The Bennett Letters
Sweet Teviot, fare thee well! Less gentle themes
Far distant call me from thy pastoral dale,
To climes where Amakosa's woods and streams
Invite, in the fair South, my venturous sail.
From native haunts and early friends exiled,
I tune tune no more the string for Scottish tale;
For my aching heart, in accents wild,
Appeals thge bitter cry of Afric's race reviled
From Keissi's meads, from Chumi's hoary woods,
Bleak Tarka's dens and Stormberg's rugged fells,
To where Gareep pours down his sounding floods
Through regions where the hunted bushman dwells,
That bitter cry wide o'er the desert swells,
That of these savage haunts the story tells -
A tale of foul oppression, fraud and wrong,
Bt Afric's sons endured from Christian long.
Adieu, ye lays to youthful fancy dear!
Let darker scenes a sterner verse inspire,
While I attune to strains that tyrants fear
The deeper murmurs of the British lyre, -
And from a holier altar ask the fire
To point the indignant line with heavenly light,
(Though soon again in darkness to expire,)
That it oppression's cruel pride my blight,
By flashing Truth full blaze on deeds long hid in night!
Sweet Teviot! by adventurous Leyden sung,
And famed by mighty Scott in deathless lays,
I may not hope, with far less gifted tongue,
Aught higher to advance thy classic praise;
Yet, as a son his pious tribute pays
To the loved mother he has left behind,
I fain some grateful monument would raise,
Which in far foreign lands may call to mind
The scenes that Scottish hearts to their dear country bind.
And, though the last and lowliest of the train
By haunted Teviot smit with love of song,
(Sweet witchery that charms full many a pain!)
I join with venturous voice the minstrel throng:
Alike the thrush that cheers the broomy dale,
And the proud swan that, on bold pinions strong,
Through the far tracts of either dares to sail,
And pours 'mid scenes sublime his soul-subduing wail.
No perilous these I mediate: To me
To soar 'mid clouds and storms hath not been given;
Or through the gates of Dread and Mystery
To gaze - like those dark spirits who have striven
To rend the veil that severs Earth from Heaven:
For I have loved with simple hearts to dwell,
That ne'er to Doubt's forbidden springs were driven,
But lived sequested in life's lowly dell,
And drank the untroubled stream from Inspirations well.
Such were thy virtuous sons, fair Taviotdale,
While old simplicity was yet in prime;
But now among thy glens the faithful fail,
Forget of our sires in olden time:
That grey-haired race is gone - of look sublime,
Calm in demeanour, courteous, and sincere;
Yet stern, when duty called them, as their clime
When it flings off the autumnal foliage sere,
And shakes the shuddering woods with solemn voice severe.
And such were they whose tale I now rehearse -
But not to fashion's minions, who in vain
Would ask amusement from the artless verse
Of one who sings to soothe long hours of pain;
A nameless exile o'er the southern main,
i pour 'mid savage wilds my pensive song;
And if some gentle spirits love the strain,
Enough for me, though midst the louder throng
Few may be found to prize, or listen to it long.
A rustic home in Lynden's pastoral dell
With modest pride a verdant hillock crowned;
Where the bold stream, like dragon from the fell,
Came glittering forth and, gently gliding round
The broom-clad skirts of that fair spot of ground
Danced down the vale, in wanton mazes bending;
Till finding where it reached the meadow bound,
Romantic Teviot on his bright course wending,
It joined the sounding streams - with his blue waters blending.
Behind, a lofty wood along the steep
Fenced from the chill north-east this quiet glen;
And green hills, gaily sprinkled o'er with sheep,
Spread to the south; while by the bughting-pen
Rose the blythe sound of flocks and hounds and men,
At summer dawn and gloaming; or the voice
Of children nutting in the hazelly den,
Sweet mingling with the wind's and water's noise,
Attuned the softened heart with nature to rejoice.
Upon the upland height a mouldering Tower,
By time and outrage marked with many a scar,
Told of past days of feudal pomp and power
When its proud chieftans ruled the dales afar,
But that was long gone by: and waste and war,
And civil strife more ruthless still than they,
Had quenched the lustre of Glen Lyndens star -
Which glimmered now, with dim declining ray,
O'er this secluded spot, sole remnant of their sway.
A grave mild husbandman was Lynden's lord,
Who, smiling o'er these wrecks of grandeur gone,
Had for the plough-share changed the warriors sword
Which, like his sires, he erst had girded on.
And on his toils relending Fortune shone,
And blessed his fruitful fields and fleecy store;
And she he loved in youth, and loved alone,
Was his: ah, what could wealth have added more,
Save pride and peevish cares which haunt the rich man's door!
Vain wealth or rank could ne'er have won such love
As that devoted bosom's - lofty, warm, -
Which, while it blooms below, puts forth above
Celestial shoots secure from earthly harm.
And now his pleasant home and pastoral farm
Are all the world to him: he feels no sting
Of restless passions; but with grateful arm,
Clasps the twin cherubs round his neck that cling,
Breathing their innocent thoughts like violets in Spring.
Another prattler, too lisps on his knee,
The orphan daughter of a hapless pair,
Who, voyaging upon the Indian sea,
Met the fierce typhon-blast - and perished there:
but she was left the rustic home to share
Of those who her young mother's friends had been;
And old affection thus enhanced the care
With which those faithful guardians loved to screen
This sweet forsaken flower, in their wild arbours green.
With their twin children dark eyed Helen grew -
(Arthur and Anna were the kindred twain) -
And she, the engrafted germ, appeared to view
So like a younger sister, that 'twere pain
To think that group should ever part again:
They grew, like three fair roses on one stalk,
So the fond parents said in kindly talk,
Nor dreamt how frowning fate their blooming hopes would balk.
And dark calamity comes aye too soon -
And why anticipate its evil day:
Ah, rather let us now in lively June
O'erlook these happy childeren at their play:
Lo, where they gambol through the garden gay,
Or round the hoary hawthorn dance and sing,
Or, 'neath yon moss grown cliff, grotesque and grey,
Sit plaiting wondrous tales of the green Elfin King.
And Elfin lore and ancient Border song
The mother, smiling o'er the eager train,
Would often chant in winter evenings long-
And oft they pressed the pleasing task again:
But still she warned them that such tales were vain,
And but the dotage of a darker time;
And urged them better knowledge to attain
While yet their pliant minds were in their prime,
And open for the seed of scripture truth sublime.
Then would she tell - and in far other tone -
Of evil times gone by and evil men -
"When they who worshipped God must meet alone
At midnight, in the cleugh or quaking-fen,
In peril and alarm, - for round them then
Were ranging those who hunted for their blood:
Ay! long shall we remember! - In this glen,
From yon grim cavern where the screech-owls brood
Our ancestor was dragged, like outlaw from the wood!
"He died a victim; and his ancient lands,
Held by Glen-Lynden's lords since Bruce's day,
Have passed for ever to the spoiler's hands!" -
- "Hush thee!" the father then would gently say;
" 'Twas Heavens good pleasure we that debts should pay -
Perchance for guilt of those fierce fuedal lords,
Who, void of pity, whenthey shared the prey,
Full often in the balance flung their swords,
And wasted orphans' lands with their marauding hordes."
Such was their talk around the evening hearth:
And mildly thus, as the young plymates grew,
They taught them to join trembling with thier mirth;
For life is but a pilgrim's passage through
A waste, where springs of joy are faint and few:
Yet lest this thought their thoughts too much o'ercast,
They oft would turn to lightsome themes anew:
For youths hilarity we must not blast,
But lead it kindly on to wisdom's path at last.
Fain would I linger 'mong those fairy bowers,
Aloof from manhood's feverish hopes and fears,
Where innocence among the vernal flowers
Leads young Delight, aye laughing through his tears;
But lo! the cruel spectre Time appears
Half his amidst the foliage bright with bloom,
Weaving his ceaseless web of hours and years,
Still onward dyed with deeper hues of gloom -
And death behind stands darkly - pointing to the tomb!
Ay! Time's harsh hand for youth nor age will stay -
And I must hasten with my lagging strain.
Years steal on years: the locks are wearing grey
On either parent's brow: the youthful train
Have long outgrown their chidish pastimes vain:
On Arthur's manly features we may trace
High thought and feeling, checked by anxious pain;
And in each timid maiden's milder face,
Some shades of pensive care with woman's opening grace.
So young - so innocent - can grief's dark cloud
Thus early o'er their hearts its shadow fling!
Affliction's angel, though he crush the proud,
Might pass the humble with relenting wing!
Yet death has not been here; nor hath the sting
Of baleful passion touched one gentle breast:
When then can venomed care and sorrow spring,
In this calm seat of love and pious rest?
And the dear parent twain - why look they so distressed?
Ah! Evil days have fallen upon the land:
A storm that brooded long has burst at last;
And friends, like forest trees that closely stand,
With roots and branches interwoven fast,
May aid awhile each other in the blast;
But as when giant pines at length give way
The groves below must share the the ruin vast,
So men, who seemed aloof from Fortune’s sway,
Fall crushed beneath the shock of loftier than they.
Even so it fared. And dark round Lyndens grew
Misfortune’s troubles; and foreboding fears,
That rose like distant shadows, nearer drew,
O’ercasting the calm evening of his years:
Yet still amidst the gloom fair hope appears,
A rainbow in the cloud. And, for a space,
Till the horizon closes round, or clears,
Returns our tale the enchanted paths to trace
Where Youth’s fond visions rise with fair but fleeting grace.
Far up the dale, wher ynden’s ruined towers
O’erlooked the valley from the old oak wood,
A lake, blue gleaming from deep, forest bowers,
Spread its fair mirror to the landscape rude:
Oft by the margin of that quiet flood,
And through the groves and hoary ruins round,
Young Arthur loved to roam in lonely mood;
Or, here. Amid tradition’s haunted ground,
Long silent hours to lie in mystic musings drowned.
Bold feats of war, fierce feuds of elder times,
And wilder Elfin legends, - half forgot,
And half preserved in uncouth ballad rhymes, -
Had peopled with romantic tales the spot:
And, here, save bleat of sheep, or simple note
Of shepherd’s pipe far on the upland lone,
Or linnet in the bush and lark afloat
Blithe caroling, or stock-dove’s plaintive moan,
No sound of living thing through the long day was known.
No sound – save, aye, one small brook’s tinkling dash
Down the grey mossy cliffs; and, midst the lake,
The quick trout springing oft with gamesome plash;
And wild ducks rustling in the sdgy brake;
And sighing winds that scarce the willows shake;
And hum of bees among the blossomed thyme;
And pittering songs of grasshoppers – that make
Throughout the glowing meads their mirthful chime;
All rich and soothing sounds of summer’s fragrant prime.
Here, by the fairy brooklet’s sylvan side
Young Arthur, deep-entranced in poets’dream,
His bosom’s bashful ecstasy to hide
Would fling him by the hazel-margined stream,
Giving free fancy rein, - till twighlight’s gleam
Died in the rosy west; the summers day
All, all too brief for the enthusiasts theme,
Though voice nor verse gave utterance to the lay
That from the up-gushing fount of rapture welled away.
Not sounding verse, but sweet and silent tears,
Poured forth unbidden far from mortal eye,
Formed the pure offering of the blissful years
When first he woed the enchantress, Poesy
And found for glowing thought expression high
In moaning forest and deep murmuring flood,
In very gorgeous cloud that streaked the sky,
In very beauteous hue that tinged the wood,
In each expressive change of Nature’s fitful mood.
Thus passed his lonely hours the dreaming boy,
Erewhile, romantic reveries to frame;
Or read adventurous tales with thrilling joy,
Till his young breast throbbed high with thirst of fame;
But with fair manhood’s dawn Love’s tender flame
‘Gan mingle with his minstrel musing high;
And trembling wishes, - which he feared to name,
Yet of betrayed in many a half drawn sigh, -
Told that the hidden shaft deep in his heart did lie.
And there were eyes that from long silken lashes
With stolen glance could spy his secret pain, -
Soft hazel eyes, whose dewy light out-flashes
Like joyous day spring after summer rain:
And she, sweet Helen, loved the youth again
With maiden’s first affection, fond and true.
- Ah! Youthful love is like the tranquil main,
Heaving ‘neath smiling skies its bosom blue-
Beautiful as a spirit – calm but fearful too!
And forth they wander, that fair girl and boy,
To roam in gladness through the summer bowers;
Of love they talk not, but love’s tender joy
Breathes from their hearts like fragrance from the flowers:
Elysium opens round them; and the hours
Glide on unheeded, till gray Twilight’s shade
Wraps in its wizard shroud the ivied towers,
And fills with mystic shapes the forest glade-
And wakes “thick-coming fancies” in strange guise arrayed.
And oft they linger those lone haunts among,
Though darker fall the shadows of the wood,
And the witch-owl invokes with fitful song
The phantom train of Superstition’s brood.
A gentle Star lights up their solitude,
And lends fair hues to all created things;
And dreams alone of beings pure and good
Hover round their hearts with angel wings-
Hearts, like sweet fountains sealed, where silent rapture
I may not hear their growing passion paint
Or their day-dreams of cloudless bliss disclose:
I may not tell how hope deferred grew faint,
When griefs and troubles in far vista rose:
As the woods tremble ere the tempest blows,
How quaked their hearts (misled by treacherous fears)
When that fell nightmare of the souls repose,
Green jealousy his snaky crest uprears,
Whose breath of mildew blights the cherished faith of years.
‘Tis Autumn’s pensive noon; no zephyr’s breath
The withered foliage in the wood is shaking:
Their feeble song the mournful birds bequeath
To the sere coverts they are fast forsaking.
And now their last farewell that pair are taking:
For Arthur, bound to Indian climes, must leave
These early haunts. Each silent heart is breaking-
Yet both attempt to hide how much they grieve-
And each, deceived in turn, the other doth deceive!
How can they part! – The lake, the woods, the hills,
Speak to their pensive hearts of early days;
Remembrances wooes them from the haunted rills,
And hallows every spot their eye surveys;
Some sweet memorial of their infant plays,
Some tender token of their bashful loves,
Each rock and tree, and sheltered nook displays:
How can they part? – Nature the crime reproves,
And their commingling soul to milder purpose moves!
For what were life – ah, what were weary life,
Without each other, in this world of care!
A voyage through wild seas of storm and strife,
Without an aim for which to struggle there.
But, blessed in wedded hopes, how sweet to share
The gladness or the grief that life may bring!
Then join, relenting Love! This gentle pair;
Let worldly hearts to gold and grandeur cling;
Around the lowly cot they turtles sweetest sing.
Yes! They shall part no more! Those downcast eyes,
And blushing mantling o’er the changeful cheek-
The plighted kiss – the tears – the trembling sighs –
The head upon his arm declining meek –
Tell far more tenderly than words can speak,
How that devoted heart is all his own!
Oh, Love is eloquent! – but language weak
To paint the feelings to chaste bosom known,
When Transport’s heavenly wings are sweetly round them
And now the lake, the hills, the yellow woods,
Are bathed in beauty by the parting ray:
Through earth and air a hallowed rapture broods,
And starting tears confess its mystic away:
As home they wend, amidst the year’s decay.
Some magic spell the hues of eden throws
O’er every scene that on their outward way,
Told but of pleasures past and coming woes;
Such the enchanted radiance heart-felt bliss bestows.
Oh Nature! By impassioned hearts alone
The genuine charms are felt. The vulgar mind
Sees but the shadow of a Power Unknown:
And sensual throng, to groveling hopes resigned:
But they whom high and holy thoughts inspire,
Adore thee, in celestial glory shrined
In that diviner fane where Love’s pure fire
Burns bright and Genius tunes his rapt immortal lyre!
* * * * * * *
Change we once more the strain. The sire has told
The heart-struck group of dark disaster nigh:
Their old paternal home must now be sold,
And that last relic of their ancestry
Resigned to strangers. Long and strenuously
He strove to stem the flood’s o’erwhelming mass;
But still some fresh unseen calamity
Burst like a foaming billow – till, alas!
No hope remains that this their sorest grief may pass.
Yet be not thus dismayed. Our altered lot
He that ordains will brace us to endure.
This changeful world affords no sheltered spot,
Where man may count his frail possessions sure.
Our better birthright, noble precious, pure,
My well console for earthly treasures marred, -
Treasures, alas! how vain and insecure,
Where none from rust and robbery can guard:
The wise man looks to heaven alone for his reward.
The Christian father thus. But whither now
Shall the bewildered band their course direct?
What home shall shield that matron's honoured brow,
And those dear pensive maids from wrong protect?
Or cheer them 'mid the world's unkind neglect?
That world to the unfortunate so cold,
While lavish of its smiles and fair respect
Unto the proud, the prosperous, the bold:
Still shunning want and woe; still courting pomp and gold.
Shall they adopt the poor retainier's trade,
And sue for pity from the great and proud?
No! never shall ungenerous souls upbraid
Their conduct in adversity - which bowed
But not debased them. Or, amidst the crowd,
In noisome towns shall they themselves immure,
Their wants, their woes, their weary days to shroud
In some mean melancholy nook obscure?
No! worthier tasks await, and brighter scenes allure.
A land of climate fair and fertile soil,
Teeming with milk and wine and waving corn,
Invites from far the venturous Briton's toil:
And thousands, long by fruitless cares forsworn,
Are now across the Atlantic borne,
To seek new homes on Afric’s southern strand:
Better to launch with them than sink folorn
To vile dependence in our native land;
Better to fall in God’s than man’s unfeeling hand!
With hearts resigned they tranquilly prepare
To share the fortunes of that exile train.
And soon, with many a follower, forth they fare –
High hope and courage in their hearts again:
And now, afloat upon the dark blue main,
They gaze upon the fast-receding shore
With tearful eyes – while this the ballad strain,
Half heard amidst the ocean’s sweltering roar,
Bids farewell to the scenes they ne’er shall visit more. -
“Our native Land – our native Vale –
A long and last adieu!
Farewell to bonny Lynden-dale,
And Cheviot-mountains blue!
“Farewell, ye hills of glorious deed,
And streams renowned in song;
Farewell, ye blithesome braes and meads
Our hearts have loved so long.
“Farewell, ye broomy elfin knows,
Where thyme and harebells grow;
Farewell, ye hoary haunted howes,
O’erhung with birk and sloe.
“The battle-mound, the Border tower,
That Scotia’s annals tell;
The matyr’s grave, the lover’s bower-
To each – to all- farewell!
“Home of our hearts! Our fathers’home!
Land of the brave and free!
The keel is flashing through the foam
That bears us far from thee:
“We seek a wild and distant shore
Beyond the Atlantic main;
We leave thee to return no more,
Nor view thy cliffs again:
"But may dishonour blight our fame,
And quench our household fires,
When we, or ours, forget thy name,
island of our Sires!
A long, a last adieu!
Farewell to bonny Lynden-dale,