JOHN HARRIS, CORNISH MINER
A STORY OF CARN BREA.
Death of the Prince Consort—Mourned by the Musician—Painter—Poet—Senator—A weeping Nation—Prayer for our widowed Sovereign—The Green Island—A woodbined Dwelling—The Queen reading the Scriptures by the Couch of the Invalid—Shore of Change—The three Homes—Cottage on the Crag—Among the Mine-Pits—Near the Rushes—The green Grave—The honest Miner again—Change in his Feelings—Joy of Nature—Sorrows of his Home—The kind Neighbour—The weary Waiters—The anxious Mother—Rising Moon—The Miner's Return—The Wretched relieved—Conversation of the Horsemen—Storm again—Apostrophe to Carn Brea—Its mineral Chambers—Story of second Rider—The Infidel—His impious Address—Morning Song of the little Girl—Echoes from the Hollows—Conviction of the Infidel—Conversion—Happy State of his Mind—Death-Destruction of his Dwelling—Story of first Rider—Death on a Doorstep—The blighted Flower—The dark Den—Snow-Storm—Within and Without—Wreck.
MUFFLE thy chords, my harp,—England's dear Queen
Is now a widow, clad in widow's weeds.
Her heart is bleeding, and a nation mourns.
Commerce was rife, the hum of merchandise
Rose from the earth, old ocean's argosies
Swept shoreward, and the noisy tongue of Time
Told of a world in action, when disease
Rush'd like a sable warrior in the dark,
And forced his spirit from him. The brave Prince
Lay in the Royal castle, like a tree
Torn up in summer by the fierce monsoon,
In all its leaves apparell'd, and a cry
Of mortal anguish shudder'd o'er the globe.
Music sat wounded at her instrument,
With hot drops running o'er the silent wires.
Painting let fall her pencil with dim eyes,
And one sad vision on the canvass lower'd.
Poetry, with frozen thought, struggling for birth,
Ran o'er wild walks in blank bewilderment.
Amazement seized the senator, and wrapp'd
His utterances in mourning; and a wail
Rose from unnumber'd hearts, heavy with grief.
O wondrous Prince! drinking the wine of Peace,
And dying in her arms, with vest unsoil'd,
And name untarnish'd, leaving love behind.
O, pray we for our country and our Queen,
That red-robed War may never stain our shores,
That strength be given her in this hour of need,
And all the scions round the Royal board,
To bear this dispensation which roll'd by,
Leaving thick blackness on its midnight trail.
The cup is drunk, our widow'd Sovereign walks
Without her partner. We will hope her heart,
Soft as the sunshine on the morning flower,
Will feel yet more for poverty and woe,
The widow and the orphan. Thus we pray,
"O Prince of princes, save our dearest Queen."
Leave the light boat upon the pebbly strand.
The shore is green with verdure, and the leaves
Dip down into the waters: murmuring streams,
And singing birds, and echoes from the dells,
And cottages like fabrics of the fays,
And flowers as numerous as the lights of heaven,
And many-colour'd as the bow of truth,
Make it a royal haunt where princely feet
Brush the bright mosses of a favour'd isle.
Turn down yon lane, loved for its crookedness,
Where bats wheel in the twilight, and the vow
Of early lovers trembles on the air:
And on the green hill's side behold a cot,
Guarded by angels. Softly walk ye now,
Nor let your garments rustle as ye pass
The woodbined window. In that cottage home
An old man lies afflicted on his bed,
And by his side a lady in dark weeds
Sits reading from the Bible. Gentle words
Float on the peasant's ear, and visions bright
Pass and repass before him,—battlements
Gilt with the sheen of harpers glory-clad,
And valleys trod by seraphs, whose white wings
Murmur delicious music: streets of gold,
And cities turretted with fadeless light;
Flowers smiling sweetly in the upper sphere,
Where friends departed mingle; and he longs
To shake life's burden off and be at rest.
And then a silent prayer ascends on high,
That God would bless the lady, whose dark weeds
Hang mournfully about her. Blush, O man
Denying truth, for this is England's Queen.
O happy nation, blest with such a head!
Ten thousand voices, like the rush of waves,
Rise from the hills, and echo from the vales,
And thunder from the waters, "Saviour God,
O save our Queen, save, save our dearest Queen!"
How are we toss'd and drifted! Each high tide
Drags back our hopes into the black abyss,
And leaves us floundering on the shore of change.
Three pleasant homes, since busy life began,
Have closed their doors upon me, and I've gone,
Leaving their feathers dewy with my tears.
My first was reed-surrounded and reed-roof'd,
A cottage on the crag where heather-fays
And moorland fairies danced among the broom,
And music trill'd from Druid-trodden carn,
From fern and fen and bush and bending brake,
Or spann'd the welkin like a choir of chords.
Silence and Peace walk'd round it arm in arm,
And Poesy sang beneath its shaven eaves,
Or warbled by the hearth-stone, and the lore
Of lofty legends linger'd in its light.
O blessed home, next to my home in heaven!
With sunlight cover'd, when all else is gloom:
I loved thee as a bridegroom his young bride,
And twined thy buds around my youthful harp.
I roam'd among thy fissures, like a thought
From the hot brain of some fame-foolish bard.
I heard within thy echoes trumpet-tongues,
Blown by the blast, and read upon thy rocks
Immortal cantos, chronicled by Time,
And in the twilight of the summer eve
Visions descried,—great hosts of bearded seers,
Or towers far distant on which harpers stood,
Or mountains crested with the sheen of heaven;
And travelling through thy thickets, verse-imbued,
Whispers have floated round me, such as those
Whose life is poetry alone can hear.
Sweet home, all-precious, though I wander where
Pomp rules the scene, and show and chattering boast.
I turn my thought toward thy rude-built walls,
Now prostrate on the common, like the tar
Rowing to land, not seen for many years.
Bower of the Muses, where they ever sing,
Along thy hedge-rows, and amid thy moss,
Dearer than all and fresh as summer airs!
Love drew me from thee with a thread of gold;
But evermore along life's bustling track
My spirit meets thee like a saint from bliss.
Among the mine-pits was my second home,
With earth's red ribs surrounded, hack'd away
By Cornish heroes underneath the sod,
And piled in heaps on the disfigured plain.
Here grew our earliest flower, still opening fair,
In childhood's garden, like a plant from heaven,
Until the first dear word tripp'd from her tongue,
Filling our hearts with rapture, and we gazed
Into the future, beautiful with hope.
Here, too, my harp gave pleasure deep and still,
Although the hand of hard, grim-grinding Toil
Press'd on my limbs like metal, and my nerves
Tingled with weakness like a crazy chord.
My third was 'mid the rushes by the rill,
Babbling its beauty to the tall blue-bells,
Which kiss'd its waters as they sparkled by.
'T was a small nest, with pleasant garden-ground,
Built for myself. My own hands raised the stone
From an adjoining quarry, and our croft
Yielded me granite, which I split and brought.
And I had thought to pass my life away
In its seclusion, till the call arrived
To leave the shadow for the shadeless shore.
But, no; it must not be. One autumn morn,
We started up, and left it in the mist
Which gather'd thick between our eyes and it,
And by the sea-shore with our babes we came.
Not all. There is a grave beneath the trees,
Small, daisy-cover'd, where the glow-worms shine,
And green grass grows, and freedom's favourites sing;
And here one slumbers like a rose entomb'd.
But fifty moons have scarcely come and gone,
Ere we must leave again, and sorrowing go
To seek elsewhere a humble dwelling-place.
But God will surely guide us on our way.
With my dear wife and loving little ones.
And harp, and book, and friendly brother-bards,
A hovel were a home, with hollow walls
And rended roof wind-swept upon a rock,
On Cornwall's moors, or 'mid the Alpine snows,
Sun-streak'd with beauty from the isle of love.
These changes, treading on each other's heels,
Will surely wean us from this world of woe,
And bind our spirits to the home of heaven.
Our miner left the town, as if a weight
Was sever'd from his person. All things changed.
A grandeur fill'd the universe, and glow'd
Above the highest hill-tops, streaming round
The gladden'd welkin like a zone of gold.
Sometimes he cried, sometimes he laugh'd, for joy.
He travell'd on his way, as through a grove
Of beauteous blossoms painted by the bard.
The flowers, and trees, and sparkling waters smiled,
With other faces fairer and more dear;
And every man and country bairn he met
Seem'd far more friendly than they were before.
He pass'd each public-house without a pang;
His wife and dear ones rose before his ken,
Wooing his feet like angels, and his eyes
Beheld them imaged wheresoe'er he turn'd.
Elastic was his step, his song all flame,
And warm thanksgivings rush'd up from his soul.
The sounds of Nature alter'd; voice of bird,
And running brook, and wonder-working wind.
And humming insect steering o'er the down,
And ploughboy whistling on the sloping lea,
Were far more musical than heretofore.
As suddenly as thoughts troop through the brain
The old dark World had put his wrinkles off,
Enamell'd with the rosy streaks of youth.
So have I often felt when pay-days came,
With little hope for that which I required
To purchase blessings for my family,
Denied me, though I labour'd hard and long:
If but an unexpected trifle dropp'd
Into my pocket, earth was dark no more,
And, hastening home to kiss my little ones,
I felt as happy as a nation's king.
Return we to the cottage, where the wife
And loving mother waited wearily.
The children oft had started in their sleep,
And utter'd sobs of anguish; now awake,
They cried for food. Nor did they cry in vain.
A neighbour poor, whose husband was a hind,
Broke her brown loaf in two, and brought them half,
Which, with a jug of milk, refresh'd them all,
And seem'd like manna to their hungry lips.
But as the day declined, and on the hills
Huge shadows rested, they with tears inquired,
"Is father coming? Why is he so long?
Wherefore is evening here, and he away?
We have been looking through our window-panes
For long, long hours, and yet he does not come.
Why does he tarry when we feel such pains
Shooting through every artery like a fire?
You told us that a lady of the west,
Whose soul was softer than the multitude,
Would surely send your hungry ones relief.
Haste, mother, to the corner of the road,
And see if father's coming." Then she took
Her faded cloak and bonnet, and crept up
The narrow path, with thistles overgrown,
Where stood the waymark with its stony hands,
Pointing along the common; but she saw
No husband through the halo of her tears.
The moon was rising, and the wild bird slept
In the still thicket, when he reach'd his home,
And dandled baby once more on his knee.
His children gather'd round him, glad to hear
Of that day's travel, glad to grasp and eat
The sweetest bread that ever strengthen'd life.
He watch'd them with a heart from whence a stream
Of waters issued, bursting from his eyes.
"Could you have seen us," the pale widow said,
"Kneeling together in our little room,
And heard my husband's earnest prayer of praise
For mercies countless as the grains of sand,
Or drops of dew upon the locks of Morn,
You surely would have cause to weep anew.
But darker visions crowd upon my sense,
Beings of blackness, whose ghost-sheeted shapes
Hid for awhile the sunlight from my soul."
She paused amid her sobbings, which burst forth,
Stronger and stronger, as her tale unroll'd,
With sorrow-streaks along each wetted page,
Like winds that whistle ere they wound the world.
Then spoke the horsemen, wondering by the fire.
The first, with forehead bold and quiet eye,
Peer'd through the Gothic casement, uttering loud,
"How the great mountain like a rocky king
Stands silent in the tempest! Not a gust
With water laden, rushing with fierce front
Against his wrinkles, but he shakes it off,
Like filmy atoms from an insect's wing.
The thunder growls upon his splinter'd head,
Yelling from cave to cave, and every crag,
Carved by the Druid in the olden time,
When men were wont to worship on his crest,
Seems like a fiery pillar, as the flames
Leap from the clouds, and lick their knotty sides.
He, awful in his calmness, shakes his locks,
And gazes up into the solemn sky,
As if a strain of music shook the air.
O wondrous mountain, 'neath thy ribs of rock
Lie beds of precious mineral, which, when Time
With tardy feet hath crept through other years,
Shall cheer the seeker with their shining store.
Rude ridge of boulders, carn of polish'd crag!
Eternal utterer of the Deity,
I muse within thy shadow, and look up,
As on the face of the Invisible,
And sounds rush from thee in the tempest's clang,
And rattle round the portals of my soul,
Like oracles from the eternal hills;
And I have thought in childhood, when my feet
First press'd the mosses that hang down thy sides,
And bore me wondering 'mid thine isles of rock,
That on a night of tempest, wild and weird,
The Man i' the Moon had tumbled boulders down,
Which, rolling rudely, raised thee, root and rib.
I need no other monitor to show
The impress of Jehovah. Thou art full
Of the Eternal, and His voice is heard
Among the Druid temples of Carn Brea."
Then spoke the second rider, with a face
All summer'd over like a July lake:
"There's not a sound vibrating from the chords
Of the hill's harp but thunders of the Lord,
The mighty Maker of this beetling dome.
Beside yon lodge, with lichen cover'd o'er,
Once stood a cottage, where an old man dwelt,
Grey as the granite round the castle's base.
He wore an ancient hat, and shaggy coat,
With buttons white as silver; on his shoes
Were shining buckles, and where'er he went,
His curly dog would bear him company.
But on his face there was a settled gloom.
He was a mighty reader, and devour'd
Books by the parcel, books of baser sort,
Shadow'd with doubt, and doleful with despair.
The Bible he believed not, never read
Except to cavil; and the sun, and moon,
And silver stars, green earth and sounding sea,
Were on his calendar as imps of chance.
He turn'd his forehead to the blushing sky,
And with his lips he utter'd blasphemies,
And madly shouted, 'There's no God, no God!'
He vow'd that heaven and hell were fables both,
And man would perish like the roving kine;
That all went down and rotted in the earth,
And there it ended. At the judgment day
He laugh'd, and wildly laugh'd at death, and said,
That when it came, he 'd meet it without fear,
And go to sleep in quiet. Thus he grew
Yet hard and harder every passing day,
Until his soul was crusted o'er with wrong,
And childhood fair and staff-supported age
Pass'd by him, whispering,'That's the infidel.'
Poor hopeless outcast, blinded in a blaze
Of heaven's own glory gilding the great world!
Open thine eyes, blank idiot, and behold
God in the meanest newt or noblest form.
"The morning sun illumed the castle's crest,
And shot his rays athwart the solemn carn,
As forth he wander'd, listening to the lark,
Trilling his sonnets on the spires of light;
When, mingling with his anthem, he o'erheard
A gentle carol trembling through the dews;
And, looking, he beheld a little girl,
Now half way up the mountain, climbing still
A narrow sheep-path, singing as she rose,
'I thank Thee, Father, that mine eyes behold
Another morning. All night long hast Thou
Been my protector, so that no rude thing
Came near my dwelling, sickness or alarm;
And now Thy little lamb would come again,
O gentle Shepherd, asking Thee to guide
My youthful feet into the way of life.
And when I die, O take me home to heaven.'
And every rock and toppling stony heap,
And flower, and fern, and furze-bush beautiful,
And matin breeze, sweet murmuring o'er the down,
Seem'd strangely echoing, 'Take me home to heaven.'
Through the fresh air, from myriad tongues unseen,
Floating on cloudlets or the zephyr's wing,
Or borne by birds across the mossy turf,
These words came ringing,' Take me home to heaven.'
In his dark soul it sounded like a bell
With muffled cadence,'Take me home to heaven.'
The old hill seem'd to shout it, and on high
A shining seraph, sweeping through the dawn,
Chimed it upon his harp with golden strings.
He stood, as if with sudden sickness seized;
His limbs were paralysed, a heavy weight
Was resting on his person, all his sins
Stood naked round him, while dread Tophet's flames
Seem'd redly rising even at his feet.
He roar'd like one lick'd with the tongue of Fire.
I feel it now, it burns through every vein.
That little angel, climbing, with her prayer
Of simple sweetness, up those quiet heights,
Seems more than mortal. God has used this child
To lead an aged sinner to Himself;
So that the weak has overcome the strong.
Be merciful, O Lord, be merciful.
I here renounce my wickedness and crime,
And fall upon Thy goodness: save, O save,
The vilest wretch that ever trod the ground.'
" Weeks crept away, with blackness on their wings,
And still he groan'd, in agony untold;
Till, one soft evening, as the sun went down,
A voice came murmuring through the bending broom,
' I blot thy sins out, for the Saviour's sake;'
And he was happy. So his latter life
Was full of faith and deeds of charity.
He bore the fruits of love to God and man.
His curse was turn'd to prayer, his sneer to praise,
And joy was beaming from his aged eyes;
The winter of despair had left his soul,
And summer glory overflow'd the void;
He drank from clearest rills, and walk'd with God.
Dying at last, he enter'd into rest,
Leaving no scion to prolong his name;
And soon his rude-built cottage walls decay'd,
The roof fell in, and on a night of storm
It lay upon the heather in a heap,
And now the site is a smooth bed of moss.
'T is thus we fall, and perish from life's page."
Then spoke the rider of poetic eye:
"To-day a tale came tear-hung to our home,
Filling our souls with sadness. Woe of woes,
Death on a door-step 'neath the frosty stars.
Not age down-drooping, but a green young girl,
Blacken'd and broken in the porch of June.
She turn'd aside from virtue, and went down
The way of wrong, with poison-fruit o'erhung,
Slipping at every step, until she fell
Where tears are shed not, and the heart is rock.
Behold her in a den of infamy,
Quaffing the cup of crime with front of fire,
Singing lewd songs, and uttering woful words,
In fluttering feathers, faded like herself,
The very queen of Satan's high-fumed court.
Too soon a change pass'd o'er her: she grew old
Before her summer, and the rose of youth
Died like a blasted primrose on the moor.
Her lovers all departed, hope fell dead,
And tongues of torture shot through every vein.
She dared not look above: the frowning heavens
Pour'd withering curses on her sinking soul.
She gazed around, and all her May-day friends
Had vanish'd, leaving her to writhe alone,
With full-eyed Hunger staring from his stand.
No ray of light gleam'd in the cave of gloom.
The snow fell fast, the wintry winds were loose,
Roiling their white cars o'er the frozen hills.
Muffled in rags, she stole into the street,
And laid her down beside the rich man's gate.
Within were happy faces, pleasant cheer,
Great blazing fires, a sounding sea of song,
Beauty on cushions, mirth and sparkling wines.
Outside the door, in withering loneliness,
A dying wreck, with snow, and wailing wind,
And biting frost, her cruel ministers.
Thus beaten by the tempest's wing she lay,
Till from a chasm of the fearful gale
Death dropp'd and slew her. Still within went on
The feast and song, the wine and revelry;
And Morning, struggling through her icy doors,
Reveal'd a vision sad as sin can stain."