Page images
[ocr errors]

The Long Story 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 Eton 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.

[blocks in formation]

To raise the ceiling's fretted height,

Each panel in achievements clothing,
Rich windows that exclude the light,

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, Mov'd the stout heart of England's Queen,

Though Pope and Spaniard could not trouble it.

What, in the very first beginning?

Shame of the versifying tribe !
Your history whither are you spinning?

Can you do nothing but describe ?

A house there is and that's enough)

From whence one fatal morning issues A brace of warriors, not in buff,

But rustling in their silks and tissues.

The firstt came cap-à-pie from France,

Her conquering destiny fulfilling, Whom meaner beauties eye askance,

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.

† Lady Schaub.

The other Amazon* kind heav'n

Had arm’d with spirit, wit, and satire ;
But Cobham had the polish giv'n,

And tipp'd her arrows with good-nature.

To celebrate her eyes, her air

Coarse panegyrics would but tease her:
Melissa is her nom de guerre ;

Alas! who would not wish to please her ?

With bonnet blue, and capuchin,

And aprons long, they hid their armor,
And veil'd their weapons bright and keen

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,

Who prowl'd the country far and near,

Bewitch'd the children of the peasants,
Dry'd up

the cows and lam'd the deer,
And suck'd the eggs and kill'd the pheasants.

My Lady, heard their joint petition,

Swore, by her coronet and ermine,
She'd issue out her high commission

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 wi 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.,

The heroines undertook the task;

Thro' lanes unknown, o'er stiles they ventur'd, Rapp'd at the door, nor stay'd to ask,

But bounce into the parlor enter'd.

The trembling family they daunt;

They flirt, they sing, they laugh, they tattle ; Rummage his mother, pinch his aunt, And


stairs in a whirlwind rattle.

Each hole and cupboard they explore,

Each creek and cranny of his chamber, Run hurry-skurry round the floor,

And o'er the bed and tester clamber;

Into the drawers and china pry,

Papers and books, a huge imbroglio; Under a tea-cup he might lie,

Or creas'd, like dogs-ears, in a folio.

On the first marching of the troops,

The Muses, hopeless of his pardon, Conveyed him underneath their hoops

To a small closet in the garden.

So Rumor says (who will, believe);

But that they left the door ajar, Where safe, and laughing in his sleeve,

He heard the distant din of war.

Short was his joy; he little knew

The power of magic was no fable; Out of the window whisk they flew,

But left a spell upon the table.

« PreviousContinue »