1802 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Thomas Percy

Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen, 1802 ca.; Brothers Wiffen, ed. Pattison (1880) 9-10.



On one occasion J. H. Wiffen was much taken by the title of one of the old-fashioned sensational romances, and wished to purchase it; but the worthy old bookseller, considering the moral tone of its melodramatic pages, filled with escapades of dark villains and murderous plots, to be very unsuitable for so youthful a mind, dissuaded him from this purpose. He showed him in its place a volume of Percy's Old English Ballads, especially recommending to his notice the fine old ballad of Chevy Chase. This was instantly seized, carried off in triumph, read and re-read with avidity. This circumstance doubtless laid the foundation for his love of ballads, and for the success with which, in after years, he wrote his own elegant ballad poems.

In the long summer twilight evenings; when the boys [at Ackworth School] were accustomed to retire to rest before darkness fell, he would delight those in his room by reciting The Hermit of Warkworth, or other long ballad or poem. When the novelty of these wore off, he invented thrilling romances of his own, peopled with heroes of incredible valour, and heroines of impossible loveliness. These he would place in all kinds of adventures, and having worked up the attention of his auditors to the most thrilling point of interest, he would suddenly leave off, and no persuasion or entreaty could prevail upon him to continue further at that time. Thus night after night, he held them all entranced by his fascinating narrations, and boys from the other rooms would quietly steal in, to listen to these tales in the mysterious twilight. One romance in particular, which he called The Black Brigand of the Forest, excited great interest, and was listened to, through many nights, in speechless awe and admiration.