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May Day with the Muses   By: (1766-1823)

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Author of the Farmer's Boy, Rural Tales, &c.

LONDON: Printed for the Author: and for Baldwin Chadock, and Joy



Printed by Thomas Davison, Whitefriars.


I am of opinion that Prefaces are very useless things in cases like the present, where the Author must talk of himself, with little amusement to his readers. I have hesitated whether I should say any thing or nothing; but as it is the fashion to say something, I suppose I must comply. I am well aware that many readers will exclaim "It is not the common practice of English baronets to remit half a year's rent to their tenants for poetry, or for any thing else." This may be very true; but I have found a character in the Rambler, No. 82, who made a very different bargain, and who says, "And as Alfred received the tribute of the Welsh in wolves' heads, I allowed my tenants to pay their rents in butterflies, till I had exhausted the papilionaceous tribe. I then directed them to the pursuit of other animals, and obtained, by this easy method, most of the grubs and insects which land, air, or water can supply.........I have, from my own ground, the longest blade of grass upon record, and once accepted, as a half year's rent for a field of wheat, an ear, containing more grains than had been seen before upon a single stem."

I hope my old Sir Ambrose stands in no need of defence from me or from any one; a man has a right to do what he likes with his own estate. The characters I have introduced as candidates may not come off so easily; a cluster of poets is not likely to be found in one village, and the following lines, written by my good friend T. Park. Esq. of Hampstead, are not only true, but beautifully true, and I cannot omit them.


August, 1790.

The bard, who paints from rural plains, Must oft himself the void supply Of damsels pure and artless swains, Of innocence and industry:

For sad experience shows the heart Of human beings much the same; Or polish'd by insidious art, Or rude as from the clod it came.

And he who roams the village round, Or strays amid the harvest sere, Will hear, as now, too many a sound Quiet would never wish to hear.

The wrangling rustics' loud abuse, The coarse, unfeeling, witless jest, The threat obscene, the oath profuse, And all that cultured minds detest.

Hence let those Sylvan poets glean, Who picture life without a flaw; Nature may form a perfect scene, But Fancy must the figures draw.

The word "fancy" connects itself with my very childhood, fifty years back. The fancy of those who wrote the songs which I was obliged to hear in infancy was a very inanimate and sleepy fancy. I could enumerate a dozen songs at least which all described sleeping shepherds and shepherdesses, and, in one instance, where they both went to sleep: this is not fair certainly; it is not even "watch and watch."

"As Damon and Phillis were keeping of sheep, Being free from all care they retired to sleep," &c.

I must say, that if I understand any thing at all about keeping sheep, this is not the way to go to work with them. But such characters and such writings were fashionable, and fashion will beat common sense at any time.

With all the beauty and spirit of Cunningham's "Kate of Aberdeen," and some others, I never found any thing to strike my mind so forcibly as the last stanza of Dibdin's "Sailor's Journal"

"At length, 'twas in the month of May, Our crew, it being lovely weather, At three A.M. discovered day And England's chalky cliffs together! At seven, up channel how we bore, Whilst hopes and fears rush'd o'er each fancy! At twelve, I gaily jump'd on shore, And to my throbbing heart press'd Nancy."

This, to my feelings, is a balm at all times; it is spirit, animation, and imagery, all at once.

I will plead no excuses for any thing which the reader may find in this little volume, but merely state, that I once met with a lady in London, who, though otherwise of strong mind and good information, would maintain that "it is impossible for a blind man to fall in love... Continue reading book >>

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