1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Dodd

Anonymous, Review of Dodd, Moral Pastorals and other Poems; Imperial Magazine 6 (February 1824) 196-98.



To a mind pleased with rural scenery and rustic manners, there is always something captivating in pastoral poetry, and the pleasure is constantly heightened by the resemblance that the description bears to real life. The little volume before us is one of this description. The incidents are drawn from the pure simplicities of nature. Many of them, we are told, are founded on fact; and those that are not, sustain a character which commit no outrage on the state of innocence, and unsophisticated feeling, which they describe.

In point of execution, we find many genuine marks of true poetic inspiration, flowing through language that is at once expressive and comprehensive. There are, indeed, catastrophes "of great pith and moment," to which we are conducted; but then we no where find indications of approaching events which never arrive, or, by falling short of expectation, create disappointment. The versification corresponds with the subjects; it is generally smooth and harmonious, without aiming at those artificial decorations which sometimes gain applause; and the reader is conducted onward from tale to tale by insensible degrees, even while he is persuaded that nothing lies before him more interesting than what he has already perused. To this task of involuntary perseverance, he is urged by the titles which these pastorals bear; and though he is only occasionally entertained with sallies of wit, he is always recompensed with descriptions that are clear, lively, unsullied, and animated.

From the miscellaneous poems we select the following, entitled "The Parsons, an Eclogue."—

A small neat house, and little spot of ground,
Where herbs, and fruits, and kitchen-stuff were found,
The humble vicar of North-Wilford bless'd,
Small was his living-but his heart at rest:
Unseen, unblam'd, he past his time away,
He smok'd, or rode, or mus'd, or walk'd all day:
Thro' all the year no anxious cares he knew,
But just at Easter, when be claim'd his due;
And then the surly rustic's churlish pride
His well-earn'd tithes disputed or denied.
The vicar, still preferring want to strife,
Gave up his dues to lead a peaceful life.
His garden once in pensive mood he sought,
His pipe attended, as a friend to thought;
And while the smoke in eddies round him play'd,
A neighb'ring vicar ent'ring he survey'd:
One like himself, a downright honest priest,
Whose love of peace his scanty dues decreas'd.

Suppose the little ceremonies done,
And all the rites of lighting pipes begun;
Suppose the whiffs in sober sort flow round,
And both in musing very deeply drown'd;
For so it was — 'till thus the first good man,
Fetch'd a deep whiff, and anxiously began."

FIRST PARSON.
Would God, my friend! his goodness had assign'd
Some lot more suited to my feeling mind:
Less tho' my income, if from torture free,
Content would well supply the loss to me
For all the PENCE, the little dues I glean,
Or raise my scorn, my pity, or my spleen.
I'll tell thee-but e'en now a neighbour came,
Pale want dlffus'd o'er all his meagre frame;
Five-pence the sum, be gave a shilling o'er,
Kind shook his bead, and wish'd he could do more:
I turn'd away, nor could from tears refrain;
'Twas death to take it, — to refuse it vain.

SECOND PARSON.
Such gentle manners more affect the mind
Than the rough rudeness of the baser kind:
Just ere I came, a rustic braggart elf,
Proud of his purse, and glorying In his pelf,
Approach'd, and bold demanded what to pay,
What claims the priest, whom we maintain to pray?
Th' account be gave me of his stock, I knew
Was half curtail'd, and scarce one number true;
Howe'er, my silence favour'd the deceit,
And, fond of quiet, I conceal'd the cheat:
Yet when the small, the half demand I made,
He bullied, swore, and damn'd the preaching trade;
All God's good household with Irreverence curs'd,
And sue with foul abuse, as far the worst!
Thou know'st, my friend, what agonizing smart
Such brutal outrage gives the tender heart.

FIRST PARSON.
Too well, alas! too fatally I know
From whence these complicated evils flow;
From tithes, from tithes, the clergy's woes arise,
They mar religion, nay, they rob the skies.
Would God our monarch's ever-gracious hand
In this would deign to bless the wretched land!
Would God the tithes, like taxes, might be paid,
A fix'd revenue by some statute made!
How then would blest Religion rear her head!
How thro' each village kindly virtue spread!
What souls with heav'nly comforts would be blest!
How happy, then, parishioners and priest!

Thus of true grievances the priests repin'd,
And with their own spoke all their brethren's mind.
When toll'd the bell, and to the church slow move
Six virgins, bearing one who died for love.
The grave debate was silenc'd by the bell;
The vicars rose, and kindly took farewell.
The first his sermon seeks, and hastes away
The last sad duties to the dead to pay:
From love he much advis'd the youthful throng,
Drew tears from all, and pleas'd, tho' preaching long:
While slow his brother on his easy pad,
Paced home full grave, and ruminating sad.

We will just add, that all these compositions are strictly moral in their tendency, and frequently they hold up to view some important truth, which, like the reflections on the tithe system, in the specimen just given, is entitled to more attention than bare remembrance can bestow.