TO THE SPADE OF A FRIEND
COMPOSED WHILE WE WERE LABOURING TOGETHER IN HIS PLEASURE-GROUND
This person was Thomas Wilkinson, a quaker by religious
profession; by natural constitution of mind, or shall I venture to
say, by God's grace, he was something better. He had inherited a
small estate, and built a house upon it near Yanwath, upon the
banks of the Emont. I have heard him say that his heart used to
beat, in his boyhood, when he heard the sound of a drum and fife.
Nevertheless, the spirit of enterprise in him confined itself to
tilling his ground, and conquering such obstacles as stood in the
way of its fertility. Persons of his religious persuasion do now,
in a far greater degree than formerly, attach themselves to trade
and commerce. He kept the old track. As represented in this poem,
he employed his leisure hours in shaping pleasant walks by the
side of his beloved river, where he also built something between a
hermitage and a summer-house, attaching to it inscriptions after
the manner of Shenstone at his Leasowes. He used to travel from
time to time, partly from love of nature, and partly with
religious friends in the service of humanity. His admiration of
genius in every department did him much honour. Through his
connection with the family in which Edmund Burke was educated, he
became acquainted with that great man, who used to receive him
with great kindness and consideration; and many times have I heard
Wilkinson speak of those interesting interviews. He was honoured
also by the friendship of Elizabeth Smith, and of Thomas Clarkson
and his excellent wife, and was much esteemed by Lord and Lady
Lonsdale, and every member of that family. Among his verses (he
wrote many) are some worthy of preservation--one little poem in
particular upon disturbing, by prying curiosity, a bird while
hatching her young in his garden. The latter part of this innocent
and good man's life was melancholy. He became blind, and also poor
by becoming surety for some of his relations. He was a bachelor.
He bore, as I have often witnessed, his calamities with unfailing
resignation. I will only add that, while working in one of his
fields, he unearthed a stone of considerable size, then another,
then two more, and, observing that they had been placed in order
as if forming the segment of a circle, he proceeded carefully to
uncover the soil, and brought into view a beautiful Druid's temple
of perfect though small dimensions. In order to make his farm more
compact, he exchanged this field for another; and, I am sorry to
add, the new proprietor destroyed this interesting relic of remote
ages for some vulgar purpose.
SPADE! with which Wilkinson hath tilled his lands,
And shaped these pleasant walks by Emont's side,
Thou art a tool of honour in my hands;
I press thee, through the yielding soil, with pride.
Rare master has it been thy lot to know;
Long hast Thou served a man to reason true;
Whose life combines the best of high and low,
The labouring many and the resting few;
Health, meekness, ardour, quietness secure,
And industry of body and of mind;
And elegant enjoyments, that are pure
As nature is; too pure to be refined.
Here often hast Thou heard the Poet sing
In concord with his river murmuring by;
Or in some silent field, while timid spring
Is yet uncheered by other minstrelsy.
Who shall inherit Thee when death has laid
Low in the darksome cell thine own dear lord?
That man will have a trophy, humble Spade!
A trophy nobler than a conqueror's sword.
If he be one that feels, with skill to part
False praise from true, or, greater from the less,
Thee will he welcome to his hand and heart,
Thou monument of peaceful happiness!
He will not dread with Thee a toilsome day--
Thee his loved servant, his inspiring mate!
And, when thou art past service, worn away,
No dull oblivious nook shall hide thy fate.
His thrift thy uselessness will never scorn;
An 'heir-loom' in his cottage wilt thou be:--
High will he hang thee up, well pleased to adorn
His rustic chimney with the last of Thee!