1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Local Attachment. Book the Sixth.

The Influence of Local Attachment with respect to Home, a Poem in Seven Books.

Rev. Richard Polwhele


Richard Polwhele, a Cornish bard, devotes his sixth book to the charms of rustic life illustrated in the characters of a Welsh peasant and a Scottish laird. Warming to a congenial subject, he writes some of the best verses in the poem. While local attachment is universal to the human character, some localities, it seems, are easier to become attached to than others.

Analysis of Book VI: "1. To enter still more minutely into the subject, we should consider the CHARACTER OF THE PLACE which attaches us. Though, generally speaking, 'the efficient cause of the Local Attachment is to be found in the mind as acted upon by external objects; not in external objects as acting upon the mind;' yet the degrees of our attachment will, in some cases, be regulated by the qualities of the scene itself. A town has less attractions than a retired rural seat: nor is the latter so much esteemed, as a retired seat which hath been long appropriated to our family. 2. The mind is attached to localities, in proportion as it is affected by them, in its operations. A solitary or sequestered place is better calculated to afford this assistance than a populous one; because the images in the first, from the circumstance of their being simple and not implicated with others, are presented to us more easily by memory; and because, from having been confined to ourselves and our companions (and not common to strangers) they more strongly affect our fancy and feelings. The mind, therefore, is more attached to a solitary place, than to a populous one. Thus the Welch rustic feels a stronger affection for his secluded hut at the bottom of the dell, where he never sees the sun but at noon-day, than the artificer for his house in the midst of the busy town. A place that has been long appropriated to our own family, seems to hold us by still closer ties, because it excludes yet more from our thoughts the idea of the world; and because the circumstance of its appropriation flatters our self-love, by suggesting to us the notion of independence. It is for these reasons, that the Devonian peasant is wedded to 'the farm that his grandfather tilled;' and the Scotch laird to his hereditary castle. The man of family who is running the career of dissipation, may slight these feelings for a season: yet, at the hour of death, he regards, with a fond anxiety, the seat of his ancestors, and wishes to be carried thither, and 'to be buried by the grave of his father and mother.' 3. In truth, such retired situations have many advantages. There we may often see ourselves in our true colours: and there, in the midst of a serene sunshine, we may look out with delight on the storms which agitate the world" (1798) viii-ix.



Tho', closely with the chords of life entwin'd
The home-enamour'd passion we possess;
And trace it to the sympathizing mind;
Yet doth the scene, attractive more or less,
Forms faint or vivid on the heart impress:
Nor doth a home, amid the busy town,
With images so sweet our bosoms bless,
As in the still retreat that woods embrown,
Or where in ancient halls our whisker'd fathers frown.

The local love, to tender musings prone,
Melts o'er the spot in melancholy mood;
And, only tasting luxury when alone,
Would from its quiet haunts the world exclude,
There, buried in the sacred solitude,
It wooes rock-shadow'd dales, or meads of gold,
And, as no dull realities intrude,
A long-protracted converse loves to hold
Perhaps with air-bright forms that sparry caves unfold.

If, then, from care and dissipation, rife
In a vain world, thy natal spot be free;
If it be thine to trace back dawning life
Amid the dingle deep, the russet lea,
Familiar to the pensive muse and thee;
If, in secluded groves, from youth thine own,
Whether they shade the Tamar, Trent, or Dee,
Thou catch reflected rays where pleasure shone,
Thou hast a store of bliss to citied throngs unknown.

'Tis not the native of the crouded mart,
Where streaming pendants tinge the flashing tide,
Who with a secret triumph of the heart
Enjoys the scene that thousands share beside.
No — 'tis the man whose youth was wont to hide
Mid firs that crest the mountain, or below
Among dim planes — his solitary pride:
'Tis he, who sees, with fascinating glow,
Of his coeval oak the rich-brown umbrage flow.

There, as life's orient beams around us burst,
There, none but parents lent the endearing aid:
There none but faithful dames our childhood nurst
There none but brothers or but sisters play'd:
There haply, wedded to the fostering shade,
We from our earliest day have only seen
The tenants of the mill beside the glade,
And some few huts, perchance, along the green
Where elms round sainted tower yet weave their darkening screen.

Far from the din of towns in stilly shed
Whose roof just brightens to the noonday sun
Enclos'd by chasmed rocks whence, overhead,
The white goat hangs amid the coppice dun
With beard wild-floating, and the kidlings run
Along the precipice with heedless range,
The Cambrian ends his days as he begun;
Nor, fasten'd to his native crags, would change
His little glimmering dell for richly-pastur'd grange.

And if in shades our deep-sequester'd place
Not only far escape the prying ken,
But long was deem'd appropriate to our race;
To the hoar cottage in the willowy fen
We steal with rapture from the walks of men,
Linkt to our dwelling by still closer ties;
Or mark the mansion that o'erlooks the glen
Where dim the visions of our fathers rise,
Rearing its awful front amidst Elysian skies.

Yes! tho' the vulgar life but ill become
The local passion, yet a flame unchill'd
Burns in the rustic breast attacht to home:
And oft with pleasure hath the peasant thrill'd,
As the same acres that his grandsire till'd,
He furrow'd with his clod-compelling plough;
Or with the woodman's wonted echoes fill'd
The copse, or shap'd to its old form the mow,
Or bless'd with custom'd rites the teeming orchard bough.

Where rich Devonia boasts her greener hills,
And cliffs that redden o'er the billowy swell,
And vallies water'd by a thousand rills
While vainly flames pale Sirius, could I tell
The homely blessings that endear the dell;
Such as attach'd a simple peasant, frore
With age, whose features I remember well,
Bending with fragrant pipe on limeasht floor
To crackling ashen blaze, and full of abbey-lore.

Lo! he could trace on Buckfast's sacred ground,
While his low chimney from an ivied nook
Curl'd its grey cloud, the abbey's hoary bound,
And point where once, ere fate the chapel shook,
Each father op'd the brass-embossed book,
Or note the cellar's space — to shew how vain
All monkish joys; where now the passing crook
Fills, widely-branching, the wet shadow'd lane
And rough-gambadoed squires the genial spot profane.

Oft from this ruin, thro' the narrow dale,
He hears the struggling boughs to Eurus crash,
Where, o'er the tuftings of the low sweet gale,
From broken crags above, the light-leav'd ash
Streams pendulous, and torrents as they wash
Its whitening roots, foam round with fretful search,
Or sparkles from the deep-bas'd granite dash;
Whilst the pale purple of the spiral birch
Skirting the distant view, half-hides the steepled church.

Happy old man! tho' stranger to the town
Whence, duly solemn, the slow curfew toll'd,
Yet, from his shelter'd combe and upland down.
He wisely read the seasons as they roll'd;
Whether his hazel-hedges 'gan unfold
The first sweet promise of the purple year,
Or his green summer meads were sprent with gold,
Or autumn choak'd with elmy foliage sear
His brook, or drop'd the eaves to winter's breath austere.

Nor idly on his cot the sunbeams fall
Within the circle of each little day;
While thro' the lattice, chequering his white wall,
He sees the hours in dancing radiance play;
And by the morn's first trembling lustre grey
Rouses the snoring ploughboy to his task;
And loves, as the deep shadow marks noonday,
With legendary looks that audience ask,
On smoothworn oaken bench, in sunny beam to bask.

Here, as his thin locks glitter to the sun,
See, just escap'd the hollies of his fence,
A rill beside his feet o'er pebbles run,
To soothe with gurgling found the drowsy sense,
And coolness to the fervid air dispense
Where gleam beneath the casement his trim hives:
Nor need the humming labourers wander hence,
To waste on distant flowers their little lives;
Here spreads pale rosemarine, and there the thyme bank thrives.

Oft would he cry: "That walnut waving wild,
My grandsire planted by the torrent's foam:
I grasp'd its feeble stem when yet a child:
It quiver'd, as he heap'd the glowing loam.
E'en from my grandsire's days, averse to roam,
Here have I turn'd, each year, yon sloping ground;
And met the jocund kinds at harvest-home;
And bade on the heap'd floor the flail refound,
And press'd my orchard fruit within the reeking pound."

Tho' now he droop with age, his friendly staff
Aids him to climb yon hillock, and inhale
The breeze of health, and fresh-returning, quaff
Still whole at heart, his cup of spiced ale,
And on his wholesome sallads still regale;
When as his children's children round him lisp,
Their fancies he delights with many a tale
Of Mab the faery, or of Will-o-wisp,
Or fills their liquorish mouths with racy pippins crisp.

Meantime, in many a tutor'd bosom lives
The local flame, to generous nature true;
And oft to those who boast their lineage, gives
A knightly color, a romantic hue;
When yet, where first the breath of life they drew,
Manerial lords in scutcheon'd state reside,
And, as a tribute to their fathers due,
Maintain, with old hereditary pride,
The ceremonial pomp that fashion's sons deride.

Behold, where colouring the grey skirts of night,
The orient blush on shaggy Cromla glows,
Till, cast away, the blue waves roll in light,
And, melting to the sun, the mists disclose
Each verdant oak that cloaths the hill of roes;
The highland chieftain hails the merry morn:
And up the branchy woods as blithe he goes,
Thro' paths wide-opening, by his fathers worn,
To its old echo winds the long-transmitted horn.

Oft he pursues the wild deer's rapid bound,
And fearless plunges in the mountain stream,
His grey dogs to his bowstring panting round;
Or scales the summits of the cliffs that gleam
O'er the green isles, and lists the sea-fowl's scream;
Or pours his nectar, mid the feast of shells,
Weaving of other days the trancing dream;
While, as the wonders of the chace he tells
To each high-bosom'd maid, his heart with triumph swells.

What tho' in wrath the forked lightnings break
Upon the horrors of the midnight waste;
Tho' from the chambers of the thunder shriek
The gloomy spirit; what tho' pale hath past
Amid the long chill pauses of the blast
Slow-moving, the prophetic pomp of death;
And to the wan cold moon that, half-o'ercast,
Emerg'd a heap of billowy clouds beneath,
Trembled in shadowy glare, then vanish'd from the heath?

What tho', where once the helmed battle rang,
Melodious bards shall hymn no more the brave;
Tho' no proud chief shall hear the trumpet's clang
Carborne, but on his long-forgotten grave
The bearded thistle shake, the rank grass wave;
Tho' many a castle's sinking turrets, lone
Amid the dale, no hand essay to save,
Where looks the fox, as the low breezes moan,
Thro' the dim broken arch with hoary moss o'ergrown?

Yet shall the laird, as sovereign of his clan,
Still love to visit his paternal vale;
Still trace the spot, where streams of carnage ran,
And muse on each traditionary tale,
Where rows of pensile armour never fail
To wake the past — the targe, o'ergrown with rust,
The dinted shield, the wide-disjointed mail,
And many a dirk that bloody scales encrust,
Which tell of battling chiefs, and call them from the dust.

Such are the feelings scorn'd by those, who shift
Their place, unceasing — dissipation's spawn
That float upon the world's broad stream adrift!
See the light heir, far off by fashion drawn,
Without a sigh forsake the pathless lawn,
The dome devoted once to frolic glee:
No sweet sensations o'er his bosom dawn,
Tho' groves that wav'd in ancient days he see—
No charm can he perceive in time-worn tower or tree.

Yet the gay youth, who glitters thro' the crowd,
When droops by pain assail'd his throbbing head;
Yet all the rich, the pamper'd, and the proud
When death's terrific shadows round them spread,
Shall hail that home so long from memory fled!
Yet, when the fashions shall no more exalt
The buoyant heart with dreams by folly bred,
Nor pleasure with her harlot smile assault;
Its last fond sigh shall seek the still paternal vault.

Low on his pillow fortune's minion lies:
Home, once again, a moment, soothes his breast.
"O bear me to my castled park (he cries),
Bear but these relics where my fathers rest!"
While, as the ideal hearse, with trappings drest,
O'er many a mile in slow procession glooms;
Amidst the emblazon'd arms, the mottoed crest
Each little earth-born vanity assumes
A trembling fear, or courts the long, long nodding plumes!

And, O! believe the muse unverst in art,
Retirement holds a mirror, to reflect
To meditation's eye, the expanded heart;
When, ere it glistens with vain colors deckt
Full oft the lurking foible we detect
Amid the secret folds a sluggish worm!
And if, as troubles darken, we collect
Of vernal peace and joy each scattering form,
How sweet, from such a home, to smile upon the storm!

[(1798) 1:61-74]

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