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The hounds ran swiftly through the woods
The nimble deer to take,
An echo shrill did make.
Vocat ingenti clamore Cithæron
GEORG. ii. 43.
Lo, yonder doth Earl Douglas come,
His men in armour bright;
All marching in our sight.
Fast by the river Tweed, &c. The country of the Scotch warriors, described in these two last verses, has a fine romantic situation, and affords a couple of smooth words for verse. If the reader compares the foregoing six lines of the song with the following Latin verses, he will see how much they are written in the spirit of Virgil: .
Adversi campo apparent, hastasque reductis
ÆN. xi. 605. vii. 682, 712.
- Præneste sends a chosen band,
The rocks of Hernicus besides a band,
Earl Douglas on a milk-white steed,
Most like a baron bold,
Whose armour shone like gold.
Our English archers bent their bows,
Their hearts were good and true ;
Full threescore Scots they slew.
No slackness there was found;
Lay gasping on the ground.
Out of an English bow,
A deep and deadly blow. Æneas was wounded after the same manner by an unknown hand in the midst of a parley.
Has inter voces, media inter talia verba,
ÆN, xii. 318.
But of all the descriptive parts of this song, there are none more beautiful than the four following stanzas, which have a great force and spirit in them, and are filled with very natural circumstances. The thought in the third stanza was never touched by any other poet, and is such an one as would have shined in Homer or in Virgil :
So thus did both these nobles die,
Whose courage none could stain;
The noble Earl was slain.
Made of a trusty tree,
Unto the head drew he.
So right his shaft he set,
In his heart-blood was wet,
Till setting of the sup;
The battle scarce was done.
One may observe, likewise, that in the catalogue of the slain, the author has followed the example of the great ancient poets, not only in giving a long list of the dead, but by diversifying it with little characters of particular persons.
And with Earl Douglas there was slain
Sir Hugh Montgomery,
One foot would never fly:
His sister's son was he;
Yet saved could not be.
The familiar sound in these names destroys the majesty of the description; for this reason I do not mention this part of the poem but to shew the natųral cast of thought which appears in it, as the two last verses look almost like a translation of Virgil.
Cadit et Ripheus justissimus unus
ÆN. ii. 426.
Then Ripleus fell in the unequal fight,
In the catalogue of the English who fell, Witherington's behaviour is in the same manner particularized very artfully, as the reader is prepared for it by that account which is given of him in the beginning of the battle; though I am satisfied your little buffoon readers (who have seen that passage ridiculed in Hudibras) will not be able to take the beauty of it: for which reason I dare not so much as quote it.
Then stept a gallant 'squire forth,
Witherington was his name,
To Henry our king for shame,
Aud I stood looking on.
We meet with the same heroic sentiment in Virgil.
Non pudet, O Rutuli, cunctis pro talibus unam
ÆN. xii. 229.
What can be more natural, or more moving, than the circumstances in which he describes the behaviour of those women who had lost their husbands on this fatal day?
Next day did many widows come
Their husbands to bewail;
But all would not prevail.
They bore with them away;
When they were clad in clay.
Thus we see how the thoughts of this poem, which naturally arise from the subject, are always simple, and sometimes exquisitely noble; that the language is often very sounding, and that the whole is written with a true poetical spirit. If this song
had been written in the Gothic manner, which is the delight of all our little wits, whether writers or readers, it would not have hit the taste of so many ages, and have pleased the readers of all ranks and conditions. I shall only beg pardon for such a profusion of Latin quotations; which I should not have made use of, but that I feared my own judgment would have looked too singular on such a subject, had not I supported it by the practice and authority of Virgil.