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OF WINDSOR-FOREST, AND LYRIC PIECES.
ESCRIPTIVE Poetry was by no means the \
manifested by the few images introduced in the poem before us, which are not equally applicable to any place whatsoever, Rural beauty in general, and not the peculiar beauties of the Forest of Windsor, are here described. Nor are the sports of setting, shooting, and fishing, included between the ninety-third and one hundred and fortysixth verses, to which the reader is referred, at all more appropriated. The stag-chase, that imme» diately follows, although some of the liues are incomparably good,* is not so full, so animated, and so circumstantiated, as that of jfomerville,
The digression that describes the demolition of the thirty villages by William the Conqueror, is well imagined; particularly,
Round broken columns clasping ivy twinM;
Though I cannot forbear thinking, that the following picture of the ruins of Godstow Nunnery, drawn, it should seem, on the spot, and worthy the hand of Paul Brill, is by no means excelled by the foregoing.
Qua nudo Rosamonda humilis sub culmine tecti
Marginis obscuri servat inane decus,
Et sola in vacuo tramite porta labat:
Et veteri pavidum religione nemus.
Hinc matutinum saspe monebat avem;
Prodidit arcanas arcta fenestra faces:
Nunc muro avellunt germen agreste boves.f
* Ver. 69. -J- Carmina Quadrages. Oxon. 1748. pag. 3.
Voltaire, in, the first volume of his entertaining and lively Essay on General History, is inclined to dispute the truth of this devastation imputed to William the Conqueror, but for a reason not very solid and conclusive. His objection consists in the improbability that any man in his senses, should think of depopulating a circuit of fifteen leagues, and of sowing and planting a forest therein, when he was now sixty-three years old, and could not reasonably hope to live long enough to have the pleasure of hunting in it after these trees were grown up. As if it were necessary to have only woods to hunt in, or that a forest should be laid out (as are some in France) in regular alleys and avenues of trees. All our old historians, Florence of Worcester, William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, Simeon of Durham, Hoveden, Brompton, and Walter Mapes, join in charging William with this wanton act of cruelty and oppression. And yet those who have most accurately examined the New Forest, can discover no mark or footstep, of any other place of habitation, parish, or church, or castle, than what at present remains. There is, indeed, some probability that the character of this Prince has.
C 3 been. been misrepresented, and his oppressions magnified. The law of the curfeu-bell, by which every inhabitant of England was obliged to extinguish his fire and candles at eight in the evening, has been usually alleged as the institution of a capricious tyrant. But this law, as Voltaire* rightly observes, was so far from being absurdly tyrannical, that it was an ancient custom established among all the monasteries of the north. Their houses were built of wood; and so cautious a method to prevent fire, was an object worthy a prudent legislator. A more amiable idea than Pope has here exhibited of the Conqueror, is given us of the same Prince, by that diligent enquirer into antiquity, the President Henault, in a passage that contains some curious particulars, characteristical of the man' ners of that age. "This Monarch protected letters, at a time when books were so rare and uncommon, that a Countess of Anjou gave for «. collection of homilies, two hundred sheep, a measure of wheat, another of rye, a third of millet, and A certain number of the skins of
martens."* But to return. The story of f Lodona is prettily Ovidian; but there is scarcely a single incident in it, but what is borrowed from some transformation of Ovid. The' picture of a virtuous and learned man in retirement J is highly finished, as the poet was here in his proper element, recommending integrity and science. He has no where discovered more poetic enthusiasm, than where, speaking of the poets who lived or died near this spot, he breaks out,
I seem through consecrated walks to rove,
The enumeration of the princes who were either born or interred at Windsor is judiciously introduced. Y*t I have frequently wondered that C 4 he
* Novel Abrege" Chronologique de PHistoire de France, torn. i. page 126. To this useful and entertaining work Voltaire has often been deeply indebted, without confessing his obligation. The last edition +to. of this work was improved with many important circumstances. Paris, 1752. Dedicated to the Queen of France.
f Ver. 171. t Ver- 253 • II Ver- 267.