William Dodd's second pastoral, like Spenser's, is concerned with youth and age, though it unfolds rather differently. Susan and Lucy, two milkmaids, meet by the bridge, and Susan enquires for whom Lucy is knitting a pair of stockings. Lucy replies that it is for Susan's grandmother, who has saved her from the wiles of a wicked seducer. The two reflect on the many good deeds performed by this virtuous old person. Susan declares, "Much am I blest, my Lucy: may I prove | Worthy the dear example which I love! | With steps, howe'er unequal, may I tread | The peaceful paths, where she delights to lead!"
The discussion sounds is if it had its origin in one of Dodd's sermons at the Magdalen Chapel. The poet, who certainly knew how to attract attention, informs us that his characters and fables have real originals.
The sun declin'd; and ruddy milk-maids sound
Their evening notice rural Esher round,
Beating their cleanly pails, to field they go,
And well the pleasing sign their partners know:
Oft at the stile they wait, and clank the pail;
And faithful shepherds ne'er are known to fail.
It chanc'd one evening Susan of the dell,
Susan mid'st Esher's maids who bore the bell,
Later than usual, by some chance delay'd,
Tripp'd it alone to milking o'er the mead:
Rare hap — since, anxious, every shepherd strove
To walk with Susan, and engage her love:
For the fair features of her modest face,
Her shape and skin were but her meanest grace;
Though face more fair ne'er gladden'd shepherd's sight,
A shape more taper, or a skin more white:
But, more attracting far, the maid possest—
A heart so tender in her gentle breast,
So sweet her manners, and so free from guile,
Such soft good-nature spoke in every smile,
So much she sought to comfort, please and aid,
That old and young alike esteem'd the maid.
And ever, as she smiling pass'd along,
This was the language of each heart and tongue;
"Be blest, dear Susan! may our village see
"Another good old woman live in thee!"
For through the village was her grand-dame known
More by this appellation, than her own;
By all, with reverence lov'd: and happy Sue
Each truth important from her lessons drew.
As to the brook she came, which murmuring leads
Its winding current through the freshen'd meads,
Just on the bridge she Lucy met — whose care
Her eye and cheek too speakingly declare!
For hapless Lucy, with sad sorrow strove
To banish from her heart a worthless love.
"Ah Lucy, Susan cried, confess the truth;
Knit you those stockings for some favourite youth?"
—For then did Lucy's careful hands compose
From the best yarn, a pair of milk-white hose.
No, Susan! no, let happier girls approve
By pleasing gifts their well-accepted love:
Your Lucy no such gentle lot enjoys;
Her hands not Love, but Gratitude employs.
Oh sweet employ! for what can make us blest,
Like the good feelings of the grateful breast?
Love has its joys, — and, Lucy, it has pains;
But Love, with Gratitude triumphant reigns.
Your work is neat — the yarn, strong, white and clean:—
But say, for whom do you this present mean?
For her, whose kind advice and tender care
Preserv'd me from destruction's artful snare;
From that vile shepherd, who, insidious, strove
Wedded to win me to a wedded love!
Ah, hard of heart, and cruel to deceive;
And simple I, so quickly to believe!
You know the tale — and therefore can divine
For whom this little tribute I design—
By far too mean: — a better could I give,
A better far, you know, she should receive.
But sooner shall this river backward run,
And sooner where he sets, shall rise the sun;
Sooner these sheep shall change their wool for hair,
And those sweet lambs, like wolves, their mothers tear;
Than ever Lucy's heart forgetful prove
Of all our good old woman's care and love!
You cannot wonder, Lucy, that I hear,
With joy, the praises of a friend so dear:
—But truth it is, she lives on every tongue,
Alike the fav'rite of the old and young.
What marvel, Susan, that the old revere
Wisdom, which dignifies the hoary hair?
Goodness unfeign'd, which vice itself might charm,
And piety, which coldest hearts would warm.
What marvel, that the young admiring see
Youth's sweetness, mix'd with age's gravity?
Such tender care their pleasures to encrease;
Pleasures compleat of innocence and peace:
Such anxious zeal, those dangerous paths to show,
Which, seeming lovely, lead to certain woe!
Remembers not my Lucy well the day
When you all chose me lady of the May;
How to our sports she came, with smiling face,
And, pleas'd to view our pastime, took her place?—
Her presence joy diffus'd: the shepherds strove
Who most should win her notice and her love:
The maidens danc'd with rapture in her sight;
To gain her notice was to gain delight:
How high our mirth! and yet how decent all!—
Not one foul word ev'n Cornish Ned let fall!
What pow'r has genuine goodness! — and you know,
When from the gladsome plain she rose to go,
All round her came, and thanks and blessings shed,
Innumerous, on her ancient pious head:
While thus she, tenderly, herself express'd,
"Children, farewell: be innocent and blest!"
In age, how rarely, Susan, do we find
These pleasing qualities so sweetly join'd!
Too oft moroseness dwells with wrinkled care,
Envying those pleasures it no more can share;
Old Mopsa shews it, — whose ill-boding tongue
For ever croaks, that all we do is wrong—
Malevolent and harsh, you hear her praise
Times which are past, and censure present days.
—Ah how unlike! — No sentiments severe
From your good grand-dame on the age we hear:
Unless perchance some folly to explode,
To guard from vice, or to inculcate good,
Tales of past times she tells; which old and young,
Attentive hear, nor ever think too long.
—Well — Let me own, that nothing can engage
My heart and love, like wise and chearful age!
Then, then for ever in my Lucy's heart
Must my lov'd mother claim an ample part;
Her wisdom all the hamlets round confess;
Your own experience, Lucy, speaks no less:
Nay, sigh not, maiden, but rejoice to think
Her counsel sav'd you from destruction's brink:
Learn chearfulness from her; and learn the way
By which serene she regulates each day.
To God her first, her earliest duty giv'n,
Each hour glides on, dependent upon heav'n:
Each social office happily discharg'd,
To all the world her heart humane enlarg'd,
She lives to bless, — far as her pow'r extends,
The best of Christians, and the first of friends.
Yes, Susan, yes, I know how she imparts
The balm of comfort to afflicted hearts:
I know with what delight she brings relief
To beds of sickness, and the house of grief:
When late the rot consum'd our flocks around,
When just before the murrain spread the ground
With carcases of cattle — strangely dead!
And ev'ry farmer hung his drooping head:
Remember, how from house to house she went,
Consoling all, and minist'ring content:
That — to the stroke of Providence resign'd,
A murmurer 'mongst us it was hard to find!
Ah blest good woman! — and for private deeds,
How much her merit all our praise exceeds!
I saw her enter yesterday the door,
Where lies unhappy Lobbin, sick, and poor:
My heart rejoic'd — if envious I could be,
Susan, of girls I most should envy thee!
Much am I blest, my Lucy: may I prove
Worthy the dear example which I love!
With steps, howe'er unequal, may I tread
The peaceful paths, where she delights to lead!
And if — But shepherds flatter, — and to me
They've learn'd, no flattery can so welcome be—
Yet if my person any semblance bears,
Oh may my mind and deeds resemble hers!
But, on this theme, forget I time and place,
And see, the evening sun declines apace:
She'll think me long: — I must to field away—
Let me not cause her pain, or urge your stay,
Tho' more, much more, methinks I had to say.
But with my present I'll to-morrow come,
'Twill then be finish'd; and you'll be at home?
Our conversation so we may renew—
Your hand, dear Susan — best of girls — adieu!
God bless my dearest Lucy, Susan cry'd;
Then, smiling, cross'd the bridge, and field-ward hy'd.