Frances Rolleston had just turned 15, when this day in 1796, Robert Burns died. Called the Scottish Bard, he carried other titles in honor of his poetry, of which much was in the Scottish dialect. Frances must have known of his passing because already she was enthusiastic about poetry.
In the summer of 1841, Frances wrote to her old friend the Rev. Henry Thompson: "I send you two ballads I manufactured with an eye to Burns, out of some raw material in the "Fairy Mythology."
Which two of her ballads these were, I can't say. But in 1850 Thompson published Original Ballads by Living Authors which included six by Frances. Perhaps they were "St. Patrick's Staff" and "Braithwell Cross," since these are based on ancient events. But they may have been others more influenced by folklore. It is certain that Burns enjoyed such topics:
"In my infant and boyish days too, I owed much to an old Maid of my Mother's, remarkable for her ignorance, credulity and superstition.--She had, I suppose, the largest collection in the county of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, cantraips, giants, inchanted towers, dragons and other trumpery.--This cultivated the latent seeds of Poesy...." (from the Poetry Foundation.)
On this day in 1809, according to Frewin's Book of Days, Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born. However, other sources disagree and say it happened on August 6. In spite of that, I will continue with this blog.
Tennyson was made Poet Laureate in 1850. He was popular with the general public, and Frances Rolleston in particular, who stated in 1851 that he would certainly found a school of poetry. She called herself an Anglo-Saxon enthusiast and loved ballads and epic poetry based on legends of ancient heroes. As to that, Tennyson's Idylls of the King, a series of twelve poems telling the story of King Arthur certainly gave her joy. He published the first four in 1859 (the remaining ones not until after Frances had passed away.)
While reading Tennyson's Idylls in late December 1859, Frances was suddenly struck by the idea that "Canticles" (The "Song of Solomon" in the Bible) was the true idyll of the true king. She had recently been engaged in putting poetic parts of the Bible into metrical form and now felt she must do so with "Canticles." The idea was so strong that she immediately began working, continuing even on a Sunday. She normally would not have broken the Sabbath with such work, but "quieted my conscience with the idea that was God's word that had got hold of me."
Although the English Bible read poetically, Frances decided that the poetry in it could only be truly represented in poetry. She spent many happy hours rendering the Psalms, Canticles and other parts of the Hebrew Bible into metrical poetry. Metrical Versions of Early Hebrew Poetry was published before 1867.
August 26, 1841
FR opens a letter to her friend by expressing her love for his wife and their child. She goes on to say that she is sending copies of "The Child's Dream" which she has been printing for the children where she is staying.
FR had heard the children in the streets of Scarborough singing "The Child's Dream," but with imperfect rhymes and corrupted parts. The ballad was written by Henry Kirke White who as a young man converted from deism to Christianity. He died while still young, but left a large body of poetry and hymns. FR would have considered his work good for the children to sing, and therefore printed a corrected version for them.
FR interest in ballads probably began when she was a child herself, reading The Poems of Ossian by James Macpherson. These supposed translations of third century Irish poems, full of heroes and flowing-haired maidens probably awakened a love of stories told in rhyme.
FR herself wrote a number of ballads. Romantic topics attracted her, such as Robin Hood and King Arthur, but she also put into ballad form local histories from places she visited or lived. Several of her ballads appear in the book Original Ballads, by Living Authors edited by her friend the Rev. Henry Thompson. "St. Patrick's Staff" is one of hers. She signed her work "F. R."