British Critic, 19 (April 1802), 338–43
British Critic, 19 (April 1802), 338–43
[Review of] Rural Tales, Ballads, and Songs. by Robert Bloomfield, Author of the Farmer’s Boy. 12mo. 119 pp. 4s. Vernor and Hood. 1802.
We are pleasingly called away from our abstruser studies, by these productions of a genuine Child of Nature. In Bloomfield’s first Poem, the Farmer’s Boy, we saw and commended the evidence of an original genius, well deserving of encouragement and cultivation. The public has agreed with us, and five editions of that work exhibit the most unequivocal attestation of general favour. Of the author’s history, as detailed in the Preface, by Mr. C. Lofft, we gave a sketch in the article referred to in the margin [* See Brit. Crit. vol. xv. p.601], and we are happy now to add to it, in the words of the author himself:
‘The consequence has been such as my true friends will rejoice to hear; it has procured me many essential blessings and I feel peculiarly gratified in finding that a poor man in England may assert the dignity of Virtue, and speak of the imperishable beauties of Nature, and be heard; and heard, perhaps, with greater attention for his being poor.’
With the Farmer’s Boy we were highly pleased, because it showed, in the most striking manner, the natural movements of an ingenious mind; and evinced how perfectly new a subject, apparently preoccupied, may be made by taking it in a different view. But we hesitate not to declare ourselves still more satisfied with the present volume. The author here relates Tales, in themselves pleasing, in the language of beautiful simplicity, and natural poetry; or pours forth pastoral Songs, full of pleasing ideas, in a style exactly suited to their expression. Such is the general texture of this volume of Poems; but the intelligence of Peace has tempted the author; at the close of his Preface, to venture into a new line; his success in which, sufficiently demonstrates that his mind has all the versatility of real genius. We much doubt, whether the return of Peace will receive any gratulation more truly poetical than the following Ode. Nor must we omit, in justice to the good heart of the author, the introduction he has prefixed to it.
‘Since affixing the above date (Sep. 29, 1801) an event of much greater importance than any to which I have been witness, has taken place, to the universal joy (it is to be hoped) of every inhabitant of Europe. My portion of joy shall be expressed while it is yet warm. And the reader will do sufficient justice, if he only believes it to be sincere.—Oct 10.
More than that justice will probably be done by every reader of taste, who will allow it to be animated and poetical.
The four concluding lines of this spirited and feeling Ode rise to sublimity, by their connection with devotion, the expression of which is apposite and solemn. Under such auspices opens this volume; the contents of which we shall now briefly recite.
The first poem is a Ballad, entitled ‘Richard and Kate,’ full of the simple beauties which result from the plain and true expression of the best natural feelings. A slight mixture of provincial terms gives it the peculiar cast, which is so pleasing in many poems of Burns. ‘Walter and Jane,’ the second poem, is an artless tale of two lovers, related with a simplicity by no means inelegant, in couplet verse; and to a manner calculated to remind the reader of the narrative style of our best English poets. ‘The Miller’s Maid’ is still more interesting and affecting. The circumstances are novel, and many of the situations new to poetry. The following passage will not perhaps easily be surpassed, for originality and truth. A boy and girl, early exposed to hardships, meet at length in better circumstances.
The Ballads that follow are all pleasing, and original, ‘The Widow and her Hour-Glass,’ is natural and poetical; ‘The Fakenham Ghost,’ full of unaffected humour and good moral; ‘The French Mariner,’ pathetic; and, ‘Dolly,’ pastoral and interesting. But that entitled ‘Market Night,’ contains so natural and pleasing a picture of conjugal tenderness, drawn with so much genuine feeling and animation, that no other proof of the author’s singular merit can be required by those who read it.
The remaining Poems are few. The Ode occasioned by a visit to Whittlebury Forest, is in a higher strain than the rest; but the author writes with security, because he never loses sight of nature. The Song for ‘A Highland Drover,’ has much tenderness and ease; and the remaining small Poems all confirm the claim of Robert Bloomfield to the genuine inspiration of a mind, whose thoughts and feelings naturally turn to poetry.
We are well convinced, that the patronage of the public will attend this little volume, in the same degree as it has the Farmer’s Boy. Among other favourable testimonies of the author’s disposition, we remark his lively gratitude to Mr. Lofft, who had the merit of drawing him from obscurity, and still continues his encomiast, at the close of each Poem. Those observations are certainly dictated by the same laudable zeal which led the writer first to protect and assist Bloomfield; but they are superfluous; and it is rather irksome to readers who can judge for themselves, to be told in every instance, what they ought to think, and how much they should admire. Bloomfield’s poetry does not require this aid; and it is hardly fair for the critic to jump up and ride behind him, wherever he may turn his Pegasus. Mr. Lofft is not so often querulous as in some of his other effusions, otherwise we should say,
Post equitem sedet atra cura.