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Bronwylfa and Rhyllon
Poems of Felicia Hemans
Peter J. Bolton
DRAMATIC SCENE BETWEEN BRONWYLFA AND RHYLLON.
[In the spring of 1825, Mrs. Hemans removed from Bronwylfa to Rhyllon, another house belonging to her brother, not more than a quarter of a mile from the former place, and in full view from its windows. The distance being so inconsiderable, this could, in fact, scarcely be considered as a removal. The two houses, each situated on an eminence on opposite sides of the river Clwyd, confronted each other so conveniently, that a telegraphic communication was established between them, (by means of a regular set of signals and vocabulary, similar to those made use of in the navy,) and was carried on for a season with no little spirit, greatly to the amusement of their respective inhabitants.
Nothing could be less romantic than the outward appearance of Mrs. Hemans’s new residence–a tall, staring brick house, almost destitute of trees, and unadorned (far, indeed, from being thus “adorned the most”) by the covering mantle of honeysuckle, jessamine, or any such charitable drapery. Bronwylfa, on the contrary, was a perfect bower of roses, and peeped out like a bird's nest from amidst the foliage in which it was embosomed. The contrast between the two dwellings was thus playfully descanted upon by Mrs Hemans, in her contribution to a set of jeux d’esprit called the Bronwylfa Budget for 1825.–Memoir, p. 87–88.]
Bronwylfa, after standing for some time in silent contemplation of Rhyllon, breaks out into the following vehement strain of vituperation.
You ugliest of fabrics! you horrible eyesore!
I wish you would vanish, or put on a visor!
In the face of the sun, without covering or rag on,
You stand and outstare me, like any red dragon.
With your great green-eyed windows, in boldness a host,
(The only green things which, indeed, you can boast,)
With your forehead as high, and as bare as the pate
Which an eagle once took for a stone or a slate,
You lift yourself up, o’er the country afar,
As who would say, “Look at me!–here stands great R!”
I plant–I rear forest trees–shrubs great and small,
To wrap myself up in–you peer through them all!
With your lean scraggy neck o’er my poplars you rise;
You watch all my guests with your wide saucer eyes.
(In a paroxysm of rage.)
And find you had taken French leave without warning;
You should never be sought like Aladdin’s famed palace.
You spoil my sweet temper–you make me bear malice:
For it is a hard fate, I will say it and sing,
Which has fix’d me to gaze on so frightful a thing.
Rhyllon–(with dignified equanimity.)
This sudden attack on my quiet old age?
I am no parvenu: you and I, my good brother,
Have stood here this century facing each other;
And I can remember the days that are gone,
When your sides were no better array’d than my own.
Nay, the truth shall be told–since you flout me, restore
The tall scarlet woodbine you took from my door!
Since my baldness is mocked, and I’m forced to explain,
Pray give me my large laurustinus again.
(With a tone of prophetic solemnity.)
Your pride and your poplars alike must come down!
I look through the future (and far I can see,
As St Asaph and Denbigh will answer for me,)
And in spite of thy scorn, and of all thou hast done,
From my kind heart’s brick bottom, I pity thee, Bron!
The end of thy toiling and planting will be,
That thou wilt want sunshine, and ask it of me.
Thou wilt say, when thou wakest, looking out for the light,
“I suppose it is morning, for Rhyllon looks bright;”
While I–my green eyes with their tears overflow.
[In spite, however, of the unromantic exterior of her new abode, the earlier part of Mrs. Hemans’s residence at Rhyllon may, perhaps, be considered as the happiest of her life; as far, at least, as the term happiness could ever be fitly applied to any period of it later than childhood. The house, with all its ugliness, was large and convenient, the view from its windows beautiful and extensive, and its situation, on a fine green slope, terminating in a pretty woodland dingle, peculiarly healthy and cheerful. Never, perhaps, had she more thorough enjoyment of her boys than in witnessing, and often joining in, their sports in those pleasant breezy fields, where the kites soared so triumphantly, and the hoops trundled so merrily, and where the cowslips grew as cowslips had never grown before. An atmosphere of home soon gathered round the dwelling; roses were planted and honeysuckles trained, and the rustling of the solitary poplar near her window was taken to her heart like the voice of a friend. The dingle became a favourite haunt, where she would pass many dreamlike hours of enjoyment with her books, and her own sweet fancies, and her children playing around her. Every tree and flower, and tuft of moss that sprang amidst its green recesses, was invested with some individual charm by that rich imagination, so skilled in
“Clothing the palpable and the familiar
With golden exhalations of the dawn.”
Here, on what the boys would call ‘mamma’s sofa’–a little grassy mound under her favourite beech-tree–she first read The Talisman, and has described the scene with a loving minuteness in her Hour of Romance:–
“There were thick leaves above me and around,
And low sweet sighs, like those of childhood’s sleep,
Amidst their dimness, and a fitful sound
As of soft showers on water. Dark and deep
Lay the oak shadows o’er the turf–so still
They seem’d but pictured glooms; a hidden rill
Made music–such as haunts us in a dream–
Under the fern-tufts; and a tender gleam
Of soft green light, as by the glow-worm shed,
Came pouring through the woven beech-boughs down.”
Many years after, in the sonnet “To a Distant Scene,” she addresses, with a fond yearning, this well-remembered haunt:–
“Still are the cowslips from thy bosom springing,
O far-off grassy dell!”
How many precious memories has she hung round the thought of the cowslip–that flower, with its “gold coat” and “fairy favours” which is, of all others, so associated with the “voice of happy childhood,” and was to her ever redolent of the hours when her
“Heart so leapt to that sweet laughter’s tone!”
Another favourite resort was the picturesque old bridge over the Clwyd, and when her health (which was subject to continual variation, but was at this time more robust than usual) admitted of more aspiring achievements, she delighted in roaming to the hills; and the announcement of a walk to Cwm, a remote little hamlet, nestled in a mountain hollow, amidst very lovely sylvan scenery, about two miles from Rhyllon, would be joyously echoed by her elated companions, to whom the recollection of these happy rambles must always be unspeakably dear. Very often, at the outset of these expeditions, the party would be reinforced by the addition of a certain little Kitty Jones, a child from a neighbouring; cottage, who had taken an especial fancy to Mrs. Hemans, and was continually watching her movements. This little creature never saw her without at once attaching herself to her side, and confidingly placing its tiny hand in hers. So great was her love for children, and her repugnance to hurt the feelings of any living creature, that she never would shake off this singular appendage, but let little Kitty rejoice in her “pride of place,” till the walk became too long for her capacity, and she would quietly fall behind of her own accord.–Memoir, p. 87–93.]
- Its conspicuousness has since been a good deal modified by the lowering of one storey, and by the growth of the surrounding plantations.
- Bronwylfa is pronounced as written Bronwylva; and perhaps the nearest English approach to the pronunciation of Rhyllon, would be by supposing it to be spelt Ruthin, the u sounded as in but.
- Bronwylfa is here supposed to allude to the pate of Æschylus, upon which an eagle dropped a tortoise to crack the shell.
- Pronounced “Coom.”