1798 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Peasant's Sabbath (in imitation of Burns' Cotter's Saturday Night) inscribed to Mr. and Mrs. B****.

The Poetical Magazine 4 (1810) 167-73.

M.


21 Spenserians signed "M.," who informs us that the poem was "written about twelve years ago" — which would be 1798. The first stanza, imitating Burns's remarks to Robert Aiken, claims a youthful acquaintance with Burns and addresses the poet as though he was still alive. The absence of Scots diction or any mention of Scotland is notable in a poem that follows Burns almost stanza by stanza — one suspects that the poet was English, perhaps a Dissenter. The sentiments of the poem perhaps resemble Hannah More's Cheap Repository Tracts (1796-98). Among the contributors to the Poetical Magazine were William Combe, John Gwilliam, George Daniel, and Clio Rickman.

Herbert E. Cory, "Spenser, Thomson, and Romanticism" PMLA 26 (1911) 64n, mentions as other imitations of Burns: William Finlayson, "Andrew and Jock" (1806) and Alexander Balfour's The Ploughman's Death and Burial (1825).



To you, kind friends! whose sweet engaging smile
Gilded my morn of life's eventful days,
To you an honest heart, devoid of guile,—
To you a rustic Bard, his homage pays.
Yet fruitless here indeed the loftiest lays:
Vain the proud off'rings of the polish'd Muse;
You ne'er would prize the flatt'rer's artful praise,
Heedless tho' fame each gen'rous act pursues,
Whilst still you soothe distress, and peace and joy diffuse.

Ah! will you dare to patronise the strain
I write with trembling, hopeless to excel,
Which feebly strives to paint the village swain,
And simple manners of the lowly cell?
Yet often here Content and Virtue dwell;
Oft spotless truth and honour warm the breast;
No need of studied sounding words to tell
With what heart-bounding rapture, and how blest,
The humble peasant hails each hallow'd day of rest.

When bounteous Ceres all her treasure yields,
And pours in Autumn's lap her golden store,
The sunburnt swain, long lab'ring in the fields,
Sees with delight six days of toil are o'er;
He flies with rapture to his op'ning door,
Anxious his children and his wife to greet;
And, tho' his scanty cupboard boasts no more
Than homely fare, — no precious costly meat,—
He finds in home, dear home, the best, and sweetest, treat.

His mourning-slumbers no loud summons break,
No horn deep-sounding hastens him away;
Happy he feels, — allow'd himself to seek
The decent comforts of the Sabbath-day;
To mark the artless youngsters sportive play;
His spouse's soft endearing smiles to prove;
And now, when all attir'd in best array,
With serious thoughts and solemn steps to move,
And pay his homage due before the GOD of love.

He pours his inmost soul in fervent pray'r;
He supplicates the LORD of hosts on high
Still to extend his kind protecting care,
To view his failings with a parent's eye:
Yet not for envy'd titles does he sigh,
Nor glitt'ring fortune would he gain by stealth;
Full well he learns, tho' humble, to descry
That happiness springs not alone from wealth,
Without those richer treasures — innocence and health.

What tho' the "little great," the sons of Scorn,
The peasant's simple off'ring will deride,
And treat the virtues that his breast adorn
With supercilious insolence and pride,—
Vainly by pomp their vices would they hide;
In vain their crimes gloss o'er with specious art;
The GOD of truth still turns his head aside,—
No joy to him can costly gifts impart,
For he alone will prize the pure and upright heart.

The Gospel blessings (O exalted theme!)
To no one state are partially confin'd;
The holy JESUS suffer'd to redeem
From death, from pain, and mis'ry, all mankind!
The poor access may justly hope to find
To Heav'n's bright joys, who here, from envy free,
Contented liv'd, nor at their lot repin'd;
In virtue only will the diff'rence be
'Twixt men of highest rank and those of low degree.

The solemn service o'er — obeisance made—
His parting vows in silent pray'r addrest—
The peasant finds his suff'rings all repaid,
And feels new transport glow within his breast.
On CHRIST, on GOD, dispos'd his fate to rest:
No penury can chill, no cares annoy,
No anxious troubles can his peace molest;
Far other subjects now his thoughts employ,—
He looks beyond the grave for scenes of endless joy.

Now home returning to his frugal board,
He views the smiling group with placid eye:
His wife, on Sunday, bacon may afford;
And peas or beans his garden may supply:
He ne'er indulg'd in pamper'd luxury;
No rich pernicious sauce his hunger craves,
Beneath whose winning form diseases lie,
Which mark the glutton for the worst of slaves,
And sink his subject soul 'mid Passion's troubled waves.

O Temperance! thou nurse of gen'rous deeds,
Still pleas'd to fan the patriot's glowing flame,—
Each noble act whose high-born spirit feeds,
Who guid'st the hero to the fields of fame!
O! how I prize, how venerate, thy name!
Thou foe to fraud, to rapine, and to wrong,
Whose keen indignant glance must surely blame
All vile excess, charm'd with the Poet's song—
Man wants but little here, nor wants that little long.

Their cheerful meal dispatch'd, the decent grace
Concludes the humble peasant's plain repast;
Hope, beaming brightly on each infant's face,
Delights to promise bliss that long shall last.
No mem'ry have they of the troubles past,
They ne'er regard what evils are to come:
Their artless smiles no gloomy fears o'ercast;
They ne'er abroad for fancy'd sorrows roam;
But, bound in mutual love, find peace and joy at home.

The thrifty wife with conscious pride displays
Her gleaned corn before her husband's sight;
Remarks how hard she toil'd for six long days,
And tells her simple tale with much delight.
The youngsters too in this discourse unite;
Bring forth their tied-up bunches not a few,
Pick'd up with patient care from morn till night;
And, whilst their eyes still glisten at the view,
Shew what 'mid swarming fields their little hands can do.

Their eldest, Mary, Nature's artless child,
O'er whose fair form had eighteen summers flown,
Produc'd a larger heap, and inly smil'd
To think the rustling treasure quite her own.
Her tender parents had before made known
That for this year her gleanings should she have,
To use as best might please herself alone,
With all the gains from spinning she could save,
And profits of the hen her doating grannam gave.

How beats with ardent joy her throbbing heart!
How anxiously she labours to prepare,
By industry, a dress so new and smart,
To cut a figure at next Easter fair!
'Tis this indeed attracts all female's care;
'Tis this inspires the gay or serious mien;
What best becomes, what charms will most insnare,
At balls or wakes, — still anxious to be seen
In flowing muslin robes, or gown of gaudy green.

The peasant now surveys his garden neat,
His thriving crops, and Nature's vig'rous shoots,
Pleas'd to anticipate his annual treat,
From branches bending low with blushing fruits.
Next he beholds his well-pil'd stack of roots,
That Winter's sternest rigours can defy,
Still beaming welcome after day's pursuits,—
And his lone pig, now fatt'ning in the stye,
From which they strive to find a twelvemonth's scant supply.

O ye, possessing apathy of soul,
Whose flinty hearts imperious passions sway,—
Who scorn to follow Reason's mild control,
And shun Religion's pure and upright way,—
O! ere too late the voice of GOD obey!
Behold the humble peasant, and repent;
Affections warm within his bosom play;
Seek then the treasure of a life well spent,
And learn at length to feel the value of content.

Now, sallying forth, their cottage-door unbarr'd,—
No anxious fears of robbers intervene
(For poverty requires no watchful guard),—
They quickly reach the well-known village-green.
Here many a gay and smiling group is seen;
Happy is each his simple tale to tell
(No scandal taints their speech, no whisp'rings mean),
Pleas'd to recount at harvest what befell,
And on their own exploits and prowess great to dwell.

Whilst thus engag'd in talk, young William saw
His beauteous Mary, blooming like the rose,
And, stealing round, he beckon'd to withdraw,
Almost afraid his errand to disclose:
The maiden's cheek with deeper crimson glows;
Her heaving bosom throbs with mild delight
When softly he declares that her he chose,
That her of all her sex he would invite,
To pass, when toil was o'er, their jovial harvest-night.

To care unknown, with harmless mirth beguil'd,
Unheeded thus the rapid moments fly,
In social converse spent, till Ev'ning mild
The fading landscape views with dewy eye;
Then each to other wishes plain "Good b'ye,"
And to their sev'ral homes they all depart:
The youthful lovers breathe a tender sigh;
Untaught are they by deep dissembling Art,
Nor ever think to hide th' emotions of the heart.

Such simple manners mark the peasant's life,
'Tis thus he joys to spend his hours of rest;
Proud of his children, happy in his wife,
Once more he fondly clasps them to his breast;
Rich in content, in mutual love how blest!
But gath'ring night no more admits delay;
So, supper done, and kindest thoughts exprest,
"Farewell," he cries, then takes his devious way,
Anxious again to hail the hallow'd Sabbath-day.

Long be these comforts his! — Thou Pow'r supreme,
Whose mighty arm directs this earthly ball,
Whose eye omniscient still delights to beam
Parental love and tenderness on all!
O Thou, before whose throne all nations fall!
Still be the poor man's guardian and his guide;
Protect his rights, and raise at Britain's call
A hardy peasantry, to worth ally'd,
Their country's best support, her treasure and her pride!

[pp. 167-73]