An Arthurian epic in ottava rima that burlesques a number of romantic Spenserians — Walter Scott, Robert Southey, and James Bland Burges are alluded to specifically. The harness-making trade of the supposed authors may glance at Robert Bloomfield, or any of several other proletarian poets. Perhaps the two brothers were originally intended for Wordsworth and Southey, who were both on the government payroll, though the brief preface, stating that the poem was begun by William Whistlecraft in 1813, is not very illuminating. Two additional cantos were added in 1818, and the poem eventually came to be known as The Monks and the Giants. In style and stanza, Frere's "Specimen" was imitated in Byron's Beppo, and is thus regarded as a seminal influence on Byron's Don Juan.
John Wilson to William Blackwood: "What it may be in my power to do for your sixth number shall be done, and if I have three or four days in Edinburgh I can do something. But tumbled about as I am now, I have no heart to do anything — especially after losing the two best articles I had written, and which I can never rewrite. I will, notwithstanding, try to say a few words on the 'Lament,' and, if possible, make a leading article of Coleridge: only you will see how difficult it is for me to promise. Frere's verses are most facetious and entertaining, but of their meaning I have no comprehension. I know not whether they are politically, theologically, or poetically critical: if you have a key tell me" 1817; Margaret Oliphant, William Blackwood and his Sons (1897) 1:264.
Lord Byron to John Murray: "Mr. Whistlecraft has no greater admirer than myself. I have written a story in 89 stanzas, in imitation of him, called Beppo (the short name of Guiseppe, that is, the Joe of the Italian Joseph,) which I shall throw you into the balance of the 4th Canto [of Childe Harold] to help you round to your money; but you perhaps had better publish it anonymously; but this we will see to by and bye" 23 October 1817; Letters and Journals ed. Prothero (1898-1901) 4:176.
The New Times: "This is the original on which Beppo has been constructed, if original that is to be called which has been itself constructed on a mixture of styles already popular, and past their day. HUDIBRAS, COLMAN, and PETER PINDAR, seem to have contributed to the generation of this new Orion, and whether the satire or the wit, or the strong ridicule of its progenitors, be frequently transfused or not, the burlesque never fails. It is obviously the work of an ingenious man, turning to his pen, merely to throw off the humour of the moment. It has the easy air of self indulgence that belongs to the voluptuary of Literature, mingled with the light causticity that gives keenness to the observations of the man of the world. The story is merely an excuse for all kinds of random pleasantries on modern authorship and manners" (1 April 1818).
Monthly Review: "Had we seen this Prospectus before we reviewed Beppo, (noticed in our last Number,) we might perhaps have said that they both came from the same hand, but that the hand was improved by practice. The fashion and style are similar, the plan is in some degree on the same model, and the stanza is in the same metre: yet, though we discover all these resemblances, we think that we perceive sufficient variations of feature to trace a different origin. The humour in the poem before us is more heavy; the points do not 'tell so well;' the gaiety and life which animate Beppo are not visible here: nor do we find any of those scintillations of refined liveliness of that production" NS 85 (April 1818) 400.
Literary Gazette: "To the Proem succeeds the Poem (in two Cantos, which sings of certain valorous exploits performed by Sir Launcelot, Sir Tristram, and Sir Gawain, who were enjoying festivities with King Arthur at Carlisle, when the rape of some ladies on their way to court, by a band of wicked giants, called forth the chivalry of these renowned champions. The characters of the Knights are very happily drawn, and there is considerable humour in the description of the feasts and fetes.... The second Canto is nearly double the length of the first, and sets out like Lopez de Vego's Sonnet on Sonnets: 'I've finished now three hundred lines and more, | And therefore I begin Canto the second, | Just like these wandering ancient bards of Yore; | They never had a plan, nor ever reckoned | What turning they should take the day before.' Pursuing this erratic want of plan, and 'trusting to native Judgment and invention,' our author very methodically treats of the Giants, who surprize and carry away some ladies on their journey to the Court. Tidings of this outrage are brought to Carlisle by 'A waiting damsel crooked and mis-shaped, | Herself the witness of a woful scene.' Her story inflames the Round-Table Knights with rage, they arm themselves and sally forth to avenge the wronged ladies, and punish the brutal giants. The haunts of these monstrous Tarquins are discovered by the sagacity of Sir Tristram. He conjectures from the remains of a supper of roasted horses that they are not far off.... The fortress is bravely attacked, but by rolling down immense stones, the giants repulse their assailants. A regular siege ensues, and the topographical and warlike descriptions are of that mixed facetiousness and real merit which gives point and piquancy to humour. Sir Tristram, whose levity had led him a dance for several days while the approaches were carrying on, returns to the camp, and prevails upon his companions rather to risk a decisive coup-de-main.... They toil up the rocks and through the torrents, behind which the enemy are ensconced, (a print of which is promised in the next edition!... Thus mingling whimsical reflections with odd conceit and quaint rhymes, the Bard goes on to declare the total defeat and destruction of the Giants and happy deliverance of the ladies with the loss of only two fat Duennas eaten" (19 July 1817) 36.
Edinburgh Magazine: "This is a story, if story it may be called, of knights, monks, and giants, written in a light, easy, rambling manner, with no other object apparently than to relieve the ennui of a cultivated mind.... The characters, such as they are, excite of themselves neither love nor hatred, nor pleasure nor disgust, — they delight not, nor surprise, nor animate, nor make us feel any interest at all about them. Cold and frivolous, however, as is the groundwork of the fable, and carelessly as it is in some instances told, there are several beautiful passages interspersed; and it is recommended to genteel company, perhaps still more, by an air of gaiety and good breeding, and by the absence of all that might disturb the levity and nonchalance of people of fashion.... As to the subject of this 'National Work,' — the great King Arthur, it seems, once held his Christmas at Carlisle, where all sorts of viands were provided in great abundance, and all sorts of people attended in great numbers. In the midst of this scene of 'confusion beyond all confusions,' a report arrives, that some ladies on their journey to court, had been surprised and carried away by the aboriginal giants, and the knights immediately set out in pursuit, and in due time overcome the giants, take their castle, and relieve the ladies" 3 (August 1818) 162-63.
Robert Shelton Mackenzie: "John Hookham Frere, the friend of Scott and Southey, will principally be recollected by his facetious poem written under the nom de plume of Whistlecraft (and called The Monks and the Giants), which suggested to Lord Byron the stanza, in which he afterwards wrote Beppo and Don Juan. Frere, born in 1769, died in 1846" Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 1:223n.
Charles Cowden Clarke: "The very title of the book, with the names of its authors, was enough to ensure its quietus-birth with the public; and the consequence was that while scholars and people of select reading appreciated and cherished the wit in the poem, it was 'caviare to the general;' and long since the eternal tides of novelty — worthy and worthless — pouring upon the high-shore of the world, have whelmed and smothered in their froth the merry Brothers Whistlecraft's account of the feud between 'the Monks and the Giants.' If, reader, in your search among the literary shingle on the beach, you stumble upon this gem, put it in your pocket, and take it home. Your reward will exceed your pains" "Comic Writers of England" Gentleman's Magazine NS 7 (October 1871) 580.
W. Davenport Adams: "John Hookham Frere, diplomatist and miscellaneous writer (b. 1769, d. 1846), was the author of The Monks and the Giants; A Translation of the Plays of Aristophanes (1839), and a volume of miscellanies called Theognis Restitutis. He was also a contributor to the Anti-Jacobin Review. His works were published in two vols. (1872)" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 236.
George Kitchin: "here we have, for the first time, an actual burlesque in the Italian manner of the Arthurian story, recounting (in the second canto) the deeds of Gawain and Sir Tristram agains the giants who have carried off the ladies to their fort.... Had Mr. J. C. Squire [(1884-1958)] Frere's burlesque in mind when he wrote his parody of Tennyson's Morte d'Arthur in the Byronic measure?" Survey of Burlesque and Parody in English (1931) 240-41.
Roderick Marshall: "Whistlecraft (1817-18) is generally supposed to have introduced the use of ottava rima among the romantic poets. But this work is too entirely burlesque in tendency to have given a sense of the noble and pathetic powers of this stanza, not to mention that peculiarly moving combination of the serious and absurd which characterizes much of Pulci and Ariosto, and was to be so successfully exploited by Byron. I cannot help agreeing with the latter where, after reading Pulci in the original, he wrote: 'As to puffing Whistlecraft, it won't do' (letter of 7 June, 1820, to John Murray" Italian Poetry in English Literature 1755-1815 (1934) 373n.
I've often wish'd that I could write a book,
Such as all English people might peruse;
I never should regret the pains it took,
That's just the sort of fame that I should chuse:
To sail about the world like Captain Cook,
I'd sling a cot up for my favourite Muse,
And we'd take verses out to Demarara,
To New South Wales, and up to Niagara.
Poets consume exciseable commodities,
They raise the nation's spirit when victorious,
They drive an export trade in whims and oddities,
Making our commerce and revenue glorious;
As an industrious and pains-taking body 'tis
That Poets should be reckon'd meritorious:
And therefore I submissively propose
To erect one Board for Verse and one for Prose.
Princes protecting Sciences and Art
I've often seen, in copper-plate and print;
I never saw them elsewhere, for my part,
And therefore I conclude there's nothing in't;
But every body knows the Regent's heart;
I trust he won't reject a well-meant hint;
Each Board to have twelve members, with a seat
To bring them in per ann. five hundred neat:—
From Princes I descend to the Nobility:
In former times all persons of high stations,
Lords, Baronets, and Persons of gentility,
Paid twenty guineas for the dedications:
This practice was attended with utility;
The patrons liv'd to future generations,
The poets liv'd by their industrious earning,—
So men alive and dead could live by Learning.
Then, twenty guineas was a little fortune;
Now, we must starve unless the times should mend:
Our poets now-a-days are deem'd importune
If their addresses are diffusely penn'd;
Most fashionable authors make a short one
To their own wife, or child, or private friend,
To shew their independence, I suppose;
And that may do for Gentlemen like those.
Lastly, the common people I beseech—
Dear People! if you think my verses clever,
Preserve with care your noble Parts of speech,
And take it as a maxim to endeavour
To talk as your good mothers us'd to teach,
And then these lines of mine may last for ever;
And don't confound the language of the nation
With long-tail'd words in 'osity' and 'ation.'
I think that Poets (whether Whig or Tory)
(Whether they go to meeting or to church)
Should study to promote their country's glory
With patriotic, diligent research;
That children yet unborn may learn the story,
With grammars, dictionaries, canes, and birch:
It stands to reason — This was Homer's plan,
And we must do — like him — the best we can.
Madoc and Marmion, and many more,
Are out in print, and most of them have sold;
Perhaps together they may make a score;
Richard the First has had his story told,
But there were Lords and Princes long before,
That had behav'd themselves like warriors bold;
Among the rest there was the great KING ARTHUR,
What hero's fame was ever carried farther?
King Arthur, and the Knights of his Round Table,
Were reckon'd the best King, and bravest Lords,
Of all that flourish'd since the Tower of Babel,
At least of all that history records;
Therefore I shall endeavour, if I'm able,
To paint their famous actions by my words:
Heroes exert themselves in hopes of Fame,
And having such a strong decisive claim,
It grieves me much, that Names that were respected
In former ages, Persons of such mark,
And Countrymen of ours, should lie neglected,
Just like old portraits lumbering in the dark:
An error such as this should be corrected,
And if my Muse can strike a single spark,
Why then (as poets say) I'll string my lyre;
And then I'll light a great poetic Fire;
I'll air them all, and rub down the Round Table,
And wash the Canvas clean, and scour the Frames,
And put a coat of varnish on the Fable,
And try to puzzle out the Dates and Names;
Then (as I said before) I'll heave my cable,
And take a pilot, and drop down the Thames—
—These first eleven stanzas make a Proem,
And now I must sit down and write my Poem.
Beginning (as my Bookseller desires)
Like an old Minstrel with his gown and beard,
"Fair Ladies, gallant Knights, and gentle Squires,
Now the last service from the Board is clear'd,
And if this noble Company requires,
And if amidst your mirth I may be heard,
Of sundry strange adventures I could tell,
That oft were told before) but never told so well."
THE GREAT KING ARTHUR made a sumptuous Feast,
And held his Royal Christmas at Carlisle,
And thither came the Vassals, most and least,
From every corner of this British Isle;
And all were entertain'd, both man and beast,
According to their rank, in proper style;
The steeds were fed and litter'd in the stable,
The ladies and the knights sat down to table.
The bill of fare (as you may well suppose)
Was suited to those plentiful old times,
Before our modern luxuries arose,
With truffles and ragouts, and various crimes
And therefore, from the original in prose
I shall arrange the catalogue in rhymes:
They serv'd up salmon, venison, and wild boars
By hundreds, and by dozens, and by scores.
Hogsheads of honey, kilderkins of mustard,
Muttons, and fatted beeves, and bacon swine;
Herons and bitterns, peacock, swan and bustard,
Teal, mallard, pigeons, widgeons, and in fine
Plum-puddings, pancakes, apple-pies and custard:
And therewithal they drank good Gascon wine,
With mead, and ale, and cyder of our own;
For porter, punch, and negus, were not known.
The noise and uproar of the scullery tribe,
All pilfering and scrambling in their calling,
Was past all powers of language to describe—
The din of manful oaths and female squalling:
The sturdy porter, huddling up his bribe,
And then at random breaking heads and bawling,
Outcries, and cries of order, and contusions,
Made a confusion beyond all confusions;
Beggars and vagabonds, blind, lame, and sturdy,
Minstrels and singers with their various airs,
The pipe, the tabor, and the hurdy-gurdy,
Jugglers and mountebanks with apes and bears,
Continued from the first day to the third day,
An uproar like ten thousand Smithfield fairs;
There were wild beasts and foreign birds and creatures,
And Jews and Foreigners with foreign features.
All sorts of people there were seen together,
All sorts of characters, all sorts of dresses;
The fool with fox's tail and peacock's feather,
Pilgrims, and penitents, and grave burgesses;
The country people with their coats of leather,
Vintners and victuallers with cans and messes;
Grooms, archers, varlets, falconers and yeomen,
Damsels and waiting-maids, and waiting-women.
But the profane, indelicate amours,
The vulgar, unenlighten'd conversation
Of minstrels, menials, courtezans, and boors,
(Although appropriate to their meaner station)
Would certainly revolt a taste like yours;
Therefore I shall omit the calculation
Of all the curses, oaths, and cuts and stabs,
Occasion'd by their dice, and drink, and drabs.
We must take care in our poetic cruise,
And never hold a single tack too long;
Therefore my versatile ingenious Muse
Takes leave of this illiterate, low-bred throng,
Intending to present superior views,
Which to genteeler company belong,
And show the higher orders of society
Behaving with politeness and propriety.
And certainly they say, for fine behaving
King Arthur's Court has never had its match;
True point of honour, without pride or braving,
Strict etiquette for ever on the watch:
Their manners were refin'd and perfect — saving
Some modern graces, which they could not catch,
As spitting through the teeth, and driving stages,
Accomplishments reserv'd for distant ages.
They look'd a manly, generous generation;
Beards, shoulders, eyebrows, broad, and square, and thick,
Their accents firm and loud in conversation,
Their eyes and gestures eager, sharp, and quick,
Shew'd them prepar'd, on proper provocation,
To give the lie, pull noses, stab and kick;
And for that very reason, it is said,
They were so very courteous and well-bred.
The ladies look'd of an heroic race—
At first a general likeness struck your eye,
Tall figures, open features, oval face,
Large eyes, with ample eyebrows arch'd and high;
Their manners had an odd, peculiar grace,
Neither repulsive, affable, nor shy,
Majestical, reserv'd, and somewhat sullen;
Their dresses partly silk, and partly woollen.
In form and figure far above the rest,
Sir LAUNCELOT was chief of all the train,
In Arthur's Court an ever welcome guest;
Britain will never see his like again.
Of all the Knights she ever had the best,
Except, perhaps, Lord Wellington in Spain:
I never saw his picture nor his print,
From Morgan's Chronicle I take my hint.
For Morgan says (at least as I have heard,
And as a learned friend of mine assures),
Beside him all that lordly train appear'd
Like courtly minions, or like common boors,
As if unfit for knightly deeds, and rear'd
To rustic labours or to loose amours;
He mov'd amidst his peers without compare,
So lofty was his stature, look, and air.
Yet oftentimes his courteous cheer forsook
His countenance, and then return'd again,
As if some secret recollection shook
His inward heart with unacknowledged pain;
And something haggard in his eyes and look
(More than his years or hardships could explain)
Made him appear, in person and in mind,
Less perfect than what nature had design'd.
Of noble presence, but of different mien,
Alert and lively, voluble and gay,
Sir TRISTRAM at Carlisle was rarely seen,
But ever was regretted while away;
With easy mirth, an enemy to spleen,
His ready converse charm'd the wintery day;
No tales he told of sieges or of fights,
Or foreign marvels, like the foolish Knights,
But with a playful imitative tone
(That merely seem'd a voucher for the truth)
Recounted strange adventures of his own,
The chances of his childhood and his youth,
Of churlish Giants he had seen and known,
Their rustic phrase and courtesies uncouth,
The dwellings, and the diet, and the lives
Of savage Monarchs and their monstrous Wives:
Songs, music, languages, and many a lay
Asturian or Armoric, Irish, Basque,
His ready memory seiz'd and bore away;
And ever when the Ladies chose to ask,
Sir Tristram was prepar'd to sing and play,
Not like a minstrel earnest at his task,
But with a sportive, careless, easy style,
As if he seem'd to mock himself the while.
His ready wit and rambling education,
With the congenial influence of his stars,
Had taught him all the arts of conversation,
All games of skill and stratagems of wars;
His birth, it seems, by Merlin's calculation,
Was under Venus, Mercury, and blare;
His mind with all their attributes was mixt,
And, like those planets, wandering and unfixt;
From realm to realm he ran — and never staid;
Kingdoms and crowns he wan — and gave away:
It seem'd as if his labours were repaid
By the mere noise and movement of the fray:
No conquests nor acquirements had he made:
His chief delight was on some festive day
To ride triumphant, prodigal, and proud,
And shower his wealth amidst the shouting crowd:
His schemes of war were sudden, unforeseen,
Inexplicable both to friend and foe;
It seem'd as if some momentary spleen
Inspir'd the project and impell'd the blow;
And most his fortune and success were seen
With means the most inadequate and low;
Most master of himself, and least encumber'd
When overmatch'd, entangled, and outnumber'd.
Strange instruments and engines he contriv'd
For sieges, and constructions for defence,
Inventions some of them that have surviv'd,
Others were deem'd too cumbrous and immense:
Minstrels he lov'd, and cherish'd while he liv'd,
And patronized them both with praise and pence;
Somewhat more learned than became a Knight,
It was reported he could read and write.
Sir GAWAIN may be painted in a word—
He was a perfect loyal Cavalier;
His courteous manners stand upon record,
A stranger to the very thought of fear.
The proverb says, As brave as his own sword;
And like his weapon was that worthy Peer,
Of admirable temper, clear and bright,
Polish'd yet keen, though pliant yet upright.
On every point, in earnest or in jest,
His judgment, and his prudence, and his wit,
Were deem'd the very touchstone and the test
Of what was proper, graceful, just, and fit;
A word from him set every thing at rest,
His short decisions never fail'd to hit;
His silence, his reserve, his inattention,
Were felt as the severest reprehension:
His memory was the magazine and hoard,
Where claims and grievances, from year to year,
And confidences and complaints were stor'd,
From dame and knight, from damsel, boor, and peer:
Lov'd by his friends, and trusted by his Lord,
A generous courtier, secret and sincere,
Adviser-general to the whole community,
He serv'd his friend, but watch'd his opportunity.
One riddle I could never understand—
But his success in war was strangely various;
In executing schemes that others plann'd,
He seem'd a very Caesar or a Marius;
Take his own plans, and place him in command,
Your prospect of success became precarious:
His plans were good, but Launcelot succeeded
And realized them better far than He did.
His discipline was stedfast and austere,
Unalterably fix'd, but calm and kind;
Founded on admiration, more than fear,
It seem'd an emanation from his mind;
The coarsest natures that approach'd him near
Grew courteous for the moment and refin'd;
Beneath his eye the poorest, weakest wight
Felt full of point of honour like a knight.
In battle he was fearless to a fault,
The foremost in the thickest of the field;
His eager valour knew no pause nor halt,
And the red rampant Lion in his Shield
Scal'd Towns and Towers, the foremost in assault,
With ready succour where the battle reel'd:
At random like a thunderbolt he ran,
And bore down shields, and pikes, and horse, and man.
I've finish'd now three hundred lines and more,
And therefore I begin Canto the Second,
Just like those wand'ring, ancient Bards of Yore;
They never laid a plan, nor ever reckon'd
What turning they should take the day before;
They follow'd where the lovely Muses beckon'd:
The Muses led them up to Mount Parnassus,
And that's the reason that they all surpass us.
The Muses serv'd those Heathens well enough—
Bold Britons take a Tankard, or a Bottle,
And when the bottle's out, a pinch of snuff,
And so proceed in spite of Aristotle—
Those Rules of his are dry' dogmatic stuff,
All life and fire they suffocate and throttle—
And therefore I adopt the mode I mention,
Trusting to native judgment and invention.
This method will, I hope, appear defensible—
I shall begin by mentioning the Giants,
A race of mortals, brutal and insensible,
(Postponing the details of the Defiance,
Which came in terms so very reprehensible
From that barbarian sovereign King Ryence)
Displaying simpler manners, forms, and passions,
Unmix'd by transitory modes and fashions.
Before the Feast was ended, a Report
Fill'd every soul with horror and dismay;
Some Ladies, on their journey to the Court,
Had been surpris'd, and were convey'd away
By the Aboriginal Giants, to their Fort—
An unknown Fort — for Government, they say,
Had ascertain'd its actual existence,
But knew not its direction, nor its distance.
A waiting damsel, crooked and mis-shap'd,
Herself the witness of a woful scene,
From which, by miracle, she had escap'd,
Appear'd before the Ladies and the Queen;
Her figure was funereal, veil'd and crap'd,
Her voice convuls'd with sobs and sighs between,
That with the sad recital, and the sight,
Revenge and rage inflam'd each worthy knight.
Sir Gawain rose without delay or dallying,
"Excuse us, madam, — we've no time to waste—"
And at the palace-gate you saw him sallying,
With other knights, equipp'd and armed in haste
And there was Tristram making jests, and rallying
The poor mis-shapen Damsel, whom he placed
Behind him on a pillion, pad, or pannel;
He took, besides, his falcon and his spaniel.
But what with horror, and fatigue, and fright,
Poor soul, she could not recollect the way.
They reach'd the mountains on the second night,
And wander'd up and down till break of day,
When they discover'd, by the dawning light,
A lonely glen, where heaps of embers lay;
They found unleaven'd fragments, scorch'd and toasted,
And the remains of mules and horses roasted.
Sir Tristram understood the Giants' courses—
He felt the embers, but the heat was out—
He stood contemplating the roasted horses,
And all at once, without suspense or doubt,
His own decided judgment thus enforces—
"The Giants must be somewhere here about!"
Demonstrating the carcasses, he shows
That they remain'd untouch'd by kites or crows;
"You see no traces of their sleeping here,
No heap of leaves or heath, no Giant's nest—
Their usual habitation must be near—
They feed at sunset, and retire to rest—
A moment's search will set the matter clear."
The fact turn'd out precisely as he guess'd;
And shortly after, scrambling through a gully,
He verified his own conjecture fully.
He found a Valley, closed on every side,
Resembling that which Rasselas describes;
Six miles in length, and half as many wide,
Where the descendants of the Giant tribes
Liv'd in their ancient Fortress undescried:
(Invaders tread upon each others kibes)
First came the Britons, afterwards the Roman,
Our patrimonial lands belong to no man:
So Horace said — and so the Giants found,
Expelled by fresh invaders in succession;
But they maintain'd tenaciously the ground
Of ancient, indefeasible possession,
And robb'd and ransack'd all the country round;
And ventur'd on this horrible transgression,
Claiming a right reserv'd to waste and spoil,
As Lords and lawful owners of the soil.
Huge mountains of immeasurable height
Encompass'd all the level Valley round,
With mighty slabs of rock, that slop'd upright,
An insurmountable enormous mound;
The very River vanish'd out of sight,
Absorb'd in secret channels under ground:
That Vale was so sequester'd and secluded,
All search for ages past it had eluded.
High over head was many a Cave and Den,
That with its strange construction seem'd to mock
All thought of how they were contriv'd, or when—
—Hewn inward in the huge suspended rock,
The Tombs and Monuments of mighty men:
Such were the patriarchs of this ancient stock.
Alas! what pity that the present race
Should be so barbarous, and deprav'd, and base!
For they subsisted (as I said) by pillage,
And the wild beasts which they pursu'd and chas'd:
Nor house, nor herdsman's hut, nor farm, nor village,
Within the lonely valley could be traced,
Nor roads, nor bounded fields, nor rural tillage,
But all was lonely, desolate, and waste.
The Castle which commanded the domain
Was suited to so rude and wild a Reign:
A Rock was in the centre, like a Cone,
Abruptly rising from a miry pool,
Where they beheld a Pile of massy stone,
Which masons of the rude primaeval school
Had rear'd by help of Giant hands alone,
With rocky fragments unreduc'd by rule,
Irregular, like Nature more than Art,
Huge, rugged, and compact in every part.
But on the other side a River went,
And there the craggy Rock and ancient Wall
Had crumbled down with shelving deep descent;
Time and the wearing stream had work'd its fall:
The modern Giants had repair'd the Rent,
But poor, reduc'd, and ignorant withal,
They patch'd it up, contriving as they could,
With stones, and earth, and palisades of wood;
Sir Gawain tried a parley, but in vain—
A true bred Giant never trusts a Knight—
He sent a Herald, who return'd again
All torn to rags and perishing with fright;
A Trumpeter was sent, but he was slain—
To Trumpeters they bear a mortal spite:
When all conciliatory measures fail'd,
The Castle and the Fortress were assail'd.
But when the Giants saw them fairly under,
They shovell'd down a cataract of stones,
A hideous volley like a peal of thunder,
Bouncing and bounding down, and breaking bones,
Rending the earth, and riving rocks asunder;
Sir Gawain inwardly laments and groans,
Retiring last, and standing most expos'd;—
Success seem'd hopeless, and the combat clos'd.
A Council then was call'd, and all agreed
To call in succour from the Country round;
By regular approaches to proceed,
Intrenching, fortifying, breaking ground.
That morning Tristram happen'd to secede:
It seems his Falcon was not to be found;
He went in search of her, but some suspected
He went lest his advice should be neglected.
At Gawain's summons all the Country came;
At Gawain's summons all the people aided;
They called upon each other in his name,
And bid their neighbours work as hard as they did.
So well belov'd was He, for very shame
They dug, they delv'd, entrench'd, and palisaded,
Till all the Fort was thoroughly blockaded,
And every Ford where Giants might have waded.
Sir Tristram found his Falcon, bruis'd and lame,
After a tedious search, as he averr'd,
And was returning back the way he came
When in the neighbouring thicket something stirr'd,
And flash'd across the path, as bright as flame,
Sir Tristram follow'd it, and found a Bird
Much like a Pheasant, only crimson red,
With a fine tuft of feathers on his head.
Sir Tristram's mind — invention — pow'rs of thought,
Were occupied, abstracted, and engag'd,
Devising ways and means to have it caught
Alive — entire — to see it safely cag'd:
The Giants and their siege he set at nought
Compar'd with this new warfare that he wag'd.
He gain'd his object after three days wandering,
And three nights watching, meditating, pondering,
And to the Camp in triumph he return'd:
He makes them all admire the creature's crest,
And praise and magnify the prize he earn'd.
Sir Gawain rarely ventur'd on a jest,
But here his heart with indignation burn'd:—
"Good Cousin, yonder stands an Eagle's nest!
—"A Prize for Fowlers such as you and me."—
Sir Tristram answer'd mildly, "We shall see."
Good humour was Sir Tristram's leading quality,
And in the present case he prov'd it such;
If he forbore, it was that in reality
His conscience smote him with a secret touch,
For having shock'd his worthy friend's formality—
He thought Sir Gawain had not said too much;
He walks apart with him — and he discourses
About their preparation and their forces—
Approving every thing that had been done—
"It serves to put the Giants off their guard—
Less hazard and less danger will be run—
I doubt not we shall find them unprepar'd—
The Castle will more easily be won,
And many valuable lives be spar'd;
The Ladies else, while we blockade and threaten,
Will most infallibly be kill'd and eaten."
Sir Tristram talk'd incomparably well;
His reasons were irrefragably strong.
As Tristram spoke Sir Gawain's spirits fell,
For he discover'd clearly before long
(What Tristram never would presume to tell),
That his whole system was entirely wrong;
In fact his confidence had much diminish'd
Since all the preparations had been finish'd.
"Indeed!" Sir Tristram said, "for ought we know—
For ought that we can tell — this very night
The valley's entrance may be clos'd with snow,
And we may starve and perish here outright—
'Tis better risking a decided blow—
I own this weather puts me in a fright."
In fine, this tedious conference to shorten,
Sir Gawain trusted to Sir Tristram's fortune.
'Twas twilight, ere the wint'ry dawn had kist
With cold salute the mountain's chilly brow;
The level lawns were dark, a lake of mist
Inundated the vales and depths below,
When valiant Tristram, with a chosen list
Of bold and hardy men, prepar'd to go,
Ascending through the vapours dim and hoar,
A secret track, which he descried before.
If ever you attempted, when a boy,
To walk across the play-ground or the yard
Blindfolded, for an apple or a toy,
Which, when you reach'd the spot, was your reward,
You may conceive the difficult employ
Sir Tristram had, and that he found it hard,
Depriv'd of landmarks and the power of sight,
To steer their dark and doubtful course aright.
They climb'd an hour or more with hand and knee
(The distance of a fathom or a rood
Was farther than the keenest eye could see;)
At last the very ground on which they stood,
The broken turf, and many a batter'd tree—
The crush'd and shatter'd shrubs and underwood—
Apprized them that they were arriv'd once more
Where they were overwhelm'd the time before.
Sir Tristram saw the people in a fluster;
He took them to a shelter'd hollow place:
They crowded round like chickens in a cluster,
And Tristram, with an unembarrass'd face,
Proceeded quietly to take a muster,
To take a muster, and to state the case—
"It was," he said, "an unexpected error,
Enough to strike inferior minds with terror;
"But since they were assembled and collected,"
(All were assembled except nine or ten)
"He thought that their design might be effected;
All things were easy to determin'd men.
If they would take the track which he directed,
And try their old adventure once again,"
He slapp'd his breast, and swore within an hour
That they should have the Castle in their power.
This mountain was like others I have seen;
There was a stratum or a ridge of stone
Projecting high beyond the sloping green,
From top to bottom, like a spinal bone,
Or flight of steps, with gaps and breaks between—
A Copper plate would make my meaning known
Better than words, and therefore, with permission,
I'll give a Print of it the next Edition.
Thither Sir Tristram with his comrades went,
For now the misty cloud was clear'd away,
And they must risk the perilous ascent,
Right in the Giants' front, in open day:
They ran to reach the shelter which it lent,
Before the battery should begin to play.
Their manner of ascending up that ridge
Was much like climbing by a broken bridge;
For there you scramble on from pier to pier,
Always afraid to lose your hold half way;
And as they clamber'd each successive tier
Of rugged upright rocks, I dare to say,
It was not altogether without fear—
Just fear enough to make brave people gay:
According to the words of Mr. Gray,
"They wound with toilsome march their long array."
The more alert and active upward sprung,
And let down ropes to drag their comrades after;
Those ropes were their own shirts together strung,
Stript off and twisted with such mirth and laughter,
That with their jokes the rocky echoes rung:
Like countrymen that on a beam or rafter
Attempt to pass a raging wintry flood,
Such was the situation where they stood:
A wild tumultuous torrent rag'd around,
Of fragments tumbling from the mountain's height;
The whirling clouds of dust, the deafening sound,
The hurried motion that amazed the sight,
The constant quaking of the solid ground,
Environ'd them with phantoms of affright;
Yet with heroic hearts they held right on,
Till the last point of their ascent was won.
The Giants saw them on the topmost crown
Of the last rock, and threaten'd and defied—
"Down with the mangy dwarfs there! — Dash them down!
Down with the dirty pismires!" — Thus they cried.
Sir Tristram, with a sharp sarcastic frown,
In their own Giant jargon thus replied,
"Mullinger! — Cacamole! — and Mangonell!
You cursed cannibals — I know you well—
"I'll see that pate of yours upon a post,
And your left-handed squinting brother's too—
By Heaven and Earth, within an hour at most,
I'll give the crows a meal of him and you—
The wolves shall have you — either raw or roast—
"I'll make an end of all your cursed crew."
These words he partly said, and partly sang,
As usual with the Giants, in their slang.
He darted forward to the mountain's brow—
The Giants ran away — they knew not why—
Sir Tristram gained the point — he knew not how—
He could account for it no more than I.
Such strange effects we witness often now;
Such strange experiments true Britons try
In sieges, and in skirmishes afloat,
In storming heights, and boarding from a boat.
True Courage bears about a Charm or Spell—
It looks, I think, like an instinctive Law
By which superior natures daunt and quell
Frenchmen and foreigners with fear and awe.
I wonder if Philosophers can tell—
Can they explain the thing with all their jaw?
I can't explain it — but the fact is so,
A fact which every midshipman must know.
Then instantly the signal was held out,
To shew Sir Gawain that the coast was clear:
They heard his Camp re-echo with a shout
In half an hour Sir Gawain will be here.
But still Sir Tristram was perplext with doubt—
The crisis of the Ladies' fate drew near—
He dreaded what those poor defenceless creatures
Might suffer from such fierce and desperate natures.
The Giants, with their brutal want of sense,
In hurling stones to crush them with the fall,
And in their hurry taking them from thence,
Had half dismantled all the new-built Wall.
They left it here and there, a naked fence
Of stakes and palisades, upright and tall.
Sir Tristram form'd a sudden resolution,
And recommended it for execution.
"My Lads," he cried, "an effort must be made
To keep those Monsters half an hour in play,
While Gawain is advancing to our aid,
Or else the Ladies will be made away.
By mounting close within the palisade,
You'll parry their two-handed, dangerous sway—
Their Clubs and Maces: recollect my words,
And use your daggers rather than your swords."
That service was most gallantly perform'd:
The Giants still endeavour'd to repel
And drive them from the breach that they had storm'd:
The foremost of the Crew was Mangonell.
At sight of him Sir Tristram's spirit warm'd;
With aim unerring Tristram's faulchion fell,
Lopt off his Club and fingers at the knuckle,
And thus disabled that stupendous Chuckle.
The Giant ran, outrageous with wound,
Roaring and bleeding, to the palisade;
Sir Tristram swerv'd aside, and reaching round,
Prob'd all his entrails with his poniard's blade:
His Giant limbs fall thundering on the ground,
His goggling eyes eternal slumbers shade;
Then by the head or heels, I know not which,
They dragg'd him forth, and tost him in the Ditch.
Sir Tristram, in the warfare that he wag'd,
Strove to attract the Giants' whole attention;
To keep it undivided and engag'd,
He rack'd his fiery brain and his invention;
And taunted and revil'd, and storm'd, and rag'd,
In terms far worse, and more than I can mention.
In the mean while, in a more sober manner,
Sir Gawain was advancing with his banner.
But first I must commemorate in Rhime
Sir Tristram's dext'rous swordmanship and might,
(This incident appears to me sublime),
He struck a Giant's head off in the fight:
The head fell down of course, but for some time
The stupid, headless trunk remain'd upright;
For more than twenty seconds there it stood,
But ultimately fell from loss of blood.
Behold Sir Gawain with his valiant band;
He enters on the work with warmth and haste,
And slays a brace of Giants out of hand,
Slic'd downward from the shoulder to the waist.
But our ichnography must now be plann'd,
The Keep or Inner Castle must be trac'd.
I wish myself at the concluding distich,
Although I think the thing characteristic.
Facing your Entrance, just three yards behind,
There was a Mass of Stone of moderate height,
It stood before you like a screen or blind:
And there — on either hand to left and right—
Were sloping Parapets or Planes inclin'd,
On which two massy Stones were plac'd upright,
Secured by Staples and by leathern Ropes,
Which hinder'd them from sliding down the slopes.
"— Cousin, those Dogs have some device or gin!—
—I'll run the gauntlet — and I'll stand a knock—"
He dash'd into the Gate through thick and thin—
He hew'd away the bands which held the block—
It rush'd along the slope with rumbling din,
And closed the entrance with a thundering shock,
(Just like those famous old Symplegades
Discover'd by the Classics in their seas.)
This was Sir Tristram — (as you may suppose)
He found some Giants wounded, others dead—
He shortly equalizes these with those;
But one poor Devil there was sick in bed,
In whose behalf the Ladies interpose;
Sir Tristram spar'd his life, because they said
That he was more humane, and mild, and clever,
And all the time had had an ague-fever.
The Ladies? — They were tolerably well,
At least as well as could have been expected:
Many details I must forbear to tell,
Their toilet had been very much neglected;
But by supreme good luck it so befell
That when the Castle's capture was effected,
When those vile cannibals were overpower'd,
Only two fat Duennas were devour'd.
Sir Tristram having thus secur'd the Fort,
And seen all safe, was climbing to the Wall,
(Meaning to leap into the outer Court;)
But when he came, he sav'd himself the fall,
Sir Gawain had been spoiling all the sport,
The Giants were demolish'd one and all:
He pull'd them up the Wall — they climb and enter—
Such was the winding up of this adventure.
The only real sufferer in the fight
Was a poor neighbouring Squire of little fame,
That came and join'd the party over-night;
He hobbled home, disabled with a maim
Which he receiv'd in tumbling from a height:
The Knights from Court had never heard his name,
Nor recollected seeing him before—
Two leopards' faces were the arms he bore.
Thus Tristram, without loss of life or limb,
Conquer'd the Giants' Castle in a day;
But whether it were accident or whim
That kept him in the Woods so long away,
In any other mortal except him
I should not feel a doubt of what to say;
But he was wholly guided by his humour,
Indifferent to report and public rumour.
It was besides imagined and suspected
That he had missed his course by deep design,
To take the track which Gawain had neglected—
I speak of others' notions, not of mine:
I question even if he recollected—
He might have felt a moment's wish to shine;
I only know that he made nothing of it,
Either for reputation or for profit.
The Ladies, by Sir Gawain's kind direction,
Proceeded instantaneously to Court,
To thank their Majesties for their protection.
Sir Gawain follow'd with a grand escort,
And was received with favour and affection.
Sir Tristram remain'd loitering in the Fort;
He thought the building and the scenery striking,
And that poor captive Giant took his liking.
And now the thread of our Romance unravels,
Presenting new performers on the stage;
A Giant's education and his travels
Will occupy the next succeeding page:
But I begin to tremble at the cavils
Of this fastidious, supercilious age;
Reviews, and paragraphs in morning papers—
The prospect of them gives my Muse the vapours.
"My dear," says she, "I think it will be well
To ascertain our losses or our gains:
If this first sample should succeed and sell,
We can renew the same melodious strains."
Poor soul! she's had, I think, a tedious spell,
And ought to be consider'd for her pains.
And keeping of my company so long—
A moderate compliment would not be wrong.