Page images

and this is no slight difficulty. Many a fluent talker is a most tardy and labouring writer. All his powerful glibness goes at the sight of a pen.

“Facunda parum decoro Inter verba cadit lingua silentio."

He cannot translate himself. He is like an undecipherable manuscript. Most persons, however ready scribes they may become eventually, have once experienced this helpless condition. Their minds have appeared to them tabula rasa of as complete a kind as they were at the time of birth, according to Locke, or as the palpable unfilled sheet in front of them. They have no self-projecting power. They cannot cast any shadows. Abstract-making may teach how to express one's meaning without drawing too mercilessly on one's own resources. When the straw is provided, everybody may be expected to produce bricks of some sort. Much attention should be paid to the style, as well as to the matter, of these abstracts. They must be truthful ; they must be well turned.

The pupil should be encouraged to examine himself in his work. He should be taught to ask himself questions, and if he cannot answer any one of them he should be permitted to lay it before his teacher. Let him say to himself as he reads each passage : “Now do I understand that ?” Let him write down the difficulties he cannot overcome -in every case there should be some such-and bring them so written to his tutor. These questions would serve as another test of the pupil's having properly prepared his lesson. They could not fail to elicit his intelligence. They would place him in a position thoroughly to appreciate whatever instruction might be given him, and partly at least prevent that lavish throwing away of pearls of which many a classroom is the daily scene.

(iii.) Now let attention be given to minor, subsidiary matters—to allusions, to manners and customs, to historical and semi-historical details. The story having been well mastered, we must see how it is set forth and illustrated ; having observed the form, we must now regard the colour. What age does Rosabelle reflect ? What habits, what superstitions, what rites, what creeds ? Surveyed in this light, Rosabelle is full of interest. There is the old hall with its minstrel and its ladies gay ; then the water-sprite with its wreck-prophetic scream; the Seer with his fearful vision; the yoţing lords bent on their knightly

pastime; the dead barons lying in their quaint cerements; the funeral train with its torches, and requiems, and tolling bells. All these are local and historical features that contrast with the permanent and abiding elements of the poem—with the deep human sympathy the sad tale stirs in us as in those “ ladies gay” that heard it, or are fancied to hear it, long years ago ; with the filial affection which omens and storms cannot daunt from its pious purpose-a most fair sight, and one, thank Heaven, that has not passed away from the earth with the Middle Ages ; with the fond ever-cherished belief that the children of love and duty do not perish unnoticed by the higher powers, but that their

“Death is mourned by sympathy divine.” Those temporary fashions contrast also with the unchanged and unchanging phenomena of nature. Nature might say with her bright daughter, the Brook :

“Men may come, and men may gg

But I go on for ever.” “ The good knights are dust, And their swords are rust, And their souls are with the saints, we trust;" the ladies gay have long since passed : the Seer has become a part of that world into which he was ever curiously gazing ; the torches of the priests burnt out ages ago ; but the sights and sounds of Nature are still fresh and vivid : waves still blacken foam-edged, winds still moan and wail.

The water-sprite is heard often in old poems, and the poems that imitate or refer to these. By Logan it is called the water-wraith; see his Braes of Yarrow:

Thrice did the water-wraith ascend,

And gave a doleful groan thro' Yarrow.” And so Wordsworth in his Yarrow Visited; and so Campbell in his Lord Ullin's Daughter (a poein with a like catastrophe with Rosabelle, but of a different, less noble motive) :

“ By this the storm grew loud apace,

The water-wraith was shrieking;
And in the scowl of heaven each face
Grew dark as they were speaking.”

But, according to Jamieson, this use of wraith is incorrect, wraith answering rather to the English ghost.

The Seer might be illustrated from many sources, as from Scott's Legend of Montrose, &c. A belief in second sight lingered late in Scotland, especially in the Highlands and the Isles—that is, amongst the Gaels. “Sawney," writes Addison, “ was descended of an ancient family renowned for their skill in prognostics ; most of his ancestors were second-sighted, and his mother but narrowly escaped for a witch.” This faculty was a power of discerning what was distant or future, just as it was or would be ; it could see through the curtains of space and time. See Dr. Johnson's account of it in his Journey to the Hebrides.

The ring they ride.A ring was suspended, not tightly fastened, but so that it could easily be detached, from a horizontal beam resting on two upright posts. The players rode at full speed through the archway thus made, and as they went under, passed their lance-points, or aimed at passing them, through the ring, and so bore it off. (See Ellis's Brand's Popular Antiquities, just re-edited by Mr. Hazlitt.) Brand quotes from the King of Denmark's Welcome, 1606: “On Monday, being the 4th day of August, it pleased our Kings Majestie himself in person, and the King's Majestie of Denmarke likewise in person, and divers others of his estate, to runne at the ring in the Tilt-yard at Greenwich, when the King of Denmarke approved to all judgements that majestie is never unaccompanied with vertue ; for there, in the presence of all his beholders, he tooke the ring fower severall times, and would I thinke have done the like four score times, had he runne 60 many courses.”

St. 7. See Chambers's Book of Days-a most valuable repertory of antiquarian and other information-vol. i. 623-5: “An old 'guide' at Roslin used to tell how when any evil or death was about to befall one of them (the Sinclairs] ‘The chaipel aye appeared on fire the nicht afore."" See also some account, with wood-cut sketches, of the “ Apprentice's Pillar ;” compare st. 10.

With candle, with book, and with knell.—The priest in Hamlet (V. i. 257) speaks of the “bringing home of bell and burial,” and below :

“ We should profane the service of the dead

To sing a requiem and such rest to her

As to peace-parted souls.” Romeo and Juliet :

“ All things that we ordained festival

Turn from their office to black funeral ;

Our instruments to melancholy bells ;
Our wedding cheer to a sad burial feast ;
Our solemn hymns to sullen dirges change,” &c.

A Mayden's Song for her dead Lover (apud Brand) :

“Come, you whose Loves are dead,

And whilst I sing,

Weepe, and wing
Every hand and every head ;

Bind with cypress and sad ewe
Ribbands black and candles blue;
For him that was of men most true.”

Dunbar's Will of Maister Andro' Kennedya reckless parody :

“ I will no priestis for to sing

Dies illæ,* dies iræ,
Nor yet no bellis for to ring,

Sicut solet semper fieri ;

“ But a bagpipe to play a spring,

Et unum alewisp ante me,
Instead of torches for to bring

Quatuor lagenas cervisiæ.”

that is, “ four flagons, or pots of beer.”

With the last line but one compare in the Tempest:

“ Sea-nymphs lonely ring his knell-
Hark! now I hear them,

Ding, dong, bell !”

Where is Roslin ? Where Hawthornden ? Has the latter place any other poetical associations besides those which this ballad gives it?

(iv.) In the next place the question of Prosody or of Rhythm might receive consideration. What is the metrical structure of Rosabelle ? How many accents are there in each line, and how do they fall, and is there any variety of fall? Or, otherwise, how many syllables are there, and which are ordinarily accentuated, which extra-ordinarily? How many rhyme-sounds are there in each stanza, and how often does each one occur, and in what order ? How does Rosabelle differ in this respect from the ordinary ballad-measure ? What is meant by alliteration ? Are there instances of it in Rosabelle ? All these and such questions may be answered by a little careful observation with but

* Qu. illa.

little assistance. And surely they are well worth studying and answering. Prosody is in poetry pretty much what Thorough-bass is in music. The real student will not be content to hear sweet sounds without inquiring somewhat as to how they are produced. The different measures in poetry are like the various musical instruments. Poetry, too, has its “ trumpet's loud clangour,” its flute for dying lovers, and “warbling lute” to whisper their dirge ; its “sharp violins,” its organ-notes that “inspire holy love and wing their heavenly ways” up to the choirs of heaven.

Along, then, with those particular questions on the metre of Rosabelle might be combined some attention to the general subject of metre. In what are called classical schools, the ancient—the Latin and Greek

-systems might be contrasted with the modern. What is the fundamental difference? The youngest pair of eyes would easily notice some differences. Why is Rhyme agreeable to the ear? It might be noticed how some nations have been satisfied with the recurrence of the same vowel sound, while others have desired a completer unison. What are the dangers of rhyme ? Milton's statement of them might be quoted, and illustrated from Spenser and other poets. What is the charm of Blank verse ? Might Rosabelle have been written in blank verse ? Could Paradise Lost have been effectively written in the metre of Rosabelle ? From such questions—and let reasons for the answers made them be given-it might be deduced that there is some profound connection between the form and the spirit of the poemthat the measure is not a mere accident, but the natural and proper vehicle of the thought."

“ So every spirit, as it is most pure

And hath in it the more of heavenly light,
So it the fairer bodie doth procure
To habit in, and it more fairely dight
With chearful grace and amiable sight ;
For of the soule the bodie forme doth take ;
For soul is forme, and doth the bodie make.”

Most important in this high respect is the study of metrical form. Metres are the fit costumes of the various moods of the poetical spirit ; they are the figures which that mighty plastic force moulds, as it were, with its own hands.

« PreviousContinue »