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and the Chinese our potters. Nature indeed furnishes us with the bare necessaries of life, but traffic gives us a great variety of what is useful, and at the same time supplies us with every thing that is convenient and ornamental. Nor is it the least part of this our happiness, that whilst we enjoy the remotest products of the north and south, we are free from those extremities of weather which give them birth; that our eyes are refreshed with the green
fields of Britain, at the same time that our palates are feasted with fruits that rise between the tropics.
For these reasons there are not more useful members in a commonwealth than merchants. They knit mankind together in a mutual intercourse of good offices, distribute the gifts of nature, find work for the poor, and wealth to the rich, and magnificence to the great.
Our English merchant converts the tin of his own country into gold, and exchanges his wood for rubies. The Mahometans are clothed in our British manufacture, and the inhabitants of the Frozen Zone warmed with the fleeces of our sheep.
When I have been upon the Change, I have often fancied one of our old kings standing in person, where he is represented in effigy, and looking down upon the wealthy concourse of people with which that place is every day filled. In this case, how would he be surprised to hear all the languages of Europe spoken in this little spot of his former dominions, and to see so many private men, who in. his time would have been the vassals of some powerful baron, negociating like princes for greater sums of money than were formerly to be met with in the royal treasury! Trade, without enlarging the British territories, hag given us a kind of additional empire: it has multiplied the number of the rich, made our landed estates infinitely more valuable than they were formerly, and added to them an accession of other
C. estates as valuable as the lands themselves.
No. 70. MONDAY, MAY 21
Interdum vulgus rectum videt.
HoR. 1 Ep. 11, 63.
WHEN 1 travelled, I took a particular delight in hearing the songs and fables that are come from father to son, and are most in vogue among the common people of the countries through which I passed; for it is impossible that any thing should be universally tasted and approved by a multitude, though they are only the rabble of a nation, which hath not in it some peculiar aptness to please and gratify the mind of man. Human nature is the same in all reasonable creatures; and whatever falls in
To praise an old ballad at the present day would hardly be considered as a remarkable proof of taste. Percy's collection, Scott's example, and the revival of mediæval studies, have brought out stores of genuine poetry, which the critics of a hundred years ago had never dreamed of. But of all the papers of the Spectator there is none, perhaps, which in spite of the authority of Sidney, Dryden and Molière, required more independence than this defence of a simple and artless poem. If Addison had no other claim to the sympathy of true, scholars, it would be enough to say that he was one of the first to call attention to the ancient ballad, and the first to praise Milton judiciously.
The ballad of 'Chevy Chace' is founded upon some incident in the border wars of England and Scotland, and probably upon the battle of Peppenden between the Earl of Northumberland and the Earl of Douglas, in 1436 (V. Collins's Peerage, v. 11, p. 334). Of the author, Rychard Sheale, whose name is preserved in an old mannscript, nothing is known; though there can be little hesitation in fixing upon the early part of the fifteenth century, as the period in which he lived. With a modification of a single word, we might apply to him the language which Bouterweck applies to an early German poet, Dem Unbekannten sichert sein Werk die Unster. blichkeit. It is of this form of the poem that Sidney speaks in the passage quoted by Addison.
Long afterwards, and probably in the reign of Elizabeth, the old poem was remodelled by another poet: and this is the version that Addison, who had never seen the original, makes the subject of his critical examination, In the notes I have introduced a few specimens of the original work. Both poems 11.ay be found in the first volume of Percy's Reliques of ancient Eng lish poetry --G.
with it, will meet with admirers amongst readers of all qualities and conditions. Moliere, as we are told by Monsieur Boileau, used to read all his comedies to an old woman who was his house. keeper, as she sat with him at her work by the chimney-corner; and could foretell the success of his play in the theatre, from the reception it met at his fire-side: for he tells us the audience
lways followed the old woman, and never failed to laugh in the same place.
I know nothing which more shews the essential and inherent perfection of simplicity of thought,' above that which I call the Gothic manner in writing, than this; the first pleases all kinds of palates, and the latter only such as have formed to themselves a wrong artificial taste upon little fanciful authors and writers of epigram. Homer, Virgil, or Milton, so far as the language of their poems is understood, will please a reader of plain common sense, who would neither relish nor comprehend an epigram of Martial, or a poem of Cowley : so, on the contrary, an ordinary song or ballad, that is the delight of the common people, cannot fail to please all such readers as are not unqualified for the entertainment by their affectation or ignorance; and the reason is plain, because the same paintings of nature which recommend it to the most ordinary reader, will appear beautiful to the most refined.
The old song of Chevy-Chase is the favourite ballad of the common people of England; and Ben Jonson used to say, he had rather have been the author of it than of all his works. Sir Philip Sidney, in his Discourse of Poetry, speaks of it in the following words: “I never heard the old song of Piercy and Douglas, that I found not my heart more moved than with a trumpet; and yet it is sung by some blind Crowder with no rougher voice than rude style; which being so evil apparelled in
* See Dennis's Original Letters, Fam. Mor. and Crit. 8vo. 1721, p. 166, & seq.--Letter to Henry Crom vell, Esq. on Simplicity in Poetical Com position.-C.
the dust and cobweb of that uncivil age, what would it work, trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar ?' For my own part I am so professed an admirer of this antiquated song, that I shall give my reader a critic upon it, without any further apology for so doing
The greatest modern critics have laid it down as a rule, that? an heroic poem should be founded upon some important precept of morality, adapted to the constitution of the country in which the poet writes. Homer and Virgil have formed their plans in this view. As Greece was a collection of many governments, who suffered very much among themselves, and gave the Persian Emperor, who was their common enemy, many advantages over them by their mutual jealousies and animosities, Homer, in order to establish among them an union, which was so necessary
for their safety, grounds his poem upon the discords of the several Grecian Princes who were engaged in a confederacy against an Asiatic Prince, and the several advantages which the enemy gained by such their discords.' At the time the poem we are now treating of was written, the dissensions of the barons, who were then so many petty princes, ran very high, whether they quarrelled among themselves, or with their neighbours, and produced unspeakable calamities to the country : the poet, to deter men from such unnatural contentions, describes a bloody battle, and dreadful scene of death, occasioned by the mutual feuds which reigned in the families of an English and Scotch noble. man : that he designed this for the instruction of his poem, we may learn from his four last lines, in which, after the example of the modern tragedians, he draws from it a recept for the benefit of his readers.
Eight different epochs are assigned to Homer, covering a space of 460 years. The whole of this theory is untenable; the moral of the epiu being, as with Tasso, a pure afterthought-G.
God save the King, and bless the land
In plenty, joy, and peace;
'Twixt noblemen may cease.1
The next point observed by the greatest heroic poers, hath been to celebrate persons and actions which do honour to their country: thus Virgil's hero was the founder of Rome, Homer's a Prince of Greece; and for this reason Valerius Flaccus and Statius, who were both Romans, might be justly derided for having chosen the expedition of the Golden Fleece, and the wars of Thebes, for the subjects of their epic writings.
The poet before us has not only found out an hero in his own country, but raises the reputation of it by several beautiful incidents. The English are the first who take the field, and the last who quit it. The English bring only fifteen hundred to the battle, and the Scotch two thousand. The English kept the field with fifty-three: the Scotch retire with fifty-five : all the rest on each side being slain in battle. But the most remarkable circumstance of this kind, is the different manner in which the Scotch and English Kings receive the news of this fight, and of the great men's deaths who command it.”
This news was brought to Edinburgh,
Where Scotland's King did reign,
Was with an arrow slain.
This stanza is an addition of the modern editor, or rather rewriter. The old poem closes with
Ihesue Christ our balys bete,
And to the blys us prynge 1
God send us all good ending !-G. 2 According to the old ballad, neither party flies, though the English are made to lose two men less than the Scotch. A Scottish editor of the new rer. wion has turned the tables upon the Englishman, by a transposition of the first line, which makes the English flee, while the Scotch keep the field V. Percy ut sup. pp. 271, 272.—G.