THE FARMER OF TILSBURY VALE
The character of this man was described to me, and the incident
upon which the verses turn was told me, by Mr. Pool of Nether
Stowey, with whom I became acquainted through our common friend,
S. T. Coleridge. During my residence at Alfoxden I used to see
much of him and had frequent occasions to admire the course of his
daily life, especially his conduct to his labourers and poor
neighbours: their virtues he carefully encouraged, and weighed
their faults in the scales of charity. If I seem in these verses
to have treated the weaknesses of the farmer, and his
transgression, too tenderly, it may in part be ascribed to my
having received the story from one so averse to all harsh
judgment. After his death, was found in his escritoir a lock of
grey hair carefully preserved, with a notice that it had been cut
from the head of his faithful shepherd, who had served him for a
length of years. I need scarcely add that he felt for all men as
his brothers. He was much beloved by distinguished persons--Mr.
Coleridge, Mr. Southey, Sir H. Davy, and many others; and in his
own neighbourhood was highly valued as a magistrate, a man of
business, and in every other social relation. The latter part of
the poem, perhaps, requires some apology as being too much of an
echo to the "Reverie of Poor Susan."
'TIS not for the unfeeling, the falsely refined,
The squeamish in taste, and the narrow of mind,
And the small critic wielding his delicate pen,
That I sing of old Adam, the pride of old men.
He dwells in the centre of London's wide Town;
His staff is a sceptre--his grey hairs a crown;
And his bright eyes look brighter, set off by the streak
Of the unfaded rose that still blooms on his cheek.
'Mid the dews, in the sunshine of morn,--'mid the joy
Of the fields, he collected that bloom, when a boy,
That countenance there fashioned, which, spite of a stain
That his life hath received, to the last will remain.
A Farmer he was; and his house far and near
Was the boast of the country for excellent cheer:
How oft have I heard in sweet Tilsbury Vale
Of the silver-rimmed horn whence he dealt his mild ale!
Yet Adam was far as the farthest from ruin,
His fields seemed to know what their Master was doing:
And turnips, and corn-land, and meadow, and lea,
All caught the infection--as generous as he.
Yet Adam prized little the feast and the bowl,--
The fields better suited the ease of his soul:
He strayed through the fields like an indolent wight,
The quiet of nature was Adam's delight.
For Adam was simple in thought; and the poor,
Familiar with him, made an inn of his door:
He gave them the best that he had; or, to say
What less may mislead you, they took it away.
Thus thirty smooth years did he thrive on his farm:
The Genius of plenty preserved him from harm:
At length, what to most is a season of sorrow,
His means are run out,--he must beg, or must borrow.
To the neighbours he went,--all were free with their money;
For his hive had so long been replenished with honey,
That they dreamt not of dearth;--He continued his rounds,
Knocked here--and knocked there, pounds still adding to pounds.
He paid what he could with his ill-gotten pelf,
And something, it might be, reserved for himself:
Then (what is too true) without hinting a word,
Turned his back on the country--and off like a bird.
You lift up your eyes!--but I guess that you frame
A judgment too harsh of the sin and the shame;
In him it was scarcely a business of art,
For this he did all in the 'ease' of his heart.
To London--a sad emigration I ween--
With his grey hairs he went from the brook and the green;
And there, with small wealth but his legs and his hands,
As lonely he stood as a crow on the sands.
All trades, as need was, did old Adam assume,--
Served as stable-boy, errand-boy, porter, and groom;
But nature is gracious, necessity kind,
And, in spite of the shame that may lurk in his mind,
He seems ten birthdays younger, is green and is stout;
Twice as fast as before does his blood run about;
You would say that each hair of his beard was alive,
And his fingers are busy as bees in a hive.
For he's not like an Old Man that leisurely goes
About work that he knows, in a track that he knows;
But often his mind is compelled to demur,
And you guess that the more then his body must stir.
In the throng of the town like a stranger is he,
Like one whose own country's far over the sea;
And Nature, while through the great city he hies,
Full ten times a day takes his heart by surprise.
This gives him the fancy of one that is young,
More of soul in his face than of words on his tongue;
Like a maiden of twenty he trembles and sighs,
And tears of fifteen will come into his eyes.
What's a tempest to him, or the dry parching heats?
Yet he watches the clouds that pass over the streets;
With a look of such earnestness often will stand,
You might think he'd twelve reapers at work in the Strand.
Where proud Covent-garden, in desolate hours
Of snow and hoar-frost, spreads her fruits and her flowers,
Old Adam will smile at the pains that have made
Poor winter look fine in such strange masquerade.
'Mid coaches and chariots, a waggon of straw,
Like a magnet, the heart of old Adam can draw;
With a thousand soft pictures his memory will teem,
And his hearing is touched with the sounds of a dream.
Up the Haymarket hill he oft whistles his way,
Thrusts his hands in a waggon, and smells at the hay;
He thinks of the fields he so often hath mown,
And is happy as if the rich freight were his own.
But chiefly to Smithfield he loves to repair,--
If you pass by at morning, you'll meet with him there.
The breath of the cows you may see him inhale,
And his heart all the while is in Tilsbury Vale.
Now farewell, old Adam! when low thou art laid,
May one blade of grass spring up over thy head;
And I hope that thy grave, wheresoever it be,
Will hear the wind sigh through the leaves of a tree.
Title: 'The Farmer of Tilsbury Vale.'
With this picture, which was taken from real life, compare the
imaginative one of "The Reverie of Poor Susan"; and see (to make
up the deficiencies of this class) "The Excursion," 'passim'.