I cannot sing the old songs, nor indeed any others, but I can read them, in the neglected works of Thomas Haynes Bayly. The name of Bayly may be unfamiliar, but every one almost has heard his ditties chanted--every one much over forty, at all events. "I'll hang my Harp on a Willow Tree," and "I'd be a Butterfly," and "Oh, no! we never mention Her," are dimly dear to every friend of Mr. Richard Swiveller. If to be sung everywhere, to hear your verses uttered in harmony with all pianos and quoted by the world at large, be fame, Bayly had it. He was an unaffected poet. He wrote words to airs, and he is almost absolutely forgotten. To read him is to be carried back on the wings of music to the bowers of youth; and to the bowers of youth I have been wafted, and to the old booksellers. You do not find on every stall the poems of Bayly; but a copy in two volumes has been discovered, edited by Mr. Bayly's widow (Bentley, 1844). They saw the light in the same year as the present critic, and perhaps they ceased to be very popular before he was breeched. Mr. Bayly, according to Mrs. Bayly, "ably penetrated the sources of the human heart," like Shakespeare and Mr. Howells. He also "gave to minstrelsy the attributes of intellect and wit," and "reclaimed even festive song from vulgarity," in which, since the age of Anacreon, festive song has notoriously wallowed. The poet who did all this was born at Bath in Oct. 1797. His father was a genteel solicitor, and his great-grandmother was sister to Lord Delamere, while he had a remote baronet on the mother's side. To trace the ancestral source of his genius was difficult, as in the case of Gifted Hopkins; but it was believed to flow from his maternal grandfather, Mr. Freeman, whom his friend, Lord Lavington, regarded as "one of the finest poets of his age." Bayly was at school at Winchester, where he conducted a weekly college newspaper. His father, like Scott's, would have made him a lawyer; but "the youth took a great dislike to it, for his ideas loved to dwell in the regions of fancy," which are closed to attorneys. So he thought of being a clergyman, and was sent to St. Mary's Hall, Oxford. There "he did not apply himself to the pursuit of academical honours," but fell in love with a young lady whose brother he had tended in a fatal illness. But "they were both too wise to think of living upon love, and, after mutual tears and sighs, they parted never to meet again. The lady, though grieved, was not heartbroken, and soon became the wife of another." They usually do. Mr. Bayly's regret was more profound, and expressed itself in the touching ditty:
"Oh, no, we never mention her, Her name is never heard, My lips are now forbid to speak That once familiar word; From sport to sport they hurry me To banish my regret, And when they only worry me -
[I beg Mr. Bayly's pardon]
"And when they win a smile from me, They fancy I forget.
"They bid me seek in change of scene The charms that others see, But were I in a foreign land They'd find no change in me. 'Tis true that I behold no more The valley where we met; I do not see the hawthorn tree, But how can I forget?"
* * * *
"They tell me she is happy now,
[And so she was, in fact.]
The gayest of the gay; They hint that she's forgotten me; But heed not what they say. Like me, perhaps, she struggles with Each feeling of regret: 'Tis true she's married Mr. Smith, But, ah, does she forget!"
The temptation to parody is really too strong; the last lines, actually and in an authentic text, are:
"But if she loves as I have loved, She never can forget."
Bayly had now struck the note, the sweet, sentimental note, of the early, innocent, Victorian age. Jeames imitated him:
"R. Hangeline, R. Lady mine, Dost thou remember Jeames!"
We should do the trick quite differently now, more like this:
"Love spake to me and said: 'Oh, lips, be mute; Let that one name be dead, That memory flown and fled, Untouched that lute! Go forth,' said Love, 'with willow in thy hand, And in thy hair Dead blossoms wear, Blown from the sunless land.
"'Go forth,' said Love; 'thou never more shalt see Her shadow glimmer by the trysting tree; But SHE is glad, With roses crowned and clad, Who hath forgotten thee!' But I made answer: 'Love! Tell me no more thereof, For she has drunk of that same cup as I. Yea, though her eyes be dry, She garners there for me Tears salter than the sea, Even till the day she die.' So gave I Love the lie."
I declare I nearly weep over these lines; for, though they are only Bayly's sentiment hastily recast in a modern manner, there is something so very affecting, mouldy, and unwholesome about them, that they sound as if they had been "written up to" a sketch by a disciple of Mr. Rossetti's.
In a mood much more manly and moral, Mr. Bayly wrote another poem to the young lady:
"May thy lot in life be happy, undisturbed by thoughts of me, The God who shelters innocence thy guard and guide will be. Thy heart will lose the chilling sense of hopeless love at last, And the sunshine of the future chase the shadows of the past."
It is as easy as prose to sing in this manner. For example:
"In fact, we need not be concerned; 'at last' comes very soon, and our Emilia quite forgets the memory of the moon, the moon that shone on her and us, the woods that heard our vows, the moaning of the waters, and the murmur of the boughs. She is happy with another, and by her we're quite forgot; she never lets a thought of us bring shadow on her lot; and if we meet at dinner she's too clever to repine, and mentions us to Mr. Smith as 'An old flame of mine.' And shall I grieve that it is thus? and would I have her weep, and lose her healthy appetite and break her healthy sleep? Not so, she's not poetical, though ne'er shall I forget the fairy of my fancy whom I once thought I had met. The fairy of my fancy! It was fancy, most things are; her emotions were not steadfast as the shining of a star; but, ah, I love her image yet, as once it shone on me, and swayed me as the low moon sways the surging of the sea."
* * * * * * *
Among other sports his anxious friends hurried the lovelorn Bayly to Scotland, where he wrote much verse, and then to Dublin, which completed his cure. "He seemed in the midst of the crowd the gayest of all, his laughter rang merry and loud at banquet and hall." He thought no more of studying for the Church, but went back to Bath, met a Miss Hayes, was fascinated by Miss Hayes, "came, saw, but did NOT conquer at once," says Mrs. Haynes Bayly (nee Hayes) with widow's pride. Her lovely name was Helena; and I deeply regret to add that, after an education at Oxford, Mr. Bayly, in his poems, accentuated the penultimate, which, of course, is short.
"Oh, think not, Helena, of leaving us yet,"
he carolled, when it would have been just as easy, and a hundred times more correct, to sing--
"Oh, Helena, think not of leaving us yet."
Miss Hayes had lands in Ireland, alas! and Mr. Bayly insinuated that, like King Easter and King Wester in the ballad, her lovers courted her for her lands and her fee; but he, like King Honour,
"For her bonny face And for her fair bodie."
In 1825 (after being elected to the Athenaeum) Mr. Bayly "at last found favour in the eyes of Miss Hayes." He presented her with a little ruby heart, which she accepted, and they were married, and at first were well-to-do, Miss Hayes being the heiress of Benjamin Hayes, Esq., of Marble Hill, in county Cork. A friend of Mr. Bayly's described him thus:--
"I never have met on this chilling earth So merry, so kind, so frank a youth, In moments of pleasure a smile all mirth, In moments of sorrow a heart of truth. I have heard thee praised, I have seen thee led By Fashion along her gay career; While beautiful lips have often shed Their flattering poison in thine ear."
Yet he says that the poet was unspoiled. On his honeymoon, at Lord Ashdown's, Mr. Bayly, flying from some fair sirens, retreated to a bower, and there wrote his world-famous "I'd be a Butterfly."
"I'd be a butterfly, living a rover, Dying when fair things are fading away."
The place in which the deathless strains welled from the singer's heart was henceforth known as "Butterfly Bower." He now wrote a novel, "The Aylmers," which has gone where the old moons go, and he became rather a literary lion, and made the acquaintance of Theodore Hook. The loss of a son caused him to write some devotional verses, which were not what he did best; and now he began to try comedies. One of them, Sold for a Song, succeeded very well. In the stage- coach between Wycombe Abbey and London he wrote a successful little lever de rideau called Perfection; and it was lucky that he opened this vein, for his wife's Irish property got into an Irish bog of dishonesty and difficulty. Thirty-five pieces were contributed by him to the British stage. After a long illness, he died on April 22nd, 1829. He did not live, this butterfly minstrel, into the winter of human age.
Of his poems the inevitable criticism must be that he was a Tom Moore of much lower accomplishments. His business was to carol of the most vapid and obvious sentiment, and to string flowers, fruits, trees, breeze, sorrow, to-morrow, knights, coal-black steeds, regret, deception, and so forth, into fervid anapaestics. Perhaps his success lay in knowing exactly how little sense in poetry composers will endure and singers will accept. Why, "words for music" are almost invariably trash now, though the words of Elizabethan songs are better than any music, is a gloomy and difficult question. Like most poets, I myself detest the sister art, and don't know anything about it. But any one can see that words like Bayly's are and have long been much more popular with musical people than words like Shelley's, Keats's, Shakespeare's, Fletcher's, Lovelace's, or Carew's. The natural explanation is not flattering to musical people: at all events, the singing world doted on Bayly.
"She never blamed him--never, But received him when he came With a welcome sort of shiver, And she tried to look the same.
"But vainly she dissembled, For whene'er she tried to smile, A tear unbidden trembled In her blue eye all the while."
This was pleasant for "him"; but the point is that these are lines to an Indian air. Shelley, also, about the same time, wrote Lines to an Indian air; but we may "swear, and save our oath," that the singers preferred Bayly's. Tennyson and Coleridge could never equal the popularity of what follows. I shall ask the persevering reader to tell me where Bayly ends, and where parody begins:
"When the eye of beauty closes, When the weary are at rest, When the shade the sunset throws is But a vapour in the west; When the moonlight tips the billow With a wreath of silver foam, And the whisper of the willow Breaks the slumber of the gnome, - Night may come, but sleep will linger, When the spirit, all forlorn, Shuts its ear against the singer, And the rustle of the corn Round the sad old mansion sobbing Bids the wakeful maid recall Who it was that caused the throbbing Of her bosom at the ball."
Will this not do to sing just as well as the original? and is it not true that "almost any man you please could reel it off for days together"? Anything will do that speaks of forgetting people, and of being forsaken, and about the sunset, and the ivy, and the rose.
"Tell me no more that the tide of thine anguish Is red as the heart's blood and salt as the sea; That the stars in their courses command thee to languish, That the hand of enjoyment is loosened from thee!
"Tell me no more that, forgotten, forsaken, Thou roamest the wild wood, thou sigh'st on the shore. Nay, rent is the pledge that of old we had taken, And the words that have bound me, they bind thee no more!
"Ere the sun had gone down on thy sorrow, the maidens Were wreathing the orange's bud in thy hair, And the trumpets were tuning the musical cadence That gave thee, a bride, to the baronet's heir.
"Farewell, may no thought pierce thy breast of thy treason; Farewell, and be happy in Hubert's embrace. Be the belle of the ball, be the bride of the season, With diamonds bedizened and languid in lace."
This is mine, and I say, with modest pride, that it is quite as good as--
"Go, may'st thou be happy, Though sadly we part, In life's early summer Grief breaks not the heart.
"The ills that assail us As speedily pass As shades o'er a mirror, Which stain not the glass."
Anybody could do it, we say, in what Edgar Poe calls "the mad pride of intellectuality," and it certainly looks as if it could be done by anybody. For example, take Bayly as a moralist. His ideas are out of the centre. This is about his standard:
"'Break not the thread the spider Is labouring to weave.' I said, nor as I eyed her Could dream she would deceive.
"Her brow was pure and candid, Her tender eyes above; And I, if ever man did, Fell hopelessly in love.
"For who could deem that cruel So fair a face might be? That eyes so like a jewel Were only paste for me?
"I wove my thread, aspiring Within her heart to climb; I wove with zeal untiring For ever such a time!
"But, ah! that thread was broken All by her fingers fair, The vows and prayers I've spoken Are vanished into air!"
Did Bayly write that ditty or did I? Upon my word, I can hardly tell. I am being hypnotised by Bayly. I lisp in numbers, and the numbers come like mad. I can hardly ask for a light without abounding in his artless vein. Easy, easy it seems; and yet it was Bayly after all, not you nor I, who wrote the classic -
"I'll hang my harp on a willow tree, And I'll go to the war again, For a peaceful home has no charm for me, A battlefield no pain; The lady I love will soon be a bride, With a diadem on her brow. Ah, why did she flatter my boyish pride? She is going to leave me now!"
It is like listening, in the sad yellow evening, to the strains of a barrel organ, faint and sweet, and far away. A world of memories come jigging back--foolish fancies, dreams, desires, all beckoning and bobbing to the old tune:
"Oh had I but loved with a boyish love, It would have been well for me."
How does Bayly manage it? What is the trick of it, the obvious, simple, meretricious trick, which somehow, after all, let us mock as we will, Bayly could do, and we cannot? He really had a slim, serviceable, smirking, and sighing little talent of his own; and-- well, we have not even that. Nobody forgets
"The lady I love will soon be a bride."
Nobody remembers our cultivated epics and esoteric sonnets, oh brother minor poet, mon semblable, mon frere! Nor can we rival, though we publish our books on the largest paper, the buried popularity of
"Gaily the troubadour Touched his guitar When he was hastening Home from the war, Singing, "From Palestine Hither I come, Lady love! Lady love! Welcome me home!"
Of course this is, historically, a very incorrect rendering of a Languedoc crusader; and the impression is not mediaeval, but of the comic opera. Any one of us could get in more local colour for the money, and give the crusader a cithern or citole instead of a guitar. This is how we should do "Gaily the Troubadour" nowadays:-
"Sir Ralph he is hardy and mickle of might, Ha, la belle blanche aubepine! Soldans seven hath he slain in fight, Honneur e la belle Isoline!
"Sir Ralph he rideth in riven mail, Ha, la belle blanche aubepine! Beneath his nasal is his dark face pale, Honneur e la belle Isoline!
"His eyes they blaze as the burning coal, Ha, la belle blanche aubepine! He smiteth a stave on his gold citole, Honneur e la belle Isoline!
"From her mangonel she looketh forth, Ha, la belle blanche aubepine! 'Who is he spurreth so late to the north?' Honneur e la belle Isoline!
"Hark! for he speaketh a knightly name, Ha, la belle blanche aubepine! And her wan cheek glows as a burning flame, Honneur e la belle Isoline!
"For Sir Ralph he is hardy and mickle of might, Ha, la belle blanche aubepine! And his love shall ungirdle his sword to-night, Honneur e la belle Isoline!"
Such is the romantic, esoteric, old French way of saying--
"Hark, 'tis the troubadour Breathing her name Under the battlement Softly he came, Singing, "From Palestine Hither I come. Lady love! Lady love! Welcome me home!"
The moral of all this is that minor poetry has its fashions, and that the butterfly Bayly could versify very successfully in the fashion of a time simpler and less pedantic than our own. On the whole, minor poetry for minor poetry, this artless singer, piping his native drawing-room notes, gave a great deal of perfectly harmless, if highly uncultivated, enjoyment.
It must not be fancied that Mr. Bayly had only one string to his bow--or, rather, to his lyre. He wrote a great deal, to be sure, about the passion of love, which Count Tolstoi thinks we make too much of. He did not dream that the affairs of the heart should be regulated by the State--by the Permanent Secretary of the Marriage Office. That is what we are coming to, of course, unless the enthusiasts of "free love" and "go away as you please" failed with their little programme. No doubt there would be poetry if the State regulated or left wholly unregulated the affections of the future. Mr. Bayly, living in other times, among other manners, piped of the hard tyranny of a mother:
"We met, 'twas in a crowd, and I thought he would shun me. He came, I could not breathe, for his eye was upon me. He spoke, his words were cold, and his smile was unaltered, I knew how much he felt, for his deep-toned voice faltered. I wore my bridal robe, and I rivalled its whiteness; Bright gems were in my hair,--how I hated their brightness! He called me by my name as the bride of another. Oh, thou hast been the cause of this anguish, my mother!"
In future, when the reformers of marriage have had their way, we shall read:
"The world may think me gay, for I bow to my fate; But thou hast been the cause of my anguish, O State!"
For even when true love is regulated by the County Council or the village community, it will still persist in not running smooth.
Of these passions, then, Mr. Bayly could chant; but let us remember that he could also dally with old romance, that he wrote:
"The mistletoe hung in the castle hall, The holly branch shone on the old oak wall."
When the bride unluckily got into the ancient chest,
"It closed with a spring. And, dreadful doom, The bride lay clasped in her living tomb,"
so that her lover "mourned for his fairy bride," and never found out her premature casket. This was true romance as understood when Peel was consul. Mr. Bayly was rarely political; but he commemorated the heroes of Waterloo, our last victory worth mentioning:
"Yet mourn not for them, for in future tradition Their fame shall abide as our tutelar star, To instil by example the glorious ambition Of falling, like them, in a glorious war. Though tears may be seen in the bright eyes of beauty, One consolation must ever remain: Undaunted they trod in the pathway of duty, Which led them to glory on Waterloo's plain."
Could there be a more simple Tyrtaeus? and who that reads him will not be ambitious of falling in a glorious war? Bayly, indeed, is always simple. He is "simple, sensuous, and passionate," and Milton asked no more from a poet.
"A wreath of orange blossoms, When next we met, she wore. The expression of her features Was more thoughtful than before."
On his own principles Wordsworth should have admired this unaffected statement; but Wordsworth rarely praised his contemporaries, and said that "Guy Mannering" was a respectable effort in the style of Mrs. Radcliffe. Nor did he even extol, though it is more in his own line,
"Of what is the old man thinking, As he leans on his oaken staff?"
My own favourite among Mr. Bayly's effusions is not a sentimental ode, but the following gush of true natural feeling:--
"Oh, give me new faces, new faces, new faces, I've seen those around me a fortnight and more. Some people grow weary of things or of places, But persons to me are a much greater bore. I care not for features, I'm sure to discover Some exquisite trait in the first that you send. My fondness falls off when the novelty's over; I want a new face for an intimate friend."
This is perfectly candid: we should all prefer a new face, if pretty, every fortnight:--
"Come, I pray you, and tell me this, All good fellows whose beards are grey, Did not the fairest of the fair Common grow and wearisome ere Ever a month had passed away?"
For once Mr. Bayly uttered in his "New Faces" a sentiment not usually expressed, but universally felt; and now he suffers, as a poet, because he is no longer a new face, because we have welcomed his juniors. To Bayly we shall not return; but he has one rare merit,--he is always perfectly plain-spoken and intelligible.
"Farewell to my Bayly, farewell to the singer Whose tender effusions my aunts used to sing; Farewell, for the fame of the bard does not linger, My favourite minstrel's no longer the thing. But though on his temples has faded the laurel, Though broken the lute, and though veiled is the crest, My Bayly, at worst, is uncommonly moral, Which is more than some new poets are, at their best."
Farewell to our Bayly, about whose songs we may say, with Mr. Thackeray in "Vanity Fair," that "they contain numberless good- natured, simple appeals to the affections." We are no longer affectionate, good-natured, simple. We are cleverer than Bayly's audience; but are we better fellows?
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