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A note on one of the earliest Gothic ballads: Frank Sayers's "Sir Egwin".

  Frederick S. Frank--Fred to all who knew and learned from him--
  explored the minor manifestations of the Gothic spirit with as much
  relish and attention to detail as his important work on its major
  authors. Whether tracking down illustrations from Gothic chapbooks or
  uncovering Gothic elements in Asian writers, Fred worked tirelessly
  and with his characteristic enthusiasm to expand our understanding of
  the reach of the Gothic (and it is worth emphasizing that he paved
  the way for today's growing interest in the International Gothic). As
  I worked on this essay concerning a minor Gothic figure--and a
  reluctant one at that--I kept thinking, "What would Fred think, what
  would he have to say?" These kind questions indicate that Fred's
  spirit of inquiry will live on in the writing of those of us
  fortunate enough to have known and worked with him.

In July of 1796 Robert Southey expressed a fascination, as did many of his contemporaries, (1) with the appearance of two translations of Gottfried August Burger's ballads in the Monthly Magazine, "Lenora" and "The Lass of Fair Wone" (from the German "Des Pfarrers Tochter von Taubenhain")--poems that would exert a tremendous influence on the short-lived craze for Gothic balladry at the end of the eighteenth century. Although both were published anonymously, Southey soon learned the identity of the translator, William Taylor of Norwich, and wrote to Grosvenor Charles Bedford seeking information about him: "Who is this Taylor? I suspected they were by Sayers" (Collected Letters [31 July 1796]). Southey refers here to Frank Sayers (1763-1817), a close friend of Taylor's and, at this time, the better-known author of Dramatic Sketches of Northern Mythology (1790) and Poems (1792), the latter of which contains one of the earliest published ballads in the German style, "Sir Egwin." Following the lead of Thomas Percy's Five Pieces of Runic Poetry and Thomas Gray's northern Odes, Sayers wrote that the Dramatic Sketches aimed to invoke "the splendid and sublime religion of our Northern ancestors" and to recommend "a freer introduction of its imagery into the poetry of the English nation" ("Preface" 20-21). Southey knew Sayers's work well, claiming that the Dramatic Sketches was "the first book I was ever master of money enough to order at a country bookseller's" (Robberds 1: 447). Given what we would now term the Gothic imagery and modality of some of the Sketches and "Sir Egwin"--a descent into a gloomy underworld to force a prophecy from a "new slain cor[p]se"; an erring bride punished by having to drink from the skull of her murdered lover--one can understand why Southey would think that "Lenora" came from the pen of Sayers. Southey would later meet the two men, form a productive literary friendship with them, and, following their lead, pen his own Gothic ballads. The little notice taken of Sayers by the critical tradition mainly concerns his place in that "almost famous" literary society of Norwich, his well-documented influence on Southey, and, in historical accounts of prosody, his revival of blank verse in sections of the Dramatic Sketches.2 Still, Sayers deserves to be recognized for the minor role he played in the story of the meteoric rise and fall of the Gothic ballad in the 1790s, both as one of its earliest practitioners and as an author who would come to regret and renounce his association with the poetry of terror.

Frank Sayers may have superseded William Taylor to the press with his Gothic ballad "Sir Egwin," but in every other respect Taylor led the way as, in the words of George Borrow, "the founder of the Anglo-German school in England" (318). Taylor met Sayers when the two attended the Barbaulds' Palgrave Academy, both of them members of a Dissenting community that had its own interesting affiliations with the story of the Gothic ballad in England.3 After leaving Palgrave in 1779, Taylor travelled widely in Europe, learning French and Italian, and then went on to Germany where, according to his biographer J.W. Robberds, "he soon became thoroughly versed in [its] language, and master of all the best amongst the original and racy productions of its active press" (1: 21). This was a heady time, when German writers and literary circles were asserting a national poetic identity in pointed opposition to the French school, and part of the inspiration for that effort came from claiming a kinship with British poetry, especially Shakespeare and the ballad traditions shared by the two countries. When Sayers returned from his own brief European tour in 1789, he took lessons in German from Taylor, and they "construed together" pieces from Goethe (whom Taylor had met in Weimar), Klopstock, Voss, and "some odes of [Frederic Leopold] Stolberg" (Taylor, "Some Biographical Particulars" xxxi). From this period comes Sayers's first composition, an adaptation of Stolberg's "Die BuBende" ("The Penitent Woman") entitled "Sir Egwin." In his Historic Survey of German Poetry, Taylor relates how Stolberg was inspired to write "Die BuBende" after experiencing an "agony of rapturous terror" in listening to a recitation of Burger's "Lenore" (2: 21). Taylor's own translation of Burger's famed ballad, entitled "Lenora," came some time later, perhaps as early as 1790, but would not be published until 1796 in the Monthly Magazine. To bring the matter full circle, Taylor would later publish his own translation of "Die BuBende," entitled "Sir Egerwene," in the May 1810 issue of the Monthly Magazine; the ballad also appears later in his Historic Survey (2: 90-96). [See the appendix for a collation of Sayers's and Taylor's ballads.]

In choosing a "form of exertion" with which best to "pursue celebrity" (Taylor, "Some Biographical Particulars" xxxii), Sayers drew upon Taylor's knowledge and example, yet his selection of "Northern Mythology" as subject matter seemed from the outset not well suited to his ardent Classical training and allegiances. In the "Some Biographical Particulars" that preface his edition of Sayers's collected works (1830), Taylor records Sayers's constant devotion to his Classical studies, not only Latin but Greek, for which "he formed a disinterested passion, and consecrated it to his vigils so perseveringly, that his health was much impaired for want of air, exercise, and relaxation" (xxvi). The Dramatic Sketches, which Taylor termed "lyric dramas," reflect this passion and thus present a curious amalgam of Classical form (derived from Sayers's close study of the "greek tragedians") and "costume and coloring" from "Percy's Northern Antiquities" [sic] (4) and other Norse sources (xxxii). Lofty diction and stately blank verse, including choral interludes, give expression to scenes of extreme emotional pathos, with frequent forays into the realms of the supernatural. A critic from the Analytical Review (1790) used an appropriately mixed metaphor, observing that Sayers's volume constituted a "Herculean task to endeavor to introduce the Gothic mythology" (qtd. in Farley 125).

The first of the Sketches, "Moina," deals with "the irruptions made by the Saxons into the North of Britain before their conversion to Christianity" ("Introduction" 23). The scene is a "Castle in the Possession of Harold," featuring two Celts, Moina, the heroine--by right of conquest now the wife of the Saxon Harold--her lover Carril, and a chorus of Bards. Taylor, who considered the Sketches "an imperishable monument of English poetry" ("Some Biographical Particulars" xxxii), provides a good summary of the drama's action:
  [Carril] arrives in disguise at the castle, urges [Moina's] flight,
  and flatters her with the equivocal prediction of a prophetess,
  thather husband is to fall in battle, and her sorrows are about to
  end. This indeed comes to pass. The corse of Harold is brought home
  for interment: Moina, according to the Gothic custom, is buried with
  him; and Carril in despair throws himself from a rock. ("Some
  Biographical Particulars" xxxiii)

The drama contains a particularly stagy enactment of Aristotelian reversal and recognition: the wished-for death of Harold does not liberate Moina but instead consigns her to that most Gothic of nightmares, live burial. As her interment, in good Classical fashion, takes place off-stage, the most Gothic (5) moments in the poem emerge in Carril's meeting with the prophetess. Moina directs her lover to the dark forest where he will find the seer:
on the road that leads
O'er yonder hill, a gloomy forest borders;
The sunbeams never pierce its sides; the wolf,
The hissing snake, possess it; there resides
A prophetess deep skill'd in Runic lore;
Haste to her cave, and force her to demand
By magic rites, if joy or grief await
Our future hours.

Once Carril reaches the prophetess, she summons a mangled corpse who must obey her Runic spell before he can assume his rightful place in Valhalla (6) as a warrior slain in battle:
She spake,
The blue light flash'd around me; I beheld
The bleeding man--with hoarse, rough voice she 'gan
To chant the Runic rhyme, and singing still,
The corse uprear'd his head and clotted hair,
And slowly cast his ghastly eyes around,
Then sunk again, as if the soul had fear'd
To animate a hateful, mangled body;
The prophetess observ'd him, and in wrath
She seiz'd a living snake and lash'd his limbs--
Uprose the corse, his languid eyes he fix'd
On me ...

As a connoisseur of Gothic conventions and atmospherics, Fred Frank would be quick to point out the features of these passages that anticipate later Gothic practice: the gloomy and forbidding setting in a perpetually darkened forest; the otherworldly blue light that presages so many Gothic moments of terror; the reluctant mangled revenant with its riddling oracle; and the requisite over-the-top moment of excess: the prophetess's lashing of the dead man's limbs with a live snake. Despite these rather radical departures from Sayers's Classical orientation, these passages remained in the several editions of the Dramatic Sketches published from 1792-1827. However, following the first edition, Savers "suppressed" the suicide of Carril out of, according to Taylor, "excessive moral scrupulosity; lest the praise of heroic suicide should perhaps operate dangerously in common life, and prepare some hesitating sufferer for a rash and unhallowed act" ("Some Biographical Particulars" xxxvi). This suppression would prove to be the first of Sayers's many recantations in his own poetry of what we would now regard as Gothic elements, despite the fact that enthusiastic German reviewers of "Moina" praised the suicide passages as the most sublime part of the work. (7) Perhaps Sayers had in mind that most infamous literary encourager of self-destruction, Goethe's Die Leiden des Jungen Werther.

The Sketches contain other Gothic resonances: "The Descent of Frea" records the failed attempt of the Norse goddess of beauty (Frea) to rescue her beloved Balder from the kingdom of Hela (or Death), a "land of horror!" featuring a brief mention of the Fatal sisters or Nornies; in "Starno" a vindictive Druidic chorus demands the sacrifice of a captured noble Saxon who had saved the king's daughter and become her beloved (a ritual that Sayers, in a later note added to the poem, refers to as "a debasing and bloody idolatry" stemming from the "fetters of superstition" [90]); and "Oswald, A Mono-drama" contains the soliloquy of an aging "Gothic chieftan," who, rather than succumb to a dishonorable death from old age, takes a knife and joyously stabs himself. However, the work of Sayers that most points the way to the Gothic ballads later to appear in the decade of the 1790s is his "Sir Egwin," which, according to David Chandler, "was, if not the first, (8) certainly one of the earliest published translations (or, more accurately, adaptations) of the new wave of 'sublime' German ballads into English." Sayers's poem features a scenario ubiquitous in the Gothic ballads that will follow the lead of Taylor's "Lenora": the spectacular punishment of an erring woman (also the subject of the second most influential Gothic ballad, M.G. Lewis's "Alonzo the Brave, and Fair Imogine" (9)). Stolberg's original furnished the signature Gothic (10) contrivance of the ballad: the erring bride of Sir Egwin is forced each night at meal-time to drink from the skull of her erstwhile lover, who was killed in flagrante delicto by the enraged husband upon his return from "the well-fought field;" she then must spend each night in a gloomy subterranean vault, an "open Psalm-book" by her side, with her lover's headless skeleton. These punishments constitute her penance for adultery (hence the title of Stolberg's poem), which the ballad treats as merciful allowances from Sir Egwin, who might have killed his wife but feared for her soul's eternal damnation and decided instead to provide her an opportunity to save herself.

A key feature of the ballad that serves to ratchet up the Gothic drama concerns a witness to the penitence, an errant knight driven by a howling storm to seek shelter in the castle (itself another Gothic set-piece: see for example the Aikins' "Sir Bertand" and several of Ann Radcliffe's novels). Although the ballad lacks any direct intervention of supernatural forces, the knight guides the reader in suspecting something otherworldly may be afoot. Upon the first appearance of the pale, shorn wife in "swarthy weeds yclad,"
The stranger trembled, from his hand
  The lifted bumper fell,
He ween'd some groaning ghost of night
  Was wandering from its cell.

Later, as Sir Egwin guides the knight "Down the dark staircase steep" to the bride's cell, he worries, superstitiously mistaken, that they are entering a tomb. Retiring shaken to bed, "A chilly sweat hung o'er his brow," he finds that "Her wailing form still haunted him / And drove him from repose." The knight provides a model of the Gothic witness not only in his tendency to over-read events: his agitated sensibility also calls for a more sympathetic interpretation of the scene before him. He prays that the stern Sir Egwin forgive his long-suffering wife, and the poem ends with a report that, finally, after "many a year," he does, and she goes on to bear him "blooming children ... / Their night of age to glad."

Thus the ballad ends, almost, with the kind of preachy morality, patriarchal validation, and dubiously "happy ever after" formula that characterize many Gothic ballads--and which makes such poetry seem so trite to readers of today. But Sayers adds a strange final stanza, not in any way inspired by the original:
Beware ye youth on English land,
  Beware ye wives so free--
Full many a scull we now behold
  A drinking cup should be.

On one level, this imperative seems just a rather shrill amplification of Sayers's heavy-handed moral message--again, not something uncommon in the endings of countless Gothic ballads. But this ending stanza also suggests rather unequivocally that adultery is a widespread problem in the "English land," an assertion quite daringly at odds with the typically guarded denouements of most Gothic ballads.

After its appearance in his Poems of 1792, Sayers would "suppress" "Sir Egwin," a fact lamented by his friend Taylor in his "Some Biographical Particulars" (lxvi). One might suspect that its theme of adultery or, perhaps, that arch ending could have caused the increasingly conservative and always Classicist Sayers to disown his one ballad in the Gothic style. Yet this suppression constitutes only a small part of a remarkable pattern of recantation on Sayers's part that points to other, more pressing reasons for his distancing himself from the kind of literary productions associated with Taylor and the Norwich circle. In addition to the aforementioned deleted choruses from "Moina," Sayers also suppressed a native witch ballad, versions of which survive in Robert Southey's "The Old Woman of Berkeley" and Taylor's "Tale of Wonder;"11 a sonnet on the French Revolution addressed to Taylor; and a great deal of correspondence that passed between the two.12 The author of "one of the earliest published translations . . . of the new wave of 'sublime' German ballads into English" would later in 1805 have this to write of such literary works:
  The novelty, the extravagance, and the pathos of the German school
  were not ill calculated to produce a vehement effect on the minds of
  the English, whose taste has been perhaps, in some degree, injured by
  their ardent, and very laudable, affection to their great national
  poet [meaning Shakespeare]; and even the caricatures of his
  excellencies and defects ... were consequently received with no
  ordinary delight. The reputation, however, of the German school, is
  already in its wane; the enthusiasm, which it awakened, has been
  abashed by the strictures of sound criticism, and by the sneers of
  well-directed ridicule; and we may now indulge a hope that the Garden
  of English Poesy will soon be watered by the streams of a purer
  Hippocrene. ("Sketch of the Rise and Progress of English Poetry" 14)

Taylor apparently took this criticism personally: "I feel a little angry with the concluding sally against the German School" ("Some Biographical Particulars" lxx).

The reasons for Sayers's disavowal of the "German school" lend support to Michael Gamer's and Peter Mortensen's argument that Gothic literature became increasingly stigmatized as "Jacobin" and subversive toward the end of the eighteenth century. In his youth, shaped no doubt by the Dissenting spirit at the Palgrave Academy and his close friendship with the unabashedly free-thinking Taylor, Sayers clearly entertained liberal viewpoints (his anti-slavery poem of 1789, "The Dying African," is evidence of this, as to a degree is his sonnet on the French Revolution ). (13) Yet after 1790, he turned back to the Establishment (14) and began to repent of what Robberds termed his "youthful heresies":
  The ever-widening divergence of their political and religious
  opinions may have produced insensibly some degree of estrangement,
  which neither would have admitted, had it been imputed to them. Dr.
  Sayers's adopted creed was certainly less tolerant of dissent, less
  forgiving of opposition, less charitable to presumed error, than his
  friend's unsectarian and self-attained convictions; and the severity
  with which he condemned, and sought to obliterate, every trace of his
  own youthful heresies, can scarcely fail to have influenced his
  judgement and feelings towards a similar, but unrepented free-
  thinking spirit, wherever it might be encountered by him. (2: 475)

Sayers's suppression of "Sir Egwin" forms not just a small part of his own deeply-felt personal reformation, but also tracks the path of other poets once enamored of the Gothic muse who would later distance themselves from such ballads. These include Walter Scott, who would renounce his "German-mad" phase as he made an "escape" from his one-time association with "Monk" Lewis, and the prolific ballad writer and one-time member of the Norwich circle Robert Southey, who, once delighting in Burger's poetry, would come to refer to his own "balladings" as "cask droppings--cheese parings & candle ends." (16)

Frank Sayers's "Sir Egwin" provides a small but representative example of the Gothic ballad and the shift in attitudes toward such poetry. The poem stems from an early and exciting period in the Norwich Circle, when, as David Chandler writes, Taylor and his friends took the lead in "incorporating 'German sublimity' into English ballads." The hope was that the "prevailing taste in [Germany] might be easily employed as a formidable auxiliary to renewing the spirit of our own" poetry, to use the words of Walter Scott, who at this time was engaged in a "transfusion" quite similar to the interests of the Norwich Circle ("Essay"). Several factors combined to target the popular Gothic ballad with "sneers of well-directed ridicule" (to quote Sayers), chief among them its increasing association by Anti-Jacobin critics with culturally subversive forces from the continent, its susceptibility to exaggeration and parody (even by its own leading practitioners (17), and its stigmatization by the aesthetics of emergent Romanticism. Frank Sayers's recantation of his early writing in the German style was a deeply personal one, informed by his own increasingly conservative political and religious convictions, yet his turn against such literature reflects the larger cultural forces at work that combined to marginalize the Gothic ballad.


A Comparative Printing of Frank Sayers's "Sir Egwin" and William Taylor's The Penitent"

The appendix to this essay supplies Sayers's "Sir Egwin" from his Poems of 1792 and William Taylor's version of Stolberg's ballad entitled "Sir Egerwene," "in the Meter of the original Poem," first appearing in the May 1810 issue of the Monthly Magazine and later in his Historic Survey (2: 90-96). Sayers uses the simple ballad form: abcb, with alternating line of tetrameter for the "a" and "c" lines and trimeter for the "b" lines; this folk stanza would prove to be a favorite form for "imitations of the ancient ballad," especially with Gothic themes. Taylor, following his example in "Lenora," adds elaborately archaic diction to create the effect of an older ballad, but both versions essentially follow the same story-line, with the exception of Taylor's more circumspect ending. In terms of meter and stanzaic form, Taylor's poem is ambitiously original. His lines are in trochaic trimeter with a concluding stressed syllable (despite his claim, quite different from the meter of Stolberg's "Die BuBende"). Taylor does refer to Stolberg's variation on the ottava rima stanza (the original runs abbaaacc), but he employs his own distinctive rhyming pattern (aabbcacc). In his use of a consciously original form for an imitation of an ancient ballad, Taylor was not alone among writers of Gothic ballads: M.G. Lewis's Tales of Wonder contains many distinctive and innovative stanzaic and metrical patterns, including his oft-imitated use of anapestic meter in "Alonzo the Brave." (18) It seems that some late eighteenth-century ballad writers aimed to compensate for what was often perceived as their simple and sub-literary folk subject matter by employing sophisticated formal patterns.

While Sayers and Taylor do not much depart from the main details of the story, their sharply different styles create two distinctive treatments of the narrative. Sayers, true to his Classical allegiances, constructs a circumspect, restrained frame for his telling of the bride's crime and punishment; Taylor, on the other hand, works to maximize, one might even say, to belabor each detail of suffering. Compare their treatment of the most pronounced Gothic contrivance of the ballad, the bride's drinking from the skull-cap of her lover, and the sympathy it evokes from the stranger knight:
Already to her faded lips
  A ghastly scull he bears,
She drank the glittering water out
  While mingling with her tears,
Then rose and went--"Ah, wherefore thus
  Torment a maid so mild?"
The stranger cries "Alas how fair,
  And patient as a child!"

Lo! he seeketh out a skulle,
Rinseth it, and filleth fulle
  Of the water from the spring,
  And with piteous gait doth bring.
    Meeklie then her face she lowte;
Inne her eyne a tear upswoll;
  And she shudder'd, stared abowte,
  Drank her draught, and totter'd owte.
"I beswear thee, tell me, man,"
So the stranger-knight began,
  "What this woman's sin hath been,
  That thou loadest her with teen;
    Of her teares the silent prayer
Canst thou from thie bosom ban?
  She is as an aungel fayre,
  Meeke and mild as children are."

Sayers's mingling of the ghastly penitential water with the bride's tears provides a quietly effective image of the poem's major theme. Compare his simple treatment of her leave-taking ("Then rose and went") to Taylor's mannered version, replete with disconcerting rhymes ("And she shudder'd, stared abowte, / Drank her draught, and totter'd owte"). Here, as so often occurs in Gothic balladry, the treatment of the story totters on the brink of parody. (Southey wrote that "In general these Beelzebub stories require a mixture of the ludicrous with the terrific, which it is difficult, if possible, to avoid" [Robberds 1: 326].) (19) There exist other jarring contrasts, such as Sayers's simple image of the bride in her dungeon attending to her Psalm book versus Taylor's more stagy rendering of her eyelash blinking a "Halie God-atoning teare"; Sayers's quiet voicing of the penitent's grief ("Alas!" she said "my crime is such / As is not wash'd by grief") versus Taylor's rendering of the scene, which insists upon the moral justice of the cruel lord (an issue left more open by Sayers): "Yeares may not my guilt atone; / Righteouslie mie lord hath done." Taylor certainly aims to maximize the Gothic atmospherics of the ballad (note his many variations on the expression of coldness and darkness throughout the ballad), but for this reader, at least, Sayers's simpler, less encumbered telling of the tale works better than the one offered by the leading practitioner of the German style of ballads.

Sir Egwin


The ballad of Stolberg is followed in this piece: the story is elsewhere to be found.
Ye wives and gentle maidens hear
  My ditty sooth and sad,
How stern Sir Egwin wrought the dole * * caused the grief
  Of her who stain'd his bed.
In days of yore, when wedded dames
  Were thrifty, kind and chaste,
A knight from far was traveling
  To Cramelot * in haste. * Camelot
Loud howl'd the storm--his steed was tir'd--
  He spy'd a castle nigh,
The tempest whistled though the courts
  And swang the elms so high.

The Penitent (20)

Inne the purer olden time,
When for man to sin was crime,
  And a woman might not straye
  Ene a hair-breadth from the waye
   Of yhallow'd chastitie;
Rode a knight through moor and grime,
  From Armorique * come to see * ancient name for Brittany
Arthur pride of chivalrie.

Loud the storm, and black the night,
And his horse in wearie plight,
  He beheld a distant gleam
  Thro a castel-windore beam.
    Much the loftie elm-trees swang,
As he pac'd the alley's side;
  While the wind-gust's hollow twang
  Round the rocking towrets * sang. *turrets
Cold blew the blast--with chattering teeth
  And frozen limbs he waits,
And knocks and knocks--the torches flare,
  And vassals ope the gates.

And then Sir Egwin's self came forth
  And said "be welcome, knight
Thy hand is numb, with snowy flakes
  Thy hair and beard are white;"

To the cullis *-gate he rode, * building
Knock'd aloud: the while he stode,
  Chatter'd much his teeth for cold;
  Frost and sleet had bleach'd the wold.* * moor
    Trustie knaves anon were seen,
Who his palfrey took, and stowde,
  Leading him, by torches sheen,
  To the prow * Sir Egerwene. * proud

Inne the base court him doth meete
The nobil host with friendlie greete,
  As a hearty Briton wones.* * abides
  "Welcome stranger for the nones, (21)
  Lo! thie beard doth sheen with ice,
And thie hand is numb of sleet;
  Hard has been thy winter-ryse,* * travel
  Foode and rest I shall alyse."

Then he leades the frozen wight,* * person
Where the chemnee brenneth bright.* * chimney burns
  Down the hall, so high and long,
  His forefathers' weapons hong,
  Iron sarkes * in black arraye: * shirts (armor)
There, I ween, at dead of night,
  When the roddie gledes * decaye, * red coals
  Yerne * the owners ghosties straye. * briskly
The bugles sound--up winding stairs
  He leads his shivering guest,
They reach at length a vaulted hall,
  With shining armour drest;

And there upon the oaken board
  The sumptuous meal is plac'd,
The silver cups go swiftly round
  With wines of rarest taste;

When lo! A door did sudden creak,
  A woman, stepping slow,
Drew near, in swarthy weeds yclad,
  And bent with silent woe.

Nor gold nor gems were on her garb,
  Her head was closely shorn,
Her face was pale, yet fair to see
  As whitening moon at morn.

The stranger trembled, from his hand
  The lifted bumper fell,
He ween'd some groaning ghost of night
  Was wandering from its cell.

Soon the slughornes* call to mele, *a kind of trumpet (22)
And the knighties tope their fele;* *drink their fill
  But at once their glee is farre,
  For a door doth softe unbarre,
    And a woman, wo-forworne,
Whom the blackest wedes concele,
  Slowlie steppeth them beforne,
  Bare her bowed head, and shorne.

Wan she was, but fayre to see,
As the moon at full may be,
  Yet did paleness, gryse and glome,* *greyness and gloom
  Ore the stonied stranger come:
  From his hand the bumper* fell; *drinking cup
For he lookte to see her gree* *become
  Soone an uglie sprite of hell,
    Rysing from his dismal cell.
She sat by the table-side
  And ate of coarsest bread,
Then rang a bell--the vassal comes--
  She looks and bows her head.

Already to her faded lips
  A ghastly scull he bears,
She drank the glittering water out
  While mingling with her tears,

Then rose and went--"Ah, wherefore thus
  Torment a maid so mild?"
The stranger cries "Alas how fair,
  And patient as a child!"

More and more she draweth nie,
Speaketh not, but sitsomelie * * gracefully
  Cometh to their plenteous borde,
  Which doth onelie bredde afforde * * only bread afford
  For her much-forbidden lip.
To the vassal standing bie
  Then she noddes, that he should trip,
  For she needeth drink to sip.

Lo! he seeketh out a skulle,
Rinseth it, and filleth fulle
  Of the water from the spring,
  And with piteous gait doth bring.
  Meeklie then her face she lowte;
Inne her eyne a tear upswoll;
  And she shudder'd, stared abowte,
  Drank her draught, and totter'd owte.

"I beswear thee, tell me, man,"
So the stranger-knight began,
  "What this woman's sin hath been,
  That thou loadest her with teen; * * suffering
    Of her teares the silent prayer
Canst thou from thie bosom ban?
  She is as an aungel fayre,
  Meeke and mild as children are."
"Yes, fair she is," the host replies,
  "Her smiles were all my bliss,
Oft her soft voice has cheer'd my soul,
  Nor deem'd I aught amiss.

"She's false as fair--ah who can read
  A woman's traiterous heart?
Another youth has shar'd her love--
  Hah--stranger, dost thou start?--

"Returning from the well-fought field,
  Too plain I saw her guilt,
Her leman * writh'd him at my feet, * lover
  This sword his blood has spilt.

"Stranger, she is fayre, I knowe,
Once did I her seeming trowe, * * trust
  Hong delighted on her looke,
  Thrill'd for pleasaunce when she spoke,
  And her honeyde wordes beleev'd.
Woman's bosom who can knowe?
  All her winsome lookes deceev'd,
  Were in falsehood's loom yweav'd.

"For her love was given and gone
To a squire that here did wone, * * abide
  Whom from dole and derthe I drewe, * * dearth I rescued
  And upbred in gentle thewe. * * custom
    After wearie war was o'er,
Homeward ones I sped alone,
  And at unawaited hour
  Hasten'd to my wed-bed bower.

"Lo! her sighte mie eyne dismayde,
Inne the clasp of ewbrice * layde, * embrace
  With the squire of lowe degree;
  Boiling did mine anger gree. * * grow
    Swifte mie righteous sworde I toke,
And his pulse of life I quayde:
  Her I weened * to have stroke, * intended
  Wile mie sowle for choler quoke. * * with anger shook

"'Then slay me too,' the harlot cried,
  'And so revenge the deed,
I kiss the steel--I join my love--
  Oh haste and let me bleed.'

"But of her guilty soul I thought
  And of the pains of hell,
And tho' the hated act inflam'd
  My breast with fury fell,

"'Ah wretch, I'll work thy bale,'* I said, *suffering
  'But still thy life I spare,
I'll save thy soul from endless woe,
  I doom thy days to prayer.'

"And then her curling locks were shorn,
  Her gaudy dress was doft,
In dingy trappings she was veil'd,
  And e'en her tears I scoft.

  "Come boldly follow me and see,
  Where now she bides to weep;"
He leads the stranger by the hand
  Down the dark staircase steep.

"But forthwith she did her throwe
At mie feete, and to the blowe
  Layde her paler bosom bare.
  Ruthful shudders through me fare. * * traveled
    And the shape of helle was come
Full of harowe * to mie browe. * horror
  No methought I maye not dome * * doom
  Her to the ycursed home.

"And I spake: 'Thou shalt, beldame,
Pay the finaunce * of mie shame, * cost
  Al it be thie life I spare:
  Though the fiend thie sprite shuld tare
    What have I to gain therebye?
No: with prayer, and teare, and grame, * * sorrow
  Earne the pardon of thie shame,
  I rallent * not till I die.' * relent

"Then her head I shavde and shore,
Toke the gaudes * and gems she wore, * gaudy things
  Clad her limes * in mourning weede, * limbs
  Of her weeping had no heede.
    Woes enow I make her beare.
Wilt thou know her painsome stowre, * * painful story
  From her lips thou mayst it heare;
  Cheere thie sprite, and follow neare."

"What?--is't a tomb?" exclaims the guest.
  "Dost fear?" Sir Egwin cries,
"Hush--hush--from yonder door I hear
  The notes of sorrow rise.

This is the place"--a rattling bar
  Gave way--upon the floor
They saw an open Psalm-book lay,
  On which her tears did pour.

"Ah woe is me!" the Knight calls out,
  "How hard her hapless fate!"
Then turn'd--a headless skeleton
  He spies behind a grate.

Down a narrow grese * they straye, * a step
Dank and dim their winding waye.
  "Is it to a toome* we go?" * tomb
Spake the faltring stranger tho. * * then
  "What, doth feare alreadie cling
To thie breste?" the knight did saye;
  "Harke! I hear her gittern * ring; * stringed instrument
  Hymnes of penaunce she doth sing."

Deeper down the vault so colde,
Both the knights in silence strollde:
  Suddenlie Sir Egerwene
  Op'd a dore, and she was seene,
    By a single lampis fleare,
Sitting in a dongeon-holde:
  On her eye-lash blinks the cleare
  Halie * God-atoning teare. * holy

"Bitter, bitter is her wo."
  Saith the guest, as in they go.
  Sternlie frown'd his British guide,
  And, advancing to her side,
  Op'd a grate with sudden tone,
And began therein to show
  Where against the mildewde stone
  Stood a headless skeletone.

"This is the man" quoth Egwin fierce,
  "Who lur'd her from my arms,
This is the man whose treacherous wiles
  Betray'd her youthful charms.

"And when she lifts her gloomed eyes
  These bones astound her sight,
His scull is now her drinking cup--
  He once was her delight."

The stranger to the Lady wish'd
  Forgiveness and relief,
"Alas!" she said "my crime is such
  As is not wash'd by grief."

Forth from the cell he then retir'd,
  His tottering knees were bent,
A chilly sweat hung o'er his brow,
  And to his couch he went.

There through the long and wint'ry night,
  His eyes he could not close,
Her wailing form still haunted him,
  And drove him from repose.

Then he spake: "Behold the man,
  Who this woman's lyking wan; * * won
  Who, by his advoutrous * game, * adulterous?
  Brought his master's bed to shame.
    Now I ween she shuld not shrink
Him from near her side to ban:
  From his sight she may not slink,
  And his skull doth hold her drink."

Ere they left the dismal cell,
Did the stranger wish her well,
  And a pardon for the sin
  She bewailed there within.
    Then she spake with gentle moane,
Through her lippes so swote and pale:
  "Yeares may not my guilt atone;
  Righteouslie mie lord hath done."

Now they sought their roomes: til daye
Sleepless did the traveller laye;
  The remembrance of her sight
  Haunted him the livelong night;
  How she, by the lamp so wan,
Wept, and sang, and preeres * did saye. * prayers
  Chilly sweats him overran,
  Thoughts of anguish him unman.

And when the golden dawn burst forth
  He rose and sought his horse,
And prays his host to pity her,
  And onward sped his course.

For many a year her tears she sheds
  And heaves her stifled groans,
And sings the hymns of penitence,
  And thus her guilt attones.

Her deep-drawn sighs, her touching looks
  Have mov'd her pitying lord,
Ah! Who could bear her patient grief
  Should want its due reward!

Again she shares the joys of life,
  And shares her husband's bed,
And blooming children rise around
  Their night of age to glad.

Beware ye youth on English land,
  Beware ye wives so free--
Full many a scull we now behold
  A drinking cup should be.

Ere the golden howre of dawn,
On had he his armure drawn;
  Parting to his host he said:
  "Til thie wife in earth be laid
    Through the sorrow undergone,
Leave her not in thraldom's pawn;
  I have nere a woman knone,
  Half so fair, and wo-begone."

[Taylor's note: "In some editions this stanza concludes the poem:" (23)]
And at length her gentle guize,
And her patient peaceful wize,
  Won Sir Egerwene to ruth;
  He forgave her sad untruth:
    Heeded now his threat no more,
No forgiveness to alyse;
  Joyed with her as of yore:
  Many worthie sons she bore.

Works Cited

Aikin, John. Poems. London: J. Johnson, 1791. Print.

Aikin, John, and Anna Laetitia Aikin. "The Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror, with Sir Bertrand, a Fragment." Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose. London: J. Johnson, 1773. 123-30. Print.

Borrow, George. The Romany Rye. London: John Murray, 1916. Print.

Chandler, David. "Southey's 'German Sublimity' and Coleridge's 'Dutch Attempt.'" Romanticism on the Net 32-33 (Nov. 2003-Feb. 2004). 20 Dec. 2009. Web.

Clery, E.J. "The Genesis of 'Gothic' Fiction." The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Ed. Jerrold E. Hogle. Cambridge UP, 2002. 21-40. Print.

Emerson, Oliver Farrar. The Earliest English Translations of Burger's "Lenore." The Western Reserve University Bulletin 18.3 (1915). Print.

Farley, Frank Edgar. Scandinavian Influences in the English Romantic Movement. Harvard Studies and Notes in English Literature. Harvard UP 9 (1903). Print.

Gamer, Michael. Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. Print.

Gray, Thomas. Odes by Mr. Gray. Printed at Strawberry-Hill for R. and J. Dodsley in Pall Mall, 1757. Print.

Lewis, M.G. Tales of Wonder. 2 vols. London: Printed by W. Bulmer for J. Bell, 1801. Mod. ed. Ed. Douglass H. Thomson. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2009. Print.

Mallet, Paul Henri. Northern Antiquities: or, A Description of the Manners, Customs, Religion and Laws of the Ancient Danes, and other Northern Nations. London: T. Carnan and Co., 1770. Print.

Mortensen, Peter. British Romanticism and Continental Influences. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Print.

Parreaux, Andre. The Publication of The Monk: A Literary Event, 1796-1798. Paris: Librairie Marcel Didier, 1960. Print.

Percy, Thomas. Five Pieces of Runic Poetry Translated from the Icelandic Language. London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1765. Mod. ed. The Old Norse Poetic Translations of Thomas Percy. By Margaret Clunies Ross. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2001. Print.

Robberds, J. W. A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich. 2 vols. London: Murray, 1843. Print.

Saintsbury, George. "Lesser Poets of the Later Eighteenth Century." The Cambridge History of English Literature. Ed. A.W. Ward and A.R. Waller. Vol. 11. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1914. 190-200. Print.

Sayers, Frank. Dramatic Sketches of Northern Mythology. London: J. Johnson, 1790. Print

--. Poems. Norwich: J. Crouse and W. Stevenson, for J. Johnson, London, 1792. Print.

--. "Sketch of the Rise and Progress of English Poetry." Miscellanies, Antiquarian And Historical. Norwich and London: Stevenson and Matchett for Cadell and Davies, 1805. 45-58. Print.

Scott, Walter. An Apology for Tales of Terror. Kelso: James Ballantyne, 1799. Mod. ed. The Walter Scott Digital Archive. Edinburgh University Library. Ed. Douglass H. Thomson. 20 Dec. 2009. Web.

--. "Essay on Imitations of the Ancient Ballad." The Walter Scott Digital Archive. Edinburgh University Library. Ed. Douglass H. Thomson. 20 Dec. 2009. Web.

--. "The Fire-King." Tales of Wonder. Collected by M.G. Lewis. 2 vols. London: Printed by W. Bulmer for J. Bell, 1801. Print.

--. The Letters of Sir Walter Scott. Ed. Herbert Grierson. 12 vols. London: Constable & Co., 1932-37. Print.

Southey, Robert. The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part I: 1791-1797. A Romantic Circles Electronic Edition. Ed. Lynda Pratt. 20 Dec. 2009. Web.

--. Letter of Southey in Lisbon to Wynn in Wrexham, North Wales, 30 December 1800 (NLW MS. 4819E). "Southey's Poems and Letters" from the Williams-Wynn Papers, vol. 9, f. 26. Print.

--. "Mary, Maid of the Inn." Poems. London: Biggs and Cottle for G. and J. Robinson, 1797. Print.

Sowerby, Robin. "The Goths in History and Pre-Gothic Gothic." A Companion to the Gothic. Ed. David Punter. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000: 15-26. Print.

Taylor, William. Historic Survey of German Poetry. 3 vols. London: Treuttel and Wurtz, Truettel Jr. and Richter, 1830. Print.

--. "The Lass of Fair Wone." The Monthly Magazine 1.3 (Apr. 1796): 223-25. Print.

--. "Lenora." The Monthly Magazine 1.2 (Mar. 1796): 135-37. Print.

--. "Sir Egerwene." The Monthly Magazine 29.5 (May 1810): 356-57. Print.

--. "Some Biographical Particulars of the Late Dr. Sayers." Introduction. Poetical Works of the Late Frank Sayers, M. D. Ed. William Taylor. London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1830. Print.

(1) In addition to William Taylor's translation, four others appeared in 1796: those by J.T. Stanley, W. R. Spencer, the poet laureate H. J. Pye, and Walter Scott. See Oliver Farrar Emerson's The Earliest English Translations of Burger's "Lenore."

(2) In his entry on "Lesser Poets of the Later Eighteenth Century," George Saintsbury coined the phrase "almost famous" to describe the Norwich circle and notes that Southey took the idea of stanzas of unrhymed verse in Thalaba from Sayers (198-99). For an excellent discussion of Southey's interaction with the Norwich Circle in 1798, see David Chandler's "'German Sublimity' and Coleridge's 'Dutch Attempt.'" As concerns Southey's Gothic ballads, see my Broadview edition of M. G. Lewis's anthology Tales of Wonder, which in its first printing contained six poems by Southey.

(3) Before becoming the famous Mrs. Barbauld, Anna Laetitia Aikin collaborated with her brother John in the writing of "The Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror, with Sir Bertrand, a Fragment" (1773). John Aikin included a Gothic ballad in his Poems of 1791 entitled "Arthur and Matilda," which contains the following note: "The idea of this piece was taken from a ballad translated by an ingenious friend from the German of Buirgher [sic]." That friend is Taylor; in addition to their literary interests, the two shared many radical religious and political viewpoints. In his Historic Survey of German Poetry (1830), Taylor refers to Aikin's note as proof that his "Lenora" antedates the other versions of the poem published during the 1790s (2: 51). In 1794 Barbauld electrified an Edinburgh literary society with her reading of Taylor's "Lenora," an event--though he was not present--that aroused the young Walter Scott's interest in writing ballads (for the story of this event and Scott's own translation of "Lenore"--entitled "William and Helen"--see Scott's "Essay on Imitations of the Ancient Ballad"). Finally, John Aikin as editor of the Monthly Magazine published Taylor's "Lenora" in 1796.

(4) Percy did not author but supplied notes to Paul Henri Mallet's Northern Antiquities (1770); perhaps Taylor had in mind Percy's Five Pieces of Runic Poetry (1765). At any rate, Sayers is clearly indebted to the works of Percy.

(5) Perhaps a note is in order to distinguish between late eighteenth-century and modern usages of the term "Gothic," an issue that will probably always vex scholarship on the subject. When Taylor refers to the "Gothic custom" of burying a wife with her deceased husband, he is invoking his age's term for widely various pagan Germanic tribes, which could include Norse, Scandinavian, Danish, or even ancient British tribal cultures. My use of the term in "most Gothic moments in the poem" refers to the literary movement (also quite various) beginning near the end of the eighteenth century that expressed a fascination with subjects of terror and the supernatural. Especially concerning the ballad tradition, motifs from the "old" Gothic inform the subject matter of the "later" Gothic, but as E.J. Clery reminds us, "eighteenth-century fiction in the terror mode ... acquired a number of categorizing names, none of them involving [at that time the term] 'Gothic'" (22). This assertion seems also generally true of the poetic tale of terror, although its frequent reliance on Gothic (in the first sense) source materials somewhat complicates matters. On this issue, also see Robin Sowerby's "The Goths in History and Pre-Gothic Gothic."

(6) As for Valhalla, Farley notes "It might be supposed that Moina, dealing as it does with Celts and Saxons, would be free from allusions to Scandinavian mythology, but there are a great many such allusions" (119). See note 5 above on the pliable use of Northern tribes and mythology.

(7) On the enthusiastic German reception of the Sketches, which included two translations of Sayers's volume, see Taylor's "Some Biographical Particulars" (xliv-xlvi).

(8) My nomination for the first would be John Aikin's "Arthur and Matilda" (see note 3 above), the earliest Burger-inspired poem to appear in print in English (1791). Aikin's ballad later appears in Walter Scott's An Apology for Tales of Terror (1799); see my on-line edition of this work for the text of the poem and critical commentary.

(9) In the words of Andre Parreaux, Lewis's ballad, first appearing in The Monk, "took England by storm" (50). "Alonzo" appeared no less than ten times before the end of 1797 in such periodicals as The Morning Chronicle, The Star, and The Gentleman's Magazine, and many poets, Robert Southey among them, wrote ballads imitating the anapestic meter Lewis introduced in the poem. Taylor's "Lenora" and Lewis's "Alonzo" provided two sharply different models for their many followers, the former, with its archaisms, onomatopoeia, and other "folk" features, providing a vivid example of an imitation of the ancient ballad, while the latter, both in diction and meter, furnished a more "modern" version of the ballad tradition.

(10) Not to belabor the issue but this use of the term "Gothic" invokes both senses of the word as discussed in note 5 above: drinking from a skull-cap certainly qualifies as a sensational element typical of Gothicism in the modern sense of the word (M. G. Lewis uses it in his "Alonzo the Brave"), but this practice also refers to the idea, widespread among early translators of Scandinavian literature, that warriors drank mead from the skulls of their enemies in Valhalla.

(11) See Chandler for information on this friendly contest; his essay includes Taylor's ballad in full.

(12) At the beginning of his "Some Biographical Particulars" prefacing Sayers's collected Poetical Works, Taylor writes that his task as a biographer has been hindered by Sayers's insistent request to turn over all correspondence between the two from 1775-1790 (Sayers's dissenting years), despite Taylor's promise not to use any of the letters. Sayers did, however, make Taylor his literary executor (but see note 15 below).

(13) See Taylor on Sayers's youthful liberalism and a fateful decision:
  My friend would have liked the clerical profession, and was adapted
  for it; but he had been brought up among dissidents, was in the habit
  of accompanying his mother to the Octagon, an unitarian chapel in
  Norwich, and had at that time serious objections to the articles of
  faith, and liturgic services, of the Anglican church. He was not
  formed to hesitate between principle and prudence. He declined the
  proffered patronage [of a benefice offered to him by his uncle]. Bred
  among unitarians, factiously attached to the writings of Dr.
  Priestley, and not unread in those of Voltaire, Rousseau, and
  Lessing, I had still stronger prejudices than himself against the
  church; and my conversation, no doubt, uniformly tended to
  corroborate his disinterested decision. I have since lamented it. As
  his opinions were eventually to hitch into the rut of orthodoxy, it
  would have been fortunate if they had done so while in the road to
  preferment. ("Some Biographical Particulars" xvi)

(14) Taylor locates the death of his mother as the decisive moment of Sayers's turn to orthodoxy (see note 13 above): He adopted "as a kind of engagement to a dying mother, thenceforth unremittingly to cultivate piety, and on his part never to unfit himself for their meeting again. Certainly from that time he no longer willingly discussed, as we had formerly done, the fundamental doctrines of faith, he avoided the perusal of sceptical writings, and endeavoured to discipline his mind to religion, by studiously impressing on his memory the best arguments of pious authors" (xlvii).

(15) Robberds includes this note after the passage quoted: "'One day Dr. Sayers told William Taylor that he had just executed his will, by which he had bequeathed his library to the Dean and Chapter; and, unwilling to consign to such a body any heretical books, he was about to burn some writings of Voltaire, Hume's "Natural History of Religion," and his (W. T.'s) pamphlet on the first two chapters of Luke. William Taylor assured him that he had no objection to being a victim in such respectable company.'--Mr. Barron's MS. Reminiscences."

(16) For Scott's use of the term "German-mad," see the letter dated 13 Dec. 1827 to Mrs. Hughes (Letter 10: 331); on his "escape" from The Tales of Wonder, see my online edition of "Essay on Imitations of the Ancient Ballad," in which Scott provides a great deal of information about his early interest in Lewis and the ballad of terror. The quotation from Southey comes from an unpublished letter in "Southey's Poems and Letters" from the Williams-Wynn Papers (NLW MS. 4819E). I am indebted to Timothy Whelan for this letter. For a discussion of Scott's and Southey's equivocal relation to Lewis and, in particular, their participation in Tales of Wonder, see my Broadview edition of that text.

(17) Especially M. G. Lewis, who included parodies of his Gothic ballads in both the fourth edition of The Monk and in Tales of Wonder.

(18) Both Southey's "Marry, the Maid of the Inn" and Scott's "The Fire-King" follow Lewis's lead in employing anapestic meter. See Scott's distinction "betwixt the legendary poems and real imitation of the old ballads" in his "Essay on Imitations of the Ancient Ballad." By legendary poems he means a "kind of poetry ... capable of uniting the vigorous numbers and wild fiction, which occasionally charm us in the ancient ballad, with a greater equality of versification, and elegance of sentiment, than we expect to find in the works of a rude age."

(19) See Chandler on this phrase: the original contains require instead of acquire, but I accept Chandler's conjecture that the intended word was acquire.

A Note on the Texts: the text of "Sir Egwin" comes from Sayers's Poems (1792). Quotation marks to demarcate dialogue have been added (the original omits many of these and is uneven on this score). The text of "The Penitent" comes from Taylor's Historic Survey of German Poetry (1830).

(20) Originally entitled "Sir Egerwene" in the Monthly Magazine (1810).

(21) The ninth day before the ides of a month; in the ancient Roman calendar, the seventh day of March, May, July, or October and the fifth day of the other months.

(22) "Slughorn" derives from the Scots Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, meaning "war-cry." In his pseudo-medieval narrative "The Battle of Hastings," Thomas Chatterton depicts warriors using a "slughorn" to sound a charge into battle. Also see Robert Browning's usage of the term: "I saw them and I knew them all. And yet / Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set, / And blew." "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" (xxxiv.4-6).

(23) The version of the poem printed in the Monthly Magazine (1810) contains this stanza without editorial comment.
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Author:Thomson, Douglass H.
Publication:Papers on Language & Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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