1824
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Scottish Sacramental Sabbath.

The Poets and Poetry of Scotland from the earliest to the present Time. 2 Vols. [James Grant Wilson, ed.]

James Hyslop


22 Spenserians — the poem, titled "The Scottish Sacramental Sabbath. In imitation of The Cottar's Saturday Night," may have made its original appearance in a magazine some time after the poet's death. James Hyslop's graphic description of a Scottish Tent Meeting is one of the very best imitations of Robert Burns's Cotter's Saturday Night, and one of the few to make use of Scots diction. Hyslop, a former shepherd turned schoolmaster, was one of the several autodidacts who composed much of their oeuvre in Spenserian stanzas. The program for the poem was announced in an anonymous essay Hyslop published in the Edinburgh Magazine, "Defence of Scottish Poetry" NS 6 (January 1820) 47-49.

James Hyslop: "You seem to think that the sphere of our Scottish poetry must now be very contracted. I beg leave to differ from you there also. Had you spent as many Sabbath-days among the Scottish peasantry as I have done, I dare say you would join with me in thinking, that there is yet an extensive field for the cultivation of a higher order of poetry than much that has ever yet appeared in our language" "Defence of Scottish Poetry" Edinburgh Magazine NS 6 (January 1820) 47.

Peter Mearns: "This long poem is the only one of the pieces written by Mr. Hyslop in South America which is known to his friends. It is not found in his MS. book, but there is no doubt about the authorship. It is a poetical version of a prose article published by himself in the Edinburgh Magazine, and which I have given in the Sketch. It is dated 'River Plata, September, 1824'" in Poems (1887) 114.

Mearns quotes a recollection by William Haddow, laird of Riggfoot: "After his death, there came to his mother, among his effects, some papers containing scraps of his poetry. I saw them, but there was only one little piece complete, namely, 'The Scottish National Melody,' which we considered even superior to the 'Cameronian Dream.' I transcribed it, and gave it to Mr. MacGill, who got it inserted in the 'Glasgow University Album' for 1836. I saw, too, in a magazine a poem of his called 'The Scottish Sacramental Sabbath,' of which I took a copy, but unfortunately lost it. This is all I know of his poetry, except a love song which I once heard sung" (1887) 66.

David McAllister: "Hyslop himself gives the incident upon which the poem was founded, and which occurred when the sacrament of the supper was being dispensed, in the open air, in the beautiful tree-shaded churchyard of Sanquhar, during the pastorate of the Rev. Mr. Rankine, an able and a godly minister. The account is as follows: 'After the action sermon, which, in those days, was preached from a tent in the field of graves, and when the first table was about to be served, a hasty thunder-storm, no uncommon occurrence, had gathered among the hills, and stretching the awning of its tempest-cloud over the valley beneath, discharged its contents with ominous vehemence on the heads of the convening congregation. The noise of the thunder, and the rushing of the rain, caused some interruption; and Mr. Rankine, designedly leaving the thread of his discourse, addressed the audience in the following dignified and highly poetic strain, as if heaven inspired him at the moment: — 'My friends, how dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. He before whom we must appear in judgment, from his pavilion of dark waters and thick clouds of the skies, in a voice of thunder is now addressing us who are assembled round his table; and I have no doubt that if the thin veil by which we are separated from the invisible world were drawn aside, we might discover, among these dark clouds where the thunder is rolling, the throne of Him from whose face the earth and the heavens shall flee away; we might behold on the mountains around us the bright armies of heaven drawn up in their shining ranks under the banners of the King of righteousness; we might behold those who have joined us at this table, whose graves are now rising green beneath our feet, but whose spirits are in glory; — I say, we might behold them looking upon us with heavenly joy and satisfaction, while we join ourselves, to the Lord in an everlasting covenant never to be forgotten.'' Such was Mr. Rankine's address; and Mr. Hyslop adds: 'How awfully sublime after this was the devotion when the assembled multitudes were singing to the mild and simple melody (Coleshill) that awakens all the sacramental associations of departed years, as the elements were about to be distributed.' This, then, was the ground-work of the poem" Poets and Poetry of the Covenant (1894) 20-21.

John Wilson: "NORTH. I never heard a bad sermon in a country church in my life. SHEPHERD. Nor me either. Oh, man, it's great nonsense a' that talk about preachin' that gangs on in Embro'. Simplicity, sincerity, and earnestness, are a' I ask frae ony preacher. Our duty is plain, and it requires neither great genius nor great erudition to teach and enforce it. To me nae mair disgusting sight than a cretur thinkin' o' himsel', and the great appearance he is makin' afore his brother worms!" Blackwood's Magazine (June 1826) in Noctes Ambrosianae (1857) 2:211.

"The Sabbath Morn" by Robert Franklin, a Lincolnshire miller, may also be part of this series; it was published at Hull, in The Miller's Muse, Rural Poems (1825).



The Sabbath morning gilds the eastern hills,
The swains its sunny dawn wi' gladness greet
Frae heath-clad hamlet, 'mong the moorland rills,
The dewy mountains climb wi' naked feet,
Skiffin' the daisies droukit wi' the weet.
The bleatin' flocks come nibblin' down the brae,
To shadowy pastures screened frae summer's heat,
In woods where tinklin' waters glide away
'Mong holms o' clover red, and bright brown ryegrass hay.

His ewes and lambs, brought carefu' frae the height,
The shepherd's children watch them frae the corn,
On green-sward scented lawn, wi' gowans white,
Frae page o' pocket Psalm-book soil'd and torn,
The task prepare assign'd for Sabbath morn:
The elder bairns their parents join in prayer;
One daughter dear, beneath the flowery thorn,
Kneels down apart, her spirit to prepare
On this her first approach the sacred cup to share.

In social chat, wi' solemn converse mix'd,
At early hour they finish their repast,
The pious sire repeats full many a text
Of Sacramental Sabbaths long gone past:
To see her little family featly drest,
The carefu' matron feels a mother's pride,
Gi'es this a linen shirt, gi'es that a vest;
The frugal father's frowns their finery chide,
He prays that Heaven their souls may wedding-robes provide.

The sisters, buskit, seek the garden walk
To gather flowers, and watch the warnin'-bell;
Sweet-William, danglin' dewy frae the stalk,
Is mixed wi' mountain-roses rich in smell,
Green sweet briar sprigs, and daisies frae the dell.
When Spango shepherds pass the lone abode,
And Wanlock miners cross the moorland fell,
Then, down the sunny, windin' woodland road,
The little pastoral band approach the House of God.

Stream of my native mountains! O how oft
That Sabbath-morning walk in youth was mine!
Yet fancy hears the kirk-bells, sweet and soft,
Ring o'er the darkenin' woods o' dewy pine.
How oft the wood-rose, rich wi' scented wine,
I've stoop'd to pull while passing on my way—
But now, in sunny regions south the Line,
Nae birks nor broomflowers shade the summer brae,
Alas! I can but dream o' Scotland's Sabbath-day.

But dear that cherished dream! — I still behold
The ancient kirk, the plane-trees o'er it spread,
And, seated 'mong the graves, the young, the old,
As once in summer days for ever fled.
To deck my dream the grave gives up its dead;
The pale precentor sings as then he sung;
The long-lost pastor, wi' the hoary head,
Pours forth his pious counsels to the young;
And dear ones, from the dust, again to life are sprung.

Lost friends return from realms beyond the main,
And boyhood's best beloved ones all are there;
The blanks in family circles filled again;
No seats seem empty round the House of Prayer,
The sound of Psalms has vanished in the air,
Borne up to Heaven upon the mountain breeze.
The patriarchal priest, with silvery hair,
In tent erected 'neath the fresh green trees,
Spreads forth the Book of God with holy pride, and sees

The eyes of circling thousands on him fixed;
The kirkyard scarce contains the mingling mass
Of kindred congregations round him mixed,
Close seated on the gravestones and the grass.
Some crowd the garden wall; a wealthier class,
On chairs and benches, round the tent draw near;
The poor man prays far distant; and, alas!
Some, seated by the graves of parents dear,
Among the fresh, green flowers let fall the silent tear.

Sublime the text he chooseth: — "Who is this
From Edom comes, with garments dy'd in blood,
Travelling, in greatness of His strength, to bless,
Treading the wine-press of Almighty God?"
Perchance the theme that Mighty One who rode
Forth Leader of the armies cloth'd in light,
Around whose fiery forehead rainbows glow'd,
Beneath whose tread Heaven trembled, angels bright
Their shining ranks arrang'd around His steed of white.

"Behold the contrast! Christ, the King of Kings,
A houseless wanderer in a world below;
Faint, fasting, weary by the desert-springs,
From youth a man of mourning and of woe.
The birds have nests on summer's blooming bough,
The foxes in the mountains find a bed,
But Mankind's Friend found every man his foe;
His heart with anguish in the Garden bled,
He, peaceful, like a lamb, was to the slaughter led."

The action-sermon ended, tables fenced
While elders forth the sacred symbols bring
The day's more solemn service now commenced.
To Heaven is wafted on devotion's wing
The Psalm. Those entering to the altar sing,—
"I'll of salvation take the cup, I'll call,
With trembling, on the name of Sion's King;
His courts I'll enter, — at His footstool fall,
And pay mine early vows before His people all!"

Behold the crowded tables clad in white,—
Extending far, above the flowery graves,—
A blessing on the bread, and wine cups bright,
With lifted hands, the holy pastor craves.
In summer's sunny breeze his white hair waves,
His soul is with the Saviour in the sky.
The hallowed wheaten loaf he breaks, and gives
The symbol to the elders seated nigh:
"Take, eat the bread of life, sent down from Heaven on high."

He, in like manner, also lifteth up
The flagon, filled with consecrated wine:
"Drink — drink ye all of it — Salvation's cup
Memorial mournful of His love divine."
Then solemn pauseth. Save the rustling pine,
Or plane-tree boughs, no sound salutes mine ears;
In silence passed, the silver vessels shine;
Devotion's Sabbath-dreams from bygone years
Return, till many an eye is moist with springing tears.

Again the preacher breaks the solemn pause;—
"Lift up your eves to Calvary's mountain, see,
In mourning veiled the mid-day sun withdraws,
While dies the Saviour bleeding on the tree!
But, hark! again the stars sing jubilee,
With anthems Heaven's armies hail their King,
Ascend in glory, from the grave set free.
Triumphant, see Him soar, on seraph wing,
To meet His angel hosts around the clouds of spring!

"Behold His radiant robes of fleecy light,
Melt into sunny ether, soft and blue!
Then, in this gloomy world of tears and night,
Behold the table He hath spread for you!
What though you tread affliction's path! In few—
A few short years your toils will all be o'er;
From Pisgah's top the promised country view,—
The happy lands beyond — Immanuel's shore—
Where Eden's blissful bowers bloom green for evermore!

"Come here, ye houseless wanderers, soothe your grief,
While faith presents your Father's blest abode;
And here, ye friendless mourners, find relief,
And dry your tears, in drawing near to God,
The poor may here lay down oppression's load,
The rich forget his crosses and his care,
Youth enter on religion's narrow road,
The old for his eternal change prepare,
And whosoever will, life's waters freely share.

"How blest are they who in His courts abide,
Whose strength — whose trust — upon Jehovah stays!
For He in His pavilion shall them hide,
In covert safe, when come the evil days:—
Though shadowy darkness compasseth His ways,
And thick clouds, like a curtain, hide His throne,
Not even through a glass our eyes shall gaze;
In brighter worlds, His wisdom shall be shown,
And all things work for good to those that are His own!

"And blessed are the young to God who bring
The morning of their days in sacrifice;
The heart's unrifled flowers, yet fresh with spring,
Send forth all incense pleasing in His eyes!
To Me, ye children, hearken and be wise;—
The prophets died; — our fathers, where are they ?
Alas! this fleeting world's delusive joys,
Like morning clouds, and early dew, decay!
Be yours that better part that fadeth not away!

"Walk round these walls, and, o'er the yet green graves
Of friends whom you have loved, let the tear.
On many dresses dark, deep mourning waves,
For some in summers past who worshipped here.
Around these tables, each revolving year,
What fleeting generations I have seen!
Where, where my youthful friends and comrades dear?
Fled, fled away as they had never been,
All sleeping in the dust beneath these plane-trees green!

"And some are seated here, mine aged friends,
Who round this table never more shall meet!
For him who, bowed with age, before you stands,
The mourners soon shall go about the street!
Below these green boughs, shaded from the heat,
I've blessed the bread of life for threescore years,
And shall not many, mouldering 'neath my feet,
And some, who sit around me now in tears,
To me be for a crown of joy when Christ appears?

"Behold He comes with clouds a kindling flood
Of fiery flame before His chariot flees!
The sun in sackcloth veiled, the moon in blood;
All kindreds of the earth dismay shall seize;
Like figs, untimely shaken by the breeze,
The fixed stars fall amid the thunder's roar;
The buried spring to life, beneath these trees;
A mighty angel, standing on the shore,
With arms stretched forth to heaven, swears time shall be no more!

"The hour is near, your robes unspotted keep,
The vows you now have sworn are sealed on high;
Hark! hark! God's answering voice in thunders deep,
'Midst waters dark, and thick clouds of the sky!
And what if now, to Judgment, on your eye
He burst, where yonder lurid lightnings play;
His chariot of salvation passing by;
The great white throne, the terrible array
Of Him before whose frown the heavens shall flee away!

"My friends, how dreadful is this holy place!
Where rolls the thickening thunder, God is near
And though we cannot see Him face to face,
Yet, as from Horeb's mount, His voice we hear!
The angel armies of the upper sphere,
Down from these clouds, on your communion gaze
The spirits of the dead, who once were dear,
Are viewless witnesses of all your ways;
Go from His table then; — with trembling tune His praise."

[Poems (1887) 181-86]