1826
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Grandsire's Tale.

Literary Souvenir, or Cabinet of Poetry and Romance. [Alaric Alexander Watts, ed.]

Bernard Barton


Thirteen Spenserians: Bernard Barton relates the mysterious death of a pious little girl in the act of prayer. The "Grandsire's Tale" is a palpable imitation of Wordsworth's manner, which is as much to say that the "tale" is no tale at all. Bernard Barton became a frequent contributor to literary annuals such as this.

Literary Gazette: "We seem to be going to a climax with the species of publication to which this brilliant volume belongs. In literature it is very pleasing, and in embellishments beautiful. Ten finely engraved plates, and two pages of autographs adorn it; and several of the former are perfect gems in art" (19 November 1825) 737.

New Monthly Magazine: "Mr. Watts has again succeeded in producing a very delightful volume, and may justly pride himself upon the literary merit and the embellishments of his publication. To enumerate his contributors would be to name many of the most distinguished names among our modern writers. No effort, indeed, appears to have been spared to render the present Souvenir worthy of the same extensive patronage which was bestowed so justly upon its predecessor, and which, we have no doubt, will also be extended to the beautiful volume before us" NS 15 (December 1825) 546.

Charles Lamb commented, "6th stanza exquisite simile ... 11th stanza equally good" in a 1827 letter to Barton in Letters, ed. E. V. Lucas (1935) 3:74. Stanza 7 was altered in later printings.

Charles Lamb to Bernard Barton: "Wordsworth, I see, has a good many pieces announced in one of the Annuals, not our "Gem." W. Scott has distributed himself like a bribe haunch among 'em. Of all the poets, [Henry Francis] Cary has had the good sense to keep clear of 'em, with gentle, manly, right notions. Don't think I set up for being proud on this point; I like a bit of flattery, tickling my vanity, as well as any one. But these pompous masquerades without masks (naked names or faces) I hate" October 1828; in Letters, ed. Charles Noon Talfourd (1838) 2:223.

James Kirke Paulding: "Friend Barton's poetry is tender without exaggeration, and simple without childishness. His Pegasus is neither an elephant, a camel, nor a dromedary, but a horse of good pace and habits. In a better age of poetry he would be more admired. As it is, his Muse wants a few of the buttons of the honourable band of gentlemen pensioners to make her shine, and is, moreover, drab-coloured for the present flashy taste" A Sketch of Old England by a New England Man (1822) in Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 5:596.

Compare Leigh Hunt's essay, "Deaths of Little Children" in The Indicator (1819-21, 1845) 1:182-86.



The tale I tell was told me long ago;
Yet mirthful ones, since heard, have pass'd away,
While this still wakens memory's fondest glow,
And feelings fresh as those of yesterday:
'Twas told me by a man whose hairs were grey,
Whose brow bore token of the lapse of years,
Yet o'er his heart affection's gentle sway,
Maintain'd that lingering spell which age endears,
And while he told his tale his eyes were dim with tears.

But not with tears of sorrow; — for the eye
Is often wet with joy and gratitude;
And well his faltering voice, and tear, and sigh,
Declared a heart by thankfulness subdued:
Brief feelings of regret might there intrude,
Like clouds which shade awhile the moon's fair light;
But meek submission soon her power renewed,
And patient smiles, by tears but made more bright,
Confess'd that God's decree was wise, and good, and right.

It was a winter's evening; — clear, but still:
Bright was the fire, and bright the silv'ry beam
Of the fair moon shone on the window-sill,
And parlour-floor; — the softly mingled gleam
Of fire and moonlight suited well a theme
Of pensive converse unallied to gloom;
Our's varied like the subjects of a dream;
And turn'd, at last, upon the silent tomb,
Earth's goal for hoary age, and beauty's smiling bloom.

We talk'd of life's last hour; — the varied forms
And features it assumes; — how some men die
As sets the sun when dark clouds threaten storms,
And starless night; others whose evening sky
Resembles those which to the outward eye
Seem full of promise; — and with soften'd tone,
At seasons check'd by no ungrateful sigh,
The death of one sweet grand-child of his own
Was by that hoary man most tenderly made known.

She was, he said, a fair and lovely child
As ever parent could desire to see,
Or seeing, fondly love; of manners mild,
Affections gentle, — even in her glee,
Her very mirth from levity was free;
But her more common mood of mind was one
Thoughtful beyond her early age, for she
In ten brief years her little course had run,—
Many more brief have known, but brighter surely none.

Though some might deem her pensive, if not sad,
Yet those who knew her better, best could tell
How calmly happy, and how meekly glad
Her quiet heart in its own depths did dwell:
Like to the waters of some crystal well,
In which the stars of heaven at noon are seen,
Fancy might deem on her young spirit fell
Glimpses of light more glorious and serene
Than that of life's brief day, so heavenly was her mien.

But, though no boist'rous playmate, her fond smile
Had sweetness in it passing that of mirth;
Loving and kind, her thoughts, words, deeds, the while
Betrayed of childish sympathies no dearth:
She loved the wild flowers scattered over earth,
Bright insects sporting in the light of day,
Blythe songsters giving joyous music birth
In groves imperious to the moontide ray;—
All these she loved as much as those who seem'd more gay.

Yet more she loved the word, the smile, the look,
Of those who rear'd her with religious care;
With fearful joy she conned that holy book,
At whose unfolded page full many a prayer,
In which her weal immortal had its share,
Recurred to memory; for she had been trained,
Young as she was, her early cross to bear;
And taught to love with fervency unfeigned,
The record of His life whose death salvation gained.

I dare not linger, like my ancient friend,
On every charm and grace of this fair maid;
For, in his narrative, the story's end
Was long with fond prolixity delayed;
Though 'rightly fancy had its close portrayed
Before I heard it. Who but might have guessed
That one so ripe for heaven would early fade
In this brief state of trouble and unrest
Yet only wither here to bloom in life more blest.

My theme is one of joy, and not of grief;
I would not loiter o'er such flower's decay,
Nor stop to paint it, slowly, leaf by leaf,
Fading, and sinking tow'rds its parent clay:
She sank, as sinks the glorious orb of day,
His radiance bright'ning at his journey's close;
Yet with that chasten'd, soft, and gentle ray
In which no dazzling splendour fiercely glows,
But on whose mellow'd light our eyes with joy repose.

Her strength was failing, but it seem'd to sink
So calmly, tenderly, it woke no fear;
'Twas like a rippling wave on ocean's brink,
Which breaks in dying music on the ear,
And placid beauty on the eye; — no tear,
Except of quiet joy, in hers was known;
Though some there were around her justly dear,
Her love for whom in every look was shown,
Yet more and more she sought and loved to be alone.

One summer morn they miss'd her: — she had been,
As usual to the garden arbour brought,
After their matin meal; her placid mien
Had worn no seeming shade of graver thought,
Her voice, her smile, with cheerfulness was fraught;
And she was left amid that peaceful scene
A little space; — but when she there was sought,
In her secluded oratory green,
Their arbour's sweetest flower had left its leafy screen!

They found her in her chamber, by the bed
Whence she had risen, and on the bed-side chair,
Before her, was an open bible spread;
Herself upon her knees; — with tender care
They stole on her devotions, when the air
Of her meek countenance the truth made known:
The child had died! died in the act of prayer!
And her pure spirit, without sigh or groan,
To heaven and endless joy from earth and grief had flown.

[pp. 91-96]