1766
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Holyday Gown.

Poems, chiefly Pastoral. By John Cunningham.

John Cunningham


Four double-quatrain stanzas. In this pastoral lyric John Cunningham takes his Shenstone-muse in yet another direction, developing a verse character from materials borrowed from the moral pastorals popular at mid-century. Instead of woodbine and jessamine, the poem stoops to more common sorts of objects: "He whisper'd such soft pretty things in mine ear! | He flatter'd, he promis'd, and swore! | Such trinkets he gave me, such laces and geer, | That trust me, — my pockets ran o'er." The volume contains a variety of pastorals in other modes still.

Critical Review: "The present collection consists of pastorals, odes, prologues, epilogues, and other short compositions. The author has not extended any of his poetical essays to a considerable length; nor has he attempted to write on many elevated or serious subjects; we therefore do not apprehend that we shall depreciate his merit if we look upon his works as agreeable trifles. His numbers are generally easy and flowing, and his descriptions picturesque.... Nature presents an infinite variety of beautiful images to the view of mankind. It is the business of the poet to select the most agreeable and romantic, and place them in a clear and striking light. In this he chiefly displays his abilities, and distinguishes himself from the mechanical composer of rhimes" 21 (March 1766) 226.

Monthly Review: "His principal merit seems to lie in the pastoral way: when he attempts ethics or philosophy, he sinks under the weight of his themes, and his efforts are feeble or uncouth; — but nothing can be prettier than the following pastoral essays, or rural descriptions.... The Author's success in this kind of poetry may teach him to confine his future essays to the easy and humble, yet pleasing walks of the sylvan muse" 34 (May 1766) 351-55.



In holyday gown, and my newfangled hat,
Last Monday I tript to the fair:
I held up my head, and I'll tell you for what,
Brisk Roger I guess'd wou'd be there.
He woos me to marry whenever we meet,
There's honey sure dwells on his tongue!
He hugs me so close, and he kisses so sweet,
I'd wed — if I were not too young.

Fond Sue, I'll assure you, laid hold on the boy,
(The vixen wou'd fain be his bride)
Some token she claim'd, either ribbon or toy,
And swore that she'd not be deny'd.
A topnot he bought her, and garters of green,
Pert Susan was cruelly stung;
I hate her so much, that to kill her with spleen,
I'd wed — if I were not too young.

He whisper'd such soft pretty things in mine ear!
He flatter'd, he promis'd, and swore!
Such trinkets he gave me, such laces and geer,
That trust me, — my pockets ran o'er.
Some ballads he bought me, the best he could find,
And sweetly their burthen he sung:
Good faith he's so handsome, so witty, and kind,
I'd wed — if I were not too young.

The sun was just setting, 'twas time to retire;
(Our cottage was distant a mile)
I rose to be gone — Roger bow'd like a squire,
And handed my over the stile.
His arms he threw round me — love laugh'd in is eye,
He led me the meadows among,
There prest me so close, I agreed, with a sigh,
To wed — for I was not too young.

[pp. 117-18]