Page images

country excursions, for these four or five years past, to be certain of what I allege, and that all my views and inquiries have led me to believe those miseries real, which I here attempt to display. But this is not the place to enter into an inquiry, whether the country be depopulating or not; the discussion would take up much room, and I should prove myself, at best, an indifferent politician, to tire the reader with a long preface, when I want his unfatigued attention to a long poem.

In regretting the depopulation of the country, I inveigh against the increase of our luxuries; and here also I expect the shout of modern politicians against me. For twenty or thirty years past, it has been the fashion to consider luxury as one of the greatest national advantages; and all the wisdom of antiquity in that particular, as erroneous. Still, however, I must remain a professed ancient on that head, and continue to think those luxuries prejudicial to states by which so many vices are introduced, and so many kingdoms have been undone. Indeed, so much has been poured out of late on the other side of the question, that, merely for the sake of novelty and variety, one would sometimes wish to be in the right.

I am, dear Sir,
Your sincere friend, and ardent admirer,


[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]



Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheer'd the laboring swain,
Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,
And parting summer's ling'ring blooms delay'd :
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
How often have I loiter'd o'er thy green,
Where humble happiness endear'd each scene !
How often bave I paus'd on every charm,
The shelter'd cot, the cultivated farm,
The never-failing brook, the busy mill,
The decent church that topt the nighboring hill,
The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,
For talking age and whispering lovers made !*

{"Lissoy, near Ballymahon, where the poet's brother, the clergyman, had his living, claims the honor of being the spot from which the localities of the Deserted Village were derived. The church which tops the neighboring hill, the mill, and the brook, are still pointed out; and a hawthorn has suffered the penalty of poetical celebrity, being cut to pieces by those admirers of the bard, who desired to have classical tooth-pick cases and tobacco-stoppers. Much of this supposed locality may be fanciful, but it is a pleasing tribute to the poet in the land of his fathers."—Sir Walter Scott, Prose Works, vol. iii. p. 250, edit. 1834. See also Life, ch. xix.]

How often have I bless'd the coming day, *
When toil remitting lent its turn to play,
And all the village train, from labor free,
Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree;
While many a pastime circled in the shade,
The young contending as the old survey'd;
And many a gambol frolick'd o'er the ground,
And sleights of art and feats of strength went round;
And still as each repeated pleasure tir'd,
Succeeding sports the mirthful band inspir'd;
The dancing pair that simply sought renown,
By holding out to tire each other down;
The swain, mistrustless of his smutted face,
While secret laughter titter'd round the place;
The bashful virgin's sidelong looks of love,
The matron's glance that would those looks reprove.
These were thy charms, sweet village ! sports like these,
With sweet succession, taught e'en toil to please ;
These round thy bowers their cheerful influence shed,
These were thy charms—but all these charms are fled.

Sweet smiling village, loveliest of the lawn,
Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn;
Amidst thy bowers the tyrant's hand is seen,t
And desolation saddens all thy green:
One only master grasps the whole domain,
And half a tillage stints thy smiling plain;

* (Supposed to allude to the number of Saints' days in Ireland, kept by the Roman Catholic peasantry.]

+ [The character said to be intended in this and other passages, was General Robert Napier, an English gentleman, who is well remembered to have ruled the village with a “ tyrant's hand."-See Life, ch, xix.)

[ocr errors]

No more thy glassy brook reflects the day,
But, chok'd with sedges, works its weedy way;
Along thy glades, a solitary guest,
The hollow-sounding bittern guards its nest;*
Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies,
And tires their echoes with unvaried cries.
Sunk are thy bowers in shapeless ruin all,
And the long grass o'ertops the mouldering wall;
And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler's hand,
Far, far away, thy children leave the land.

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay :
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made ;t
But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
When once destroy'd, can never be supplied.

A time there was, ere England's griefs began,
When every rood of ground maintain’d its man;

* [“ Those who have walked in an evening by the sedgy sides of unfrequented rivers, must remember a variety of notes from different water-fowl: the loud scream of the wild-goose, the croaking of the mallard, the whining of the lapwing, and the tremulous neighing of the jacksnipe : but of all these sounds, there is none so dismally hollow as the booming of the bittern. It is impossible for words to give those who have not heard this evening call an adequate idea of its solemnity. It is like an interrupted bellowing of a bull, but hollower and louder, and is heard at a mile's distance, as if issuing from some formidable being that resided at the bottom of the waters. I remember in the place where I was a boy with what terror this bird's note affected the whole village: they considered it as a presage of some sad event, and generally found or made one to succeed it.”—Animated Nature, vol. vi. p. 24.]

+ [“ De Caux, an old French poet, in one of his moral poems, comparing the world to his hour-glass, says

C'est un verre qui luit,
Qu'un souffle peut détruire, et qu'un souffle, a produit.'”—D'ISRAEL...]

For him light labor spread her wholesome store,
Just gave what life requir'd, but gave no more:
His best companions, innocence and health,
And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.

But times are alter'd ; trade's unfeeling train
Usurp the land, and dispossess the swain :
Along the lawn where scatter'd hamlets rose,
Unwieldy wealth and cumbrous pomp repose ;*
And every want to luxury allied,
And every pang that folly pays to pride.
Those gentle hours that plenty bade to bloom,
Those calm desires that ask'd but little room,
Those healthful sports that grac'd the peaceful scene,
Liv'd in each look, and brighten'd all the green;
These, far departing, seek a kinder shore,
And rural mirth and manners are no more.

Sweet Auburn! parent of the blissful hour,
Thy glades forlorn confess the tyrant's power.
Here, as I take my solitary rounds,
Amidst thy tangling walks, and ruin'd grounds,

* [“ On the subject of those misnamed improvements, in which

• Along the lawn where scatter'd hamlets rose,

Unwieldy wealth and cumbrous pomp repose,' the possessors themselves of those places have not been always destitute of compunctions similar to the sentiment of the poet. Mr. Potter, in his Observations on the Poor Laws,' has recorded an instance of it. When the late Earl of Leicester was complimented upon the completion of his great design at Holkham, he replied, “ It is a melancholy thing to stand alone in one's county. I look round, not a house is to be seen but mine. I am the Giant of Giant Castle, and have eat up all my neighbors.'” —CAMPBELL, British Poets, vol. vi. p. 266.)

« PreviousContinue »