« AnteriorContinuar »
To bitter scorn a sacrifice,
And grinning infamy;
That mocks the tear it forc'd to flow;
Amidst severest woe.
Lo, in the vale of years beneath
A grisly troop are seen, The painful family of death,
More hideous than their queen ;
Those in tho deeper vitals rage :
And slow consuming age.
Condemn'd alike to groan ;
The unfeeling for his own. Yet, ah ! why should they know their fate ! Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies: Thought would destroy their paradise.--No more.
Where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise.
A Loug štary.
The Long Slory is so entitled in deprecation of any tedium which the reader might experience in perusing a personal adventure of the author's who was too sensitive on such points. He pleasantly pretends that he has omitted five hundred stanzas. The occasion of the poem was a visit paid him by two ladies, who did him the honor of · being their own introducers. Gray was at the house of his aunt, in his native village of Stoke Pogeis, near Windsor. His mother was there also. The Viscountess Cobham,* who possessed the mansionhouse of the place, wished to make the poet's acquaintance. The ladies in question undertook to break the ice for her. Not finding him at home, they left a card, intimating that they came to tell him of the good health of a Lady Brown, a friend of his. Shy and sequestered as he was, the poet returned the visit; and he takes the opportunity of describing the house, and complimenting its inmates.
Walpole said of Gray, that, however well he might write in moods altogether serious, his real forte was pleasantry. Undoubtedly Gray's pleasantry is of a more original cast than his seriousness ; less indebted to that of his predecessors. Yet there is reason to believe that every thought which he transferred to paper had passed through his own mind, though his love of the writings of others too often induced him to express it in their words. Half his verses are centos; and yet we feel them to be rather sympathies than echoes. His Ode on the Prospect of Elon College, and his Elegy in a Country Churchyard, are the regrets of all his fellow-mortals, and of himself. Gray was a scholarly, thoughtful, affectionate man; a little effeminate in his hab
* Sister of Pope's Lord Cobham, and subsequently Countess Temple.
its, owing to a feeble constitution ; but manly in his judgments, and superior to every kind of sophistry and meanness.
Gray's pleasantry came to him through his melancholy, assisted by the general delicacy of his perceptions, and his willingness to be pleased. Though a little too cautious of committing his dignity, he was not one of those who “take a calamity for an affront.” He was willing to give and to receive pleasure, and this is a disposition which Nature is sure to reward. In the Long Story we see him hesitating at first whether he should go to the “great house." He was not only loth to be disturbed in his sequestered habits ; he was jealous of what might be thought of his humble independence, and his footing as a “gentleman.” (He was the son of a scrivener.) But good-nature prevails, not unaccompanied by a willingness to find himself among ladies of rank and elegance; and though he might as well have dropped the circumstance of his secreting himself, he has made a charming picture both of the interview of the ladies with his mother and aunt (whom he pretends they pinched and “rummaged" like fairies), and of the great Elizabethan house, with its old associations,—things in which he delighted; for he was an antiquary with all the zest of a poet. The whole poem is full of picturesqueness, fancy, and wit.
An ancient pile of building stands;
Employ'd the power of fairy hands
To raise the ceiling's fretted height,
Each panel in achievements clothing,
And passages that lead to nothing. *
Full oft within the spacious walls,
When he had fifty winters o'er him,
* A line that has become a favorite quotation with critics, especially as applied to passages in music.
My grave Lord-Keeper led the brawls;
The seal and maces danc'd before him.
His bushy beard and shoe-strings green,
His high-crown'd hat and satin doublet,
Though Pope and Spaniard could not trouble it.
A house there is (and that's enough)
From whence one fatal morning issues
But rustling in their silks and tissues.
The first came cap-à-pie from France,
Her conquering destiny fulfilling,
And vainly ape her art of killing.
* The brawl (branle) was a fashionable dance. The Lord Keeper is Sir Christopher Hatton, a handsome man, who is said to have danced himself into the office. It is unquestionable that he made way somehow into the heart of Elizabeth. Dancing, however, appears to have been so much admired by this great queen, that another and graver lawyer, Sir John Davies, no mean philosophical poet, who was also one of her most devoted panegyrists, divided his leisure thoughts between metrical treatises on the Art of Dancing and on the Immortality of the Soul. Biographers, by the way, tell us, that Hatton never possessed a house at Stoke Pogeis. Gray, however, says he did; and there he is in consequence, living forever.
The other Amazon* kind heav'n
Had arm'd with spirit, wit, and satire;
And tipp'd her arrows with good-nature.
To celebrate her eyes, her air
Coarse panegyrics would but tease her:
Alas! who would not wish to please her?
With bonnet blue, and capuchin,
And aprons long, they hid their armor,
In pity to the country farmer.
Fame in the shape of Mr. P-t
(By this time all the parish know it) Had told that thereabouts there lurk'd
A wicked imp they call’d a poet,t
Who prowl'd the country far and near,
Bewitch'd the children of the peasants,
And suck'd the eggs and kill'd the pheasants.
My Lady, heard their joint petition,
Swore, by her coronet and ermine,
To rid the manor of such vermin.
* Miss Harriett Speed. She was a descendant of the historian, and became the wife of the Sardinian ambassador, the Count de Veri.
+ Mr. P was a Mr. Purt or Purkt. He is said to have been displeased with this allusion, Mason thinks unreasonably; but nobody likes to be thought a gossip. Mason knew that Gray was a good-natured man; but of this. Mr. P. might not have been so sure.