« ZurückWeiter »
retired to his residence in Ireland with his wife, one of the three “Elizabeths”-he has commemorated as dear to him,-his mother, his queen, and his bride. A very few short years passed over his happy home, gladdened, too, by the voices of his children. The rebellion of Tyrone broke out; Kilcolman Castle was seized and fired by the rebels, from whom Spenser, with his wife and two young children, scarce escaped. His property, and the intellectual treasures of his unfinished writings, were in a moment destroyed; but, sadder far to think of, there perished in the flames the poet's infant child. Spenser hastened to London, and, after the lapse of a few weeks,-the inarticulate voice of his lost babe doubtless for ever sounding in his ears, the vision of its tender limbs wrapped in flames for ever burning on his fancy,—the anthor of the “Fairy Queen” breathed his last. He died at an inn: it has been said, heart-broken and starving ;—this may be exaggeration ;-but certainly heart-stricken and in need. Sydney was in the grave; Raleigh was far away upon the sea ; Burleigh had no sympathy with the suffering bard; and Essex was not the quick friend he had found in others.
“ Spenser, For all the glory that thy copious song
Pour'd on the great, what did they pour on thee ? " His body was buried in Westminster Abbey, by the side of Chaucer. His pall was borne by poets ; and the last honour paid to him whose genius had been so purely devoted to elevate and beautify the ideal of womanly character was paid by a woman's affectionate reverence. A monument was erected by Anna, Countess of Dorset, with this simple inscription : “ Here lies, expecting the second coming of our Saviour Jesus, the body of Edmund Spenser, the prince of poets in his time, whose divine spirit needs no other witness than the works which he left behind him. He was born in London, in the year 1553, and died in the year
1598." In examining that literary period to which Spenser belongs, there is a department of poetry which it is necessary for me to allude to with much more brevity than contents me. I mean the Minstrelsy, which, having begun at a remote and unknown period of the language, is supposed to have flourished most in the latter part of the sixteenth century, and especially on the frontier between England and Scotland.
Let it be remembered that it was of one of these rude ballads that Sir Philip Sydney, immediately before the time of Spenser and Shakspeare, when more ambitious poetry failed to satisfy the longings of his imagination, said, “I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglass that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet.”
BRITISH MINSTRELSY AND BALLADS.
The martial state of society among the border-population seems to have fostered a minstrelsy distinguished for the vivid energy of its strains, the boldness of its descriptions, and a wild intermixture of rough humour and simple pathos, which have rarely, if ever, been caught by even the best of its imitators. The border-life was one of perpetual danger. and activity. Private feuds assumed somewhat of the dignity of national war; and the frequent themes of the minstrel were acts of lawless violence or the griefs of a widowed wife and a childless mother. The ballads have been handed down from generation to generation,—for the most part treasured only on the tablets of memory; but often in these fragments there is a force and a graphic reality which stimulates the imagination to a ready apprehension of the imperfect tale. For instance, in such a lament as this :
“Hie upon Hielands,
And low upon Tay,
Rade out on a day.
And gallant rade he;
But never cam he!
Weeping fu' sair,
Riven her hair.
And booted rade he;
But never cam he!
And my corn is unshorn;
And my babies unborn.
And booted rade he;
But never cam he!” Among the ballads collected with such affectionate zeal by Sir Walter Scott, there is one which has struck my fancy as describing the borderlife with even more than the usual animation. It is entitled “Kinmont Willie," and relates the rescue of a prisoner from Carlisle Castle by the Lord of Buccleugh :
:-a very gallant exploit, and, what was uncommon, effected without bloodshed.
The boldness of the Scots in thus surprising an English fortress is said to have highly incensed Queen Elizabeth, and to have endangered
of the two kingdoms. When Buccleugh was afterwards presented to the English sovereign, tradition tells us that, in her peremptory way, she demanded how he dared to undertake an enterprise so despe
and the undaunted chieftain's answer was, “What is it that a man dares not do ?”. reply which so struck the queen that she exclaimed, “With ten thousand such men our brother of Scotland might shake the firmest throne of Europe.”
At an advanced part of my course I shall have occasion to recur to the early minstrelsy, in showing how the revival of the study of it contributed to reanimate English poetry, and especially how, sinking into the heart of Walter Scott, it, more than any other external influence, made him what he was. How must the fire of his imagination have glowed with the restoration and perusal of this ballad, narrating, in its rude fashion, an adventure of his own clan, led on by an ancestor of his own chieftain,—the Lord of Buccleugh. I shall quote such stanzas of the ballad as will keep the train of the story :
“Oh, have ye na’ heard o' the fause Sakelde,
Oh, have ye na' heard o' the keen Lord Scroope ?
On Haribee to hang him up ?
But twenty men as stout as hé,
Wi' eight-score in his companie.
They tied his hands behind his back;
And they brought him ower the Liddel-rack.
And also through the Carlisle sands,
To be at my Lord Scroope's commands.
And wha will dare this deed avow?
Or answer to the bauld Buccleugh?'
There's never a Scot shall set thee free;
I trow, ye shall take farewell o' me.'
"Fear na' ye that, my lord,' quo' Willie :
* By the faith o' my body, Lord Scroope,' he said, 'I never yet lodged in a hostelrie
But I paid my lawing before I gaed.' "Now word is gane to the bauld keeper
In Branksome Ha', where that he lay,
Between the hours of night and day. “ He has ta'en the table with his hand;
He garr'd the red wine spring on hie : • Now a deep curse on my head,' he said,
But avengéd of Lord Scroope I 'll be ! “Oh, is my helmet a widow's coif ?
Or my lance a wand of the willow-tree ? Or my arm a lady's lilye hand,
That an English lord should lightly me? " And have they ta'en him Kinmont Willie
Against the truce of border-tide,
Is keeper here on the Scottish side ?
As well, I wot, as there is none,I would slight Carlisle Castell high,
Though it were built of marble stone “I would set that castell in a flame,
And sloken it with English blood : There's never a man in Cumberland
Should ken where Carlisle Castell stood. ""But since nae war 's between the lands,
And there is peace,--and peace should be,I'll neither harm English lad nor lass,
And yet Kinmont freed shall be.' “He has callid him forty marchmen bauld,
Were kinsmen to the bauld Buccleugh.
“ And when we left the Stranchaw bank,
The wind began full loud to blaw, But ’t was wind and weet, and fire and sleet,
When we came beneath the castell-wa'. We crept on knees, and held our breath
Till we placed the ladders against the wa', And sae ready was Buccleugh himself
To mount the first before us a'.
He flung him down upon the lead :
Upon the other side thou hadst gaed.' "Now sound our trumpets,' quo' Buccleugh :
· Let's waken Lord Scroope right merrilie.' Then loud the warden's trumpet blew :
Oh, wha dare meddle wi' me?'
They thought King James and a' his men
Had won the house wi' bow and spear : It was but twenty Scots and ten
That put a thousand in sic a stear. • Wi' coulters and wi' fore-hammers,
We garr'd the bars bang merrilie, Until we came to the inner prison,
Where Willie Kinmont he did lie. “ And when we cam to the lower prison,
Where Willie Kinmont he did lie,• Oh, sleep ye? wake ye, Kinmont Willie,
Upon the morn that thou 's to die.' “Oh, I sleep saft, and I wake aft;
It’s lang since sleeping was fleed frae me. Gie my service back to my wife and bairns,
And a' gude fellows that spier for me.' “ Then Red Rowan has hente him up,
The starkest man in Teviotdale :-• Abide, abide now, Red Rowan,
Till of my Lord Scroope I take farewell.