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On the Christening of a Friend's Child
589 Wandering Willie
The subject of the Shipwreck, and the fate of its author, bespeak an uncommon partiality in its favour. If we pay respect to the ingenious scholar who can produce agreeable verses amidst the shades of retirement, or the shelves of his library, how much more interest must we take in the "shipboy on the high and giddy mast" cherishing refined visions of fancy at the hour which he may casually snatch from fatigue and danger. Nor did Falconer neglect the proper acquirements of seamanship in cultivating poetry, but evinced considerable knowledge of his profession, both in his Marine Dictionary and in the nautical precepts of the Shipwreck. In that poem he may be said to have added a congenial and peculiarly British subject to the language; at least, we had no previous poem of any length of which the characters and catastrophe were purely naval.
WILLIAM FALCONER was a native of Edinburgh, | Aurora was never heard of after she passed the and went to sea at an early age in a merchant Cape, and was thought to have foundered in the vessel of Leith. He was afterwards mate of a Channel of Mozambique; so that the poet of the ship that was wrecked in the Levant, and was one Shipwreck may be supposed to have perished by the of only three out of her crew that were saved, a same species of calamity which he had rehearsed. catastrophe which formed the subject of his future poem. He was for some time in the capacity of a servant to Campbell, the author of Lexiphanes, when purser of a ship. Campbell is said to have discovered in Falconer talents worthy of cultivation, and when the latter distinguished himself as a poet, used to boast that he had been his scholar. What he learned from Campbell it is not very easy to ascertain. His education, as he often assured Governor Hunter, had been confined to reading, writing, and a little arithmetic, though in the course of his life he picked up some acquaintance with the French, Spanish, and Italian languages. In these his countryman was not likely to have much | assisted him; but he might have lent him books, and possibly instructed him in the use of figures. Falconer published his Shipwreck, in 1762, and by the favour of the Duke of York, to whom it was dedicated, obtained the appointment of a midshipman in the Royal George, and afterwards that of purser in the Glory frigate. He soon afterwards married a Miss Hicks, an accomplished and beautiful woman, the daughter of the surgeon of Sheerness yard. At the peace of 1763, he was on the point of being reduced to distressed circumstances by his ship being laid up in ordinary at Chatham, when, by the friendship of Commissioner Hanway, who ordered the cabin of the Glory to be fitted up for his residence, he enjoyed for some time a retreat for study without expense or embarrassment. Here he employed himself in compiling his Marine Dic-mond, are well contrasted. Some part of the tionary, which appeared in 1769, and has been love-story of Palemon is rather swainish and proalways highly spoken of by those who are capable tracted, yet the effect of his being involved in the of estimating its merits. He embarked also in the calamity leaves a deeper sympathy in the mind politics of the day, as a poetical antagonist to for the daughter of Albert, when we conceive her Churchill, but with little advantage to his memory. at once deprived both of a father and a lover. Before the publication of his Marine Dictionary he The incidents of the Shipwreck, like those of a had left his retreat at Chatham for a less comfort- well-wrought tragedy, gradually deepen, while able abode in the metropolis, and appears to have they yet leave a suspense of hope and fear to the struggled with considerable difficulties, in the midst imagination. In the final scene there is something of which he received proposals from the late Mr. that deeply touches our compassion in the picture Murray, the bookseller, to join him in the business of the unfortunate man who is struck blind by a which he had newly established. The cause of flash of lightning at the helm. I remember, byhis refusing this offer was, in all probability, the the-way, to have met with an affecting account of appointment which he received to the pursership the identical calamity befalling the steersman of a of the Aurora, East Indiaman. In that ship he forlorn vessel in a similar moment, given in a prose embarked for India, in September, 1769, but the and veracious history of the loss of a vessel on the
The scene of the catastrophe (though he followed only the fact of his own history) was poetically laid amidst seas and shores where the mind easily gathers romantic associations, and where it supposes the most picturesque vicissitudes of scenery and climate. The spectacle of a majestic British ship on the shores of Greece brings as strong a a reminiscence to the mind, as can well be imagined, of the changes which time has wrought in transplanting the empire of arts and civilization. Falconer's characters are few; but the calm sagacious commander, and the rough obstinate Rod
coast of America. Falconer skilfully heightens this trait by showing its effect on the commiseration of Rodmond, the roughest of his characters, who guides the victim of misfortune to lay hold of the shrouds.
"A flash, quick glancing on the nerves of light, Struck the pale helmsman with eternal night : Rodmond, who heard a pitious groan behind, Touch'd with compassion, gaz'd upon the blind;
Proposal of the subject. Invocation. Apology. Allegorical description of memory. Appeal to her assistance. The story begun. Retrospect of the former part of the voyage. The ship arrives at Candia. Ancient state of that island. Present state of the adjacent isles of Greece. The season of the year. Character of the master and his officers. Story of Palemon and Anna. Evening described. Midnight. The ship weighs anchor, and departs from the haven. State of the weather. Morning. Situation of the neighbouring shores. Operation of taking the sun's azimuth. Description of the vessel as seen from the land.
The scene is near the city of Candia; and the time about four days and a half.
WHILE jarring interests wake the world to arms,
Immortal train, who guide the maze of song,
And, while around his sad companions crowd, He guides the unhappy victim to the shroud. Hie thee aloft, my gallant friend! he cries; Thy only succour on the mast relies!"
The effect of his sea phrases is to give a definite and authentic character to his descriptions; and his poem has the sensible charm of appearing a transcript of reality, and leaves an impression of truth and nature on the mind.
With living colours give my verse to glow,
A scene from dumb oblivion to restore,
To fame unknown, and new to epic lore!
But, while he measured o'er the painful race,
Or where pale famine blasts the hopeful year,
Or where, all dreadful in th' embattled line,
And quench'd the kindling spark of vital fire.-
Yet here let listening Sympathy prevail,
Since first the circling hours their course began.
She shares her power, and Memory is her name.
O first-born daughter of primeval Time! By whom transmitted down in every clime, The deeds of ages long elapsed are known, And blazon'd glories spread from zone to zone; Whose breath dissolves the gloom of mental night, And o'er th' obscured idea pours the light! Whose wing unerring glides through time and place, And trackless scours th' immensity of space! Say! on what seas, for thou alone canst tell, What dire mishap a fated ship befell, Assail'd by tempests! girt with hostile shores! Arise! approach! unlock thy treasured stores!
A ship from Egypt, o'er the deep impell'd By guiding winds, her course for Venice held; Of famed Britannia were the gallant crew, And from that isle her name the vessel drew. The wayward steps of Fortune that delude Full oft to ruin, eager they pursued; And, dazzled by her visionary glare, Advanced incautious of each fatal snare; Though warn'd full oft the slippery track to shun, Yet Hope, with flattering voice, betray'd them on. Beguiled to danger thus, they left behind The scene of peace, and social joy resign'd. Long absent they, from friends and native home, The cheerless ocean were inured to roam : Yet Heaven, in pity to severe distress, Had crown'd each painful voyage with success: Still to atone for toils and hazards past, Restored them to maternal plains at last.
Thrice had the sun, to rule the varying year Across th' equator roll'd his flaming sphere, Since last the vessel spread her ample sail From Albion's coast, obsequious to the gale. She, o'er the spacious flood, from shore to shore, Unwearying, wafted her commercial store. The richest ports of Afric she had view'd, Thence to fair Italy her course pursued ; Had left behind Trinacria's burning isle, And visited the margin of the Nile. And now, that winter deepens round the pole, The circling voyage hastens to its goal, They, blind to Fate's inevitable law, No dark event to blast their hope foresaw; But from gay Venice soon expect to steer For Britain's coast, and dread no perils near.
A thousand tender thoughts their souls employ,
Thus time elapsed, while o'er the pathless tide
The haven enter, borne before the gale,
For whom contending kings are proud to die.
Now, in the southern hemisphere, the sun
Thou living Ray of intellectual fire, Whose voluntary gleams my verse inspire! Ere yet the deep'ning incidents prevail, Till roused attention feel our plaintive tale, Record whom, chief among the gallant crew, Th' unblest pursuit of fortune hither drew!