There was a young and valiant Knight,
Sir Eldred was his name;
And never did a worthier wight
The rank of knighthood claim.
Where gliding Tay, her stream sends forth,
To feed the neighbouring wood,
The ancient glory of the North,
Sir Eldred's castle stood.
The Knight was rich as Knight might be
In patrimonial wealth;
And rich in nature's gifts was he,
In youth, and strength, and health.
He did not think, as some have thought,
Whom honour never crown'd,
The fame a father dearly bought,
Could make the son renown'd.
He better thought, a noble sire,
Who gallant deeds had done,
To deeds of hardihood should fire
A brave and gallant son.
The fairest ancestry on earth
Without desert is poor;
And every deed of former worth
Is but a claim for more.
Sir Eldred's heart was ever kind,
Alive to Pity's call;
A crowd of virtues grac'd his mind,
He loved, and felt for all.
When merit rais'd the sufferer's name,
He shower'd his bounty then;
And those who could not prove that claim,
He succour'd still as men.
But sacred truth the Muse compels
His errors to impart;
And yet the Muse reluctant tells
The fault of Eldred's heart.
The mild and soft as infant love
His fond affections melt;
Tho' all that kindest spirits prove
Sir Eldred keenly felt:
Yet if the passions storm'd his soul,
By jealousy led on;
The fierce resentment scorn'd control,
And bore his virtues down.
Not Thule's waves so wildly break
To drown the northern shore;
Not Etna's entrails fiercer shake,
Or Scythia's tempests roar.
As when in summer's sweetest day
To fan the fragrant morn,
The sighing breezes softly stray
O'er fields of ripen'd corn;
Sudden the lightning's blast descends,
Deforms the ravag'd fields;
At once the various ruin blends,
And all resistless yields.
But when, to clear his stormy breast,
The sun of reason shone,
And ebbing passions sunk to rest,
And show'd what rage had done:
O then what anguish he betray'd!
His shame how deep, how true!
He view'd the waste his rage had made,
And shudder'd at the view.
The meek-ey'd dawn, in saffron robe,
Proclaim'd the opening day,
Up rose the sun to gild the globe,
And hail the new-born May;
The birds their vernal notes repeat,
And glad the thickening grove,
And feather'd partners fondly greet
With many a song of love:
When pious Eldred early rose
The Lord of all to hail;
Who life with all its gifts bestows,
Whose mercies never fail!
That done -- he left his woodland glade,
And journey'd far away;
He lov'd to court the distant shade,
And thro' the lone vale stray.
Within the bosom of a wood,
By circling hills embrac'd,
A little, modest mansion stood,
Built by the hand of taste:
While many a prouder castle fell,
This safely did endure;
The house where guardian virtues dwell
Is sacred and secure.
Of Eglantine an humble fence
Around the mansion stood,
Which serv'd at once to charm the sense,
And screen an infant wood.
The wood receiv'd an added grace,
As pleas'd it bent to look,
And view'd its ever verdant face
Reflected in a brook:
The smallness of the stream did well
The master's fortunes show;
But little streams may serve to tell
The source from which they flow.
This mansion own'd an aged Knight,
And such a man was he,
As heaven just shows to human sight,
To tell what man should be.
His youth in many a well-fought field
Was train'd betimes to war;
His bosom, like a well-worn shield,
Was grac'd with many a scar.
The vigour of a green old age
His reverend form did bear;
And yet, alas! the warrior-sage
Had drain'd the dregs of care.
And sorrow more than age can break,
And wound its hapless prey,
'Twas sorrow furrow'd his firm cheek,
And turn'd his bright locks grey.
One darling daughter sooth'd his cares,
A young and beauteous dame,
Sole comfort of his failing years,
And Birtha was her name.
Her heart a little sacred shrine,
Where all the Virtues meet,
And holy Hope and Faith divine
Had claim'd it for their seat.
She lov'd to raise her fragrant bower
Of wild and rustic taste,
And there she screen'd each fav'rite flower
From ev'ry ruder blast:
And not a shrub or plant was there
But did some moral yield,
For wisdom, by a father's care,
Was found in ev'ry field.
The trees, whose foliage fell away,
And with the summer died,
He thought an image of decay
Might lecture human pride:
While fair perennial greens that stood,
And brav'd the wintry blast,
As types of the fair mind he view'd,
Which shall for ever last.
He taught her that the gaudiest flowers
Were seldom fragrant found,
But, wasted soon their little powers,
Dropt useless on the ground:
While the sweet-scented rose shall last,
And still retain its power
When life's imperfect day is past,
And beauty's shorter hour.
And here the virgin lov'd to lead
Her inoffensive day,
And here she oft retir'd to read,
And oft retir'd to pray.
Embower'd, she grac'd the woodland shades,
From courts and cities far,
The pride of Caledonian maids,
The peerless northern star.
As shines that bright and lucid star,
The glory of the night,
When beaming thro' the cloudless air,
She sheds her silver light:
So Birtha shone! -- But when she spoke
The Muse herself was heard,
As on the ravish'd air she broke,
And thus her prayer preferr'd:
'O bless thy Birtha, Power Supreme,
In whom I live and move,
And bless me most by blessing him
Whom more than life I love.'
She starts to hear a stranger's voice,
And with a modest grace,
She lifts her meek eye in surprise,
And sees a stranger's face:
The stranger lost in transport stood,
Bereft of voice and power,
While she with equal wonder view'd
Sir Eldred of the bower.
The virgin blush which spreads her cheek
With nature's purest dye,
And all those dazzling beams which break
Like morning from her eye.
He view'd them all, and as he view'd,
Drank deeply of delight;
And still his raptur'd eye pursued,
And feasted on the sight.
With silent wonder long they gaz'd,
And neither silence broke;
At length the smother'd passion blaz'd,
Enamour'd Eldred spoke:
'O sacred Virtue, heav'nly power!
Thy wondrous force I feel:
I gaze, I tremble, I adore,
Yet die my love to tell.
'My scorn has oft the dart repell'd
Which guileful beauty threw;
But goodness heard, and grace beheld,
Must every heart subdue.'
Quick on the ground her eyes were cast,
And now as quickly rais'd:--
Just then her father haply past,
On whom she trembling gaz'd.
Good Ardolph's eye his Birtha meets
With glances of delight;
And thus with courteous speech he greets
The young and graceful Knight:
'O gallant youth, whoe'er thou art,
Right welcome to this place!
There's something rises at my heart
Which says I've seen that face.'
'Thou generous Knight,' the youth rejoin'd,
'Though little known to fame,
I trust I bear a grateful mind--
Sir Eldred is my name.'
'Sir Eldred?' -- Ardolph loud exclaim'd,
'Renown'd for worth and power?
For valour and for virtue famed,
Sir Eldred of the Bower?
'Now make me grateful, righteous Heaven,
As thou art good to me,
Since to my aged eyes 'tis given
Sir Eldred's son to see!'
Then Ardolph caught him by the hand,
And gazed upon his face,
And to his aged bosom strain'd,
With many a kind embrace.
Again he view'd him o'er and o'er,
And doubted still the truth,
And ask'd what he had ask'd before,
Then thus addrest the youth:
'Come now beneath my roof, I pray,
Some needful rest to take,
And with us many a cheerful day
Thy friendly sojourn make.'
He enter'd at the gate straightway
Some needful rest to take;
And with them many a cheerful day
Did friendly sojourn make.
Once -- in a social summer's walk,
The gaudy day was fled;
They cheated time with cheerful talk
When thus Sir Ardolph said:
'Thy father was the firmest friend
That e'er my beign blest;
And every virtue heaven could send,
Fast bound him to my breast.
'Together did we learn to bear
The casque and ample shield;
Together learn'd in many a war
The deathful spear to wield.
'To make our union still more dear,
We both were doom'd to prove,
What is most sweet and most severe
In heart-dissolving love.
'The daughter of a neighbouring Knight
Did my fond heart engage,
And ne'er did Heaven the virtues write
Upon a fairer page.
'His bosom felt an equal qound,
Nor sigh'd we long in vain;
One summer's sun beheld us bound
In Hymen's holy chain.
'Thou wast Sir Eldred's only child,
Thy father's darling joy;
On me a lovely daughter smiled,
On me a blooming boy.
'But man has woes -- has clouds of care,
That dim his star of life --
My arms received the little pair,
The earth's cold breast my wife.
'Forgive, thou gentle Knight, forgive,
Fond foolish tears will flow;
One day like mine thy heart may heave,
And mourn its lot of wo.
'But grant, kind Heaven! thou ne'er may'st know
The pangs I now impart;
Nor ever feel the parting blow
That rives a husband's heart.
'Beside the blooming banks of Tay;
My angel's ashes sleep;
And wherefore should her Ardolph stay
Except to watch and weep?
'I bore my beauteous babes away
With many a gushing tear;
I left the blooming banks of Tay,
And brought my darlings here.
'I watch'd my little household cares
And form'd their growing youth,
And fondly train'd their infant years
To piety and truth.'
'Thy blooming Birtha here I see,'
Sir Eldred straight rejoin'd;
'But why the son is not with thee,
Resolve my doubting mind.'
When Birtha did the question hear,
She sigh'd, but could not speak:
And many a soft and tender tear
Stray'd down her damask cheek.
Then pass'd o'er good Sir Ardolph's face
A cast of deadly pale;
But soon composed with manly grace,
He thus renew'd his tale:
'For him my heart too much has bled;
For him, my darling son,
Has sorrow prest my hoary head,
But Heaven's high will be done!
'Scarce eighteen winters had revolved,
To crown the circling year,
Before my valiant boy resolved
The warrior's lance to bear.
'For high I prized my native land,
Too dear his fame I held,
T'oppose a parent's stern command,
And keep him from the field.
'He left me -- left his sister too,
Yet tears bedew'd his face --
What could a feeble old man do?
He burst from my embrace.
'O thirst of glory, fatal flame!
O laurels dearly bought!
Yet sweet is death when earn'd with fame--
So virtuous Edwy thought.
'Full manfully the brave boy strove,
Though pressing ranks oppose;
But weak the strongest arm must prove
Against an host of foes.
'A deadly wound my son receives,
A spear assails his side:
Grief does not kill -- for Adolph lives
To tell that Edwy died.
'His long-loved mother died again
In Edwy's parting groan;
I wept for her, yet wept in vain--
I wept for both in one.
'I would have died -- I sought to die,
But Heaven restrain'd the thought,
And to my passion-clouded eye
My helpless Birtha brought.
'When lo! array'd in robes of light,
A nymph celestial came,
She clear'd the mists that dimm'd my sight--
Religion was her name.
'She proved the chastisement divine,
And bade me kiss the rod:
She taught this rebel heart of mine
Submission to its God.
Religion taught me to sustain
What Nature bade me feel;
And Piety relieved the pain
Which Time can never heal.'
He ceased -- with sorrow and delight
The tale Sir Eldred hears;
Then weeping cries -- 'Thou noble Knight,
For thanks accept my tears.
'O Ardolph, might I dare aspire
To claim so bright a boon!--
Good old Sir Eldred was my sire--
And thou hast lost a son.
'And though I want a worthier plea
To urge so dear a cause;
Yet let me to thy bosom be
What once thy Edwy was.
'My trembling tongue its aid denies;
For thou may'st disapprove;
Then read it in my ardent eyes,
Oh! read the tale of love.
'Thy beauteous Birtha!' -- 'Gracious Power
How could I e'er repine,
Cries Ardolph, 'since I see this hour?
Yes -- Birtha shall be thine.'
A little transient gleam of red
Shot faintly o'er her face,
And every trembling feature spread
With sweet disorder'd grace.
The tender father kindly smiled
With fulness of content:
And fondly eyed his darling child,
Who, bashful, blush'd consent.
O then to paint the vast delight
That fill'd Sir Eldred's heart,
To tell the transports of the Knight,
Would mock the Muse's art.
But every kind and gracious soul,
Where gentle passions dwell,
Will better far conceive the whole,
Than any Muse can tell.
The more the Knight his Birtha knew,
The more he prized the maid;
Some worth each day produced to view,
Some grace each hour betray'd.
The virgin too was fond to charm
The dear accomplish'd youth;
His single breast she strove to warm,
And crown'd, with love, his truth.
Unlike the dames of modern days,
Who general homage claim;
Who court the universal gaze,
And pant for public fame.
Then beauty but on merit smiled,
Nor were her chaste smiles sold;
No venal father gave his child
For grandeur, or for gold.
The ardour of young Eldred's flame
But ill could brook delay,
And oft he press'd the maid to name
A speedy nuptial day.
The fond impatience of his breast
'Twas all in vain to hide,
But she his eager suit represt
With modest maiden pride.
When oft Sir Eldred press'd the day
Which was to crown his truth,
The thoughtful Sire would sigh and say,
'O happy state of youth!
'It little recks the woes which wait
To scare its dreams of joy;
Nor thinks to-morrow's alter'd fate
May all those dreams destroy.
'And though the flatterer Hope deceives,
And painted prospects shows;
Yet man, still cheated, still believes,
Till death the bright scene close.
'So look'd my bride, so sweetly mild,
On me her beauty's slave;
But whilst she look'd, and whilst she smiled,
She sunk into the grave.
'Yet, O forgive an old man's care
Forgive a father's zeal:
Who fondly loves, must greatly fear;
Who fears, must greatly feel.
'Once more in soft and sacred bands
Shall Love and Hymen meet;
To-morrow shall unite your hands,
And -- be your bliss complete!'
The rising sun inflamed the sky,
The golden orient blush'd;
But Birtha's cheeks a sweeter die,
A brighter crimson flush'd.
The Priest, in milk-white vestments clad,
Perform'd the mystic rite;
Love lit the hallow'd torch that led
To Hymen's chaste delight.
How feeble language were to speak
Th' immeasurable joy,
That fired Sir Eldred's ardent cheek,
And triumph'd in his eye!
Sir Ardolph's pleasure stood confest,
A pleasure all his own;
The guarded pleasure of a breast
Which many a grief had known.
'Twas such a sober sense of joy
As Angels well might keep;
A joy chastised by piety,
A joy prepared to weep.
To recollect her scatter'd thought,
And shun the noon-tide hour,
The lovely bride in secret sought
The coolness of her Bower.
Long she remain'd -- th' enamour'd Knight,
Impatient at her stay;
And all unfit to taste delight
When Birtha was away;
Betakes him to the secret bower;
His footsteps softly move;
Impell'd by every tender power,
He steals upon his love.
O, horror! horror! blasting sight!
He sees his Birtha's charms,
Reclined with melting fond delight,
Within a stranger's arms.
Wild phrenzy fires his frantic hand;
Distracted at the sight,
He flies to where the lovers stand,
And stabs the stranger Knight.
'Die, traitor, die! thy guilty flames
Demand th' avenging steel!'--
'It is my brother,' she exclaims,
''Tis Edwy -- Oh farewell.'
An aged peasant, Edwy's guide,
The good old Ardolph sought;
He told him that his bosom's pride,
His Edwy he had brought.
O how the father's feelings melt!
How faint, and how revive!
Just so the Hebrew Patriarch felt,
To find his son alive.
'Let me behold my darling's face,
And bless him ere I die!'
Then with a swift and vigorous pace,
He to the bower did hie:
O sad reverse! -- Sunk on the ground;
His slaughter'd son he view'd;
And dying Birtha, close he found,
In brother's blood imbrued.
Cold, speechless, senseless, Eldred near
Gazed on the deed he had done;
Like the blank statue of Despair,
Or Madness graved in stone.
The father saw -- so Jephthah stood,
So turn'd his wo-fraught eye,
When the dear destined child he view'd,
His zeal had doom'd to die.
He look'd the wo he could not speak,
And on the pale corse prest
His wan, discolour'd, dying cheek
And silent, sunk to rest.
Then Birtha faintly rais'd her eye,
Which long had ceased to stream,
On Eldred fix'd, with many a sigh,
Its dim departing beam.
The cold, cold dews of hastening death,
Upon her pale face stand;
And quick and short her failing breath,
And tremulous her hand.
The cold, cold dews of hastening death,
The dim departing eye,
The quivering hand, the short quick breath
He view'd -- and did not die.
He saw her spirit mount in air,
Its kindred skies to seek!
His heart its anguish could not bear,
And yet it would not break.
The mournful Muse forbears to tell
How wretched Eldred died;
She draws the Grecian Painter's veil,
The vast distress to hide.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Yet Heaven's decrees are just and wise,
And man is born to bear:
Joy is the portion of the skies,
Beneath them all is care.
Yet blame not Heaven; 'tis erring man,
Who mars his own best joys;
Whose passions uncontroll'd, the plan
Of promised bliss destroys.
Had Eldred paused, before the blow,
His hand had never err'd;
What guilt, what complicated wo,
His soul had then been spared!
The deadliest wounds with which we bleed,
Our crimes inflict alone;
Man's mercies from God's hand proceed,
His miseries from his own.