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West Country Poets

RICHARD JOHN KING (1818-1879)

Richard John KING, M.A., was a native of Plymouth, and represented one of the oldest families in Devonshire, and was at one time a landed proprietor.  He was the eldest son of the late Mr. Richard KING, of Bigadon, a pleasant country house situate near the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey of Buckfast.  He was born in 1818, and educated at Exeter College, Oxford, where he took his degree in 1841.  On succeeding to his patrimony, it was found to be heavily mortgaged; and at last everything had to be sold, including his library, one of the most magnificent private libraries in the kingdom.  The sale of his books alone took three days, and many choice editions and rare folios changed hands.  Mr. KING then retired to his quiet little residence at the Limes, Crediton, where he lived upwards of twenty years.  Much of Mr. KING's work was anonymous, and his name, therefore, is less known to the public than those of many authors of inferior note; but in literary and antiquarian circles he was well known as an authority of the highest character, especially on matters connected with the local history, customs, and folk-lore of the West of England.  His knowledge of the county history of Devon in its minutest ramifications was alike extensive and profound, and, it may fairly be added, unequalled.  he was a patient and careful worker, scrupulously accurate in all his citations, and gifted with a style of singular gracefulness and vigour.  Retiring in his habits, but always kindly, and ready to help with his advice or assistance others engaged in like pursuits, Mr. KING was no mere bookworm - no literary recluse; indeed , he always appeared to derive much enjoyment from the society of his friends; and the quiet, unostentatious manner in which he was accustomed to impart information from his well-stored mind on almost every subject rendered him at all times a welcome and interesting companion.  He took his part in the proceedings of learned associations, and engaged in discussions with a readiness and geniality that won for him universal friendship and esteem.

Mr. KING published in 1842 'Selections from the Early Ballad Poetry of England and Scotland', and from that date until his death was never really out of harness.  Among his separately published and acknowledged works, may be mentioned also his 'Anschar, a Story of the North,' printed at Plymouth in 1850, and containing an account of the wanderings in Sweden of St. Anschar, the apostle of the North, when engaged on his mission of converting the hardy Norsemen to Christianity;  'The Forest of Dartmoor and its Borders,' in 1856, two essays in introduction to a large work on the history of Devon, which unfortunately was never carried further; his 'Handbooks to the Cathedrals of England and Wales,' published by Mr. MURRAY during the years 1864-8 in six volumes and containing an elaborate descriptions of those venerable buildings such as could only have been sketched by the pen of an accomplished archaeologist and a practised and reverential student of ecclesiastical architecture;  MURRAY's Handbooks to Kent and Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, Yorkshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge and Essex, and Devon and Cornwall (the latter revised and partially re-written), and a volume of gathered papers published in 1874 under the title 'Sketches and Studies, Descriptive and Historical,' and chiefly collected from Mr. KING's contributions to current periodical literature in the Quarterly, Fraser, and other reviews and magazines.  Few more charming bits of mingled history and gossip than his 'Travelling in England,' or the 'Great Shrines of England,' have been contributed to periodical literature in recent years.  This list, however, by no means represents the extent of Mr. KING's literature work, amidst which he found time to be a frequent, as he was a valued, contributor to Notes and Queries, the Quarterly Review, Saturday Review and Fraser's Magasine, and to carry on an extensive private correspondence upon the subjects in which he felt so deep an interest.

Mr. KING became a member of the Devonshire Association in 1874, and filled the office of President in 1875, when the association met at Torrington, and his address on that occasion was a learned and critical contribution to the early history of Devon, full of suggestions for further investigation.  At the same meeting he also read a paper on 'The Folk-Lore of Devon.'  He contributed other papers, which may be found in the 'Transactions' for various years, and was the writer of many fugitive pieces of excellent verse.

Mr. KING died at the Limes, Crediton, after a brief illness, on March 10, 1879.  A handsome memorial window of stained glass has, through the exertions of the Rev. Prebendary SMITH, been placed in the parish church at Crediton.  Had Mr. KING been a more ambitious man, he might have left a more brilliant name behind him; but his life was one of earnest, faithful labour in the nobel cause to which he had devoted himself, and in that cause he has left a mark which will not soon be effaced, and amongst his literary friends, as well as others, none will be more sincerely mourned that Richard John KING.  ('Transactions, Devonshire Association,' vol xi, 1879, page 58.) THE FOREST OF THE DARTMOORS
RICHARD JOHN KING, IN VOL. LV1. OF 'FRASER'S MAGAZINE.')

The King rode down by Caddon ford,
  And full five hundred strong rode he;
He saw the dark forest him before -
  He thought it awesome for to see
[continued . . . I think?]

Song o' the Outlaw Murray

The purple heather flowers are dark
 In the hollow of the hill
Though far along each rocky peak
 The sunlight lingers still;
Dark hang the rushes o'er the stream -
 There is no sound below,
Save when the fern, by the night's wind
 Waves gently to and fro.

Thou old wild forest! many a dream
 Of far-off glamoury,
Of gentle knight and solemn sage,
 Is resting still on thee.
Still float the mists across the fells
 As when those barons bold,
Sir Tristram and Sir Percival
 Sped o'er the weary wold.

Still wave the grasses o'er the hills,
 And still the streams below,
Under the wild boughs thick with moss,
 Sing gladly as they go;
Still over the lonely land
 The mountain elves are dwelling,
And ofttimes notes from fairy horns
 On the free winds are swelling.

Then through the glens of the folding hills,
 And over the heath so brown,
King Arthur leads his belted knights
 Homewards to Carlyoun;
A goodly band, with long bright spears
 Upon their shoulders set,
And first of all that Flower of Kings
 With his golden coronet.

And sometimes, by the clear hill streams,
 A knight rides on alone;
He rideth ever beside the river,
 Although the day be done;
For he looketh toward the western land
 Where watcheth his ladye,
On the shore of the rocky Cornewayle,
 In the castle by the sea.

And o'er the green paths of the moors
 When the burning sun is high,
Queen Guinevere comes forth in state
 Beneath her canopy.
Her squires in robes of sendal bright
 Bear up the silken shade,
And the ringing of their bridal reins
 Fills all the forest glade.

And when the stars are few above,
 And hills are dark below,
The fay, Morgana, sits alone
 Beside the river's flow.
She sitteth alone beneath the boughs
 That look on the waters clear,
And a low sweet song she singeth there -
 The Lady of the Mere.

She telleth of glad, free wanderings
 By haunted spring and wave,
And how, beneath a fairy thorn,
 She dug old Merlin's grave;
All snowy white with blossomings
 The knotted arms outspread,
All snowy white the blossoms fall
 Upon his darksome bed.

Thou old wild forest! through thy glens
 Once rang the hart's bell free,
The mountain wolf led forth her cubs
 Beneath the dark pine-tree;
And where the broom and the birchen sprays
 Hang o'er the sparkling rills,
The giant deer with branching horn
 Passed upwards to the hills.

And now they rocks are silent all,
 The kingly chase is o'er,
Yet none may take from thee old land,
  Thy memories of yore.
In many a green and solemn place
 Girt with the wild hills round
The shadow of the holy cross
 Yet sleepeth on the ground.

In many a glen where the ash keys hang
 All golden 'midst their leaves,
The knights' dark strength is rising yet,
Clad in its wild-flower wreaths.
And yet along the mountain-paths
 Rides forth that stately band,
A vision of the dim old days -
 A dream of fairyland.

Transcribed from: Wright, W. H. K.,(1896) West-Country Poets: Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock, pp.48-51


Notes

Last updated 22 Jul 2011 - Brian Randell.

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