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Percy's Reliques - Gentle Herdsman, tell to Me.

Gentle Herdsman, tell to Me.


            The scene of this beautiful old ballad is laid near Walsingham, in Norfolk, where was anciently an image of the Virgin Mary, famous all over Europe for the numerous pilgrimages made to it, and the great riches it possessed. Erasmus has given a very exact and humorous description of the superstitions practised there in his time. See his account of the Virgo Parathalassia, in his colloquy, intitled Peregrinatio Religionis ergo. He tells us, the rich offerings in silver, gold, and precious stones, that were there shewn him, were incredible, there being scarce a person of any note in England, but what some time or other paid a visit, or sent a present, to Our Lady of Walsingham.[ 1] At the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, this splendid image, with another from Ipswich, was carried to Chelsea, and there burnt in the presence of commissioners; who, we trust, did not burn the jewels and the finery.

            This poem is printed from a copy in the Editor's folio manuscript which had greatly suffered by the hand of time; but vestiges of several of the lines remaining, some conjectural supplements have been attempted, which, for greater exactness, are in this one ballad distinguished by italics.

GENTLE heardsman, tell to me,
Of curtesy I thee pray,
Unto the towne of Walsingham
Which is the right and ready way.

"Unto the towne of Walsingham
The way is hard for to be gon;
And verry crooked are those pathes
For you to find out all alone."

"Weere the miles doubled thrise,
And the way never soe ill,
Itt were not enough for mine offence;
Itt is soe grievous and soe ill."

"Thy yeeares are young, thy face is faire,
Thy witts are weake, thy thoughts are greene;
Time hath not given thee leave, as yett,
For to committ so great a sinne."

"Yes, heardsman, yes, soe wouldst thou say,
If thou knewest soe much as I;
My witts, and thoughts, and all the rest,
Have well deserved for to dye.

"I am not what I seeme to bee,
My clothes and sexe doe differ farr
I am a woman, woe is me!
Born to greeffe and irksome care.

"For my beloved, and well-beloved,
My wayward cruelty could kill
And though my teases will nought avail,
Most dearely I bewail him

"He was the flower of noble wights,
None ever more sincere colde bee;
Of comely mien and shape hee was,
And tenderlye hee loved mee.

"When thus I saw he loved me well,
I grewe so proud his paine to see,
That I, who did not know myselfe,
Thought scorne of such a youth as hee.

[ 2]"And grew soe coy and nice to please,
As women's lookes are often soe,
He might not kisse, nor hand forsooth,
Unlesse I willed him soe to doe.

"Thus being wearyed with delayes
To see I pittyed not his greeffe,
He gott him to a secrett place,
And there he dyed without releeffe.

"And for his sake these weeds I weare,
And sacrifice my tender age;
And every day Ile begg my bread,
To undergoe this pilgrimage.

"Thus every day I fast and pray,
And ever will doe till I dye;
And gett me to some secrett place,
For soe did hee, and soe will I.

"Now, gentle heardsman, aske no more
But keepe my secretts I thee pray;
Unto the towne of Walsingham
Shew me the right and readye way.

Now goe thy wayes, and God before!
For he must ever guide thee still:
Turne downe that dale, the right hand path,
And soe, faire pilgrim, fare thee well!"


1. To shew what constant tribute was paid to Our Lady of Walsingham, I shall give a few extracts from the "Houshold-Book of Henry Algernon Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland." Printed 1770, 8vo.

SECT. XLIII. page 337, &c.

            ITEM, My Lorde usith yerly to send afor Michaelmas for his Lordschip's Offerynge to Our Lady of Walsyngeham-- iiij d.
            ITEM, My Lorde usith ande accustumyth to sende yerely for the upholdynge of the light of wax which his Lordschip fyndith birnynge yerly befor our Lady of Walsyngham, contenynge xj lb. of wax in it after vij d. ob. for the fyndinge of every lb. redy wrought by a covenaunt maid with the Channon by great, for the hole yere, for the fyndinge of the said lyght byrning -- vi s. viiij d.
            ITEM, My Lord useth and accustomith to syende yerely to the Channon that kepith the light before our Lady of Walsyngham, for his reward for the hole yere, for kepynge of the said light, lightynge of it at all service tymes dayly thorowt the yere -- xij d.
            ITEM, My Lord usith and accustomyth yerely to send to the Prest that kepith the light, lyghtynge of it at all service tymes daily thorowt the yere -- iij s. iiij d.

2. Three of the following stanzas have been finely paraphrased by Dr. Goldsmith, in his charming ballad of Edwin and Emma; the reader of taste will have a pleasure in comparing them with the original.

"And still I try'd each fickle art,
Importunate and vain;
And while his passion touch'd my heart,
I triumph'd in his pain.

Till, quite dejected with my scorn,
He left me to my pride;
And sought a solitude forlorn,
In secret, where he dy'd.

But mine the sorrow, mine the fault,
And well my life shall pay;
I'll seek the solitude he sought,
And stretch me where he lay.

And there forlorn despairing hid,
I'll lay me down and die:
T'was so for me that Edwin did,
And so for him will I."


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