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Well tried through many a varying year,
Yet still he fills Affection's eye
In misery's darkest caverns known,
His ready help was ever nigh, Where helpless anguish poured his groan,
And lonely want retired to die.
No summons mocked by chill delay,
His virtues walked their narrow round,
The busy day, the peaceful night,
Unfelt, uncounted, glided by; His frame was firm, his powers were bright,
Though now his eightieth year was nigh.
Then with no throbs of fiery pain, No cold gradations of decay,
ROBERT HERRICK—GEORGE WITHER.
Nothing seems stranger in the critics of the last century than their ignorance of the charming lyrical poetry of the times of the early Stuarts and the Commonwealth. One should think that the songs of the great dramatists, whose genius they did acknowledge—Shakspeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Ben Jonson— might have prepared them to recognize the kindred melodies of such versifiers as Marlowe, and Raleigh, and Withers, and Marveil. His Jacobite prejudices might have predisposed Dr.Johnson, in particular, to find some harmonious stanzas in the minstrels of the cavaliers, Lovelace and the Marquis of Montrose. But so complete is the silence in which the writers of that day pass over these glorious songsters, that it seems only charitable to suppose that these arbiters of taste had never met with their works. With the honorable exceptions of Thomas Wharton and Bishop Percy, there is not a critic from Johnson downward who does not cite Waller as the first poet who smoothed our rugged tongue into harmonious verse. And the prejudice lingers still in places where one does not expect to find it. The parish clerk of Beaconsfield is by no means the only, although by far the most excusable authority who, standing bare-headed before his pyramidal tomb in the church-yard, assured me with the most honest conviction, that Waller was the earliest and finest versifier in the language.
Herrick is one of the many whose lyrics might be called into court to overturn this verdict. Originally bred to the bar, he took orders at a comparatively late period, and obtained a living in Devonshire, from which he fled during the strict rule of the Lord Protector, concealing himself under a lay habit in London, and returning to his parsonage with the return of the monarch, whose birth had formed the subject of one of his earliest pastorals.
More than any eminent writer of that day, Herrick's collection requires careful sifting; but there is so much fancy, so much delicacy, so much grace, that a good selection would well repay the publisher. Bits there are that are exquisite: as when in enumerating the cates composing " Oberon's Feast," in his "Fairyland," he includes, among a strange farrago of unimaginable dishes,
"The broke heart of a nightingale
O'ercome in music."
Some of his pieces, too, contain curious illustrations of the customs, manners, and prejudices of our ancestors. I shall quote one or two from the division of the Hesperides, that he calls "charms and ceremonies," beginning with the motto:
DIVINATION BY A DAFFODIL.
When a daffodil I see,
The adorning the houses with evergreens seems then to have been as common as our own habit of decking them with flowers.
CEREMONIES FOR CANDLEMAS EVE.
Down with rosemary and bays, Down with the mistletoe,
The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer,
Or Easter's Eve appear.
Then youthful box, which now has grace
Your houses to renew,
Unto the crisped yew. When yew is out, then hirch comes in
And many flowers beside,
To honor Whitsuntide. Green rushes then and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
THE BELLMAN. From noise of scare-fires rest ye free,
The description of a steer in one of his " Bucolics" is graphic and life-like. The herdswoman is lamenting the loss of her favorite
I have lost my lovely steer,
But his real delight was among flowers and bees, and nymphs and cupids; and certainly these graceful subjects were never handled more gracefully.
THE CAPTIVE BEE. As Julia once a slumbering lay, It chanced a bee did fly that way, After a dew or dew-like shower, To tipple freely in a flower.
For some rich flower he took the lip
Of Julia and began to sip;
But when he felt he sucked from thence
Honey, and in the quintessence,
He drank so much he scarce could stir,
So Julia took the pilferer.
And thus surprised, as fllchers use,
He thus began himself to excuse:
"Sweet lady-flower! I never brought
Hither the least one thieving thought;
But, taking those rose-lips of yours
For some fresh fragrant luscious flowers,
I thought I there might take a taste
Where so much syrup ran at waste.
Besides, know this, I never sting
The flower that gives me nourishing;
But with a kiss or thanks do pay
For honey that I bear away."
This said, he laid his little scrip
Of honey 'fore her ladyship ,
And told her, as some tears did fall,
That that he took, and that was all.
At which she smiled, and bade him go
And take his bag; but thus much know,
When next he came a pilfering so,
He should from her full lips derive
Honey enough to fill his hive.
THE BAG OF THE BEE.
About the sweet bag of a bee
Two cupids foil at odds j
They vowed to ask the gods.
Which, Venus hearing, thither came,
And taking thence from each his flame,
Which done, to still their wanton cries
She kissed and wiped their dove-like eyes,