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"" Varlet !' replied the Abbott, 'cease your din;
This is no season alms and prayers to give;
And shedding on the ground his glaring ray,
Fast hieing o'er the plain a priest was seen;
Ard from the pathway side then turnéd he,
• For sweet St. Mary and your order's sake.'
'Here, take this silver, it may ease thy care ;
Virgin and Holy Saints, who sit in gloure, I
The following presents a very living picture of the ceremony of church consecration formerly:
ON THE DEDICATION OF OUR LADY'S CHURCH.
"Soon as bright sun along the skies had sent his ruddy light,
And fairies hid in oxlip cups till wished approach of night;
* Begging friar.
+ Short under cloak.
And then a row of holy friars who did the mass song sound;
We will select just one short lyric more, because its stanza and rhythm seem to me to have communicated their peculiar music to one of the sweetest of our living poets :
SONG OF SAINT WARBURGH.
“When king Kynghill in his hand
Held the sceptre of this land,
'Gan to scatter far and wide;
Where yellow Severn rolls his tide.
“Strong in faithfulness he trode
Over the waters like a god,
Witness to the miracle.
Or than mortal tongue can tell.
“ Then the folks a bridge did make
Which in time did fall away.
Then Earl Leof he besped
But war and time will all decay.
Severn in his ancient course,
Whelming many an oaken wood.
Standing where the other stood.” Now, would it ever have been believed, had not the thing really taken place in its unmitigated strangeness, that such poetry as this—poetry, indeed, of which these are but mere fragments, which, while they display the power, poetic freedom, and intellectual riches of the writer, do not show the breadth and grandeur of his plans, to be seen only in the works themselves,—that they could have been presented to the public, and passed over with contempt, not a century ago ? Would it have been credited, that the leading men of the literary world at that time, instead of flinging back such poems at the boy who presented them as a discovered antiquity, were not struck with the amazing fact, that if the boy were an impostor, as they avowed, if he indeed had written them himself, that he must be a glorious impostor? Yet this Horace Walpole, Gray, Mason, Sam Johnson, and the whole British throng of literati, were guilty of this blindness!
That was a dark time in which Chatterton had the misfortune to appear. Spite of the mighty intellects, the wit or learning of such men as Johnson, Gray, Goldsmith, Thomas and Joseph Warton, Burke, and Walpole, poetry, and the spirit of poetry, were, as a general fact, at a low ebb. It was the midnight succeding the long declining day of the imitators of Pope. The great crowd of versifiers had wandered away from Nature, and her eternal fountain of inspiration, and the long array of Sprats, Blackmores, Yaldens, Garths, and the like, had wearied the ear and the heart to death with their polished commonplaces. The
sweet muse of Goldsmith was almost the only genuine beam of radiant light, before the great dawn of a more glorious day which was about to break; and Goldsmith himself was hasting to his end. Beattie was but just appearing, publishing the first part of his Minstrel the very year that Chatterton perished by his own hand. The great novelists, Richardson, Fielding, and Sterne, had disappeared from the scene, and their fitting cotemporary, Smollett, was abroad on his travels, where he died the year after Chatterton's suicide. Akenside died the same year; Falconer was drowned at sea the year before; Sheridan's literary sun appeared only above the horizon five years later, with the publication of his Rivals. Who then we
Who then were in the ascendant, and therefore the influential arbiters of public opinion; they who must put forth the saving hand, if ever put forth, and give the cheering “all hail,” if it were given? They were Gray, who, however, himself died the following year, Armstrong, Anstey, of the Bath Guide, Mason, Lord Lyttleton, Gibbon, the Scotch historians and philosophers, Hume, Robertson, Adam Smith, and the like. There were, too, such men about the stage as Foote, Macklin, Colman, and Cumberland; and there were the lady writers, or patrons of literature, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Macauley, Mrs. Montagu. Macpherson was smarting under the flagellations received on account of his Ossian, and that was about all. Spite of great names, is that a literary tribunal from which much good was to be hoped? No, we repeat it, it was, so far as poetry, genuine poetry was concerned, a dark and wintry time. The Wartons were of a more hopeful character, and Mrs. Montagu, the founder of the Blue-Stocking club, had then recently published her Essay on the Genius and Writings of Shakspeare. She, a patron and an advocate of Shakspeare, might, one would have thought, have started from the herd, and done herself immortal honour, by asserting the true rank of the new genius, and saving him from a fearful death. But it is one thing to assert the fame of a Shakspeare, established on the throne of the world's homage, and another to discover, much more to hymn the advent of a new genius. The literary world, warned by the scarifying castigation which Macpherson had undergone for introducing
Ossian, as if, instead of giving the world a fresh poet, he had robbed it of one, shrunk back from the touch of a second grand impostor—another knare come to forge for the public another great poet! It was a new kind of crime, this endowment of the republic of literature with enormous accessions of wealth; and, what was more extraordinary, the endowers were not only denounced as thieves, but as thieves from themselves! Macpherson and Chatterton did not assert that they had written new and great poems, which the acute critics proved to be stolen from the ancients, Ossian and Rowley; that and their virtuous indignation we might have comprehended; but, on the contrary, while the critics protested that Chatterton and Macpherson themselves were the actual poets, and had only put on the masks of ancients, they treated them, not as clever maskers, joining in the witty conceit, and laughing over it in good-natured triumph, but they denounced them in savage terms, as base thieves, false coiners, damnable impostors! Oh glorious thieves! glorious coiners ! admirable impostors! would to God that a thousand other such would appear, again and again appear, to fill the hemisphere of England with fresh stars of renown! And of what were they impostors? Were not the poems real ? Were they not genuine, and of the true Titanic stamp? Of what were they thieves ? Were not the treasures which they came dragging into the literary bank of England genuine treasures? and if they were found not to have indeed dug them out of the rubbish of the ruined temple of antiquity, were they not their own? Did the critics not protest that they were their own? What then was their strange crime? That they would rob themselves of their own intellectual riches, and deposit them on the altar of their country's glory. Wondrous crime! wondrous age! Let us rejoice that a better time has arrived. Not thus was execrated and chased out of the regions of popularity, and even into a self-dug grave, “ The Great Unknown,” “The Author of Waverley." He wore his mask in all peace and honour for thirteen years, and not a soul dreamed of denouncing Sir Walter Scott, when he was compelled to own himself as the real author, because he had endeavoured to palm off his productions as those of Peter Pattison, or Jedediah Cleishbotham. .