Written, as we learn from 'Life', i., 182, by 1835. First published in 1842. No alteration since with the exception of "tho'" for "though".
This poem tells the well-known story of Sarah Hoggins who married under the circumstances related in the poem. She died in January, 1797, sinking, so it was said, but without any authority for such a statement, under the burden of an honour "unto which she was not born". The story is that Henry Cecil, heir presumptive to his uncle, the ninth Earl of Exeter, was staying at Bolas, a rural village in Shropshire, where he met Sarah Hoggins and married her. They lived together at Bolas, where the two eldest of his children were born, for two years before he came into the title. She bore him two other children after she was Countess of Exeter, dying at Burleigh House near Stamford at the early age of twenty-four.
The obituary notice runs thus: "January, 1797. At Burleigh House near Stamford, aged twenty-four, to the inexpressible surprise and concern of all acquainted with her, the Right Honbl. Countess of Exeter." For full information about this romantic incident see Walford's 'Tales of Great Families', first series, vol. i., 65-82, and two interesting papers signed W. O. Woodall in 'Notes and Queries', seventh series, vol. xii., 221-23; 'ibid.', 281-84, and Napier's 'Homes and Haunts of Tennyson', 104-111.
In her ear he whispers gaily, "If my heart by signs can tell, Maiden, I have watch'd thee daily, And I think thou lov'st me well". She replies, in accents fainter, "There is none I love like thee". He is but a landscape-painter, And a village maiden she. He to lips, that fondly falter, Presses his without reproof: Leads her to the village altar, And they leave her father's roof. "I can make no marriage present; Little can I give my wife. Love will make our cottage pleasant, And I love thee more than life." They by parks and lodges going See the lordly castles stand: Summer woods, about them blowing, Made a murmur in the land. From deep thought himself he rouses, Says to her that loves him well, "Let us see these handsome houses Where the wealthy nobles dwell". So she goes by him attended, Hears him lovingly converse, Sees whatever fair and splendid Lay betwixt his home and hers; Parks with oak and chestnut shady, Parks and order'd gardens great, Ancient homes of lord and lady, Built for pleasure and for state. All he shows her makes him dearer: Evermore she seems to gaze On that cottage growing nearer, Where they twain will spend their days. O but she will love him truly! He shall have a cheerful home; She will order all things duly, When beneath his roof they come. Thus her heart rejoices greatly, Till a gateway she discerns With armorial bearings stately, And beneath the gate she turns; Sees a mansion more majestic Than all those she saw before: Many a gallant gay domestic Bows before him at the door. And they speak in gentle murmur, When they answer to his call, While he treads with footstep firmer, Leading on from hall to hall. And, while now she wonders blindly, Nor the meaning can divine, Proudly turns he round and kindly, "All of this is mine and thine". Here he lives in state and bounty, Lord of Burleigh, fair and free, Not a lord in all the county Is so great a lord as he. All at once the colour flushes Her sweet face from brow to chin: As it were with shame she blushes, And her spirit changed within. Then her countenance all over Pale again as death did prove: But he clasp'd her like a lover, And he cheer'd her soul with love. So she strove against her weakness, Tho' at times her spirits sank: Shaped her heart with woman's meekness To all duties of her rank: And a gentle consort made he, And her gentle mind was such That she grew a noble lady, And the people loved her much. But a trouble weigh'd upon her, And perplex'd her, night and morn, With the burthen of an honour Unto which she was not born. Faint she grew, and ever fainter, As she murmur'd "Oh, that he Were once more that landscape-painter Which did win my heart from me!" So she droop'd and droop'd before him, Fading slowly from his side: Three fair children first she bore him, Then before her time she died. Weeping, weeping late and early, Walking up and pacing down, Deeply mourn'd the Lord of Burleigh, Burleigh-house by Stamford-town. And he came to look upon her, And he look'd at her and said, "Bring the dress and put it on her, That she wore when she was wed". Then her people, softly treading, Bore to earth her body, drest In the dress that she was wed in, That her spirit might have rest.
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