« PreviousContinue »
was obliged to be confined in an asylum. He had two sons, both amiable and accomplished youths. The eldest lived till he ^as twentytwo, aud was associated with his father in the professorship: he died iii 1790, and the afflicted parent soothed his grief by writing his life, and publishing some specimens of his composition in prose and verse. The second son died in 1796, aged eighteen; and the only consolation of the now lonely poet was, that he could not have borne to see their 'elegant minds mangled with madness'—an allusion to the hereditary insanity of tlieir mother. By nature, Beattie was a man of quick and tender sensibilities. A fine landscape, or music—in which he was a proficient—affected him even to tears. He had a sort of hysterical dread of meeting with his metaphysical opponents, which was an unmanly weakness. Such an organization, physical and moral, was ill-fitted to insure happiness or fortitude in adversity. When his second son died, he said lie had done with the world. He ceased to correspond with his friends, or to continue his studies. Shattered by a long train of nervous complaints, in April 1799 the poet had a stroke of palsy, and after different returns of the same malady, which excluded him from all society, he died on the 18th of August, 1803. His 'Life' was written by his attached friend, Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, Baronet; it was published in 1805, and ranks high among the biographies of literary personages.
In the early training of his eldest and beloved sou, Dr. Beattie adopted an expedient of a romantic and interesting description. His object was to give him the first idea of a Supreme Being; and his method, as Dr. Porteous, bishop of London, remarked, 'had all the imagination of Itosseau, without his folly and extravagance.'
Imparting to a Boy the First Idea of a Supreme Being,
1 He had,' says Beattie, 'reached his fifth (or sixth) year, knew the alphabet, and eouM read a little; but. had, received no particular information with respect to the author of his being, because I thought he could not yet understand such information, and because I had learned from my own experience, that to be made to repeat words not understood, is extremely detrimental to the faculties of a young mind. Ik a corner of a little garden, without informing uny person of the circumstance, I wrote iu the inouid, witti my finger, the three initial letters of his name, aud sowing garden cresses in the furrows, covered up ihe seed, and smoothed the ground. Ten days after, he came running to me, and with astonishment iu his countenance, told me that his name was growing iu the garden. I smiled at the report, and eeemed inclined to disregard it; but he insisted ou my goiug to see what had happened. *' Yes," said I carelessly, on coming to the place; "I see it is so; but there is nothing in this worth notice; it is mere chance ;" and I went away. He followed me, aud taking hold of my co:it, said with some earnestness: "It could not be mere chance, for that somebody must have contrived matters so as to produce it." I pretend not to give his words or my own. for I have forgotten both, but I give the substance of what passed between us in such langnage as we both understood. '• So yon think," I caid. "that what appears so regular as the letters of your name cauliot be by chance?" "Yes." said he with firmness, "I think so." "Look at yourself," I replied, "and consider your hands aud fingers, your legs and feet, and other limbs; are they not regular iu their appearance, and useful to you?" He said they were. "Came you theu hither," said I, "by chance 1" "No," he answered; "that cauuot be; something must have mode me." "And who is that something?"
I asked. He said ho did not know. (I took particular notice that he did not say, ne Rousseau fancies a child in like circumstance« would say, that his parents made him.) I had now «rained the point 1 aimed tit; and saw that his reason taught him—though he eould not so exprès« it—that what begins to be, must have a cause, and that what is formed with regularity, must have an intelligent cause. I therefore told him the name of the Great Being who made him and all the world, concerning whose adorable nature I gave him such information as I thought he could in sonm measure comprehend. The lesson affected him deeply, und he never forgot either it or the circumstance that introduced it.'
The 'Minstrel,' on which Beattie's fame now rests, is a didactic poem, in the Spenserian stanza, designed to * trace the progress of a poetical genius, born in a rude age, from the first dawning of fancy and reason till that period at which he may be supposed capable of appearing in the world as a minstrel.' The idea was suggested by Percy's preliminary Dissertation to his * Reliques.' The character of Edwin, the minstrel—iu which Bcattic embodied his own early feelings and poetical aspirations—is very finely drawn.
Opening of the Minstrel.
Ah! who can tell ho\v hard it is to climb
The steep where Fame's proud temple shines afar;
Ah I who can tell how many a soul sublime
Has felt the influence of malignant star,
And waged with Fortune an eterual war;
Checked by the scoff of Pride, hy Envy's frown,
And Poverty's unconquerable bar,
In life's low vale remote has pined alone,
Then dropped.into the grave, uupitied and unknown!
And yet the languor of inglorious days
Not equiilly oppressive is to all;
Him, who ne'er listened to the voice of praise,
The silence of neglect can ne'er appal.
There are, who, deaf to mad Ambition's call,
Would shrink to hear the obstreperous trump of Fame;
Supremely blest, if to their portion fall
Health, competence, and peace. Nor higher aim
Had he, whose simple tale these artless lines proclaim.
The rohV of fame I will not now explore;
Nor need I here describe, in learned lay,
How forth the minstrel fared in (hys of yore,
Right glad of heart, though homely in array;
His waving locks and beard nil hoary gray;
While from his bending shoulder, decent hnng
His harp, the sob; companion of his way,
Which to the whistling wind responsive rung:
And ever as he went some merry lay he euug.
Fret not thyself, thou glittering child of pride,
That a poor villager inspires my strain;
With the« let Pageantry and Power abide;
The gentle Muses haunt the sylvan reign;
Where through wild groves at eve the lonely swain
Enraptured roams, to gaze on Nature's charms.
They hate the sensual und scorn the vain;
The parasite their influence never warms,
Ног him whose sordid eoul the love of gold alarm«.
Though richest hues the peacock's plnmes adorn,
Yet horror screams from his discordant throut.
Rise, sous of harmony, and hail the morn,
While warbling larks on russet pinions float:
Or seek at noon the woodland scene remote,
"Where the gray linnets carol from the hill
О let them ne'er, with artificial note,
To please a tyrant, strain the little bill,
But sing what Heaven Inspires, and wander where they will.
Liberal, not lavish, is kind Nature's hand;
Nor was perfection made for mail below.
Yet all her schemes with nicest ail are planned,
Good counteracting ill, and gladness woe.
With gold and gems if Chilian mountains glow,
If bleak and barren Scotia's hills arise;
There plague and poison, lust and rapine grow;
Here peaceful are the vales, and pure the skies,
And freedom fires the soul, and sparkles in the eyes.
Then grieve not thon, to whom the indulgent Mase
Vouchsafes a portion of celestial fire:
Nor blame the partial Fates, if they refuse
The imperial banquet and the rich attire.
Know thine own worth, and reverence the lyre.
Wilt thon debase the heart which God refined?
No; let thy heaven-taught soul to Heaven aspire,
To fancy, freedom, harmony, resigned;
Ambition's grovelling crew for ever left behind.
Canst thon forego the pure ethereal soul,
In each fine sense so exquisitely keen,
On the dull couch of Luxury to loll,
Stung with disease, and stupefied with spleen;
Fain to implore the aid of Flattery's screen,
Even from thyself thy loathsome heart to hide—-
The mansion then no more of joy serene—
Where fear, distrust, malevolence abide,
And impotent desire, and disappointed pride?
О how canst thou renounce the boundless store
Of charms which Nature to her voiary yields!
The warbling woodland, the resounding shore,
The pomp of groves, and garniture of fields;
All that the genial ray of morning gilds,
And all that echoes to the song of even.
All that the mountain's sheltering bosom shields,
And all the dread magnificence of heaven,
О how canst thou renounce, and hope to be forgiven? • » •.
There lived in Gothic days, as legends tell,
A shepherd swain, a man of low degree,
Whose sires, perchance, in Fairyland might dwell,
Sicilian groves, or vales of Arcady;
But he, I ween, was of the north countrie;
A nation famed for soiig, and beauty's charms;
Zealous, yet modest; innocent, though free;
Patient of toil; serene amidst alarms;
Inflexible in faith; invincible in arms.
^ The shepherd swain of whom Ï mention made,
On Scotia's mountains fed his little flock;
. The sickle, scythe, or plough he never swayed;
An honest heart was almost all hie stock;
His drink the living water from the rock: The milky dame supplied his hoard, and lent Their kindly lleece to baffle winter's shock; And he, though oft with dust and sweat besprent, Did guide and guard their wanderings, wheresoe'er they went.
Description of Edwin.
And yet poor Edwin was no vulgar boy.
Deep thought oit seemed to ibt his infant eye
Dainties he heeded not, nor gaud, nor toy,
Save one short pipe of rudest minstrelsy;
Silent when glad; affectionate, though shy;
And now hie look was most demurely sad.
And now he laughed aloud, yet none knew why.
The neighbours stared and sighed, yet blessed the lad;
Some deemed him wondrous wise, and some believed him mad.
But why should I his childish feats display?
Concourse, and noise, »nd toil he ever fled;
Nor cared to mingle in the clamorous fray
Of squabbling imps; but to the forest sped,
Or roamed at large the lonely mountain's head,
Or where the maze of some Ixjwildered stream.
To deep untrodden groves his footsteps led.
There would he wander wild, till Phoebus' beam,
Shot from the western clifl, released the weary team.
The exploit of strength, dexterity, or speed,
To him nor vanity nor joy could bring:
His heart, from cruel sport estranged, would bleed
To work the woe of any living thing,
By trap or net, by arrow or by nling;
These he detested, those he scorned to wield;
He wished to be the guardian, not the king,
Tyrant far less, or traitor of the field,
And sure the sylvan reign unbloody joy might yield.
Lo 1 where the stripplmg, rapt in wonder roves,
Beneath the precipice o'erhnng with pine;
And sees on nigh, amidst the encircling groves,
From cliff to cliff the foaming torrents shine;
While waters, woods, and winds', in concert join,
And echo swells the chorus to the skies,
Would Edwin this majestic нсепе resign
For aught the huntsman's punv craft suppliée?
АЬ, no! he better knows great Nature's charms to prize.
And oft he traced the uplands to purvey.
When o'er the sky advanced the kindling dawn,
The crimson cloud, blue main, and mountain gray,
And hike, dim-gleaming on the smoky lawn.
Fur to the west, the long, long vale withdrawn,
Where twilight loves to linger for a while,
And now he faintly kens the bounding fawn,
And villager abroad at early toil:
But lo! the sun appears, and heaven, earth« ocean emito
And oft the craggy cliff he loved to climb,
When all in mint the world below was lost—
What dreadful pleasure there to Rtnnd sublime,
Like shipwrecked mariner on desert coast,
And view the enormous waste of vapour, tost
In billows lengthening to the horizon round,
Now si'oopud in gulfs, with mountains now embossed f
And hear the voici; of mirth and song rebound,
Flocks, herds, and waterfalls, along the hoar profound 1
In truth he was a strange and wayward wight,
Fond of each gentle and each dreadful scene.
In darkness und in storm he found delight;
Nor less than when on ocean-wave serene,
The southern sun diffused his dazzling sheen.
Even sad vicissitude amused his soul;
And if a sigh would sometimes intervene,
Aud down nis chuck a tear of pity roll,
A sigh, u tear, so sweet, he wished not to control.
Even now lus eves with smiles of rapture glow, .»
As on he wanders through the scenes of mom,
Where the fresh flowers in living lustre blow,
Where thousand pearls the dewy lawns adorn,
A thousand iiotua of joy in every breeze are borne.
But who the melodies of morn can tell?
The wild brook babbling down the mountain side;
The lowing herd ; the sheepfold's simple bell;
The pipe of early shepherd dim descried
In the lone valley; echoing far and wide
The clamorous hora along the cliffs above;
The hollow murmur of the ocean-tide;
The hum of bee», the linnet's lay of love,
Aud the full choir that wakes the universal erove.
The cottage-curs at early pi! cri m bark;
Crowned with her pail the tripping milkmaid singa;
The whistling ploughman stalks afield: and, hark!
Down the rough slope the ponderous wagon rings;
Through rustling corn the liare astonished springs;
Slow tolls the village-clock the drowsy hour;
The partridge bursts away on whirring wings;
Deep mourns the turtle in sequestered bower.
And shrill lark carols clear from her aerial tower.
Life and Immortality.
О ye wild groves. О where is now your bloom !—
The Muse interprets thus his tender thought—
Your flowers, your verdure, afTd your balmy gloom,
Of late so grateful in the hoar of drought?
Why do the birds, that song and rapture brought
To all your bowers, thi-ir mansions now forsake?
Ah! why has fickle chance tins ruin wrought ?•
For now the storm howls mournful through the brake,
And the dead foliage flies in many Ei shapeless flake.
Where now the rill, melodious, pure, and cool,
And meads, with life, and mirth, and beauty crowned?
Ah Î see. the unsightly elime, and sluggish pool,
Have till the solitary vale embrowned;
Fled each fair form, and mute each melting sound,
The raven croaks forlorn oil naked spray.
And hark! the river, bursting every mound.
Down the vale thunders, and with wasteful sway
Uproots the grove, and rolls the shattered rocks away.