1824
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Renfrewshire Characters and Scenery: a Poem.

Renfrewshire Characters and Scenery: a Poem, in Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Cantos, by Isaac Brown.

William Motherwell


A burlesque topographic poem in 43 Spenserians — only one of the threatened 365 cantos appeared. At the time of publication William Motherwell, afterwards a notable Tory journalist and ballad collector, was employed as depute sheriff in Paisley; he seems to have acquired his interest in antiquities while copying ancient documents in the sheriff's office. The text of the poem is dwarfed by voluminous notes and illustrations. The comic mode derives from Byron, though the humor is Scottish, as in the account of the town where Motherwell grew up: "Paisley, it is y'clep'd; of much renown, | Near and far known for many a wondrous deed; | For turning kings, and wooden trenchers round; | For weaving muslin webs of finest reed, | And schemes political that must succeed; | For wealthy tradesmen, and for deep divines; | Wise bailies; prudent matrons, that take heed | To all their neighbours' virtues; chief, it shines | With writers douce."

Renfrewshire Characters, published anonymously in Paisley, seems not to have been reviewed and to have aroused very little attention. It was not reprinted in collected editions of Motherwell's poems and seems not to have been recognized as his by contemporaries and early biographers.

William M'Conechy: "As the office of Sheriff-Clerk Depute brought him a considerable income, he spent the greater part of it in the purchase of books, and long before his removal to Glasgow he had collected a large and miscellaneous library. Like most book-fanciers, he sometimes sacrificed usefulness to the indulgence of a spirit of curiosity; but in that province of literature to which he was chiefly devoted, — poetry and the historical romance, — his library was rich. Its chief wants were in the department of modern history, and moral and philosophical science, in none of which subjects can it be said that he took much pleasure" memoir in Motherwell, Poems (1846) 26.

Robert Shelton Mackenzie: "William Motherwell, born at Glasgow in 1798; died in 1835. He was editor of the Glasgow Courier. In 1827 he published the collection above-mentioned, — called Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern. In 1823 appeared a volume of his own poems, some of them in the Scottish dialect, breathing pathos and intensity of feeling rarely surpassed" Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 3:193.

Samuel Austin Allibone: "William Motherwell, 1797-1835, a native of Glasgow, the third son of an iron-monger of that city, became an assistant in the office of the Sheriff-Clerk of Paisley at the early age of fifteen, and at twenty-one was appointed Sheriff-Clerk Depute of the County of Renfrew. His literary life, though short, was a very active one. He edited the Harp of Renfrewshire, 1819, the Paisley Magazine, 1828, The Paisley Advertiser in the same year, and The Glasgow Courier from 1830 until his death. He was also a large contributor to The Day, (a Glasgow periodical,) and assisted Hogg in editing an edition of Burns's Works, 1833, 5 vols" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 2:1379.

Robert Arnold Aubin: composed "in imitation of the literary style of a past age" Topographical Poetry in XVIIIth-Century England (1936) 224.

Herbert E. Cory, who presumably had not seen this poem, describes it as an imitation of Robert Burns's Cotter's Saturday Night! see "Spenser, Thomson, and Romanticism" PMLA 26 (1911) 64n.



Oh yes, we have full many a varied scene,
Of rural grace, here in the West countrie:
Green undulating hills, soft glens between,
Where still the peasant loves his home to be,
Beside the brook that murmurs pleasantly:
Rich vales, where equally the graceful skill
Of Culture's hand, and Nature's gifts we see,
Where fresh'ning rivers, swell'd by many a rill,
Their winding channels, high as their green margins, fill.

But none of all these scenes to me ere seems,
Than pastoral Inchinnan, half so sweet;
Where, gliding through their vales, two sister streams,
After long devious wanderings, haste to meet,
And stray together in that calm retreat.
That scene holds o'er my heart, a pleasing spell;
Still, as my lingering visits I repeat,
I love it more; and yet I scarce can tell,
What dear associations this heart-pleasure swell.

The church of simplest form, and hoary age,
The grassy church-yard, with its moss-grown stones,
And circling trees, that cast a soft umbrage,
And soothe the dead, with sighs and gentle moans;
Warning the living loiterer, that postpones
His ghostly task, with truths most sage; close by,
The neat snug manse, a cheerful sight — green lones,
Where Age right garrulous rests pleasantly,
And Youth, let loose from school, sports like the summer fly.

A country manse improves a landscape much;
It makes us think of many a blessing rare;
Blessings for mind and mouth — we feel, we touch;
An active leisure, and a pleasing care,
For duties done of love a double share,
Fat hens, fresh eggs, from out the gudewife's store,
Of meal, and malt, what the gudeman can spare,
From bridegroom's superfines, still valued more,
And augmentations, which make heritors feel sore.

I say not, were it hard press'd upon me,
I would refuse a wealthy bishoprick;
Say were it steepy Durham's golden See,
For, in ambition, I'm not quite a stick,
But mine burn'd to the latest snuff of wick
Would be with any Scottish country manse—
My teeth are wat'ring for the tiends — I'll lick
My lips whene'er I get them: — Ah, no chance
Have I for this, no more than being king of France.

The pious pastor, watchful o'er his flock,
Wooing, supporting, guiding them to heaven;
Though infidels and wantons jeer and mock,
I deeply venerate. Whilst we are driven
With goose-wings, down the wind, such men are given,
To hail, arrest us in our course, and aid
To reef, bear up, and strive as those have striven
Who now ride safe in port, 'gainst currents, trade-
Winds — all by devilish passions, men and devils made.

As old Polonius says, "where did I leave,"
'Twas 'bout Inchinnan, which I love so well;
The monarchs of the A, B, C, 'twould grieve,
Were I my many truant tricks to tell,
When a poor school-slave, yielding to the spell,
With which the rural nymphs had bound me, chief
Those that love by Cart's blending streams to dwell
Description, at the best, is low relief;
Go, then, and use your eyes, the walk's most sweet and brief.

Go, without pausing, to the eastern bridge,
(For there are two, and stately structures both,)
And place yourself upon the very ridge;
When there, to gaze for hours you'll not be loath:
When asked the petty dues, Oh, be not wroth,
One penny sure is small for a fine view;
And, O believe me, avarice is a moth
That eats our happiness even through and through,
And turns the heart to dust, which time cannot renew.

These bridges were uprear'd some years ago,
And cost, I think, full twenty thousand pound;
The old one, though not old, was builded so,
That, when it fell, it seem'd an earthy mound,
Or that the stones to powder had been ground;
Too late, alas, that 'twas a sandy pile,
Thin cas'd in ill-built stone, the public found:
'Twas waggish work to build in such a style,
But let us draw some morals from the tale, the while.

And first of all, from hence we're clearly taught
That judgement must not rest on outward guise;
How oft the man that seems with virtues fraught,
When better known, we utterly despise.
By works a wise man each man round him tries,
Oft by some current deep life's path is cross'd,
To some true friend, as bridge, the pilgrim hies
He's half way o'er, just when he needs it most,
The bridge proves cas'd, and in the centre stream he's lost.

The other morals which we meant to teach,
We must let rest to a more fitting time:
And now the proper point of view we reach,
And 'tis of summer day the cheerful prime;
Look every way, and say if even rhyme
Can tell the gladness which the heart now feels,
Can ring in unison with its full chime:
Ah, there are high and inward rapture-peals,
By nature wak'd, which rhyme, blank verse, nor prose reveals.

What of the poor heart would become, were prose
The only outlet, when its tide swells high;
So pent, how desperate would be its throes!
Prose is a reptile that crawls heavily;
But eagle Poesy mounts to the sky.
Our earthly thoughts in drossy prose remain,
But all that have their fiery source on high,
Mount in the flame of poesy, to gain
Their sphere, the whilst their glory all men's eyes constrain.

No quaint apologies I deign to make,
For these digressions; to digress is law,
For lawyers oft do so — even for the sake
Of glorious liberty, I'd hum and haw,
And, peevishly, at stated rules cry, pshaw.
And, really, when in bondage with these rhymes,
To be the slave of method — that Bashaw—
Would be a punishment no common crimes
Should meet — 'twould make still worse these very worst of times.

Look o'er the northern ledge — a glorious view,
Wood, water, islets, lawns, and meadows green,
Round grassy knolls, brown hills, and mountains blue;
Beneath a rushing, wide-spread stream is seen
To bear a double tribute to the queen,
Or king, if that's preferred, of Scottish rivers:
Clyde is the Thames of Scotland now, I ween,
Not from the water hourly it delivers,
But from the trading bustle which its current fevers.

There, on that green lawn, rather to the right,
New labours of the architect appear,
By old high trees, half hidden from the sight;
A noble pile — the castle of good cheer,
Whose sunny visag'd lord's known far and near,
For generous living, and for generous deeds;
'Live and let live,' his motto — it is queer,
So rich and lavish, that he ne'er proceeds
Certain small things, to blot one in the Red Book reads.

Still farther to the right, the place is seen,
Where great Argyle, playing the patriot's part,
Was seized. How has no monument yet been
Rear'd there? Look to the left bank of the Cart,
In fancy do you see helm'd warriors, swart,
Tilting beside yon green hill — near that spot,
From battlements, the pride of Gothic art,
The banner of Knights Templars once did float.
Yon farther hills are trac'd by the Roman wall and moat.

Look o'er the southern ledge — a goodly sight;
The distant Paisley-braes the prospect bound,
The Mistilaw towers further on the right;
A fleecy cloud its sunny peak floats round;
But, nearer, see yon hill with tall spire crown'd,
Studded with many a mansion, school, and church,
Whilst round its base, a thronging town is wound;
A town upon whose merits we would wish to touch,
'Bout which, so great they are, we cannot say too much.

Paisley, it is y'clep'd; of much renown,
Near and far known for many a wondrous deed;
For turning kings, and wooden trenchers round;
For weaving muslin webs of finest reed,
And schemes political that must succeed;
For wealthy tradesmen, and for deep divines;
Wise bailies; prudent matrons, that take heed
To all their neighbours' virtues; chief, it shines
With writers douce, save when Pap-in their wit refines.

Pap-in! thou beveridge of the gods — Pap-in!
That giv'st a soul to him who may have none,
In every club thou swellest every skin
Like Arab bottles. Whatsoe'er the sun
Can do for earth, by thee, for us, is done.
Beneath thy sway life is both warm and bright;
Like Docks and Dandy-lions Wit and Fun,
Spread forth their beauties to thy genial light;
Wise saws, like haws and hips, thick clustering to the sight.

This town is noted too, for rhyming men,
Whose fame, o'er all the country wide, has spread,
It has, of living songsters, nine or ten,
And many more have been, alas, now dead;
When Milton is forgot they will be read.
There I myself, endeavour to reside,
Though almost starv'd; my ample sign is spread
In Plunkin, which runs off the Causeyside,
Where those, that lie in wait for monied merchants, bide.

This merchant-catching is a cruel trade;
That 'tis a crime the council must decree.
Some say, that our prosperity would fade,
If merchants were not caught thus craftily,
Oh, 'tis a sight worth ten miles walk to see,
Behind their webs, these spiders lurking sly,
And peering forth, lest any prey may be,
And darting on the unsuspecting fly—
Sucking its blood, till as a whistle it is dry.

Ye muslin regions! climes where Corks have thriven,
Where sign-boards, in their glory, flourish still,
Should from your flow'ry paradise be driven,
And pack'd, with baggage, o'er the three-mile hill,
We innocents, of manufacturing skill,
Worse than a fall of prices it would be;
Rather than in that thorny desert till,
Call'd "Glasgow city," from its growthless tree,
I'd dangle like the bell, which on its branch we see.

'Tis luxury beyond compare, all day,
About the Causeyside, from door to door,
With hands in breeches' pocket, warm, to stray,
And tell and hear queer stories o'er and o'er,
And into all our neighbour's business bore;
And then, O rare, the penny club at night,
Where, socially, we hum-drum, smoke, and snore,
Dreaming of times — we have the second sight—
When merchant swarms appear, with purses long and bright,

Fine muslins, and fine women we have both:
The former always takes the market well;
But how the merchants should continue loath
To take the latter too, I cannot tell.
Had I the management, I would not sell
The one, unless the other too was taken.
One damsel fair, with every thousand ell,
Is not too much, or I am much mistaken.
It breaks my heart to see our maidens thus forsaken.

Look to the eastern border of the town,
And there you see a darkly towering fane,
The "Abbey Church," 'tis call'd, now half thrown down:
I wish I saw it proudly rear'd again.
The blot of vandalism, the name must stain
Of those who strew'd in dust its saintly choir.
The knavish rascals let the nave remain,
But not the transepts, with their lofty spire.
Some say, its labell'd bell is now in Durham shire.

The dust, the golden dust of royalty,
Is held within its consecrated bound;
Parents of kings too — Walter and Margery—
Have long since there a place of slumber found.
Where such repose, a glory hovers round;
And many more, of various titled name,
Enrich, with noble dust, the sacred ground.
Death beats the leveller at his favourite game;
To him the monarch, noble, peasant, are the same.

The sounding aisle you've seen; like other people,
Who visit our New Town and Burgh, no doubt,
You've sought that aisle, and climb'd the High Church steeple.
In that dim aisle of echoes, round about,
From wall and groin'd roof, unseen spirits shout,
Answering to him who calls: But when is sung,
By some sweet choral band, a hymn devout,
Ah, then is heard full many a seraph tongue:
For mortal sounds, back raptured strains of heaven are flung.

Thanks to the D. D. who, so piously,
Bemoan'd, wip'd off the deep disgrace, which time
And hands profane, had laid on Queen Blear-eye;
Both eyes with moss were blear'd, and dust and slime,
Her noble cheeks and robes, did sore begrime;
But now, in seemly state, both clean and neat,
Upon her stone couch does she safe recline
Within this aisle, as waiting to repeat
Some holy sister's strain, in echoings lingering sweet.

Oh, wherefore in this bustling age was cast
My woful lot, in which man's wretched life
Is like the quickened mails, that run too fast,
Holding with time a vain and jading strife.
With a most reekless sweep, the pruning knife
Lops every graceful bough from life's fair tree:
'Tis only where the golden fruit is rife,
That the relentless hand may sparing be;
Thus paring life to shapeless, bare utility.

The golden age is past — 'tis no such thing;
At least the age for thirsting after gold;
For golden dreams, and costly offerings
To Mammon, God of wealth, so called of old.
All goes for yellow-metal. I'll uphold
That if you bid for Noses a fair price,
Soon by the gross you'll find these to be sold,
And, if in quality you're not so nice,
Behold, you've made the age quite noseless in a trice.

Bottles are labell'd, telling what's within,
So are the dead, and why not living men?
With name and place, the label might begin,
Next — age, and rank, and birth, both where and when.
The temperament, the principles, and then
The lowest sum that can be taken for these,
The label, in nine cases out of ten,
Would be the porter's charge, "just what you please,"
To hold our principles does nothing else but teaze.

These calculating times are not for me:
I should have lived three hundred years ago,
And spent my easy days in errantry,
As monk, or knight, to care a mortal foe.
I'd like to fight, indeed, but so and so;
With fiery dragons, and with giants grim
When others fought, I might have cried — bravo!
With age, these monster's eyes would have been dim,
Ere to molest their peace, my heart had been in trim.

More in my element I would have been,
Wandering, at pleasure, all the country round,
A peaceful brother, Monk, or Capuchin,
Whilst, in each house, a kindly host I found;
Or loitering in the shady cloister's bound;
Or sunning myself on bank, where wild-thyme grows;
In that calm sphere, each stilly sight and sound
Would have called forth my genius for repose;
Kind cherishing each high propensity — to doze.

To nod, to doze, to slumber, to sleep sound,
These form, of human happiness, the scale;
For waking bliss has never yet been found;
At least, if found, it very soon turns stale:
The grains of paradise, they mix with ale,
In drowsy bliss, the willing senses steep,
Whilst care makes still our slumberings to fail.
To eat, to walk is but to sow — to reap
Life's richest harvest — is, in corner warm, to sleep.

I hope the good old times will yet come back,
The jovial times of nuns, and monks, and masses.
I think, I'm gifted with the sacred knack
Of playing Abbot — riding upon asses,
In which this town each other town surpasses.
The Abbot of Paisley, then, I ought to be:
With many a holy tax I'd bless all classes:
The Paisley bank-notes would belong to me,
For pictur'd on each one the Abbot's self you see.

Quickly, the New Town shall demolish'd be,
And with the stones rebuilt the garden wall;
Within, I'll plant each goodly flower and tree,
From the low snow-drop to the poplar tall;
Mazes I'll form, and arbours, fountains, all
That minister to ease, and soft delight;
The mill and mulcturer ground to powder small,
I'll rear a neat refectory on the site,
Where lunch and waterfalls will soothe my care-worn sprite.

Oh, Smith, thou son legitimate of song,
First cousin of the vocal sisters nine,
Thou far too modest, worthy man, I long
To see thee, whilst we kneel at Mary's shrine,
Leading my choir-men, chaunting airs divine,
Delating, warming, ravishing each heart,
With those rich, mellow, gushing tones of thine:
Fortune will play thee, then, a truer part—
St. Peter's men, to bob for purses, know the art.

St. Peter and St. Andrew, Andrew ****;
(Association joins these by her spell,)
Andrew! thou man of genius, queer and knacky,
What hast thou done with our good High Church bell?
What malice 'gainst it in thy breast could dwell?
Thou tun'd it with a vengeance — took it down,
Then hung it up, to ring its funeral knell;
Thou didst not cease till all its tones had flown;
Till what was once its pride, disgraces now the town.

It's ghost will haunt thee, thou hard-hearted one;
It's broken tones will grate still in thine ear:
With such a thing how thought ye to make fun;
I'm sure, in conscience' pangs, 'twill cost thee dear.
Such bell we'll never get, again, I fear,
It's solemn, lengthy, deep, sonorous tones,
Which did each Paisley-man's heart good to hear,
Fill'd, with their tide, the houses, streets, and lones,
And fuller swell'd, till even they thrill'd the very stones.

They floated wide, o'er hill and plain around,
In the still morning, and the stiller eve;
Rousing the hind to toil, from sleep profound,
And calling him again these toils to leave.
The far-off peasant, now, will sadly grieve,
Missing those sacred Sounds on sabbath morn:
Whilst, scarce the bosom of the air they heave,
The wild bee drowns them with his tiny horn,
But still, again, they're caught, through the hush'd distance borne.

Andrew! thou man of double-attic bliss,
Thy thin frame perch'd in Paton's attics high,
Thy spirits in those of Happiness, I wis:
Beneath, the clouds of Care may meet thine eye,
But ne'er can reach thee, in the middle sky.
Smiling enthusiast! every new moon brings
Thee some new fancy, whilst confusedly lie
Discarded whims, snuff boxes, coins, base-strings,
Bells, music, varnish'd sticks, and all such oddish things.

Singing of Andrews, and of genius too,
Shall I not, Andrew Lindsay, sing of thee,
And of thy good bow-hand? so bold and true;
Neil Gow's might be more fine, but not more free.
Each heel was winged — each eye and heart were glee,
Even with the tuning flourish of thy bow,
The reel struck up, and each had made congee,
What crossing, skipping, swinging to and fro—
High cutting, shuffling, whirling — such we'll see no moe.

Good humour'd, virtuous man! Nature on thee,
Above mere fiddling, has bestow'd a mind:
Thou art a scholar of no mean degree;
A linguist, though from infancy stone blind.
I see the son-taught mother, meekly kind,
Reading to thee on Greek or Hebrew page:
And Oh, it grieves me, Andrew, now to find
Thee press'd at once, by poverty and age.
Shall Paisley town neglect her minstrel and her sage?

[pp. 1-22]