Page images

thought*, above that which I call the Gothic manner in writing, than this, that the first pleases all kinds of palates, and the latter only fuch as have formed to themfelves a wrong artificial tafte upon little fanciful authors and writers of epigram. Homer, Virgil, or Milton, fo far as the language of their poems is understood, will please a reader of plain common sense, who would neither relifh nor comprehend an epigram of Martial, or a poem of Cowley: fo, on the contrary, an ordinary fong or ballad that is the delight of the common people, cannot fail to please all fuch readers as are not unqualified for the entertainment by their affectation or ignorance; and the reafon is plain, because the fame paintings of nature, which recommend it to the most ordinary reader, will appear beautiful to the most refined.

The old fong of Chevy-Chafe is the favourite ballad of the common people of England, and Ben Jonfon used to say he had rather have been the author of it than of all his works. Sir Philip Sidney, in his discourse of poetry, fpeaks of it in the following words: "I never heard the old "fong of Percy and Douglas, that I found not 66 my heart more moved than with a trumpet; "and yet it is fung by fome blind crowder with "no rougher voice than rude ftile; which being fo evil apparelled in the duft and cobweb "of that uncivil age, what would it work trim



*See DENNIS's "Original Let. fam. mor. & crit. 8vo. 1721, p. 166, & feq." Letter to Henry Cromwell, Efq. on "Simplicity in Poetical Compofition."


"med in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar?" For my own part, I am fo profeffed an admirer of this antiquated fong, that I fhall give my reader a critique upon it, without any further apology for fo doing.

The greatest modern critics have laid it down as a rule, That an heroic poem should be founded upon fome important precept of morality, adapted to the conftitution of the country in which the poct writes. Homer and Virgil have formed their plans in this view. As Greece was a collection of many governments, who fuffered very much among themfelves, and gave the Perfian emperor, who was their common enemy, many advantages over them by their mutual jealoufies and animofities, Homer *, in order to eftablish among them an union, which was fo neceflary for their fafety, grounds his poem upon the difcords of the feveral Grecian princes who were engaged in a confederacy against an Afiatic prince, and the feveral advantages which the enemy gained by fuch their difcords. At the time the poem we are now treating of was written, the diffenfions of the Barons, who were then

* This anachronism with refpect to Homer cannot escape notice. See SPECT. vol. V. N° 327. Homer flourished 850 years before the Chriftian æra, and according to others 980, which calculation places him near the age of Solomon, agreeably to what is said No 327.

There is here a fimilar chronological inaccuracy with refpect to Chevy-Chafe. The diffenfions of the barons were long over before the event which is commonly fuppofed to have given occafion to this ballad. The battle of Otterburn, ufually called Chevy-Chafe, was fought A. D. 1388, in the

then so many petty princes, ran very high, whether they quarrelled among themselves, or with their neighbours, and produced unfpeakable calamities to the country. The poet, to deter men from fuch unnatural contentions, defcribes a bloody battle and dreadful scene of death, occafioned by the mutual feuds which reigned in the families of an English and Scotch nobleman. That he defigned this for the inftruction of his poem, we may learn from his four last lines, in which, after the example of the modern tragedians, he draws from it a precept for the benefit of his readers.

God fave the King, and bless the land
In plenty, joy, and peace;
And grant henceforth that foul debate
'Twixt noblemen may ceafe.

The next point obferved by the greatest heroic poets, hath been to celebrate perfons and actions which do honour to their country: thus Virgil's hero was the founder of Rome, Homer's a prince of Greece; and for this reafon Valerius Flaccus

reigns of Richard II. of England, and Robert II. of Scotland. Others with lefs probability have brought down the action to the reigns of Henry IV. of England, and James I. of Scotland. This critique on Chevy-Chafe fubjected the author to the ridicule of Dr. William Wagstaff, and gave birth to the mock critique of "Tom Thumb," in that author's works, 8vo. 1726, where there is little if any thing, worth reading. It was likewife honoured with the notice and animadverfions of John Dennis. See Dennis's "Original Letters," ut fupra, and Dr. Johnson's "Lives of English Poets," vol. II. page 441, 8vo. 1781.


and Statius, who were both Romans, might be justly derided for having chofen the expedition of the Golden Fleece, and the Wars of Thebes, for the fubjects of their Epic writings.

The poet before us has not only found out an hero in his own country, but raises the reputation of it by feveral beautiful incidents. The English are the first who take the field, and the laft who quit it. The English bring only fifteen hundred to the battle, the Scotch two thousand. The English keep the field with fifty-three; the Scotch retire with fifty-five: all the rest on each fide being flain in battle. But the most remarkable circumftance of this kind, is the different manner in which the Scotch and English kings receive the news of this fight and of the great men's deaths who commanded in it.

This news was brought to Edinburgh,
Where Scotland's king did reign,
That brave Earl Douglas fuddenly

Was with an arrow flain.

O heavy news, King James did fay,
Scotland can witnefs be,

I have not any captain more
Of fuch account as he.

Like tidings to King Henry came
Within as fhort a space*,
That Percy of Northumberland
Was flain in Chevy-Chafe.

Now God be with him, faid our King,
Sith 'twill no better be,

*Impoffible! for it was more than three times the distance.

I trust

I truft I have within my realm
Five hundred as good as he.

Yet fhall not Scot, nor Scotland fay,
But I will vengeance take,
And be revenged on them all
For brave Lord Percy's fake.

This vow full well the king perform'd
After on Humble-down,

In one day fifty knights were flain,
With Lords of great renown.

And of the reft of fmall account
Did many thousands die, &c.

At the fame time that our poet shews a laudable partiality to his countrymen, he represents the Scots after a manner not unbecoming fo bold and brave a people.

Earl Douglas on a milk-white steed,
Moft like a baron boid,

Rode foremost of the company,
Whofe armour fhone like gold.

His fentiments and actions are every way fuitable to an hero. One of us two, fays he, must die: I am an Earl as well as yourself, fo that you can have no pretence for refufing the combat: however, fays he, it is pity, and indeed would be a fin, that fo many innocent men should perish for our fakes, rather let you and I end our quarrel in single fight.

Ere thus I will out-braved be,
One of us two fhall die;

I know

« EelmineJätka »