BETA

The Elder.

I.

Of old, in Scottish land, a Sire there lived,1
Whose toil in youth had stores prepared for age,2
Who now from care, though scarce from toil reprieved,3
With earthly thoughts an easier war could wage,4
And less of fear or favour felt the edge :5
His children grown, had sought employment round,6
As different toils their various tastes engage,7
And he, though scarce by need to labour bound,8
Yet loved to tend his team, and till the fruitful ground.9

II.

On slope of sunward hill his cot was placed,10
In cultured holm, ’mid furze-surrounded scene,11
Where isles of corn were gained from Alpine waste,12
And ’mid enclosing rocks were pastures seen ;13
Before his door was spread. the daisied green,14
Where browzed the cottage nurse, his brinded cow,15
By grandchild led, the furzy knolls between,16
Who sought the spots where sweetest daisies grow,17
And lesson conned the while, along that mountain’s brow.18

III.

That wealthy cot of rude-exterior seemed,19
Its charms the dwellers, not the gazers, found ;20
In eyes romantic scarce befitting deemed,21
To grace the blooming wilds that laughed around :22
And all within to antique modes, was bound ;23
The hearth amid the central floor was placed,24
Where sire and sons might sit in circle round ;25
And up the spacious vent, with wicker braced,26
Might school-boy grandchild mark each zenith star that passed.27

IV.

One southward window looked adown the green,28
Where wont his daughter young her wheel to ply,29
And view the roses round her casement sheen,30
Or tulips bright in tidy garden nigh,31
Whose flowers might Sunday’s ornament supply,32
Or lie, for mark, beside her pastor’s hymn ;33
Here too, when snowy loured December’s sky, 34
She lov’d to see, through window frosted-dim, 35
The blackbirds peck her crumbs, or round her garden skim.36

V.

To fairy lake was there a streamlet spread,37
Whose grassy banks were bright with purest green,38
And here, when June his brightening influence shed,39
The housewife’s pearly webs were bleaching seen,40
From seed to cloth that still her care had been ;41
There, too, the maid betrothed might stranger view,42
In satin snood and kilted kirtle clean,43
Her linen stores prepares of lilied hue,44
Pure like her virgin self, the married couch to strew,45

VI.

Apart, on airy knoll, his stacks were seen,46
Y-thatched with broom, with twisted sedges bound ;47
And garden here was stretched in chequered green,48
With ranks of leafy trees protected round ;49
And here his leisure hours employment found50
To tend the sunny hives, the soil to feed,51
For various plants to fit the equal ground,52
To trim the walk, to root the envious weed,53
Or rill, by sedges choked, in purer stream to lead.54

VII.

Here, too, on Sunday morn, in corner green,55
Where branching lime her shadowy arches raised,56
He loved to sit : where through the leafy screen57
The humming bees, with honeyed blossoms pleased,58
Like hymn from distant church, innumerous praised.59
The God to whom his morning prayers were said ;60
And here, at times, from weekly tasks released,61
Around his knee, his youthful grandsons played,62
Or glad in sacred lore their infant skill displayed.63

VIII.

This wight’s fair fame the Elder’s charge had won,64
And well his equal life such trust approved65
By haughtiest wealth as independent known,66
By poorest toil as fellow-labourer loved ;67
His praise was dear to all ; if he reproved,68
Nor frowned the rich, nor jealous railed the poor ;69
From him, whose life in equal toils has moved,70
Will poverty severest truths endure,71
And who, nor needs nor fears, with wealth shall chide secure.72

IX.

The reverend man my earlier years have seen,73
On Sunday morn the church-way gate beside,74
(An antique porch, with ivy mantled green,75
By beech’s earliest boughs o’ershadowed wide,)76
There stood the Patriarch gray, and near his side77
The entering peasants laid their friendly mite78
For brethren’s wants : while each, with grateful pride,79
From his applauding eye the warm delight80
Received, of charity “ twice blessed,” of kindness done aright.81

X.

I’ve seen him, too, at times the boon divide,82
By pitying brethren thus collected kind,83
Yet few were those, I wot, whom kindred’s pride84
To general pity careless then resigned85
For not as now was wealth to few confined,86
Who owned no kindred tie with lowlier toil87
But far diffused ; each peasant then could find,88
(While smaller farms left free th’ enriching soil)89
Some kind relation near, whose wealth relieved his coil.90

XI.

Yet those whom poverty reluctant sent,91
With kindest care the Elder’s hand relieved,92
As patriarch old within his evening tent,93
The pilgrim’s wearied footsteps glad received ;94
No fears were there, lest charity deceived,95
Should nourish listless vice with boon prepared96
For humble want ; in equal toils had lived,97
Both he who dealt and he the boon that shared,98
And wasting idler there, of welcome still despaired.99

XII.

Bright from his cottage lay, far stretched below,100
A chequered valley, rich in woods and corn,101
Where many a hamlet’s light was seen to glow102
At darkening eve ; where soft at earliest morn103
From many a cot the spiry smoke was borne,104
First mark of man a-stir ; a village wide,105
Where gardens broad the straggling cots adorn,106
Was near below ; shone verdant down beside,107
Where lowed the milky herd, the hamlet’s common pride.108

XIII.

How sweet at eve, when loom and anvil’s sound,109
That thro’ that village day had ceaseless rung,110
Was hushed ; when forth from busiest sheds around,111
Their tasks performed, the eager tradesmen flung,112
To drink the breeze of heaven in joyous throng,113
And pleasure seek in healthful change of toil :114
Some feed their cherished cows ; with hatchet strong115
Some fuel-store prepare ; in softer moil116
Some prop the blooming pea, and court the genial soil.117

XIV.

And some, when now those leisure cares are done,118
Beneath some elm on western slope convene,119
Where name-carved bench is placed for evening sun,120
And northern grove protects the quiet scene ;121
There many a rustic theme consumes the e’en,122
And all of ill or good that peasants feel123
From laws and wars and kings is heard between ;124
Some tell their wrongs, the cause would some reveal,125
And some, sagacious more, propound the means to heal.126

XV.

And here the Elder too might oft be found,127
Here loved at eve to list the eager theme,128
To hear the peasants deal their praises round,129
Or cast on “ ruling powers” their whispered blame ;130
Could oft, with word revered, allay the flame131
Of vexed complaint: his glance, with anger fired,132
Could break the young declaimer’s airy dream133
(By lawless books, those whispering toads, inspired)134
That soars to freedoms wild, of slow experience tired.135

XVI.

Yet small the charm declaimer’s theme can bring136
(If public wants not pinch the peasant’s store,137
And teach him jealousy) to village ring,138
That meets to tell the rustic business o’er139
And themes of home. Their fond attention more140
Was won (while yet such kindred theme was given)141
While Elder scanned th’ assembled preachers’ lore,142
Whose rival eloquence had fondly striven143
To win the hearts of men, and deck the rites of heaven.*144

XVII.

They loved to hear how ’mid some mountain dell145
Where emerald grass with pearly daisies shone,146
And blooming furze diffused its fragrant smell,147
While o’er some neighbouring grove on hillock lone148
By ancient church the wandering eye was won149
How mingling here with breeze’s fading sound,150
Was heard in cadence mild, like hermit’s tone,151
The preacher’s voice ; and how innumerous round152
Delighted hearers sat, in fond attention wound,153

XVIII.

How there that preacher stood, like him of old,154
Who, ’mid the wilds of Judah’s desart plain,155
To gathering thousands awful warning told156
Of high Messiah’s dread approaching reign ;157
How there, like him he poured his eager strain158
’Mid lonely dell of far sequestered height,159
Repentant hearts for christain life to gain,160
And trembling souls to fit for awful rite,161
Where Saviour’s dying love bursts full on mortal sight.162

XIX.

When rose their choral hymn’s aerial tide,163
How sweet the mellowed sound apart to hear,164
Beneath some mountain grove’s o’ershadowing side,165
Like songs of Eden poured on Adam’s ear166
From groves where angels walked ; while, listening near,167
By hillock green, young wedded pair was seen,168
Who soothed, with fond caress, their infant’s tear,169
Lest childish wail invade the listening scene,170
And break those sounds of praise where angels heark to men.171

XX.

Such theme the peasant loved : such scene sublime172
By grandsire’s foot he oft had tripped to see,173
And recollections fond of earliest time,174
And charms beloved of native scenery,175
Were mingled there with rites that holiest be ;176
And round the Elder oft, such tale to hear,177
They eager thronged beneath their village tree ;178
To them than senates’ lore that tale more dear,179
Or all of war and fight that fills the city’s ear.180

* The celebration of the sacrament in country parishes was, till of late, always accom-
panied by a “ field preaching,” which drew together great numbers of hearers. Religious
ceremonies, performed under the open heaven, are always peculiarly impressive ; and this
being the only relict of them left in Britain, it had its full effect on the minds of the
people ; affording, likewise, a much more eligible subject of conversation than those po-
litical matters, which the utter abolition of all festivals, &c. has now left as the only topic
of their leisure hours. It were to be wished that ridicule were always as successful in
curing real abuses, as it was here in removing both the abuse and the thing abused.

XXI.

So passed their eve : and then would Elder stray181
To neighb’ring cot, where, lov’d and welcome guest,182
He whiled in rural talk the hours away :183
The father’s serious tale, the youngster’s jest,184
The damsel’s song, the child in frolic blest ;185
Each gay, by turns amused the cheerful sire :186
The young enjoy their mirth, the old their rest,187
And all to please their honoured guest conspire,188
While, mid the jovial ring, gleams bright their bickering fire.189

XXII.

And might, at times, misfortune’s frown severe190
Such gladsome scene to hopeless sadness turn ;191
Did pinching want extort a murmuring tear,192
And bid their wearied hearts in silence mourn,193
Or urge despair in angry words to burn ;194
While stranger’s kindness half-degrading seemed,195
And tore their wounded pride with newer thorn :—196
The Elder’s step was ne’er intrusive deemed :197
Familiar oft before, for kindness still esteemed.198

XXIII.

And oft when frightened wealth in vain-had tried199
Each wonted art the peasant vexed to sooth,200
Had smiled, and glozed, and half-concealed his pride,201
And mingled promise fair and speeches smooth,202
Yet met but sullen looks in every booth ;203
The Elder’s voice, in all its words sincere,204
Could lull to peace his brethren’s passions wroth ;205
Their sufferings just in patience taught to bear,206
Or shewed by rightful path to reach their ruler’s ear.207

XXIV.

Even she, that maid, around whose youthful breast208
Consumption’s serpent coils were firmly wound,209
Whose feverish heart each visit now oppressed,210
While shrunk her startled ear from every sound,211
The Elder’s converse still delightful found ;212
While he, to win her ear, would cheerful tell213
Of evenings spent her parents’ hearth around,214
Where friend to friend was joined in social spell :215
Then led her thoughts from earth on bliss supreme to dwell.216

XXV.

How different he, the haughty pastor, sent217
Amid this humble flock “ the Word” to preach !218
Who ne’er within such humble threshold went,219
Save (yearly task) some stern advice to teach,220
Or, called perchance, at death’s impending breach :221
Can dying men of such regard the care,222
Whose tardy steps with death the port but reach ?223
A signal known, his visit speaks despair,224
Alarms the feverish heart, and thought bewilders there.225

XXVI.

When reapers keen on harvest fields were met,226
This wight for many an useful deed was loved :227
Disjointed limb his ready skill could set,228
And wound from sickle rough his salve removed ;229
Whene’er the youngster’s mirth too freely roved,230
One little word from him its flight restrained ;231
And maid that, blushing, half that flight approved232
Yet blessed his care for purer mirth regained,233
And youth in freedom met—thus age preserved unstained.234

XXVII.

At Harvest-home he loved the mirthful feast,235
Where master’s welcome servants’ cares beguiled,236
Where met the youth in mutual kindness blessed,237
Who late in rival strength had eager toiled :238
When down the dance the maiden grateful smiled239
On him whose care her harvest’s toil had eased ;240
When rustic mirth flung round in antics wild,241
And youth rejoiced from yearly toils released,242
While age sat gladsome near, like guardian angel pleased.243

XXVIII.

And much he wont th’ ungenerous pride to blame244
Of masters stern, to mushroom riches grown,245
Who thus to mix with labour deemed it shame,246
And gave for wonted feast the sordid boon ;247
’Twixt youth and age the bait for discord sown,248
That neither pleased, and both with strife defiled ;249
For careful age will hoard the pittance thrown,250
And youth, of age’s decent care despoiled,251
Will seek unsanctioned mirth, to sinful joys beguiled.*252

XXIX.

With bitterest smile the Elder oft would list,253
When men of wealth, in piteous mood, complained254
Of peasants now depraved, of virtues ceased,255
And rural manners old, with vice distained,256
And schemes of pride where simplest order reigned257
Alas ! themselves the cause ! their pride of shew258
To mix with lowlier toil has long disdained259
Each jealous rank repels each rank below,260
Familiar guardian once, a stern inspector now.261

XXX.

How far the ill descends ! the farmer’s hall,262
Where lived the servants once, beneath the care263
Of master kind—the friend, the guide of all264
Is changed and lost ; reigns pride unbending there,265
And forth to cheerless booth must servants fare,266
Their hasty mess unblessed, alone to snatch,267
And meet unguarded every youthful snare ;268
While master’s stern advice, or hated watch,269
But fires their rival pride, his wealthier vice to match.270

XXXI.

Yet why in bitter words thus speak severe ?271
Thus ne’er the Elder’s voice would harshly chide ;272
Oft stubborn vice would draw his secret tear,273
And oft his care would indignation hide,274
Lest stern reproof might wake the sinner’s pride,275
And shut the angry ear to all approach :276
By kindness still he loved the heart to guide,277
On sad remorse would careful ne’er encroach,278
And jealous pride could lull, yet waken self-reproach.279

XXXII.

As through the western pane of mountain cot,280
Where maiden sings and plies her evening wheel,281
Across the floor is sunny raylet shot,282
Where child pursues the atoms’ glittering reel,283
And grand-dame loves the sunny warmth to feel ;284
While sparkling light the beamy wanderer throws285

* It has of late been customary to discountenance the old Saturnalian festivities of
harvest home, &c. under pretence of economy ; which has only caused the spirit of con-
viviality among the lower classes, to seek for other, and certainly not less objectionable
modes of enjoyment.
On all that housewife’s care would fain conceal,286
And o’er her dusky shelves resplendent glows,287
And playful pleases still, while every speck it shews ;288

XXXIII.

Thus playful still his kind reproof was shed,289
Thus unoffending every fault could shew :—290
Nor less to generous deeds his precepts led ;291
As when at dawn from orchard’s blooming bough292
Some feathered songster’s notes melodious flow,293
And sleeping maid awake to cheerful toil,294
Who trims her parent’s cot ere forth she go,295
To milk her cows or join the harvest’s moil ;—296
Thus he to deeds of worth, the heart could wakening wile.297

XXXIV.

No words sarcastic e’er defiled his tongue,298
Those poisoned arrows shot by ambushed pride ;299
Such oft in sly rebuke the heart have stung,300
Oft driven the penitent his faults to hide,301
But wanderer ne’er regained to virtue’s side ;302
From lily fallen he dried remorseful shower,303
Nor let the worm despair beneath it bide ;304
And oft with kindly touch revived the flower305
That cold neglect or scorn had thrown to vice’s power.306

XXXV.

No angry satire guided e’er his speech307
On class of men a general blame to throw308
Of kings or mobs, or good or ill to teach :—309
For men, he’ said, in common frailty grow,310
By weal corrupted some, and some by woe ;311
As mid some rocky cavern’s darksome hall, 312
Where stalagmatic veins exuding flow,313
Wild shapes arise as drops incessant fall,314
Thus men unconscious change, thus custom works on all.315

XXXVI.

Such truths the Elder taught ; but most he loved316
Of wayward youth the devious paths to guide ;317
Their generous warmth to duteous deeds he moved,318
And lured their pride of heart to virtue’s side :319
And many a wanderer bears his memory wide,320
Thro’ distant lands where Scotia’s sons are loved,321
And tells on Indian shore with grateful pride,322
How first the Elder’s praise, to deeds approved,323
Amid his native hills, his youthful bosom moved.324

XXXVII.

But if from roamings far such wanderer come,325
And bend his path the Elder’s cot to find ;326
Alas ! no more is there the sage’s home ;327
Along the hill all lonely sweeps the wind,328
Nor mark is there of social humankind ;329
Of scattered sheep is heard the tinkling bell,330
And shivering lad is there, by rock reclined,331
To watch his flock, that seeks on desert fell,332
Some spot of greener sward, or kindlier sheltered dell.333

XXXVIII.

That shepherd points afar the sacred ground,334
Where now the Elder sleeps in silent grave ;335
And leaves his flock, to guide the wanderer round336
The site, where once the cot its shelter gave ;337
Where now some lonely trees their branches wave,338
Sole remnant left of all that there had been,—339
Which he who crushed the rest had deigned to save, 340
To deck, perchance like ancient tomb, the scene,341
To wanderer’s grieving heart, memorial sad I ween.342