Danebury; or the Power of Friendship, a Tale.
To * * * * * * * * [my father]
The filial affection that ever glows in my heart, will not admit of a doubt to whom this little piece should be inscribed. By a revered and much-lov’d Father’s command it ventures into the world, and his approving smile is the highest fame to which its writer aspires. The meanest flower may perhaps yield some pleasure to the hand that cultivated it. Accept then this trifle, my ever dear and honoured Sir, as a testimony of gratitude from her, who can never be enough thankful to Heaven for the happiness of being able to subscribe herself
* * * * * * [Sylvia]
Danebury Hill is an ancient camp in the vicinity of Stockbridge, in Hampshire, near which, according to tradition, a battle was fought between the Danes and the West Saxons, in which the former were defeated; from whence the hill derives its name.
In ancient times e’er peace with lenient smile
Had shed her blessings o’er Britannia’s isle:
When our bold fathers felt the patriot flame
Nerve the strong arm and urge them on to fame.
Unskill’d, Deceit, in all thy subtile arts, 5
A rude Sincerity inform’d their hearts:
Meek-ey’d Simplicity in rustic vest,
And Hospitality their souls possest;
Uncultur’d virtues, which too oft decay
Beneath Prosperity’s enfeebling ray. 10
’Twas then retir’d on *Brige’s peaceful plains,
The friend, the father of the neighb’ring swains;
The good old Egbert trod life’s humble vale,
Where noise, nor care, nor vanity assail.
A little farm his every want supply’d, 15
Enough for happiness, though not for pride:
From Fashion’s splendid slavery exempt,
Secur’d alike from envy and contempt.
Though small his fortune and his viands plain,
Never did want accost his ear in vain. 20
’Twas his to seek the lone obscure recess,
Where want and woe the virtuous mind oppress,
His pity and his bounty to impart,
And taste the transports of the feeling heart.
Though of his much-lov’d partner long depriv’d, 25
One lovely copy of her worth surviv’d;
Oft as he view’d her beauty-beaming form,
What mix’d sensations his fond bosom warm!
Paternal transport trembling in his eye,
Allay’d by recollection’s tender sigh! 30
Sweetness and sense adorn’d Elfrida’s mind,
By Nature’s fostering hand alone refin’d.
His hoary age her filial duty chear’d,
His evening hours enliven’d and endear’d;
Her watchful tenderness his care beguil’d, 35
Supremely happy when her father smil’d.
Thus blooms some violet in her native vale,
And sheds untainted fragrance on the gale;
Though unadmir’d she drops her modest bloom,
No garden flower excells her sweet perfume. 40
Kind Providence ordains the friendly mind
Shall seldom fail a kindred soul to find;
For friendship form’d, Elfrida found that friend,
In Emma’s mind unnumber’d graces blend.
Left to the world in youth’s unfolding bloom, 45
Her early tears bedew’d her parents tomb.
That shelter Egbert’s humble roof supplies
Which oft to innocence the world denies:
Ev’n in the dawn of childhood’s sportive years,
Virtue’s instinctive sympathy appears; 50
Fair Friendship smil’d upon their natal hour,
And ere they knew its name, they felt its power.
If Emma’s bosom heav’d a pensive sigh,
The tear stood trembling in Elfrida’s eye;
If pleasure gladden’d her Elfrida’s heart, 55
Still faithful Emma shar’d the larger part.
Successive years the tender tie endear’d,
And each to each a dearer self appear’d.
With social steps they rang’d the verdant fields,
(For Nature there her sweetest pleasure yields,) 60
And oft beneath some spreading shade reclin’d,
Pour’d forth the warm effusions of the mind:
Uncheck’d by fear, the rising thought impart,
And catch the glowing transport of the heart.
Or seated with their venerable sire, 65
In social converse round their evening fire;
With fond attention on his words they hung,
And learn’d the lore of wisdom from his tongue.
Thus peaceful stole the hours of life away,
And fancy painted all the future gay. 70
Oh human bliss! Thou transitory flower
That springs, and blooms, and withers in an hour!
How vain the scenes by flattering hope pourtray’d!
How soon Life’s fairest landscapes sink in shade!
Discord and war assum’d their baleful reign, 75
And blood and carnage stain’d the neighbouring plain.
On those wide Downs, in living verdure gay,
Where now the fleecy tribes securely stray;
Our brave forefathers met their haughty foes,
And arm’d with freedom, dar’d their deathful blows. 80
The direful scene arises full to view,
And fancy peoples all the plain anew!
Loud shrieks of woe my frighted ears assail,
And Death’s deep groan breathes horror through the vale!
Though in the scenes, where meek-ey’d Quiet strays, 85
The venerable Egbert spent his days:
Though prone to pity ev’n a foe distrest,
Fair Freedom’s fire enlarg’d his glowing breast:
The neighbouring Swains his dauntless steps attend,
Those fields which late they cultur’d to defend. 90
Abandon’d now, each life-sustaining art,
They lift the spear or hurl the missile dart.
Yet though above each vulgar care’s controul
The patriot passion lifts th’ expanding soul:
Still Nature’s, Friendship’s ties, will oft be felt, 95
And ev’n the Hero’s breast to anguish melt.
Ah then! What tortures wrung Elfrida’s heart!
Imagination only can impart!
When to the fatal field she saw him fly,
Bravely resolv’d to conquer or to die! 100
She follow’d, filial love absorb’d each fear,
Check’d each fond tremor, dried each selfish tear:
Resolv’d, should Fate a Father’s life demand,
To close his swimming eyes with duteous hand,
Pour the warm tear, catch the last fleeting breath, 105
And share or soften ev’n the pangs of death.
While round the feather’d Deaths promiscuous flew,
One well aim’d arrow caught Elfrida’s view!
Instant she mov’d to meet the fatal dart,
Design’d to pierce the aged Hero’s heart! 110
Her gentle breast receiv’d the fatal wound,
And her pale form sunk bleeding on the ground!
Youth’s lovely bloom forsook her fading face!
And death-like languor crept o’er every grace!
Expressive silence only can reveal, 115
Those pangs, a Parent’s breast alone can feel!
With feeble steps, and faltering oft with pain,
Scarce could he bear her from th’ ensanguin’d plain;
How sunk his heart! When first appear’d in sight
The dear domestic scene of past delight! 120
What pungent sorrows Emma’s bosom knew!
When all the woes imagination drew
Fatally real, met her startled eye,
Shook her whole frame and heav’d the bursting sigh!
Elfrida’s Nurse, a venerable Dame! 125
Who almost merited a Mother’s name,
Soon came, with anxious haste the wound to view,
(For nature’s healing simples well she knew,)
From her full heart burst forth the honest tear,
That spoke, more forcibly than words, her fear. 130
A strong, somnific poison ting’d the dart,
Which mock’d the skilful Matron’s utmost art.
Sweetly serene, the lovely sufferer smil’d!
While lost in anguish, o’er his dying child
The Father hung! too big the swelling woe, 135
The kind relief of friendly tears to know.
Sad Emma strove to hide her grief in vain!
The fruitless effort but increas’d the pain.
Elfrida in their sorrows, lost her own,
Suppress’d each sigh and stifled every groan: 140
In faltering accents breath’d this last request,
“Oh check my Friend the anguish of thy breast!
“Support my Father! – cheer his life’s decline!
Fulfil the pleasing task that once was mine!
Wipe, wipe that tear – since I have sav’d my Sire 145
With gratitude and pleasure I expire!
Protect them Heav’n!” – th’ unfinish’d accents fail’d,
And Sleep, the Harbinger of Death prevail’d.
Egbert withdrew to weep (a poor relief
That while it seems to lessen feeds our grief.) 150
Emma, alone remain’d to watch her Friend,
And o’er the bed in silent anguish bend.
While thought on thought distract her troubled mind,
Friendship a bold, a generous act design’d.
While death-like sleep her Friend’s sensations drown’d, 155
She suck’d the poison from the throbbing wound!
Resign’d herself a victim to the grave,
A life far dearer than her own to save.
Nature soon felt the change, no more with pain
The vital flood creeps cold through every vein. 160
Elfrida wakes, – the death-like slumber flies
As night retreats when morning glads the skies!
The Father’s heart with grateful transport glows!
Unknown the source from whence that transport flows.
But ah! from Emma’s cheek the roses fly, 165
Joy beam’d a smile, while pain awak’d a sigh:
Too soon she felt her sickening spirits fail,
And languor o’er life’s active springs prevail!
But loth to damp the joy she had inspir’d,
To the cool air she unobserv’d retir’d. 170
Beneath an ancient elm’s romantic shade,
Where rustic toil an humble seat had made;
When day departing crimson’d o’er the sky,
And glitter’d on the stream that wander’d by.
The little friendly groupe would oft repair, 175
(While breathing woodbines sweeten’d all the air)
Each blameless feeling of their hearts unfold,
Or listen to the tale of times of old.
Ah happy moments! ever, ever fled!
Now Emma there reclines her dying head! 180
While o’er her pallid face creeps death’s cold dew,
And all the landscape swims before her view.
When near approach’d a venerable Sage,
In all the hoary Majesty of Age!
Complacent dignity his looks express, 185
Sedate his smile and simple was his dress.
His silver hair, all loosely graceful flow’d,
And on his cheek the rose of temperance glow’d.
I come, he cries, commission’d from on high!
Heaven views thy virtues with approving eye. 190
Far from the busy world’s tumultuous strife
The mingled cares and vanities of life,
Retir’d, I live; within my humble cell,
Where Peace, Content, and Contemplation dwell.
When sable Night her raven-pinions spread, 195
And Sleep had shower’d his poppies, o’er my head:
A heavenly vision warn’d me of thy fate;
And bade me hasten e’er it was too late!
Cultur’d with care, within my little field,
Salubrious herbs their useful fragrance yield: 200
With studious care, I long have sought to know
What healing virtues from their juices flow;
And warn’d by Heaven, prepar’d within my cell,
Such as have power all poison to expel.
Oh take the health-restoring draught and live! 205
With heart-felt pleasure, I the cordial give.
Amazement, gratitude, o’erwhelm her soul!
And motion, speech, and every power controul!
Silence, more eloquent than words, exprest
The strong emotions of her labouring breast. 210
At length the grateful transport forc’d its way,
Such thanks but few can feel, and fewer pay.
In her meek eye, the trembling lustre shone,
And health and beauty reassum’d their throne.
The moving tale soon reach’d Elfrida’s ear, 215
The moving tale, stole many a rapturous tear.
Ah! who can paint the feelings of her mind?
Love, wonder, gratitude, and joy combin’d!
Or the calm bliss that beam’d in Egbert’s eye,
Mild as the radiance of the evening sky! 220
From every heart, enraptur’d praise ascends,
And Heaven approving smiles on Virtue’s friends.
And now return’d in peace, the warrior-train
With shouts of victory gladden all the plain.
Th’ invading Danes before their valour yield, 225
And press, in slaughter’d heaps, the ensanguin’d field.
Though Time, with rapid wing, has swept away
Forgotten ages, since that well-fought day;
Ev’n now, their rising graves the spot disclose,
And Shepherds wonder how the hillocks rose! 230
Ev’n now, the precinct of their camp remains,
And Danebury Hill the name it still retains.
O’er those romantic mounds, whene’er I stray,
And the rude vestiges of war survey;
Fair gratitude shall mark, with smile serene 235
The alter’d aspect of the pleasing scene.
There, where the crouded camp spread terror round,
See! waving harvests cloath the fertile ground!
See! smiling villages adorn the plain,
Where desolation stretch’d her iron reign! 240
How fair the meads, where winding waters flow,
And never-fading verdure still bestow!
While stretch’d beyond, wide cultur’d fields extend
And wood-crown’d hills, those cultur’d fields defend!
But ah! too faint my numbers to display 245
The various charms that rise in rich array!
One peaceful spot detains my longing sight,
There, Fancy dwells with ever-fond delight,
Recalls the scenes of Childhood to her view,
And lives those pleasing moments o’er anew. 250
*Brige – A Roman settlement founded by Antonine in Hampshire. – See Cambden. [Steele’s note]
Text: Danebury; | or | The Power of Friendship, | A Tale. | With Two Odes. | By a Young Lady. | . . . | Bristol: Printed by W. Pine. Sold by J. Johnson, St. Paul's Churchyard, London; and by Messrs. T. Cadell and T. Evans, in Bristol. Copies of the printed text of Danebury can be found in STE 14/2 and in the Attwater Papers, acc. 76, II.A.5. Two MS copies can be found in STE 5/5/ii (in Mary Steele’s hand) and 5/7 (in William Steele’s hand). These copies do not contain the dedication or advertisement. The printed copy of Danebury in STE 14/2 has one emendation in an unknown hand: in line 198, ‘e’er’ has been scratched out and ‘ere’ written above. Danebury appeared in a quarto edition with a soft cover and without a date on its title page, but it was printed in 1779. The poem was reviewed in the Critical Review 57 (May 1779), pp. 390-91, and the Monthly Review 61 (July 1779), pp. 43-44, and further evidence from William Steele’s letters to Mary Steele corroborates the date of publication as 1779. The two odes printed with Danebury are ‘Ode to Spring’ and ‘Ode to Liberty’. The Critical Review quoted a few passages from Danebury, noted the ‘elegant and affectionate dedication, to the author’s father, by whose desire they were published,’ and added that the ‘incidents [in the poem] are related with an agreeable delicacy of style and sentiment’ (p. 391). The writer for the Monthly Review notes, ‘There is an excellence in this poem which few writers attain to, and which, from a female pen especially, is not always expected – it is uncommonly correct. The two Odes which are subjoined are evidently effusions of the same elegant and ingenuous mind’ (p. 44). A note attached to the copy of Danebury (STE 14/2) that was later in the possession of Mary Steele Tomkins states that Danebury ‘was written by Mrs Dunscombe at the age of 15’, which would have been 1768. The copy in STE 5/5/ii validates that claim, for it resides among other poems by Mary Steele dating from 1768. In STE 5/9 is a portion of the account of the poem that appeared in the Monthly Review, copied out by Mary Steele onto a loose folium. Among some papers in the Attwater Papers, acc. 76, II.A.5, is a similar transcription by Jane Attwater. With that folium is another folium containing the following statement by Mary Steele to Jane Attwater:
Sylvia cannot transmit this little Pamphlet to the Friend of her heart without reminding her from whom those Ideas of Friendship arose which it feebly attempts to describe without recollecting with enthusiastic tenderness those happy hours when her Myrtilla taught her ‘Ere she knew its name to feel its Power’ & however deficient she is in every other respect her Bosom still glows with the ardent wish of being what Emma was to Elfrida A Faithful Friend
Also in the Attwater Papers is a copy of Danebury, inscribed on the inside cover, ‘A gift from the beloved Author to J. Attwater’.