1788
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Herdsmen, an European Eclogue.

Poems chiefly on Slavery and Oppression, with Notes and Illustrations. By Hugh Mulligan.

Hugh Mulligan


The third of Hugh Mulligan's eclogues, set in his native country of Ireland, takes up the theme of emigration. It takes the form of a dialogue between Youth and Age, old Morar recalling how Ireland has declined under colonial rule: "Thy youthful days, O Innocence! were blest, | Ere dreadful war or tyrants broke our rest; | From camps return'd, no former friends I found, | For Desolation silent stalk'd around; | Thro' distant climes my sad companions roam | In search of freedom, lost, alas! at home" p. 18. The passage appears to be a kind of tribute to Goldsmith's The Deserted Village. Morar's son Caril anticipates his children emigrating to America, though the Morar, who has seen much of the world, thinks little of this scheme: "Why seek a land, whose haughty rulers drove | The native Indian from his peaceful grove? | Where horrid war, by wild ambition led, | Let havock loose, and helpless virtue bled" p. 22. Free trade will someday restore prosperity to Ireland.

Critical Review: "The third dialogue is supposed to take place between two Irish herdsmen in the evening. Something characteristic is discernible in the following lines, spoken by an old man contrasting, as is usual, the virtue and happiness of former times with modern degeneracy. 'Oppression then withheld his heavy hand, | Nor bade the social virtues quit the land [...].' The lines we have quoted are no unfavourable specimen of this performance, which, though not entitled to unqualified applause, contains several bold and spirited passages" 65 (April 1788) 315-16.



TIME — EVENING.
SCENE — A PROMONTORY IN THE WEST OF IRELAND.

Hoarse croak the corm'rants on the rocky shore,
And stormy petrels distant seas explore;
The orb of day now downward seeks the west,
The ev'ning sky in gloomy clouds is drest;
Now from the bays the toiling fishers steer,
And Gannet tribes their nightly labours cheer,
When thro' the air the quick-ey'd myriads sweep,
Or headlong dash into the foaming deep.

High on a cliff, whose ample base still braves
The tempest's force, and meets th' Atlantic waves,
An hoary herdsman with his son reclin'd,
Where days long pass'd revolv'd in Morar's mind.
Caril, with raven locks, had sorrow known,
Yet mourn'd, alas! misfortunes not his own;
Caril with feeling soul his cares express'd,
When thus the sire his hardy son address'd.

MORAR.
So may content thine eve of life attend;
Respect thy country — prove her ardent friend;
Long by thy offspring be this land rever'd,
Where erst Benevolence her temple rear'd;
How chang'd the scene! nor can we deem it strange;
Kingdoms as well as common customs change.
Tho' blooming flow'rets now the lawn o'erspread,
Anon the thistle rears its idle head.

Where yonder herd for lack of pasture strays,
A goodly mansion stood in better days;
Where the tir'd traveller op'd the friendly door,
Was kindly urg'd to share thy grandsire's store;
The maimed soldier's actions there were told,
How ta'en by Turks, and how to slav'ry sold.
The shipwreck'd seaman, too, would there appear,
And from our mother draw the tender tear;
Her blazing hearth and lib'ral hand confest
The genuine feelings of a pious breast.

CARIL.
Bless'd be that shade, whose hospitable heart
Could thus the gifts of Providence impart;
With sorrow's sons could thus her bounty share,
And make the wretched of our kind her care.

MORAR.
Oppression then withheld his heavy hand,
Nor bade the social virtues quit the land;
Boldly her rights then fair Hibernia claim'd,
And tyrant rulers shrunk, abash'd, asham'd.
Then ripen'd fruits the cheerful cottage grac'd,
And plenty thro' each smiling vale was trac'd.

Yon rushy lake had banks that well might please,
Where shepherd girls reclin'd at rural ease;
And to the rustic pipe at eve, were seen,
Frolic and gay, to trip the daisy'd green.
This pastime o'er, the minstrels would relate,
Of Derg the wonders, or the warrior's fate,
And name the bard, whose magic harp and' song,
Pale ghosts could raise — their midnight spells prolong;
Who oft response to the sounding strings,
Echo'd the fall of Danes and Danish kings;
Or from the primrose dell, or pansy'd plain,
With sweetest touch could lure the fairy train
Till call'd to rest the sage was circl'd round,
Each word was caught, nor lost the weakest sound;
All spoke their thoughts, they scorn'd to use disguise,
The tales believ'd, and held him wond'rous wise.

Thy youthful days, O Innocence! were blest,
Ere dreadful war or tyrants broke our rest;
From camps return'd, no former friends I found,
For Desolation silent stalk'd around;
Thro' distant climes my sad companions roam
In search of freedom, lost, alas! at home.

CARIL.
Must Caril, then, who's proud to call you sire,
Still bear the usage of the churlish squire?
What can his ruddy boys inherit more?
No plenteous crops increase our scanty store;
Our starving herds no forest's shelter share,
But the bleak hill, of wood and pasture bare.
Our lambs are mangled by the eagle brood,
And famish'd crakes 'mong rushes pine for food.
Unhappy land! what greater curse remains,
Than tyrant rulers, and uncultur'd plains!

My sons must yearly seek proud England's shore,
For yearly toil the scoffing clowns implore.
Our lords, rapacious, grasp the hard-earn'd pay,
And western gales waft all our wealth away.
Th' imperious chiefs in gay assemblies shine,
While on the heath the shiv'ring peasants pine:
Moss-grown the path that winding met the mill;
Silent the hammer, and the looms are still;
Trackless the turf — nor bell now strikes the ear,
Nor village lights the drooping shepherds cheer.

Late, o'er these hills I took my morning round,
And from the heights I view'd the barren ground;
Then, tow'rd the sea I eager turn'd my sight,
Hope quickly gave my anxious soul delight;
When, lo! a tow'ring fleet with swelling sails
Past yonder point — I pray'd for prosp'rous gales;
With them to western worlds I wish'd to fly,
And with my offspring better days enjoy.

MORAR.
Tho' great our wrongs, yet, Caril, lend thine ear,
And now the words of sad experience hear:
When dragg'd by force to share in war's alarms,
I left thee in thy tender mother's arms—
Why should my sorrows with my years increase?
Dry up, ye tears! — her soul is now at peace—
Full twice ten years thro' Europe's realms I've been,
And diff'rent men and diff'rent manners seen:
From where the Russian treads the frozen plain,
To where Britannia curbs the pow'r of Spain—
Germania's peasants hapless lot deplor'd,
While her proud princes grasp'd the bloody sword.
I've seen the rustic reap the golden field,
Then all his labours to the victor yield,
And heard the shepherd sing his ev'ning lay,
Whose flocks, ere morn arose, were swept away;
The country round in one tremendous flame,
Whilst deeds were done that stain the soldier's name.
If we the ills of poverty endure,
Thank Heav'n, our wives and daughters sleep secure!

CARIL.
Though great the evils that on war attend,
Yet Hope still smiles, and whispers, they shall end:
Again may Commerce rear her drooping head,
The Arts may flourish, when by Freedom led;
Again the Downs with flocks be whiten'd o'er,
Again may Temples gild the happy shore;
Again may Cultivation's honest hand
Rejoice the rustic, and enrich the land:
But where Oppression rules, the cots decay,
Thin grow the crops — the herbage pines away.

MORAR.
Yet turn to Italy's luxuriant vales,
Matur'd by genial suns and gentle gales,
Where bounteous Nature still her plenty pours,
Yet sees the peasant poor amidst her stores,
Beneath the yoke of superstition groan,
And press the vintage for his lord alone.
Where indolence commands the slavish crew—

CARIL.
Far nobler prospects late have struck my view—
Methinks I see a patriot band unite,
And boldly dare Europa's sons to fight:
Impell'd by truth, they spurn each tyrant's law,
And arm'd by justice, keep the world in awe;
With them my sons, rewarded for my pains,
Shall bless their sire, and till those fertile plains.

MORAR.
Why seek a land, whose haughty rulers drove
The native Indian from his peaceful grove?
Where horrid war, by wild ambition led,
Let havock loose, and helpless virtue bled;
Where now our friends, with doubts and fears opprest,
Lament their change, and smite the pensive breast;
Where pois'nous plants o'erspread the sickly place,
And beasts of prey destroy the helpless race—
Tho' western blasts may vex us half the year,
We no tornadoes, no dire earthquakes fear;
No hungry wolves thy harmless herds devour,
Nor subtle serpents lurk beneath thy bow'r.

Altho' the arms of Commerce now are bound,
Our country's Genius prostrate on the ground,
The trembling tear now dims her downcast eye,
Tho' now from want her sons are forc'd to fly,
And toil for scanty bread on distant plains,
And feel the poignant jest of richer swains:
A time will come, when Trade, Europa's pride,
Shall in our bays bid lofty vessels ride;
Industry then shall mark each busy face,
And churlish lordlings sink in just disgrace.—

But to thy cottage let us now retire,
Yon curling smoke bespeaks a welcome fire:
The finny shoals now brighten all the main,
The ev'ning mist rolls o'er the barren plain.

[pp. 16-22]