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Agown made of the finest wool
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
Thy silver dishes for thy meat,
The shepherd-swains shall dance and sing
Ven. Trust me, master, it is a choice song, and sweetly sung by honest Maudlin. I now see it was not without cause our good Queen Elizabeth did so often wish herself a milkmaid all the month of May, because they are not troubled with fears and cares, but sing sweetly all the day and sleep securely all the night, and without doubt honest, innocent, pretty Maudlin does Bo. I'll bestow Sir Thomas Overbury's milkmaid's wish upon her, "That she may die in the spring, and being dead may have good store of flowers stuck round about her winding-sheet."
THE MILKMAID'S MOTHER'S ANSWER.
If all the world and love were young,
But time drives flocks from field to fold,
The flowers do fade and wanton fields
Thy gowns; thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
What should we talk of dainties then,
But could youth last and love still breed,
Mother. Well, I have done my song."
And a delicious song it is. Certainly it was not among the least of the many excellencies of Izaak Walton's charming book, that he helped to render popular so many pure and beautiful lyrics. Marlowe's poem, indeed, could never die, for it had been quoted by Shakspeare; but Sir Walter Ealeigh's reply is still finer.
We wonder, in reading the milkwoman's list of songs and ballads, which looks like a table of contents to one of the bookc into which Bishop Percy divided his volumes, whether the country lasses of those days, southern lasses too, for the colloquy passes upon the banks of the Lea, did actually sing border war-songs like "Chevy Chase," or classical legends like " Troy Town." I fear me that their more lettered successors would select very inferior specimens of lyrical composition.
I must add one more extract, if only for the sake of "holy Mr. Herbert's" four stanzas.
"And now, scholar, my direction for fly-fishing is ended with this shower, for it has done raining: and now look about you and see how pleasantly that meadow looks; nay, and the earth smells as sweetly too. Come, let me tell you what holy Mr. Herbert says of such days and flowers as these; and then we will thank God that we enjoy them, and walk to the river and sit down quietly and try to catch the other brace of trouts:
Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
And thou must die.
Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,
Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Besides "The Complete Angler," Izaak Walton has left us a volume containing four or five lives of eminent men quite as fine as that great Pastoral, although in a very different way. His life of Dr. Donne, the satirist and theologian, contains an account of a vision (the apparition of a beloved wife in England passing before the waking eyes of her husband in Paris) which both for the clearness of the narration and the undoubted authenticity of the event, is among the most interesting that is to be found in the long catalogue of supernatural visitations.
Every one of any imagination, every one at all addicted to that grand art of dreaming with the eyes open, and building what are called castles in the air, has, I suppose, his own peculiar realm of dream-land, his own chosen country, his own favorite period; and from my earliest hour of fanciful idleness, down to this present moment, Spain, as it existed when the Moors ruled over the fail est part of that fair country, has been mine. It is probable that I am not singular in my choice. Our vivacious neighbors, the Gauls, when they call their air-castles chateaux en Espagne, give some token of their preference for that romantic locality, and the finest creations of Italian poetry, although tolerably anomalous as to place and time, may yet as a whole be referred to the same period and the same country.
My fancy for the Moors, however, long preceded my acquaintance with Ariosto. What gave rise to it I can not tell. Who can analyze or put a date to any thing so impalpable! as well try to grasp a rainbow. Perhaps it arose from the melodious stanzas of "Almanzor and Zayda," the favorite of my childhood; perhaps from the ballads in "Don Quixote," or from Don Quixote himself, the darling of my youth; perhaps from an old folio translation of Mariana's history, a book which I devoured at fifteen as girls of fifteen read romances, finding the truth, if truth it were, fully as amusing as fiction; perhaps from the countless English comedies founded on Spanish subjects; perhaps from Corneille's Cid; perhaps from Lepage's Gil Bias; perhaps from Mozart's Don Juan! Who can tell from what plant came the seed, or what wind wafted it? Certain it is that at eighteen the fancy was full blown, and that ever since it has been fed by countless hands and nurtured by innumerable streams. Lord Holland's charming book on Lope de Vega, Murphy's magnificent work on Granada, Mr. Prescott's Spanish Histories, Washington Irving's graphic Chronicles, a host of French and JSnglish travelers in Spain, a host of Spanish travelers in South America, the popular works of Ford and Borrow, of Dumas and Scribe, Southey's poetry, Sir Walter's prose—all conspired to keep alive the fancy.
But beyond a doubt, the works that have most fed the flame, have been Mr. Lockhart's spirited volume of Spanish ballads, to which the art of the modern translator has given the charm of the vigorous old poets; and Mr. Ticknor's "History of Spanish Literature," that rarest of all works in these days, when literature, like every thing else, goes at railway speed, a conscientious book, which being the labor of a lifetime, will remain a standard authority for many generations.
In one of his recently published letters, Southey, himself a powerful though somewhat fantastic ballad writer, denies all merit to the Spanish ballads, accusing them of sameness, of want of action and of want of interest. To this there needs but Mr. Lockhart's book to reply; even if the transmittal of so long a series of poems floating upon the memories and living in the hearts of a whole people were not answer enough: even if the very materials and accessories of these ballads, the felicity of climate, the mixture of race, of Moor and Christian, of vailed beauty and armed knight, of fountained garden and pillared court, of gigantic cathedral and fantastic mosque, of mountains crowned with chestnut and cork-tree, and clothed with cistus and lavender; of streams winding through tufted oleanders, amid vineyards, orangegroves and olive-grounds, of the rich halls of the Alhambra, of the lordly towers of Seville, of shrine and abbey, of pilgrim and procession, of bull-fight and tournament, of love and of battle; of princely paladins and learned caliphs, and still more learned Jews! Why this is the very stuff of which poetry is made, and strange indeed it would have been, if born among such beauty, and happy in a language at once stately, flowing and harmonious, the great old minstrels, who, like their compeers of the Middle Ages, the equally great old architects, have bequeathed to us their works and not their names, had failed to find it.
The first specimen that I shall select is the ballad which Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, when at Toboso, overheard a peasant singing as he was going to his work at daybreak.