Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

forgot his long day's work, and set forth on the search without even stopping to eat his supper. His little sister followed him to the rneadows, and just where the winding rivulet takes a bold sweep round a woody cape of rich pasture, where the willows and the alders are mixed with tall bulrushes, thither the slow current had carried it, and there it stuck, caught between two stalks of the seeded meadow-sweet, and still farther entangled by the leaves of the water-lily, a part of whose long slimy stalk glistening in the moonlight remained twisted around the ebony knob, a token of its involuntary bath, its peril and its escape. I do not know whether the poor children, rny little damsel or I were most rejoiced at the conclusion of the adventure.'

But what room has it left for Sir Philip?

Alas! that bravest and most chivalrous of poets, that younger, gentler, more lettered Bayard, our knight, without fear and without reproach, is fated, in the person of his famous pastoral, at least to be “ lightlied” (if I may borrow a word from a fine old ballad) by those most bound to do him honor. It can not be much less than fifty years ago that I heard the following terrible anecdote told quite innocently, without any perception of the reproach that it involved.

A governess at Wilton House, happening to read the “ Arcadia,” had discovered between two of the leaves folded in paper, as yellow from age as the printed pages between which it reposed, a lock of hair, and on the envelope, inclosing the lock, was written in Sir Philip Sydney's well-known autograph, an inscription purporting that the hair was that of her gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth. None of the family had ever heard of the treasure. So this identical volume, not only dedicated to his beloved sister but entitled by himself, “ The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia,'* had remained for two centuries in the library of her descendants, without any one of them ever taking the trouble to open the book! The governess only, no Sydney, no Herbert—had taste enough or curiosity enough to take down the prose poem. I have not the honor of knowing the present mas

* Others, too, have loved the " Arcadia," always the delight of poets. Happening to look into that neglected but interesting book, “ The Life of Hayley,” I see that, during a tedious recovery from a severe illness in his childhood, his chief amusement was derived from listening to his mother as she read to him this famous Pastoral.

ter of Wilton, but, judging by reputation, I do not think that such a neglect could happen now.

After all, the “Arcadia" is one of those books which may be best appreciated by specimens. This description of scenery, for instance:

“ There were hills which garnished their proud heights with stately trees; humble valleys whose base estate seemed comforted with the refreshing of silver rivers ; meadows enameled with all sorts of eye-pleasing flowers; thickets which being lined with most pleasant shade were witnessed so to by the cheerful disposition of many well-tuned birds; each pasture stored with sheep feeding with sober security; while the pretty lambs with bleating oratory, craved the dam's comfort ; here a shepherd's boy piping as though he should never be old ; there a young shepherdess knitting and withal singing, and it seemed that her voice comforted her hands to work, and her hands kept time to her voice-music."

The account of a stag-hunt is even more characteristic. It abounds in the faults as well as the beauties of the author.

" Then went they together abroad, the good Kalander entertaining them with pleasant discoursing how well he loved the sport of hunting when he was a young man, how much in the comparison thereof he disdained all chamber delights, that the sun (how great a journey soever he had to make) could never prevent him with earliness, nor the moon, with her sober countenance, dissuade him from watching till midnight for the deer's feeding. O, said he, you will never live to my age without you keep yourself in breath with exercise and in heart with joyfulness; too much thinking doth consume the spirits; and oft it falls out, that, while one thinks too much of his doing, he leaves to do the effect of his thinking. Then spared he not to remember how much Arcadia was changed since his youth ; activity and goodfellowship being nothing in the price it was then held in ; but, according to the nature of the old-growing world, still worse and worse. Then would he tell them stories of such gallantry as he had known; and so with pleasant company beguiled the time's haste, and shortened the way's length, till they came to the side of the wood where the hounds were in couples staying their coming, but with a whining accent craving liberty ; many of them in color and marks so resembling that it showed they were of one kind. The huntsmen, handsomely attired in their green liveries, as though they were children of summer, with staves in their hands, to beat the guiltless earth when the hounds were at fault; and with horns about their necks to sound an alarm upon a silly fugitive; the hounds were straight uncoupled, and ere long the stag thought it better to trust to the nimbleness of his feet, than to the slender fortification of his lodging ; but even his feet betrayed him, for howsoever they went, they themselves uttered theinselves to the scent of their enemies, who one taking it of another, and sometimes believing the wind's advertisernents, sometimes the view of their faithful counselors, the huntsmen, with open mouths then denounced war, when the war was already begun. Their ory being composed of so well-sorted mouths, that any man would perceive therein some kind of proportion, but the skillful woodmen did find a music. Then delight and a variety of opinion drew the horsemen sundry ways, yet cheering their hounds with voice and horn, kept still as it were together. The wood seemed to conspire with them against his own citizens, dispersing their noise through all his quarters; and even the nymph Echo left to bewail the loss of Narcissus, and became a hunter. But the stag was in the end so hotly pursued, that leaving his flight, he was driven to make courage of despair ; and so turning his head, made the hounds with change of speech to testify that he was at bay; as if from hot pursuit of their enemy they were suddenly come to a parley.”

So far, Sir Philip. Here is another bit of pastoral scenery from the hand of that gentle brother of the angle, Master Izaak Walton, whose portrait of a country milkmaid may vie with “the shepherd's boy piping as though he should never grow old,” of the “ Arcadia.” Piscator and his scholar, Venator, are returning to their inn, after a day's angling. Venator says:

Ven. A match, good mnaster : let's go to that house, for the linen looks white, and smells of lavender. Let's be going, good master, for I am hungry again with fishing.

Pisc. Nay, stay a little, good scholar. I caught my last trout with a worm, now I will put on a minnow, and try a quarter of an hour about yonder tree for another, and so walk toward our lodging. Look you, scholar, thereabout we shall have a bite presently or not at all. Have with you, Sir! O, my word I have hold of him. Oh it is a great lubber-headed chubb; come, hang him upon that willow twig, and let us be going. But turn out of the way a little, good scholar, toward yonder high honeysuckle hedge; there we'll sit and sing, while this shower falls so gently upon the teeming earth, and gives yet a sweeter smell to the lovely flowers that adorn these verdant meadows.

Look, under that broad beech-tree, I sat down when I was last here a fishing, and the birds in the adjoining grove seemed to have a friendly contention with an echo, whose dead voice seemed to live in a hollow tree, near to the brow of that primrose hill : there I sat viewing the silver streams glide silently toward their center, the tempestuous sea, yet sometimes opposed by ragged roots and pebble-stones, which broke their waves, and turned them into foarn: and sometimes I beguiled time by viewing the harmless lambs, some leaping securely in the cool shade, while others sported themselves in the cheerful sun, and saw others craving comfort from the swollen udders of their bleating dams. As I thus sat, these and other sights had so fully possessed my soul with content, that I thought, as the poet has happily expressed it:

"I was for that time lifted above earth,

And possessed joys not promised at my birth.”

As I left this place, and entered the next field, a second pleasure entertained me. It was a handsome milkmaid, that had not yet attained so much age and wisdom as to load her mind with any fears of many things that will never be, as too many men too often do; but she cast away all care, and sang like a nightingale : her voice was good, and the ditty fitted for it. It was that smooth song, which was made by Kit Marlowe, now at least fifty years ago; and the milkmaid's mother sung an answer to it, which was made by Sir Walter Raleigh in my younger days.

They were old-fashioned poetry, but choicely good, I think much better than the strong lines that are now in fashion in this critical age. Look yonder! On my word, yonder they both be a milking again. I will give her the chubb, and persuade them to sing those two songs to us.

God speed you, good woman! I have been a fishing, and am going to Bleak Hall to my bed, and having caught more fish than will sup myself and my friend, I will bestow this upon you and your daughter, for I use to sell none.

Milk-woman. Marry, God requite you, Sir, and we'll eat it cheerfully; and if you come this way a fishing two months hence, a grace of God I'll give you a syllabub of new verjuice in a newmade haycock for it; and my Maudlin shall sing you one of her best ballads, for she and I both love all anglers, they be such honest, civil, quiet men; in the mean time, will you drink a draught of red cow's milk? You shall have it freely!

Pisc. No, I thank you ; but I pray you do us a courtesy that shall stand you and your daughter in nothing, and yet we will think ourselves still something in your debt. It is but to sing us a song that was sung by your daughter when I last passed over this meadow, eight or nine days since.

Milk-woman. What song was it, I pray? Was it “ Come shepherds deck your herds ?” or “As at noon Dulcina rested ?" or “ Phillida flouts me?” or “Chevy Chase ?” or “ Johnny Armstrong ?” or “ Troy Town ?”

Pisc. No, it is none of those. It is a song that your daughter sang the first part and you sang the answer to it.

Milk-woman. O, I know it now. I learned the first part in my golden age, when I was about the age of my poor daughter; and the latter part, which indeed fits me best now, but two or three years ago, when the cares of the world began to take hold of me. But you shall, God willing, hear them both, and sung as well as we can, for we both love anglers. Come, Maudlin, sing the first part to the gentlemen with a merry heart, and I'll sing the second when you have done.

THE MILKMAID'S SONG.

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, or hills, or field,
Or woods and steepy mountains yield

Where we will sit upon the rocks
And see the shepherds feed our flocks
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses,
And then a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers and a kirtle
Embroidered o'er with leaves of myrtle.

« AnteriorContinuar »