1852 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Susanna Blamire

Mary Russell Mitford, in "Female Poets. Miss Blamire. — Mrs. James Gray" Recollections of a Literary Life; or Books, Places, and People (1852) 215-22.



The name of Blamire has always a certain interest for me, in consequence of a circumstance, which, as it took place somewhere about five-and-forty years ago, and has reference to a flirtation of twenty years previous, there can not now be much harm in relating.

Being with my father and mother on a visit about six miles from Southampton, we were invited by a gentleman of the neighborhood to meet the wife and daughters of a certain Dr. Blamire. "An old friend of yours and mine," quoth our inviter to my father. "Don't you remember how you used to flirt with the fair lady when you and Babington were at Haslar? Faith, if Blamire had not taken pity on her, it would have gone hard with the poor damsel! However, he made up to the disconsolate maiden, and she got over it. Nothing like a new love for chasing away an old one. You must dine with us to-morrow. I shall like to see the meeting."

My father did not attempt to deny the matter. Men never do. He laughed, as all that wicked sex do laugh at such sins twenty years after, and professed that he should be very glad to shake hands with his old acquaintance. So the next day we met.

I was a little curious to see how my own dear mother, my mamma that was, and the stranger lady, my mamma that might have been, would hear themselves on the occasion. At first, my dear mother, an exceedingly ladylike, quiet person, had considerably the advantage, being prepared for the recontre and perfectly calm and composed; while Mrs. Blamire, taken, I suspect, by surprise, was a good deal startled and flustered. This state of things, however, did not last. Mrs. Blamire having got over the first shock, comported herself like what she evidently was, a practiced woman of the world, — would talk to no one but ourselves, — and seemed resolved not only to make friends with her successful rival, but to strike up an intimacy. This, by no means, entered into my mother's calculations. As the one advanced the other receded, and, keeping always within the limits of civility, I never heard so much easy chat put aside with so many cool and stately monosyllables in my life.

The most diverting part of this scene, very amusing to a stander-by, was, that my father, the only real culprit, was the only person who throughout maintained the appearance and demeanor of the most unconscious innocence. He complimented Mrs. Blamire on her daughters (two very fine girls), — inquired after his old friend, the Doctor, who was attending his patients in a distant town, — and laughed and talked over bygone stories with the one lady, just as if he had not jilted her, — and played the kind and attentive husband to the other, just as if he had never made love to any body except his own dear wife.

It was one of the strange domestic comedies which are happening around us every day, if we were but aware of them, and might probably have ended in a renewal of acquaintance between the two families but for a dispute that occurred toward the end of the evening between Mrs. Blamire and the friend in whose house we were staying, which made the lady resolve against accepting his hospitable invitations, and I half suspect hurried her off a day or two before her time.

This host of ours was a very celebrated person, — no other than William Cobbett. Sporting, not politics, had brought about our present visit and subsequent intimacy. We had become acquainted with Mr. Cobbett two or three years before, at this very house, where we were now dining to meet Mrs. Blamire. Then my father, a great sportsman, had met him while on a coursing expedition near Alton, — had given him a greyhound that he had fallen in love with, — had invited him to attend another coursing meeting near our own house in Berkshire, — and finally, we were now, in the early autumn, with all manner of pointers, and setters, and greyhounds, and spaniels, shooting ponies, and gun-cases, paying the return visit to him.

He had at that time a large house at Botley, with a lawn and gardens sweeping down to the Bursledon River, which divided his (Mr. Cobbett's) territories from the beautiful grounds of the old friend where we had been originally staying, the great squire of the place. His own house, — large, high, massive, red, and square, and perched on a considerable eminence, — always struck me as not being unlike its proprietor. It was filled at that time almost to overflowing. Lord Cochrane was there, then in the very height of his warlike fame, and as unlike the common notion of a warrior as could be. A gentle, quiet, mild young man, was this burner of French fleets and cutter-out of Spanish vessels, as one should see in a summer-day. He lay about under the trees reading Selden on the Dominion of the Seas, and letting the children (and children always know with whom they may take liberties) play all sorts of tricks with him at their pleasure. His ship's surgeon was also a visitor, and a young midshipman, and sometimes an elderly lieutenant, and a Newfoundland dog; fine sailor-like creatures all. Then there was a very learned clergyman, a great friend of Mr. Gifford, of the "Quarterly," with his wife and daughter, — exceedingly clever persons. Two literary gentleman from London and ourselves completed the actual party but there was a large fluctuating series of guests for the hour or guests for the day, of almost all ranks and descriptions, from the Earl and his Countess to the farmer and his dame. The house had room for all, and the hearts of the owners would have had room for three times the number.

I never saw hospitality more genuine, more simple, or more thoroughly successful in the great end of hospitality, the putting every body completely at ease. There was not the slightest attempt at finery, or display, or gentility. They called it a farmhouse, and every thing was in accordance with the largest idea of a great English yeoman of the old time. Every thing was excellent, — every thing abundant, — all served with the greatest nicety by trim waiting damsels; and every thing went on with such quiet regularity that of the large circle of guests not one could find himself in the way. I need not say a word more in praise of the good wife, very lately dead, to whom this admirable order was mainly due. She was a sweet motherly woman, realizing our notion of one of Scott's most charming characters, Ailie Dinmont, in her simplicity, her kindness, and her devotion to her husband and her children.

At this time William Cobbett was at the height of his political reputation; but of politics we heard little, and should, I think, have heard nothing, but for an occasional red-hot patriot, who would introduce the subject, which our host would fain put aside, and got rid of as speedily as possible. There was something of Dandie Dinmont about him, with his unfailing good-humor and good spirits, — his heartiness, — his love of field sports, — and his liking for a foray. He was a tall, stout man, fair, and sunburnt, with a bright smile, and an air compounded of the soldier and the farmer, to which his habit of wearing an eternal red waistcoat contributed not a little. He was, I think, the most athletic and vigorous person that I have ever known. Nothing could tire him. At home in the morning he would begin his active day by mowing his own lawn, beating his gardener, Robinson, the best mower, except himself; in the parish, at that fatiguing work.

For early rising, indeed, he had an absolute passion, and some of the poetry that we trace in his writings, whenever he speaks of scenery or of rural objects, broke out in this method of training his children into his own matutinal habits. The boy who was first down stairs was called the Lark for the day, and had, among other indulgences, the pretty privilege of making his mother's nosegay, and that of any lady visitors. Nor was this the only trace of poetical feeling that he displayed. Whenever he described a place, were it only to say where such a covey lay, or such a hare was found sitting, you could see it, so graphic — so vivid — so true was the picture. He showed the same taste in the purchase of his beautiful farm at Botley, Fairthorn; even in the pretty name. To be sure, he did not give the name, but I always thought that it unconsciously influenced his choice in the purchase. The beauty of the situation certainly did. The fields lay along the Bursledon River, and might have been shown to a foreigner as a specimen of the richest and loveliest English scenery. In the cultivation of his garden, too, he displayed the same taste. Few persons excelled him in the management of vegetables, fruit, and flowers. His green Indian corn — his Carolina beans — his water-melons, could hardly have been exceeded at New York. His wall-fruit was equally splendid, and much as flowers have been studied since that day, I never saw a more glowing or a more fragrant autumn garden than that at Botley, with its pyramids of hollyhocks, and its masses of china-asters, of cloves, of mignonette, and of variegated geranium. The chances of life soon parted us, as, without grave faults on either side, people do lose sight of one another; but I shall always look back with pleasure and regret to that visit.

While we were there, a grand display of English games, especially of single-stick and wrestling, took place under Mr. Cobbett's auspices. Players came from all parts of the country, — the south, the west, and the north, — to contend for fame and glory, and also, I believe, for a well-filled purse; and this exhibition which — quite forgetting the precedent set by a certain princess "de jure," called Rosalind, and another princess, "de facto," called Celia — she termed barbarous, was the cause of his quarrel with my mamma that might have been, Mrs. Blamire.

In my life I never saw two people in a greater passion. Each was thoroughly persuaded of being in the right, either would have gone to the stake upon it, and of course the longer they argued the more determined became their conviction. They said all manner of uncivil things; they called each other very unpretty names; she got very near to saying, "Sir, you're a savage;" he did say, "Ma'am, you're a fine lady;" they talked, both at once, until they could talk no longer, and I have always considered it as one of the greatest pieces of Christian forgiveness that I ever met with, when Mr. Cobbett, after they had both rather cooled down a little, invited Mrs. Blamire to dine at his house the next day. She, less charitable, declined the invitation, and we parted. As I have said, my father and he had too much of the hearty English character in common not to be great friends; I myself was somewhat of a favorite (I think because of my love for poetry, though he always said not), and I shall never forget the earnestness with which he congratulated us both on our escape from such a wife and such a mother. "She'd have been the death of you!" quoth he, and he believed it. Doubtless, she, when we were gone, spoke quite as ill of him, and believed it also. Nevertheless, excellent persons were they both; — only they had quarreled about the propriety or the impropriety of a bout at single-stick! Such a thing is anger!

Upon comparing names, and dates, and places, it seems probable that the Miss Blamire, whose name figures at the head of this paper, was the aunt of the Dr. Blamire, of whom we have been speaking. She died unmarried at Carlisle, in the year 1794, being then forty-seven years of age, the daughter of a respectable Cumberland gentleman, and having accompanied a married sister into Scotland many years before, — a happy circumstance to which she owes her command of the pretty doric that so becomes small pieces of poetry. Her verses remained uncollected till 1842, when they were published by Mr. Maxwell. They are well worth preserving, especially the one entitled

THE RETURN.
When silent time wi' lightly foot,
Had trod on thirty years,
I sought again my native land,
Wi' mony hopes and fears.
Wha kens gin the dear friends I left,
May still continue mine?
Or gin I e'er again shall taste
The joys I left langsyne?

As I drew near my ancient pile,
My heart heat a' the way;
Ilk place I passed seemed yet to speak
O' some dear former day.
Those days that followed me afar,
Those happy days o' mine,
Whilk made me think the present joys
A' naething to langsyne.

The ivied tower now met my eye,
Where minstrels used to blaw;
Nae friend stepped forth wi' open hand,
Nae weel-kenned face I saw;
Till Donald tottered to the door,
Wham I left in his prime,
And grat to see the lad return,
He bore about langsyne.

I ran to ilka dear friend's room,
As if to see them there;
I knew where ilk ane used to sit,
And hung o'er mony a chair;
Till soft remembrance flung a vail
Across these een o' mine
I closed the door, and sobbed aloud,
To think on auld langsyne.

Some pensy chiels, a new-sprung race,
Wad next their welcome pay,
Wha shuddered at my gothic wa's,
And wished my groves awa.
"Cut, cut," they cried, "yon aged elms,
Lay low yon mournfu' pine
"Na! na! our fathers' names grow there,
Memorials o' langsyne."

To wean me fra these muurnfu' thoughts,
They took me to the town;
But sair on ilka wed-kenned face,
I missed the youthfu' bloom.
At ba's they pointed to a nymph,
Whom a' declared divine;
But sure her mother's blushing cheeks
Were fairer far langsyne.

In vain I sought in music's sound,
To find that magic art,
Which aft in Scotland's ancient lays
Hae thrilled through a' my heart;
The sang had mony an artfu' turn,
My ear confessed 'twas fine,
But I missed the simple melody
I listened to langsyne.

Ye sons to comrades o' my youth,
Forgie an auld man's spleen,
Wha midst your gayest scenes still mourns
The days he ance has seen.
When time has passed, and seasons fled,
Your hearts will feel like mine,
And aye the sang will maist delight
That minds ye o' langsyne.

I add an example of a still bolder effort — an attempt to make tender sentiment be felt under the disguise of the rude dialect of Cumberland. Perhaps it may be the effect of Auld Lang Syne on myself, that makes me think it eminently successful.

AULD ROBIN FORBES.
And auld Robin Forbes has gi'en tem a dance,
I pat on my speckets to see them aw prance;
I thought o' the days when I was but fifteen,
And skepped wi' the best upon Forbes's green.
Of aw things that is, I think thout is meast queer;
It brings that that's by past, and sets it down here;
I see Willy as plain as I din this bit leace,
When he tuik his cwoat lappet and deeghted his feace.

The lasses aw wondered what Willy cud see
In yen that was dark and hard-featured leyke me;
And they wondered ay mair when they talked o' my wit,
And slyly telt Willy that cudn't be it.
But Willy he laughed, and he meade me his weyfe,
And wha was mair happy through aw his lang leyfe?
It's e'en my great comfort now Willy is geane,
That he often said nae pleace was leyke his own heame.

I mind when I carried my wark to yon steyle,
Where Willy was deyken the time to beguile,
He wad fling me a daisy to put i' my breast,
And I hammered my noddle to make out a jest;
But merry or grave, Willy often wad tell
There was nane o' the leave, that was leyke my ain sel';
And he spak what he thout, for I'd hardly a plack,
When we married, and nobbet ae gown to my back.

When the clock had struck eight, I expected him heame,
And whiles went to meet him as far as Dumleane;
Of aw hours it telt, eight was dearest to me,
And now when it streykes, there's a tear i' my e'e.
Oh, Willy I dear Willy l it never can be,
That age, time, or death, can divide thee and me!
For that spot on earth that's aye dearest to me,
Is the turf that has covered my Willy frae me.