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acorns and pig-nuts, with other delicacies of the like nature; that our climate of itself, and without the as. sistances of art, can make no further advances towards à plumb than to a sloe, and carries an apple to no greater a perfection than a crab : that our melons, our peaches, our figs, our apricots, and cherries, are strangers among us, imported in different ages, and naturalized in our English gardens; and that they would all degenerate and fall away into the trash of our own country, if they were wholly neglected by the planter, and left to the mercy of our sun and soil. Nor has traffic more enriched our vegetable world, than it has improved the whole face of nature among us. Our ships are laden with the harvest of every climate: our tables are stored with spices, and oils, and wines; our rooms are filled with pyramids of China, and adorned with the work. manship of Japan : our morning's draught comes to us from the remotest corners of the earth; we repair our bodies by the drugs of America, and repose ourselves under Indian canopies. My friend Sir Andrew calls the vineyards of France our gardens: the spice-islands our hot-beds: the Persians our silk-weavers, and the Chinese our potters. Nature indeed furnishes us with the bare necessaries of life, but traffic gives us a great variety of what is useful, and at the same time supplies us with every thing that is convenient and ornamental. Nor is it the least part of this our happiness, that whilst we enjoy the remotest products of the north and south, we are free from those extremities of weather which give them birth; that our eyes are refreshed with the green fields of Britain, at the same time that our palates are feasted with fruits that rise between the tropics.
For these reasons there are not more useful members in a commonwealth than merchants. They knit mankind together in a mutual intercourse of good offices, distribute the gifts of nature, find work for the poor, and wealth to the rich, and magnificence to the great.
* Improved the whole face of nature among us.] Badly expressed: for the instances given, are not of improvements in the face of nature, but in the accommodations of life.
Our English merchant converts the tin of his own country into gold, and exchanges his wool for rubies. The Mahometans are clothed in our British manufacture, and the inhabitants of the Frozen Zone warmed with the fleeces of our sheep.
When I have been upon the Change, I have often fancied one of our old kings standing in person, where he is represented in effigy, and looking down upon the wealthy concourse of people with which that place is every day filled. In this case, how would he be surprised to hear all the languages of Europe spoken in this little spot of his former dominions, and to see so many private men, who in his time would have been the vassals of some powerful baron, negociating like princes for greater sums of money than were formerly to be met with in the royal treasury! Trade, without enlarging the British territories, has given us a kind of additional empire: it has multiplied the number of the rich, made our landed estates infinitely more valuable than they were formerly, and added to them an accession of other estates as valuable as the lands themselves.
When I travelled, I took a particular delight in hearing the songs and fables that are come from father to son, and are most in vogue among the common people of the countries through which I passed; for it is impossible that any thing should be universally tasted and approved by a multitude, though they are only the rabble of a nation, which hath not in it some peculiar aptness to please and gratify the mind of man. Human nature is the same in all reasonable creatures; and whatever falls in with it, will meet with admirers amongst readers of all qualities and conditions. Moliere, as we are told by Monsieur Boileau, used to read all his comedies to an old woman who was his housekeeper, as she sat with him at her work by the chimney. corner; and could foretel the success of his play in the theatre, from the reception it met at his fire-side: for he tells us the audience always followed the old woman, and never failed to laugh in the same place.
I know nothing which more shews the essential and inherent perfection of simplicity of thought, above that which I call the Gothic manner in writing, than this; the first pleases all kinds of palates, and the latter only such as have formed to themselves a wrong artificial taste upon little fanciful authors and writers of epigram. Homer, Virgil, or Milton, so far as the language of their poems is understood, will please a reader of plain common sense, who would neither relish nor comprehend an epigram of Martial, or a poem of Cowley : so, on the contrary, an ordinary song or ballad, that is the delight of the common people, cannot fail to please all such readers as are not unqualified for the entertainment by their affectation or ignorance; and the reason is plain, because the same paintings of nature which recommend it to the most ordinary reader, will appear beautiful to the most refined.
The old song of Chevy-Chase is the favourite ballad of the common people of England; and Ben Jonson used to say, he had rather have been the author of it than of all his works. Sir Philip Sidney, in his Discourse of Poetry, speaks of it in the following words: • I never heard the old song of Piercy and Douglas, that I found not my heart more moved than with a trumpet; and yet it is sung by some blind Crowder with no rougher voice than rude style; which being so evil apparelled in the dust and cobweb of that uncivil age, what would it work, trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar?' For my own part I am so professed an admirer of this antiquated song, that I shall give my reader a critic upon it, without any further apology for so doing.
The greatest modern critics have laid it down as a
rule, that an heroic poem should be founded upon some important precept of morality, adapted to the constitution of the country in which the poet writes. Homer and Virgil have formed their plans in this view. As Greece was a collection of many governments, who suffered very much among themselves, and gave the Persian Emperor, who was their common enemy, many advantages over them by their mutual jealousies and animositïes, Homer, in order to establish among
them an union, which was so necessary for their safety, grounds his poem upon the discords of the several Grecian Princes who were engaged in a confederacy against an Asiatic Prince, and the several advantages which the enemy gained by such their discords.
At the time the poem we are now treating of was written, the dissensions of the barons, who were then so many petty princes, ran very high, whether they quarrelled among themselves, or with their neighbours, and produced unspeakable calamities to the country: the poet, to deter men from such unnatural contentions, describes a bloody battle, and dreadful scene of death, occasioned by the mutual feuds which reigned in the families of an English and Scotch nobleman: that he designed this for the instruction of his poem, we may learn from his four last lines, in which, after the example of the modern tragedians, he draws from it a precept for the benefit of his readers.
God save the King, and bless the land
In plenty, joy, and peace;
"Twixt noblemen may cease.
The next point observed by the greatest heroic poets, hath been to celebrate persons and actions which do honour to their country : thus Virgil's hero was the founder of Rome, Homer's a Prince of Greece ; and for this reason Valerius Flaccus and Statius, who were both Romans, might be justly derided for having chosen the expedition of the Golden Fleece, and the wars of Thebes, for the subjects of their epic writings.
The poet before us, has not only found out an hero in his own country, but raises the reputation of it by several beautiful incidents. The English are the first who take the field, and the last who quit it. The English bring only fifteen hundred to the battle, and the Scotch two thousand. The English kept the field with fifty three: the Scotch retire with fifty five : all the rest on eash side being slain in battle. But the most remarkable circumstance of this kind, is the different manner in which the Scotch and English Kings receive the news of this fight, and of the great men's deaths who command it.
This news was brought to Edinburgh,
Where Scotland's King did reign,
Was with an arrow slain.
Scotland can witness be,
Of such account as he.
Like tidings to King Henry came
Within as short a space,
Was slain in Chevy-Chase.
Sith 'twill no better be,
But I will vengeance take,
For brave Lord Piercy's sake.
After on Humble-down;
With lords of great renown.
Did many thousands dye, ecc. At the same time that our poet shews a laudable partiality, to his country-men, he represents the Scots