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A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth

The opening lines Busk ye


"What is our bliss that changeth with the moon, And day of life that darkens ere 'tis noon? What is true passion, if unblest it dies? And where is Emma's joy, if Henry flies? If love, alas! be pain, the pain I bear No thought can figure and no tongue declare. Ne'er faithful woman felt, nor false one feigned The flames which long have in my bosom reigned. The god of love himself inhabits there With all his rage and dread and grief and care, His complement of stores and total war, O cease then coldly to suspect my love And let my deed at least my faith approve. Alas! no youth shall my endearments share Nor day nor night shall interrupt my care; No future story shall with truth upbraid The cold indifference of the nut-brown maid; Nor to hard banishment shall Henry run While careless Emma sleeps on beds of down. View me resolved, where'er thou lead'st, to go: Friend to thy pain and partner of thy woe; For I attest fair Venus and her son That I, of all mankind, will love but thee alone."

There could be no more striking object lesson than this of the plethora from which English poetic diction was suffering, and of the sanative value of a book like the "Reliques."

"To atone for the rudeness of the more obsolete poems," and "to take off from the tediousness of the longer narratives," Percy interspersed a few modern ballads and

a large number of "little elegant pieces of the lyric kind" by Skelton, Hawes, Gascoigne, Raleigh, Marlowe, Shakspere, Jonson, Warner, Carew, Daniel, Lovelace, Suckling, Drayton, Beaumont and Fletcher, Wotton, and other well-known poets. Of the modern ballads the only one with any resemblance to folk-poetry was "The Braes o' Yarrow" by William Hamilton of Bangour, a Scotch gentleman who was "out in the forty-five." The famous border stream had watered an ancient land of song and story, and Hamilton's ballad, with its "strange, fugitive melody," was not unworthy of its traditions. Hamilton belongs to the Milton imitators by virtue of his octosyllabics "Contemplation."[47] His "Braes o' Yarrow" had been given already in Ramsey's "Tea Table Miscellany," The opening lines--

"Busk ye, busk ye, my bonny, bonny bride, Busk ye, busk ye, my winsome marrow"--

are quoted in Wordsworth's "Yarrow Unvisited," as well as a line of the following stanza:

"Sweet smells the birk, green grows, green grows the grass, Yellow on Yarrow's bank the gowan: Fair hangs the apple frae the rock, Sweet the wave of Yarrow flowin'."

The first edition of the "Reliques" included one acknowledged child of Percy's muse, "The Friar of Orders Grey," a short, narrative ballad made up of song snatches from Shakspere's plays. Later editions afforded his longer poem, "The Hermit of Warkworth," first published independently in 1771.

With all its imperfections--perhaps partly in consequence of its imperfections--the "Reliques" was an epoch-making book. The nature of its service to English letters is thus stated by Macaulay, in the introduction to his "Lays of Ancient Rome": "We cannot wonder that the ballads of Rome should have altogether disappeared, when we remember how very narrowly, in spite of the invention of printing, those of our own country and those of Spain escaped the same fate. There is, indeed, little doubt that oblivion covers many English songs equal to any that were published by Bishop Percy; and many Spanish songs as good as the best of those which have been so happily translated by Mr. Lockhart. Eighty years ago England possessed only one tattered copy of 'Child Waters' and 'Sir Cauline,' and Spain only one tattered copy of the noble poem of the 'Cid.' The snuff of a candle, or a mischievous dog, might in a moment have deprived the world forever of any of those fine compositions. Sir Walter Scott, who united to the fire of a great poet the minute curiosity and patient diligence of a great antiquary, was but just in time to save the precious reliques of the Minstrelsy of the Border."


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