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SIR PATRICK SPENCE.
[THIS is the Scotch ballad which Coleridge, in his 'Dejection,' calls "The grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spence." This is also printed in Percy's 'Reliques.']
AULD ROBIN GRAY.
[THIS ballad, which Leigh Hunt has truly said "must have suffused more eyes with tears of the first water than any other ballad that ever was written," is the production of Lady Anne Barnard, who died in 1825. In a letter to Sir Walter Scott this lady gives the following interesting and curious account of the circumstances under which she composed this most charming poem :
"Robin Gray,' so called from its being the name of the old herd at Balcarras, was born soon after the close of the year 1771. My sister Margaret had married, and accompanied her husband to London. I was melancholy, and endeavoured to amuse myself by attempting a few poetical trifles. There was an ancient Scotch melody, of which I was passionately fond; who lived before your day, used to sing it to us at Balcarras. She did not object to its having improper words, though I did. I longed to sing old Sophy's to different words, and give to its plaintive tones some little history of virtuous distress in humble life, such as might suit it. While attempting to effect this in my closet, I called to my little sister, now Lady Hardwicke, who was the only person near me :—' I have been writing a ballad, my dear; I am oppressing my heroine with many misfortunes. I have already sent her Jamie to sea-and broken her father's arm-and made her mother fall sick-and given her Auld Robin Gray for her lover; but I wish to load her with a fifth sorrow within the four lines, poor thing! Help me to one.' 'Steal the cow, sister Anne,' said the little Elizabeth. The cow was immediately lifted by me, and the song completed. At our fireside, and amongst our neighbours, 'Auld Robin Gray' 'was always called for. I was pleased in secret with the approbation it met with; but such was my dread of being suspected of writing anything, perceiving the shyness it created in those who could write nothing, that I carefully kept my own secret. "Meanwhile, little as this matter seems to have been worthy of a dispute, it afterwards became a party question between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Robin Gray' was either a very ancient ballad, composed perhaps by David Rizzio, and a great curiosity, or a
very modern matter, and no curiosity at ail. I was persecuted to avow whether I had written it or not, where I had got it. Old Sophy kept my counsel, and I kept my own, in spite of the gratification of seeing a reward of twenty guineas offered in the newspapers to the person who should ascertain the point past a doubt, and the still more flattering circumstance of a visit from Mr. Jerningham, Secretary to the Antiquarian Society, who endeavoured to entrap the truth from me in a manner I took amiss. Had he asked me the question obligingly, I should have told him the fact distinctly and confidentially. The annoyance, however, of this important ambassador from the antiquaries was amply repaid to me by the noble exhibition of the Ballat of Auld Robin Gray's Courtship,' as performed by dancing dogs under my window. It proved its popularity from the highest to the lowest, and gave me pleasure while I hugged myself in my obscurity."]
"When the sheep are in the fauld, when the cows come hame,
The woes of my heart fa' in showers frae my ee,
Young Jamie loo'd me weel, and sought me for his bride;
Before he had been gane a twelvemonth and a day,
My father cou'dna work, my mother cou’dna spin ;
My heart it said Na, and I look'd for Jamie back;
My father argued sair-my mother didna speak,
I hadna been his wife, a week but only four,
O sair, sair did we greet, and mickle say of a'
gang like a ghaist, and I carena much to spin!
40.-AN IRISH VILLAGE.
[THE following is extracted from Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry,' published in 1830. In a subsequent edition of that work, the author, William Carleton, tells the story of his own life; and we thence learn how much of his peculiar felicity in delineating character and manners is derived from the experience of his early days. He was born in the parish of Clogher, Tyrone, in 1798. His father, a peasant, was wonderful as a story-teller; his mother, who possessed a voice of exquisite sweetness, was eminently skilled in her native music. Here was the real education of such a writer. Mr. Carleton has published a Second Series of 'Traits and Stories,' and other Irish Tales.]
The village of Findamore was situated at the foot of a long green hill, the outline of which formed a low arch, as it rose to the eye against the horizon. This hill was studded with clumps of beeches, and sometimes enclosed as a meadow. In the month of July, when the grass on it was long, many an hour have I spent in solitary enjoyment, watching the wavy motion produced on its pliant surface by the sunny winds, or the flight of the cloud shadows, like gigantic phantoms, as they swept rapidly over it, whilst the murmur of the rocking trees, and the glaring of their bright leaves in the sun, produced a heartfelt pleasure, the very memory of which rises in my imagination like some fading recollection of a brighter world.
At the foot of this hill ran a clear deep-banked river, bounded on one side by a slip of rich level meadow, and on the other by a kind of common for the village geese, whose white feathers during the summer season lay scattered over its green surface. It was also the playground for the boys of the village school; for there ran that part of the river, which, with very correct judgment, the urchins had selected as their bathing-place. A little slope or watering ground in the bank brought them to the edge of the stream, where the bottom fell away into the fearful depths of the whirlpool under the hanging oak on the other bank. Well do I remember the first time I ventured to swim across it, and even yet do I see in imagination the two bunches of water flags on which the inexperienced swimmers trusted themselves in the water.
About two hundred yards above this, the boreen which led from the village to the main road crossed the river by one of those old narrow bridges whose arches rise like round ditches across the road-an almost impassable barrier to horse and car. On passing the bridge in a northern direction, you found a range of low thatched houses on each side of the road; and if one o'clock, the hour of dinner, drew near, you might observe columns of blue smoke curling up from a row of chimneys, some made of wicker creels plastered over with a rich coat of mud, some of old narrow bottomless tubs, and others, with a greater appearance of taste, ornamented with thick circular ropes of straw, sewed together like bees' skeps with the peel of a brier; and many having nothing but the open vent above. But the smoke by no means escaped by its legitimate aperture, for you might observe little clouds of it bursting out of the doors and windows; the panes of the latter, being mostly stopped at other times with old hats and rags, were now left entirely open for the purpose of giving it a free escape.
Before the doors, on right and left, was a series of dunghills, each with its concomitant sink of green rotten water; and if it happened that a stout looking woman with watery eyes, and a yellow cap hung loosely upon her matted locks, came with a chubby urchin on one arm, and a pot of dirty water in her hand, its unceremonious ejection in the aforesaid sink would be apt to send you up the village with your forefinger and thumb (for what purpose you would yourself perfectly understand) closely, but not knowingly, applied to your nostrils. But, independently of this, you would be apt to have other reasons for giving your horse, whose heels are
A little road.
by this time surrounded by a dozen of barking curs and the same number of shouting urchins, a pretty sharp touch of the spurs, as well as for complaining bitterly of the odour of the atmosphere. It is no landscape without figures; and you might notice-if you are, as I suppose you to be, a man of observation-in every sink as you pass along, a 'slip of a pig' stretched in the middle of the mud, the very beau ideal of luxury, giving occasionally a long luxuriant grunt highly expressive of his enjoyment; or perhaps an old farrower, lying in indolent repose with half a dozen young ones jostling each other for their draught, and punching her belly with their little snouts, reckless of the fumes they are creating; whilst the loud crow of the cock, as he confidently flaps his wings on his own dunghill, gives the warning note for the hour of dinner.
As you advance, you will also perceive several faces thrust out of the doors, and rather than miss a sight of you, a grotesque visage peeping by a short cut through the paneless windows, or a tattered female flying to snatch up her urchin, that has been tumbling itself heels up in the dirt of the road, lest 'the gentleman's horse might ride over it,' and if you happen to look behind, you may observe a shaggyheaded youth in tattered frieze, with one hand thrust indolently in his breast, standing at the door in conversation with the inmates, a broad grin of sarcastic ridicule on his face, in the act of breaking a joke or two on yourself or your horse; or perhaps your jaw may be saluted with a lump of clay, just hard enough not to fall asunder as it flies, cast by some ragged gossoon from behind a hedge, who squats himself in a ridge of corn to avoid detection.
Seated upon a hob at the door you may observe a toil-worn man, without coat or waistcoat, his red, muscular, sunburnt shoulder peeping through the remnant of a shirt, mending his shoes with a piece of twisted flax, called a lingel, or perhaps sewing two footless stockings, or martyeens, to his coat, as a substitute for sleeves.
In the gardens, which are usually fringed with nettles, you will see a solitary labourer, working with that carelessness and apathy that characterises an Irishman when he labours for himself, leaning upon his spade to look after you, and glad of any excuse to be idle.
The houses, however, are not all such as I have described-far from it. You see here and there, between the more humble cabins, a stout comfortable looking farmhouse, with ornamental thatching and well glad windows; adjoining to which is a hay-yard, with five or six large stacks of corn, well trimmed and roped, and a fine yellow weatherbeaten old hayrick, half cut,-not taking into account twelve or thirteen circular strata of stones, that mark out the foundations on which others had been raised. Neither is the rich smell of oaten or wheaten bread, which the good wife is baking on the griddle, unpleasant to your nostrils; nor would the bubbling of a large pot, in which you might see, should you chance to enter, a prodigious square of fat, yellow, and almost transparent bacon tumbling about, be an unpleasant object; truly, as it hangs over a large fire, with well-swept hearth-stone, it is in good keeping with the white settle and chairs, and the dresser with noggins, wooden trenchers, and pewter dishes, perfectly clean, and as well polished as a French courtier.
As you leave the village you have, to the left, a view of the hill which I have already described, and to the right, a level expanse of fertile country, bounded by a good view of respectable mountains, peering directly into the sky; and in a line that forms an acute angle from the point of the road where you ride, is a delightful valley, in the bottom of which shines a pretty lake; and a little beyond, on the slope of a green hill, rises a splendid house, surrounded by a park well wooded and stocked with deer. You have now topped the little hill above the village, and a straight line of level road, a mile long, goes forward to a country town, which lies
immediately behind that white church, with its spire cutting into the sky before you. You descend on the other side, and, having advanced a few perches, look to the left, where you see a long thatched chapel, only distinguished from a dwelling. house by its want of chimneys, and a small stone cross that stands on the top o the eastern gable; behind it is a grave-yard, and beside it a snug public-house, well white-washed; then, to the right, you observe a door, apparently in the side of a clay bank, which rises considerably above the pavement of the road. What! you ask yourself, can this be a human habitation? But ere you have time to answer the question, a confused buzz of voices from within reaches your car, and the appearance of a little gossoon, with a red close-cropped head and Milesian face, having in his hand a short white stick, or the thigh bone of a horse, which you at once recognise as 'the pass' of a village school, gives you the full information. He has an ink-horn, covered with leather, dangling at the button-hole (for he has long since played away the buttons) of his frieze jacket-his mouth is circumscribed with a streak of ink-his pen is stuck knowingly behind his ear-his shins are dotted over with fire-blisters, black, red, and blue-on each heel a kibe-his 'leather crackers,' videlicet, breeches, shrunk up upon him, and only reaching as far down as the caps of his knees. Having spied you, he places his hand over his brows, to throw back the dazzling light of the sun, and peers at you from under it, till he breaks out into a laugh, exclaiming, half to himself, half to you—
"You a gintleman!-no, nor one of your breed never was, you procthorin' thief you!" You are now immediately opposite the door of the seminary, when half a dozen of those seated next it notice you.
"Oh, sir, here's a gintleman on a horse!-masther, sir, here's a gintleman on a horse, wid boots and spurs on him, that's looking in at us."
"Silence!" exclaims the master; "back from the door-boys, rehearse-every
one of you rehearse, I say, you Baotians, till the gintleman goes past!"
'I want to go out, if you plase, sir."
"No, you don't, Phelim.”
"I do, indeed, sir."
"What! is it afther contradictin' me you'd be? Don't you see the 'porter's' out, and you can't go."
"Well, 'tis Mat Meehan has it, sir; and he's out this half-hour, sir; I cant stay in, sir."
"You want to be idling your time looking at the gintleman, Phelim." 66 No, indeed, sir."
"Phelim, I knows you of ould-go to your sate. I tell you, Phelim, you were born for the encouragement of the hemp manufacture, and you'll die promoting it." In the mean time the master puts his head out of the door, his body stooped to a "half bend"—a phrase, and the exact curve which it forms, I leave for the present to your own sagacity-and surveys you until you pass. That is an Irish hedge-school, and the personage who follows you with his eye a hedge-schoolmaster.
41.-THE RISING OF THE WATERS.
[JOHN GALT, a man of decided genius, though very unequal in his efforts, was born in Ayrshire in 1779. He died in 1839. It was late in life before he discovered the proper direction of his talents-that of quiet fiction, founded upon a faithful observation of the domestic characteristics of the humbler classes of his own countrymen. The Annals of the Parish,'-the work which at once established his reputation, was published in 1821.'Lawrie Todd,' from which the following is an extract, appeared in 1830, after Mr. Galt's return from an official station in Canada. As a picture of the Scotchman in America, there is nothing superior in homely truth and quaint humour.]