1845 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Frederick Charles Spencer

John Holland, "Frederick Charles Spencer" Poets of Yorkshire; comprising Sketches of the Lives, and Specimens of the Writings of those Children of Song (1845) 173-74.



Mr. Spencer, formerly a schoolmaster, and at present, I believe, an accountant in Halifax, published some years ago, a volume entitled "The Vale of Bolton; a Poetical Sketch; and other Poems:" — dedicated to the Duke of Devonshire, the owner of the beautiful domain, which has of late years become so familiar, at least in one of its most conspicuous features, to thousands of persons, who might never otherwise have heard of it, though Landseer's celebrated painting of "Bolton Abbey, in the Olden Times." One of the most famous natural objects of the vale is in the deep solitude of the woods, betwixt Bolton and Barden tower, where the river Wharf, suddenly contracted by its rocky channel to about four feet, issues in the splendid cascade locally called the "Strid," from a feat said to have been common in past times, and still achieved by persons of more agility than prudence, who stride from brink to brink. The following stanzas describe a fatal accident which, according to an ancient tradition, here befel the son of an early owner of the land, and led to the founding of Bolton Abbey.

THE BOY OF EGREMONT.
In Egremont's bosom his heart blithely dancing,
As the beams of the morn on the woods of his chase,
O proud was a mother's fond eye on him glancing,
The lustre of youth and of beauty to trace.
The eye bright with joy gazing on him that morning,
Alas! shall not sparkle to see him returning,—
But shall view, consolation distractedly scorning,
For ever extinguish'd her hopes and her race.

How fondly she saw, (in Hope's bright region soaring)
As he gallantly sprung to the warrior's game,
In him to her lone-widow'd side Heaven restoring,
Once more her lost mate, — to its lustre his name.
False Hope, O, believe her not! ever deceiving,
And still the most faithless with hearts most believing,
She whispers of joy but to deepen our grieving,
She kindles the heart, — 'tis consum'd in the flame.

But hark! his gay horn in that wild valley sounding,
With his leash-hound the echoing woodland he tries;
Startled from his green haunt, lo, the fleet deer is bounding,
And in speed with that menacing echo he vies.
As swiftly his steps his brave hunter pursuing,
Now lost for a moment, — now anxiously viewing,
As he strains for the Strid, his last refuge from ruin
His victim he nears, and ah! surely he dies.

Not so was he fated. Where savagely moaning
The Wharfe through the rifted rock fierce bursts her way,
(The black rock itself with the struggle is groaning)
And below wildly foaming in eddies doth play;—
The near sounding step of his foe trembling hearing,
The gleam of his burnish'd blade, ready-bared, fearing,
At one gallant effort the deadly space clearing,
The chase, from impending death saved, bounds away.

Nor Romille did he stay on the brink pausing,
Undaunted he ventures the perilous wave,
But his cowardly comrade the hazard refusing—
He springs, — but 'tis into a turbulent grave.
For his shroud, and the requiem that should be sung o'er him,
He has but the torrent's white foam and loud roaring,—
The forester, powerless, and deeply deploring,
Hangs o'er the dire gulph of the young and the brave.

But who to a mother shall bear the sad message?
His pale looks betray, ere his tongue can relate;
In her fast-heaving bosom she feels a dark presage,
Ere breaks from his lips hapless Romille's fate.
Yet doom not thyself to a ne'er ending sorrow,
On the night-gloom of life dawns a bright-shining morrow,
Nay here, from devotion relief may'st thou borrow,—
And the woe that will die not, shall yet mitigate.

Where, free and unchafing the wave softly gliding,
Through the green vale it mirrors, flows calmly as wont,
Yon hoar walls she rear'd, where secluded residing,
Consolation she sought at the ne'er failing fount.
And say, for devotion what peaceful scene meeter?
For pensive seclusion what hermit-spot sweeter?
Than the Wharfe's plaintive voice, as repentant, what fitter,
To join her sad wail for her lost Egremont?