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The Sons of the Soil: a Poem. Ellis, Sarah Stickney, 1812–1872.
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page: 90
page: 91

BOOK V.

  • NOW rose a stately fabric to the view,
  • With front commanding, and with aspect new;
  • In bold advance upon the verdant green,
  • Where once the snowdrop's silvery bells were seen.
  • page: 92
  • Still waved the ash her pendent branches wide,
  • Those prouder walls, that loftier roof beside;
  • Still hung the elm her canopy of green,
  • That sheltered once, now but adorned the scene;
  • Still spread the lilach, and laburnum bright,
  • Their flowery scented garlands to the sight;
  • Still glowed the border with its roseate bloom,
  • And still the sweetbriar sent its rich perfume
  • Around, abroad, upon the ambient air,
  • Mingling with zephyrs cool, and odours rare.
  • No more the ancient, lowly door was seen,
  • Inviting every step that crossed the green.
  • But now a noble portal seemed to guard
  • That hall, where base intrusion was debarred,
  • Where smoothly swept a graceful line of road,
  • As if to point the gentleman's abode.
  • Why not? The British tradesman has his box,
  • Where coaches wait, and liveried servant knocks.
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  • The man of looms may boast his costly wine,
  • And ask the magnates of the land to dine,
  • May buy the fields by hoarded items won,
  • And purchase next, a title for his son.
  • Who grudges him his carpets, or his plate,
  • His grounds, his green-house, on his entrance-gate?
  • Who grudges him his freedom to bestride
  • The high-bred horse he ne'er has learned to ride?
  • Who grudges him, through all this generous land,
  • The hard-earned privilege of looking grand?
  • But should the farmer, too aspiring grown,
  • Dare but to lay his spade and sickle down,
  • Or, moving onward with the march of mind,
  • Leave his dull habits and rude haunts behind—
  • Should he presume with honest gains to buy
  • What city weavers undisturbed enjoy,
  • Loud is the outcry then—“Put down! put down!
  • Bind to his native earth the adventurous clown,
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  • Wring from his hold this luxury and excess,
  • Double his rent, or make his profits less!”
  • Sons of the Soil! ye were not born to be
  • Servants, or suppliants to the proud and free.
  • Pleased with the sunshine of a few short years,
  • Heedless, I grant, your lavish waste appears;
  • But you have claims upon your native land
  • No patriot bosom ever could withstand.
  • And should your virtues vanish from her soil,
  • Vain were the strife of manufacturing toil
  • Along the trampled mead, and smoking plain,
  • To wake the glory of that land again.
  • I am a woman, and I must not say
  • What statesmen should do, or what monarchs may:
  • Yet would I ask, what nation could be great,
  • Whose land was sacrificed to serve the state?
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  • Whose fertile bosom, with its robe of health,
  • Its fruits, its flowers, its fields of golden wealth,
  • Were seared and blasted, that the fiery glow
  • Of moving Hecklas o'er those fields might go?
  • Scorching the bloom of paradise beneath,
  • Sending afar their sulphur-tainted breath,
  • Uprooting all her rural green abodes,
  • To make the landscape one vast map of roads—
  • One universal workship, roaring wide,
  • Between the realm of waves on either side—
  • One mighty engine, labouring, forcing, heating,
  • With its ten thousand human pulses beating.
  • Is this the land on which a God of love
  • Looks down approving, from his throne above?
  • This the reflection of his glory, given
  • To show mankind some transient glimpse of heaven?
  • 'Tis not that hearts amid the bustling throng
  • May not to heaven's own sacred fold belong,
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  • But does this life, by restless millions led,
  • Promote the cause for which a Saviour bled?
  • Can mere industry, or mechanic art,
  • Implant his image in the human heart?
  • No; let the furnace glow, the engine roar,
  • The living meteor glide from shore to shore;
  • If human reason finds no time to pause,
  • To think of God, or contemplate his laws—
  • If human love, tossed in the general strife,
  • Holds not the anchor of eternal life—
  • If locked in actual labour of the hand,
  • Untaught by wisdom, ignorant we stand—
  • Ignorant of all true knowledge, or the sense
  • Of good and evil, with their consequence;
  • How shall we prosper as a nation? How
  • In aught that dignifies our nature, grow?
  • In aught that gives true riches, how increase?
  • In aught that satisfies, how find our peace?
page: 97
  • Pass we to other themes. A stately dome
  • Was that which now the farmer called his home;
  • And all sat down with well-contented air
  • To watch improvement still progressing there.
  • The aunt looked on, and, smiling, gave command,
  • While Martha, with her never-tiring hand,
  • Inspecting each apartment, drawer, and shelf,
  • Consulting others, acted for herself.
  • Lucy was wrapt in thought. Above, below,
  • Visions of future comfort seemed to grow,
  • But while she mused, a sigh would sometimes tell
  • The past to her, was yet remembered well.
  • Helen cared little for the humble past,
  • Her soul's proud anchor in the future cast.
  • That unknown future seemed a world of wealth,
  • From whence she drew for her young spirit's health;
  • For satisfying draught had never yet
  • Passed her warm lips. Her morning sun might set.
  • Were there not brighter worlds to win elsewhere,
  • Beyond the circle of her native sphere?
  • page: 98
  • Genius, that wildfire of the brain, was hers;
  • Taste, that too oft the impossible prefers;
  • Ambition, searching for some untried good;
  • With vague emotions, still less understood;
  • Pleasures, and pains, a vacillating host,
  • That never yet the vulgar pathway crossed;
  • All these, implanted in her ardent mind,
  • If not more happy, made her more refined;
  • Gave to her spirit, even in early youth,
  • Its quenchless thirst for beauty, more than truth.
  • And with this impulse came—how oft it comes,
  • Disdain for humble means, and lowly homes,
  • And all the intercourse of rural life,
  • With homely matron, or domestic wife.
  • These Helen shunned, scarce wishing to offend,
  • Yet wishing less to call such neighbour friend.
  • Her friends were in the books of taste she loved,
  • The woods, the hills, the valleys where she roved,
  • The landscapes she designed, the scenes she drew
  • From her own bright imagination new,
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  • The masters old, whose pictures decked the wall,
  • Where stood her mirror, richly framed, and tall,
  • Reflecting in its light her Hebe form,
  • With Grecian forehead, but with blushes warm—
  • Too warm, too true, to woman's early prime,
  • For sculptured goddess of the olden time.
  • Nor less her passion for the sister art,
  • Whose power more quickly thrills the human heart.
  • Martha was musical, and had the skill
  • To sing and warble like a woodland rill;
  • But Helen loved the science, and her ear
  • Was pained by sounds to untaught minstrels dear.
  • Thus many a joy her happier sister knew,
  • Was unrevealed to her exalted view;
  • And while on Mlartha's brow contentment sat,
  • Helen aspired to share some loftier fate.
  • With deeper fondness for poetic lore,
  • Henry was formed to live with nature more;
  • With his own favourite Burns, by wood and stream,
  • Of summer birds and autumn gales to dream.
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  • While Lucy, her own feelings unexpressed,
  • Seemed but to smile or suffer for the rest.
  • Yet did the happy band united rove,
  • Differing in nature, but the same in love,
  • Along the flowery paths of early life,
  • Free from its cankering care, and sordid strife.
  • If melancholy sometimes touched their brows,
  • 'Twas but as evening shadows touch the rose;
  • Its bloom unsullied meets the morning light,
  • And their young hearts soon glowed with new delight.
  • The farmer's mansion now was all complete,
  • With spacious hall untrod by vulgar feet,
  • With Grecian portico, and pillars high,
  • Around whose base no servile weeds might lie.
  • And not the architect more proudly scanned
  • The goodly edifice his taste had planned,
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  • Than looked the inmates on their work within,
  • Where costly furniture well-placed was seen.
  • “Costly indeed!” the farmer oft would say:
  • “'Tis yours to choose; my part, alas! to pay.”
  • Yet even to him, insensibly, had grown
  • The list of things he longed to call his own;
  • For one still brought another in its train,
  • If this was elegant, must that be plain?
  • Good taste forbade—“If modern couches here,
  • Why spoil the whole, by those old curtains there?
  • If music in this deep recess we place,
  • A handsome sideboard must the other grace.”
  • Thus grew the scene, as all such scenes will grow;
  • Though few philosophers can tell us how:
  • Thus swelled the catalogue, and rose the tide
  • Of tradesmen's bills, already laid aside.
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  • What boots the wealth by ceaseless toil attained,
  • The pomp, the splendour, by ambition gained,
  • If lost, or hidden from admiring gaze,
  • Through scenes retired our silent steps we trace:
  • If rural shades conceal it from the world,
  • Vain, too, the hero's conquering flag unfurled;
  • As well might cankerworm or moth destroy,
  • If all unseen our treasures we enjoy.
  • Thus thought Matilda Herbert, as she saw
  • The carpets spread, without a single flaw,,
  • The furniture untouched, unsullied all
  • The paint and papering of each well-built wall.
  • But while she mused, behold a splendid sight!
  • The landlord's carriage, with his ponies white,
  • And brisk out-riders, old, and young, and gay,
  • And ladies mounted on their pafreys grey.
  • A lordly troop. Who could the strangers be?
  • Would they all pass? Matilda watched to see.
page: 103
  • And now a hurrying groom rides to the door,
  • And leaves this message—At the hour of four
  • The landlord's party will return and call,
  • Lord William Douglas, with his friends, and all.
  • “Now mercy on us!” cried the maiden aunt,
  • Lost to her dignity, “How much I want
  • Even yet to finish off the drawing-room.
  • Brother! young ladies! Henry! Martha! come,
  • There is no time to lose.”
  • The news was told,
  • The farmer heard it with expression cold;
  • His sister wondered how such men were made,
  • So little natural feeling they betrayed.
  • No want, however, in the rest was seen,
  • Youth's own excitement, fear and joy between,
  • Sent them on errands vague, whose purpose strange
  • Each new idea had the power to change.
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  • Martha alone with wonted method moved,
  • The bustling stir of active life she loved,
  • And while she wished for guests less grand than those,
  • The exertion pleased her better than the cause.
  • Henry declared he never would appear,
  • Not he indeed! Why should such guests come there?
  • Yet was he missing ere the appointed hour,
  • In secret yielding to the magic power
  • That ruled his toilet, where a charm was thrown
  • Around his form, not strictly nature's own.
  • 'Twas Lucy's part to gather flowerets gay,
  • Contrast their tints, and form the rich bouquet;
  • But while her fingers trimmed the roses fair,
  • She quite forgot her own soft waving hair.
  • Not Helen thus unmindful. O'er her brow
  • The sable bands were smoothly taught to flow,
  • Leaving the outline of her Grecian head
  • In all its clsssic purity displaced.
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  • Nor stooped that head to look on trifles low,
  • Her aunt, her sisters might their care bestow
  • On needful viands, or well-dusted chairs.
  • The books, the pictures, she alone prepares,
  • Spreads out the annuals, brings the engravings down,
  • With the last novel lately come from town,
  • Lays her portfolio just to catch the view,
  • Opens the music most approved and new,
  • Brings out the sofas farther from the wall,
  • Displaces chairs, and ottomans, that all
  • May wear an aspect more familiar,
  • As if the family lived always there.
  • And now at last, the eventful moment come,
  • Matilda Herbert hastens from her room,
  • With looks that seemed to say—“Well, this is life.”
  • Yet how unlike to William Herbert's wife!
  • The guests arrive, what boots it here to say
  • How fair the ladies, or the men how gay,
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  • How smoothly swept the graceful train along,
  • With those soft airs that to the great belong,
  • When high-born beauty seeks the lowly vale,
  • Or praises merit on an humble scale.
  • With restless steps from room to room they go,
  • The aunt conductress, eloquent, but slow,
  • Lest her deep curtains, or her paperings pale,
  • To catch some guest's admiring eye, should fail.
  • Vain hope delusive! What to them were all
  • The various colours blending on the wall?
  • More rare, and more attractive to their sight,
  • Was the cool dairy, and the milk so white,
  • The kitchen graced with pewter and with tin,
  • And the back-door, where fowls would fain come in—
  • Those pretty fowls the ladies loved to feed,
  • Casting them down sweet cakes instead of bread.
  • Pleased with the pastime, all things else forgot,
  • Perversely still they gathered round that spot,
  • page: 107
  • While farming men passed out, and still they stood,
  • Charmed with the novelty of scenes so rude.
  • Amazed, indignant, looked Matilda then,
  • To see the rolling gait of those coarse men;
  • And, worse than all, the bucket's rattling sound
  • Assailed her ear with horror most profound.
  • She pleaded with her guests, entreated—prayed—
  • They would just saunter through the garden's shade.
  • At length, her purpose gained, she led the way,
  • And soon dispersing through the walks they stray.
  • The farmer with his landlord talked alone,
  • No servile meekness o'er his look was thrown,
  • No different smile he wore for titled dame,
  • In court, or market, he had been the same.
  • They spoke of business, and their looks were grave;
  • Yet all unlike the master, and the slave;
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  • Each born to share a widely different lot,
  • Dependence on the other ne'er forgot.
  • Without his rents the landlord could not live,
  • And freely did the tenant toil, and give;
  • The farmer felt his station far below,
  • Yet owned a freeman's right to stay, or go.
  • How sped those moments to the fluttering throng,
  • Bright garden vistas, and green bowers among?
  • The proudest day that dawned on Helen—this
  • The hour most redolent of fancied bliss.
  • Lord William Douglas was an honoured name,
  • Known to the world, and could he be the same?
  • He was; and Helen heard him talk, and tell
  • Of battles fought, and wounds remembered well.
  • Battles? and he so young!—wounds? and so fair!
  • With princely hand, and waves of golden hair!
  • Tall and majestic was his martial mien,
  • In visions Helen such a form had seen.
  • page: 109
  • What could induce him thus to condescend—
  • With his vast store of knowledge to unbend?
  • Say, was he all the courtly man he seemed?
  • No, of his distant native vale he dreamed;
  • And rural sights, and pastoral scenes, had power
  • To win his spirit back to childhood's hour.
  • Then would the pride of rank, the pomp of arms,
  • Lose in his eye their artificial charms;
  • Then would he cast the hero from his brow,
  • While o'er his lip truth's simple tide would flow..
  • And Helen listened, like a wood-nymph wild
  • Caught by some strain of music, soft, and mild.
  • Her eye intent, her rosy lips apart,
  • Her cheek suffused with blushes from her heart.
  • Soon passed that hour. The lordly train were gone,
  • The farmer's family were left alone;
  • And even those who wished them gone before
  • Felt a strange void when that bright scene was o'er.
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  • Long did the aunt expatiate on their dress,
  • And sage opinion of its cost express;
  • While Martha, half admiring, half in doubt,
  • Hinted how strangely they had peeped about;
  • As if they felt they had the right to come
  • And see the furnishing of every room.
  • Then rose the warm defence on Helen's part,
  • With those keen jests that troubled Martha's heart;
  • For she was listening to the manly suit
  • Of one who stood no higher in repute
  • Than worthy tradesman of the neighbouring town,
  • And many a sneer upon his love was thrown.
  • Not by the farmer, for he knew him well,
  • And oft his worth and generous deeds would tell:
  • How he had fostered with parental care
  • His orphan sister, sickly, young, and fair;
  • How he had laboured to retrieve his name
  • From debts that darkened o'er his father's fame;
  • page: 111
  • And how, before his fellow-men he stood,
  • With character unblemished, staunch, and good.
  • Such was the man who sued for Martha's hand,
  • Nor knew she how to yield, or to withstand.
  • He had her father's praise, and that was much,
  • But yet to woman's heart how keen the touch
  • Of sisters' satire, and of brother's scorn.
  • This she might brook—that never could be borne.
  • For they would talk, with many a droll grimace,
  • Of tapes, and trimmings, calicoes, and lace,
  • Of pence and halfpence, counted out with care,
  • And oftener still, of Gilpin's trip to Ware;
  • Till Martha caught the same infectious smile,
  • Though tears would sometimes dim her eyes the while.
  • At last she roused herself. This would not do—
  • Unworthy of her sex! unkind! untrue!
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  • Would he have suffered insult on her name?
  • Deep answering blushes stained her cheek with shame.
  • This would not do She went at evening hour,
  • And found her brother in their favourite bower;
  • She saw him musing, lost in gloomy thought,
  • And wished some joyful tidings she had brought.
  • “Henry,” she said, and kissed his mournful brow,
  • “What ails thee, dearest? Am I not to know?”
  • Henry replied, half angry, half distressed,
  • Some strange emotion labouring in his breast,
  • “My father tells me, Martha, we are wrong,
  • And have been quite mistaken all along,
  • About the expenses he has had to meet,
  • With lessening prices for his oats and wheat.
  • I asked him if he meant me still to live
  • Beneath his roof He would no answer give,
  • page: 113
  • Nor seemed the idea willingly to come,
  • That I must sometime seek a separate home.
  • He spoke of all the cost this house had been,
  • The grounds without, the furniture within:
  • Would I could now call back the ancient one,
  • Or claim the portion of an only son!”
  • “Is this the case?” said Martha; “Then I know
  • At once, dear Henry, what I ought to do.
  • Smile not—yes, I will give you leave to smile,
  • And my fixed purpose will declare the while.
  • I love the man—at least, I think I could,
  • Who oft provokes your mirth in jesting mood;
  • And I will love him better, for I see
  • There is more need than once there seemed to be
  • For us to seek beyond our native hearth
  • Some lasting shelter, and some home on earth.
  • Yet, Henry dearest, grant me one request,
  • It is not much, to soothe a sister's breast;
  • page: 114
  • I could not ask it, would your pleasures be
  • Curtailed in aught, for granting this to me.
  • But, my own brother, I have borne too much
  • Of that rude handling—that unfeeling touch,
  • That wounds the spirit.”
  • “Martha, say no more.”
  • He kissed her cheek, that burning tears fell o'er,
  • And promised faithfully, nor broke his word,
  • That from that hour his jest should ne'er be heard.
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