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A Victorian Scrapbook

A Scrapbook of Newspaper Articles Compiled by George Burgess (1829-1905)

Victorian Culture and Life

The collected songs of Charles Mackay

The Beautifier; Rolling Home; Joys of the Past.

Charles Mackay (1814-1889), Scottish poet, journalist and song writer.
John Gilbert (1817-1897), English artist, illustrator and engraver.

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Transcript from original newspaper article: -
With Illustrations by John Gilbert.

The collected songs of Charles MacKayThis elegant volume will be most welcome to the public, not in England alone, but in every land where the English tongue is known and the beauties of English poetry are felt and understood. For Charles Mackay is the poet of mankind, and the sounds of his lyre strike a responsive chord in every human heart. To eulogise Charles Mackay at this time is almost superfluous, for his place is fixed for ever among the true poets of the earth. But we cannot resist the pleasure of repeating the words in which, with just and modest pride, he himself speaks of the end and object of his writings. “He has appealed to no base or degraded feeling; he inculcated no vice or immorality, however popular or fashionable it might be; but, on the contrary, he has endeavoured to make song the vehicle for the inculcation of virtue, of self-reliance, of patriotism, of manly and womanly tenderness, of true love, and of all the charities and amenities of life.” This is most true; and how many poets have over existed – even the best and purest among them – who could, with an approving conscience, say as much? If ever it could be said of a poet that he never wrote a line “which, dying, he would wish to blot,” this can be said of Charles Mackay.

While the lyrical effusions of our truly English bard are so simple, so manly, so true in every sentiment and feeling, they have gained these high and sterling features without any sacrifice of the lighter graces and ornaments of poetry. They show that the purest fountain throws out the most sparkling waters. In play of fancy, richness of imagery, vivacity of expression, and musical flow and sweetness of verse, they stand pre-eminent among the poetical literature of our time. Many of his songs are exquisite little gems – not mere poems in the shape of songs, but made to be sung, and suggestive of music by their very strain and melody; for Mackay has this characteristic of the bard, that he is a musician as well as a poet; and we hold (notwithstanding some alleged instances to the contrary) that a poet who “has not music in his soul” will never write really musical verses.

We shall, we are sure, gratify our readers by enriching our columns with a few of the gems of musical poetry included in the present publication, premising that the volume forms a complete collection of Dr. Mackay’s contributions to this department of literature, comprehending not only the contents of the volume published in 1855, and all his songs which have been scattered through newspapers and other periodicals, or have been published with music by different composers, but also upwards of one hundred songs now for the first time given to the world.

We give below the song, “The Beautifier,” which forms the subject of our first Illustration; but the poem, “A Plain Man’s Philosophy,” which is illustrated by our second Engraving, having already appeared in this Journal, and being moreover well known to the public, we think our readers will prefer a few extracts from the new matter in the volume.


Tell me, ye waving Woods and throbbing Ocean,
Ye Hills and Streams, ye Landscapes glowing fair,
Why in my heart ye wake such new emotion?
And ye, O Skies! With all your worlds, declare
What is the secret, deep, untold delight,
Unknown before, that fills me in your sight?

There came an answer to my thought’s appealing,
When she I love look’s upward to my face;
Her eyes were interpreters of Nature’s grace;
And when she spoke, I press’d her lips impearl’d,
And knew ‘twas Love that beautified the world.


Few of Mackay’s productions are more characteristic of his peculiar turn of thought than the following burst of happy feelings in the heart of the English voyager as he nears the shores of his native land: -

On board the Europa, homeward bound, May 26 1858.

Up aloft amid the rigging sings the fresh exulting gale,
Strong as spring time in the blossoms filling our each blooming sail;
And the wild waves, cleft behind us, seem to murmur as they flow;
“There are kindly hearts that wait you in the land to which ye go.
Rolling home, rolling home, rolling home, dear land, to thee!
Rolling home to merry England, rolling home across the sea!”

Twice a thousand miles behind us, and a thousand miles before,
Ancient Ocean heaves to bear us to the well-remember’d shore;
New-born breezes swell to waft us to our childhood’s balmy skies,
To the glow of friendly faces, to the light of loving eyes.
Rolling home, rolling home, rolling home, dear land, to thee!
Rolling home to merry England, rolling home across the sea!”

Every motion of the vessel, every dip of mast or spar,
Is a dance and a rejoicing, and a promise from afar;
And we love the light above us, as it tips the waves around.
Rolling home, rolling home, rolling home, dear land, to thee!
Rolling home to merry England, rolling home across the sea!”

And ‘tis nearer, ever nearer, to the rising of the morn,
And ‘tis eastward, ever eastward, to the land where we were born.
And we’ll sing in joyous chorus through the watches of the night.
We shall wee the shores of England at the dawning of the light.
Rolling home, rolling home, rolling home, dear land, to thee!
Rolling home to merry England, rolling home across the sea!”

Rolling home to little England – though so little, yet so great –
With her face of sunny beauty, and her heart as strong as fate,
With her men of honest nature, with her women good and fair,
With her courage and her virtue that can do as well as bear.
Rolling home, rolling home, rolling home, dear land, to thee!
Rolling home to merry England, rolling home across the sea!”


“Joy of the Past” – set to a beautiful air of Purcell – is a musical as Thomas Moore, but breathes a greater tenderness: -


Joys of the past! are they vanish’d for ever?
Flow’rets soon gather’d and sooner decayed;
Ripples of light Upon Time’s flowing river,
Lost with the breath o’er its bosom that stray’d.
No; there are hours in the heart’s happy sadness.
When they return, amid sunshine and rain;
Memory, bright as a rain bow of gladness,
Spans the dark sky with their beauty again.

Visions of glory, half cloud and half splendour,
Flash on the soul, looking back through the years;
Hopes that were lofty, and loves that were tender,
Gleam through the haze of our passionate tears.
Vainly, oh! vainly our hearts would restore them;
Fair though they glitter, how quickly they’re gone!
Echoes that die with the music that bore them,
Lights that are darken’d the moment they’ve shone.