ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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NEWTON NEVILLE

A Pseudonym?

 

Unfortunately the question mark must remain. I have not been able to confirm that ‘Newton Neville’ was one of Robert Buchanan’s pseudonyms, but there are a number of annoying coincidences which make me believe it must be so - if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . .

I first came across Newton Neville when I was going through Buchanan’s early contributions to the London magazines. The 1861 edition of The Welcome Guest (available at the Hathi Trust) contained Buchanan’s poem, ‘The Country Curate’s Story’ but the ‘Author’s Index’ for the volume listed two more contributions from R. Williams Buchanan. Turning to these - a poem, ‘The Lady Curll’ and a humorous essay, ‘Cœlebs in Search of Relaxation’ - I found that both were the work of ‘Newton Neville’; whose name was missing from the ‘Author’s Index’. At some point (possibly around February, 1861) Robert Buchanan had been appointed editor of The Welcome Guest by John Maxwell and he would have been responsible for part of this particular volume, in the introduction to which he states that:

“As, moreover, our readers are by this time convinced of the literary position of the Members of our Staff, and as we fancy that, in treating these topics of the day, it will be best for both writer and reader to have their judgment untrammelled, we have decided, that henceforth, the WELCOME GUEST shall be anonymous.”

So, it is impossible to know if Newton Neville, or Robert Buchanan, made any further contributions to the magazine. So, I tried google, no mention of a writer called ‘Newton Neville’. Next stop, the British Library Newspaper Archive, which turned up a few mentions of Newton Neville’s work in a couple of magazines. Mostly these referred to The St. James’s Magazine, where I found the following poems: ‘A Melody’ in the issue of August, 1863, ‘The River: a Sang that Seeks a Tune’ and ‘Love’ (October, 1863), ‘A Token’ (April, 1864), ‘Halcyone’ (June, 1864) and ‘Horatian Paraphrases’ (October, 1864). Robert Buchanan had started contributing to The St. James’s Magazine in June, 1862, and his final contribution (under his own name) was in May, 1864. It should also be mentioned that Newton Neville’s ‘The River’ and the second of the ‘Horatian Paraphrases’ are written in Scottish dialect. Which is not surprising, since the only other magazine that turned up in the B.L.N.A. search was The West of Scotland Magazine and Review, to the November, 1859 edition of which Newton Neville contributed an essay on François Rabelais. Copies of that magazine are not online, but Newton Neville’s name survives in adverts for the issue, which was edited by Robert Buchanan.

scotmagadnov203

At this point it may be worth adding that Buchanan also published a translation of an ode of Horace in The Athenæum (20 September, 1862) and there are several favourable mentions of Rabelais throughout his work. But the evidence of pseudonymous activity is still fairly thin. Another odd coincidence is that Newton Neville’s contributions to The Welcome Guest are highlighted (with extracts) in a review of the magazine in The Glasgow Sentinel of 16th March, 1861. At this point the paper was up for sale following its proprietor’s bankruptcy, but is it too much of a stretch to suggest that Robert Buchanan reviewed his own magazine and then submitted it to his father’s old newspaper?

As I said, Buchanan stopped contributing to The St. James’s Magazine in May, !864 but checking the issues for the following years I found more from Newton Neville. In 1864 Buchanan was in Denmark, with his father, reporting on the Second Schleswig-Holstein war for the Morning Star. According to an interview in Pearson’s Weekly from February, 1892, Buchanan got the job because he was “one of the very few Englishmen of that day who knew the Danish language”. Another such Englishman (or maybe a Scot) was apparently Newton Neville, since the item he contributed to The St. James’s Magazine in November, 1865 was a review of ‘Danske Romanzer, hundrede og ti. Samlede og udgivne af Christian Winther’ (‘Danish Romances, one hundred and ten. Collected and published by Christian Winther’), which contained Mr. Neville’s own translations of seven Danish poems. Volume 15 of The St. James’s Magazine runs from December 1865 to March 1866 and the Contents page lists four titles in the group entitled, ‘Romance from the Danish’. The first is a translation of ‘The Treasure-Seeker’ which appears in the December, 1865 issue, followed in subsequent months by ‘Old Winkelred and the Dragon’, ‘Hakon Jarl’ and ‘The Gift of Ægir’. The first three poems are published anonymously, apart from the Danish source, but the fourth in the sequence is credited to Newton Neville, and one assumes that the others are from the same pen. In December, 1866, Routledge & Sons published among its Christmas gift books, illustrated by the Brothers Dalziel, a volume of translations of Scandinavian poems by Robert Buchanan. Ballad Stories of the Affections only contains one of the poems translated by Newton Neville - ‘The Treasure-Seeker’ - and the two translations are completely different.

I’ve not found any further works by Newton Neville beyond the translation of ‘The Gift of Ægir’ in The St. James’s Magazine of March 1866. So, either Mr. Neville was a Scottish  friend of Robert Buchanan’s - one who is not mentioned in any of Buchanan’s biographical writings - who contributed to the same magazines as his friend and shared his passion for Danish poetry to the extent of also learning the language, but who, then, for some unknown reason gave up the literary life in March 1866, or perhaps died, or emigrated, or.... maybe he was just a duck.

I give you the Collected Works of Newton Neville:

 

The Welcome Guest (March, 1861)

THE LADY CURLL.

A RHYME FOR THE WINTER FIRE.

 

You must know,
(Quoth a jolly old rubicund Country Squire,
As he sat, while his mansion was covered with snow,
With his wife and sons round the winter’s fire,)
You must know
That, many a year ago,
In the rollicking days of King Charles the Second,
Sir Leonard Curll was everywhere reckoned
The very pink of a dissolute knight;
But, in spite of that, he’d a wonderful knack
Of looking quite valiant when turning his back,
Sheathing his sword, and declining to fight.
At the time of my tale he was sixty odd,
A thin, spare wight, with a scraggy neck,
The pitiful wreck
Of a beau who had always forgotten God.
He hadn’t yet learned to be sober and quiet;
He filled his house with the noble, certes,
But they helped him to gamble, and swear, and hurt his
Constitution in drunken riot.
Yet faults dwindle down when a fallow is able
To dip his forefinger in rosy wine,
And etch out the plan of a family line,
As old as the hills, on a tavern table.

He’d a bullying way, quite as useful as bravery,
That kept all his household in durance and slavery.
His pale little wife
Led a deuce of a life;
And if Edith, his daughter,
Had lived up to the pitiful doctrine he taught her,
When placed on his knee, ’mid the household quandary,
She was forced to sip sin from his cup of Canary,
Why, I fear that the big-bellied parson would rather
Have split with her father,
And left that fat capon his cure in the lurch,
Than allowed her to speak twenty words in his church.
But, you know, in this hog of a world, with its bristles—
No! this green little world, with its sunshine and showers—
There are some human flowers
That the ugliest common can’t change into thistles,
For donkeys to gnaw at and munch at for hours.
I’m glad to be able to say, at the least,
That she was the Beauty, and he was the Beast.
For Edith, in spite of the treatment she found,
Grew—thanks to the care of her beaten-down mother—
Sweeter and purer than any other
Maiden for miles around.

She had hair, like a rillet of gold, that flowed,
Burnished even more bright by the gold of the sun,
Braided close on her forehead in Saxon mode,
And eyes that would suddenly flash into fun,
With a twinkling blue light, when her face was in gloom;
And two lips like the innermost leaves of a rose,
Threaded softly together in quiet repose,
Half-opened, half-shut, sunning out into bloom
Of a sweet, sunny smile,
That might even beguile
A monk from his low Miserere, and render
The dryest old abbot quite juicy and tender.
And even her Sire, spare Sir Leonard Curll,
Would relax in his cups, with an oath, and in sport
Would compare the beatified face of the girl
With those of the syrens who flaunted in Court—
The mermaids of Charles, who sing early and late did,
On whom hung the tales that Grammont has narrated.
She was pretty and good, neither more, neither less,
Though the knight didn’t spend many pence on her dress,
And her pride was the sign of her lowliness.
When her heart was glad, and the sun shone upon her,
In her Norman blood and her milk-white honour,
She seemed like a delicate porcelain cup,
Where the red wine is curdling with cloudlets of cream,
When the lamps are alight, and you hold it up
To the gleam.

She was fond of the poets. Perchance they had lent her
Some part of her sweetness, and tenderly bent her
Mind into Beauty, that passionate mentor.
I’ve a fancy that much of her thought, where soft sweetness
Was mingled by pride to a stately completeness,
Might early in life have been nourished and built on
Such songs as the full “Penseroso” of Milton.
She had favourites, Roundheads and Royalists both,
Whom she judged by no standard of popular froth,
Nor cared if their praises, as sons of the Nine,
Were drawled through the nose, or roared out over wine.
Perchance she had learnt half her sweet, sober thought from
The stately, sweet hymnings of Herbert and Quarles;
And perchance the light mirth of her laugh had been caught from
The wine-loving Herrick, who worshipped King Charles;
The grace of her motions, and sweet, self-contained
Warmth, might have come from the dreamland of Spenser;
And much of her chasteness of look she had gained
From the incense that burns in the richly-wrought censer
Dan Chaucer has swung o’er Lucrece the unstained;
The music of Shakespeare was troublous within her
First dreams of the sweetness whence Juliet plained;
And Drayton’s long line may have aided to win her
To watch our green hills, and our streams as they roll,
And to draw their home-tenderness into her soul.
But the whence and the wherefore apart, I’m inclined
To think that she took—(though I perfectly know it’s
The custom to make very light of the poets)—
That she took some such melodies into her mind,
And, in turn, to the Soul, which, at work in its place,
Tried to sculpture them out day by day on her face;
For I hope that the poets, if rightly we know them,
Are not tape-measured out by a critical rod;
And believe that some angels in heaven may owe them
The debt of their earthly aspirings to God!

But a story’s a story. I’d better proceed—
For I’m too old a bird to be pecking at flowers,
And wrangling with sparrows for fanciful seed—
To say that Sir Leonard’s family spent
Their pastoral hours
In a mansion with quaint-looking gables and towers,
In the midst of the hop-growing county of Kent,
While Sir Leonard sported his scraggy old body
’Mid the bevy of belles around Nelly the favoured,
And paraded a sack-seasoned fancy that savoured
Like a Scotchman’s wit when replenished with toddy.

How many a rascal has learned to note,
By cutting the cards, how to cut a throat!
One December night, when the streets were in gloom,
Sir Leonard sat in a tavern room,
With his flesh wine-soaked, and his heart stone-dry,
Quaffing French liquors, and losing his money
(A kind of pastime which some think funny)
To a high-born knave, with a watery eye—
Sir Templeton Trench—a man about town,
With the blood of a lady, the brain of a clown.
Quoth Trench, with a leer,
Placing his friend’s lost crowns on the table:
“Look here!
I’ll make a proposal by which you’ll be able
To recover the fortune you’ve squandered to-night;
And the cards at my elbow shall set us right.”
Sir Leonard paused, with a drunken stare,
And then and there
Clutched at the cards with his fingers unsinew’d.
“You’ve a daughter,—Miss Edith?” the other continued.
“A baggage!” cried Curll. Quoth Sir Templeton: “Come!
She’s probably tired of a single life;
And who wouldn’t sour in an air that’s so glum?
For myself, Curll, I’m willing to make her my wife.
Now, the gold versus Edith! If I am the winner,
The money is yours, and Miss Edith is mine.”
“You’ll marry her, Trench?” said the other old sinner,
While his eyes bled wine.
Trench laughed and assented: “Of course, I’m aware
You look higher than one of my station and rank—
His Highness, of course.” “By my sword, Trench”—“There!
I’ve made you the offer; accept or refuse—
You're fully as likely to win as to lose.
Here’s the bank!
If you conquer, you keep both the wench and the gold.”
The bloodshot eyes of Sir Leonard rolled
Like a drunken Jew’s;
At first he had deemed it a comical jest
At the best.
“I agree!” he cried, with a croak, “for—pshaw!
You won’t make a bad sort of son-in-law.”
So they pitted the money against the wench,
And, silent as wolves, until cock-crow played,—
When Curll won the money, and Templeton Trench
The maid!

Well. The thing we call honour, Wife, differs in men;
In some it is blind as the perilous foam;
But I’d say to our children, again and again,
That the heart of all honour is truth to Home;
That the hopes of pure honour are centred above;
That the crown of man’s honour is wifely love:
But the honour Sir Leonard Curll understood
Was to sin against duty and youth, but be good
To every frothy and fulsome lie
He spoke in the heat of his revelry.
So he said unto Trench, “I have lost and I’ll pay;
And whether she comes with a yea or a nay,
You shall marry Miss Edith on Christmas Day.”

So Sir Templeton Trench and Sir Leonard Curll
Rode there and then to the home of the girl,
Thro’ the midst of the hop-growing county of Kent,
To announce the event.

Now, Sir Templeton Trench, this old blackguard, was rather
Younger than Edith’s old wine-bibbing father;
And was simply a silly old hogshead, where sack
Was mixed with Bordeaux and the sharp Cognac.
Just imagine the fuss when Sir Leonard bore his
Golden old goose to the manor, and made his
Proposal in language too ugly for Hades;
While Templeton swore his
Tenderest oaths at the two trembling ladies.
Argutos inter strepere anser olores!

Quoth
Curll, with an oath:
“Little matters, young madam, your yea or your nay,
For I’ve brought you a husband of title and credit;
You’ll be Templeton’s lady come Christmas Day,—
I’ve said it.”

Poor Edith flew sobbing away to her room,
And wept all that night in the new-gathered gloom,
But the Lady, her mother, sat quiet and staid
By her lord and his friend as they tippled and quaffed,
And laughed
At the jests they made.
Her eyes were fixed on Sir Templeton Trench,
With the light of an innermost sorrow intense,
When Sir Leonard roared—“Bravely done, old wench,
For once in your life you’re a woman of sense.”
But the Lady Curll, as she sat beside them,
Spake not a word till the cold gray light
Cut sharp as steel thro’ the shadows of night.
When she passed from the hall with a look that defied them.
Sir Templeton grunted the maiden’s name,
Maudlinly trolling an amorous ditty,
More meaning than witty,
Starved out of a bard by some yellow-hued dame,
Who used as cosmetics to catch such ninnies
(Poets who dandle both babies and fame)
Those types of her Soul and complexion, her guineas!

Well, the hours glided onward, till country swains
Pluckt the mistletoe branches, in country lanes;
Till the holly was hanging from North unto South,
And the cook had the flavour of plums in his mouth!

They had hounded the girl into half-consent,
And the big-bellied priest had announced the event.
So on Christmas Eve old Sir Leonard’s house
Was the scene of a drunken and noisy carouse;
And the Lady Curll, with her sickly face,
Sat quiet and bland
By her husband’s place,
Filling his glass with a trembling hand.

On the Christmas morn, when the joyous chimes
Were tingling and trembling in musical rhymes,
The parson’s young wife took particular care,
With his cassock, his wristband, his face, and his hair;
The butler replenished his corpulent pottle
While tapping the cask and uncorking the bottle;
The bridal guests were both merry and many,
And the Lady Curll seemed the gayest of any,
But they found Sir Leonard Curll in his bed—
DEAD!
         .          .         .          .         .

A year had passed since Sir Leonard’s death;
Since Sir Templeton left, with his drunken brain;
And the alchemyst Winter, with frosty breath,
Was mimicking flowers on the cottage-pane.
It was Christmas Eve, and the fog-wrapt gloom
Was full of the wind and the shuddering rain.
The Lady Curll, with Edith, her pride,
Sat quiet and pale in a lighted room;
And the sweets of the season when Leonard died
Were far from the hearts of the mother and maid,
In the blackness they bought with his gold arrayed.

There was terror, unholy and undefined,
That Christmas Eve on the maiden’s mind,
And you knew by her murmuring lips that she prayed.

The Lady said:
“He sinned so against us that, truth to tell,
I would often wish he were buried and dead—
But now I would he were here, and well.”
And after a moment she murmured again,
“The wind is roaring around with rain,
But the beautiful, stainless snow that fell
When my lord was alive in this lonely spot—
The beautiful stainless snow falls not;
So I would my lord were alive and well.”
And she moaned with her face in the red firelight,
“I would that the beautiful snow, which seems
Like the voices of angels we hear in dreams,
Would fall on the desolate world this night;
For it falls on the earth and it entereth in,
Like the tears of the Christ on the eyelids of Sin.”
Then she stood erect, very cold and white.
And with bosom that trembled and eyelids that glistened,
She listened!

Then she sank with a shriek at her daughter’s feet,
And Edith looked pale by the light of her eyes:
“The blood of thy father, Sir Leonard, lies
On the Soul of thy mother, my Sweet, my Sweet!
I crouched like a lamb when he struck at me,
But I stung like a snake when he injured thee:
For, to save thee, my darling, my sorrow, my pride,
I poisoned the cup of my lord as he drank.”
Then, shuddering close to her daughter’s side,
And kissing her lips with a sob, she sank
On her breast, and died!
         .          .         .          .         .

The tale is old.
As I’ve told it to you, I heard it told.
’Tis one of those tales which we only tell
In the mirth-making season when all seems well,
To season our malt
With the salt
Of a good-natured horror by no means annoying,
Which sharpens our sense of the mirth we’re enjoying.
Ah, Edith!—I’d almost forgotten. Why, she,—
Thanks partly to youth and a certain fond lover,
And partly to something within and above her,—
Though sadder at seasons than most women be,
Died blessing six children at seventy-three.

                                                                                                                                     NEWTON NEVILLE.

___

 

CŒLEBS IN SEARCH OF RELAXATION.

BY NEWTON NEVILLE.

     I HAVE the felicity (my female friends, who know nothing about the matter, say the misfortune) to be a single man. The diploma of my bachelorship is written legibly in my landlady’s weekly bill. I have to work hard for my living; my life, up to the present moment, has been one continual succession of uncongenial brain-work; but I hope, one of these fine days, to be hailed with substantial acknowledgments by a grateful country. I care little for public amusements; I have neither time nor inclination to form domestic ties. Still, as a hard worker, I now and then need a little relaxation. I seek that relaxation where I ought to find it—among my friends. What is the result? So far from being relaxed, I am sucked into a vortex of helpless idiocy; or, to use the mildest word in my vocabulary, I am bored. Relaxation, forsooth! it is to be had for neither love nor money. I repeat it, I am bored.
     How? For what reason?
     The how I will endeavour to explain, but the reason is beyond my comprehension. My friends are, every one of them, good fellows enough; I count among them clever fellows, funny fellows, knowing fellows, mild fellows, domestic fellows, and henpecked fellows. I have no particular crime to lay at any of their doors, save that contained in the negative statement—they don’t, won’t, or can’t relax me. They are not acquaintances made yesterday; on the contrary, they are friends, in the oldest sense of the word: and in that last sentence lies the marrow of my grievance. Because they are old friends, I find myself their moral victim. They are privileged to make me miserable; they have no regard for my susceptible feelings (I am “touchy” on some points); they point out my follies; they can’t perceive my transcendant genius; they laugh at my scrapes. But it is not of these cruelties that I have to complain just now. I complain simply because—in short, because they bore me. “Bore” is the only word capable of conveying the fact.
     For example?
     For example, Wilkinson bores me. Wilkinson’s vocation is political leader-writing. He contributes once a week to the Saturday Skullcracker, and twice a week to the Daily Illuminator. This is all well and good,—a creditable way of making money. W. is a corpulent, bilious man, whose heart is in the right place; he is, moreover, tolerably well-informed. Still he is a bore. Now, although I read my Times carefully every morning over a sugar-basin, I don’t pretend to be a very great politician; nor do I think that politics can supply the sole materials for rational conversation. Wilkinson, however, thinks otherwise: and as I happen to be his very old and particular friend, he takes it for granted that I am interested in his “opinions.” I don’t care a fig for his “opinions,” and a man has no right to take anything for granted without first asking permission. At present, he is boring me with his “opinions” about the Gaëta difficulty, the Chinese treaty, and the secession movement in America. I drop in to take a cup of tea. The oracular lips deliver “opinions” so luminous and so wordy, that at last, in total despair, I become interested. I put in a delicate contradiction. “You! what do you know about politics? Your line is literature, I fancy. Don’t tell me!” This is Wilkinson’s way of disposing of my argument. I am not offended, because I am quite convinced that I know as much about politics as Wilkinson, who is a peripatetic Hansard. But, where ignorance is bliss, &c.,—so I confess ignorance in my silence; and I ask any candid reader if this is a fair pretext for W. to bring down his awful file of old leaders, and read me ten volumes octavo on the point we have been discussing? He will have it out of me. In vain do I try to change the subject—to pull my friend forcibly off his hobby. Wilkinson reads and comments with stentorian lungs, while Mrs. W., who is sewing in the room, smiles feebly into her work-basket, threatening every moment to collapse in admiring stupefaction. The result is obvious. I return home to write my brilliant essay for the Æsthetic Metaphysician, wild-eyed and bewildered, in the last stages of mental intoxication. This is the relaxation I find in Wilkinson.
     Watkins bores me. Although he has only been married a twelvemonth, his spouse has already had the absurdity to present him with a miniature of himself. So Watkins bores me with his baby. I can’t drop in for a quiet talk with Watkins, without being bored with the latest absurdities of Watkins’s baby. The house is a continual atmosphere of terror and anxiety about Baby. I am a modest man; they show me Baby’s pink legs. I am a bachelor; they use Baby as a means of making me out an ass. I am naturally nervous; they place Baby on my knee, like soup in a basin, till I tremble with horror at the thought of spilling it. I call to have a chat with Watkins; I am regaled instead with a horrible extemporaneous concert from Baby. I am taken upstairs to see Baby asleep: I am expected to go into ecstacies of delight when Baby, having obviously had too much to drink, makes eyes at the candle. Baby, I perceive, renders everybody miserable; and seeing this, I am expected to envy my friend’s felicity. I won’t do anything of the kind. Hang Baby! there are more babies than one in the world. Am I, Jones, to be deprived of my relaxation because Baby is a very respectable first production, and reflects great credit on Mrs. W.?
     I am tempted to stigmatize the whole Volunteer Movement as insane folly, injurious to social relations, and a swindle as represented by individuals. Why? Because Placid is a lieutenant in one of the City Rifle Corps. P., morally and physically, is a mild, inoffensive-looking man, who always reminds me of a naughty little boy who is going to cry. I emphatically believe that, if my friend was placed before the enemy, many pennies of his patriotism, paid for that bottle-green uniform, might be discounted by his heels. I believe those fine feathers of his to be an imposition; I deem Placid more discreet than valorous. This false man used to be a favourite of mine; before shouldering the rifle, he seldom bored me. What right, then, has Placid, when I meet him, to slap his breast and look defiantly at my nose, as if he would like to pull it? (That last feat, by the way, might be productive of danger to the bottle-green uniform. I should like to see Placid attempt it!) What right has he to inform me, day after day, that he feels ten years younger, and to talk about the bracing nature of the drill! I don’t want to be drilled, if he does; and as for feeling ten years younger, I can only state that he looks ten years stouter, and more apoplectic. Placid, too, sings “Riflemen, form!” in a manner horrible to hear. But I respectfully advise Placid (and men like him) to keep his patriotic acting to himself, and use the time he spends in imitating Patrocles in practising at the bull’s-eye. I don’t for a moment doubt his patriotism, but I fancy that, all things considered, it is a little too ostentatious.
     Cockles bores me.
     Cockles is a family man, with only one idea in life—to wit, his eldest daughter, Matilda, aged nineteen. Said Matilda is a pretty, indeed, I may say, a handsome girl—the belle of the family, and consequently much starched by the proud hands of Mamma. But handsome Misses Pert are not uncommon. Matilda, starch and all, is not the only marriageable girl in the community, I suppose? Yet Cockles bores me with Matilda and her suitors: the cry is, still they come. “I am not a proud man, Jones; I am blunt and honest. I confess, however, to some pride in that girl, our blessing.” Now, I am quite certain that Cockles likes Matilda less than either of her two plain, unpretending sisters. Why this pretending? Cockles, like most proud fathers, looks to position in life. Matilda is handsome; Matilda must marry well. Papa must get a jolly well-to-do husband for his blessing. Matilda, who might be a good girl if rightly treated, hears this morning, noon, and night, while being starched;—consequently, Matilda is spoilt, and will make her jolly well-to-do husband miserable. I was much comforted the other day by the intelligence that Matilda was “engaged.” “One of the best families in the city, my boy,” said Cockles. Now, thought I, his mind is set at ease, and I shall be relaxed. Little did I imagine that the sum of my misery was to be multiplied by twenty! It was not only Matilda now, but Matilda’s young man as well. (I may remark, in parenthesis, that this young man had weak knees and weak eyes, that he also was starched, and that he was the most preternaturally insipid young man that ever wooed fair maiden.) Matilda– Matilda’s young man; Matilda’s young man— Matilda: thus played the family hurdy-gurdy. Matilda was lucky. Matilda’s young man was so aristocratic. Matilda and Matilda’s young man were beautiful in duets. And so on—pleasant relaxation, this! Between you and I, Cockles, I should like to smear Matilda and Matilda’s young man with their own starch, wrap them up in their wedding trousseau, and consign them there and then to the tomb of the Capulets!
     There, again, is Pallett, one of the best-hearted trumps in the world, but at the same time an intolerable bore. He is an artist. Moreover, if he would paint more and theorize less, he might soon attain to a high professional position. As matters stand, I fear he will never send a really good picture to the Academy. Now, don’t confound Pallett with those artistic snobs who rave about the early schools, inspiration, and the vivid touch of genius; who get themselves up in elegant deshabille, and cultivate beards after Rembrandt or Horace Vernet, for the purpose of captivating sentimental school girls. He is nothing of the kind. As men go, Pallett is a very sensible fellow; he never talks like a fool, though (alas!) he can only talk on one subject. He understands the value of hard work in Art, as well as Turner himself did. Still, as I have said, he is a theorist, not a hard worker. He has too many ideas. His days and nights are devoted to the detection of errors in the theories of Mr. Ruskin. He has hopes of one day publishing a book which will totally demolish that famous art-critic, and establish his own fame as a connoisseur. But, in the meantime, Pallett is losing himself, and ruthlessly depriving me of my hoped-for relaxation.
     But perhaps the most intolerable bore of my acquaintance is Buxton, whose hobby-horse is of the piebald breed,—piebaldy, like those got up for pantomimic processions. Buxton has a mania for everything theatrical, though at his age (he is forty odd) he ought to know better. He dotes upon the angels of the coulisses. His reverence for all “first singing ladies,” who play in burlesques, extends to the ground they tread upon. He is on intimate terms with most of the comic actors in London. He treats gentlemen, whom he calls by their Christian names, to copious “pots,” in public-houses verging on the theatrical agencies in Bow Street. He sings after the approved fashion of Mr. Samuel Cowell. His “I believe ye, my boy,” is modelled on that of Mr. Paul Bedford. He strikes tragic attitudes when one meets him in the Strand, and writhes with agony as his hand is shaken, like Mr. Robson, when he impersonates timid gentlemen. He chuckles like Mr. Adelphi Toole. To hear him talk, moreover, you would imagine him as great a rake as Don Juan. Nonsense! His comicality is a deception. Buxton, I know, is a blighted being; he may smile in the gay and festive scenes of life (the Bow Street bars?), but he weeps in secret. Why is this? He is married,—very. To my certain knowledge, he never had a latch-key.
     Does Buxton, when he perpetrates those doubtful winks and nods on the mention of the names of respectable actresses, ever reflect that said winks and nods are very serious things? I am afraid not; yet Buxton, who has a good heart, in spite of his nonsense, would turn very pale were he aware of the amount of harm wrought by such silly insinuations. Innocent reputations have been materially injured by men like Buxton, who act from want of common forethought. A dubious shake of the head has ruined many a stainless lady in social estimation. A careless gesture has been the cause of much bitter heartache in hard-working families. Such things spread quickly; there are fools to perpetuate every libel. The worst of the matter is, that men like Buxton (and they are many) are often the indirect thieves of the morality they have the impudence, on no real grounds, to doubt. They laugh over supposed error as if they rather admired it, as a good joke. What is the consequence? A very general false estimate of professional ladies, and—through the weakness of individuals—a proportionate increase of “easy virtue” in the parties libelled. Thus. A helpless young creature, trembling on the verge of temptation, generally feels her strength in exact proportion to the social estimate conceived of her up to that moment. “She will be just as well thought of one way as the other;”—the common (and often too patent) female argument. The probable result is, she takes the bait offered, and is thenceforth a lost woman. Think over this, friend Buxton. I don’t expect relaxation at your hands, but I do hope to find in you a few grains of everyday humanity.
     I could make my list of bores much longer; but, lest I have bored Mr. Reader in the enumeration, I shall conclude immediately—with Smith. In an evil hour, Smith was persuaded to spend a week in Paris, and to this day he retains his first mania for everything Parisian. He draws invidious comparisons, favourable to the former, between Notre Dame and St. Paul’s. He sneers at the National Gallery, and points ecstatically to the Louvre. He apes French fashions, and cultivates French manners. He has shaved the back of his head, and tickled up a scrubby moustache. Whenever opportunity offers, he speaks an unintelligible gibberish,—which, for all I know, may be Hebrew, Hindostanee, or double Dutch, but which certainly is not French. He won’t relax me: it is no use trying to pass a pleasant hour with him. If I talk of Mr. Tennyson, he quotes Victor Hugo. If I praise Lord Palmerston, he sticks up an effigy of Montalembert. If I praise the elder Kean, he raves of Talma. Above all, he won’t confess that our glorious English women are superior to French grisettes. Pooh! I have done with him.
     So, you see, all these gentlemen, have their hobbies, and are proud of their hobbies’ paces; but these hobbies, when paraded to the utter exclusion of rational enjoyment, become atrocious nuisances.
     You too have your hobby, perhaps, insinuates the reader. Truly, I have. It is this,—an utter abomination of hobbies. Why don’t people keep these highly interesting animals in their proper domestic stables, and so prevent them from kicking out at martyred friends? Now and then the exhibition is endurable; but when it comes to be repeated every moment of the day, the case seems desperate. Social intercourse, to be beneficial, must be varied and general, like well-salted table-talk.

_____

 

The St. James’s Magazine (August, 1863)

A MELODY.

HOW many passionate eyes
     Look up to the stars to-night!
               How many a spirit,
               Where angels can hear it,
Talks to its fellow in sighs!
         To-night, to-night,
The moon, where she wanders above her
     Star-sisters, dewy and bright,
     Is full of the pain or delight
Of the loved and the lover.

The night shuts down on my heart
     Like an icy hand of lead;
               I wander
               Near thee, and squander
My love and my strength where thou art
Sleeping alone and apart
     With the churchyard dead.
               I ponder! I ponder!
While lovers look up in their pride
     To the white-handed moon and her maidens,
And the hearts of the loved by their side
     Throb to passionate cadence.

I think, if my sleeper could rise
     Out of her beautiful sleep,—
               Could walk the air,
               With her yellow hair,
And that last sweet light in her eyes,
Mingling the blue of the skies
     With shadows of death, dark and deep,
               So fair! so fair!
         Teaching, with passionate sighs,
         The lovers around me her story,—
     Into a cloud the moon would creep
     With her stars, and the loved and the loving weep
         Till their bright hair grew hoary!

                                                                             NEWTON NEVILLE.

_____

 

The St. James’s Magazine (October, 1863)

 THE RIVER.

A SANG THAT SEEKS A TUNE.

I.

IT leuchs in the sunshine, it thinks i' the shadow,
It sleeps i’ the misty gowd air by the meadow,
And on its green banks there are wild flowers in plenty,—
Frae the pansies new-blawn, to the lassies o’ twenty:
Frae the pansie that hides frae the een o’ the many,
Tae the wee rosy-posy, my ain winsome Annie!

 

II.

It stops in its toil, like a wean sweet and happy,
Tae stick yellow lilies and white in its cappie;
And it sees its ain beauty wi’ modest affection,
For the heart o’ the gude is its ain sweet reflection;
And it croons to itsel’, though unheard by the many,—
And, in fac’, it’s the eemage o’ my bonnie Annie!

 

III.

But like my ain Annie, the sweetest o’ ony,
It’s usefu’ and willing forbye being bonnie:
It’s wee azure arm turns the wheel for the miller,
It ripens the wheat tae a handfu’ o’ siller,
And ilk simmer it mak’s, wi’ a will crouse and cannie,
A braw bonnie Bowrie for me and my Annie!

 

IV.

It tak’s, when the day’s dune, fu’ snug and fu’ cosy,
The stars, like a wee flock o’ lambs, to its bosie;
And down i’ the moonlight, whaur lovers are meeting,
If ye listen at nicht, ye can hear its heart beating!
And the sound (like that ither far hid frae the many)
Is just like the heart o’ my ain sleeping Annie!

 

V.

Sae it croons, morn and nicht, though the deaf canna hear it,
A faint under-sang to the deep human speerit;
And as Luve flees awa’ to a far distant ocean,
It sooms to the sea wi’ a musical motion!
And for this, an’ for a’ things—to lilt ye too many—
It claims a sweet kindred wi’ me and my Annie.

                                                                                                                                     NEWTON NEVILLE.

___

 

LOVE.

I AM bound by her silken hair,
     I am captive for evermore!
Yet my fetters I proudly bear,
     For their burthen is sweet though sore:
Like a slave, I kneel on the earth,
     Like a queen, she sits above;
But I worship the noble birth
     That has shut me out from Love!
Though she may never be mine,
     Yet my heart at her feet I lay,
Nor seek to pilfer the shrine
     At which I silently pray.
Her changeless heaven broods over
     My life, and no hope I see;
But I love her, I love her, I love her!—
     That is enough for me!

                                                                   NEWTON NEVILLE.

_____

 

The St. James’s Magazine (April, 1864)

A TOKEN.

THIS little golden curl you gave
     To me long years ago,
Shines, like a cowslip on a grave,
     Above my buried woe!
What thoughts and dreams it summons back
     From youth, whose music pain’d!
Lo! it unites the love I lack
     With that I might have gain’d.

We loved each other, you and I,
     We toy’d, as lovers will;
Two tiny clouds through azure sky
     Moved slowly without will,
Driven by inner cloud and storm
     No human eye may know,
And distance-shaped to hue and form
     For eyes that watch below.

Now, if I have a hope, ’tis one
     That shows you still are dear:
’Tis—when this human life is done,
     And all this doubt and fear,
And I such scorn no longer brave
     As parted you from me—
That, on my breast within the grave,
     This little curl may be.

For in mine eyes you are so fair,
     That I can picture thee
A holy angel of the air,
     From human grossness free;
Ay, one of those who will to bliss
     Awake the dead that sleep;
And you might know me, dear, by this
     Small token that I keep!

                                                                   NEWTON NEVILLE.

_____

 

The St. James’s Magazine (June, 1864)

HALCYONE.

THE eyes of heaven watch’d Halcyone,
And o’er the sleeper’s pillow softly bent
Mild-featured visions, while with tears unshed
She folded Ceyx unto her heart in dreams.

Ay, while the stars of heaven watch’d her, slept
The pale-faced lady in the dark of night;
Dove-eyed and beauteous as Cymodice,
Sweet as a fragrant bank of asphodels
Kiss’d into tumult by their own sweet wind,
Slumber’d Halcyone, and Silence waved
His dewy wings above her. Like a beam
That catches shadow in a brooklet’s breast,
She sank into the dusky arms of peace.

The eyes of midnight watch’d Halcyone,
Deepening the twilight of her inner doubt,
And belting one bright fear, like starry Mars,
Between her visions and the All-unknown;
But Hope had wove a tender film of prayer
About her sorrow, as Arachne weaves
Thin curtains for sad epitaphs. The morn
Spilt liquid brightness on the damask bed
Where lay, pour’d forth more white than morning milk,
The veilless beauty of her limbs embalm’d
In its own fragrance. Nakedly she lay,
Pure as the eyes above; and all the while
Sweet shone the stainless soul upon her face
Like mornrise on a flower. Her dewy lips
Trembled like leaves of roses, stirr’d with breath
Sweeter than odours from the spicy South;
And even as two diamond drops of rain
Closèd in aspen leaves, her eyes lay soft
Under the rainy lids; and all her form
Seem’d passing into rainbows where she slept
In silence—as the moist and sun kiss’d snow
Seems wonderfully melting into flowers.

The eyes of heaven watch’d Halcyone;
But standing in the bright and breathless noon,
She gazed to Claros, till, with throbbing heart,
She drew a dead man’s arm about her neck,
And smooth’d the seaweeds from a dead man’s eyes,
And kiss’d the cold and oozy lips of Ceyx;
And sweet Halcyone uplifted eyes
To heaven dumbly, praying power to die;
And trembling, glowing, sunbeam-like, she rose,
And held a dead man’s arm about her neck,
And flutter’d headlong to the sea, and died.

But those sweet stars that are the eyes of heaven
Pitied Halcyone, and unclosed to see
Two small blue birds that floated on the waves
Like moving violets; and all the air
Was silver with delight when Venus rose,
Clad in her robes of eve; and all the eyes
Look’d down with sweetness on the tiny twain
That sat upon the marriageable waves,
And join’d the murmur of the power that sought
To part them on the shores of death and sleep.

                                                                           NEWTON NEVILLE.

_____

 

The St. James’s Magazine (October, 1864)

HORATIAN PARAPHRASES.

Lydia, dic, per omnes
Te Deos oro, Sybarin cur properas amando
Perdere?
&c.—Lib. I, Carm. VIII.

 

I. —Anglicé.

     SAY, Lydia, I conjure you—
By all the little modern gods above you—
     Why wilt thou slay that poor you-
-Th, Cornet Brown, by teaching him to love you?
     Why down the Row’s green shade now
Rides he no more his proud and mettled mare, Miss?
     Why does he miss parade now,
And cease to brush and comb his auburn hair, Miss?—
     This poor abused young party
Could whack a bargeman once, you know full well O;
     Fenced, swam, was strong and hearty—
We know not what the devil ails the fellow!
     Why does he hide in sadness?
As Smith did, ere the Sepoy war began, Miss,
     Lest, in a fit of madness,
He might exchange to fight in Hindostan, Miss.

 

II.—Scotticé.

If ye’ve only respect for yoursel’,
     Or the stars that hae made ye sae bonnie,
O Lyddy Macphcrson, ye’ll tell
     What the deil ye hae dune to our Johnnie?

He bides ben, wi’ a gloom-wrappit mou’,
     Taks nae pleisure in runnin’ or soomin,
Disna wark, and nae langer gets fou’
     Wi’ Watt o’ that Ilk and the pleughmen!*
                     If ye’ve only respect for yoursel’, &c.

At fechtin’ and puttin’ the stane,
     Nae lad i’ the town had sic speerit;
At the pleugh-watch, last simmer was ane,
     He wan a gowd medal o’ meerit.
                     If ye’ve only respect for yoursel’, &c.

Then what way does he hide frae all fun,
     Ben the house be for ever a lodger—
Like Hugh, Mistress’s Jamieson’s son,
     Ere he listed and gang’d for a sodger?
                     If ye’ve only respect for yoursel’,
                         Or the stars that hae made ye sae bonnic,
                     O Lyddy Macpherson, ye’ll tell
                         What the deil ye hae dune to our Johnnie!

     * Inter equales.

                                                                                                                                     NEWTON NEVILLE.

_____

 

The St. James’s Magazine (November, 1865)

DANISH ROMANCES.*

IT needed not the recent war to interest us in Denmark, liden Danmark, as the Danes lovingly delight to call her. We are bound to her by many ties; by the affinities of race and character, by the memories of history, and by a certain likeness of language; and lastly, we are bound to her through the future Queen of England, the beautiful Dane who has so speedily become the most popular pet of the British public. Nevertheless we know comparatively little of the Danish people; and the recent manifestations of their courage and endurance in fighting for a principle came upon us with all the brilliance of surprise. We know now how courageous and earnest they are; how deeply the sentiment of liberty is planted in their bosom; how willingly, in defence of that sentiment, they can face all the terrors of carnage and the dread of actual extermination. By nature, however, they are neither aggressive nor quarrelsome. On the contrary, they possess as a people those virtues which manifest themselves best in times of peace. They are as gentle as Laplanders, and as simple as the inhabitants of the Norwegian fjelds. The domestic virtues flourish among them: long ago, seeing the happy results of a lofty marriage code, they hurled celibate priestcraft southward; and now the sweetest ambition of a Dane is to be an honourable husband and father. French immorality, German boasting, and English luxury they alike avoid. They are good patriots; and when they seek inspiration, they think of their Norwegian forefathers, and glow as with new wine; and inspired thus, they have sprung up from their simple firesides to resist overweening tyranny. When the strife is ended, they will retire to their homes, and, drawing the ploughshare through the battle-field, conduct their daily affairs in their usual spirit of Christian quietness. But under foreign yoke they will never rest. So long as the yoke presses, that blue light will flash out of their mild eyes, and they will continue to water the flower of independence with drop after drop of noble blood. They are so gentle, that they hold all tyranny cruel and intolerable; they are so simple, that they must be free.
     Danish literature is as pure and simple as Danish character and manners. With a few, a very few disagreeable exceptions, it contains nothing very exciting—nothing which in England is denominated sensation. The Danes do not care for startling incidents; they like domestic details and pretty genre grouping. Their novels, for the most part, are very much of the same tone as the well-known pictures of Swedish manners, drawn by Frederika Bremer; but in Andersen and Carl Yemard there is a freshness and a delicacy unattainable by the Swedish lady.

     * Danske Romanzer, hundrede og ti. Samlede og udgivne af Christian Winther. Tredie forögede Udgave. Kjöbenhavn: Forlagt af Universitets boghandler, C. A. Reizel.

Their stories are pleasant compact little bits of writing, covered with a soft silken prettiness, which, like the down on the wings of a butterfly, comes off if pressed too rudely. So in their poetry. Milder national songs were never written; less eventful ballad verse is scarcely possible. If two lovers join hands and walk up a hill, and then walk down again, it is quite enough for the Danish minstrel to sing about. Yet this poetry possesses a sweet tenderness, and not unfrequently a savoury humour, very delightful to the organs of intellectual taste, and very apt to evaporate, like some chemicals, in the crucible of the translator.
     It is not our purpose, in the present paper, to attempt an elaborate account of Danish romances; that task may be accomplished on a future occasion. We wish now merely to touch lightly on such points of peculiarity as the subject presents, and to illustrate our remarks by some few specimens, rendered by us into English, as literally as possible, and with an attempt to conserve the movement and spirit of the originals. The volume of romances selected and edited by Herr Winther, who is favourably known in Denmark both as poet and novelist, may be accepted as a fair collection of ballad poems by the best Danish authors, from Œhlenschlæger, the tragedian, down to Herr Winther himself. It contains nothing at all startling,—the incidents of many of the poems are about as fraught with interest as the old English rhyme about Jack and Jill; but a great portion of it possesses an inexpressible charm for one who has gone at all deeply into the peculiarities of the language. Some of the pieces are quaintly pathetic, like the following by Hans Andersen:—

THE SNOW-QUEEN (SNEE-DRONNINGEN).

Deep on the field lies the snowdrift white,
But in yonder cottage there shines a light:
There for her well-beloved waits the maid
In the lamp’s dim shade.

The mill is still; see, the mill-wheel stands;
Smoothing his golden hair with his hands,
The miller’s man starts, with a glad ho! ho!
Over ice and snow.

He sings as he fights with the wind that blows
His fresh young cheeks to the bloom of the rose;
Past cot and field, in the black dark sky,
Rides the Snow-queen high.

“Fresh in the snowlight’s gleam thou art—
I choose thee to be my own sweetheart!
To my floating island come follow me,
Over mountain and sea.”

Fast and thick fell the snow-flock yet—
“I capture thee now in my flowery net!
Where the snow-mass over the wold is spread
Stands our nuptial bed.”

No more in the cottage gleams the light;
Round and round whirls the snowdrift white;
A shooting star falls with a quick, keen spark—
Now all is dark!

O’er wood and meadow the sun upcreeps.
In his bridal bed he so sweetly sleeps.
The little maid trembles, she runs to the mill—
But the wheel stands still.

Assuredly a fine little poem. One line particularly,—

“I Ringdands hvirvler den hvide Snee,”

possesses a perfect music, which it is quite impossible to convey in English. The “Snow-Queen” is a fair specimen of the delicate vein of an author whose fairy tales have lately made him very popular in England. In Denmark he is an idol; and nothing evinces more finely the reverent gentleness of the Danish people than the fact, that whenever this poet passes through the streets of Copenhagen, the people lift their hats to him, murmuring, “God bless Hans Christian Andersen!” And Andersen is worthy of this homage, if only for the sake of the many little faces which he has lit up with joy and wonder in all parts of Europe. He is the children’s Santa Claus—a magical fellow! He has only to wave that wondrous wand of his, and straightway pixies, elves, mermaids, and giants swarm in earth and sea. He is never very comical—what humour he has resembles the frank, smiling manner of a man who is talking to young people, and knows how to please them. Even in his more ambitious writings he seems to be addressing good little children, clever enough to understand him, but only children after all. This manner is common to most of his fellow Danish authors, though Andersen adopts it the most successfully. “Come round my knees, and promise all to be very good, and I will tell you a pretty little story!” Then, “Once upon a time.” The Danes seem to like to be treated in this way. They flock lovingly around the narrator, and listen admiringly, and shudder terribly at horrors which would be considered very mild in wicked England.
     These Danish romances abound in stories of elves, and mermen, and other wonderful creatures of the earth and deep. Here are Ewald’s “Liden Gunver,” Thiele’s “Guldfisken,” and Staffeld’s “Elverpigerne og Börnene,”—three poems which show charmingly the mild Danish fashion of looking at the supernatural:—

LITTLE GUNVER.

Little Gunver wander’d pensive and white
     In the twilight cold,
Her heart was wax, but her soul was bright
     And proven gold.
O beware, my child, of the false men-folk!

Little Gunver fish’d at the brink of the ocean
     With a silken chain,
The waters were heaved—with tempestuous motion
     Trembled the main.

Uprose from the water a merman fair,
     All with weeds behung,
His eyes were bright, mid his voice was rare
     As the harp’s tongue.

“Little Gunver, ever in love’s keen fire
     I am burning for thee;
My heart grows weak, I faint and I tire—
     O pity me!

“O reach me, O reach me, over the shore,
     But one arm of snow,
I will press it once to my heart—no more—
     To ease my woe!

“Little Gunver, my head is mild—despite
     Of its shell forlorn—
My name is Trusty, I love the right,
     And deceit I scorn.”

“And here is my arm. to reward thy love,
     And to ease thy pain;
Beautiful merman, reach up above,
     And take the twain.”

He drew her down from the shore, and leapt
     Where no tempest groans;
Like the storm was his laugh, but the fishes wept
     Over Gunver’s bones.
O beware, my child, of the false men-folk!

 

THE GOLD-FISH.

The fisher saddles his wingèd horse,
On the noisy ocean to take his course.

The billows roll on the white sea strand,
As the hardy fisherman rides from land.

He pulls then up his fishing-line,
By the hook there dangles a gold-fish fine.

He laughs in his sleeve, crying, “Never, I wis,
Saw I a fish in gold raiment like this!

“Had I a piece for each gold-scale fair,
’Twere fortunate fishing indeed, I swear.”

The gold-fish flutter’d and leap’d with its fins,
Dancing about round the fisherman’s shins.

“Softly, thou gentleman wealthy and proud,
Thou canst not escape,” quoth the fisher, aloud.

The gold-fish murmur’d, and gasp’d for breath,
Then began the oration that followeth:—

“Thou seest my wealth, poor fisherman!
Give thee good fortune I will, and can!

“Cast me again in the deep green sea,
And happy gifts will I give to thee.

“My mother, queen of all fish below,
Shall give thee bolsters and linen of snow.

“My father; a king far down in the sea,
Healthy and happy shall render thee.

“To my lover who seeks me down in the deep,
Cast me, and still thou my riches shalt keep!”

“If I to the oath of a fish give heed,
The neighbours will laugh at me indeed!

“My bolsters and linen I care not to take,
My own good woman can better make!

“But if to a lover thou plighted be,
Lovers shall never be sever’d by me.”

He threw the tremulous fish in the main:—
“Lord, keep me from such a poor capture again!

“If to-morrow a like should bite at my line
I must starve, or devour it, I opine!”

In his hut at night, with an aspect wan,
Speechless and sad, sat the fisherman.

On the morrow morning his boat he took,
And warily baited his fishing-hook.

The moment his line in the sea he threw
The float sank deep in the waters blue.

He quietly laugh’d in his sleeve, and thought,
“Once more a gold-jacketed fish have I caught!”

He drew then up his line—behold!
On the hook there dangled a shilling of gold.

Again and again his line he flung,
Never a fish to the hook there hung;

But so oft as he look’d for a fish—behold!
Shilling on shilling of precious gold.

 

THE ELF-MAIDS AND THE CHILDREN.

Three little ones sat in a flowery mead
     In the twilight gray;
At home their mother is making their bed—
     Where linger they?
       With laughing cheeks rosy,
         They skip to and fro
         Where the flowers upgrow,
       Plucking their Whitsun posy.

Down, down the mountain three elf-maids reel
     From the ash-crown’d height, .
’Mid mists, like the web of a spinning-wheel,
     Their raiments white
       In the wind back-blowing,
         Each fairy shoe
         Just brushes the dew
       From the tops of flowers fresh blowing.

They sing so sweetly, they sing to the three:—
     “Hail, children, who play
With flowery toys and laugh in glee,
     Come follow and stray
       Under the mountain olden,
         And the ivory row
         Of nine-pins throw
       Over with bowls pure golden!

“Join ye, O join ye, us maidens three,
     O join ye, and all
The under blossoms shall pluck and see
     With the song-birds small,
       Merrily, merrily singing,
         Building their bowers
         Of lily flowers
       And pearls, like seeds, upflinging.”

The little ones wax so heavy in mind,
     Sink so dreamily,
They are whirr’d along on the twilight wind—
     But sleep all three!
       But the flowers deplore them,
         While swiftly they fall
         To the elf-maids’ call,
       And the mountain closes o’er them.

Upon the morrow the father runs
     To the aspen hill;
“The elfins have stolen thy little ones,
     And guard them still:
       Green turfs are growing
         O’er their heads, a stone
         At their feet lies prone,
       And these of the elves’ bestowing.”

     In the above pretty literal renderings we have followed the measures of the originals. There is a droll quaintness about Herr Trofast, or Trusty, the melancholy and deceitful merman; but he is a hypocrite, like all the rest of his tribe. According to the Danish notion, the Havmœnd and Havfruer are by no means good people. Like the Elverpiger, their mission is to lure to death the unwary traveller. The sea-ladies especially are artful syrens, like the dancing mermaid in the following lyric, by Ingeman:—

THE MERMAID.
 

The moon shines red ’mong her starry crew,
The mermaid dances in sea-caves blue,
The waves toss black o’er the white sea-sand,
There cometh a youth to the naked strand,
     Who yearns for a blushing kind one.

The mermaid smiles so wantonly,
She seems so gentle, so fair, so free—
O beware, O youth, beware and depart,
So little dazzles the youthful heart,
     And the mists of midnight blind one!

“Come hither, heart’s queen—oh, come hither to me,
Who danceth, who singeth on this wild sea
I have wander’d south, I have wander’d north,
I have sought thee over the whole wide earth—
     On earth I have found thee never.”

Wildly he danceth, hand in hand,
With the naked maid, on the white sea-sand;
The moon turns pale ’mong her starry crew,
Downward he leaps in the waters blue,
     Which close above him for ever.

     After a while these mermen and mermaids become a bore. They are very charming at first sight, from the novelty of the thing; but being, in reality, dull and uninteresting, one tires of them. They swarm in the Danish romances,—born of the music awakened in the brain by the perpetual murmur of the ocean along the Danish shore.
     It is seldom or never that one encounters, in Danish poetry, any descriptions of external nature—such as have been delivered in gorgeous sheaves by the English Muse. We, who have been familiar from boyhood with the home-pictures drawn by such artists as Milton and Thomson, feel this want greatly. But it is no fault of the Danish poets. Were there anything to describe in Danish scenery, they would picture it well; but the fault lies not in themselves, but in the stars which placed them in so unpicturesque a land. It is to find inspiration in nature, and to relieve their souls of the dreary land prospect, that they rush so frequently down to the wavy shore and gaze seaward. The ocean brims with sounds and similes; and as a consequence, there is a salt-sea flavour about all good Danish lyrics. History, moreover, has made the waters sacred. Long ago the old Norse kings hoisted their sails of silk and sailed royally through the Skaggerack southward, and (as Ben Jonson phrases it) “the narrow seas were shady” with their ships. So such heroes as Knud den Store (Canute the Great) and Hakon Garl, abound in Norwegian song. We regret we cannot find space for one of those romantic ballads in which Œhlenschlæger excels.
     Œhlenschlæger, by the way, has written a poem about Shakspere, which, to say the least of it, is exceedingly amusing. It commences thus:—

“I Warwikshire der stander et Huus,
Det truer med ut falde til Gruus,
     Til Bolig det ei kan gavne;
Men yndig sig strœkker den gamle Muur,
Omkrandset af den unge Natur,
     Og i Ruden er hellige Navne.”

It is a ballad chronicle of the great poet’s life, and follows Shakspere from the period of his deer-shooting freaks up until his play-writing in London. According to Œhlenschlæger, “William” is wandering in the moonlight, when Apollo, desirous of taking his favourite from a weaver’s stool, instructs Diana to take the shape of a stag in a lonely path,—“en Kronkjort paa en eeusomme Sti.” The stag is a splendid creature, and “William” is too much of a sportsman not to long to kill it. He hesitates for a minute; but at last, plaf! goes the gun, and down falls the bleeding deer. When the deed is done, the full extent of his danger flashes on the assassin. He must fly from the vengeance of the lord of the manor; and he immediately departs for London, hastily making what the Scotch call “moonlight flitting.” In the metropolis he falls into his proper sphere, and Apollo is satisfied. Instead of weaving clothing on a stool, he weaves tapestries which surpass even the masterpieces of Raphael, and which bloom like roses of eternal May. One portion of this poem, in which Desdemona is compared to the snow of night, is exceedingly pretty.

_____

 

Newton Neville: ‘Danish Romances’ - continued

 

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