Robert Southey

(1774 - 1843 / Bristol / England)

English Eclogues I - The Old Mansion-House


STRANGER.
Old friend! why you seem bent on parish duty,
Breaking the highway stones,--and 'tis a task
Somewhat too hard methinks for age like yours.


OLD MAN.
Why yes! for one with such a weight of years
Upon his back. I've lived here, man and boy,
In this same parish, near the age of man
For I am hard upon threescore and ten.
I can remember sixty years ago
The beautifying of this mansion here
When my late Lady's father, the old Squire
Came to the estate.


STRANGER.
Why then you have outlasted
All his improvements, for you see they're making
Great alterations here.


OLD MAN.
Aye-great indeed!
And if my poor old Lady could rise up--
God rest her soul! 'twould grieve her to behold
The wicked work is here.


STRANGER.
They've set about it
In right good earnest. All the front is gone,
Here's to be turf they tell me, and a road
Round to the door. There were some yew trees too
Stood in the court.


OLD MAN.
Aye Master! fine old trees!
My grandfather could just remember back
When they were planted there. It was my task
To keep them trimm'd, and 'twas a pleasure to me!
All strait and smooth, and like a great green wall!
My poor old Lady many a time would come
And tell me where to shear, for she had played
In childhood under them, and 'twas her pride
To keep them in their beauty. Plague I say
On their new-fangled whimsies! we shall have
A modern shrubbery here stuck full of firs
And your pert poplar trees;--I could as soon
Have plough'd my father's grave as cut them down!


STRANGER.
But 'twill be lighter and more chearful now,
A fine smooth turf, and with a gravel road
Round for the carriage,--now it suits my taste.
I like a shrubbery too, it looks so fresh,
And then there's some variety about it.
In spring the lilac and the gueldres rose,
And the laburnum with its golden flowers
Waving in the wind. And when the autumn comes
The bright red berries of the mountain ash,
With firs enough in winter to look green,
And show that something lives. Sure this is better
Than a great hedge of yew that makes it look
All the year round like winter, and for ever
Dropping its poisonous leaves from the under boughs
So dry and bare!


OLD MAN.
Ah! so the new Squire thinks
And pretty work he makes of it! what 'tis
To have a stranger come to an old house!


STRANGER.

It seems you know him not?


OLD MAN.
No Sir, not I.
They tell me he's expected daily now,
But in my Lady's time he never came
But once, for they were very distant kin.
If he had played about here when a child
In that fore court, and eat the yew-berries,
And sat in the porch threading the jessamine flowers,
That fell so thick, he had not had the heart
To mar all thus.


STRANGER.
Come--come! all a not wrong.
Those old dark windows--


OLD MAN.
They're demolish'd too--
As if he could not see thro' casement glass!
The very red-breasts that so regular
Came to my Lady for her morning crumbs,
Won't know the window now!


STRANGER.
Nay they were high
And then so darken'd up with jessamine,
Harbouring the vermine;--that was a fine tree
However. Did it not grow in and line
The porch?


OLD MAN.
All over it: it did one good
To pass within ten yards when 'twas in blossom.
There was a sweet-briar too that grew beside.
My Lady loved at evening to sit there
And knit; and her old dog lay at her feet
And slept in the sun; 'twas an old favourite dog
She did not love him less that he was old
And feeble, and he always had a place
By the fire-side, and when he died at last
She made me dig a grave in the garden for him.
Ah I she was good to all! a woful day
'Twas for the poor when to her grave she went!


STRANGER.
They lost a friend then?


OLD MAN.
You're a stranger here
Or would not ask that question. Were they sick?
She had rare cordial waters, and for herbs
She could have taught the Doctors. Then at winter
When weekly she distributed the bread
In the poor old porch, to see her and to hear
The blessings on her! and I warrant them
They were a blessing to her when her wealth
Had been no comfort else. At Christmas, Sir!
It would have warm'd your heart if you had seen
Her Christmas kitchen,--how the blazing fire
Made her fine pewter shine, and holly boughs
So chearful red,--and as for misseltoe,
The finest bough that grew in the country round
Was mark'd for Madam. Then her old ale went
So bountiful about! a Christmas cask,
And 'twas a noble one! God help me Sir!
But I shall never see such days again.


STRANGER.
Things may be better yet than you suppose
And you should hope the best.


OLD MAN.
It don't look well
These alterations Sir! I'm an old man
And love the good old fashions; we don't find
Old bounty in new houses. They've destroyed
All that my Lady loved; her favourite walk
Grubb'd up, and they do say that the great row
Of elms behind the house, that meet a-top
They must fall too. Well! well! I did not think
To live to see all this, and 'tis perhaps
A comfort I shan't live to see it long.


STRANGER.
But sure all changes are not needs for the worse
My friend.


OLD MAN.
May-hap they mayn't Sir;--for all that
I like what I've been us'd to. I remember
All this from a child up, and now to lose it,
'Tis losing an old friend. There's nothing left
As 'twas;--I go abroad and only meet
With men whose fathers I remember boys;
The brook that used to run before my door
That's gone to the great pond; the trees I learnt
To climb are down; and I see nothing now
That tells me of old times, except the stones
In the church-yard. You are young Sir and I hope
Have many years in store,--but pray to God
You mayn't be left the last of all your friends.


STRANGER.
Well! well! you've one friend more than you're aware of.
If the Squire's taste don't suit with your's, I warrant
That's all you'll quarrel with: walk in and taste
His beer, old friend! and see if your old Lady
E'er broached a better cask. You did not know me,
But we're acquainted now. 'Twould not be easy
To make you like the outside; but within--
That is not changed my friend! you'll always find
The same old bounty and old welcome there.

Submitted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

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