Page images

“ Upon the head first the disease,
As a bold conqueror doth seize,
Begins with man's metropolis ;
Secur'd the capitol; and then it knew
It could at pleasure weaker parts subdue:
Blood started through each eye;
The redness of that sky
Foretold a tempest nigh.”*

* Creech, in his translation of Lucretius, seems to have had his eye as much upon the right reverend poet, as upon his author. It is curious to observe how this translator thought the classic was to be improved, either by hints from the Bishop of Rochester, or original touches of his own. We have collected a few lines from his translation, for which our readers will instantly see he was not in the least indebted to Lucretius.' The lines in brackets are genuine Creech.

Lucretius, B. vi. 1099.
[“The wind, that bore the fate, went slowly on,
And, as it went, was heard to sigh and groan :)


The glowing eyes, with blood-shot beams, look'd red,
[Like blazing stars approaching fate foreshew'd.]

[In vain they drank, for when the water came
To the burning breast, it hiss'd before the flame,
And thro' each mouth did streams of vapour rise,
Like clouds, and darken’d all the ambient skies.]

[blocks in formation]

When one poor wretch was fall’n, to others fled :
[One killd, the murderer (the infection) did cast his eye
Around; and if he saw a witness by,
Seiz'd him, for fear of a discovery.]

The shepherd, midst his flocks, resign’d his breath,
Th' infected ploughman burnt and stary'd to death
By plague and famine both, the deed was done,
[The ploughman was too strong to yield to one."]

Sometimes, however, the bishop approaches within sight of success, and does not, as usual, bid all nature and true feeling defiance. We may, perhaps, instance this passage on the want of sleep, under which the sufferers severely laboured.

- “ No sleep, no peace, no rest,
Their wand'ring and affrighted minds possess'd;

Upon their souls and eyes
Hell and eternal horror lies, .
Unusual shapes and images,

Dark pictures and resemblances,
Of things to come, and of the world below,

O’er their distemper'd fancies go : .
Sometimes they curse, sometimes they pray unto
The gods above, the gods beneath;
Sometimes they cruelties and fury breathe
Not sleep, but waking now was sister unto death.”

But there is little enough of poetry here.— In the following there is a fine instance of the suddenness of the plaguedeath well expressed."

“ The father, at his death,
Speaks his son heir with an infectious breath,

In the same hour the son doth take ,
His father's will, and his own make.”

There is another English plague-poet of a more original and even more peculiar cast. Wither had the advantage (some will think the disadvantage) of being an eye-witness, like Thucydides, of the depopulation of a vast city by this arch-destroyer. In speaking of the Britain's Remembrancer, we confess we must violate the precept on its title page, READ ALL OR CENSURE NOT. For verily it is one of the most unreadable books that ever came even under our eyes, retrospective and well-tried as they are. It is, as the title page imports, “a narrative of the plague lately past, a declaration of the mischiefs present, and a prediction of judgments to come,” all huddled together in some six or seven hundred closely printed fanatical pages. We have, however, gone through it after a manner, taking warning (not as he would have had us) when he began to preach, and by dint of skipping and dipping, have hived all the matter of fact, and instinctively lighted upon the stray flowers of poetry, for such it contains, as was indeed likely, for Wither was a true poet, as some passages in another part of this number will prove. Wither had a strange wayward head, and it always seems an even chance whether his verse will turn out a satire or a sermon. He sometimes reminds us of Butler, and sometimes of Hudibras We confess that the hero preponderates, but we know few passagés more Butlerian, than the following, in which he alludes to the orders for shutting up the infected houses, fully described in the article on Defoe's History of the


[ocr errors]

*** This being known, the senators dismiss
Those men; and by advice it ordered is,
That some instructions should be published,
To further what was gravely counselled.
Moreover, that their discipline might carry
Some likeness to proceedings military,
A band of halberts must'red was, to guard
The people from the plague, in ev'ry ward.
And, if they found, by serious inquisition,
(Or had but any probable suspicion,)
Where lodg'd it was, (although but for a night)
That host exiled was from public sight;
Close pris’ner him they kept both night and day,
As one that else their city might betray.
And to compel, that his unwelcome guest
Should keep within, his door was crost and blest.
And many watchmen, strength'ned by command,
Did round about his dwelling armed stand.”

In the puritan fashion, the gaieties of the people are his abomination, but in their terror and affright he finds food for satire. It seems, from this most amusing passage on a most unpromising subject, that the Londoners, of the times of James and Charles, were as much laughed at for their ignorance of all, save the town and its works, as at present. E

“ Those who, in all their life-time, never went .
So far as is the nearest part of Kent:
Those who did never travel, till of late,
Half way to Pancras from the city gate:
Those who might think the sun did rise at Bow,
And set at Acton, for ought they did know:
And dream young partridge suck not, but are fed
As lambs and rabbits, which of eggs are bred: ..
Ev'n some of these have journeys ventur'd on :
Five miles by land (as far as Edmonton.)
Some hazarded themselves from Lion-key ..
Almost as far as Erith down by sea :

Some row'd against the stream, and straggled out
As far as Hounslow-heath, or thereabout:
Some climbed Highgate-hill, and there they see
The world so large, that they amazed be;
Yea, some have gone so far, that they do know
Ere this, how wheat is made, and malt doth grow.

Oh, how they trudg’d and bustled up and down,
To get themselves a furlong out of town.
And how they were becumbred to provide,
That had about a mile or two to ride.
But when whole households further off were sent,
You would have thought the master of it meant
To furnish forth some navy, and that he
Had got his neighbours venturers to be.
For all the near acquaintance thereabout,
By lending somewhat help to set them out.
What hiring was there of our hackney jades?
What scouring up of old and rusty blades?
What running to and fro was there to borrow
A safeguard, or a cloak, until the morrow?
What shift made Jack for girths? what shift made Gillian
To get her neighbour's footstool and her pillion,
Which are not yet return'd? How great a pother
To furnish and unfurnish one another,
In this great voyage did there then appear?
And what a time was that for bankrupts here?
Those who had thought (by night) to steal away,
Did unsuspected shut up shop by day;
And (if good luck it in conclusion prove)
Two dangers were escap'd at one remove:
Some hired palfreys for a day or twaine,
But rode so far they came not back again.
Some dealed by their neighbours, as the Jews
At their departure did th’ Ægyptians use :
And some, (with what was of their own, content)
Took up their luggage, and away they went.

And had you heard how loud the coaches rumbled ; Beheld how cars and carts together jumbled; Seen how the ways with people thronged were; The bands of foot, the troops of horsemen there; What multitudes away by land were sent; How many thousands forth by water went; And how the wealth of London thence was borne; . You would have wonder'd; and (almost) have sworn

The city had been leaving her foundation,
And seeking out another situation ;
Or, that some enemy, with dreadful pow'r,
Was coming to besiege, and to devour.

Oh, foolish people, though I justly might
Authorize thus my muse to mock your flight,
And still to flout your follies : yet, compassion
Shall end it in a kind expostulation.”

This is in the true plague-spirit,—we are never so apt to laugh as when on the point of crying. A loud and unnatural burst of laughter was wanting to complete the horror of the scene. There are numerous passages more to our purpose. When the plague has regularly set in, and all are dying about him, Wither is excited to express his feelings even more poetically than any one who has yet been mentioned.

“ To others, Death, no doubt, himself convey'd
In other forms, and other pageants play'd.
Whilst in her arms the mother thought she kept.
Her infant safe; Death stole him when she slept.
Sometime he took the mother's life away,
And left the little babe to lye and play
With her cold breast, and childish game to make
About those eyes that never more shall wake.

Sometimes when friends were talking, he did force
The one to leave unfinisht his discourse.
Sometimes their morning meetings he hath thwarted,
Who thought not they for ever had been parted
The night before. And many a lovely bride
He hath defloured by the bridegroom's side.
At ev'ry hand lay one or other dying;
On ev'ry part were men and women crying;
One for a husband; for a friend another;
One for a sister, wife, or only brother :
Some children for their parents moan were making;
Some for the loss of servants care were taking;
Some parents for a child; and some again
For loss of all their children did complain.
The mother dared not to close her eyes,
Through fear, that while she sleeps, her baby dies.
Wives trusted not their husbands out of door,

Lest they might back again return no more.
· And, in their absence, if they did but hear

One knock or call in haste, they quak'd through fear, VOL. VII. PART II.


« PreviousContinue »