« PredošláPokračovať »
this was set apart for the king. Drinking-vessels of silver and gold also glittered upon every table; yet, amid all this barbaric splendour, there were not those real comforts which the njeanest cottager now possesses. The huge loaves of bread were neither half kneaded nor half baked, and bitter as aloes with the dregs of beer with which they were mixed ; and also heavy as lead, and not freed from a tenth portion of the bran. Even some of the wine was so thick and full of dregs, that the barons were compelled to filter it between their teeth, and spit out the thick sediment upon the floor. Their repasts seemed to resemble their armour-heavy, showy, and cumbrous; but possessing little or no comfort. Henry entered the ball from a private door, followed by Glanvil, the great lawgiver of the age, and Thomas à Becket: the chancellor was seated on the right of the monarch, and the judge on the left. At the sounding of trumpets, the guests took their seats; those at the upper end of the table placing themselves according to their rank, which each one seemed perfectly to understand ; those at the lower tables took their places as chance offered, or seated themselves beside their companions in arms. Although there seemed more of chance than order in this arrangement; yet, by some nice stroke of art, it was so contrived that one or other of King Henry's trusty followers sat between the knights they had so recently conquered. The dishes were handed from guest to guest by the attendants, each carving offthat which suited his taste. Many a dagger which dealt the death-blowthe day before at the siege, was now making deep inroads into boars' heads, barons of beef, and haunches of venison, which they placed upon their wooden trenchers, and having cut it into such mouthfuls as would choke any modern gormandizer, they helped themselves with their fingers; for forks were unknown, and therefore never wanted. A few rather delicate dishes there were at the upper table, where the king was seated; but even these were spoilt to preserve a show ; peacocks half roasted, that the beauty of their trains might be uninjured ; and cranes served up with their heads and necks raw, and so propped up that they looked murderously on their devourers, and seemed ready to leap off the dishes. Even the boars' heads grinned hideously, and showed their horrid tusks and deadly eyes (which were thrust into their heads again after they were dressed), as if they were ready to rend every knight who brandished his dagger over them. Wines there were in abundance ; but many of these were spiced, and retained none of their natural flavour; even those that were drank in their original state, were drawn from massy hogsheads with a spigot and faucet, much after the manner that an English peasant, in the present day, draws his homebrewed and muddy beer. Hippocras, pigment, morat, and mead, were served up in large vessels, into which each guest plunged his cup as he pleased. Ale and cider were also plentiful, and stood in large open tubs along the sides of the hall. More than one attendant, when a chance offered, knelt down and drank his fill out of these huge wooden vessels ; for King Henry was not su plentifully supplied with drinking-cups, but that two or three knights were compelled to drink from the same vessel. One knight at the lower end of the table, who had thrice called on an attendant to bring a drinking-cup, was at last told that there was not one
but what was in use, filled his helmet from a huge vessel that contained mead, and having drank bimself, gave it to his comrade. Although many of the huge joints were not half cooked, yet there were no squeamish stomachs, but what could each bear their two pounds of solid flesh; for, as Peter of Blois says (and he fed many a time at Henry's court), their stomachs, by the help of powerful exercise, got rid of every thing. But the whole scene was in keeping with the characters there assembled. The high-pillared and vaulted hall, with its richly painted windows, comported well with the broad-breasted, deep-voiced, and mail.covered guests, that sat beside the massy tables. Even the ponderous drinking-cups, which they from time to time uplifted to their lips, seemed only made for such strong steel-covered arms to upraise. And when they reached over the table to converse with each other, between the huge mountains of neat, the beholder felt assured that the men who fed on such pastures could fight. Nay, some there were talking apart on the late blows they had dealt, who pointed with their daggers to the immense joints, running lines with the point, and saying, 'An thus were his gorget, thus I brought my battle-axe, as it were, on this point of the haunch, striking his neck as I now separate this joint.' Or, pointing, to a round of beef, into which another would stick his dagger, saying, “So came the point of my lance, cleaving the fastenings of his acteon through; and I hold it a good stroke, if the head of the lance can enter a-slant in this wise,' again
mangling the joint, to shew how he had dealt his blows on the enemy. But deem not that all who met there were alike unfeeling ; some there were who conversed together in low voices, and talked over the virtues of those who had fallen in the fight. How nobly they had dealt with the foes they had in their day struck down; how their shields had interposed between their companions, when the death-blow had all but fallen.
How they bad sheltered their enemies in the late wars, setting at nought the menaces of either Stephen or Matilda, when weighed beside their own honour. How beautiful maidens (whose names have been for ages forgotten) sought out their lovers from amid the slain-how some wept, and others shed not a tear, but buried themselves in the solitudes of their ancient castles, and died broken-hearted. But all are now gone; the mourned and the mourners are forgotten; even the gay and the weatherbeaten turrets of their castles have long ago mouldered to dust. Those with whom they fought, and those whom they loved, and wept over, have not left even their ashes upon the earth. Nearly a thousand harvests have been gathered over their graves. Summer and winter, day and night, storm and sunshine, have gathered over and passed away, from their silent beds; and we cannot now point out the spot where they sleep; for even cities have sprung up over the solitudes where they fought, fell, and were interred! A few of their names, worm-eaten and mouldered, are all that we have left to tell that they once lived, that they possessed lands and dwellings in spots which even the scholar is now puzzled to discover, -that they married—and time has even erased the fair name of her they loved ; worm has eaten out what we shall never again discover."
The principal historical characters of Henry the Second's reiga
are skilfully introduced along with subordinate fictitious personages who happily serve to buttress and prop the tale. Rosamond is altogether charming, and the royal lover chivalrous and gallant,the author's invention being largely extended in filling up the wide gaps among the comparatively few, slender, and uncertain traditions that have descended to us concerning the lovers, as well as of the jealous and revengeful Eleanor. The two females are strougly and dextrously contrasted by the author, and placed in circumstances that keenly appeal in behalf of the beautiful and confiding heroine.
Before dismissing these engaging and illustrative volumes we may mention that Mr. Miller gives expression to some of his feelings in a candid preface respecting the reception which his books have obtained from critics and the public. He alludes to a few ill-natured rubs which have been bestowed upon him ; but finding on the other hand that he has been praised more than he says he deserves, he is upon the whole content. If his peculiar circumstances, however, be fairly kept in view, any chastisement to which he may be exposed, will not disconcert him, for he has not forgotten the couplet,
“ The man who printeth his poetic fits,
Into the public's mouth his head commits.”
ART. XV.-Rural Sketches. By Thomas MILLER, Author of " A Day
in the Woods,” &c. With Twenty three Illustrations. London : Van Voorst, 1839.
" The Basket Maker” has made another succesful venture. He has gone forth in his own appropriate sphere, visited the haunts and the scenes most endeared to him from infancy, and throughout the many years that as an itinerant he pursued his humble calling, and strewed the past with the recollections of one whose spirit is in unison with all that is touchingly tender in life, as one filled with the sweet fancies of a true poet. He is completely at home in these sketches; each of the subjects is loved, and has oft been fondly meditated upon by him.
There are twenty-four separate pieces in the volume, the humorous predominating. Some of the portraits as well as stories, are originals, but all more or less truth-speaking and individualized. “Tumbling Tommy," " The Old Fisherman,” “The Old Coachman ;"_and sentimental and pathetic, “Mary Gray,” and “Bonny Bell," may be instanced. Then the delineation of manners, where there is little of a tale, or only what is made the vehicle for the introduction of incident, are graphic papers, such as that of “ The Country Fair," “ The old Customs of Travelling," and "Rural Courtship. There are also retrospective reviews of some of our rural poets, that have undeservedly been neg
lected in modern times, which evince a sound and penetrating critical taste, and a hearty as well as a nice appreciation of their excellencies. England's Helicon, and William Brown's Pastorals, are handled in the manner stated. We confess, however, that the humbler, and to the author the more familiar themes, suggest, according to our taste, the most acceptable and striking pieces. He is playful and contemplative by turns on such occasions. Sage and engaging reflections are ever ready to serve his purpose, while the grace as well as the versatility of his style are features hardly less remarkable in the matter of accommodation. We need not go further than the first paper, “ Home Revisited,” for a specimen of his graver and sentimental muod. The subject to be sure is trite, but seldom or never have the luxuriance and flavour of sylvan images and rustic life been so delightfully realized and communicated than by our author.
Having mentioned that a few months ago he visited his native home, and having described the feelings with which he looked upon many of the commonest objects, linked as hese were with incidents in early life, he asks,
“ And have I forgotten those days ? No! I traversed the scenes with as much pleasure last summer as ever I felt in my boyhood. And oh! pardon me, if for a moment I felt proud at the thought, that the emotions which I had gathered in those lovely solitudes had been wafted to a thousand hearths. I carried the sweet sights and sounds of the wood land with me into the huge city, and many a time, while bending over my lonely hearth, they have come upon me like music from heaven, and I have blessed them unaware.' From the low humming of unseen insects in the air, to the heavy murmuring of the bee, as it few singing from flower to flower, or was lost amid the drowsy brawling of the brook, had my heart become a treasurer of their melodies. There I first heard the solemn tapping of the wood-pecker, measuring the intervals of silence; and saw the blue-winged jay, as she went screaming through the deep umbrage, startled by the harsh sounding of the wood man's strokes. Sometimes the grey rabbit stole noiselessly as a spirit past me through the long grass, or the ruddy squirrel caught my eye as he bounded from branch to branch. There the melancholy ring-dove struck up her mournful note, and was answered by the cuckoo, as she stood singing on the tall ash that caught the sunshine by the side of the forest, Then up few the lark, carrying his tirra lirra' heaven-ward, until he was lost amid the silver of the floating clouds, and the wide azure of the sky rained down melody. Sometimes a bell came sounding solemnly over the distant river (glimpses of which might be seen here and there through the trees,) until the deep echo was broken by the dreamy cawing of the rook, or the lowing of some heifer that had lost itself in the wood. Anon the shrill .chithering of the grasshopper'
upon the ear, or the tinkling of sheep-bells, mingled with the bleating of lambs from the neighbouring valleys; or up sprung the pheasant with a loud . whurr,' the sunshine gilding his gaudy plumage as he divided the transparent green of the underwood in his hasty flight. Sometimes the rain fell pattering from leaf to leaf with a pleasing sound, or the wind arose from its slumber, muffling its roar at first, as if to awaken
the silence of the forest, and bid the gnarled oaks to gird up their huge limbs for the battle. Nor was it from the deep woodlands alone that all these sweet sounds floated ; hill and valley, and outstretched plain, sent forth their melodies until the very air became filled with dulcet sounds, made up of all strange harmonies. The plough-boy's whistle and the milk-maid's song mingled with the voices of children in the green lanes, or the shouts of labourers in the fields, as they called to each other. Then came the rumbling of huge wains, and the jingling of harness, mixed with the measured tramp of some horseman as he descended the hill. The bird-boy swung his noisy rattle amid the rustling corn, or the mower ceased his loud rasp, rasp,' and leant upon his scythe to wipe his brow, or listen to the report of some gun that sent its rolling echoes through the valley. Sometimes the baying of a dog, or the clap of a far-off gate, was mingled with the sound of the hunter's horn, or the crowing of cocks, as they answered each other from the distant granges. The shrill plover wheeled above the wild marshes with its loud screams, while the bittern boomed in hollow concert from the rank sedge. When the village was neared, the humming of human voices came louder upon the ear, or the sonnding of the thresher's flail was broken at intervals by the tinkling of the blacksmith, until all was lost amid the gabble and deafening clamour of some neighbouring farm-yard. Many of these old familiar sounds fell pleasantly on mine ear when I revisited home; some of them coming upon me like departed voices, which, although not forgotten, make the hearer start when he finds them so near at hand. They reminded me of scenes gone by-of companions who are now dead - of happy hours that never can return-they came full of foolish regrets, and
• Silly truths, That dally with the innocence of love
Like the olden age.' “The Country Fair' furnishes a specimen in another vein. Several of the writer's most picturesque sketches belong to way-side public houses, affording him an opportunity for the expenditure of many quaint as well as delicate fancies relative to such establishments as provide entertainment for men and horses.' The following is not one of the most tranquil scenes of the kind.
“Such was the scene, when in staggered Jack Straw, rolling drunk, with the sergeant's cap on, singing,
• If I had a beau for a soldier would go,
But a cheer I'd give for his bravery.' " •What I have yo’ listed, Jack ?' interrogated half a dozen voices in as many tones.
«« I have my lads,' answered he singing — And I never will follow the plough-tail again. I've listed for a hufficer, an' if any o' y's a mind to list wi'me (hiccup), I'll gi' yo'a shilling in his majester's name an' list you for full sargent.'
". You mean full private,' said an old man, who had hitherto sat unobserved in the corner; 'you mean full private, same as they'll