1822
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Peasant's Cottage.

La Belle Assemblee NS 25 (March 1822) 184.

Beppo


Ten ottava rima stanzas signed "Beppo" ridicule suburban affectations of humble life: "O ye! who sigh in rural ease to bask, | Dream not "the peasant's cot" hath much of this." As the signature implies, the burlesque is in the manner of Byron, though the matter is borrowed from Burns's The Cotter's Saturday Night (the patriotic turn in the last stanza) and Shenstone's The School-Mistress (the garden description). La Belle Assemblee was a fashion magazine whose mainstay had long been biographical pen-portraits of aristocrats and royalty; this poem may have made its first appearance in a newspaper.

Eleanor Anne Franklin to Mary Russell Mitford: "I shall have great pleasure in becoming acquainted with the inhabitants and economy of 'your' village, particularly as you have sketched your portraits in the sunshine. 'The short and simple annals of the poor,' which have lately poured in such profusion from the Scottish press, I thought at first exquisitely beautiful and pathetic, and the tone of piety which pervaded them at once appeared as a national characteristic, and was sublime in its simplicity. But after reading a succession of them I wearied of the beauty, the pathos, and even the piety, for they were brought forward too often, and betrayed too much of stage trick.... I think the public taste is not in any danger of relapsing into Arcadian pastorals, but I suspect these Caledonian pastorals to be almost as ideal. Crabbe, with his occasional coarseness and propensity to dwell upon the disgusting 'where there is no need of such vanity,' is almost the only one who has dared to be correct, and he has given us some beautiful specimens of 'lights,' as well as 'shadows'" 23 March 1824; in L'Estrange, Friendships of Mary Russell Mitford (1882) 107-08.



Sprinkled all o'er Augusta's smoky vale,
Fringing her roads as rightly do I guess,
Beflower'd around, and white from head to tail,
Upright and prim as beau in summer dress,
Are scores of things, where citizens inhale
Their country breathings, nick-named cottages:
Away — I hate them — 'tis no treat to me
To see such springs of humility.

I like a bit of homely thatch,
Where lives a poor man — no — not very poor;
I mean just such a man as well can catch
From oven mouth, say twice a week or more,
Of wholesome wheaten bread a goodly batch,
To feed his children with — we'll say there's four,—
We'll say there's six, ne'er mind — God bless him with 'em,
Providing he has food enough to give 'em.

Where all the live-long day right merrily,
The simple house-wife plies her daily care:
Of work, while her good man's a-field, you see,
I hold it meet the woman have her share!
I like to see her busy as a bee,
With things that will be well as things that are,
Lo! while she sings and spins, the galloping pot
Proclaims for supper there's something hot.

My cot should stand up where it well can catch
The healthful breeze that blows some common o'er,
Where, from its half-closed little wicket hatch,
We view a wide expanse of hill and moor;
A slip of leather to upraise the latch,
A knot of woodbines dangling o'er the door;
Hark! two or three pigs are chaunting in the stye!
Look! two or three good shirts blow about to dry.

And O, the pipe, brown jug, and summer seat,
Close by the garden gate, where shadowing come,
Loaden with tuneful birds and zephyrs sweet,
Thick boughs that bear the apple and the plum;
I love to see the windows clean and neat,
And curtain'd o'er with spice geranium;
I do not mind a broken pane or two,
Provided there's no petticoat thrust through.

A well-hedged garden, nicely planted out,—
All sorts of herbs, and flowers not a few,
In comely order spread, or bunched about;
The sweet pea here, and there the bitter rue,
And all the large beds the emerald sprout
Of winter greens that sip the silver dew,
The long red carrot, onion sweet and dry,
Potatoe, turnip white, and crinkled brocoli.

And then to see the chicks all budge to school!
What if they pout — tut — nothing is the matter,
It shews the unbending dame is skill'd to rule,
As well for decent learning as the platter,—
To hear the ducks come gobbling o'er the pool
To claim their crums — my soul, a goodly clatter,
Nay, more — for seeing that, one's thoughts do go forth,
That they have useful hens, and eggs, and so forth.

Strong with the produce of the barley mow,
I'd love to find in use the mellow horn;
I'd like to see a paddock and a cow,
Besides a decent barn well cramm'd with corn;
But ah! these things we seldom light on now,
And more's the pity — for, ere I was born,
I've heard, for good industrious man and woman,
Such blessing grew on every dirty common.

O ye! who sigh in rural ease to bask,
Dream not "the peasant's cot" hath much of this;
Perhaps I could (but 'twere a sorry task)
Paint his dull hovel as it really is;—
The barley loaf, straw bed, and empty flask,
And labour hard from morn to night are his,
High spirits broken, young age, ah me!
All sorts of petty parish tyranny.

O Britain! how it grieves me while I write,
To think my humble musings are not real;
That things so cheaply bought, and, too, so bright,
(The sweetest ornament of England's weal),
Should be so hid in penury's dark night—
Tell me, ye great ones, when will Britain heal
This wound, that more than rankles in her side,
And boast, O once again, her peasant's goodly pride?

[p. 184]