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JAMES GRAHAME, 1765–1811.
James Grahame, the author of the “Sabbath,'' was the son of a respectable attorney in Glasgow, and was born in that city on the 22d of April, 1765. He was educated at the excellent public schools of that city, and had a very early and strong desire to enter the clerical profession; but it was the long.cherished wish of his father that he should be bred to his own calling. Accordingly, our poet sacrificed his own wishes to those of his parent, and studied the law. Many irksome years—the best years of his life-were wasted in this, to him, most uncongenial pursuit, and it was finally abandoned. For many years, however, he toiled on in it, and, from a sense of what he owed to his family, he gave to it all the attention of which a mind devoted to higher purposes was capable.
In 1804, he published anonymously his poem of “The Sabbath.” He had kept from all his frie and even from his wife, who was possessed of fine literary taste, all knowledge of what he had been engaged in, and laid a copy of his poem silently on his parlor table, as soon as it appeared. Mrs. Grahame was led by curiosity to examine it, and, while doing so, was walking up and down the room, awaiting some remark from her. At length, she burst into enthusiastic admiration of the performance, and well knowing her husband's weak side, very naturally added, “Ah, James, if you could produce a poem like this!" Longer concealment was impossi. ble, and Mrs. Grahame, justly proud of her husband's genius, no longer checked its bent.
“The Sabbath" was warmly received throughout Scotland. It came from the heart; and it spoke to the heart of the nation. Grahame's vocation was now confirmed ; and, in the following two years, during the long recess of the Scottish courts, he retired with his family to a cottage at kirkhill, on the classic banks of the Esk, and gave himself up to
Calm contemplation and poetic ease." He now determined to abandon the law, and zealously prepared himself for the ministry. This had been his early, his constant wish. His appearance, voice, manner, as well as his talents and his piety, were all in keeping with that calling. He was ordained in 1809, and soon after settled with his family in Shipion, in Gloucestershire. This year he published his “British Georgics,'' a didactic agricultural poem.
His health had long been delicate, and he was induced, in 1811, to go to Edinburgh for a change of air and for medical advice. But it was apparent to all that his days on earth could not be long. He had a natural desire of breathing his last in his own native city, and Mrs. Grahame set out with him, on the Ilth of September, for Glasgow. He was barely able to reach the place,
Notwithstanding a rather severe criticism in the “ Edinburgh Review,” vol. v. p. 437. Bui, subsequently, in reviewing the author's "Georgics,” the same Review made amends for its former severity. See vol. xvi p. 213.
and died there on the 14th of September, 1811, in the forty.seventh year of his age, most sincerely and deeply lamented by a large circle of warmly attached friends.
Of the character of Grahame's poetry there is now scarcely but one opinion. Its great charms are, its elevated moral tone, and its easy, simple, and unaffected description. “His 'Sabbath' will always hold its place among those poems which are, and deserve to be, in the hands of the people."? He exhibits great tenderness of sentiment, which runs through all his writings, and sometimes deepens into true pathos. “ We do not know any poetry, indeed, that lets us in so directly to the heart of the writer, and produces so full and pleasing a conviction that it is dictated by the genuine feelings which it aims at communicating to the reader. If there be less fire and elevation than in the strains of some of his contemporaries, there is more truth and tenderness than is commonly found along with those qualities."
How still the morning of the hallowed day!
Mute is the voice of rural labor, hushed
The ploughboy's whistle and the milkmaid's song.
The scythe lies glittering in the dewy wreath
Or tedded grass, mingled with fading flowers,
That yester-morn bloomed waving in the breeze.
Sounds the most faint attract the ear—the hum
Of early bee, the trickling of the dew,
The distant bleating midway up the hill.
Calmness seems throned on yon unmoving cloud.
To him who wanders o'er the upland leas,
The blackbird's note comes mellower froin the dale;
And sweeter from the sky the gladsome lark
Warbles his heaven-tuned song; the lulling brook
Murmurs more gently down the deep sunk glen;
While from yon lowly roof, whose curling smoke
O'ermounts the mist, is heard at intervals
The voice of psalms, the simple song of praise.
With dove-like wings Peace o'er yon village broods;
The dizzying mill-wheel rests; the anvil's din
Hath ceased; all, all around is quietness.
Less fearful on this day, the limping hare
Stops, and looks back, and stops, and looks on man,
Her deadliest foe. The toil.worn horse, set free,
Unheedful of the pasture, roams at large;
And, as his stiff unwieldy bulk be rolls,
His iron-arm'd hoofs gleam in the morning ray.
Professor Wilson has written some beautiful lines to his memory, a portion of which will be found under the author's name. 3- Quarterly Review," vol. iii. p. 457. *** Edinburgh Review,” vol. xvi. p. 216.
But chiefly man the day of rest enjoys. Hail, Sabbath! thee I hail, the poor man's day! On other days, the man of toil is doomed To eat his joyless bread, lonely, the ground Both seat and board, screened from the winter's cold And summer's heat by neighboring hedge or tree; But on this day, embosomed in his honie, He shares the frugal meal with those he loves; With those he loves he shares the heartfelt joy Of giving thanks to God—not thanks of form, A word and a grimace, but reverently, With covered face and upward earnest eye. Hail, Sabbath! thee I hail, the poor man's day! The pale mechanic now has leave to breathe The morning air pure from the city's smoke; While wandering slowly up the river side, He meditates on Him whose power he marks In each green tree that proudly spreads the bough, As in the tiny dew-bent flowers that bloom Around the roots; and while he thus surveys With elevated joy each rural charm, He hopes (yet fears presumption in the hope) To reach those realms where Sabbath never ends.
Delightful is this loneliness; it calms
My heart: pleasant the cool beneath these elms
That throw across the stream a moveless shade.
Here nature in her midnoon whisper speaks ;
How peaceful every sound !-the ring dove's plaint,
Moaned from the forest's gloomiest retreat,
While every other woolland lay is mute,
Save wben the wren flits from her down-coved nest,
And from the root-sprigs trills her ditty clear-
The grasshopper's oft pausing chirp--the buzz,
Angrily shrill, of moss.entangled bee,
That soon as loosed booms with full twang away-
The sudden rushing of the minnow shoal,
Scared from the shallows by my passing tread :
Dimpling the water glides, with here and there
A glossy fly, skimming in circlets gay
The treacherous surface, while the quick-eyed trout
Watches his time to spring; or from above,
Some feathered dam, purveying 'mong the boughs,
Darts from her perch, and to her plumeless brood
Bears off the prize. Sad emblem of man's lot!
He, giddy insect, from his native leaf
(Where safe and happily he might have lurked),
Elate upon ambition's gaudy wings,
Forgetful of bis origin, and worse,
Unthinking of his end, flies to the stream,
And if from hostile vigilance he 'scape,
Buoyant he flutters but a little while,
Mistakes the inverted image of the sky
For heaven itself, and, sinking, meets bis fate.
Now, let me trace the stream up to its source
Among the bills, its runnel by degrees
Diminishing, the murmur turns a tinkle.
Closer and closer still the banks approach,
Tangled so thick with pleaching bramble shoots,
With brier and hazel branch, and hawthorn spray,
That, fain to quit the dingle, glad I mount
Into the open air: grateful the breeze
That fans my throbbing temples! smiles the plain
Spread wide below: how sweet the placid view!
But, ob ! more sweet the thought, heart-soothing thought,
That thousands and ten thousands of the sons
Or toil partake this day the common joy
or rest, of peace, of viewing hill and dale,
Or breathing in the silence of the woods,
And blessing him who gave the Sabbath-day.
Yes! my heart flutters with a freer throb,
To think that now the townsman wanders forth
Among the fields and meadows, to enjoy
The coolness of the day's decline, to see
His children sport around, and simply pull
The flower and weed promiscuous, as a boon
Which proudly in his breast they smiling tix.
Again I turn me to the hill, and trace
The wizard stream, now scarce to be discerned,
Woodless its banks, but green with serny leaves,
And thinly strewed with heath-bells up and down.
Now, when the downward sun has left the glens,
Each mountain's rugged lineaments are traced
Upon the adverse slope, where stalks gigantic
The shepherd's shadow thrown athwart the chasm,
As on the topmost ridge he homeward hies.
How deep the hush! the torrent's channel dry,
Presents a stony steep, the echo's haunt.
But hark a plaintive sound floating along!
Tis from yon heath-roofed shieling; now it dies
Away, now rises full; it is the song
Which He, who listens to the hallelujalıs
Of choiring seraphim, delights to hear;
It is the music of the heart, the voice
Of venerable age, of guileless youth,
In kindly circle seated on the ground
Before their wicker door. Behold the man!
The grandsire and the saint ; his silvery locks
Beam in the parting ray ; before him lies,
Upon the smooth-cropt sward, the open book,
His comfort, stay, and ever new delight;
While heedless at a side, the lisping boy
Fondles the lamb that nightly shares his couch.
How dazzling white the snowy scene! deep, deep
The stillness of the winter Sabbath day-
Not even a footsall heard. Smooth are the fields,
Each hollow pathway level with the plain :
Hid are the bushes, save that here and there
Are seen the topmost shoots of brier or broom.
High-ridged the whirled drift bas almost reached
The powdered keystone of the churchyard porch.
Mute hangs the hooded bell; the tombs lie buried;
No step approaches to the house of prayer.
The flickering fall is o'er : the clouds disperse,
And show the sun, hung o'er the welkin's verge,
Shooting a brigbt but ineffectual beam
On all the sparkling waste. Now is the time
To visit nature in her grand attire.
Thoughi perilous the inountainous ascent,
A noble recompense the danger brings.
How beautiful the plain stretched far below,
Unvaried though it be, sa ve by yon stream
With azure windings, or the leatless wood!
But what the beauty of the plain, compared
To that sublimity which reigns enthroned,
Holding joint rule with solitude divine,
Among yon rocky fells that bid defiance
To steps the most adventurousiy boid?
There silence dwells profound; or if the cry
Of higlı.poised eagle break at times the hush,
The mantled echocs no response return.
But let me now explore the deep.sunk dell.
No footprint, save the covey's or the flock's,
Is seen along the rill, where marshy springs
Still rear the grassy blade of vivid green.
Beware, ye shepherds, of these treacherous haunts,
Nor linger there too long : the wintry day
Soon closes; and full oft a heavier fall,
Heaped by the blast, fills up the sheltered glen,
While, gurgling deep below, the buried rill
Mines for itself a snow-coved way! Oh, then,
Your helpless charge drive from the tempting spot,
And keep them on the bleak hill's stormy side,
Where night.winds sweep the gathering drift away:
So the great Shepherd leads the heavenly flock
From faithless pleasures, full into the storms
Of life, where long they bear the bitter blast,