The wild irish girl a n.., p.25
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       The Wild Irish Girl: A National Tale, p.25

           Lady Morgan
 
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  LETTER XIX.

  TO J. D. ESQ., M. P.

  All the life-giving spirit of spring, mellowed by the genial glow ofsummer, shed its choicest treasures on the smiling hours which yesterdayushered in the most delightful of the seasons.

  I arose earlier than usual; the exility of my mind would not suffer meto rest, and the scented air, as it breathed its odours through my opencasement, seduced me abroad. I walked as though I scarcely touched theearth, and my spirit seemed to ascend like the lark which soared overmy head to hail the splendour of the dewy dawn. There is a fairy vale inthe little territories of Inismore, which is almost a miniature _Tempe_,and which is indeed the only spot on the peninsula where the luxuriantcharms of the most bounteous nature are evidently improved by tasteand cultivation. In a word, it is a spot sacred to the wanderings ofGlorvina. It was there our theological discourse was held on the eveningof my return, and thither my steps were now with an irresistible impulsedirected.

  I had scarcely entered this Eden, when the form of the Eve, to whosepicturesque fancy it owes so many charms presented itself. She wasstanding at a little distance _en profile_--with one hand she supporteda part of her drapery filled with wild flowers, gathered ere the sunhad kissed off the tears which night had shed upon their bosom; withthe other she seemed carefully to remove some branches that entwinedthemselves through the sprays of a little hawthorn hedge richly embossedwith the firstborn blossoms of May.

  As I stole towards her, I exclaimed, as Adam did when he first sawEve--

  “---Behold her,

  Such as I saw her in my dream adorned,

  With all that earth or heaven could bestow.

  She started and turned round, and in her surprise let fall her flowers,yet she smiled, and seemed confused--but pleasure, pure, animated,life-breathing pleasure, was the predominant expression of hercountenance. The Deity of Health was never personified in more glowingcolours--her eye’s rich blue, her cheek’s crimson blush, her lip’s dewyfreshness, the wanton wildness of her golden tresses, the deliciouslangour that mellowed the fire of her beamy glance--I gazed, andworshipped! but neither apologized for my intrusion, nor had thepoliteness to collect her scattered flowers.

  “If Nature,” said I, “had always such a priestess to preside at heraltar, who would worship at the shrine of Art?”

  “I am her votarist only,” she replied, smiling, and, pointing to a wildrose which had just begun to unfold its blushing breast amidst the snowyblossoms of the hedge--added, “see how beautiful! how orient its hueappears through the pure crystal of the morning dew-drop! It is nearlythree weeks since I first discovered it in the germ, since when I havescreened it from the noonday ardours, and the evening’s frost, and nowit is just bursting into perfection to reward my cares.”

  At these words, she plucked it from the stem. Its crimson head droopedwith the weight of the gems that spangled it. Glorvina did not shakethem off, but imbibed the liquid fragrance with her lip; then held theflower to me!

  “Am I to pledge you?” said I.

  She smiled, and I quaffed off the fairy nectar, which still trembled onthe leaves her lip had consecrated.

  “We have now,” said I, “_both_ drank from the same cup; and if thedelicious draught which Nature has prepared for us, circulates withmutual effect through our veins--If”--I paused, and cast down my eyes.The hand which still sustained the rose, and was still clasped inmine, seemed to tremble with an emotion scarcely inferior to that whichthrilled through my whole frame.

  After a minute’s pause--“Take the rose,” said Glorvina, endeavouringto extricate the precious hand which presented it--“Take it; it is thefirst of the season! My father has had his snowdrop--the confessor hisviolet--and it is but just you should have your _rose_.”

  At that moment the classical remark of the priest rushed, I believe,with mutual influence, to both our hearts. I, at least, was borneaway by the rapturous feelings of the moment, and knelt to receive theoffering of my lovely votarist.

  I kissed the sweet and simple tribute with pious ardour; but with adevotion more fervid, kissed the hand that presented it. I would nothave exchanged that moment for the most pleasurable era of my existence.The blushing radiance that glowed on her cheek, sent its warm suffusioneven to the hand I had violated with my unhallowed lip; while thesparkling fluid of her eyes, turned on mine in almost dying softness,beamed on the latent powers of my once-chilled heart, and awakened therea thousand delicious transports, a thousand infant wishes and chastedesires, of which I lately thought its worn-out feelings were no longersusceptible.

  As I arose, I plucked off a small branch of that myrtle which here growswild, and which, like my rose, was dripping in dew, and putting it intothe hand I still held, said, “This offering is indeed less beautiful,less fragrant, than that which you have made; but remember, it is alsoless _fragile_--for the sentiment of which it is an emblem, carries withit an eternity of duration.”

  Glorvina took it in silence and placed it in her bosom; and in silencewe walked together towards the castle; while our eyes, now timidlyturned on each other, now suddenly averted (O, the insidious danger ofthe abruptly downcast eye!) met no object but what breathed of love,whose soul seemed

  “--Sent abroad,

  Warm through the vital air, and on the heart

  Harmonious seiz’d.”

  The morning breeze flushed with etherial fervour; the luxury of thelandscape through which we wandered, the sublimity of those stupendouscliffs which seemed to shelter two hearts from the world, to which theirprofound feelings were unknown, while

  --Every copse

  Deep tangled, but irregular, and bush,

  Bending with dewy moisture o’er the head,

  Of the coy choiristers that lodged within,

  Were prodigal of harmony,”

  and crowned imagination’s wildest wish, and realized the fancy’s warmestvision.

  “Oh! my sweet friend!” I exclaimed, “since now I feel myself entitledthus to call you--well indeed might your nation have held this daysacred; and while the heart, which now throbs with an emotion to whichit has hitherto been a stranger, beats with the pulse of life, on thereturn of this day will it make its offering to that glorious orb, towhose genial nutritive beams this precious rose owes its existence.”

  As I spoke, Father John suddenly appeared. Vexed as I was at thisunseasonable intrusion, yet in such perfect harmony was my spirit withthe whole creation, that, in the true hyperbola of Irish cordiality, Iwished him a thousand happy returns of this season!

  “Spoken like a true-born Irishman!” said the priest, laughing, andshaking me heartily by the hand--“While with something of the phlegmof an Englishman, I wish you only as many returns of it as shall bringhealth and felicity in their train.”

  Then looking at the myrtle which reposed on the bosom of Glorvina, andthe rose which I so proudly wore, he added--“So, I perceive you haveboth been sacrificing to _Beal_; and like the priests and priestessesof this country in former times, are adorned with the flowers of theseason. For you must know, Mr. Mortimer, _we_ had our Druidesses as wellas our Druids; and both, like the ministers of Grecian mythology, werecrowned with flowers at the time of sacrifice.”

  At this apposite remark of the good priest, I stole a glance at _my_lovely priestess. Hero, at the altar of the deity she rivalled, neverlooked more attractive to the enamoured Leander.

  We had now come within a few steps of the portals of the castle, andI observed that since I passed that way, the path and entrance werestrewed with green flags, rushes, and wild crocuses; * while the heavyframework of the door was hung with garlands, and bunches of flowers,tastefully displayed.

  * “Seeing the doors of the Greeks on the first of May, profusely ornamented with flowers, would certainly recall to your mind the many descriptions of that custom which you have met with in the Greek and Latin poets.--Letters on Greece, by Moniseur Da Guys, vol i. p. 153.

  “This, madam,” said I to Glorvina, “is doubtless the re
sult of yourhappy taste.”

  “By no means,” she replied--“this is a custom prevalent among thepeasantry time immemorial.”

  “And most probably was brought hither,” said the priest, “from Greece byour Phonician progenitors: for we learn from Athenæus, that the youngGreeks hung garlands on the doors of their favourite mistresses on thefirst of May. Nor indeed does the Roman _floralia_ differ in any respectfrom ours.”

  “Those, however, which you now admire,” said Glorvina, smiling, “areno offerings of rustic gallantry; for every hut in the country, on thismorning, will bear the same fanciful decorations. The wild crocus, andindeed every flower of that rich tint, is peculiarly sacred to thisday.”

  And, in fact, when, in the course of the day, I rambled out alone,and looked into the several cabins, I perceived not only their floorscovered with flags and rushes, but a “Maybush,” as they call it, orsmall tree, planted before all the doors, covered with every flower theseason affords.

  I saw nothing of Glorvina until evening, except for a moment, when Iperceived her lost over a book, (as I passed her closet window) which,by the Morocco binding, I knew to be the Letters of the impassionedHeloise. Since her society was denied me, I was best satisfied to resignher to Rosseau. _Apropos!_ it was among the books I brought hither; andthey were all precisely such books as Glorvina had _not_ yet _should_read, that she may know herself, and the latent sensibility of her soul.They have, of course, all been presented to her, and consist of“_La Nouvelle Hel oise_” de Rosseau--the unrivalled “_Lettres sur laMythologie_” de Moustier--the “_Paul et Virginie_” of St. Pierre--the_Werter_ of Goethe--the _Dolhreuse_ of Lousel, and the _Attilla_ ofChateaubriand. Let our English novels carry away the prize of moralityfrom the romantic fictions of every other country; but you will findthey rarely seize on the imagination through the medium of the heart;and as for their heroines, I confess, that though they are the mostperfect beings, they are also the most stupid. Surely, virtue would notbe the less attractive for being united to genius and the graces.

  But to return to the never-to-be-forgotten _first of May!_ Early in theevening the Prince, his daughter, the priest, the bard, the old nurse,and indeed all the household of Inismore, adjourned to the vale, whichbeing the only level ground on the peninsula, is always appropriated tothe sports of the rustic neighbours. It was impossible I should enterthis vale without emotion and when I beheld it crowded with the vulgarthrong, I felt as if it were profanation for the

  “Sole of unblest feet!”

  to tread that ground sacred to the most refined emotions of the heart.

  Glorvina, who walked on before the priest and me, supporting her father,as we entered the vale stole a glance at me; and a moment after, asI opened the little wicket through which we passed, I murmured in herear--_La val di Rosa!_

  We found this charming spot crowded with peasantry of both sexes and allages. * Since morning they had planted a Maybush in the centre, whichwas hung with flowers, and round the seats appropriated to thePrince and his family, the flag, crocus, and primrose, were profuselyscattered. Two blind fiddlers, and an excellent piper, ** were seatedunder the shelter of the very hedge which had been the nursery of myprecious rose; while the old bard, with true druidical dignity sat underthe shade of a venerable oak, near his master.

  * In the summer of 1802, the author was present at a rural festival at the seat of a highly respected friend in Tipperary, from which this scene is partly copied.

  ** Although the bagpipe is not an instrument indigenous to Ireland, it holds a high antiquity in the country. It was the music of the Kearns, in the reign of Edward the Third. [See Smith’s History of Cork, page 43.] It is still the favourite accompaniment of those mirthful exertions with which laborious poverty crowns the temporary cessation of its weekly toil, and the cares and solicitudes of the Irish peasant ever dissipate to the spell which breathes in the humorous drones of the Irish pipes. To Scotland we are indebted for this ancient instrument, who received it from the Romans; but to the native musical genius of Ireland are we indebted for its present form and improved state. ‘That at present in use in Ireland,’ says Dr. Burney, in a letter to J. C. Walker, Esq., is an improved bagpipe, on which I have heard some of the natives play very well in two parts, without the drone, which, I believe, is never attempted in Scotland The tone of the lower notes resembles that of an hautboy or clarionet, and the high notes, that of a German flute: and the whole scale of one I heard lately was very well in tune, which has never been the case of any Scottish bagpipe that I have yet heard.”

  The sports began with a wrestling match; * and in the gymnasticexertions of the youthful combatants there was something, I thought, ofSpartan energy and hardihood.

  * The young Irish peasantry particularly prize themselves on this species of exertion: they have almost reduced it to a science, by dividing it into two distinct species--the one called “sparnaight,” engages the arms only; the other, “carriaght,” engages the whole body.

  But as “breaking of ribs is no sport for ladies,” Glorvina turned fromthe spectacle in disgust; which I wished might have been prolonged, asit procured me (who leaned over her seat) her undivided attention butit was too soon concluded, though without any disagreeable consequences,for neither of the combatants were hurt, though one was laid prostrate.The victorious wrestler was elected King of the May; and, with “all hisblushing honours thick upon him,” came timidly forward, and laid hisrural crown at the feet of Glorvina. Yet he evidently seemed intoxicatedwith his happiness, and though he scarcely touched the hand of hisblushing, charming nueen, yet I perceived a thousand saucy triumphsbasking in his fine black eyes, as he led her out to dance. The fellowwas handsome too. I know not why, but I could have knocked him down withall my heart.

  “Every village has its Cæsar,” said the priest, “and this is ours. Hehas been elected King of the May for these five years successively He issecond son to our old steward, and a very worthy, as well as a very fineyoung fellow.”

  “I do not doubt his worth,” returned I, peevish ly, “but it certainlycannot exceed the condescension of his young mistress.”

  “There is nothing singular in it, however,” said the priest. “Amongus, over such meetings as these, inequality of rank holds no _obvious_jurisdiction, though in fact it is not the less regarded; and thecondescension of the master or mistress on these occasions, lessensnothing of the respect of the servant upon every other; but rathersecures it, through the medium of gratitude and affection.” The piperhad now struck up one of those lilts, whose mirth-inspiring influence itis almost impossible to resist.* The Irish jig, above every other dance,leaves most to the genius of the dancer; and Glorvina, above all thewomen I have ever seen, seems most formed by nature to exce in the art.Her little form, pliant as that of an Egyptian _alma_, floats before theeye in all the swimming langour of the most graceful motion, or all thegay exility of soul-inspired animation. She even displays an exquisitedegree of comic humour in some of the movements of her national dance:and her eyes, countenance, and air express the wildest exhilaration ofpleasure, and glow with all the spirit of health, mirth, and exercise.

  * Besides the Irish jig, tradition has rescued from that oblivion which time has hung over the ancient Irish dance, the _rinceadh fada_, which answers to the festal dance of the Greeks; and the _rinceadh_, or war dance, “which seems,” says Mr. Walker, “to have been of the nature of the armed dance, which is so ancient, and with which the Grecian youth amused themselves during the seige of Troy.” Previous to the adoption of the French style in dancing, Mr. O’Halloran asserts, that both our private and public balls always concluded with the “rinceadh-fada.” On the arrival of James the Second at Kinsale, his adherents received the unfortunate prince on the shore with this dance, with whose taste and execution he was infinitely delighted: and even still, in the county of Limerick and many other parts of Ireland, the “rinceadh-fada” is danced on the eve of May.

  I was so struck with the grace and elegance o
f her movements, thedelicacy of her form, and the play of her drapery gently agitated by theair, that I involuntarily gave to my admiration an audible existence.

  “Yes,” said the priest, who overheard me, “she performs her nationaldance with great grace and spirit. But the Irish are all dancers; and,like the Greeks, we have no idea of any festival here which does notconclude with a dance; * old and young, rich and poor, all join here inthe sprightly dance.”

  * “The passion of the Greeks for dancing is common to both sexes, who neglect every other consideration when they have an opportunity of indulging that passion.”

  Glorvina, unwearied, still continued to dance with unabated spirit, andeven seemed governed by the general principle which actuates all theIrish dancers--of not giving way to any competitor in the exertion forshe actually outdanced her partner, who had been jigging with all his_strength_, while she had only been dancing with all her _soul_; andwhen he retreated, she dropped a simple curtsey (according to the lawsof jig-dancing here) to another young rustic, whose seven league broguesfinally prevailed, and Glorvina at last gave way, while he made a scrapeto a rosy cheeked, barefooted damsel, who out jigged him and his twosuccessors; and thus the chain went on.

  Glorvina, as she came panting and glowing towards me, exclaimed, “I havedone my duty for the evening;” and threw herself on a seat, breathlessand smiling.

  “Nay,” said I, “more than your duty; for you even performed a work ofsupererogation.” And I cast a pointed look at the young rustic who hadbeen the object of her election.

  “O!” she replied, eagerly--“it is the custom here, and I should besorry, for the indulgence of an overstrained delicacy, to violate any ofthose established rules to which, however trifling, they aredevotedly attached. Besides, you perceive,” she added, smiling, “thiscondescension on the part of the females, who are thus ‘won unsought,’does not render the men more presumptuous. You see what a distance theyouth of both sexes preserve--a distance which always exists in thesekind of public meetings.”

  And, in fact, the lads and lasses were ranged opposite to each other,with no other intercourse than what the communion of the eyes afforded,or the transient intimacy of the jig bestowed. *

  * This custom, so prevalent in some parts of Ireland, is of a very ancient origin. We read in Keating’s History of Ireland, that in the remotest periods, when the Irish brought their children to the fair of Tailtean, in order to dispose of them in marriage, the strictest order was observed; the men and women having distinct places assigned them at a certain distance from each other.

  “And will you not dance a jig?” asked Glorvina.

  “I seldom dance,” said I--“Ill health has for some time back coincidedwith my inclination, which seldom led me to try my skill at the _Poetryof motion?_”

  “Poetry of motion!” repeated Glorvina--“What a beautiful idea!”

  “It is so,” said I, “and if it had been my own, it must have owed itsexistence to you; for your dancing is certainly the true poetry ofmotion, and _Epic_ poetry too.”

  “I love dancing with all my heart,” she replied: “when I dance I havenot a care on earth--every thing swims gaily before me; and I feel asswiftly borne away in a vortex of pleasurable sensation.”

  “Dancing,” said I, “is the talent of your sex--that pure grace whichmust result from a symmetrical form, and that elixity of temperamentwhich is the effect of woman’s delicate organization, creates youdancers. And while I beheld your performances this evening, I no longerwondered that the gravity of Socrates could not resist the spell whichlurked in the graceful motions of Aspasia, but followed her in the mazesof the dance.”

  She bowed, and said, I “flattered too agreeably, not to be listened towith _pleasure_, if not with _faith_.”

  In short, I have had a thousand occasions to observe, that whileshe receives a decided compliment with the ease of almost _bon tonnonchalance_, a look, a broken sentence, a word, has the power ofoverwhelming her with confusion, or awakening all the soul of emotion inher bosom. All this I can understand.

  As the dew of the evening now began to fall, the invalid Prince andhis lovely daughter arose to retire. And those who had been renderedso happy by their condescension, beheld their retreat with regret, andfollowed them with blessings. Whiskey, milk, and oaten bread were nowdistributed in abundance by the old nurse and the steward; and thedancing was recommenced with new ardour.

  The priest and I remained behind, conversing with the old and jestingwith the young--he in Irish, and I in English, with such as understoodit. The girls received my little gallantries with considerable archness,and even with some point of repartee; while the priest rallied them intheir own way, for he seems as playful as a child among them, thoughevidently worshipped as a sakit. And the moon rose resplendently overthe vale, before it was restored to its wonted solitary silence.

  *****

  Glorvina has made the plea of a headache these two mornings back, forplaying the truant at her drawing desk; but the fact is, her daysand nights are devoted to the sentimental sorcery of Rosseau, and theeffects of her studies are visible in her eyes. When we meet, her glancesinks beneath the ardour of mine in soft confusion her manner is nolonger childishly playful, or carelessly indifferent, and sometimes asigh, scarce breathed, is discovered by the blush which glows on hercheek for the inadvertency of her lip. Does she, then, begin to feelshe has a heart? Does “_Le besoin de l’ame tendre_,” already throbwith vague emotion in her bosom? Her abstracted air, her deliciousmelancholy, her unusual softness, betray the nature of the feelingsby which she is overwhelmed--they are new to herself; and sometimes Ifancy, when she turns her melting eyes on me, it is to solicit theirmeaning. O! if I dared become the interpreter between her and herheart--if I dared indulge myself in the hope, the belief that---- andwhat then? ’Tis all folly, ’tis madness, ’tis worse! But whoeveryet rejected the blessing for which his soul thirsted?--And in thescale of human felicities, if there is one in which all others is summedup--above all others supremely elevated--it is the consciousness ofhaving awakened the first sentiment of the sweetest, the sublimest ofall passions, in the bosom of youth, genius, and sensibility.

  Adieu, H. M.

 
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