1852 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Ann Browne

Mary Russell Mitford, in "Female Poets. Miss Blamire. — Mrs. James Gray" Recollections of a Literary Life; or Books, Places, and People (1852) 222-27.



Mrs. James Gray is better known in England as Mary Anne Browne, and under that name might have furnished the text to another melancholy chapter on Prodigies, a chapter on fine and promising girls who have become martyrs to the fond mistakes of parents and the careless flatteries of friends, and have lost the happy and healthful thoughtlessness of the child in the premature cares, the untimely aspirations, the fears, anxieties, and disappointments of the poetess. If in my humble career I can look back to any part of my own conduct with real satisfaction, it is that I have always, when a young lady has been brought to me in her character of prodigy, had the courage to give present pain, in order to avert a future evil. I have always said "wait;" certain that the more real was the talent the greater was the danger of over-exciting the youthful faculties, of over-stimulating the youthful sensibility. In Miss Mary Anne Browne's case, no advice was asked. I saw her first a fine tall girl of fourteen, already a full-fledged authoress, unmercifully lauded by some, as if verses, especially love verses, written at that age, could be any thing better than clever imitations; and still more cruelly depreciated by others, as if we had a right to expect all the results of long study, — of skillful practice, — of observation, — and of experience from one who was in every thing but her quick ear and her fertile fancy still a child.

Thus brought forward, praised to the skies one day, utterly neglected the next, — taken, as if a woman, into London society, and then thrown back upon a family circle in a provincial town, her health and spirits suffered; and, if she had not been in heart and temper a girl of a thousand, she would have become soured and miserable for life. The real power was in her, however, and the depression was temporary. When taken from the unhealthy atmosphere of the stove, the plant recovered its strength and blossomed freely in the open air. When no longer stimulated by factitious applause, she wrote verses deserving of sincere admiration and enduring fame.

An accidental visit to Ireland introduced her poems to the Editor of the "Dublin University Magazine," and under his judicious encouragement she poured forth her various and earnest lays with astonishing fertility and abundance. In Ireland, too, she met the Scottish gentleman, Mr. James Gray, the nephew of the Ettrick Shepherd, whom, after some delay and difficulty, she married.

Her wedded life appears to have been singularly happy, — as happy as it was brief. After a short illness she expired, while still in the bloom of womanhood (she had not yet completed her thirty-third year), and while rising daily in poetical power and poetical reputation.

Her highest literary merit was, however, not known until after her death. Of all poetesses, George Sand herself not excepted, she seems to me to touch with the sweetest, the firmest, the most delicate hand, the difficult chords of female passion. There is a reality in her love, and in the verse that tells it, which can not be read without a deep and tender sympathy. Beautiful and statuesque as her sketches from the antique undoubtedly are, I prefer to quote from these posthumous poems, written from her very heart of hearts, in which passion seems to burst unconsciously into poetry.

LOVE'S MEMORY.
I wove a wreath, 'twas fresh and fair,
Rich roses in their crimson pride,
And the blue harebell flowers were there;—
I wove and flung the wreath aside:
Too much did those bright blossoms speak
Of thy dear eyes and youthful cheek.

I took my lute; methought its strain
Might wile the heavy hours along;
I strove to fill my heart and brain
With the sweet breath of ancient song:
In vain; whate'er I made my choice
Was fraught with thy bewitching voice.

And down I laid the restless lute,
And turned me to the poet's page;
And vainly deemed that converse mute,
Unmingled might my heart engage:
But in the poet's work I find
The fellow essence of thy mind.

I wandered midst the silent wood,
And sought the greenest, coolest glade,
Where not a sunbeam might intrude;
And in a chestnut's quiet shade
I sate, and in that leafy gloom,
Thought of the darkness of the tomb.

And strove to lead my heart to drink
At the deep founts of wandering thought,
To ponder on the viewless link
Between our souls and bodies wrought;
To quench my passionate dreams of thee
Awhile in that philosophy.

Yet, all the while, thine image bright,
Still flitted by my mind to win,
Casting through dreamy thoughts its light,
Like sunshine that would enter in;
And every leaf and every tree
Seemed quivering with beams of thee.

Beloved! I will strive no more
Thine image, in vice-regal power,
Shall ruling sit all memories o'er,
Throned in my heart, until the hour
When thou thyself shalt come again,
Restoring there thine olden reign.

The next poem is also written in a hopeful mood:—

Fear not, beloved, though clouds may lower,
While rainbow visions melt away,
Faith's holy star hath still a power
That may the deepest midnight sway.
Fear not! I take a prophet's tone,
Our love can neither wane nor set;
My heart grows strong in trust: mine own,
We shall be happy yet!

What though long anxious years have passed,
Since this true heart was vowed to thine,
There comes for us a light at last,
Whose beam upon our path shall shine.
We, who have loved 'mid doubts and fears,
Yet never with one hour's regret;
There comes a joy to gild our tears;
We shall be happy yet!

Ay, by the wandering birds, that find
A home beyond the mountain wave,
Though wind, and rain, and bail, combined
To bow them to an ocean grave;
By summer suns that brightly rise,
Though erst in mournful tears they set;
By all Love's hopeful prophecies,
We shall be happy yet!

It is really pleasant to know that, although the bliss was short in duration, yet the vows of that faithful heart were heard. Here is one other love note:—

Another year is dying fast,
A chequered year of joy and woe,
And dark and light alike are past,
The rose and thorn at once laid low:
All things are changed; — and I am changed,
Even in the love I knew before,
Not that my heart can be estranged,
But I have learnt to love thee more.

Yes, to mine ear thine accents all,
Have grown more welcome and more glad,
Thy coming step more musical,
And thy departing tread more sad.
They say the first bright dawn of love
Hath bliss no other time can show;
But I have lived and learned to know
How dearer far its future glow.

Their disappointments we have proved,
Dark clouds across our path have been;
Yet better through them all we loved,
As dark and drearier grew the scene.
Oh! would this truth could bring relief
To thee, when earthly cares annoy,
That I would rather share thy grief
Than revel in another's joy.

A temperament so framed must, of necessity, take pleasure in the beauties of Nature. I must make room for a few stanzas of her

ANTICIPATIONS OF THE COUNTRY.
The summer sunshine falls
O'er the hot vistas of the crowded town,
Startling the dusty walls
With beauty and with glory not their own;
The summer skies are bright.
A canopy of peace above the strife
Of human hearts that fight
And struggle on the battle plain of life.

Summers have passed away
Since I a dweller 'mid this scene became,
And still their earliest ray
Hath sent a thirsty longing through my frame
A longing to be far
In the green woodlands, in the pastures fair,
And not as travelers are;
My heart hath yearned to be a dweller there.

It comes, it comes at last;
All I have panted for is near me now;
Ere many hours have past,
A cool untroubled breeze shall fan my brow.
The faint continuous hum
That bath been round me till 'twas scarcely heard,
No more shall near me come
To mar the melodies of bee or bird.

No more the sultry street
Shall echo to my quick, uneasy tread;
Gladly I turn my feet
To where the turf in daisied pride is spread.
No more the whirling wheel,
The tramping horses, and the people's shout;—
Oh! how my heart will feel
The pleasant quiet circling me about.

Blessed to go away,
To where the wild-flower blooms and wood-bird sings,
And lightly o'er the spray
The purple vetch its wreathing garland flings.
———*———*———*———*———*———

One more I must quote, of a still different strain. It was left without a title, a mere fragment among her papers; but the editor of the "Dublin University Magazine" has called it

THE GIFTED.
Oh, woe for those whose dearest themes
Must rest within the bosom's fold!
Oh, woe for those who live on dreams,
Unheeded by the coarse and cold.
They have a hidden life, akin
To nothing in this earthly sphere;
They have a glorious world within,
Where nothing mortal may appear;
A world of song, and flower, and gem,
Yet woe for them! Oh, woe for them!

Such his perplexing grief who seeks
A refuge upon stranger shores;
In vain to foreign ears he speaks,
In vain their sympathy implores.
The same sad fate a bark might prove,
Laden with gold or princely store,
Without a guiding star above,
With an unmeasured deep before.
The world doth scorn them, gibe, condemn;—
Woe for the gifted! Woe for them!

Surely this was a very remarkable woman; and these poems (there are many more of nearly equal beauty) should not be left to the perishable record of a magazine. Her earliest publications were, as I have said, of little worth; but enough of the highest merit might be collected to form an enduring memorial of her genius and her virtues.