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Her bloom was like the morning flower,
That sips the silver dew;
Just op'ning to the view.
But love had, like a canker worm,
Consum'd her tender prime;
And died before its time.
Were we to hazard our opinion on this point of dispute, we would readily agree with those who ascribe the ballad to some other author than Mallet. To us it appears sufficiently clear, that it must have been the production of some superior and much more ancient bard. It carries us back to those periods in the history of our poets, when their effusions were marked by a particular glow of feeling, and when artless simplicity formed their principal distinguishing characterestic. The whole tenor of the piece is remarkably expressive, easy, and unaffected, and it may, we think, without offering the least violence to probability, be placed to the account of the sixteenth century.
Even at the first, Mallet, himself, condescended to acknowledge that he took the hint for the composition of his poem from a stanza which he met with in Beaumont and Fletcher's “ Knight of the Burning Pestle.” Nay, he goes farther, and confesses that this stanza appeared to him (as indeed it must to every one who considers it attentively) to be only a fragment of some more lengthened ballad, which was familiarly known at the time when they wrote. Might not the one before us have been this same original which Mallet may have obtained either from recitation or otherwise, and published as his own?
Besides, the poem in question does not agree with any of the rest of Mallet's productions. Even his Edwin and Emma, the only piece in his works that can at all be compared to William and Margaret, and which he wrote when he was farther advanced in life, falls infinitely short of it in many respects. Is it not, however, reasonable to suppose, had his pretentions been genuine, that, as this was the first thing which brought him into notice,
“ Awake !," she cried, "thy true love calls,
Come from her midnight grave;
Thy love refus'd to save.
“ This is the dark and fearful hour
When injur'd ghosts complain ;
To haunt the faithless swain,
and which indeed procured him so much reputation, he would have attempt. el many more imitations of the old English Lyre? May we not rather suspect that he had not the good fortune to meet with any more orphan pieces, or obsolete originals, which he could appropriate as his own.
Our opinion that Mallet was not the genuine author of William and Margaret is corroborated, and we think sufficiently confirmed, by the account which he himself gives of the particular circumstances which suggested the composition. In a letter which he addressed to the editor of * The Plain Dealer," he inforns him that the poem was actually founded on a fact which had recently occurred under his observation. A young lady (he adds) of an agreeable person, and possessed of many intellectual accomplishments, was courted and seduced by a vain, presuming, unprinci. pled, young man, whom her unsuspecting heart had too credulously trusted. When she could no longer conceal her imprudence and dishonour, her father, formerly unacquainted with her situation, now applied to the deceitful lover, and generously offered him the half of his fortune, provided he would marry his daughter. This offer the perfidious wretch indignantly rejected, notwithstanding the intreaties and tears by which it was urged, and even proceeded so far as to accuse, with the most injurious and public indecency, the innocence of her whom he had thus villainously betrayed. The news of this treatment so deeply affected the young lady, that a fever ensued, which, bringing on premature labour, quickly put an end to her life and sufferings, when both she and her child were buried in one
“ Bethink thee, William, of thy fault,
Thy pledge of broken truth,
To unsuspecting youth.
“Why did you first o'erprize my charms,
Yet all those charms forsake!
Then left it thus to break.
Such are the general outlines of the case, as stated hy Mallet to have furnished him with materials for the composition of William and Margaret, and we could scarcely suppose any more complicated and melancholy. They present us with an example of insiduous unrelenting treachery, practised on the credulity of unsuspecting innocence, aggravated by the prostitution of feeling and honour, and productive of sufferings inconceivably severe, The question is, how far does the poem and the narration coincide ?-what correspondence is there between the several important points contained in this detail, and those to which tbe poet directs our attention in the production before us ?
And here the discrepancy is obvious and striking. In William and Mar. garct we have only the two lovers brought forward to view, without any reforence to che father--The general affair of courtship is simply alluded to, without even a hint respecting unwarrantable intercourse. Margaret only blames William with having forsaken her, contrary to his tender and solemn engagements, but never makes the most distant allusion to any unkind or abusive insinuations. She never reminds him of the infamy which had been indelibly stamped on her name by his artifice and infidelity of the grief and shame which was thereby entailed on her aged parent, and, above all, of the cruel sacrifice which his unmerited treatment had wantonly made of his own child.
These are the principal points in which the poem and the narration now before us evidently differ, and this difference necessarily obliges us to adopt one of the following conclusions. We must either acknowledge that Mallet's claims are altogether spurious and unfounded, or that he has acquitted
“Why did you present pledge such vows,
And none in absence keep?
Yet taught them thus to weep?
“ Why did you praise my blushing lips,
Yet make their scarlet pale !
Believe the flattering tale ?
himself in a very superficial and defective manner, considering the scope which the story presented. The account which he has transmitted is in all respects so exceedingly striking, and involves such an accumulation of incident, that we will scarcely find one more fertile or better calculated for the display of genius, yet the principal topics are so totally overlooked in the poem which we are considering, that we cannot suppose them to have been known to the original author, Theré is, indeed, so little obvi. ous correspondence between the two, that it is utterly impossible to believe that the one could be composed with the slightest view to commemorate the other.
We are well aware that it may be objected to this mode of reasoning, that a poet is not expected implicitly to adhere to all the particular incidents contained in his story. To this we readily and fully subscribe. The contrary, indeed, would be both injudicious and unwarrantable. It would impose a restraint on every power and activity of the mind, which all the efforts of genius could neither supply nor overcome. Accordingly we find that poets have always claimed, and are universally allowed an unbounded licence, extending even to the regions of probability and fiction. We would, however, think meanly of that author, and of his performance, though excellent in its kind, which, instead of exhausting or even answering up to the spirit of the subject, had only introduced a few of the more trifling occurrences, without so much as hinting at those which afforded the freest scope both for conception and expression. From the whele, we think we may safely affirm that he who possessed ability to compose William and Margaret, had he been acquainted with the story which Mallet records, and attempted to perpetuate it,
“But now my face no more is fair,
My lips retain no red;
And love's vain hope is fled.
« The hungry worm my partner is,
The winding sheet my dress;
Ere heaven allow redress.
“But hark! 'tis day; the darkness flies,
Take one long last adieu ;
Who died for loving you.
The birds sang out, the morning smild,
And streak’d the sky with red,
And started from his bed.
Weeping he sought the fatal place
Where Margaret's body lay,
That veil'd her breathless clay.
must have produced an exhibition in all respects as much superior to the poem as it now stands, as it must be allowed to excel the most insignificant sonnet