Piscatory Eclogues: II. The Nocturnal.

Piscatory Eclogues: an Essay to introduce new Rules, and new Characters, into Pastoral. To which is prefix'd, a Discourse in Defence of this Undertaking. With Practical and Philosophical Notes.

Rev. Moses Browne

Impressive powers of natural observation make this one of the most pleasing of eighteenth-century night-pieces. Moses Browne may be indebted to the Countess of Winchelsea for some of the details; he plainly alludes to Milton's L'Allegro in the description of the sunrise.

"ARGUMENT. Two Youths agree to spend a Summer's Night in Angling. Their setting out at Midnight is represented, with the gloomy Occurrences and Observations that happen, peculiar to the solemn Twilight-Season. The Melancholy of the Time and Place excites, at last, some tender Complaints and Reflections in one of the Swains, which his Companion interrupts by discoursing of his Sport, and a Description of the Morning's Breaking, when they consent to end their Recreations."

The setting recalls the Memoir published before William Pattison's Poetical Works in 1728: "A great Inducement to his becoming a Fisher, might probably proceed from that pleasant Gloom of Thought, which the Murmuring of the Stream naturally inspirited him with, and which is the same Cast of Mind that inclined him to admire Cowley's-Walk. He was so much a Lover of this Divertissement, that he used frequently to sit up late, and sometimes whole Summer-Nights upon the Banks of Ituna, with his Angle in his Hand. Here he used, very often to write Verses, and I have heard him say, That many of his Lines owed their Smoothness and Harmony to these Streams" p. 8.

Henry Marion Hall: "Laco is the enthusiastic fisherman, and Renock (the poet himself) is suffering from slighted love, as he manages to say gently, between songs on other matters, just as occurs in the fourth idyll by Theocritus. A long footnote on catching trout by night contrasts sharply with the sentimentality of Renock's lament at the cruelty of his mistress" Idylls of Fishermen (1944) 174.


If, Muse, thou would'st the best of Monarchs praise,
With Brunswicks Name exalt thy humble Lays;
But if the best of Subjects be thy Care,
For HARRINGTON thy rural Notes prepare.
—And THOU, propitious to the Poet's Pains,
While weightier Themes thy needful Ear detains,
Intent on gen'rous Cares for Britain's Weal,
And GEORGE, with smiles, approves thy foremost Zeal,
Cou'd but the Youth in equal Strains pursue
Verse to thy Fame and to thy Virtues due.
Thou, generous Patron of the tuneful Throng,
Had shone applauded in heroic Song.
Yet if the Muse this humbler Labour grace,
That sings of Rivers and the wat'ry Race,
Tho' unattempted Themes the Strains pursue,
Untry'd the Subject, and the Manners new,
This lowly Verse the Name shall long adorn,
And in thy Praise to future Times be born.

The Sun had half his annual Course attain'd,
And Summer in her Height of Splendour reign'd;
Young Lambs did now th' accustom'd Teat refuse,
And for the foodful Grass forsook their Ewes;
Their earliest Blush the rip'ning Fruit reveal'd,
And yellow Corn began to spread the Field,
When two Companion-Swains by Night arose,
Rous'd from their leafy Beds and short Repose,
To angle till the Sun's returning Beams,
In pleasant Shades, near Avon's silver Streams.

'Twas the deep Twilight of the sultry Eve,
When the blithe Youths the silent Village leave.
Onward they haste, and pass with due Regard
The haunted Hedge-row Elms, and drear Church-yard.
The dolesome Chimes from the age-mould'ring Tow'r,
With slow, hoarse Din rung out the Midnight Hour,
While with loud Chat and many a chearful Lay,
They labour'd to beguile the lonely Way;
Till the close-flowing Stream their Roam repress'd,
When Renock, thus, his wistful Friend address'd.

Haste, Laco, while the Midnight Hour depends,
See how the rising Moon our toil befriends.
Now Weazels from the lowly Thatch resort,
And on the quiet Hearth the Crickets sport;
Unseemly Toads now flock from Caves beneath,
And in rank Fenns the poison'd Vapours breathe.
In solitary Stalls the Night-Fly sings,
And Beetles course the Air with heavy Wings:
Deep in the Solace of the Gloom they play,
A Race obscure and fearful of the Day.
While Silence to our sportive Task persuades,
And kindly Night conceals with favouring Shades,
Name, if thou list, thy peaceful Stand to chuse,
Why the fit Hour shou'd we delay to use?

Lo! Renock, where the wand'ring Current leads
Its bending Course along th' indented Meads,
Where scaly Shoals the sporting Eddies fill;
Here let thy practis'd Angle prove thy Skill.

Or shall we, Laco, since the clouding Moon
Denies to chear the still nocturnal Noon,
Shall we, till Morn, beneath yon bow'ry Yews,
Avoid the Midnight Blasts and harmful Dews?

Yon neighb'ring Oak, that o'er the Current bends,
From Midnight Blasts and harmful Dews defends.
There rather (since you spreading Shades require)
Let us to tend our watchful Sport retire.

Ah! heedless Boy! 'twas thither Dirce stray'd,
By raging Love, and black Despair convey'd,
When on the fatal Boughs the slighted Fair,
At once surrender'd up her Life and Care.
Now nightly there her restless Ghost complains,
By Anglers oft descry'd, and watching Swains;
Hear, Colly barks! and when the Bandogs bark,
Some Ghost they see, or Goblin of the Dark:
For there the Fairy Train are often seen
To dance at Curfew o'er the Moon-lov'd Green.
Deep in the baleful Shade the Glow-worm gleams,
And breaks the sullen Gloom with chearless Beams:
The Screech-Owl too is heard o'er lonely Grounds,
Scream from the luckless Tree, with boading Sounds.

Here then beneath the hedgy-Covert rest,
Nor farther roaming dangerously request;
Lest Fawns that haunt the dunny Woods by night,
With hideous Yell, or glaring Forms affright;
Or wand'ring Fires that o'er the Marshes stray,
Thro' Bogs, and moory Fens, misguide our Way.

Content — Lo here the winding Streams retreat,
Nor can we wish a more delightful Seat.
Behind, these Alders from the Weather screen,
Before, the Lawn presents its lengthen'd Scene;
Close on that Side trills soft the emptying Brook,
While this, fresh Woods and sloping Hills o'erlook:
Thick over-head the Rose and Woodbine meet,
Uniting Shade to Shade, and Sweet to Sweet.
The Pea, and bloomy Bean, their Odours yield,
And new-mown Hay perfumes the fragrant Field;
Here too the Nightingale delights the Meads,
And Grashoppers chirp shrill amid the Reeds;
And from the Pin-fold, here, the bleating Sheep,
Chear the still Twilight and divert from Sleep.

Pleasing by early Morn the bleating Flocks,
The Currents murmur down the distant Rocks,
The Gale's Perfume, the Echo's mimic Sound,
The Night-bird's Song, and Low of Kine around;
In hollow Banks the hum of must'ring Bees,
And Zephyrs whisp'ring soft, amid the Trees.

Coy Maid! lost lovely Sweet! ah, you can rest,
While I still wake with cruel Cares opprest:
Blest pow'r of Sleep, her Eye-lids gently close,
Melt her soft dreams with Renock's dying Woes!

Here, where the turning Streams more slowly stray,
Mark! the grown Trout, on watch for nightly Prey;
Scarce hid he lies, th' expected Prize to seize,
Rous'd, if the Flood but dimples with a Breeze.

Dear as the Heart you break! O teach thy Swain,
Like thee to vanquish, or like thee disdain:
Fond wish! Ah, no, our Fates have doom'd above,
She ne'er should yield, — nor I desist from Love.

Rest, Frogs! nor venture from your Holds to rove,
He reigns the Terror of the wat'ry Drove:
Sink, happy Bait! — O prove a fatal Lure,
'Tis done, — Your wily Murd'rer is secure.

Happy, ye Eels! who ne'er Love's Torment know!
And Carp, blest Kind! exempt from am'rous Woe;
Ye Pike, a happy Race! who all subdue,
No fond Desires are e'er endur'd by you.
Ah, like the Tyrant Pow'r, by whom I die!
And too alike to me th' unhappy Fry.

Hark! the shrill Cock, the rising Morn proclaims,
And calls aloud to Field his feath'ry Dames:
The mounting Lark begins her warbling Song,
And gen'ral Notes employ the airy Throng.
And see! the Sun reveals a glimm'ring Ray,
And streaks the bright'ning Clouds with Gleams of Day;
All Nature seems reviving at his Sight,
And, smiling, wakes to hail his amber Light.
Now sparkling Dew-drops glister on the Grain,
And coolly Breezes fan the healthsome Plain;
The Plow-Boy, o'er the Furrows, whistles blithe,
And in the Mead the Mower whets his Scythe;
Shrill Horns alarm the Sportsman from his Dream,
And the Bells tinkle on the new-yok'd Team.
—And now a cloudy Paleness dims the Skies,
And floating Mists from steaming Rivers rise:
See! the blue Fogs bespread the fenny Ground,
And fill the chilly Air with Damps unsound;
A sultry Noon the danky Vapour shews,
And Evening plenteous of refreshing Dews.

No Seasons please when Griefs the Mind o'erpow'r,
Griefs gloom alike the Morn and Midnight Hour.—
Damp fall the piercing Mists, a chilling Air!
'Till chear'd by milder Skies, thy Sports forbear,
'Till from the Banks recedes th' unhealthy Dew.—
At Eve, more blithe, our Pastimes we'll renew.

[Poems (1739) 39-49]