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WHY SO SAD IS MY HEART.
AIR-My native Caledonia.
Why so sad is my heart, thus to leave thee alane,
Then think na, dear maid, tho' the sea between us be,
And tho' fair be the scenes of old Erin's green Isle,
Dearest maid, then, shouldst thou be as constant to me,
WILLIAM AND MARGARET *.
When hope lay hush'd in silent night,
And woe was wrapt in sleep,
And stood at William's feet.
* We would call the attention of our readers to this Ballad, not only ou account of its beautiful simplicity, but also because of the frequent dispute which it has occasioned among critics. It is one of those singularly happ! productions which recommend themselves to the capacity and to the feelings of all. The subject of which it treats, and the characters whom il introduces, are calculated to excite the most lively interest, and it is com posed in such pathetic and truly melting strains, as cannot fail to make the deepest impression on every one who peruses it with the slightes reflection,
It appeared, at first, in a periodical paper, entitled “The Plain Dealer," s/ early as the year 1724. The copy indeed which was published there di fered considerably from that which we have now adopted, yet still 1 possessed uncommon excellence, and was accordingly honoured with highest praise. Readers in general were disposed to regard it with unqua lified approbation, while the pen of criticism itself was employed il enumerating its beauties, rather than in attempting to point out a of its defects.
The copy of the Ballad here alluded to, had been communicated the editor of the paper to which we have now referred, without an signature, so that it was impossible to ascertain the name of the author No sooner, however, were its merits thus generally recognized, and to greatest reputation secured to the composer, than it was immediate claimed by a young man of the name of Mallet, who was a nativa
Her face was like an April sky,
Dimm'd by a scattering cloud,
Held up her sable shroud.
So shall the fairest face appear,
When youthful years are flown,
When death has reft their crown.
Scotland, and who owed to this circumstance his first introduction to public notice.
Mallet's claims, however, did not long escape suspicion. Their validity Was questioned by many who entertained the highest opinion of the piece itself, and who even grounded their doubts respecting their authenticity on its very excellence. To them it appeared almost impossible that a young man, in his first appeal to public favour, could produce a composition in all respects so highly finished, and thus, at once, attain that eminence in poeti. cal distinction to which William and Margaret so justly exalted its author. Others who attempted to advocate Mallet's pretensions, were inclined to adopt a very different view of the matter. They were equally if not more forward than the others to allow the intrinsic excellence of the poem, and that, considering the years and experience of the author, it was much beyond what could either have been anticipated or expected, but they regarded this rather as a decisive proof of superior genius, which could not fail afterwards to develope itself by still higher undertakings.
Such were the views that prevailed at first on this subject, nor have the opinions of after critics been more satisfactorily reconciled. Som still continued to insist that Mallet's claims should be implicitly acknowledged, and that in justice to his veracity, he ought to be considered as the original author; while others as strenuously urge that the whole must be regarded as downright plagiarism, having been only a transcript of some more ancient poem, which Mallet had accidentally met with, but which at the time was only very partially known if not totally forgot.
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
e 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,
" 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, unprincipled 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 suferings, when both she and her child were buried in one