« VorigeDoorgaan »
men from such unnatural contentions, describes a bloody battle and dreadful scene of death, occasioned by the mutual feuds which reigned in the families of an English and Scotch nobleman ; that he designed this for the instruction of his poem, we may learn from his four last lines, in which, after the example of the modern tragedians, he draws from it a precept for the benefit of his readers.
God save the King, and bless the land
In plenty, joy, and peace;
Twixt noblemen may cease.
The next point observed by the greatest heroic poets hath been to celebrate
and actions which do hoa nour to their country. Thus Virgil's hero was the founder of Rome, Homer's a prince of Greece ; and for this reason VALERIUS FLACCUS and STATIUS, who were both Romans, might be justly derided for having chosen the expedition of the Golden Fleece, and the wars of Thebes, for the subjects of their epic writings. The
poet before us has not only found out an hero in his own country, but raises the reputation of it by several beautiful incidents. The English are the first who take the field, and the last who quit it. The Eng. lish bring only fifteen hundred to the battle, the Scotch two thousand. The English keep the field with fiftythree; the Scotch retire with fifty-five ; all the rest on each side being slain in battle. But the most remarkable circumstance of this kind is the different manner in which the Scotch and English kings receive the news of this fight, and of the great: mens deaths who commanded in it.
This news was brought to Edinburgh,
Where Scotland's King did reign,
Was with an arrow slain.
O heavy news, King James did say;
Scotland can witness be,
Of such account as he.
Like tidings to King Henry came
Within as short a space,
Was slain at Chevy-Chace.
Now God be with him, said our King,
Sith 'twill no better be,
Five hundred as good as he.
Yet shall not Scot nor Scotland say,
But I will vengeance take,
For brave Lord Percy's sake.
This vow full well the King perform'd
After on Humble-down,
With lords of great renown.
And of the rest of small account
Did many thousands die, &c.
At the same time that our poet shews a laudable partiality to his countrymen, he represents the Scotch after a manner not unbecoming so bold and brave a people.
Earl DOUGLAS on a milk white stead,
Most like a baron bold,
Whose armour shone like gold.
His sentiments and actions are every way suitable to an hero. One of us two, says he, must die : I am an earl as well as yourself, so that you can have no pretence for refusing the combat: however, says he, it is a pity, and indeed would be a sin, that so many innocent men should perisk for our sakess rather let you and I end our quarrel in single fight.
Let thou and I the battle try,
And set our men aside;
By whom this is deny'd.
When these brave men had distinguished themselves in the battle and in single combat with each other, in the midst of a generous parley-full of heroic sentiments, the Scotch earl falls ; and with his dying words encourages his men to revenge his death ; representing to them, as the most bitter circumstance of it, that his ri-vat saw him fall.
With that there came an arrow keen
Out of an English bow,
A deep and deadly blow.
Who never spoke more words than these,
Fight on my merry men all;
Lord Percy sees my fall.
Merry men, in the language of those times, is no more than a cheerful word for companions and fellow-soldiers. A passage in the eleventh book of VIRGIL's Æneid is very much to be admired, where Camilla in her last agonies, instead of weeping over the wound she had re. ceived, as one might have expected from a warrior of her sex, considers only (like the hero of whom we are now speaking.) how the battle should be continued after her death.
Tum sic expirans Accam ex æqualibus unam
EN. xi 823
A gath'ring mist o'erclouds her cheerful eyes,
Bear my last words to TURNUS, fly with speed,
Turnus did not die in so heroic a manner; though our poet seems to have had his eye upon Turnus's speech in the last verse.
Lord Percy sees my fall.
-Vicisti, et victum tendere palmas
AN. xii. 936.
The Latin chiefs have seen me beg my life. Earl PERCY's lamentation over his enemy is generous, beautiful, and passionate. I must only caution the reader not to let the simplicity of the style, which one may well pardon in so old a poet, prejudice him against the greatness of the thought.
Then leaving life, Earl Percy' took
The dead man by the hand,
O Christ ! my very heart doth bleed
With sorrow for thy sake;
Mischance did never take.
That beautiful line, Taking the dead man by the hands will put the reader in mind of Æneas's behaviour towards LAUSUS, whom he himself had slain as he came to the rescue of his aged father.
At vero ut vultum vidit'morientis, et ora
The pious prince beheld young LAUSUS dead:
To worth so great
I shall take another opportunity to consider the other parts of this old song,
The entire conquest of our passions is so difficult a work, that they who despair of it should think of a less. difficult task, and only attempt to regulate them. But there is a third thing which may contribute not only to the ease, but also to the pleasure of our lives: and that is, refining our passions
to a greater elegance than we receive them from nature. When the passion is love, this work. is performed in innocent, though rude and uncultivated minds, by the mere force and dignity of the object. There are forms which naturally create respect in the beholders, and at once infiame and chastise the imagination. Such an impression as this gives an immediate ambition to de serve, in order to please. This cause and effect are beau. tifully described by Mr Dryden in the fable of CIMON and IPhiGENIA. After he has represented Cimon so stupid, that
He whistled as he went, for want of thought, he makes him fall ino the following scene; and shews its; influence upon him so excellently, that it appears as natural as wonderful.
It happen'd on a summer's holiday,
By chance conducted, or by thirst constrain'd,