The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1842)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2012

MINSTRELS

John Nightbroder, although not known as a minstrel, was, however, a highly celebrated literary character, and a liberal benefactor. He was born at Eyam, and founded the house of Carmellites, or White Friars, at Doncaster, in the year, A.D. 1350.[1]

Miss Anna Seward, the well known poetess, was born at Eyam, in the year A.D. 1747. In the literary world she is still distinguished, not only for her poetical powers; but for her biographical and epistolary talents. Her father, the Rev. Thomas Seward, Rector of Eyam, prebendary of Salisbury, and canon residentiary of Lichfield, was a man of considerable learning and taste. In 1750, he published an edition of the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher; he was also the author of an ingenious tract on the conformity of Paganism and Popery; and in the second volume of Dodsley's Collection he published a few little, elegant poems. Is it not natural to suppose, then, that his far famed daughter first tasted of the divine fountain of poesy from the cup of his own presenting? At the age of three, before she could read, he had taught her to lisp the Allegro and Penseroso of Milton; and in her ninth year she could repeat from memory, with varied and correct accent, the three first books of Paradise Lost. In her seventh year, she left Eyam; and a few years after she removed with her father from Lichfield to Bishop's-place, where she resided until her death. She had several sisters and one brother, but all died in their infancy, excepting the second daughter, who lived till the age of nineteen. Miss Seward's intellectual precosity was zealously cherished by her admiring father; but as she advanced into womanhood, he withdrew that animating welcome which he had given to the first efforts of her muse. For awhile her productions were confined to the perusal of her intimate friends; but on her becoming acquainted with Lady Miller, of Bath Easton, she was induced to write for the poetic institution of that villa, and to become a candidate for its myrtle wreath: this she repeatedly obtained: and thus, Miss Seward, first entered into the temple of undying fame.

It is unnecessary to enumerate her works - they are well and deservedly known. The "Elegy to Major Andre", the "Death of Captain Cook", the poetical novel "Louisa", the "Epic Ode on the return of General Elliott from Gibraltar", are amongst the best of her productions. In private life she was much esteemed; and as an author, totally free from that contemptible envy which too frequently detracts from contemporary merit. Of her enduring attachment to Eyam, the place of her birth, she often and warmly dilated; and an annual visit to her birth-place, was the invariable testimony of her enthusiastic affection. On her journey through Derbyshire, to a musical festival at Sheffield, in the summer of 1788, she visited Eyam, and wrote the following ode, which has never before appeared in print. The original manuscript was in the hands of T. Birds, Esq., Eyam, who, before his death, kindly permitted a friend to make a transcript from which this copy has been taken:-

ELGIAC ODE.
"A little while I leave with anxious heart,
Source of my filial cares, thee FULL OF DAYS;
Lur'd by a promise from harmonic art
To breathe her Handel's rich, immortal lays.
Pensive I trace the Derwent's amber wave,
Winding through sylvan banks; and view it lave
The soft luxuriant valleys, high o'er-peer'd
By hills and rocks in solemn grandeur reer'd.

"Not two short miles from thou, can I refrain
Thy haunts my native Eyam, long unseen.
Thou and thy loved inhabitants again
Shall meet my transient gaze. Thy rocky screen -
Thy airy cliffs I mount and seek thy shade -
Thy roofs that brow the steep romantic glade -
But while on me the eye of Friendship glow,
Swell my pain'd sighs, my tears spontaneous flow.

"In scenes paternal not beheld through years,
Nor seen till now but by my Father's side;
Well might the tender tributary tears,
From the keen pang of duteous fondness glide;
Its Pastor to this human flock no more,
Shall the long flight of future days restore;
Distant he droops - and that once gladdening eye,
Now languid gleams e'en when his friends are nigh.

"Through this known[2] walk where weedy gravel lies,
Rough and unsightly; - by the long course grass
Of the once smooth and verdant green with sighs
To the deserted rectory I pass.
The naked gloomy chambers where I found
Childhood's first bliss, my slow steps wander round;
How chang'd since once the lightsome walls beneath,
The social joys did their warm comforts breathe.

"Yet ere I go - who may return no more,
That sacred dome mid yonder shadowy trees,
Let me revisit: - ancient, mossy door;
Thou greatest hoarse: - my vital spirits freeze
Passing the vacant pulpit, to the space
Where humble rails the decent altar grace,
And where my infant sisters' ashes sleep,[3]
Whose loss I left the childish sports to weep.

"Now the low beams; with paper garlands hung
In memory of some village youth or maid;
Draw the soft tear from thrill'd remembrance sprung
How oft my childhood marked that tribute paid:
The gloves suspended by the garlands side,
White as its snowy flowers, with ribbons tied;
Dear village! long these wreaths funereal spread,
Simple memorials of the early dead.

"But O! thou blank and silent pulpit, thou
That with a father's precept just and bland.
Didst win my ear as Reason's strengthening glow,
Shewed their full value now thou seem'st to stand
Before these eyes, suffus'd with gushing tears,
Thou dearest relic of departed years;
Of eloquence paternal, nervous, clear,
Dim remonition thou, and bitter is my tear."[4]

This highly celebrated lady died at Bishop's Place, in A.D. 1809, and in the sixty-second year of her age. Her remains repose at Lichfield.

The Rev. P. CUNNINGHAM, who was officiating curate at Eyam Church a many years during the latter part of the Rectorship of the Rev. T. Seward, was once greatly celebrated as a poet: and deservedly so, although his productions were far from voluminous. It was chiefly, if not wholly while he resided at Eyam, that his muse, inspired by the romantic grandeur of the surrounding "dells and woodlands wild", wandered forth by Derwent's stream, and there enraptured heard,

"The red-breast, hid in golden foliage, pour
Slow warbled requiems o'er the dying year."
 
CHATSWORTH.

Of the parentage of Cunningham but very little is now known in Eyam. That he had received a highly classical education his poetical works very plainly indicate: and his frequent allusions to the classics are, in general, heightened by original comparisons. To his favourite river, Derwent, he thus pays "an elegant tribute":-

"The muse,
She wanders, Derwent! where, with lingering pride,
The amber-tressed Naiads of thy stream
Through bending woods and vales luxuriant glide.
Fair, when the parting sun's mild golden light
A mellower radiance on thy bosom throws,
But fairer when the silver beams of night,
With trembling lustre, on thy stream repose.

"On Latmos thus, as Grecian bards have sung,
When Night's fair Queen forsook her starry road,
And o'er Endymion's face enamoured hung,
His sleeping form with silver radiance glow'd."
 
CHATSWORTH.

This is a very beautiful comparison, and original. The whole poem is in a great measure equally good: strongly filled with "music, image, sentiment, and thought". There are, however, some slight blemishes: as in one of the stanzas here quoted, where the "Naiads" are made to "glide" instead of the "river". This production was, I believe, the first he published.

Cunningham's next poem, "THE RUSSIAN PROPHECY ", was written in A.D. 1785; and was occasioned by a phenomenon which appeared in the heavens, but was only observed in Russia.[5]

The Naval Triumph is one of his happiest efforts, which, with the former two, constitute nearly the whole of his poetical effusions, composed at Eyam.

Perhaps no village pastor was ever so beloved, by the flock committed to his charge, as Cunningham was by the inhabitants of Eyam: his memory is still cherished, with endearing affection, notwithstanding more than half a century has elapsed since he so reluctantly left the place. His farewell sermon, and the effect it produced on the sobbing audience, is still remembered, and frequently mentioned. It was a composition full of eloquence, powerful pathos, recollected kindness, and delivered in the tenderest tones of affection. Some few copies in manuscript are still extant; and "are preserved with a sort of religious veneration". After having preached farewell sermons in some of the churches of the approximate villages, where he was equally beloved, he departed from Eyam, in the year 1790.

On leaving the village where he had spent the flower of his days, "through evil and good report", he was appointed chaplain to the English Factory, at Smyrna, where he dwelled several years. From the time of his leaving Eyam he was faithfully and almost unremittingly attended by Misfortune: in the Archipelago he narrowly escaped shipwreck; and at Smyrna he was involved in equal peril by fire, in which his papers and manuscripts were wholly consumed.

To Cunningham, a residence at Smyrna was banishment, and he resolved to revisit his native land. Without friends, money, desolate, unknown, and far from home, he returned on foot through Germany on his way to Paris; suffering from fatigue and endless privations. During this long journey, he approached one night, after a day's hard travelling, a large town on the borders of Hungary, when he sat down by the way-side to reflect on his forlorn condition. After having pondered awhile over his misfortunes, he took from his pocket, for the first time, a volume of poetry, which had been presented to him by an English lady, on his departure from Smyrna. A particular poem had been recommended for his perusal by his female friend, and he turned to the page, where he found, "close nestled within the leaves", a note, or order, for fifty pounds: "thus delicately", says Rhodes, "did an amiable woman contrive to administer to the necessities of a stranger in a foreign land".

To his own country he soon arrived, and undertook the duties of an humble curacy in the vicinity of London, but soon after obtained a small living through the influence of the Devonshire family. This he did not long enjoy. "Invited to preach to a society to whom be had become endeared, at Islington, be attended, and after delivering his last, and one of his best discourses, he dined with the delighted members. He appeared in high spirits, but as soon as the cloth was drawn, while conversing with a gentleman near him, be fell back in his chair, and expired without a sigh or groan: such was the end of Cunningham", Of his moral character, during the latter part of his ministry at Eyam, much has been said: whether justly or not, I am not able to say. One thing is certain, that for a great number of years, he was unparalleled in the fulfillment of his duties; and that he laboured assiduously to improve the condition of his parishioners, by bettering their manners, and giving instruction to youth, wholly regardless of pecuniary compensation. And did he then fall off from so noble a duty? If so, how lamentable! Perhaps he was, to some degree, deteriorated in character by that vile fiend - foul slander,

"Whose head is sharper than the sword, whose tongue
Out-venoms all the worms of Nile, whose breath
Rides on the posting winds, and doth belie
All corners of the world. Kings, Queens, and states,
Maids, matrons, nay the secrets of the grave,
This viperous slander enters." - CYMBELINE.

In the person of RICHARD FURNESS, Eyam, his birth-place, furnishes another candidate for literary honours. In a history of his native village, he must have a first place as regards literary distinction; and also as respects his having contributed so very largely towards raising the humble place of his birth to a classical ascendancy - great among the villages of the Peak. He is now living in the vicinity of Sheffield; highly honoured by the literati of the surrounding country: and, although declining in years, it is ardently hoped that his hours are, to some degree, still spent with the Muses.

Of his poetical works, little need to be said: they are pretty generally known and commended. "The Rag-Bag", with the exception of a few fugitive pieces, was his first published work; and by a many much admired. "Medicus Magus", his next work is, although not so popular, a far better written poem. In the latter there are a many beautiful passages: some novel ideas, highly characteristic of a fine genius. As this work, consisting of three cantos, is on a purely local subject, it is not, therefore, so generally read, as the former work; yet there are beauties scattered over the pages of the latter, highly and intellectually pleasing. Those who have not read "Medicus Magus" may see a fine passage or two from its pages, quoted in the foregoing account of the plague; and the subjoined extract from the same production, if not of equal merit, is very good:

"With pleasure man's not uniformly blest,
Such long satiety would spoil the zest;
Nor are the sufferings of his nature vain,
His sweetest moments are the fruits of pain;
And as the knife a sounder healing brings,
So virtue's fountain in affliction springs.
The storms of life all human peace assail,
Or in the capitol or sheltering dale;
Alike they drive on infancy and years,
Each eye must weep the appointed cup of tears;
Or if, or not, God's blessings are abused,
From pain no mortal, heaven has yet excused;
It tends alike, the couch of straw and down,
The arthritic monarch and rheumatic clown:
Smites Æsculaplus 'midst his stores of health,
And batters Crœsus through his walls of wealth."

This ardent votary of the Muses is now fast advancing on his way through "this vale of tears"; yet it is fervently hoped that, ere "his sands of life are run", he will add full many a jewel to his well-won crown of fame: thus embalming his memory in the admiration of future times, and emblazoning with honour and glory, his loved and native village - Eyam.

This romantic village has other, if less successful, candidates for poetic honours: and of this class there are a few whose effusions have only been perused by friends.

Notes
[1] Vide Hunter's Deanery of Doncaster.
[2] The Parsonage garden.
[3] Two of the author's little sisters lie buried in the Chancel of Eyam Church; but no stone or inscription marks the place where they sleep.
[4] The sense in a many of the lines is exceedingly obscure. The ode most probably was written in haste, and never amended.
[5] Vide Gentleman's Magazine, July, 1785, page 531.

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This information was collated and transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in September 2012.

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