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hand. Lord Exeter sent for him to Burleigh, and hearing that he earned thirty pounds per annum by field labour, settled an annuity of fifteen pounds upon him, with a view to his devoting half his time to agricultural occupations, and half to literary pursuits. This benevolent proposal, which sounds so hopefully, proved a notable failure, chiefly in consequence of our national failing of running after everything and everybody that has attained a sufficient portion of notoriety. Poor Clare became as great a lion as if he had committed two or three murders. He was frequently interrupted, as often as three times a-day, during his labours in the harvest-field, to gratify the curiosity of admiring visitors; and a plan, excellent in its principle, was abandoned perforce. Other wealthy and liberal noblemen joined in the good work. Lord Spencer gave ten pounds per annum. A subscription was set on foot by Lord Radstock, to which the present King of the Belgians, Lord Fitzwilliam, and Lord John Russell contributed generously, and which, together with the profits of his works—for “The Village Minstrel” had now been published--realised for him altogether an annual income of five-and-forty pounds. This appeared affluence to our poet, and he married.
Praised by the “Quarterly,” and befriended by noble patrons and generous booksellers, his prospects seemed more than commonly smiling. His third publication, too, “The Rural Muse,” in spite of its unpromising title, more than justified all that had been done for him. The improvement was most remarkable. That he should gain a greater command over language, a choicer selection of words, and the knowledge of grammatical construction, which he had wanted before,
was to be expected; but the habit of observation seemed to have increased in fineness and accuracy in proportion as he gained the power of expression, and the delicacy of his sentiment kept pace with the music of his versification. What can be closer to nature than his description of the nightingale's nest ?
Up this green woodland ride let's softly rove,
And list the Nightingale; she dwells just here.
Hush ! let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear
The noise might drive her from her home of love;
For here I've heard her many a merry year,
At morn, at eve, nay, all the livelong day,
As though she lived on song. This very spot
Just where that old man's-beard all wildly trails
Rude arbours o'er the road, and stops the way ;
And where the child its blue-bell flowers bath got,
Laughing and creeping through the mossy rails;
There have I hunted like a very boy,
Creeping on hands and knees through matted thorn,
To find her nest, and see her feed her young.
And vainly did I many hours employ :
All seemed as hidden as a thought unborn.
And where those crumpling fern-leaves ramp among
The hazel's under boughs, I've nestled down
And watched her while she sang; and her renown
Hath made me marvel that so famed a bird
Should have no better dress than russet brown.
Her wings would tremble in her extasy,
And feathers stand on end, as 'twere with joy,
And mouth wide open to release her heart
Of its out-sobbing songs. The happiest part
Of Summer's fame she shared, for so to me
Did happy fancies shapen her employ.
But if I touched a bush, or scarcely stirred,
All in a moment stopt. I watched in vain :
The timid bird had left the hazel bush,
And oft in distance hid to sing again.
Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves,
Rich extasy would pour its luscious strain,
'Till envy spurred the emulating Thrush
To start less wild and scarce inferior songs;
For while of half the year Care him bereaves,
To damp the ardour of his speckled breast,
The Nightingale to Summer's life belongs,
And naked trees and Winter's nipping wrongs
Are strangers to her music and her rest.
Her joys are ever green, her world is wide !
Hark! there she is, as usual. Let's be hush;
For in this black-thorn clump, if rightly guessed;
Her curious house is hidden. Part aside
Those hazel branches in a gentle way,
And stoop right cautious 'neath the rustling boughs,
For we will have another search to-day,
And hunt this fern-strewn thorn-clump round and round,
And where this reeded wood-grass idly bows
We'll wade right through; it is a likely nook.
In such like spots, and often on the ground
They'll build where rude boys never think to look ;-
Aye, as I live! her secret nest is here
Upon this white-thorn stump! I've searched about
For hours in vain. There, put that bramble by,
Nay, trample on its branches, and get near.
How subtle is the bird! She started out,
And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh
Ere we were past the brambles; and now, near
Her nest, she sudden stops, as choking fear
That might betray her home. So even now
We'll leave it as we found it; safety's guard
Of pathless solitudes shall keep it still,
We will not plunder music of its dower,
Nor turn this spot of happiness to thrall,
For melody seems hid in every flower
That blossoms near thy home. These bluebells all
Seem bowing with the beautiful in song;
And gaping cuckoo-flower, with spotted leaves,
Seems blushing of the singing it has heard.
How curious is the nest! No other bird
Uses such loose materials, or weaves
Its dwelling in such spots! Dead oaken leaves
Are placed without, and velvet moss within.
And little scraps of grass, and scant and spare,
What hardly seem materials, down and hair ;
For from men's haunts she nothing seems to win.
Snug lie her curious eggs, in number five,
Of deadened green, or rather olive-brown,
And the old prickly thorn-bush guards them well.
So here we'll leave them, still unknown to wrong,
As the old woodland's legacy of song. Is not this nature itself! And again another nest, as true every whit in its difference,
THE PETTICHAP'S NEST.
Well! in my many walks I've rarely found
A place less likely for a bird to form
Its nest; close by the rut-gulled waggon-road,
And on the almost bare foot-trodden ground,
With scarce a clump of grass to keep it warm,
Where not a thistle spreads its spears abroad,
Or prickly bush to shield it from harm's way;
And yet so snugly made, that none may spy
It out, save peradventure. You and I
Had surely passed it in our walk-to day
Had chance not led us by it! Nay, e'en now,
Had not the old bird heard us trampling by,
And fluttered out, we had not seen it lie
Brown as the road-way side. Small bits of hay
Pluckt from the old propt haystack's pleachy brow,
And withered leaves, make up its outward wall,
Which from the gnarled oak-dotterel yearly fall,
And in the old hedge-bottom rot away.
Built like an oven, through a little hole,
Scarcely admitting e'en two fingers in,
Hard to discern, the birds snug entrance win,
'Tis lined with feathers, warm as silken stole,
Softer than seats of down for painless ease,
And full of eggs scarce bigger ev’n than peas.
Here's one most delicate, with spots as small
As dust, and of a faint and pinky red.
And they are left to many dangerous ways.
A green grasshopper's jump might break the shells ;
Yet lowing oxen pass them morn and night,
And restless sheep around them hourly stray. .
I add yet another :
THE YELLOWHAMMER'S NEST.
Just by the wooden bridge a bird flew up,
Seen by the cow-boy as he scrambled down
To reach the misty dewberry. Let us stoop
And seek its nest. The brook we need not dread, -
'Tis scarcely deep enough a bee to drown,
As it sings harmless o'er its pebbly bed.
-Aye, here it is! Stuck close beside the bank,
Beneath the bunch of grass that spindles ranki
Its husk-seeds tall and high : 'tis rudely planned
Of bleached stubbles and the withered fare
That last year's harvest left upon the land,
Lined thinly with the horse's sable hair.
Five eggs, pen-scribbled o'er with ink their shells,
Resembling writing scrawls, which Fancy reads
As Nature's poesy and pastoral spells :
They are the Yellowhammer's; and she dwells,
Most poet like, 'mid brooks and flowery weeds.
I question if the great bird-painter, Wilson, or our own Australian ornithologist, Mr. Gould (he is a Berkshire man, I am proud to say), or Audubon, or White of Selborne, or Mr. Waterton himself—and all those careful inquirers into nature are more or less poets, seldom as they have used the conventional language