1831 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Beattie

John Wilson, in "An Hour's Talk about Poetry" 1831; Recreations of Christopher North (1852) 88.



The genius of Beattie was national, and so was the subject of his charming song — The Minstrel. For what is its design? He tells us, to trace the progress of a poetical genius, born in a rude age, from the first dawning of reason and fancy, till that period at which he may be supposed capable of appearing in the world as a Scottish Minstrel; that is, as an itinerant poet and musician — character which, according to the notions of our forefathers, was not only respectable, but sacred.

There lived in Gothic days, as legends tell,
A shepherd-swain, a man of low degree;
Whose sires, perchance, in Fairyland might dwell,
Sicilian groves, or vales of Arcady;
But he, I ween, was of the north countrie:
A nation famed for song, and beauty's charms;
Zealous, yet modest; innocent, though free;
Patient of toil; serene amidst alarms;
Inflexible in faith; invincible in arms.

The shepherd-swain of whom I mention made,
On Scotia's mountains fed his little flock;
The sickle, scythe, or plough he never sway'd;
An honest heart was almost all his stock;
His drink the living water from the rock:
The milky dams supplied his board, and lent
Their kindly fleece to baffle winter's shock;
And he, though oft with dust and sweat besprent,
Did guide and guard their wanderings, wheresoe'er they went.

Beattie chants there like a man who had been at the Linn of Dee. He wore a wig, it is true; but at times, when the fit was on him, he wrote like the unshorn Apollo.