28 APRIL 1866, Page 15


GILPIN'S POPULAR POETRY OF CUMBERLAND! To write simply and vivaciously about purely local topics is one of the likeliest means by which a poet may obtain a lasting and widespread celebrity, because there is nowhere any dearth of readers ready to be best amused with the subjects in which they are least immediately concerned ; and the Apostolic precept, " Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others," might be easily and universally fulfilled, if it had only happened to relate to a speculative interest in the proceedings of our near and far-off neighbours. We know, for instance, that Don Quixote has more real popularity throughout Europe than the Comedy of Dante ; and partly because the one work treats of a heaven and hell, with which all mankind are still supposed to be concerned ; and the other of certain crotchets concerning the duties of a perfect gentleman, which have long been antiquated, if indeed they were ever widely prevalent. If even Dante has numerous readers, it is because he writes well about his own age and country, still better about his native city, and best of all about his own private and personal affections. In like manner, the favourite authors of our classical instructors are those that are great on the domestic habits of the Athenians and Romans, and on their bailiffs, petti- foggers, and sausage-makers, not the poets who sing of love and wine, or whose burden is fate and foreknowledge, and the ways of the gods with all humanity. It is only through the former class of authors that tutors can properly realize the great prin- ciple of modern education—" Train up a child in the way he shall not go, and when he is grown up he can turn to whatsoever it may like him." Imbued as we are with these notions, and know- ing how extensively they are diffused around, we should have most warmly recommended Mr. Gilpin's collections of Cumber- land (or " Cumbrian ") minstrelsy to the attention of Londoners, Oxbridgians, Britishers, and enlightened observers everywhere, if he had been content to edit such productions of his authors as relate exclusively to their own old-fashioned " country matters," and had not thought fit to swell his volume with their attempts in many less special departments of poetic art. We have nothing to say for their imitations of Horace, their Renaissance eclogues, or many of their sentimental love-songs, in which we often lose sight entirely of that sequestered and divided county,— " Mach famed for hills, lakes, woods, for handsome women more," —to whose customs they have owed their truest inspirations. On similar grounds we might speak of the editor's Cumbrian glossary as a treasure for the etymologists of the future, if it were not wonderfully deficient in words really confined to the north- east of England, and abundant in such ordinary colloquialisms as " servant," "smutty," and "buss," the latter word being ex- plained by "kiss," but not by " bush " and " busk," for which it stands in the text somewhat more frequently. But as regards mere superfluities, we are loath to speak severely of a book we have not bound ourselves to read entirely through. Videat empeor. And we may be able to show more of fair consideration for Mr. Gilpin's

industry (which is chiefly manifest in his biographical sketches), by briefly describing the most entertaining matter that may be found in the book by desultory readers.

The truly Cumbrian minstrel towards the close of the last cen- tury seems to have approached the Scotch in his pictures of rural courtship, and to have been still greater in his descriptions of weddings, as of some other festivities of a more peculiar character. He had a healthy and robust standard of feminine beauty, and his most riotous mirth was more athletic and less purely alcoholic than that which flourished in Burns's native soil. His favourite heroines were really or seemingly somewhat supercilious, not in-

• The Songs and Ballads of Cumberland j to which are added Dialect and other Poems, with Biographical Sketches, Notes, Er. By Sidney Gilpin, of Derwent College. London: Routiedge and Sone; Edinburgh: J. Ideuzies; Carlisle: 0. Coward, 1806.

different to virility in general, but confident that they could com- mand the pick of it for themselves-

" Sit down ; and I'll count owre my sweethearts ; For faith a brave number I've had."

They were well qualified by nature to defend themselves against any presumptuous behaviour from their gallants ; thus we read of a " murry-neet," or Christmas party, that

" The kiss went round ; but Sally Slee, When Trummol cleok'd her by the knee, She dunchl and punch'd, cried, 'Fuil, let be!' And stmek him owre the jaw."

They were qualified to keep husbands in good behaviour, as we see by Tom Knott, a Cumbrian Tam O'Shanter, who out of his own house can thrash three men together, but at the entrance of his " ill-gi'en wife" with the "mill-clack tongue," takes to flight " through the snow, stark neak'd " (that is, we suppose, in pugiliitie undress). The beauties of Carlisle were decried by one poet for their mercenary turn of mind :—

" The lasses of Carel aro weelshep'd and bonny;

But he that wad win yan mun brag of his gear. You may follow and follow, till heartsick and-weary ; To get them needs siller and feyne clans to wear.

"They'll catch at a reed cwoat, just like onie mackrell, And jump at a fop, or een lissen a fuil ; Just brag of an uncle that's got heaps of money, And deil a bit odds if you've ne'er been at schuil."

But we are not inclined to give much credence to this imputa- tion, because we read hymeneal idyls witnessing the ordinary improvidence of youthful lovers, and something more than ordinary liberality among the friends and neighbours who assist them in setting up. Now we know that throughout England weddings were celebrated with somewhat uproarious jolli- ties and jocularities, from which modest couples in the higher ranks have been driven to take refuge in the voluntary banishment and hard labour of a Continental honeymoon. But in Cumberland the acquisition of a wife appears to have been celebrated with a kind of triumph, which we should not think ill suited to reward even a leader of volunteers for the capture of a pall among the Maories. On this point we will first quote the note of the fiddler and poet, John Stagg, who was educated to take orders, although of humble parentage, but was reduced to meaner

occupations in, consequence of the accidental loss of his sight. He says, in apologizing for a poem that might seem " too romantic or

ludicrous," but was notoriously veracious near Wigton, " When a youthful couple conceive a disposition to venture on the voyage of matrimony, with more love than money, the bridegroom gene- rally engages two or three of his companions to assist him in can- vassing round ten or a dozen of the adjacent parishes, where they invite all indiscriminately to assemble. On the day appointed

the country people for many miles round flock to the place ;" then " exercises and various entertainments aid in beguiling" a day "of convivial merriment." To the same effect, Dickenson, speaking in his Glossary of Cumberland of the "bridewain or bidden wedding, now obsolete," quotes the following advertisement from a country paper of the year 1786 :— " Notice is hereby given that the marriage of, dcc., will be solemnized in due form in the parochial church of Lamplugb, dm., on Tuesday, dre., after which the bride and bridegroom and their attendants will pro- ceed to Lanefoot, in the said parish, where the nuptials will be cele- brated with a variety of entertainments."

We shall see presently bow the expense of such proceedings was defrayed, but we must give some specimen of Stagg's poetical vein. After duly inviting some classes of hearers who

can appreciate fun to " sec an infair [such an affair] that I've been at," and explaining how it commenced,— "First you mun ken, a youthful pair By frugal thrift exceyted,

Wad her a bridewain, an', of course The country roun' inveyted Agean that day,"

—he tells us that a preliminary council of "frien's and neybotus " was held, and then not "two or three companions," but a "dozen lish young lads" set off, " with whip and spur," flew like wild from town to town (or to house, wherever they spied one), and bade all the lads and lasses they met to the bridewain. The parishes they scoured are enumerated :—

" An' monie a harlin' race they had, Owro pasture, hill, and deals,

An' monie a cowp and keak they gat, An monie a tift of yell I' th' rwoad that day.

"An' some rode east and some rode west, An' some rode fast an' far, An' some got sae mislear'd wi' drink They rode the deil kens whar."

They rendezvous at an inn after their toils, and then get another treat at the " Cwoate," where apparently the bride's parents live. The wedding-day arrives, and the roads are crowded on all sides round :—

Wheyle Allenby turn'd out en masse,

Ding dang, baith man an' woman . . .

But it wad tak' a Homer's held, Were I to tak' in han' To sing or say what f wok that day Were there, or how they wan ; How far an' near, an' God kens where . . .

The sum total, ‘' in shwort," was " twea thousand." While the bride and her maids are arraying themselves, the whole congre- gation may observe where, in the farmyard,— " WI' glentin' spurs and weel-clean'd boots, Lin'n sark an' neyce cword breeches, The bridegroom round the midden-pant, Proud as a peacock, stretches."

Thence they ride somewhat stragglingly to the church, where the minister, however, has a difficult lesson to teach to one of the

parties :— "'You tak' this woman for your weyfe ?'

The breydegroom grumph'd, "Agreed."

'An' you, young woman, promise here To honour an' obey Your spouse in a' he may require ?' The breyde said, mantan', N-yea, We'll see some day.' "

The covenant concluded, the whole train of " weddiners " again mount,—

"The lasses lap up 'hint their lads, Some atridlin' and some seydeways,"

—and escort the couple home, racing and prancing. There the bride sits in the yard, on a " copystool," with a wooden napkin-covered platter on her lap, and thereon receives her " tocher" from the crowns, half-crowns, and even guineas which come down jingling from the " fwok" crowding round her. Then follow very severe eating and drinking ; then more horse-races for trifling prizes, and leaping, wrestling, and throwing matches. Soon after this the more decent and " menseful" part of the company disperse, but many think it more clever to remain.

. " An' Philip Mealier cried, 'Mout, stop! Guid drink was never cheaper Than it's here to-day.'" Then come dances, boxing matches, and a good deal of squab- bling, flirting, and rioting, and at such a time our rhymer himself once got ill-treated ; but we must take the account from a con- temporary poet, Anderson :- " Blin' Stagg, the fiddler, got a whack ; The bacon-fleek fell on his back ; And neist his fiddle-stick they brak ; 'Twas weal it was nea waur."

To Anderson also, and to Ralph of Seberghatu (the patriarch of Cumberland poets), we must refer for notice of an ancient ceremony preceding the breaking-up of the party, and respecting the omens which used to be derived from its performance :-

" The breyde now thought it time for bed, Her stocking doff'd, and flang't quite soft; It hit Bess Bleane . . . . Wull Webster blush'd, And lnik'd another way.

When t'other night And we wad try wheas turn was neist to wed. Oft owre the shoulder flung the stockin' fell, But not yen bit the mark except mysell; I on her feace directly meade it hit."

The last lines are from a tale something like the Eve of St.

Agnes, but it appears that by the Cumbrian tradition the young spinster or " wanter " has to fast a whole day, and not merely to

go to bed supperless. Instead of following the nuptial " stray'd revellers" to the village tavern, we may observe that another great occasion for jollity in the country seems to have been the "clay daubin," when a young rustic bent on matrimony had selected a spot for a clay-walled cottage, and summoned his neighbours to aid him in building it—a work which was generally

accomplished within the space of a day. Of fairs, upshots, &c., we have no less lively accounts from the Cumbrian poets of recent generations. Of their predecessors in the old feudal and martial times Mr. Gilpin has only a few specimens, taken from Scott's Border Minstrelsy. To these he has appended, as having some con- nection with Carlisle, the Arthurian ballad of the "Boy and the Mantle," as it is given in a clumsily modernized form in Percy's Reliques. What does Mr. Gilpin mean by elegantly referring us to that collection for " the pure antiquity copy of the ballad ?"