1767 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Julius Mickle

John Langhorne, Review of Mickle, The Concubine; Monthly Review 36 (May 1767) 352-55.



The intent of this poem is to expose the miseries which generally attend the condition of "keeping," as it is called. Sir Martyn, the knight of the tale, after leading a life of dissipation, is at last conducted to the cave of Discontent, the description of which will be no improper specimen of the Author's style and manner:

Deep in the wyldes of faerie lond it lay;
Wide was the mouth, the roofe all rudely rent;
Some parts receive, and some exclude the day,
For deepe beneath the hill its caverns went:
The ragged walls with lightning seemd ybrent,
And loathlie vermin ever crept the flore:
Yet all in sight, with towres and castles gent,
A beauteous lawnskepe rose afore the dore,
The which to vew so fayre the captives grieved sore.

All by the gate, beneath a pine shade bare,
An owl-frequented bowre, some tents were spred;
Here sat a preasse, with eager furious stare
Rattling the dice; and there, with eyes halfe dead,
Some drowsie dronkards, looking black and red,
Dozd out their days: and by the path-way green
A sprightlie troupe still onward heedlesse sped,
In chace of butterflies alert and keen;
Honours, and wealth, and powre, their butterflies i ween.

And oft, disgustfull of their various cares,
Into the cave they wend with sullen pace;
Each to his meet apartment dernly fares:
Here, all in raggs, in piteous plight most bace,
The dronkard sitts. there, shent with foul disgrace,
The thriftlesse heir; and o'er his reeking blade
Red with his friends hart gore, in woefull cace
The duellist raves: and there, on vetchie bed,
Crazd with his vaine pursuits, the maniack bends his head.

Yet round his gloomy cell, with chalk he scrawls
Ships, coches, crownes, and eke the gallow tree;
All that he wishd or feard his ghastlie walls
Present him still, and mock his miserie.
And there, self-doomd, his cursed selfe to flee,
The gamester hangs in corner murk and dread;
Nigh to the ground bends his ungratious knee;
His drooping armes and white-reclining head
Dim seen, cold horror gleams athwart th' unhallowd shade.

Near the dreare gate, beneath the rifted rock,
The keeper of the cave all haggard satt,
His pining corse a restlesse ague shook,
And blistering sores did all his carkas frett:
All with himselfe he seemd in keen debate;
For still the muscles of his mouthe he drew,
Ghastly and fell; and still with deepe regrate
He lookd him round, as if his heart did rew
His former deeds, and mournd full sore his sores to vew.

Yet not himselfe, but heavens great king he blamd,
And dard his wisdom and his will arraign;
For boldly he the ways of god blasphemd,
And of blinde governaunce did loudlie plain,
While vild selfe-pity would his eyes distain;
As when an wolfe, entrapt in village ground,
In dred of death ygnaws his limb in twain,
And views with scalding teares his bleeding wound:
Such fierce selfe-pity still this wights dire portaunce crownd.

Near by there stood an hamlett in the dale,
Where, in the silver age, content had wonne;
This now was his: yet all mote nought avail,
His loathing eyes that place did ever shun;
But ever through his neighbours lawns would run,
Where every goodlie fielde thrice goodlie seemd.
Such was this weary wight all woe-begone;
Such was his life; and thus of things he deemd;
And suchlike was his cave, that all with sorrowes teemd.

By this specimen the Reader will perceive that the language and orthography, as well as the stanza of Spenser, are closely followed in this poem. Though we cannot, for our own parts, approve of this, nor of those long digressions, and that desultory manner by which the interest of the poem languishes till it is lost; yet we must allow the Author due praise for the easy harmony of his numbers, the fertility of his imagination, and the rich and beautiful variety of his descriptions. That of a fox-chase, in particular, is so much after the life, that we cannot refuse our Readers the pleasure of perusing it:

Eke had he markt where to the broome he crept,
Where, hearkening everie sound, an hare was laid;
Then from the thickest bush he slylie lept,
And wary scuds along the hawthorne shade,
Till by the hills slant foot he earths his head
Amid a briarie thickett: emblem meet
Of wylie statesman of his foes adred;
He oft misguides the peoples rage, i weet,
On others, whilst himselfe winds off with slie deceit.

The cunning huntsman now cheers on his pack,
The lurking hare is in an instant slain:
Then opening loud the beagles scent the track
Right to the hill, while thondring through the plain
With blythe huzzas advaunce the jovial train,
And now the groomes and squires, cowherds and boys
Beat round and round the brake; but all in vain
Their poles they ply, and vain their oathes and noise,
Till plonging in his den the terrier fiercely joys.

Expelld his hole, upstarts to open sky
The villain bold, and wildly glares around;
Now here, now there, he bends his knees to fly,
As oft recoils to guard from backward wound;
His frothie jaws he grinds — with horrid sound
The pack attonce rush on him: foming ire,
Fierce at his throte and sides hang many a hound;
His burning eyes flash wylde red sparlking fire,
Whiles weltering on the swaird his breath and strength expire.

From some circumstances in this poem, one might be led to think that the Author had a real Sir Martyn in his eye; but, however that may be, we cannot pay him too great a compliment either for the justness of his sentiments in general, or for the propriety and beauty of the following Stanza, with which his poem concludes.

But boast not of superiour shrewd addresse,
Ye who can calmly spurn the ruind mayd,
Ye who unmovd can view the deepe distresse
That crushes to the dust the parents head,
And rends that easie heart by you betrayd,
Boast not that ye his numerous woes eskew;
Ye who unawd the nuptial couch invade,
Boast not his weaknesse with contempt to vew;
For worthy is he still compard, perdie, to YOU.