« PreviousContinue »
disturb your slumbers, and find charms in nothing but harmony and repose. You have as yet contracted no partialities, are entirely ignorant of party distinctions, and look with a perfect indifference on all human splendour. You have an absolute dislike to the vanities of dress; and are likely, for many months, to observe the Bishop of Bristol's first rule of conversation, Silence, though tempted to transgress it by the novelty and strangeness of all objects round you.* As you advance further in life, this philosophical temper will by degrees wear off; the first object of your admiration will probably be the candle, and thence (as we all of us do) you will contract a taste for the gaudy and the glaring, without making one moral reflection upon the danger of such false admiration as leads people many a time to burn their fingers. You will then begin to show great partiality for some very good aunts, who will contribute all they can towards spoiling
will be equally fond of an excellent mamma, who will teach you, by her example, all sorts of good qualities; only let me warn you of one thing, my dear, and that is, not to learn of her to have such an immoderate love of home as is quite contrary to all the privileges of this polite age, and to give up so entirely all those pretty graces of whim, flutter, and affection, which so many charitable poets have declared to be the prerogative of our sex.
Oh! my poor cousin, to what
prerogative, when your nurse tells you (with a pious care to sow
* The Bishop of Bristol, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, was Secker. His “first rule of conversation" is very good. It was on these two prelates that Pope wrote his couplet
E'en in a bishop I can spy desert;
Secker is decent, Rundle has a heart. By “decent we are to understand the word in its classical sense of becoming.
the seeds of jealousy and emulation as early as possible) that you
have a fine little brother “ come to put your nose out of joint ?" There will be nothing to be done then but to be mighty good; and prove what, believe me, admits of very little dispute (though it has occasioned abundance), that we girls, however people give themselves airs of being disappointed, are by no means to be despised. The men unenvied shine in public; but it is we must make their homes delightful to them—and, if they provoke us, no less uncomfortable. I do not expect you to answer this letter yet awhile; but, as I dare say you have the greatest interest with your papa, will beg you to prevail upon him that we may know by a line (before his time is engrossed by another secret committee) that you and your mamma are well. In the meantime, I will only assure you that all here rejoice in your existence extremely; and that I am, my very young correspondent, most affectionately yours, &c.
The Schoolmistress is one of those poems (delightful, to our thinking) which are to be read with a smile on the face, and thoughtfulness at heart:—the smile, for the assumption of dignity in its tone; the thoughtfulness, for the human interest of the subject. It is Shenstone's masterpiece. Its playful imitation of the manner of Spenser saved him from that inferior artificial style of the day, which injured the natural feeling of most of his other poems; and the manliness at the heart of its gentle wisdom ought to have saved the writer from the fears which he condescended to entertain, lest undiscerning critics should take it for something as dull as themselves. The poem has the pungent sweetness and balminess of the herbs described in its cottage garden. We never think of it without seeming to inhale their fragrance.
The good dame, the heroine of the poem, was the schoolmistress of Shenstone's own infancy. He was the offspring of a race now almost extinct, the small uneducated country-gentleman, farming his own estate; and he was sent to the first nurse-like teacher that presented herself in the neighbourhood. Her name was Sarah Lloyd. Let this be known, for the glory and encouragement of all such educers of infant “bards sublime,” or future “Chancellors in embryo.” The birchtree is not in so much request as it was in her days. The “little bench of heedless bishops” may now look at it without “shaping it into rods,” “and tingling at the view.” The change is better for all parties, considering that a proper amount of healthy vigour, reflection, and superiority to petty pains is to be secured by better means. It is not for its mode of infant training that the poem is here reprinted; but for its archness, its humour, its agreeable description, and the writer's thoughtful humanity.
H me! full sorely is my heart forlorn,
To think how modest worth neglected lies,
Such as I oft have chaunced to espy,
In every village mark'd with little spire,
And all in sight doth rise a birchen tree,
And as they look’d, they found their horror grew,
So I have seen (who has not, may conceive)
So doth it wanton birds of peace bereave,
Ne superstition clog his chance of joy,
Near to this dome is found a patch so green,
Where sits the dame, disguis'd in look profound,
far whiter than the driven snow,
And stedfast hate, and sharp affliction join'd,
Few but have ken'd, in semblance meet pourtray'd,
* A memorial of the tremendous ingredients that composed the thunderbolts of Jupiter.
+ The winds, in the likeness of children, puffing and blowing in the corners of old maps.