1775
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Pastoral Ballad.

Poems by Mrs. Robinson.

Mary Robinson


Six double-quatrain stanzas, after Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad. In this early poem Mary Robinson has has mastered the anapestic stanza, though not the customary imagery and tone: "But alas! t' other day at the fair, | (Sad story for me to relate,) | He bought ribbons for Phillis's hair, | For Phillis, the nymph that I hate." The closing lines seem to owe less to Shenstone than to more conventional ballad poetry: "Take heed ah! ye nymphs by my fate, | Be careful to shun the false youth, | And with pity my story relate." Mary Robinson, born in Bristol, was six years Thomas Chatterton's junior, and nearly as precocious. She had been assisting at her mother's school in London before her marriage to her ne'er-do-well husband, and the publication of this volume at the age of seventeen. When this volume appeared she had already had her first child, was living with her husband in debtor's prison, and had yet to begin her career on the stage.

Critical Review: "These poems are distinguished by an elegant simplicity, unaffected ease, and harmonious versification. We have only to remark, that in two or three instances, the ingenious lady has been inattentive to the rhyme" 40 (July 1775) 81.

John Langhorne: "Though Mrs. Robinson is by no means an Aikin or a More, she sometimes expresses herself decently enough on her subject: 'In your own power alone it lies, | To blend this life with joy, or care, | Ambition's idle claim despise, | Think yourself happy; — and you are'" Monthly Review 53 (September 1775) 262.

Westminster Magazine: "Simple" 3 (July 1775) 383.

Monthly Magazine: "She lived fifteen months with Mr. Robinson in a prison; the threshold of which she never passed but once or twice, when she visited the Duchess of Devonshire, who generously patronised an attempt Mrs. Robinson made with her pen, to relieve their wants in prison. In this melancholy situation, her Muse made its earliest efforts; and she published a small volume of Poems, which are now scarcely known, there being at the time, we believe, only a few copies printed for the persons who took them at the recommendation of her noble patroness" 11 (February 1801) 36.

Samuel Austin Allibone: "Mary Robinson, also called Maria, 1758-1800, the daughter of an American sea-captain named Darby, but a native of Bristol, England, was married at fifteen to Mr. Robinson, whose pecuniary difficulties caused his wife to try her fortunes on the stage. Whilst performing in the character of Perdita, (a name which she subsequently assumed in amatory correspondence,) she attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales, (afterwards George IV.,) then in his 18th year. An intimacy of two years with this person was followed by one equally reprehensible with an officer of the army" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 2:1839.



Ye Shepherds who sport on the plain,
Drop a tear at my sorrowful tale,
My heart was a stranger to pain,
Till pierc'd by the pride of the vale.
When deck'd with his pipe and his crook,
A garland his temples did bind,
So sweetly the Shepherd did look,
I thought he cou'd not be unkind.

But alas! t' other day at the fair,
(Sad story for me to relate,)
He bought ribbons for Phillis's hair,
For Phillis, the nymph that I hate.
Sweet songs to beguile the dull hours,
A crook, and a garland so fine,
A posie of May-blowing flowers,
Adorn'd with green myrtle and thyme.

Last week as they sat in the grove,
Such sweetness his looks did impart,
Their converse I'm sure was of love,
And I fear, that it flow'd from his heart.
I heard the soft words that he sung,
Such tender, such amorous lays,
Each accent that fell from his tongue,
Was blended with Phillis's praise.

"My charmer, said he, is more fair,
Then the jessamine twin'd round my bow'r,
What's thyme with her breath to compare,
Or lavender after a show'r.
The rose when compar'd with her cheek,
Drooping downward with envy it dies,
When Sol thro' a shower doth break—
He's not half so bright as her eyes."

Alas! if they never had met,
I had not endur'd such keen woes,
I wish he would Phillis forget,
And yield my poor heart some repose.
Each day wou'd I sing thro' the grove,
Each moment devote to my swain.
But if he has settled his love,
My bosom is destin'd to pain.

Adieu, to contentment and rest,
Adieu, to my once lov'd repose,
For I fear I can never be bless'd,
Till death puts an end to my woes.
To the grave will I carry my truth,
Take heed ah! ye nymphs by my fate,
Be careful to shun the false youth,
And with pity my story relate.

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