Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
The Milkmaids Song
By Izaak Walton (15931683)
From The Complete Angler
Piscator. NAY, stay a little, good Scholar; I caught my last Trout with a worm; now I will put on a minnow and try a quarter of an hour about yonder trees for another, and so walk towards our lodging. Look you, Scholar, thereabout we shall have a bite presently, or not at all. Have with you, Sir! o my word, I have hold of him. Oh! it is a great logger-headed Chub; come, hang him upon that willow-twig, and lets be going. But turn out of the way a little, good Scholar, towards yonder high honeysuckle hedge; there well sit and sing whilst this shower falls so gently upon the teeming earth, and gives yet a sweeter smell to the lovely flowers that adorn these verdant meadows.
Look, under that broad beech-tree I sat down, when I was last this way a-fishing, and the birds in the adjoining grove seemed to have a friendly contention with an echo, whose dead voice seemed to live in a hollow tree, near to the brow of that primrose hill; there I sat viewing the silver streams glide silently towards their centre, the tempestuous sea; yet sometimes opposed by rugged roots, and pebble-stones, which broke their waves, and turned them into foam: and sometimes I beguiled time by viewing the harmless lambs, some leaping securely in the cool shade, whilst others sported themselves in the cheerful sun; and saw others craving comfort from the swollen udders of their bleating dams. As I thus sat, these and other sights had so fully possessed my soul with content, that I thought, as the poet has happily expressed it,
As I left this place, and entered into the next field, a second pleasure entertained me; twas a handsome Milkmaid that had not yet attained so much age and wisdom as to load her mind with any fears of many things that will never be, as too many men too often do; but she cast away all care, and sung like a nightingale. Her voice was good, and the ditty fitted for it; twas that smooth song, which was made by Kit Marlowe, now at least fifty years ago: and the Milkmaids mother sung an answer to it, which was made by Sir Walter Raleigh in his younger days.
They were old-fashioned poetry, but choicely good, I think much better than the strong lines that are now in fashion in this critical age. Look yonder! on my word, yonder they both be a-milking again. I will give her the Chub, and persuade them to sing those two songs to us.
God speed you, good woman! I have been a-fishing, and am going to Bleak Hall to my bed; and having caught more fish than will sup myself and my friend, I will bestow this upon you and your daughter, for I use to sell none.
Milk-Woman. Marry, God requite you! Sir, and well eat it cheerfully; and if you come this way a-fishing two months hence, a-grace of God Ill give you a syllabub of new verjuice in a new-made hay-cock for it, and my Maudlin shall sing you one of her best ballads; for she and I both love all Anglers, they be such honest, civil, quiet men. In the mean time will you drink a draught of red cows milk? you shall have it freely.
Pisc. No, I thank you; but I pray do us a courtesy that shall stand you and your daughter in nothing, and yet we will think ourselves still something in your debt: it is but to sing us a song that was sung by your daughter when I last passed over this meadow, about eight or nine days since.
Milk-W. Oh, I know it now; I learned the first part in my golden age, when I was about the age of my poor daughter; and the latter part, which indeed fits me best now, but two or three years ago, when the cares of the world began to take hold of me; but you shall, God willing, hear them both, and sung as well as we can, for we both love Anglers. Come, Maudlin, sing the first part to the gentlemen with a merry heart, and Ill sing the second, when you have done.