Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

sang her way to the metropolis, and, when there, very quickly gained the ears of the great. She was even appointed to sing “O the broom" and “ Lady Greenleaves" before the Queen. The reigns of James 1. and his successor were remarkable for nothing connected with our purpose, except that the taste of the population for nature and simplicity kept up the profession of ballad-singing. The poets of the day in the mean time became so learned, that they were scarcely to be understood even by the great. Henceforward ballad-singing maintained a prosperous and respectable course. The singers had no state enemies to contend with, Their employment was too lucrative, and custom had too firmly sanctioned it, to permit the persecutions of parish fiends, But, better than all, the law as yet furnished no pretext for stopping the free circulation of the lower ranks throughout the country. The government, and still more frequently the corporation of London, had been alarmed at the influx of humble strangers into the metropolis, There were issued bulls of penal denunciation, street proclamations, circumstantial and minute, embracing the professors of all manner of arts and employments, whether for use or annusement; yet not a word of ballad-singers. Fiddlers put the whole council into consternation ; minstrels (such as they were) have a price set upon their bodies; but there is no vice assumed of the members of the vocal throng. Cromwell was disturbed by the presence of low visitors to the metropolis : he again excommunicates minstrels and fiddlers, but leaves balladsingers to pursue their business unmolested. And yet the Protector found not in that order a friendly or even a neutral power. They sang of bold cavaliers and ladies bright, themes that did not fail to keep the memory of past times" green in the souls of men." But as soon as the Restoration removed all restraint from the ballad-singers, the streets re-echoed to the strains either of thanksgiving for the return of the monarch, or in ridicule of the fallen power. The song beginning with the words “ Rebellion hath broken up house" was very celebrated at the time. However, the taste of the public in the course of a short time was divided between political and amatory poetry : the circumstances of the times recommended the first species ; and the spirit that produced the Sedleys, Etheridges, and Rochesters, brought in the latter. Many of the celebrated poets of the day wrote for the streets and villages. But there never was an era when the ballad-singers answered more faithfully to the public feeling. They were a fearful check on the acts of the despotic monarch. When the charter was withdrawn from the city of London, a storm of ballads assailed the court, and was heard with dismay in the council. The agitated period that immediately went before the Revolution permitted scarcely any but political ballads to be sung. There were faint strains of loyalty now and then put forth. Several songs on the death of Russell and Monmouth are still preserved. But the great effective force of the ballad-singers was directed against the reigning family. The decisive effects of the doggrel verses called the Lillibullero are authenticated by history. Lord Wharton, the author of the song, boasted that he had rhymed King James out of his dominions; and the testimony of the

gravest writers of the time shew that there was no exaggeration in the boast. The tide of popular favour and ballad-singing flowed on the side of the newly-established dynasty. The Queen had absolutely patronized the ballad-singers ; she did not hesitate to avow, even on state occasions, a preference for the simple ballads that charmed her early years, to the elaborate compositions of the most esteemed masters of the time.* We are to look upon the ballad-singers from this time forth in the light of a corporation. Custom had established yearly festivals for them in the classic regions of St. Giles's, which were much frequented by some of the wits of the day-Swift, Gay, Bolingbroke, Steele, &c. From these high followers of the Muses yearly contingents of ballads were expected. Swift contracted to furnish the humorous songs. Gay, who, as Goldsmith observed of him, had a happy strain of ballad-thinking, was set down for the pathetic ones. Those of a miscellaneous character were divided amongst a number of amateur bards. No importunities, even of his friends, could induce Pope to attend any of these assemblies. He was, however, prevailed on to write an epitaph for a young creature whom he had several times seen and heard, and who was known to her companions under the title of Clarinda. She was much favoured by some of the great, and, but for her attachment to the life of a ballad-singer, might with her beauty and accomplishments have risen to fortune. The following is a fragment of the epitaph ; and, as we have it merely from tradition, we must not be held answerable for it as a genuine or correct production.

“ She who is laid beneath this sod of earth

Was blest, though wanting titles, power, and birth ;
Though poor, had yet the loftiest bards inspired;
Though fair, was yet by her own sex admired ;
But Wortley was the woman that did praise,
And Swift and Gay the bards that loved her lays.
Clarinda, courted by the wise and great,
Would stay to charm the vulgar at their gate;
Pleased if those notes which lords and poets loved,

Were by the humble peasant-throng approved." Gay and Swift had naturally a relish for low society, and were hailed by the fraternity and sisterhood as the most precious sources of profit. Amongst other songs which Swift sent into the world through the medium of the ballad-singers, was a severe satire on the Duke of Marlborough, beginning "Our Johnny is come from the wars." The song drew much attention in the streets, and excited the strongest resentment against the author in the breast of the accomplished duchess. She remained implacable until the publication of Gulliver, when she offered her friendship to Swift, through his friend Gay. The Beggar's Opera was originally written, (we have it on Gay's own authority,) to celebrate the marriage of James Chanter and Moll Lay. There was a young creature amongst the ballad-singers, now known to the world by no other title than Clara, who drew much attention at this time by

“ The Queen having a mind one afternoon to be entertained with music, sent to Mr. Gostling, to Henry Purcell, and Mrs. Hunt, with a request to attend her : they obeyed her commands. Mr. Gostling and Mrs. Hunt, sung several compositions of Purcell, who accompanied them on the harpsichord : at length the Queen beginning to grow tired of this, asked Mrs. Hunt if she could not sing the old Scots ballad of “ Čold and raw ;" Mrs. Hunt answered Yes, and sung it to her lute. Purcell was all the while sitting at the harpsichord unemployed, and not a little nettled at the Queen's preference of a vulgar ballad to his music."--Sir J. Hawkins.

the sweetness and pathos of her tones. She was the original singer of Black-eyed Susan, and one or two songs which were afterwards introduced into the Beggar's Opera. But her recommendation to particular notice was the circumstance of her having for many years been the object of Lord Bolingbroke's enthusiastic affection. The poor girl stray for some time, during which his lordship had not seen her; and it was after that interval, that, having met her, he addressed to her the tender lines, beginning

“Dear thoughtless Clara, to my verse attend,

Believe for once the lover and the friend." And concluding thus,

“ To virtue thus and to thyself restored,

By all adınired, by one alone adored ;
Be to thy Harry ever kind and true,

And live for him who more than died for you." A series of calamities totally ruined her vocal powers, and she afterwards subsisted by the sale of oranges at the Court of Requests.

The profession did not continue to maintain its rank. The disappointed author in Roderick Random, who set about writing for the ballad-singers, was introduced into one of their assemblies. His testimony establishes the deepest degeneracy in the members of the order. Indeed, the history of ballad-singing during the remainder of the last century affords but an unsatisfactory subject of reflection to the lovers of song. The modern state of the art merits an essay in itself.

W.

SONG.

Air.-"A Rose-tree in full bearing."
Italian dames are vaunted,
So shapely their bosoms rise,
And some have raved enchanted,
Of bright-beaming, Spanish eyes.
But shew me southern donnas,
Or Frauleins with yellow hair,
So sweet to look upon as
Our own lovely British fair.
Perhaps with foreign graces
Love might have smit me more,
Had I forgot the faces
That smile on our native shore.
But never in a single land
Had woman my heart in thrall,
Except the girls of England ;
And you, Love, beyond them all.

DIGRESSIONS IN THE TWO EXHIBITION-ROOMS. The critics' harvest is almost got in. They have been very plentiful this year, and made quick work of it. How they did puff, and labour, and fall foul of each other !-putting forth their sickles here and there and every where : no two of them cutting at the same side or together. And then such indiscriminate levelling as they made of it: such meet: ing, and jingling, and entangling of their crooked weapons ! But, thank Heaven ! all this is nearly ended; and a poor nervous gleaner may now steal in the field, and pick up a few ears which have escaped the industrious fury of the reapers and binders. But do not fear so much as a grain of criticism. I am too sick of glazing and scumbling, and toning and keeping, to speak one word about it. The very thought of asphaltum is ipecacuanha to me. By the way, how learned all these outlandish words look together!

But after all my observations on the pictures themselves have been satisfied, I still find myself lounging about the Exhibition-rooms at Somerset-House and Pall-Mall : getting in among a knot of painters in a corner, and listening to their shop-scandal with unwearied earnestness; or I make a sortie from a good picture to the painting-room of the artist, and investigate at home, and in his native element, the curious animal who has pleased, affected, or surprised me, in certainly the most difficult language by which strong or positive impressions can be conveyed to the human mind. I peer curiously into the darkened corner of his room, among fragments of casts, lay-figures, skulls, oilbottles, brushes, and colour-bladders; out of which a nursery-ridden child might easily conjure up an animated host of wild and terrific imagery. I regard them with a mysterious awe--a superstitious reverence. There they repose, to my observation, like the relics of a battle-field that has been obstinately contested and gloriously won : like the picturesque or terrible paraphernalia of some wondrous chemist or necromancer, by whose instrumentality the mined and central secrets of the solid globe may have been brought to light, or the spirits of the vasty deep itself startled through all the depths of their Stygian obscurity.

“Penetratque in Tartara rimis Lumen, et infernum terret cum conjuge regem !" I see a plaster-cast of a hand, a foot, or a leg, which may have assisted the artist in reducing to palpability the throes and visions of his early conception—nay, in some remote angle, or from behind some slanting piece of large canvass, the first broad dash of his now detailed subject comes on my view, through shade and twilight, like the faint indications of truth to the mind, or like the sketchy, generalized people whom we meet and converse with in the land of dreams. I behold, possibly, the very pallet which may have yielded the last glowing, breathing tints to his immortal picture ; the very pencil which may have conferred the last convincing touch of character and expression ; both still loaded with the magic materiality of that very creation : the seeds, and atoms, and germs, out of which this mortal god has wrought his wondrous mould of mimic life, action, and sentiment.

As the artist himself furnishes ample scope for my speculation, I measure with my optical callipers the breadth of his temporal bones, the projection of his sinuses, the dip of his chin, the elongation of his occiput, or the angle of his lower maxillary. I ask questions apparently indifferent, but which, indirectly, have an important operation : and word by word, and sentence by sentence, extract an account of his mode of going about a subject, and treating it, and working it up, and finishing it. After this manner, by a keen seent, unwearied assiduity, and a sagacious divination, I have enriched myself with sundry rare and curious scraps of anecdote connected with pictures and picture-makers, which, I have the popular egotism to think, no man of less enthusiasm and perseverance than myself could have collected in the given time. For example: How few except myself know any thing more of Wilkie's “ Chelsea Pensioners” than that it is a beautiful picture, an extraordinary picture, a divine picture! and so forth. Some there may be who know that it beats the plegmatic Dutchmen out and out :-in better words, who say so because they have heard so. Indeed one enthusiastic and high-minded critic has stept forward to observe that Wilkie cornmitted an important anachronism by painting oysters in June ; and having observed this, he stept back again. I heard, myself, a dapper city-connoisseur (a petit body it was, with white-topped boots which ereaked at every step) remark, as he stood before this magnificent picture, that the candle-snuff was as natural as the life; and then he turned away, and accompanied his creaking boots to an opposite corner of the room.

But, independently of these tasteful discoveries, there is a paintingroom secret, connected with “the Chelsea Pensioners," well worth knowing

No mind of liberal compass has remained unaffected by one ex. traordinary passage in the subject. I allude to the poor forlorn woman, who rushes up to learn tidings of her husband, and while all around are clamorous in joy and exultation, stands with her wild distorted eyes riveted on the paper--her face pallid from sickly apprehension-and, now absorbed in a master-feeling, inditferent, for the first time in her life, to the cries of the infant which is but carelessly encircled by her left arm. This is the great situation of Wilkie's greatest picture: the most powerful concentration of his mind which has yet been transmitted to canvass. At the first view, and while it affects and overpowers, we naturally regard it as one of those electric emanations of genius of which even genius is seldom capable: whose birth is like the flash, instantaneous, almost involuntary. Yet we should err in such a reading. The idea of this sublime passage was not rapid or impulsive, or coeval with Wilkie's first general plan of his subject. It was, in truth, an after-thought, an interlineation. I saw, the “Chelsea Pensioners” on Wilkie's casel more than two-thirds advanced, and there was nothing in it of the incident to which I allude. I cannot dare to say that the place it now holds was then a blank; but it was pre-occupied by another actor and a different event. A woman who had been listening to the account of the battle, -as read by the old pensioner, and who had just heard some fatal intelligence of her husband, was fainting away under the influence of the sudden affliction; her eyes half-closed, and her whole action quietness itself. It is needless to point out how dissimilar this was to the bustle and energy, and stretch of feeling, of the passage, as it now stands. It would be as needless to say that the second thought is best. No doubt of it, the original conception was

« AnteriorContinuar »