« PoprzedniaDalej »
« And his mind he did diskiver
“ To a lady fair and free.”
Taylor was a bold youth ; he feared not to tell his mind to the lady; he did
stand shilly-shally, like a whimpering lover. But we are here presented with a new character, a lady fair and free. Some commentators have thought that she was a lady of easy virtue, from the epithet free; and indeed the vio. lence of her love and jealousy seems to favour the suspicion : but let us not be too severe ; free may signify no more than that she was of a cheerful disposition, and thus of the same temper with her lover: concoriles animæ ! Thus far all is pleasant and delightful; but the scene is now changed, and sorrow succeeds to joy.
"Four and twenty brisk
« Press'd he vas, and sent to sea.”
Taylor, the brisk, the mirthful Taylor is pressed and sent to sea. I cannot help observing here the art of the poet in letting us into the condition of Taylor ; we may guess from his being pressed that he was not free of the city, and was most likely a journeyman-cobler, coblers being famous for their glee. I will not positively say he was a cobler: Scaliger thinks he was a lump. lighter; " adhuc sub judice lis est.” But to proceed-Taylor is on board. ship: what does his true love ?
His true love she followed arter,
“ Under the name of Richard Car; “And her hands were all bedaubed
“ With the nasty pitch and tar.”
Many ladies would have comforted themselves with other lovers ; not so Bil.. ly's mistress, she follows him; she enters the ship under the name of Richard Car. She condescends to daub her lilly-white hands with the pitch and tar. What excessive love, and how ill rewarded! I have two things to remark here. 1. Her disregard of herself in daubing her hands. When I consider a lady in Juvenal who did the same, I am led to think she was Billy's mistress. But then Billy disregards her ; this makes me think again she was his wife. Yet perhaps not; Billy had now got another mistress. 2. The se. cond observation is upon the name she assumes, Richard Car. Commentar tors are much divided upon this lead; why she chose that name in preference to any other. I must confess they talk rather silly on this topic; I con. jecture the name was given here because it was a good rhyme to tar: this is no mean or inconsiderable reason, as the poets will all testify. But let the reader decide this at his leisure ; let us now proceed :
“ An engagement came on the very next mornir:
« Bold she fit among the rest:
And shishivered her lily-white breast.
Here was a trial for the lady: but she sustained it ; she fought boldly, fought like a man But mark the sequel; the wind blows aside her Jacket; her lily-white breast is exposed to the la wless gaze of the sailors! Here was a sight! no doubt it inspired them with double valour and gained them a victory; for they certainly were rictorious, though the poet judiciously passes over this inferior topic, and hastens to his main subject.
The captain guins intelligence of her heroism, or, in the musical simplicity of the original, “kins for to know it :” with honest bluntness he exclaims, ' " Vat vind has blown you to me??? The character of the sea-captain is well supported: he does not say, “ how came you here?" but in the characteristic language of his profession, “ vat vind has blown you to me?” The classical reader will be pleased also with the similarity this expression bears to a passage in the Æneid ; it is in the speech of Andromache to Æneas on a like occasion of surprise :
“Sed tibi qui cursun venti, que fata dedere?
“ Aut quisquam ignarun nokris Deus appulit oris ?”
It must be confessed, that the Latin is more pompous, perhaps more elegant; but what it gains in refinement, it loses in simplicity. The chief' thing how. ever to be remarked is, that the same language always suggests itself on the same occasions. But let us attend to the lady's answer :
“Kind sir; I be kim for to seek my true love,
“ Vhom you press’d and sent to sea.”
Tlie pathos of this speech is inimitable. Observe with what art, or rather with what nature, it is worked up, so as to interest the feelings of the caplain. First let us take a view of the speaker; a woman, and her breast diskivered: she begins with, “ Kind sir,” which shows the gentleness of her disposition, and that she forgave the captain though he had pressed her true. love: she proceeds, " I be kim for to seek my true-love:" who could resist this affecting narration ? A ladý braving the dangers of the sea and an engage. ment, to seek her true-love! The last line has suggested to the commentators that the captain had headed the press-gang himself. This is a matter of too much consequence for me to decide. Bilt what efiect has the speech on the rugged nerves of the captain? All that could be expected and desired. He breaks out--observe the art of the poet !-10 frigid prefice of " he said," " he exclaimed,” but, like Homer, he gives us the speech at once
“ If you be kim for to seek your true-love,
“He from the ship is gone away ;
“ Valking vith his lady gay.”
The captain's feelings are taken by storm ; he makes a full discovery of the retreat of the youth, and the company in which he is to be found. Some have Wrought it very odd that the captain should be so well informed of Billy's re
treat and company; and are of opinion that he connived at it: but the captain might from his knowledge of human nature, and especially of sailors' nature, guess where and in what company Billy would be. Let not then the honest tar be condemned. As the poet has put down none, we may suppose the la. dy to be too much oppressed to make any answer to a speech so cutting and afflicting. Overwhelmed with anger, jealousy, and desire of revenge, she could not speak., admirable poet, who so well knew nature ! “ parvæ curæ loquuntur, ingentes silent:” and is not this silence more eloquent, more ex. pressive, nay more awful, than all the angry words that could have been ut. tered ? It is the silence before the tempest : the awful stillness of revenge and death.
“She rose up early in the morning,
“ Long before 'twas break of day."
Mark the impatience of revenge ! she will not even wait till day-break; she gets (as we may suppose, though it is not declared,) leave of absence, and goes on shore,
“ And she found false Billy Taylor,
Valking vith his lady gay.” Infamous Billy Taylor ! while your mistress was braving for you the dangers of the ocean, you were revelling in the arms of another! But your hour is come! The character of Billy is inimitably well supported throughout, or, as Horace says,
“Qualis ab incepto processerit, et sibi constat.”
'Tis true, he deserts his mistress; but 'tis for a lady of similar disposition ; it is a lady gay with whom he walks : thus, though he is false, he shows him. self full of mirth : he is still Billy Taylor. Mark the artifice of the poet! Like Virgil who drops the epithet pious” on a similar occasion, the poet here calls Billy by the appropriate epithet “ false.” There is an elegance and simplicity perfectly Homeric in the repetition of the line, “ Valking with his lady gay.
« Strair she call'd for swords and pistols,
Brought they vas at her command.” Let not the sceptical reader sneer, and ask where she got, or who brought the swords and pistols. Some kind deity, willing to assist the purposes of her just revenge interposed, and brought her arms. Surely Horace would allow that this was “ dignus vindice nodus.” But to proceed :
"She fell on shooting Billy Taylor
“ Vith his lady in his hand.” Here is an interesting incident! here a melancholy subject! what a scene for a picture! On one side, a lady impelled by jealousy with a discharged pis. rol in her band, and a face expressive of the triumph of revenge ; on the other, Billy Taylor, stretched on the cold ground, with his hand in that of his lady,
now we may suppose no longer gay, and perhaps weeping! Observe, Billy died in the situation in which Tibullus wished to die : he held his mistress, " deficiente manu.
."* O! come here all ye young men! ye Billy Taylors, for the world is full of you! ye deserters of true-lovers, ye walkers with ladies gay, come here and contemplate! Taylor who i few days before was ay like you, is now alas 6 stone dead,” or, to use the pathetic and expressive language of Falstaff-who by the bye, was like Billy, a gay deceiver-is now no better than a " shotten herring !"
“ When the Captain he kim for to know it;
“ He very much applauded her for what she had done,”
From this passage, some have taken occasion to accuse the captain of a connivance with Billy's escape and connexion with a lady gay, that he might enjoy Billy's first mistress. But surely this is unfounded : the captain saw this mistress of Billy's by chance alone; and could not therefore be supposed to have a longing for a lady whom he had never seen till Billy had left the ship. Some have also accused the captain of cruelty, for applauding the lady for killing her lover. But these are unfounded and calumnious charges: it was a love of justice which induced the captain to applaud her: not that I positive. ly say, that he might not also be swayed by the lady's beauty. The vehemence of the captain's applause is admirably displayed by the quantity of dactyls in the second line of this stanza. Let us proceed:
« And he made her first lieutenant
Many are shocked at the apparent indifference of the lady; and foolishly condemn the poet for inconsistency. Such ignorant critics know nothing of the
Our poet, who is the poet of nature, did not mean to draw a perfect character, a “ sine labe monstrum,” but, like Homer and Euripides, which latter he greatly resembles in his tenderness of expression, draws men and woman such as they are. Still there is another objection started: how could a woman be made a lieutenant? It must be confessed that though such things are not entirely unprecedented, that they are very singular: some have therefore thought this a decent allegory of the poet to express that she was the captain's chief-mistress, bis sultana; and we must remember that she was a free lady, and after the murder she had committed glad of the protection of a captain. I hope the ladies will not be offended at this interpretation, and since a recent inquiry, will pardon me the expression that conveys it.
It remains now to say something concerning the sentiments, characters, incidents, moral, and diction, of the poem, and, mpwtav 470 agarw, let us speak of the sentiments. These, as I observed before, are not like Lucan's, obtruded upon the reacler, but suggested by incidents. For instance, does not the circumstance of the lady's going to sea after her true-love suggest more than the most laboured declamation on the force of love? W the
Te teneam inoriens, deficiente mar:y.
captain is melted by the pathetic address, and lily-white breast of the lady, is it not clearly and espressively intimated how great is the power of weeping beauty pleading in a good cause, over even the boisterous nature of a sailor ? Again, when the lady shoots Billy Taylor, what a fine sentiment is to be discovered here of the power of jealousy ? and in the death of Billy contrasted with his former gayety, who is there whose soul is of so iron a mould as not to be touched by the implied sentiment of the short-livedness of human plea. sure and enjoyment, when even the gay Taylor is overtaken by fate ? This is a most masterly piece of nature; and I venture to pronounce that the man who is uninterested by it must have been born on Caucasus and nursed by she. wolves. I come now to the characters; and here it is that the chief art of the poet is displayed. It is wonderful to observe how many and how differ. ent characters are to be found in this short poem. To say nothing of the four and twenty “ fellers” who are admirably characterized by the epithet brisk;" we have the mirthful Taylor and the rugged sea.captain, the lady fair and free, and the lady gay. It may be objected that there is too great a sameness in the female characters: but no; the lady fair and free is brave and re. vengeful; the lady gay is simply gay, a mere insipid character, and introduced by the poet no doubt as a contrast to the turbulent and busy character of the other lady. The boisterous captain is a well-drawn and well-supported character. He is rugged, honest blunt, illiterate and gallant. But it is the character of the hero Taylor, which is drawn and sustained with the most art and nature. In the first place he is brave, although some have contradicted this, by saying that he did not go to sea voluntarily but was pressed, and then run a way the night before the engagement. But I will not believe he was a coward : no ; let the critics remember that Ulysses did not go voluntarily to the Trojan war, and was always willing to escape when he could; and yet surely he was a hero.—Thus have I proved the bravery of Taylor. He had also other requisites for il hero ; he was amorous, like Achilles and Æneas, and he deserted his love like ibe latter. Then he was brisk and gay. I do not remember any hero exactly of this character. To be sure, Achilles laughs once in the Niad, and Æneas in the Æneid ; but it does not appear to have been the general character of either of them, and especially of the latter, who was a whimpering sort of hero. It does not appear that Taylor l'esembled Æneas in piety; but that is a silly kind of antiquated virtue, of which heroes of modern days would be ashamed, and which our poet hus most judiciously omitted in the catalogue of Billy's qualities. Again, he resembles the heroes of antiquity in his untimely end, and in the cause of it-_a woman. Thus Achilles was shot in the heel ; Ulysses was killed, though not very prematurely, by luis son ; Æneas was drowned like a dog in a ditch ; and Alexander was poisoned. Then as to the cause: Sampson (though to be sure the polite reader will call that fabulous, and think me a fool for quoting such an old wife's tale) owed his death to a woman ; Agamemnon was even killed by a woman ; Hij polius lost his life by a woman; so did Belierephon; und Antony lost the world and his life too by a woman. Upon the whole Billy's is a