-in-law.

            My Telemachus has taken a snail’s walk since I gave myself the pleasure of writing to you.  Two mornings of leisure, the only ones I could obtain in the interim, produced the inclosed extract.  You have heard me say, that I could scarcely every persuade myself to admit the muses, in exclusion of any social or epistolary duty or pleasure.  Small, therefore, with connections and correspondence so numerous, is the probability that I shall ever finish an epic poem.

            You will perceive that Fenelon’s Telemachus forms as yet but the mere basis of this attempted work; but I conclude, that when the prince, in what will form my third book, narrates his own adventures, I must be more indebted to the prose composition.  Whether those incidents, not very interesting from Fenelon’s pen, are capable of receiving poetic spirit and animation from mine, remains to be tried.  If I retain my excursive manner of going over the ground, there will be sufficient length for an epic poem, without pursuing the long train of less animated events that ensures after Telemachus and Mentor quit Calypso’s island.  Homer follows not Achilles when he leave the ruins of Troy; and if Virgil had [77] not followed Æneas after he left Carthage, his poem, though less complete, would have been more interesting.  After the death of Dido I yawned through the remainder; read it once as a task, and never since looked into the pages beyond that epoch.

            Ah! dearest ladies, how groundless has the assertion proved on which every one relied, that Duncan’s victory threw the perils of invasion at a wide distance! — but I will not pursue the alarming subject.

            This day a summer’s sun warmly gilds the fields, the gardens, and the groves, now diffusing fragrance, and bursting into bloom.  French and undulating breezes from the east lured me into my drawing-room, having placed in its lifted sash the Æolian harp.  It is, at this instant, warbling through all the varieties of the harmonic chords.  This apartment looks upon a small lawn, gently sloping upwards.  Till this spring, it was shrubbery to the edge of the grassy terrace on its summit; but I have lately covered it with a fine turf, sprinkled wiht cypresses, junipers, and laurels.  It is bordered on the right hand by tall laburnums, lilachs, and trees of the Gelder rose,

[78] ———- “throwing up, mid trees of darker leaf,

Its silver globes, light as the foamy surf,

Which the wind severs from the broken wave.”

Beyond this little lawny elevation, the wall which divides its terrace from the sweet valley it overlooks is not visible.  These windows command the loveliest part of that valley, and only its first field is concealed by the sloping swell of the foreground.  The vale is scarcely half a mile across, bounded, basin-like, by a semicircle of gentle hills, luxuriantly foliaged.  There is a lake in its bosom, and a venerable old church, with its grey and moss-grown tower on the water’s edge.  Left of that old church, on the rising ground beyond, stands an elegant villa, half shrouded in its groves; –and, to the right below, on the bank of the lake, another villa with its gardens.  The as yet azure waters are but little intercepted by the immense and very ancient willow that stands opposite these windows in the middle of the vale; that willow, whose height and dimensions are the wonder of naturalists.  The centre of the lake gleams through its wide-spread branches, and its appears on each side like a considerable river, from its boundaries being concealed.  On the right, one of our streets runs from the town to the water, interspersed with [79] trees and gardens.  It looks like an umbraged village, and is all we see from hence of the city, so that nothing can be more quiet and rural than the landscape.  It is less beautiful in summer than in spring, from the weeds that sprout up in the lake, and from the set which partially creeps upon its surface.

            In my youth, it was always clear — but it is said that, some fifteen years back, two of our gormandizing aldermen took a boat and sowed it with water-lilies, to preserve the fish.  The mischief is irreparable, since the cleansing it receives every autumn only procures transparence till the sun of middle summer enables the deep-rooted weeds to defy the scythe and the shovel.

            What shall I say for the slovenliness of the inclosed transcripts? –Thus you behold my incorrigible pen sinning, from time to time, against the fairness of transcription, — sinning and confessing, like a frail papist, and repenting without amendment.

            What lovely weather! — Our valley is bursting into bloom, and the fruit trees of a large public garden in one part of it, now in full blossom, presents a grove of silver, amidst the lively and tender green of the fields and hedge-rows.  Alas! the melancholy of the apprehensive heart is rather increased than abated by this vernal luxury.  It [80] seems but as gay garlands on the neck of a victim.  — In every frame of mind, I remain, dearest ladies, &c.

*

Letter XV.

 Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler.
{vol. 5, pp 106-112}

                                                                                                 Lichfield, June 4, 1798.

            Since I had the honour and happiness to hear from your Ladyship and Miss Ponsonby, I fear your mutual peace has again been cruelly annoyed by the struggles of rebellion in your native country, rallying her dark forces.  Happily, however, they meet nothing but defeat.  The opinion seems very general, that ere long they will be finally subdued.  May it prove so! — for if Ireland should fall into the power of France, a similar fate for this country cannot be distant.  May the attempt to overthrow constitutional government in Ireland be such as to blast the hopes, and wither the exertions of those in our own nation, who suffer their just indignation against the cabinet-council of London to pass the bounds of reason and humanity, who are endeavouring to establish the tyranny of democratic sway in these dominions, though they perceive the lawless oppression it has produced in France, where extent of empire presents [107] no compensation for the slavery under which her people groan.

            I hope to Heaven, that the force from England, necessary to quell Irish insurrection, will not exhaust our means of adequate protection, should the desperate French effect their invading purpose.  If they can escape our fleets, they doubtless mean to make a descent on both countries at the same, or nearly the same, period.  Obtaining footing in Ireland, the mischief to us of the disaffection there would indeed be terrible.  I have always foreseen the consequence of provoking the majority of that nation, by the recal of Lord Fitzwilliam, and by the rejection of his conciliatory plan.  That was the period, never perhaps again to recur, in which, granting to the Catholics equal privileges with the Protestants, would have softened the jealous and embittered spirit of a long-oppressed, a brave, but, when roused into resistance, a fierce, a rash a cruel people; –would have united them, heart and hand with England, against the common foe, the tyrant of Europe.

            Our private friends are ever first and oftenest in our thoughts, beneath the lour of national calamity.  I peruse and hear every syllable of Irish news with Lady Eleanor and Miss Ponsonby’s image before my eyes, and every hope and fear on the subject passes through the medium of my [108] sympathy with their feelings; especially since I learnt that their fortunes, as well as anxieties, from connection, are at stake in the conflict.  My solicitude then became poignant indeed, in despite of every human probability, that, however the storm of rebellion may yet again gather and regather, ere its final dispersion, yet, if the French can be kept from those coasts, it will never be able to sink your hopes and your independence in the “dire vortex of French dominion.”

            What a mischievous madman has Lord E. Fitzgerald proved!  You have deplored the fate of his gentle, his accomplished Adelaide — hard, indeed, if she loves the rash one, who hath trod the dark paths of her father’s destruction.  He will meet from this government, which he has deserted, an equal and an earlier fate.  It will anticipate the destiny which he would doubtless have met from the French, had they, by his means, and those of his kindred spirits, drawn Ireland within the grasp of their power.

“Thus deadly Atropus, with fatal shears,

Slits the thin promise of th’ expected years,

While, ‘mid the dungeon’s gloom, and battle’s din,

Ambition’s victims perish as they spin.”

            I am excessively gratified, that you think dear Honora lovely; that you honour her with a situation [109] so distinguished.  Every line in that engraving [footnote: Romney’s picture of Serena reading by candle-light.—S.] bear her stamp and image, except those which, in a luckless moment, combined to attach the foot of a plough-boy to a form in every other point so beautiful.  All the obligation of her establishment in the Lyceum of Langollen Vale is on my side.  How could dear Miss Ponsonby speak of it as on yours and her own!  I would cheerfully have given treble the cost of this engraving, for the consciousness that the similitude of the fair idol of my affections is thus enshrined.

            Honora Sneyd, after she became Mrs Edgeworth, sat to Smart, at that time a celebrated miniature-painter.  He totally missed the likeness, which Major André had, from his then inexperience in the art, so faintly, and with so little justice to her beauty caught.  Romney accidentally, and without having ever beheld her, produced it completely.  Yes, he drew, to represent the Serena of the Triumphs of Temper, his own abstract idea of perfect loveliness, and the form and the face of Honora Sneyd rose beneath his pencil.

            Few circumstances have proved so fortunate for the indulgence of my heart as this accidental [110] resemblance.  A fortnight since, according to my annual custom, I removed it form my sitting-room below stairs, of western aspect, to my little embowered book-room, into whose northern window the sun never looks in his ardour, though it catches partially, in summer, the golden glances of his evening beams.  Thus is this beauteous resemblance my constant companion, and contributes to endear, as the bright reality endeared, in times long past, this pleasant mansion to my affections; — and thus, whenever I lift my eyes from my pen, my book, or the faces of my companions, they anchor on that countenance, which was the sun of my youthful horizon.  Another striking likeness of my lost Honora, in a paper shade, taken when she was seventeen, stands opposite my bed, and has stood there from the time she left this house, in her nineteenth year.  Thus are those dear lineaments ever present to my sight, when I am beneath this roof, alike in the hours of energy and of repose, retouching the traits of memory, over which indistinctness is apt to steal, in consequence of perpetual and too intense recurrence.  But for such aptness, pictures of those we love would be of little value.

            Those oppressive rheumatic pains in my loins, my back, and knees, which are gradually stealing [111] away all strength of my frame, oblige me to think of trying Buxton again — and the state exactions prevent my income from allowing me to take two journies this year.  The cordial assurance you give me of your mutual wishes to see me in your Eden, ere the bright months pass away, stimulates my, alas! fruitless wishes to find myself in that dear adorned retirement.  I rejoice that your beloved Miss Bowdler will soon visit it daily.  Her society will often steal your thoughts from the lurid clouds that darken your native land.  Happy for me if those imperious circumstances, which so often deride our free agency, would permit my joining the interesting party.

            It gives me pleasure that you meditate for Mr Whalley, should he revisit your neighbourhood, a recompence for having coldly repressed the aspiration of his hope to have been received at Langollen.  He has talents and virtues that merit this recompence — and it will increase your wish of extending it, to know that his peace is blighted by the base ingratitude and infamous unchastity of the child of his cares, whom nature had endowed with lavish profusion, both as to beauty and genius, and whose talents his exertions had cultivated to the most dazzling extent.  Often does he exclaim with Siolto,

[112] “O! when I think what pleasure I took in thee,

What joy thou gav’st me in thy prattling infancy,

They sprightly wit and early blooming beauty!—

I thought the day too short to gaze upon thee,

Why didst thou turn to folly, then, and curse me?”

This cruel disappointment has changed him much — has lamentably chilled the glow of his warm and generous mind, respecting the effusions of genius and the attainment of art.  He ceases also to delight in corresponding with his distant friends.  It is long since I heard from him.

            I remain, dearest Madam, your ever affectionate and devoted, &c.

*

Letter XVIII.

 Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 5, pp 123-125}

                                                                                                 Lichfield, June 19, 1798.

            I hoped to have acknowledged my loved Miss Ponsonby’s last, and very kind letter, in an hour when the reply might have commenced with those glad gratulations that my heart longs to utter — but the felicity is at present denied me.  The rest of many of my nights has been disturbed by the dread those sanguinary tidings inspired, which arrived from Ireland since I wrote to Lady Eleanor, and many a heartache has sickened the awaking hour.

            To attain lettered ease and tranquillity of spirit, you fled together, in early youth, from the otherwise inextricable mazes of connection.  The resolution and constancy with which the plan ahs been pursued through nineteen years, rendered it, as I thought, invulnerable to any long-enduring care, sorrow, or solicitude, while life and health were mutually lent you.  Often have I said to myself, picturing the little Eden,

“If e’er content deign’d visit mortal clime,

That in her place of dearest residence.”

But, alas! civil war is an omnipresent fiend, whose baleful influence penetrates every seclusion, the inhabitants of which have dependence on, or connection with the country it ravages.  Yet be comforted, my dear and honoured friends, and repose upon the hope that Lord Cornwallis and his armies will crush this horrid, this murderous rebellion! — that when valour, generalship, and numbers have unstrung its sinews, he will be commissioned to extend that concession to the just claims of the people, which may do away all invidious distinction between catholic and protestant, dissenter and churchman; the tyrannic exertion of which has been the cause of all the assassinations, the woes and dangers to both islands, that have been the bitter fruits of bad policy and injustice on one hand, and of wicked and unbridled revenge on the other.

            Amiable Mrs St George — Where is she? — Not in Ireland, I hope.

            Since I closed the last sentence, I have read to-day’s paper.  Thank God it enables me to congratulate on the better aspect of the deplored contest.  Yes, the smiles of hope are [125] at this instant relumining the countenance of my friends.  O may their soft cheering light be permanent!

            I remain, &c.

*

Letter XXI.

 Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 5, pp 142-145}

                                                                                                 Buxton, Aug. 9, 1798.

            I congratulate my dear friends upon the sweet and, I trust, lasting repose of their fears for the state of Ireland.  Alas! that it should have cost such a bleeding price: yet that the greatly worse is averted, must inspire a sense of delight from subsided terror, which the intermingled bitterness of victim-regret cannot do away.

            The increasing power of my rheumatic malady, forced me to seek these springs rather than the billows of High Lake, from which I should have been thrice happy in circling home by Langollen.  Thus the halcyon days, which last summer were mine, may not gild and inspirit this.  If I live, and the fiend of the joints remits his persecution, I hope, next year, to see and converse with friends, to whose society may whole mind is wedded; and to see the image of that fair creature, who shed the light of happiness over many of my youthful years, honoured with so enshrined a situation.

            [143] This month is always high season at Buxton.  The crowd is immense, though I never remember so few families of rank, and there is a tristful lack of elegant beaux.  The male youth and middle life of England are, you now, all soldierized and gone to camps and coasts; and so a few prim parsons, and a few dancing doctors, are the forlorn hope of the belles.

            And here is Mrs Powys of Berwick, in loveliness which none of them can approach, which time seems to have lost his power to tarnish, which no custom of the eye can pall.

            No, dear Madam, I was not, as you suppose, favoured with a letter from General Washington, expressly addressed to myself; but, a few years after peace was signed between this country and America, an officer introduced himself, commissioned from General Washington to call upon me, and to assure me, from the General himself, that no circumstance of his life had been so mortifying as to be censured in the Monody on André as the pitiless author of his ignominious fate: that he had laboured to save him — that he requested my attention to papers on the subject, which he had sent by this officer for my perusal.

            On examining them, I found they entirely acquitted the General.  They filled me with contrition for the rash injustice of my censure.  With [144] a copy of the proceedings of the court-martial that determined André’s condemnation, there was a copy of a letter from General Washington to General Clinton, offering to give up André in exchange for Arnold, who had fled to the British camp, observing the reason there was to believe that the apostate General had exposed that gallant English officer to unnecessary danger to facilitate his own escape: Copy of another letter from General Washington to Major André, adjuring him to state to the commander in chief his unavoidable conviction of the selfish perfidy of Arnold, in suggesting that plan of disguise, which exposed André, if taken, to certain condemnation as a spy, when, if he had come openly in his regimentals, and under a flag of truce, to the then unsuspected American general, he would have been perfectly safe: Copy of André’s high-souled answer, thanking General W. for the interest he took in his destiny; but, observing that, even under conviction of General Arnold’s inattention to his safety, he could not suggest to General Clinton any thing which might influence him to save his less important life by such an exchange.

            These, Madam, are the circumstances, as faithfully as I can recal them, at such a distance of time, of the interview with General Washington’s friend, which I slightly mentioned to yourself and [145] Lady Eleanor, when I had the happiness of being with you last summer.

           A pleasant friend of mine from Lichfield, accompanied me hither, a Mrs Ironmonger.  She is lively and pleasing.  I have the pleasure to see her please and be pleased, in a scene of great gaiety, compared to our quiet little city, notwithstanding the diminution of splendour and elegance that used to pace through the golden-hued Crescent, while over its area, or flit beneath its chandeliers.

            We have a very pleasant society at St Anne’s Hotel.  Our most intimate acquaintance, an interesting Irish family: Amiable, graceful Lady Newcomine, and her three lovely and very engaging daughters, with whom we walk and go to to the rooms.  Captain and Mrs Bingham and her sister, a beautiful and sprightly little woman.  Charming Mrs Childers will soon arrive, and pour her intellectual brightness over this scene.

            Literary characters are as scarce here as nobility.  I miss the eloquence of Erskine and Wilberforce more than the titles.

            Adieu, dearest Madam, and believe me always faithfully yours.

*

Letter XXVIII.

 Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 5, pp 172-176}

                                                                                                 Lichfield, Nov. 15, 1798.

            Most sincerely, dearest Madam, do I sympathize with your and Lady Eleanor’s anxieties and sorrows, of triple source, patriotism, consanguinity, and friendship.  Ah! wretched Ireland, how dire is the insecurity of thy inhabitants!  In other civil wars, barbarities as dreadful have been committed; –witness that in the Duke of Ormond’s time, of which Phelim O’Neale was the Holt; –but when the contest became hopeless, the sanguinary thirst ceased.  Now a fiend-like fury prevails — murder for the sake of murder, sparing neither sex, infancy, or age, nor even waiting for the spur of personal revenge.

            I see, with the deepest concern, and the most desponding fears for the result, the success of this country’s renewed incendiarism on the continent.  Ah, Heaven! is it thus the English nation shews its gratitude to thee for the signal, the glorious victories, with which thou has blest our fleets!  How much more worthy a wise, a humane, a [173] Christian nation, instead of goading on the emperor to set the existence of the German empire on one desperate cast, to have said to France,— “Let the exterminating sword be sheathed.  Meet us with reasonable terms of reconcilement, and we will find our noblest pride in shewing you, and the whole world, that our naval victories have not shut our hearts to compassion for the miseries our continued warfare must produce to both nations.”

            I now hasten to obey your injunction, and speak my sentiments of the poetical merits and defects of that exquisite picture of a transcript, “The Little Grey Man,” which you have taken the kind trouble to race.  It has some few pleasing, and some few fine images; but there is no much of ludicrous about the Little Grey Man himself, that I confess I am more inclined to laugh than to shudder at him.  Then the course of the tale is so distorted from nature and probability; is so totally void of sentiment or moral, as to induce my belief that it is the poem of which I heard at Buxton, said to be written by Mr Bunbury, in ridicule of the German stories, and the prevailing taste for supernatural horrors.  Considered in this light, it is more acceptable to my taste, than if I thought its author in earnest to vie with the terrible graces of Alonzo and Imogen, or of, in [174] Spencer’s translation, the far sublimer Leonora.  In those poems, the perjured inconstancy of one heroine, and the blasphemous despair of the other, are justly punished.

            Surely, in the protection of her father’s house, and amid groups of human beings, Mary Jeane must naturally think she could better have defended herself from the renewed visits of the hideous tenant of the grave, than alone on the wild hills of St Bertrand, amid the tangled woods of Limeburgh, and on the Golgotha of Sombremond. [footnote: In the prelude to this strange poem, it is asserted, that, on certain plains on the high-roads in Germany, the bodies of malefactors are exposed on wheels and gibbets; and that pilgrim travellers often pass the night amid those dire groups, to secure themselves from the living banditti that, infesting the highways, will yet not approach the mangled carcasses of their associates.—S.]  Is that name, so adapted to the scene, real?

           Though I cannot think the author of this wild work serious, yet the subject seems to have irresistibly led him to exhibit, among his mock-terrifics, some pictures that have the genuine grandeur of horror, and some natural touches of simple beauty.  The style, in general, is so meagre, that, if he can be thought in earnest, we must believe him, with many other versifiers, mistaking silliness for simplicity.

            [175] I discern no fine features of either style till the twelfth stanza; and there only in the third and fourth lines.  I like the thirteenth extremely.  In that, the pilgrim, looking back on the cheerful lights of the town, is natural and pleasing picture.  The fourteenth finely describes the dreary journey; the fifteenth, as finely, the horrors of the plain of Sombremond; the sixteenth has nothing striking; the seventeenth is striking; the eighteenth grander still: its picture of the raven is the gem of the composition; and as it is new as to position and action, so is it sublime:

“And he croak’d round the wheel as he heavily flew.”

The vultures of the next couplet are commonplace, in comparison; aiming to be more, they are poetically much less impressive.

            The fourth line of the nineteenth stanza is also grandly horrid; but the Little Grey Man on the field of battle, is again too ludicrous to be dreadful; and a twenty-three days walk for a man deeply wounded, outrages, not only the probably, but the possible.  The real-life events ought to be natural, even where the machinery is supernatural.

            The nine ensuring stanzas, till the last line of the twenty-eighth, might have been written by any common versifier:—

[176] “Gave him one look of love, ‘twas her fondest and last,” 

            Is is a sweet line.  In the next stanza, the Little Grey Man becomes a fiend, after Fuzeli’s own heart, who has a passion for blending the ludicrous with the horrible; but the effect is seldom good, either on his canvas, or on the poet’s page.  And for what purpose, except to burlesque fiendism, is this absurd demon empowered to murder the amiable, unoffending lovers?  The next verse is again sublime — the bell tolling over the heath, is still a fine, though somewhat hacknied, accompaniment to ghostism; but

“Wild to the blast flew the sculls and the bones,”

Is grand as any of Dante’s terrifics.  The ensuing stanza, though soberized, is very good; and there the ballad ought to have closed, for the remainder is common writing, and reminds us, to its own disadvantage, of the simpler and sublimer termination of Tickel’s Colin and Lucy: — awful is that moral lesson, so totally wanting in this odd tale.

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