1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Leadbeater

Anonymous, "On the Minor Poets of Ireland: Mary Leadbeater" The Monthly Magazine 57 (July 1824) 505-06.



The tuneful race is perhaps more numerous in all countries than is generally known to the world at large; many, and these sometimes of no mean talents, confining their productions to their native city, to their friends, and, as is now and then the case, even to themselves, without seeking for more extended fame. Ireland, also, has her proportion of native bards; some celebrated for their powers of song throughout the kingdom and through Europe, and others whose names have scarcely crossed the water, or crossed only to be forgotten, from not keeping up public curiosity by furnishing further specimens of their powers. Such a country as Ireland is, ought, in fact, to supply us with poetry, as well as the materials for poetry. It is yet comparatively a rude country, and an agricultural country; it is the land of fairies, of banshees, of apparitions, of superstitions without number; every hill, and valley, and river, is the scene of some feat of an ancient hero, a chief, or a giant, whose reputation, or whose ghost, keeps the neighbourhood — the older often, as well as the youthful part of it, — in awe. The people also possess, almost universally, some of the first requisites for poetry, — strong imaginations, sensitive minds, ardent affections, an attachment to old stories and to old times; they combine what would seem almost incompatible qualities, a peculiar wit and humour with great pathos; their funeral laments being in fact a kind of Ossianic poetry, often expressive of heartfelt grief and powerful feelings, conceived simply, yet sometimes almost with sublimity. That there is much poetry also of the more modern cast in Ireland, worthy of the name, and of being more generally known, there is no doubt. The writer of this, in a journey lately from London to Holyhead, in company with an intelligent young Hibernian, had the pleasure of hearing repeated many pieces of uncommon merit, both of the comic and serious kind, utterly unknown to English readers: the description of a parish priest (Roman Catholic) meeting his flock, was inimitable for humour.

Mrs. Leadbeater has long cultivated this beautiful talent with success, some pieces being written so far back as 1776, but the greater part of much more recent date; and, being of the Society of Friends, takes priority of Mr. Bernard Barton, who was considered the first of his sect among the tuneful tribe. She is the daughter of Mr. Shackleton, the intimate friend, school-fellow, and companion, of Edmund Burke. She corresponded occasionally with him herself, visited him at Beaconsfield in 1784, and wrote a pretty little poem descriptive of his seat at that place soon afterwards, which received much commendation from him, as having nothing in it of common-place, so often the sin of descriptive poems; and she expresses her admiration of that celebrated and extraordinary man at a time (1784) when prejudice ran high against him and his party:—

Much inspir'd man! what tho' a servile train,
Whose wav'ring souls deserve and hug the chain,
Inspir'd by malice, and by folly led,
With wrongs and insults heap thy honour'd head,—
Thy steady virtue, with unchanging ray,
Shall break the cloud, and chase the gloom away;
Then shall thy foes, with conscious blushes, see
Their country's friend, — their monarch's friend, — in thee.
Camillus thus, by guilty Rome distrest,
Still felt the patriot-passion fire his breast;
With gen'rous arm her liberty restor'd,
And broke th' insulting Gaul's oppressive sword.

Various pieces by this lady are scattered in several publications of miscellaneous character, and in some of her own prose works; one of them way be found in the Memoirs and Fragments of that extraordinary young woman, the late Miss Elizabeth Smith, with whom she formed an intimacy in 1799, when her father Capt. Smith happened to be quartered at Ballitore, about thirty miles from Dublin.

In 1808 Mrs. Leadbeater collected and published a volume of poems by subscription. The longest piece in it is a translation of that poem of Maffaeus, which he had the hardihood to write as a supplement to the Aeneid, and to term it the "Thirteenth Book" of that great poem, but with few claims to the taste or genius of Virgil. The translation is spirited, and possesses considerable elegance. Many original pieces of merit adorn this volume, among which are several addressed to Mr. Burke; the "Farewell to the North;" "Returning from Dublin;" "the Mother," a pathetic piece from humble life; "Ballitore," and several others. We select the following—

TO W. F. O. ON THE LOSS OF HIS LINNET.
O fair Aonian maid! descend,
Assist me to console a friend;
Swift through the yielding azure fly,
And wipe the tear from William's eye,
Who lately heard, from sorrow free,
His linnet sing as sweet as thee.
Lately, — but now no more shall hear
These "wood-notes wild" with raptur'd ear:
Did he for this the food prepare,
And joy to tend his pleasing care?
His pleasing care (ah, luckless day!)
Some envious hand purloin'd away;
The open empty cage he spies;
Grief swells his heart and fills his eyes;
The little tuneful tenant's gone,
Nor hears his master's fruitless moan.

But thou who wrought this cruel deed,
With thee may never linnet feed!
Thy cage for ever empty be,
And never goldfinch sing for thee!
May thee no blackbird whistle near,
Nor ever thrush with music cheer!
But rooks and ravens croak around thee,
And magpies with their din confound thee,
Who could'st maliciously destroy
The pleasures of a fav'rite boy.
And yet in vain is all thy spite,
To mar his innocent delight;
For, tho' the pretty songster's fled,
The Muse herself comes in its stead;
The comfort of her verse she brings,
And Clio, not the linnet, sings.

We have been informed that Mrs. Leadbeater is at present, or was some time ago, employed on a poem in blank verse, on the subject of the story of Tobit, from which a friend has handed us an extract, — the marriage of Tobias and Sarah:—

—At her father's call
Came the dejected fair; but, while her hand
Her father fondly prest, and then resign'd
To glad Tobias, mournful silence seal'd
Her balmy lips, and on her hapless ear
The nuptial blessing, by a father giv'n,
Smote like the funeral knell: "Take thou thy bride,
Thine by the rites which Moses hath prescrib'd,
And lead her to thine home; my blessing rest
Upon my child and thee." The mother came,—
Alternate signets seal the sacred bond,
And to the feast are led the wedded pair;
If hope and joy look'd in upon that feast,
Terror and doubt were there. While on his bride
The enamour'd bridegroom gaz'd, her timid eye
Declln'd to earth, and fear'd with his to meet,
Lest its expression should betray the pangs
Which rent her bosom; ne'er till now her heart
Had lov'd so truly; ne'er till now had found
An object thus deserving of her love.
And must he fall, a victim to the fate
Of those who seek her love? Why has thus fate
Her wretched being spar'd to see this hour
In bitterness exceeding all the past?
The mother to the bridal chamber led
The trembling maid; — the bridal bower, adorn'd
With festive splendor, to her o'ercharg'd heart
Appear'd her graceful bridegroom's gloomy grave.
And in her mother's sympathizing breast
She pour'd a flood of agonizing tears.
The pitying parent check'd her own alarms
To speak of comfort, and prefer the pray'r
That these sad tears might change to grateful joy,
And future blessings present pangs repay.

Mrs. Leadbeater's works are—

Poems, 8vo. Dublin, 1808.
Anecdotes taken from Real Life for the improvement of Children; Dublin, 1807.
A second edition of this is called for.
Cottage Dialogues, 1st Part; London and Dublin, 1811. An admirable work, introduced to the world under the warm patronage of Miss Edgeworth, and giving the most perfect idea of the interior of an Irish cottage, and the ideas and manners of the peasantry, that can be obtained from any book on Ireland.
Cottage Dialogues, 2d Part; Dublin, 1813.
Landlord's Friend; Dublin, 1813.
Cottage Biography; Dublin, 1822. Noticed in one of our late numbers; an interesting little book, the characters being taken from real life.

In addition to these, she has published two or three other small works, for the children of the Society of Friends.