Percy's Reliques - Argentile and Curan.

Argentile and Curan.

††††††††††† This piece is extracted from an ancient historical poem in thirteen books, intitled Albion's England, by William Warner: "an author," says a former editor, "only unhappy in the choice of his subject and measure of his verse. His poem is an epitome of the British history, and written with great learning, sense, and spirit; in some places fine to an extraordinary degree, as I think will eminently appear in the ensuing episode [of Argentile and Curan]-- a tale full of beautiful incidents in the romantic taste, extremely affecting, rich in ornament, wonderfully various in style; and in short one of the most beautiful pastorals I ever met with." [Muses Library, 1738, 8vo.] To his merit nothing can be objected, unless perhaps an affected quaintness in some of his expressions, and an indelicacy in some of his pastoral images.

††††††††††† Warner is said, by A. Wood,[ 1] to have been a Warwickshire man, and to have been educated in Oxford, at Magdalen-hall: as also in the latter part of his life to have been retained in the service of Henry Cary Lord Hunsdon, to whom he dedicates his poem. However that may have been, new light is thrown upon his history, and the time and manner of his death are now ascertained, by the following extract from the parish register book of Amwell, in Hertfordshire; which was obligingly communicated to the Editor by Mr. Hoole, the very ingenious translator of Tasso, &c.

††††††††††† [1608--1609.]"Master William Warner, a man of good yeares and of honest reputation; by his profession an atturnye of the Common Pleas; author of Albions England, diynge suddenly in the night in his bedde, without any former complaynt or sicknesse, on thursday night beeinge the 9th daye of March; was buried the satturday following, and lyeth in the church at the corner under the stone of Walter Ffader."
††††††††††† "Signed. Tho. Hassall, Vicarius.

††††††††††† Though now Warner is so seldom mentioned, his contemporaries ranked him on a level with Spenser, and called them the Homer and Virgil of their age.[ 2] But Warner rather resembled Ovid, whose Metamorphosis he seems to have taken for his model, having deduced a perpetual poem from the deluge down to the era of Elizabeth, full of lively digressions and entertaining episodes. And though he is sometimes harsh, affected, and obscure, he often displays a most charming and pathetic simplicity; as where he describes Eleanor's harsh treatment of Rosamond:

"With that she dasht her on the lippes
So dyed double red:
Hard was the heart that gave the blow,
Soft were those lippes that bled."

††††††††††† The edition of Albion's England here followed was printed in 4to. 1602; said in the title-page to have been "first penned and published by William Warner, and now revised and newly enlarged by the same author." The story of Argentile and Curan is, I believe, the poet's own invention; it is not mentioned in any of our chronicles. It was however so much admired, that not many years after he published it, came out a larger poem on the same subject in stanzas of six lines, intitled, "The most pleasant and delightful historie of Curan, a prince of Danske, and the fayre princesse Argentile, daughter and heyre to Adelbright, sometime king of Northumberland, &c." By William Webster, London, 1617, in eight sheets 4to. An indifferent paraphrase of the following poem. This episode of Warner's has also been altered into the common ballad "of the two young Princes on Salisbury Plain," which is chiefly composed of Warner's lines, with a few contractions and interpolations, but all greatly for the worse. See the Collection of Historical Ballads, 1727, 3 vols. 12mo.

††††††††††† Though here subdivided into stanzas, Warner's metre is the old-fashioned Alexandrine of fourteen syllables. The reader therefore must not expect to find the close of the stanzas consulted in the pauses.

THE Brutons being departed hence
Seaven kingdoms here begonne,
Where diversly in divers broyles
The Saxons lost and wonne.

King Edel and King Adelbright
In Diria jointly raigne;
In loyal concorde during life
These kingly friends remaine.

When Adelbright should leave his life,
To Edel thus he sayes;
"By those same bondes of happie love,
That held us friends alwaies;

"By our by-parted crowne, of which
The moyetie is mine;
By God, to whom my Soule must passe,
And so in time may thine;

"I pray thee, nay I conjure thee,
To nourish, as thine owne,
Thy niece, my daughter Argentile,
Till she to age be growne;
And then, as thou receivest it,
Resigne to her my throne."

A promise had for his bequest,
The testatÚr he dies;
But all that Edel undertooke,
He afterwards denies.

Yet well he fosters for a time
The damsell that was growne
The fairest lady under heaven;
Whose beautie being knowne,

A many princes seeke her love;
But none might her obtaine;
For grippell Edel to himselfe
Her kingdome sought to gaine;
And for that cause from sight of such
He did his ward restraine.

By chance one Curan, sonne unto
A prince in Danske, did see
The maid, with whom he fell in love,
As much as man might bee.

Unhappie youth, what should he doe?
His saint was kept in mewe;
Nor he, nor any noble-man
Admitted to her vewe.

One while in melancholy fits
He pines himselfe awaye;
Anon he thought by force of arms
To win her if he maye:

And still against the kings restraint
Did secretly invay.
At length the high controller Love,
Whom none may disobay,

Imbased him from lordlines
Into a kitchen drudge,
That so at least of life or death
She might become his judge.

Accesse so had to see and speake,
He did his love bewray,
And tells his birth: her answer was,
She husbandles would stay.

Meane while the king did beate his braines,
His booty to atchieve,
Not caring what became of her,
So he by her might thrive;
At last his resolution was
Some pessant should her wive.

And (which was working to his wish)
He did observe with joye
How Curan, whom he thought a drudge,
Scapt many an amorous toye.[ 3]

The king, perceiving such his veine,
Promotes his vassal still,
Lest that the basenesse of the man
Should lett, perhaps, his will.

Assured therefore of his love,
But not suspecting who
The lover was, the king himselfe
In his behalf did woe.

The lady resolute from love,
Unkindly takes that he
Should barre the noble, and unto
So base a match agree;

And therefore shifting out of doores,
Departed thence by stealth;
Preferring povertie before
A dangerous life in wealth.

When Curan heard of her escape,
The anguish in his hart
Was more than much, and after her
From court he did depart;

Forgetfull of himselfe, his birth,
His country, friends, and all,
And only minding (whom he mist)
The foundresse of his thrall.

Nor meanes he after to frequent
Or court, or stately townes,
But solitarily to live
Amongst the country grownes.

A brace of years he lived thus,
Well pleased so to live,
And shepherd-like to feed a flocke
Himselfe did wholly give.

So wasting, Love, by worke, and want,
Grew almost to the waine:
But then began a second love,
The worser of the twaine.

A country wench, a neatherds maid,
Where Curan kept his sheepe,
Did feed her drove: and now on her
Was all the shepherds keepe.

He borrowed on the working daies
His holy russets[ 4] oft,
And of the bacon's fat, to make
His startops blacke and soft.

And least his tarbox should offend,
He left it at the folde:
Sweete growte, or whig, his bottle had,
As much as it might holde.

A sheeve of bread as browne as nut,
And cheese as white as snow,
And wildings, or the seasons fruit
He did in scrip bestow.

And whilst his py-bald curre did sleepe,
And sheep-hooke lay him by,
On hollow quilles of oten straw
He piped melody.

But when he spyed her his saint,
He wip'd his greasie shooes,
And clear'd the drivell from his beard,
And thus the shepheard wooes.

"I have, sweet wench, a peece of cheese,
As good as tooth may chawe,
And bread and wildings souling well,
(And therewithall did drawe

His lardrie) and in yeaning see
Yon crumpling ewe," quoth he,
"Did twinne this fall, and twin shouldst thou,
If I might tup with thee."

"Thou art too elvish, faith thou art,
Too elvish and too coy:
Am I, I pray thee, beggarly,
That such a flocke enjoy?

"I wis I am not: yet that thou
Doest hold me in disdaine
Is brimme abroad, and made a gybe
To all that keepe this plaine.

"There be as quaint (at least that thinke
Themselves as quaint) that crave
The match, that thou, I wot not why,
Maist but mislik'st to have.

"How wouldst thou match? (for well I wot,
Thou art a female) I
Her know not here that I willingly
With maiden-head would die.

"The plowmans labour hath no end,
And he a churle will prove:
The craftsman hath more worke in hand
Then fitteth unto love:

"The merchant, traffiquing abroad,
Suspects his wife at home:
A youth will play the wanton; and
An old man prove a mome.

"Then chuse a shepheard: with the sun
He doth his flocke unfold,
And all the day on hill or plaine
He merrie chat can hold;

"And with the sun doth folde againe;
Then jogging home betime,
He turnes a crab,[ 5] or turves a round,
Or sings some merry ryme.

"Nor lacks he gleefull tales, whilst round
The nut-brown bowl doth trot;
And sitteth singing care away,
Till he to bed be got:

"Theare sleepes he soundly all the night,
Forgetting morrow-cares:
Nor feares he blasting of his corne,
Nor uttering of his wares;

"Or stormes by seas, or stirres on land,
Or cracke of credit lost:
Not spending franklier than his flocke
Shall still defray the cost.

"Well wot I, sooth they say, that say
More quiet nights and daies
The shepheard sleeps and wakes, than he
Whose cattel he doth graize.

"Beleeve me, lasse, a king is but
A man, and so am I:
Content is worth a monarchie,
And mischiefs hit the hie;

"As late it did a king and his
Not dwelling far from hence,
Who left a daughter, save thyselfe,
For fair a matchless wench."--
Here did he pause, as if his tongue
Had done his heart offence.

The neatresse, longing for the rest,
Did egge him on to tell
How faire she was, and who she was.
"She bore," quoth he, "the bell

"For beautie: though I clownish am,
I know what beautie is;
Or did I not, at seeing thee,
I senceles were to mis.

*†††† *†††† *†††† *†††† *†††† *

"Her stature comely, tall; her gate
Well graced; and her wit
To marvell at, not meddle with,
As matchless I omit.

"A globe-like head, a gold-like haire,
A forehead smooth, and hie,
An even nose; on either side
Did shine a grayish eie:

"Two rosie cheeks, round ruddy lips,
White just-set teeth within;
A mouth in meane; and underneathe
A round and dimpled chin.

"Her snowie necke, with blewish veines,
Stood bolt upright upon
Her portly shoulders: beating balles
Her veined breasts, anon

"Adde more to beautie. Wand-like was
Her middle falling still,
And rising whereas women rise:***
-- Imagine, nothing ill.

"And more, her long, and limber armes
Had white and azure wrists;
And slender fingers aunswere to
Her smooth and lillie fists.

"A legge in print, a pretie foot;
Conjecture of the rest:
For amorous eies, observing forme,
Think parts obscured best.

"With these, O raretie! with these
Her tong of speech was spare;
But speaking, Venus seem'd to speake,
The balle from Ide to bear.

"With Phoebe, Juno, and with both
Herselfe contends in face;
Wheare equall mixture did not want
Of milde and stately grace.

"Her smiles were sober, and her lookes
Were chearefull unto all:
Even such as neither wanton seeme,
Nor waiward; mell nor gall.

"A quiet midde, a patient moode,
And not disdaining any;
Not gybing, gadding, gawdy: and
Sweete faculties had many.

"A nimph, no tong, no heart, no eie,
Might praise, might wish, might see;
For life, for love, for forme; more good,
More worth, more faire than shee.

"Yea such an one, as such was none,
Save only she was such:
Of Argentile to say the most,
Were to be silent much."

"I knew the lady very well,
But worthles of such praise,
The neatresse said: and muse I do,
A shepheard thus should blaze
The coate of beautie.[ 6] Credit me,
Thy latter speech bewraies

"Thy clownish shape a coined shew.
But wherefore dost thou weepe?
The shepheard wept, and she was woe,
And both doe silence keepe.

"In troth," quoth he, "I am not such,
As seeming I professe:
But then for her, and now for thee,
I from myselfe digresse.

"Her loved I (wretch that I am
A recreant to be)
I loved her, that hated love,
But now I die for thee.

"At Kirkland is my fathers court,
And Curan is my name,
In Edels court sometimes in pompe,
Till love countrould the same:

"But now -- what now? -- deare heart, how now?
What ailest thou to weepe? "
The damsell wept, and he was woe,
And both did silence keepe.

"I graunt," quoth she, "it was too much,
That you did love so much:
But whom your former could not move,
Your second love doth touch.

"Thy twice-beloved Argentile
Submitteth her to thee,
And for thy double love presents
Herself a single fee,
In passion not in person chang'd,
And I, my lord, am she.

They sweetly surfeiting in joy,
And silent for a space,
When as the extasie had end,
Did tenderly imbrace;
And for their wedding, and their wish
Got fitting time and place.

Not England (for of Hengist then
Was named so this land)
Then Curan had a hardier knight;
His force could none withstand:
Whose sheep-hooke laid apart, he then
Had higher things in hand.

First, making knowne his lawfull claime
In Argentile her right,
He warr'd in Diria,[ 7] and he wonne
Bernicia, too in fight:
And so from trecherous Edel tooke
At once his life and crowne,
And of Northumberland was king,
Long raigning in renowne.

NOTES

1. Athen. Oxon.

2. Athen. Oxon.

3. The construction is, "How that many an amorous toy, or foolery of love, escaped Curan;" i.e. escaped from him, being off his guard.

4. i.e. holy-day russets.

5. i.e. roasts a crab, or apple.

6. i.e. emblazon beauty's coat.

7. During the Saxon Heptarchy, the kingdom of Northumberland (consisting of six northern counties, besides part of Scotland) was for a long time divided into two lesser sovereignties, viz. Deira (called here Diria), which contained the southern parts, and Bernicia, comprehending those which lay north.

 

Previous Next