1802
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Schoolmaster.

Scots Magazine 64 (September 1802) 767.

C.


Seven Spenserians: a verse character after William Shenstone's popular Spenser burlesque, The School-Mistress. This brief poem (in which the burlesque mode all but disappears) also echoes Thomas Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard and James Beattie's The Minstrel, which also deal with the theme of village education. The burlesque element all but disappears as the poet develops his theme of suffering merit: "Ah! how adverse are the decrees of fate, | Which often cause the illiterate to rise; | Which see apostates rank'd in robes of state, | While merit faintly blooms, and droops, and dies!" The poem is signed "C."

Robert Southey: "The village Schoolmistress, such as Shenstone describes in his admirable poem, and such as Kirke White drew from the life, is no longer a living character. The new system of education has taken from this class of women the staff of their declining age, as the spinning jennies have silenced the domestic music of the spinning wheel. Both changes have come on unavoidably in the progress of human affairs. It is well when any change brings with it nothing worse than some temporary and incidental evil; but if the moral machinery can counteract the great and growing evils of the manufacturing system, it will be the greatest moral miracle that has ever been wrought" The Doctor (1849) 227.



Mid the retirement of a woody vale,
In humble hamlet, which the trees obscure,
Y clad in common garb, by study pale,
Dwells one among the simple peasants poor,
Well vers'd in classic page and ancient lore;—
And tho' by nature clep'd a favourite child,
Whom genius taught in poetry to soar,
He still preserves his simple manners mild,
He courts the sphere where luxury has smil'd.

Tho' every part of learning kent he well,
And science op'd to him her wond'rous page;
In teaching village rustics how to spell,
He pass'd, forsooth — the flower of his age!
And tho' possess'd of all that forms the sage,
To narrow sphere he kept himself confin'd,
He never did in any work engage,
Than call'd forth all his energy of mind,
And to his own perfections he was blind.

Well we may wonder that a man so wise,
Endow'd with all that ever learning taught,
To climb the steepy hill of fame ne'er tries,
No genial climate for the muse e'er sought;
Nor ever tried to advance his fortune ought;—
But envy often blasts the laureate wreath,
And fame has often proved most dearly bought,
When furies fell their baneful curses breathe,
And calumny's foul sting that's sharper far than death!

Oft would he hie into the greenwood shade,
While he the playmates of his youth forsook;
And on the spangled lap of nature laid,
He'd pore with studious gaze upon his book,
Lulled by the sound of noisy rippling brook;
The social bliss he often would refuse,
And rather lie in some sequester'd nook;
Than all the trappings of the proud he'd chuse
To meditate and woo the thankless muse.

Each fleeting season to the wight was dear,
The smile of spring and summer's broadest bloom;
The mellow autumn with her foliage sear,
And even the murky skies in winter's gloom;
They taught, in nature's language to presume,
The pensive bard to sound the breathing wire,
And while his mind the muses bright illume,
He "wakes to extacy the living lyre,"
Which all around with raptures wild admire.

Ah! how adverse are the decrees of fate,
Which often cause the illiterate to rise;
Which see apostates rank'd in robes of state,
While merit faintly blooms, and droops, and dies!
Or lingers out a life of tears and sighs,
Stung the base brats of fortune to behold;
To climes remote from "prosperous folly" flies,
And dwells unknown, unblest with shining gold,
With mind unstrung by poverty's chill cold.

Oh! had I but the noble power to bless,
No poet wight should ever sing in vain;
I'd raise the ingenious children of distress,
And each alike should take of my domain;
To administer to want be ever fain,
And from distress to wipe away the tear;
To pity sufferers of stound and pain,
And to their plaints to lend a ready ear,
Their tales of woe, and eke their thanks to hear.

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