1791
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Pastoral Dialogue between an Aristocrate and a Democrate.

Star, Daily Evening Advertiser (5 January 1792).

Rev. George Butt


A pastoral eclogue, signed "G. B." "in imitation of the first Eclogue of Virgil. Spoken at Reading School, between the 2d and 3d Acts of the Aulularia, by Mr. Daniell and Mr. Mathews." George Butt contributed poems to the academy at Reading where Richard Valpy was headmaster, some of which (including this poem, signed "B. T.") were collected in Poems, Odes, Prologues, and Epilogues spoken at public Occasions at Reading School (1804). The play being acted was a Latin comedy by Plautus.

In this adaptation of Virgil, Colin — a sans-culotte Tityrus — has been to Paris, where "I stray'd to gather new-born truth, | And 'scap'd the bigot-fables of my youth, | Return'd a man, who was a slave before, | Nor blest, till now, with Wisdom's richest store!" Basil (Meliboeus) is not impressed: "Mushrooms soon rise, and shew their dunghill birth— | Not so the monarch trees of nobler worth. | Better all darkness than a meteor's light, | Misleading those who would not dare the night."

As the eclogue proceeds Butt departs from his original in significant ways; Basil has not been forced from his lands, but elects to emigrate to Britain, despite Colin's encouragement to remain and enjoy the fruits of liberty (Colin has acquired the sheepwalks that had until lately been attached to the ruined house on the hilltop). But Basil, distressed by the spectacle of the local monastery converted to a cow-barn, will have none of it: why should he remain "Where a great Nation acts the spoiler-knave, | The largess snatching, which it never gave— | And, whilst it holds the Rights of Man in view, | Does what it has no right, but strength, to do?"

Butt later presented a copy of his collected poems to Edmund Burke.

Richard Valpy's note to the poem: "In the year 1791, the Editor came from Jersey with several Emigrants. At the sight of the English coast, they exclaimed: 'Little did we think, when at college we were reading in Virgil, 'At nos hinc alii sitientes ibimus Afros— | Et penitus toto divisus orbe BRITANNOS,' that we should once be forced to seek an asylum there!' He had great satisfaction, in introducing them to the generous hospitalities of this country, to prove to them that they were not to consider, as formerly, 'BRITANNOS hospitibus feros'" Poems, Odes, Prologues, and Epilogues spoken at public Occasions at Reading School (1804) 119n.



BASIL.
Yes, I must go — and, going, bid adieu
To all my heart holds dear, to France, and you!
Friend of my youth, of days that come no more,
Can I those days review, and not deplore
(Whilst my last looks regard my native place)
My destin'd exile mid a foreign race!
Here, all at ease, my friend shall oft be laid,
Tuning his reed beneath this beechen shade,
Which long has shelter'd his paternal cot;
While banish'd BASIL mourns a diff'rent lot.
Here, oft my friend shall zealous snatch his reed,
When PHILLIS trips in view along the mead,
And, listing to the downs her raptur'd eyes,
Responsive sings, when she her swain descries.

COLIN.
A God, a God, my BASIL! has on me
These blessings show'r'd — for such is Liberty—
To whom my hands shall rear the votive shrine;
For he has made these downs for ever mine;
And bids me gaily, with a master's ease,
Play on my pipe whatever airs I please.

BASIL.
The sorrowing BASIL envies not your joy,
Who deem the poisons sweet that most destroy:
Your joy I envy not; for sure I see
One fatal cloud o'ershadowing you and me—
Certain that he who stays, and he who goes,
Walks on a ridge, to fall each way on woes.
Behold my way-worn flock, o'er hill and dale!
I hardly drag them to yon fresh'ning vale.
But now two lambs, that ewe down drooping bore,
Died when their dam could yield 'em milk no more:
Prime of my flock! on those rough rocks they lie,
Where mid-day Phoebus darts his burning eye.
But oft these coming ills dire omens spoke,
The screaming raven, and the blasted oak;
And, when I saw old manners fast decay,
Saw untaught hinds the ruler's work essay,
And change the sheep-walk for the common-weal,
I fear'd the gath'ring tempest which I feel.
But say, dear COLIN, why you scorn'd my fear,
And, wrapt in perils, thought no perils near?

COLIN.
None, none are here, since Paris, to my mind,
Has op'd at length the Rights of all Mankind;
And taught my spirit, till this light arose,
We bunglers slumber'd in a fool's repose.
Paris I won't conceive, unletter'd clown!
But little nobler than our country town.
Yet this that mass of Palaces exceeds,
As yon high-tow'ring oak the forest weeds.

BASIL.
What led you first the City to behold?

COLIN.
The love of Liberty, and not of Gold;
For, when I caught the rumours spreading round,
That treasur'd wisdom, hid for ages, found
In that great City, where our Kings reside,
Would teach the poor to humble tyrant-pride;
Scorning awhile the past'ral scrip and crook,
From prejudices freed, no more could brook
To crouch a slave beneath a tyrant's sway,
Or fear the sprites now fled from Wisdom's day.

BASIL.
Ah, love-lorn Phillis! now the cause I see,
Why thy best pears so linger'd on the tree!
COLIN was absent — thee the beauteous Maid
Would carol oft beneath the beechen shade;
And down the dale, and up the thymy steep,
Would sing her COLIN, while she watch'd his sheep!
Winds and wild woods receiv'd her plaintive song;
For COLIN'S absence, sure, was much too long!

COLIN.
What! when I stray'd to gather new-born truth,
And 'scap'd the bigot-fables of my youth,
Return'd a man, who was a slave before,
Nor blest, till now, with Wisdom's richest store!

BASIL.
To Man when hoar experience wisdom brings,
She asks the pause of time to fledge her wings.
Mushrooms soon rise, and shew their dunghill birth—
Not so the monarch trees of nobler worth.
Better all darkness than a meteor's light,
Misleading those who would not dare the night,
But, safe at home, expect the God of Day
To look from Heaven, and point the perfect way.

COLIN.
Saws, and old sayings! prithee, BASIL, spare
The moody babblings of sententious care;
And let us chaunt, with gratulating lays,
The bursting forth of Freedom's sunbright rays!
For now dear Liberty, who hears our prayer,
Bids us be free, as our first fathers were,
When, rushing from their pathless waste of wood,
They roll'd o'er beauteous Gaul their conquering flood.

BASIL.
Yes, my lov'd France! thy beauty not to see,
Would argue blind ingratitude in me—
But though decaying strength, and hoary hairs,
Admonish me of life's increasing cares;
Yet far away from wonted scenes I fly,
To Britain's freer realm, though fiercer sky.

COLIN.
Unfortunate old man! why thus depart
From home, and fields, and friends, that claim thy heart?
Here, with thy COLIN, under well-known trees,
Still may'st thou share the song and genial breeze—
Still tend thy flock in healthy pasture gay,
And still thy native lawn and streams survey.
Far hence, in vain thy eyes will oft desire
The custom'd village, and its sacred spire,
Which tow'ring mid the limes, declare the place
That holds the rev'rend relicts of thy race.

BASIL.
Yet, can that ravag'd hill the joy bestow,
It yielded once, when grac'd with many a row
Of shadowy elm; where oft, with list'ning ears,
We heard the clipping of the woodman's shears;
Or, better pleased, from many a laurel grove,
Caught, at still eve, the cooing of the dove?
Say, where is now the dome whose tow'ry gate
Expanded wide with hospitable state?
Ruin'd its glories — levell'd with the ground—
No longer there the courteous feasts resound—
Nor there, with well-spread board, and beck'ning hands,
Hereditary Pity gracious stands:
These bonds extinct, the noble race no more—
I seek, indignant, Britain's sea-beat shore.

COLIN.
And there that Freedom seek you scorn at home.

BASIL.
It is not here, or I should idly roam,
And shame these hoary hairs. Can Freedom 'bide
Where Rapine rolls its desolating tide—
Where rav'nous Indigence, and Atheism dire,
Damp dear Religion's zeal, and Honour's fire—
Where low-born Envy noble Birth assails,
And Wit, unprincipled, o'er Truth prevails—
Where a great Nation acts the spoiler-knave,
The largess snatching, which it never gave—
And, whilst it holds the Rights of Man in view,
Does what it has no right, but strength, to do?
Grant Freedom good — 'tis pilfer'd here, not won,
Nor shines a deed by manly courage done:
Grant, that the fame of Freedom here might tow'r—
'Tis but the flashing vision of the hour—
'Tis base injustice — Heav'nly vengeance soon
Shall close in night its visionary noon!

COLIN.
I go — and wheresoe'er my BASIL goes,
Be Friendship still at hand to sooth his woes!

BASIL.
Farewel, a long farewel, to France and thee!
And think how many noble minds with me
Wander in lands remote, because, at home,
They would not from their honour wanton roam;
Yet France still reigns in their's and BASIL'S breast,
And let his bodings fail, if she is blest.

COLIN.
At least this night with me, dear BASIL! 'bide;
For, see, the Sun has left the mountain's side,
Its shadows lengthen, and yon hoary fane,
Which lately held Religion's cloyster'd train,
Receives the labour'd oxen from the fields,
And them anon their treasur'd fodder yields.

BASIL.
Where once the fainting Pilgrim found repose,
And life grew pure from penitential woes;
Where sacred Studies chose their calm retreat,
And spreading Science might have rais'd her seat;
There rustic hinds usurp the hallow'd dome,
And barb'rous license calls the cattle home.
Hence, Liberty, I go, where thou art found,
A time-tried fabric, built on solid ground,
Where Justice still thy sacred precincts guards,
And pure Religion deals her best rewards—
Where, if 'mid many faithful, still are found
The faithless few thy vitals fierce to wound—
There British worth and honour shall defy
The yelling harpies of Impiety,
Sedition's raven roar, and Envy's corm'rant cry.

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