1812
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Jane Ashford, a Tale in Humble Life.

Metrical Effusions; or Verses on Various Occasions.

Bernard Barton


Sixteen Spenserians: a village girl marries in London only to lose her husband to a villainous press gang. Perhaps this poem was inspired by William Wordsworth's "Female Vagrant," also in Spenserians.

In 1809 Bernard Barton had written to the Edinburgh publisher Archibald Constable seeking employment; upon the publication of his first volume he writes, "my leisure hours have been devoted to the service of the Muses, and a volume of poems, of which I enclose you a Prospectus, is now in the press, and will, I expect, early in May be published. My apology for what perhaps the poetical critic in your excellent Review would call this 'feeble outrage on the public,' may be found in the Advertisement, which will occupy the place of a Preface; I have likewise transcribed the dedicatory sonnet to Mr. Roscoe for your perusal, and having thus introduced to you my first literary adventure, trust to your patronage as you may judge it expedient to honour it with, hoping that you will at any rate allow me to send you a copy as a trivial mark of my grateful remembrance of the interest you were once pleased to express in my literary pursuits. Although the impression is purposely small, to avoid attracting that notice which a young and inexperienced author must contemplate with fear, yet I could much wish a few copies of it should reach Edinburgh" 27 February 1812; in Archibald Constable and his Literary Correspondents (1873) 2:244-45.

Robert Southey to Bernard Barton: "You will wonder at not having received my thanks for your Metrical Effusions; but you will acquit me of all incivility when you hear that the book did not reach me till this morning, and that I have now laid it down after a full perusal. It was overlooked at Murray's, for I have received several parcels from him in the course of the last two months; and when upon the receipt of yours I wrote to inquire for it, it was packed up in company with heavier matter, and travelled down by the slowest of all carriers" 19 December 1814; in Barton, Memoir, Letters, and Poems (1850) 150-51.

Rowland E. Prothero: "Bernard Barton (1784-1849), the friend of Charles Lamb, and the Quaker poet, to whose Poems and Letters (1849) Edward Fitz-Gerald prefixed a biographical introduction, published Metrical Effusions (1812), Poems by an Amateur (1817), Poems (1820), and several other works. He was for many years a clerk in a bank at Woodbridge, in Suffolk. Byron's advice to him was that of Lamb: 'Keep to your bank, and your bank will keep you'" Byron, Letters and Journals (1898-1901) 2:123n.



Unknown beyond his native village green,
Good Isaac Ashford rear'd his humble shed;
Of pomp or splendour little had he seen,
Save Nature's beauties all around him spread.
'Twas his through life a noiseless path to tread,
Content and cheerful in his lonely lot;
Or, if his eye some drops of sorrow shed,
His pious trust in heaven forsook him not:
His was well-founded faith, which christian love begot.

His is yon cot whose russet thatch appears
Beneath that ample oak's out-stretching shade:
Within that cot were spent his early years,
Beneath that tree full often has he play'd;
And, when his parents in their grave were laid,
Whose closing days his filial love had blest,
Hither he brought his chosen village-maid;
Pure was the flame which glow'd in either breast,
And gay the future scene by smiling fancy drest.

Six lovely infants crown'd their fruitful bed,
Three sturdy boys, three girls of beauty rare;
With joy the father stroked each youngling's head,
And oft the partial mother would declare,
No neighbour's child could with her girls compare:
With anxious watchfulness did both combine
To guard their tender minds from every snare;
Would tell them, 'Better far be good than fine,'
And bid their youthful steps to Virtue's path incline.

Such were the counsels of parental love,
Nor were the sage monitions given in vain;
Yet was there one whose breast they could not move,
Their elder son had joined a smuggling train,
Seduced by love of drink, and lawless gain:
He, when detected, left his native land,
To gain a living on the stormy main,
A desp'rate member of a ruffian band,
Who scorn'd their country's laws, nor heeded God's command.

Nor this the only grief that Ashford knew—
Oft from his own and from his partner's eye,
The ready tear a daughter's sufferings drew;
Full oft each bosom heav'd the pensive sigh,
For fatal symptoms told her end was nigh:
Too well they knew no doctor's skill could save,
They saw their darling Jane must early die;
Th' expected blow a deep affliction gave;
And she, with languid smile, survey'd the opening grave.

And wherefore from the maiden's pallid cheek
Was fled each bloom of joy and youthful grace?
The painful cause my faithful verse shall speak,
Nor shall the tale occasion Jane disgrace:
A broken heart had bleach'd that lovely face,
Sorrow for one who dwelt no more on earth;
Yet still th' attentive eye might clearly trace
Reliques of beauty, which, when join'd to worth,
Might in a guileless breast give ardent passion birth.

In early life, for Thame's frequented side,
Poor Jane had left her peaceful village green;
A city tradesman, to her sire allied,
With partial eye his smiling niece had seen:
Nor faithful wife, nor child, had he I ween;
But pass'd his cheerless moments all alone;
Each interval of busy life between,
Much did he wish a girl like her his own,
To close his dying eyes, and watch his parting groan.

Her parents heard their brother's plaintive tale,
Consenting pity touch'd each tender breast;
Some arguments of prudence, too, prevail,
And for her future weal they judg'd it best.
She bade adieu! the tear, but ill supprest,
Bespoke her love for those she left behind;
Yet soon again her face in smiles was drest,
A scene so new, a relative so kind,
Diverted all her grief, and made her feel resign'd.

Twelve fleeting summers soon were past and gone,
Each summer saw an annual visit paid;
And never, sure, the sun had shone upon
A more belov'd, a more enchanting maid:
A steady youth, who, in her uncle's trade,
His anxious toil, and humble profits, shar'd;
To charms so 'witching had his homage paid,
Inspir'd by ardent love, he even dared,
To woo her virgin heart, a matchless, rich reward.

Well pleas'd the uncle heard; the good old man
Had known the youth, and loved him from a child;
Good Isaac Ashford too approved the plan,
And Jane, with modest blushes, sweetly smil'd.
Her lover's company each eve beguil'd,
And often, seated by their cheerful fire,
Robert, who, when a boy, on ocean wild
Had sail'd to distant countries with his sire,
Would tell of marvels strange, which wonder might inspire.

Pass we the lover's raptures, and the fears
Which agitate the maiden's throbbing breast;
With beating heart the solemn rite she hears
The pastor's voice the wedded pair has blest:
How shall the trembling muse record the rest?
Scarce had they left the hymeneal fane,
They met a press-gang! Robert's eyes detest
Those well-known monsters of the foamy main.
Ah! lovely pair! your prayers, your tears, are vain!

The leader of that gang could hear unmov'd
The maiden's shriek, the bridegroom's wild despair,
'Sieze him,' he cried; resistance fatal proved:
Jane saw the blow of death with vacant stare;
Nor could her tongue the horrid truth declare,
Her brother struck the base, the murd'rous blow!
His was the gang which met the hapless pair,
His ruffian arm caused Robert's blood to flow;
O 'twas a madd'ning thought! a dreadful tale of wo!

Yet must remorse have touch'd the villain's heart,
When on his senses flash'd th' accursed truth;
Compunction's drops, oh! could they fail to start,
Amid the pangs of agonizing ruth!
Surely the memory of his early youth,
Before his feet had trod that winding road,
Which leads by gradual descent and smooth
To dark perdition's horrible abode—
Some memory of those days his tortur'd heart must goad.

But wherefore dwell upon the dreadful theme?
To paint its horrors language is denied;
It seem'd a fearful and terrific dream:
To Jane it left a never ending void.
Her aged uncle, too severely tried,
Bequeath'd his blessing with his latest prayer;
Heart-broken by that fatal stroke he died:
Jane came once more her father's meal to share,
A prey to rooted grief, and speechless deep despair.

Afficted maiden! round thy father's cot
The roses blossom, and the woodbines twine;
In vain they flourish, for thou heed'st them not,
Though once to cultivate their charms was thine:
Still on the sabbath eve in converse join
The partners of thy joys in early years;
But thou no more amidst the group shalt shine,
The voice of mirth, discordant to thine ears,
Conveys a keener pang, and calls forth bitt'rer tears.

Sweet maid! suppress thy sorrow, mourn no more,
Raise from these earthly scenes thy tearful eyes;
Soon shall thy day of anxious grief be o'er,
The grave awhile shall hush thy struggling sighs:
Then, dawning forth in purer, happier skies,
To bid all conflict end, all anguish cease,
Thy cloudless sun, Eternity! shall rise,
Herald of joys immortal, endless peace,
Ineffable delight, and bliss beyond increase.

[pp. 65-73]