"Philip. A Fragment." by Jane Taylor (1783-1824)
'MID scattered rocks, on Devon's northern sea,
Lies a small hamlet, and its name is Lea:
A drear lone place, whose few stone huts below
Seem to the spot spontaneously to grow:–
So rude, that to the eye they intermix
With rock and weed:–there are but five or six.
A rapid stream that dashes from the hill,
Turns the rude wheel-work of a noisy mill;
And falling there, where nought its fury bars
Flies from the wheel in thousand glittering stars;
Producing life, and sound, and movement here,
Where all beside is silent, still, and drear.
Like wit ill-timed, this playful pageant mocks
The gloomy aspect of the sea and rocks.
Bare hills and barren downs for miles you trace,
Ere is attained the unfrequented place:
And when arrived, the traveller starts to find
So wild a spot, the abode of human kind.
Before him rolls the wild and lonely sea
Skirted with rocks–and there, below, is Lea.
Our story says, that twenty years ago,
One decent dwelling this poor place could show,
A slated roof, the walls erect and square,
The windows curtained, and in good repair,
Bespoke the tenant's comfort: yes, and here
He lived, and walked, and mused, for many a year
He had no calling: so his time ran out,
Chiefly in lonely rambles, round about.
Well he explored each smoothly hollowed cave–
The work of ages, with the incessant wave.
Each rocky fragment, scattered wide to view,
Like an old friend, familiarly he knew.
On sunny days he loved for hours to lie
On some huge mass; and there, with patient eye,
The curious work of Nature's hand to trace,
–A work commenced when Time began his race,
And not yet finished:–ages as they rise,
Aid the slow process, and enrich the dyes.
Art's finest pencil could but rudely mock
The rich gray mosses broidered on a rock
–And those gay watery grots he would explore–
Small excavations on a rocky shore,
That seemed like fairy baths, or mimic wells,
Richly embossed with choicest weed and shells:
–As if her trinkets Nature chose to hide
Where naught invaded but the flowing tide.
Such were his pastimes; and with these, his mind
A listless entertainment still could find;
For while the eye pursued its busy course,
His own long musings followed, as by force.
And thus the past, by memory's aid supplied,
–Its scenes and sufferings–closely seemed allied
With these wild objects–yes, identified:
Till each some deep remembrance would recall,
And the whole prospect yield the effect of all.
This gloomy station, with intent perverse,
He chose, not for the better but the worse.
Denied the good he once had hoped to share
He scorned to take the refuse life might spare.
And long he sought a settlement to find,
Where joy could never come, if 't were inclined.
It was with strange delight–with bitter glee,
That first he stood, and gazed, and fixed on Lea.
But man, short-sighted and dependant still,
Succeeds not fully, e'en in choosing ill.
When Philip used to see, at eve returned,
His white walls glowing, as the embers burned,
His neat small parlor, ever wont to bear
The recent marks of Peggy's daily care,
And Peggy's self, more nice and trim than he,
Preface with smiles the all-reviving tea,
He felt that, if of charm was life bereft,
Yet, e'en for him some comfort there was left.
Peggy, his sole domestic, slowly grew
To be in fact, his sole companion too.
When first she came she never thought–nor he–
With her odd master she could make so free:–
She was not pert:–he wished not to confer
With any living–doubtless, not with her.
But man is social, e'en against his will;
And woman, kind, whatever rank she fill.
Her master came a lonely stranger here;
Feeble, dejected, friendless–'t would appear.
She pitied;–woman does; nor pitied less
For knowing not the cause of his distress.
She was not young; and had her troubles known;
So that she felt his sorrows with her own:
And soon resolved to labor, all she could,
To cheer his spirits, and to do him good.
Though few and mean the attainments she could boast,
Peggy had passed her life upon the coast;
And she could thoughts and sentiments disclose,
Such as the inland peasant rarely knows.
On squally nights, or when it blew a gale,
Long she would stand, recounting tale on tale,
Of wreck or danger, or of rescue bold,
That she had witnessed, or her kindred told;
Bringing each long-lost circumstance to mind:
And genuine feeling taught her where to find
Terms more expressive, though of vulgar use,
Than hours of patient study will produce.
Her native eloquence would place in view
The very scene, and all its terrors too.
Meantime, to excuse her stay, she used to stand,
The tidy hearth still trimming–brush in hand:
TiIl he with kind though not familiar air,
Would interrupt with–"Peggy, take a chair."
A chair she took;–less easy when she had;
But soon resumed her tale, and both were glad.
Thus she became, at length, a parlor guest;
And he was happier, though 't was ne'er confessed:
Rocks, sea, and hills, were here his friends by choice;
–But there is music in the human voice.
So passed their evenings oft; but now and then,
As the mood seized him, he would take a pen;
Wherewith, though slowly, into form was cast
A brief unfinished record of the past.
Whene'er for this her master gave the word,
His faithful Peggy neither spoke nor stirred,
She took her knitting–chose a distant seat.
And there she sat so still, and looked so neat,
'T was quite a picture:–there was e'en a grace
In the trim border round her placid face.
When Philip wrote he never seemed so well,
–Was startled even if a cinder fell,
And quickly worried;–Peggy saw it all,
And felt the shock herself, if one did fall.
Of knowledge, she had little in her head;
But a nice feeling often serves instead;
And she had more than many better bred.
But now he felt, like men of greater note,
The harmless wish of reading what he wrote;–
Not to the world;–no, that he could not bear;
But here sat candid Peggy, in her chair:
And so it was, that he, whose inward wo
Was much too sacred for mankind to know,
He–so refined, mysterious, and so proud,
To a poor servant read his life aloud.
How weak is man, amused with things like these!
Or else how vain are writers! which you please.
All Peggy heard she deemed exceeding good;
But chiefly praised the parts she understood.
At these, by turns, she used to smile or sigh;
And with full credit, pass the other by:
While he, like men and wits of modern days,
Felt inly flattered by her humble praise.
Yet vigor failed to accomplish the design;
And 't was but seldom he would add a line:
But when he died–some years ago at Lea,
Old Peggy sent the manuscript to me.
Much has been long forgotten; but I 'm sure
That I was always pensive, proud, and poor.
Much is remembered; and I partly know
How past events conspired to make me so.
When first my gentle mother smiled on me,
The thing to her was no new sight to see.
Babies are surely novelties no more
When there have been eleven or twelve before;
And yet she smiled. But neighbors did not fail,
With one consent my coming to bewail:–
"Poor Mrs. Singleton!–I wish her joy:–
Bless me! poor woman–there's another boy!"
Such was my earliest greeting on this earth;
Yes, an intruder, from my very birth.
And such I've ever been, or felt to be,
Whate'er the cause–unhappiness to me.
I never thrived; yet lived, as children will,
Where there are plenty;–though they're always ill–
I lived, and grew a pale unlikely lad.
The sweet attentions other children had,
I rarely knew; for none the trouble took
To cast on me the kind admiring look,
To pat my shapeless cheek, or stroke my hair;
There were no graces, no attractions there;
–Nothing to notice: so they passed me by,
And none could blame them for it; nor did I:
No–but I felt it–to neglect alive,
And to contempt too keenly sensitive,
Beyond my years I felt; none ever guessed
The feelings brooding in my childish breast;
Not e'en my mother, who would me employ
On servile errands, humbling to a boy;–
To fetch and carry as a servant goes,
All in broad daylight, in my shabby clothes:
She could not help it:–What was to be done:
We had to lend assistance, every one;
And as the youngest, 't was in turn my fate
To do what all had done, with inward hate.
My parents, never vulgar, strove in vain,
A decent style of living to maintain:
And strove to make our minds and manners rise
Above our narrow means:–and they were wise.
But need by pride itself must be obeyed;
Though last to yield, and hardest to persuade.
So in and out I went, and up and down,
Our open, light, genteel and handsome town.
When groups of dressy people passed me by,
I shrunk along, and looked ashamed and shy:
And e'en the hated basket would employ,
To skreen the patched and spotted corduroy.
How needless this!–I did not then suspect
How properly neglect, is called neglect.
A thing so mean as I appeared to them,
They would not take the trouble to contemn–
Scarcely to look at:–and suppose they had?
They would have seen a meagre, shabby lad.
Is there an object to the senses brought,
That seems so little worth a second thought:
Or that the trouble would so ill repay,
To people well and handsome, smart and gay?
Children are blessings, when your means o'erflow;
For all things then combine to make them so.
Nature is helped by art's directing care:–
The boys are noble, and the girls are fair:
Tempers are gentle, manners are polite;
And every graceful movement looks aright.
But when fond parents are compelled by need
To count how many mouths they have to feed,
The touch of care each native grace consumes,
And beauty withers, even ere it blooms.
True;–love will triumph o'er the rubs it bears;
Yet the fine polish of affection wears.
Such love was ours; nor was it ever lost,
Though, by domestic troubles, chilled and crossed.
'Mid daily straits and cares, our childish play
Was mischief:–we were always in the way.
The needful goods were hurt by every touch:
So that our sports and frolics cost too much.
The bread of carefulness was all our fare;
And we were reared an early yoke to bear.
While youthful spirits and elastic hope,
Long kept my brothers and my sisters up;
I brooded:–'t was my nature–'t was my plague;
Pressed both by real sufferings and by vague.
My mind's disease, in brief description brought,
Perhaps might best be named–incessant thought.
'T was thought, that deep on every heart-string played,
Thrilled every nerve–on every vital preyed:
Consumed my vigor, checked my growth, and now
Its early lines are furrows on my brow.
Years passed, and brought the dreaded time about,
When I must choose a calling, and go out.
They wished me most to turn my mind to trade;
And argued much; but never could persuade.
Some rare profession, 't was my wish to find
That leaves one independent of mankind.
I wished for money:–there was need of that:
But did not like myself to hold the hat.
The gold must always drop where none could look,
To see the hand that gave, nor that which took,
Like private offerings charitably slid
Through the small crevice in a box's lid.
But here invention proved so dull and slow,
Their patience failed:–my father told me so.
At last by luck, by favor, and in haste,
I in a neighboring banking house was placed.
I urged objections; but they scarce were heard:
And after all, I secretly preferred
To starve for life upon my pride and quill
Than thrive on savings, filtered through a till.
A banker's clerk, without a second hope:–
Such was the prospect through my telescope!
My chief employer was a man of sense,
Although he dealt in shillings, pounds, and pence.
Expert in business, punctual, cautious, wise;
Whom those who hated, never could despise.
A man of consequence, for miles around;
And all dependants trembled, when he frowned.
He had a lordly air, a portly mien:
ln dress, some cost, and even pains, were seen:
And well the scattered powder used to shine
Upon the blue and glossy superfine!
To menials stern, and hard to be appeased–
No man was more agreeable–when he pleased.
He kept a table; and 't was often graced
By men of wealth, and even men of taste.
Then, frowns were banished by a courtly smile:
And all was bland and gracious–for awhile.
His great concerns, like some complex machine,
He moved by springs, that more were felt than seen.
Of that machine, I seemed to him, at best,
A minor wheel, that turned with all the rest.
But as at first, I did not rightly hit,
Prompt means and harsh, were used to make me fit.
He taught me, not as one might teach a child;
But ground me down, till every notch was filed.
I had some talent; but 't was always hid,
For want of confidence in what I did.
Timid and bashful–nature formed me so;
My conscious meanness made the temper grow:
And now, beneath a rigor too severe,
I seemed a fool–perplexed with shame and fear.
Here clerks of various office, half a score,
Spoke that contempt I had but guessed before.
Poorest and least, and lowest in degree,
There was no task too servile thought for me.
Small claims had some; but they could joke and chat;
And all were smart;–I was not even that.
I was unhappy: but I did not speak:
Too proud to vent a murmur–not too meek.
But yet I played a game at their expense:
All creatures have some weapon of defence;
And so had I: with woman's keenness cursed,
I saw the heart; and seeing, thought the worst:
Suspected evil where I could not see;
And motives well were analysed by me.
Unnoticed, unsuspected, at my desk,
I loved to mark their manners and burlesque.
Amused, though vexed, to hear the loud pretence
Of some, who really had not half my sense:
–To find myself despised, and counted nought,
By those who nothing knew, and nothing thought.
I was not vain; nor need I this repeat;
There was enough to check my self-conceit!
But yet I knew, however low my lot,
I had a taste–a feeling, they had not.
Yes, taste I had; and now all earthly bliss
Solace and refuge, seemed denied, but this:–
Shut from the world's delights by various bars
I used to roam and revel 'mid the stars.
Who could forbid the timid, bashful eye,
Downcast by day, from ranging through the sky.
When in my attic, with untold delight,
I watched the changing splendors of the night?
Those hours were sweet; nor can it be denied,
That with the pleasure, there was mingled pride.
Kings–no, nor bankers, that to me was more,
No brighter sight could see, with all their store.
But stars and worlds of light, are not the things
Most in esteem with bankers, or with kings.
Such thoughts I had; and let it be confessed,
The oppressor here, must yield to the oppressed.
While thought is free, howe'er enslaved the wretch,
He has a circuit where no arm can stretch.
Thought has a power that makes the meanest drudge,
At once the tyrant's censor, and his judge.
In milder moods I looked from side to side,
For better comfort than I gained from pride:–
"Is there no object more sublimely bright,
More worthy high pursuit, than worlds of light?
Is there no refuge for the poor oppressed?
For weary wanderers, is not there a rest?
Cast out of men–despised by all about,
Is there no friend who will not cast me out?"
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