An Unexpected Heir’s Legacy
’Tween monosyllables so brief
The diff’rence scarce should fill a leaf;
Yet in a dream, when souls take flight
To mingle with the elves of night,
Methought upon a bat’s back riding,
A Sylph, her glow-worm taper hiding,
Mourn’d in a monologue like this
The contrast between WAS, and IS.
“O woe is me!” the Elfin said,
“The spirits of the land are fled!
Woe to our ally Oberon!
The love-spell from his bower is gone.
Shall I hide me in a rose-leaf’s fold,
Or in a cowslip’s cup of gold?—
The leaf will fall before the gale,
And that which seemeth gold is frail.
There is no corner in the dome
Of squire or lord to give me home!
The citadel of yon ag’d rook
Has lent me oft a sacred nook,
When from the yew-tree’s top, I spied
The castle’s warder in his pride,
Or ’midst its giant chimney laugh’d,
While Maud and Joan their wassail quaff’d,
Then paused the tiny sound to hear,
And deem’d the welcome cricket near.
Alas!—th’ hereditary lord
Has there nor wassail, hearth, nor board:
And on that lawn where elder days
Saw Honour’s highest beacon blaze,
The yells of recreant-ruffians pierce
The silence of his father’s hearse;
And he, of nobler element,
His greatness to their guilt has lent—
Ah! what but earthquakes can have birth
When heav’n thus lends its fires to earth!
The reverend Manor-house no more
Needs me to bless its bounteous store,
And guard the long-remember’d rows
Of oaks that graced its proud repose;
The stranger’s axe has laid them bare,
To shame with waste the thankless heir:
And in that hall where decent mirth
Graced the frank dame and social hearth,
Ungrateful menials croud, and stain
With ribald jests the cup they drain.
The stedfast yeoman brings not now
His ready gold with joyous brow;
The reaper comes not with his flail
To steep his sunburn’d lips in ale—
Unthank’d, uncheer’d, they go to rest
Alike unblessing and unblest.
And that brown yeoman’s ancient walls
(Once warmer than baronial halls),
With pillar’d plaister now o’erlaid,
Seem of their neighbour-barn afraid.
The elm-tree chair, erect and wide,
Fit emblem of his true heart’s pride,
Rolls to the wood-house to make room
For tinsel from a bankrupt’s dome.
The fragrant barn no longer shows
Huge planks set forth in tempting rows,
Groaning with piles of deer and brawn,
And bowls of sparkling amber, drawn
From casks whose venerable date
Tell when the master chose his mate.—
Her dance upon the new-mown hay,
Her housewife toils, and boddice grey,
Scarce Cicely to remember deigns,
While Roger waves his chariot-reins,
To whirl her where, by sea-gales fann’d,
Rise mud-wall’d huts on murky sand,
Whence rural belles of landscape fond
Gaze on a whin-bush or a pond.
While Roger, when at home he fills
His empty pouch with tavern-bills,
Stamps on his lady’s velvet floor,
And wonders Englishmen grow poor:
Raves at his kine, his grass and grain,
Then bets on Bobadil again.—
At Court, our occupation’s past—
Our lightest, loveliest, and last!
The mystic toilet to prepare,
And guard the graces of the fair;
To crimp the gauze or twine the curl,
Or guard the train’s majestic furl.
Hid in a royal infant’s frame,
I stole a glimpse,—then fled in shame
To see no sylph attendance claim,
The falling tucker to adjust,
Or boddice faithless to its trust;—
To screen the sacred elbow’s tip,
And redder the unvarnish’d lip.
Now Bowman’s artists guide the curl,
And lips are lin’d with purchas’d pearl:
The neck—if Ariel lingers there,
A vast expanse must be his care:
Not sleeves but shoulders he must tend,
And ruffled skirts, not robes defend—
Or through an eye-glass gazing round
May see what matches can be found.—
Not now, while Wit and Grace preside,
About the tea-table we glide,
While snow-white hands with jewels deckt
The classic tea-urn’s flow direct.
Our darling task, our sacred sway
Yields to the bloated butler’s tray!
And where, tho’ imps of Spleen abound,
Can sweet tea-table-talk be found?
Small harmless Scandal that set free
A lady’s spirit from ennui!—
Now lovers’ smiles and words and glances,
Are not the point, but their finances—
She who would reputations shock
Must know the price and fall of stock,
And drop no hint of an amour
But that the rent-roll is unsure.
Things all unfit for Ariel’s sphere—
A Sylph was seldom Financier;
But fit for gnomes that never move,
Except to weigh the dross they love.
Who honours now the lonely aisle
Of yonder consecrated pile?
Ah! when that hoary pile was young,
It echoed to the tuneful tongue
Of one—the first at Mercy’s feast,
Himself her pupil, and her priest;
And babes, and fathers round him gazed
With melting eyes and hearts upraised
To catch the precept, whose warm store
Home to their sober hearths they bore;
Or in the churchyard paused to grace
With praise their grandsires’ resting-place,
Proud if their honest race might claim
A mother’s unpolluted name;
Now in the sculptured gallery’s height
A harlot’s purple shames the light,
While churls and scoffers smile to see
In holy walls her blazonry,
Which unrebuk’d invites the bold
To ransom infamy by gold.
Scared thence, I sought our favourite place,
The School-house of the village-race,
Where, throned in ancient chair of state,
The grey-hair’d matron’s nod was fate;
While cates with cautious care unbarr’d,
Were Truth and Labour’s first reward;
Truth, Honesty’s eternal guide,
And Labour, Manhood’s power and pride!—
That roof with infant tributes deck’d,
Lies like neglected Childhood, wreck’d—
The garden fenced with alders round,
The daisied seat with woodbine crown’d,
Are all with flaunting weeds defiled,
Abhorr’d, yet gaudy—sad, yet wild—
Type of the youthful race I see
Superb in boastful beggary?
Uncurb’d, unlesson’d, yet elate
To feed upon the laws they hate.
Then I have cower’d among the leaves
Of ivy round the Cottage-eaves,
To see if there was eye, or heart
Within its wicket worth my art;
Or dimpling lip or coral hue,
Fit for a touch of that sweet dew
We dainty elves once went to press
From one pale flower that maids caress,
And call a Love-in-Idleness:—
But gentle eye and maiden-mind
In bower or cot I could not find:
Smiles I have seen, but not for joy,
And plighted hands, but not for aye;
The smiles were bought with toys and gold,
The hollow heart was left unsold.—
At mart and feast, enough, I ween,
Of nods and becks might well be seen,
And antic smiles and foreheads bare,
And wreathing rings of burnish’d hair;
Not such beneath the rye-straw hat
I saw when on its brim I sat,
Hid in the bunch of violets rare
A true fond hand had planted there!
The kerchief’d cap and belted cloak,
So oft the care of fairy-folk,
When Dorcas came with milking-pail
By twilight through the lonely dale,
She casts in beauty’s pride away,
Unshelter’d and unprized, to stray
With motley gauds and witless art
For fops that scorn the ready mart.
And I have early vigil kept
On beds where sister-cherubs slept,
And watched to hear the thankful pray’r,
Heaven’s best-loved incense, rising there.
Then with my wing I would have fann’d
Their spirits into slumbers bland,
And dropp’d upon their ruby lips
Such honey as our monarch sips,
Such as for ever would retain
The loves of brothers free from stain,
And mingling with the fretful gall
Of this world’s griefs, might mellow all.—
But there no kneeling mother taught,
Or duteous pray’r or tender thought:
In those soft cradles, rich and gay,
A nest of adders coiling lay—
Oh! there were hearts already stone,
Hands to a father’s clasp unknown,
Tongues whetted by keen hate, and eyes
Red with mad Anger’s ecstasies!
And I have fled away, in fear
A slighted parent’s curse to hear,
Lest it should call from heav’n a storm
Enough to crush my airy form
Where shall I linger till the reign
Of Truth and Peace returns again?
In rural halls I may not hide,
For crowds are there, and pomp, and pride:
But I may in the cobweb rest
That hangs where Sorrow is a guest,
Or, where the sick man sighs alone
My vigil I may keep unknown,
For few are they who dare intrude
On Pain and Sorrow’s solitude:
And then the loneliest niche among
The homely chronicles that throng
Some ag’d cathedral’s walls, shall be
The last safe resting-place for me,
For worldly eyes will never come
To look upon a good man’s tomb,
But when the eternal dawn shall break,
I by his side shall first awake.