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Of songes and of detees glade.-GOWER.
Poetry, Music, and Painting, are universally acknowledged to be the early offspring of all nations, even in their rudest state, “ wherever language is found,” says Mr. Southey, verse of some kind or other is found also ;" * and the great Dryden has said, that "mankind even the most barbarous, have the seeds of poetry implanted in them.” + Music, I may add, had its origin at the same time, but painting was of somewhat later growth, when knowledge was greater and refinement more extensive :
“ Our arts are sisters, though not twins in birth,
For songs were sung in Eden's happy earth”so the author of Absalom and Achitophel, wrote to Sir Godfrey Kneller. It is remarked by Ritson, that “ all writers agree in speaking of song as the most ancient species of poetry, its origin,” he adds,
is even thought to be coeval with mankind." I
* Preface to his Continuation of Ellis's Specimens.
• Historical Essay on National Song, 1783. VOL. I
When the earth was 'young and green,' we are informed by our Bibles, every man was a shepherd and attended his own flocks as they browsed on unmown plains and sunny declivities, where, though sin was known, yet harmony more widely prevailed, and love influenced alike shepherd and shepherdess. Our first parents we may suppose, sung not verses in celebration of each other, but tuned their yoices “in the wild notes of natural poetry"* to the praise of their Creator, who had placed them in the midst of such blessings; and so Milton has poetically, and per. haps, correctly described them. To some disconsolate swain who was desirous of making widely known either the charms or the cruelty of his mistress, we must impute the birth of our love-songs; those were the strains that “ delayed the huddling brook, and lapped the prisoned soul in soft elysium;' the maid was then likened to a sportive lamb, her teeth to the white fleeces of a newly washen flock of sheep, and her lips to the dropping honey; those sweet strains sung to the music of a shepherd's reed, described by Allan Ramsay, as
“ A dainty whistle with a pleasant sound,"
after the dance with timbrels in the cool of evening, presented to the mind all that earth could offer of paradise.
* Dryden. Preface to Juvenal.
There can be little doubt but that the poetry of all nations originated in the love cherished by the one sex towards the other ; feelings broke out into verse, and spoke the language of the heart-probably bursting forth at last into such rapturous exclamations, as
“ By heaven and earth I love thee.”
Idle ingenuity has sometimes changed the compliment into a conceit, and the song into a strain of artificial politeness. Our isle has produced poets who sat down resolutely to sing of Chloe or Amynta, not remembering a brother has said, that
Joys unfelt are never sung."
To come nearer our own day, and to illustrate our opinion, we are told by Burns himself, that he never had the least inclination of turning poet till he got heartily in love, and then rhyme and song were the spontaneous language of his heart: a heart that glowed, with what he describes as
" honest warm simplicity."* At all times nature exhibits a sufficient number of images to the eye and fancy of a poet—the cool of spring, the heat of summer, the yellow leaf of autumn, and the frosts of winter. Every field produces beauties of its own to awaken fresh sentiment, from the gay flowers of May to the bright stars and spotless snows of December. The
* See his works by Cunningham, vol. vi. p. 29.
shepherd hearing of, and seeing only a pastoral life, drew his images from the fields around him, the person of his love was neither adorned nor concealed by the adulteries of art, and he sung of her as he found her:
"All was sweet, and all was sound.”
To win the favour of one so fair, was the utmost of his ambition; he told in wood-notes wild, in untutored verse, the sweetness of her mind and the graces of her
person ; he was the shepherd that Spenser and Pope sung of:
“A shepherd boy, he seeks no better name.”
It is to the pastoral life of England and Scotland, to the rosy faces of our Dowsabells, Rosalinds, Peggys and Jeanies, we must look for the origin of our song; from the field and the sheep-hook to the court and the town, is a single step, but it is a long one. Our search into song, Mr. Cunningham has already happily illustrated, by the image of the boy chasing the rainbow from hill to hill, the nearer he imagined he was, the farther he was away from it. *
“ he runs
Then vanish quite away.”
* Introduction to the Songs of Scotland, 4 vol. 1826.
of the ancient British, differed little from the early manners of other nations. The South Americans were found by the Spaniards to be passionately fond of music, they were constantly in the custom of assembling together to dance, an amusement in which the softer sex were never allowed to participate. Their songs were chiefly of a martial kind, for women were considered as mere slaves, and treated with something like contempt. In an old writer quoted by Ritson, we find that the natives of Hispaniola, had “ certayne rymes or balletes they call Areitos. And as our Mynstrelles are accustomed to syng to the harp or lute, so do they in lyke maner syng these songes, and daunce to the same, playing on timbrels made of shells of certayne fishes. They have also songes and ballettes of loue, and other of lamentations and mournyng, some also to encourage them to the warres, with euery of them theyr tunes agreeable to the matter."* The inhabitants of America were not ignorant, we are told by Dr. Robertson,t of strong liquors, in which they rioted to excess, till scenes of bloodshed closed these unnatural festivals ; whether' when the wine cup shined in light,' those rude people chaunted songs in praise of what they much loved, we must leave to the imagination to settle.
In the early history of Britain, we find a class of
* Hist. Essay on National Song, p. 3.