1811 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Walter Scott

Hugh Henry Brackenridge, "An Epistle to Walter Scott. Written at Pittsburgh" Mirror of Taste [Philadelphia] 4 (October 1811) 262-268.



Full many a rounded year has cast
A shade upon the period past,
Since Scotia on maternal lap
Received me. There, upon the map,
I see Kintyre; there was I born.
Hard fate to be so rudely torn
By poverty and need of change,
Away to this a foreign range,
With parents whom Culloden muir
And other troubles had made poor.
But early mem'ry paints me well
The Bellivolan hill and dale;
The bracken green; the heather blue,
And gowan of a golden hue;
And though se-join'd by length of wave,
I feel a charm some fairy gave
To bind me to my natal soil,
And think upon that distant isle,
Where every charm of verse is found
To make it an enchanted ground.
For most the ballad and the rhyme
Impart a charm to every clime;
And not the deeds that men have done
So much the listening ear has won,
As magic of that art divine,
Which springs from the harmonious nine.
Oh give me BURNS; oh give me SCOTT;
I want no more, when these I've got,
To make a rock of any sea
Immortal by such minstrelsy.

Who now will ask, where are the nine,
That sang the tale of Troy divine;
Or later, in Italian day,
Gave to the Mantuan his lay?
These fairy footsteps here I trace
On lands from whence have sprung my race.
Their liquid voices audible
Are heard by Frith or limpid rill;
On shadowy bend unknown before
But by traditionary lore.
Who would have thought that Thule's isle
Would be the seat of song erewhile;
And lyric fire, and epic swell,
Come with Apollo here to dwell.

Ah me! that cannot nearer be
To hear such native melody!
To see the hand that strikes the lyre;
And eye that sparkles with such fire;
To tell the bard what note more dear
I find among the sounds I hear;
What minstrelsy; what happy strain,
I wish him to begin again:
What other chieftain here him sing;
What battle on his chord to ring;
To bid him change from joy to grief;
From grief to joy, and give relief.
These are the pleasures of the near
Indulgence of the favoured ear:
My stand, alas! is not hard by,
But distant in a western sky;
Where by Ohio's stream my pen
Gives image to a sort of strain,
Which feeling prompts, but Genius none,
So gifted to a favourite son.
My gift is only to admire;
In madness I attempt the lyre,
At hearing this celestial sound
From Scotia's hills and distant bound.
Of this I dream, and when awake,
I read the LADY OF THE LAKE;
Or throw it by to gain the power
Of sense and motion for an hour;
For such excess too long to bear
Incapable our natures are;
And the delirium must have stay,
Or springs of human frame give way.

Here silly hills, and untaught wood,
Because a little of that blood,
Address me, or I think address
The lonely weeping wilderness—
Have you not something of that vein,
A little of the minstrel strain,
To give us also here a name,
And taste of an immortal fame?
Ah! lonely bowers, in vain your tears;
For though residing twenty years,
You gave me west winds and soft shade;
Yet such return cannot be made;
Sweet waters, you must trickle on,
Till some more favour'd muse's son
Shall sing of you like WALTER SCOTT,
And to immortal change your lot!
Through mans' ages cast your glance;
Perhaps a thousand years at once;
A lesser time will be too soon
For nature to dispense such boon;
As comets centuries require
To pass off and recruit their fire.
Who knows but this epistle may
To you attract a poet's lay;
To put in verse some height, some stream
Just incidental in his theme.
Oh! might my name of Bracken born,
Some ridge where infant lay forlorn,
Or peasant built his hamlet drear,
Attain the sanctity to hear
It nam'd in one immortal line,
Which turns a harsh word to divine!
But this too much; I cannot claim
The meed of such advance to fame;
So far secluded from my race,
And cut off from romantic base.
It can't be said that such a dale
Where deeds were done, is where I dwell;
Or that I vegetate among
The hills which once were hills of song.
Here, neighbouring to the savage tread,
Inglorious I must bend my head,
And think of something else than fame;
Though in my bosom burns the flame
That in a happier age and clime
Might have attempted lofty rhyme.
But thou, celestial, take thy course
With fancy's pinion, reason's force;
Go on; enjoy increasing fame,
Now equal with a MILTON'S name;
Or him that sang the fairy-queen,
Or other Southren that has been.
Not SHAKSPEARE would himself disdain
The rivalship of such a strain.

Oh! for a theme of ampler space,
Whereon eternal lines to trace;
Embracing sea and continent,
And not within an island pent;
But free like Arioste to ride
On earth, on whirlwind, and on tide,
Wherever greater scene appears
Of human hopes or human fears!
But this would kind of treason be
To isle of my nativity,
Which claims and has a right to claim
Her bard for her own sep'rate fame;
Since other lands small mention make
Of genius which did here awake;
Or deeds which heroes here have done,
However meriting renown;
The dormant valour of the brave
In tower or battlement to save;
Or in the field the foe to turn,
And give the day of Bannockburn.
Much moral worth in hamlet low,
Or castle on the mountain brow,
That might deserve a verse sublime,
And claim a triumph over time;
Much merit here of feeling heart
To make the breast heave, and tear start,
Remains unsung; and valour's prize
The golden hair and sky-blue eyes.
Hence I retract the wish, resign;
To Scotia give that harp of thine,
That harp to which all sounds are known
That harp has rung, or pipe has blown;
Like thine own bard, thy Allan Bane,
So full, so various is thy strain;
In torrent numbers, flood of sense
In bounds which judgment well restrains.

No fear of a short-liv'd renown,
Or fading to thy ivy-crown;
For should some hidden fire or force
Of ocean in his changing course
"Unfix Benledi from his stance,"
Yet time at thee shall break his lance;
Or miss his aim and level wide
At thy more solid pyramid!
Go on; add lustre to an earth
So honoured by thy magic birth;
For not of mortal art thou born,
O darling son of orient morn!
Go on — and fill the rising gale
With Scotia's early lore and tale,
Make vocal and give life in turn
To every mountain, glen and burn;
As erst in Graecia did the god
Of poesy, his dear abode,
Attended by the sister choir,
That hymn'd the song, or tun'd the lyre;
For of Castalia ev'ry dream
Is found in thy Loch Katrine theme;
And Pindus rises to our view
When that we think of Benvenue;
Or we forget all other song,
Thy inspiration pours so strong.

So far remov'd, what the reward
Can we bestow upon the bard?
Our praise is vain; what winds will bear
Encomium to a distant ear?
Or will it please, so little skill
Have we, however the good will.
All we can do, we bid the sun
When he his weary course has run,
And in the orient brings the day,
To halt a little at thy lay,
And see if not his beams appear
More charming when he climbs the sphere;
For joy of heart lights up a grace,
And dances in the human face;
And why not morning at her dawn
More sprightly look upon the lawn;
And birds in melody repay
With sweeter imitative lay?
Though not, thou bird of scarlet wing,
Canst thou a tale of Marmion sing;
Though carol sweet and matin voice
Is charming at our early rise:
Thy Border minstrelsy falls short;
Thy lay is not of such a sort
Articulate as tongue of men.

What sound is that I hear again,
That winds across th' Atlantic bear
In harmony to every ear?
With gratulation welcome sped
It trembles on the mountain head,
Which starts to higher majesty,
When rapturous strains like these pass by.
Sit down thou ridge in lower style;
I also wish to hear awhile;
Depress thy erst aspiring head;
Be level with the ocean bed;
That no impediment may be
To this the coming minstrelsy,
The vision of SIR RODERICK sung
These woods and solitudes among.

Sole Poet of the present age,
At once the poet and the sage,
Accept this distant homage given
To sounds that well deserve a heaven.
Original, of vigour born,
And dress'd in splendor of the morn,
With all the witchery of shade,
And spell unseen upon us laid.
What is this spell? It is the charm
Of manners from the pencil warm:
The portrait of the passions true;
The drawing living to the view;
The drapery of form and style
To win th' attention and beguile;
While costume that has pass'd away
With mortals that have liv'd their day;
And region of the chieftain race—
Great in the hall, great in the chace;
With back ground of the picture wild,
Like Ossa upon Pelion pil'd,
May help to cast the glamour o'er,
And aid the seeming wizzard's pow'r.

But now no more; enough, enough,
Of these prosaic numbers rough:
We cease th' attempt, since it requires
A poet to tell, a poet's fires.