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The Letters of Robert Bloomfield and His Circle, Edited By Tim Fulford and Lynda Pratt
TEI

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.

‘PEACE

I.

‘HALT! Ye Legions, sheathe your Steel:
Blood grows precious; shed no more:
Cease your toils; your wounds to heal
Lo! beams of Mercy reach the shore!
From realms of everlasting light
The favour’d guest of Heaven is come:
Prostrate your Banners at the sight,
And bear the glorious tidings home.

II.

The plunging corpse, with half-clos’d eyes,
No more shall stain th’ unconscious brine;
Yon pendant gay that streaming flies,
Around its idle staff shall twine.
Behold! along th’ethereal sky
Her beams o’er conquering Navies spread;
Peace! Peace! the leaping Sailors cry,
With shouts that might arouse the dead.

III.

Then forth Britannia’s thunder pours;
A vast reiterated sound!
From line to line the cannon roars,
And spreads the blazing joy around.
Return, ye brave! your country calls;
Return; return, your task is done:
While here the tear of transport falls,
To grace your laurels nobly won.

IV.

Albion Cliffs—from age to age,
That bear the roaring storms of Heav’n,
Did ever fiercer warfare rage,
Was ever peace more timely given?
Wake! sounds of Joy: rouse, generous isle;
Let every patriot bosom glow.
Beauty, resume thy wonted smile,
And, Poverty, thy cheerful brow.

V.

Boast, Britain, of thy glorious Guests;
Peace, Wealth, and Commerce, all thine own
Still on contented Labour rests
The basis of a lasting throne.
Shout, Poverty! ’tis Heaven that saves;
Protected Wealth, the chorus raise,
Ruler of War, of Winds, and Waves,
Accept a prostrate Nation’s praise.’ P. vii.

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.

‘Past deeds now from each tongue alternate fell;
For news of dearest import both could tell.
Fondly, from childhood’s tears to youth’s full prime,
They match’d the incidents of jogging time;
And prov’d that when with tyranny oppress’d,
Poor Phoebe groan’d with wounds and broken rest,
George felt no less; was harass’d and forlorn;
A rope’s-end followed him both night and morn.
And in that very storm when Phoebe fled,
When the rain drench’d her yet unshelter’d head;
That very storm he on the Ocean brav’d,
The vessel founder’d, and the boy was sav’d!
Mysterious Heav’n! and O with what delight
She told the happy issue of her flight:
To his charm’d heart a living picture drew,
And gave to Hospitality its due.’ P. 46.

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.

‘MARKET NIGHT

I.

‘O winds, howl not so long and loud;
Nor with your vengeance arm the snow:
Bear hence each heavy-loaded cloud;
And let the twinkling star-beams glow.

II.

‘Now sweeping floods rush down the slope,
Wide scattering ruin.—Stars, shine soon!
No other light my love can hope;
Midnight will want the joyous moon.

III.

‘O guardian Spirits!—Ye that dwell
Where woods, and pits, and hollow ways,
The lone night trav’ller’s fancy swell
With fearful tales, of older days,—

IV.

‘Press round him:—guide his willing steed
Through darkness, dangers, currents, snows;
Wait where, from shelt’ring thickets freed,
The dreary Heath’s rude whirlwind blows.

V.

‘From darkness rushing o’er his way,
The thorn’s white load it bears on high!
Where the short furze all shrouded lay,
Mounts the dried grass;—Earth’s bosom dry.

VI.

‘Then o’er the Hill with furious sweep
It rends the elevated tree—
Sure-footed beast, thy road thou’lt keep:
Nor storm nor darkness startles thee!

VII.

‘O blest assurance, (trusty steed)
To thee the buried road is known;
Home, all the spur thy footsteps need,
When loose the frozen rein is thrown.

VIII.

‘Between the roaring blasts that shake
The naked elder at the door,
Though not one prattler to me speak,
Their sleeping sighs delight me more.

IX.

‘Sound is their rest:—they little know
What pain, what cold, their father feels;
But dream, perhaps, they see him now,
While each the promis’d orange peels.

X.

‘Would it were so!—the fire burns bright,
And on the warming trencher gleams;
In Expectation’s raptur’d sight
How precious his arrival seems!

XI.

‘I’ll look abroad!—’tis piercing cold!
How the bleak wind assails his breast!
Yet some faint light mine eyes behold:
The storm is verging o’er the West.

XII.

‘There shines a Star!—O welcome Sight!
Through the thin vapours bright’ning still!
Yet, ’twas beneath the fairest night
The murd’rer stain’d yon lonely hill.

XIII.

‘Mercy, kind Heav’n! such thoughts dispel!
No voice, no footstep can I hear!’
(Where Night and Silence brooding dwell,
Spreads thy cold reign, heart-chilling Fear.)

XIV.

‘Distressing hour! uncertain fate!
O Mercy, Mercy, guide him home!—
Hark!—then I heard the distant gate,—
Repeat it, Echo; quickly, come!’

XV.

‘One minute now will ease my fears—
Or, still more wretched must I be?
No: surely Heaven has spar’d our tears:
I see him, cloath’d in snow;—’tis he.—

XVI.

‘Where have you stay’d? put down your load.
How have you borne the storm, the cold?
What horrors did I not forbode—
That beast is worth his weight in gold.’

XVII.

Thus spoke the joyful Wife;—then ran
In grateful steams her head:
Dapple was hous’d, the hungry Man
With joy glanc’d o’er the children’s bed.

XVIII.

‘What, all asleep!—so best;’ he cried:
O what a night I’ve travell’d through!
Unseen, unheard, I might have died;
But Heaven has brought me safe to you.

XIX.

‘Dear Partner of my nights and days,
That smile becomes thee!—Let us then
Learn, though mishap may cross our ways,
It is not ours to reckon when.’ P. 64.

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.

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