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The sturdy rustic, in the middle wave,
Awaits to seize him rising ; one arm bears
His lifted head above the limpid stream,
While the full clammy fleece the other laves
Around, laborious, with repeated toil ;
And then resigns him to the sunny bank,
Where, bleating loud, he shakes his dripping locks.


[ROBERT Blair was born at Edinburgh in 1699. He became a minister, and was presented to the living of Athelstaneford in Haddingtonshire, where most of his life was passed. He died there in 1746. The Grave was published at Edinburgh in 1743.]

Blair's singular little poem, which has perhaps been more widely read than any other poetical production of a writer who wrote no other poetry, was, it is said, rejected by several London publishers on the ground that it was 'too heavy for the times.' As its introducer was Dr. Watts, it is not likely that he suggested it to any but serious members of the trade. The Grave thus adds one to the tolerably long list of books respecting the chances of which professional judgment has been hopelessly out. It acquired popularity almost as soon as it was published, and retained it for at least a century ; indeed its date is not yet gone by in certain circles. Long after its author's death it obtained an additional and probably a lasting hold on a new kind of taste by the fact of Blake's illustrating it. The artist's designs indeed were, as he expresses it in the beautiful Dedication to Queen Charlotte, rather 'visions that his soul had seen'than representations of anything directly contained in Blair's verse. But that verse itself is by no means to be despised. Technically its only fault is the use and abuse of the redundant syllable. The quality of Blair's blank verse is in every respect rat moulded upon dramatic than upon purely poetical models, and he shows little trace of imitation either of Milton, or of his contemporary Thomson. Whether his studies—contrary to the wont of Scotch divines at that time—had really been much directed to the drama, I cannot say ; but the perusal of his poem certainly suggests such a conclusion, not merely the licence just mentioned, but the generally declamatory and rhetorical tone helping to produce the impression. The matter of the poem is good. General plan it has none, but in so short a composition a general plan is hardly wanted. It abounds with forcible and original ideas expressed in vigorous and unconventional phraseology, nor is it likely nowadays that this phraseology will strike readers, as it struck the delicate critics of the eighteenth century, as being 'vulgar.' Vigorous single lines are numerous; and it is at least as much a tribute to the vigour of the poem as to its popularity, that many of its phrases have worked their way into current speech. Nor is it difficult to produce sustained passages, the effect of which is marred only by the ugly technical fault already noticed. The poem naturally invites comparison with the Night Thoughts. In depth of meaning it is probably the inferior of Young's work. But its shortness is very much in its favour, as also is the absence of conventionality which distinguishes it, if we except a little stock satire about the trappings of the grave, &c. The wonder is however, not that Blair has sometimes fallen into the use of the cut and dried, but that he has so often avoided it. To have written a poem of seven or eight hundred lines on such a subject, which after the lapse of nearly a century and a half can be read with pleasure and even some admiration, is something ; perhaps it is something by no means inconsiderable. It is due beyond all doubt to the fact that Blair had the specially poetic faculty of saying old things in a new way. There is almost always something novel in his dressing up of his images and a suggestive unhackneyedness in their expression. It is sufficient to read the last four lines of the poem to perceive this.


[From The Grave.]

Self-Murder ! name it not : our island's shame,
That makes her the reproach of neighbouring states.
Shall nature, swerving from her earliest dictate,
Self-preservation, fall by her own act ?
Forbid it, Heaven !-let not upon disgust
The shameless hand be foully crimsoned o’er
With blood of its own lord.—Dreadful attempt !
Just reeking from self-slaughter, in a rage,
To rush into the presence of our Judge
As if we challenged him to do his worst
And mattered not his wrath : unheard of tortures
Must be reserved for these, these herd together,
The common damned shun their society,
And look upon themselves as fiends less foul.
Our time is fix'd and all our days are numbered,
How long, how short we know not ; this we know,
< Duty requires we calmly wait the summons,

Nor dare to stir till Heaven shall give permission,
Like sentries that must keep their destined stand
And wait the appointed hour till they're relieved.
Those only are the brave that keep their ground,
And keep it to the last. To run away
Is but a coward's trick.

To run away
From this world's ills, that at the very worst
Will soon blow o'er, thinking to mend ourselves
By boldly venturing on a world unknown
And plunging headlong in the dark—'tis mad,
No phrenzy half so desperate as this.


On this side and on that men see their friends
Drop off like leaves in autumn, yet launch out

Into fantastic schemes, which the long livers
In the world's hale and undegenerate days
Could scarce have leisure for. Fools that we are,
Never to think of death and of ourselves
At the same time : as if to learn to die
Were no concern of ours. Oh ! more than sottish
For creatures of a day in gamesome mood
To frolic on Eternity's dread brink
Unapprehensive, when, for aught we know,
The very first swoln surge shall sweep us in.
Think we or think we not, time hurries on
With a resistless unremitting stream,
Yet treads more soft than e'er did midnight thief
That slides his hand under the miser's pillow
And carries off his prize. | What is this world ?
What but a spacious burial-field unwalled
Strewed with death's spoils, the spoils of animals
Savage and tame, and full of dead men's bones.
The very turf on which we tread once lived,
And we that live must lend our carcases
To cover our own offspring ; in their turns
They too must cover theirs—tis here all meet.
The shivering Icelander and sunburnt Moor,
Men of all climes who never met before,
And of all creeds, the Jew, the Turk, the Christian.
Here the proud prince, and favourite yet prouder,
His sovereign's keeper and the people's scourge,
Are huddled out of sight.—Here lie abashed
The great negotiators of the earth,
And celebrated masters of the balance,
Deep read in stratagems and wiles of courts ;
Now vain their treaty skill.—Death scorns to treat.
Here the o'erloaded slave flings down his burden
From his galled shoulders, and when the stern tyrant,
With all his guards and tools of power about him
Is meditating new unheard-of hardships,
Mocks his short arm, and quick as thought escapes
Where tyrants vex not and the weary rest.

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