Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2009

Major Andre and Miss Seward

TO the inhabitants of the Peak mountains it is not generally known that the ill-fated Major Andre spent a day with some literary friends in the Peak, not a week prior to his embarking for American. This circumstance may be deemed trifling by some - of little import in this day of wonders; but, besides the melancholy interest which enwraps the memory of the unfortunate Andre, it may be assumed that there are no unimportant circumstances - circumstances are facts, and facts have mysterious infinite relations. What a simple circumstance was that of two men calling at a mill in America, to beg a glass of cider, and, while there, to observe an incident which led to the immediate capture of Andre and to the ultimate independence of British America. How subtle, how mysterious then, are the links which form the connexion of circumstances: how inscrutable, yet how positive the axiom, that there is no isolated fact - no unconnected incident or circumstance. Under this conviction an [Page 82] incident may be mentioned relative to the fate of the courtly and intrepid Andre; which occurrence transpired on the occasion of his visit to the Peak.

In the literary world the fame of Miss Anna Seward, as a poetess, is a matter of acknowledged notoriety. With this celebrated female (who was born at Eyam) the gallant Andre was on the purest terms of friendship and warm esteem. Hence, he was induced to pay a visit to the highly-gifted lady prior to the embarkation of his regiment to the western continent. At Miss Steward's residence, at Lichfield, Andre arrived, and was received with every demonstration of a hearty welcome; this visit was characterized by a reciprocity of interesting conversation and elegant pleasure. Andre expatiated with patriotic fervour on the contest in which he was about being engaged; but, alas! little dreaming of the dark tragedy in which he was doomed to be the unfortunate hero.

Miss Seward, wishing to interest her friend and guest in every possible manner, on this particular occasion, projected a visit to the Peak, the place of her nativity, where she had literary friends of distinguished merit, and of these in particular were Newton, the Peak Minstrel, and Cunningham, the classic and poetic village curate of Eyam. The day before the arrival of the poetess and her guest in the Peak, the visit had been communicated to Newton, who had, in compliance to a request of his fair visitor, invited Cunningham to be present during their stay. From the lips of Miss [Page 83] Seward the humble bards of the Peak had often heard with delight the praises of Andre, whose unassuming manners, gentleness, and kindness of disposition, whose manly bearing and beautiful figure had long rendered him a star of no ordinary lustre in the circles of pure and delightful society; and hence the mountain minstrels lavishingly indulged in the sweet and sunny hope of anticipated mental pleasure.

It was a beautiful evening in June, when Andre and Miss Seward reached the confines of the Peak's blue region of heaven-aspiring mist-robed mountains. Side by side, on two fleet-footed coursers, they rode along, sometimes engaged in conversation, on the anticipated adventures of Andre in the approaching campaign, at other times they were wrapt in deep silence, gazing intensely on the hills that rose before them in apparently endless succession.

“A few more miles”, said Miss Seward, after a short pause, “and we shall terminate our journey; my minstrel, Newton, is counting moments until our arrival: on this, dare I pledge my word, - ah! my life”.

“May be, Madame”, replied Andre, “your confidence is guarantee sufficient of the matter anticipated”.

“How beautiful these hills”, again said the admirable lady, “yonder, a short distance to the right, are heather-clad mountains on which I moved in my childhood; there my muse found me and taught me to see the charms, the indelible beauties of Nature; there I skipped along, free and happy, as the wild bee [Page 84] sucking sweets from flower to flower; sweet, ah! delicious are those remembrances of my youthful days”.

Thus they journeyed among the dells and mountains of the Peak; frequently they halted for a few minutes to admire, or rather to drink in the enrapturing beauty, of some enchanting scene.

The residence of the minstrel, Newton, was then at a little market town in the Peak, named Tideswell; the house in which he dwelled was somewhat humble in exterior appearance; but the interior displayed a neatness, combined with every other conveniency, that did absolute credit to the minstrel and his thrifty spouse. This habitation, distinguished for its having been the residence of the Peak bard, is now converted into a bacchanalian temple - the “Peacock Inn”.

Here, the poetical village curate, Cunningham, had arrived early in the afternoon of the day when Miss Seward and Andre were expected. The two bards had congratulated each other on the expected pleasure of again enjoying the company of the eminent poetess, and also for the first time that of her much-lauded guest, when Cunningham, after having sat a few moments, abruptly said: “Newton, I place no implicit faith in dreams - never scarcely bestowed a passing thought on them, at least my own - but last night I was troubled by a dream which still haunts my mind with an unaccountably tenacious impression. Hear me, while I give you a few particulars. I thought I was in the midst of a dense and darksome forest; not [Page 85] altogether of wood, but composed in part of thickness impenetrable, and bogs impossible. This scene was to me strange, it was not the ideal picture of any one I had before seen, - no, it was more seemingly lonely, dreary, and singularly impressive than any I ever saw before, either in the world of reality or imagination. I stood, methought, in painful perplexity; I looked around, and at some distance I beheld a man on horseback approaching me in great speed, and even at a little distance I perceived a something in his physiognomical expression that greatly interested me. He had nearly reached me, when there sprang from an adjoining thicket three savage-looking men, who seized the horse's bridle instanter.[sic] After some little conversation, the young man on the horse turned pale and deadly in countenance, and I felt an expressionless sympathy for him as I beheld them take off his boots, and other portions of his clothes, and then hurry him away”. “And what of this”, replied Newton, “poets are dreamers awake, as well as in sleep”. “Stop, stop”, rejoined Cunningham, “I have not done yet. As they hurried the man from my sight I awoke, but in a few minutes I slumbered again, and in a dream I stood on a plain beside a city or town, from which there came forth a murmuring like the death wail of a thousand tongues. Anon I saw a crowd come forth surrounding the same man I had seen on horseback in my previous vision. They led him to a summit on the plain, and suspended him by the neck on a towering gallows tree. I [Page 86] approached the place, and lo! the thousands assembled all wept. Never will the seeming courage of the suffering man be erased from my mental tablet. A soft serenity, a mild resignation, and a placid calmness beamed from his features during the agony and struggles of his last moments, that melted my very soul, I awoke, and for a while I could scarcely persuade myself of the insubstantiality of the scene”.

Newton, who had listened attentively to his quondam friend's recital of his dream, was about to make some remark when the tramping of horses' feet announced the arrival of the famed poetess and her guest. Soon they alighted, and were instantly ushered into the company of the two poets. Ample greetings were exchanged, and all seemed absorbed in delight and conviviality, except Cunningham, who, on the entering of Andre into the room, started back, and whispering aside to Newton, said, “that! - he! Andre, is the antitype of the man in my dream”. Newton, a little flustered by this remark, though unobserved by the visitors, put a stop to any further interruption by a significant wave of his hand, and soon these kindred spirits were enraptured with quaffing at the streams that flow from the paradise of poesy.

About noon of the following day Andre took his departure for immediate embarkation; at the door of the residence of Newton, he shook hands fervently and affectionately with Miss Seward, Newton, and last with Cunningham, who, bursting with the impression of his [Page 87] dream, said, “Heaven preserve thee from evil!” Andre sprang on his horse, turned round, and once more bidding farewell, was in an instant out of sight.

Time passed away, and no tidings of the amiable Andre reached the care of Miss Seward and the Peak bards, until the melancholy intelligence of his execution as a spy, at Tappan, in New York, Oct. 2 1780. The dreadful and appalling news plunged his admiring friends into inconsolable grief, particularly the Peak Minstrels. Cunningham - misfortune's child - often talked over the dreams of the fate of Andre; and the beloved Miss Seward testified her affectionate regard for her unfortunate friend in a poetical effusion entitled “Monody on Major Andre”.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in January 2009.

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