The practice which has been lately introduced into literature, of writing very long notes upon very indifferent verses, appears to me a rather happy invention, as it supplies us with a mode of turning dull poetry to account; and as horses too heavy for the saddle may yet serve well enough to draw lumber, so Poems of this kind make excellent beasts of burden and will bear notes though they may not bear reading. Besides, the comments in such cases are so little under the necessity of paying any servile deference to the text, that they may even adopt that Socratic, "quod supra nos nihil ad nos."
In the first of the two following Poems, I have ventured to speak of the Revolution of 1688, in language which has sometimes been employed by Tory writers and which is therefore neither very new nor popular. But however an Englishman might be reproached with ingratitude for depreciating the merits and results of a measure which he is taught to regard as the source of his liberties--however ungrateful it might appear in Alderman Birch to question for a moment the purity of that glorious era to which he is indebted for the seasoning of so many orations--yet an Irishman who has none of these obligations to acknowledge, to whose country the Revolution brought nothing but injury and insult, and who recollects that the book of Molyneux was burned by order of William's Whig Parliament for daring to extend to unfortunate Ireland those principles on which the Revolution was professedly founded--an Irishman may be allowed to criticise freely the measures of that period without exposing himself either to the imputation of ingratitude or to the suspicion of being influenced by any Popish remains of Jacobitism. No nation, it is true, was ever blessed with a more golden opportunity of establishing and securing its liberties for ever than the conjuncture of Eighty-eight presented to the people of Great Britain. But the disgraceful reigns of Charles and James had weakened and degraded the national character. The bold notions of popular right which had arisen out of the struggles between Charles the First and his Parliament were gradually supplanted by those slavish doctrines for which Lord Hawkesbury eulogizes the churchmen of that period, and as the Reformation had happened too soon for the purity of religion, so the Revolution came too late for the spirit of liberty. Its advantages accordingly were for the most part specious and transitory, while the evils which it entailed are still felt and still increasing. By rendering unnecessary the frequent exercise of Prerogative,--that unwieldy power which cannot move a step without alarm,--it diminished the only interference of the Crown, which is singly and independently exposed before the people, and whose abuses therefore are obvious to their senses and capabilities. Like the myrtle over a celebrated statue in Minerva's temple at Athens, it skilfully veiled from the public eye the only obtrusive feature of royalty. At the same time, however, that the Revolution abridged this unpopular attribute, it amply compensated by the substitution of a new power, as much more potent in its effect as it is more secret in its operations. In the disposal of an immense revenue and the extensive patronage annexed to it, the first foundations of this power of the Crown were laid; the innovation of a standing army at once increased and strengthened it, and the few slight barriers which the Act of Settlement opposed to its progress have all been gradually removed during the Whiggish reigns that succeeded; till at length this spirit of influence has become the vital principle of the state,--an agency, subtle and unseen, which pervades every part of the Constitution, lurks under all its forms and regulates all its movements, and, like the invisible sylph or grace which presides over the motions of beauty,
"illam, quicquid agit, quoquo westigia flectit,
componit furlim subsequiturque."
The cause of Liberty and the Revolution are so habitually associated in the minds of Englishmen that probably in objecting to the latter I may be thought hostile or indifferent to the former. But assuredly nothing could be more unjust than such a suspicion. The very object indeed which my humble animadversions would attain is that in the crisis to which I think England is now hastening, and between which and foreign subjugation she may soon be compelled to choose, the errors and omissions of 1688 should be remedied; and, as it was then her fate to experience a Revolution without Reform, so she may now endeavor to accomplish a Reform without Revolution.
In speaking of the parties which have so long agitated England, it will be observed that I lean as little to the Whigs as to their adversaries. Both factions have been equally cruel to Ireland and perhaps equally insincere in their efforts for the liberties of England. There is one name indeed connected with Whiggism, of which I can never think but with veneration and tenderness. As justly, however, might the light of the sun be claimed by any particular nation as the sanction of that name be monopolized by any party whatsoever. Mr. Fox belonged to mankind and they have lost in him their ablest friend.
With respect to the few lines upon Intolerance, which I have subjoined, they are but the imperfect beginning of a long series of Essays with which I here menace my readers upon the same important subject. I shall look to no higher merit in the task than that of giving a new form to claims and remonstrances which have often been much more eloquently urged and which would long ere now have produced their effect, but that the minds of some of our statesmen, like the pupil of the human eye, contract themselves the more, the stronger light is shed upon them.
Boast on, my friend--tho' stript of all beside,
Thy struggling nation still retains her pride:
That pride which once in genuine glory woke
When Marlborough fought and brilliant St. John spoke;
That pride which still, by time and shame unstung,
Outlives even Whitelocke's sword and Hawkesbury's tongue!
Boast on, my friend, while in this humbled isle
Where Honor mourns and Freedom fears to smile,
Where the bright light of England's fame is known
But by the shadow o'er our fortunes thrown;
Where, doomed ourselves to naught but wrongs and slights,
We hear you boast of Britain's glorious rights,
As wretched slaves that under hatches lie
Hear those on deck extol the sun and sky!
Boast on, while wandering thro' my native haunts,
I coldly listen to thy patriot vaunts;
And feel, tho' close our wedded countries twine,
More sorrow for my own than pride from thine.
Yet pause a moment--and if truths severe
Can find an inlet to that courtly ear,
Which hears no news but Ward's gazetted lies,
And loves no politics in rhyme but Pye's,--
If aught can please thee but the good old saws
Of "Church and State," and "William's matchless laws,"
And "Acts and Rights of glorious Eighty-eight,"--
Things which tho' now a century out of date
Still serve to ballast with convenient words,
A few crank arguments for speeching lords,--
Turn while I tell how England's freedom found,
Where most she lookt for life, her deadliest wound;
How brave she struggled while her foe was seen,
How faint since Influence lent that foe a screen;
How strong o'er James and Popery she prevailed,
How weakly fell when Whigs and gold assailed.
While kings were poor and all those schemes unknown
Which drain the people to enrich the throne;
Ere yet a yielding Commons had supplied
Those chains of gold by which themselves are tied,
Then proud Prerogative, untaught to creep
With bribery's silent foot on Freedom's sleep,
Frankly avowed his bold enslaving plan
And claimed a right from God to trample man!
But Luther's schism had too much roused mankind
For Hampden's truths to linger long behind;
Nor then, when king-like popes had fallen so low,
Could pope-like kings escape the levelling blow.
That ponderous sceptre (in whose place we bow
To the light talisman of influence now),
Too gross, too visible to work the spell
Which modern power performs, in fragments fell:
In fragments lay, till, patched and painted o'er
With fleurs-de-lis, it shone and scourged once more.
'Twas then, my friend, thy kneeling nation quaft
Long, long and deep, the churchman's opiate draught
Of passive, prone obedience--then took flight
All sense of man's true dignity and right;
And Britons slept so sluggish in their chain
That Freedom's watch-voice called almost in vain.
Oh England! England! what a chance was thine,
When the last tyrant of that ill-starred line
Fled from his sullied crown and left thee free
To found thy own eternal liberty!
How nobly high in that propitious hour
Might patriot hands have raised the triple tower
Of British freedom on a rock divine
Which neither force could storm nor treachery mine!
But no--the luminous, the lofty plan,
Like mighty Babel, seemed too bold for man;
The curse of jarring tongues again was given
To thwart a work which raised men nearer heaven.
While Tories marred what Whigs had scarce begun,
While Whigs undid what Whigs themselves had done.
The hour was lost and William with a smile
Saw Freedom weeping o'er the unfinisht pile!
Hence all the ills you suffer,--hence remain
Such galling fragments of that feudal chain
Whose links, around you by the Norman flung,
Tho' loosed and broke so often, still have clung.
Hence sly Prerogative like Jove of old
Has turned his thunder into showers of gold,
Whose silent courtship wins securer joys,
Taints by degrees, and ruins without noise.
While parliaments, no more those sacred things
Which make and rule the destiny of kings.
Like loaded dice by ministers are thrown,
And each new set of sharpers cog their own.
Hence the rich oil that from the Treasury steals
Drips smooth o'er all the Constitution's wheels,
Giving the old machine such pliant play
That Court and Commons jog one joltless way,
While Wisdom trembles for the crazy car,
So gilt, so rotten, carrying fools so far;
And the duped people, hourly doomed to pay
The sums that bribe their liberties away,--
Like a young eagle who has lent his plume
To fledge the shaft by which he meets his doom,--
See their own feathers pluckt, to wing the dart
Which rank corruption destines for their heart!
But soft! methinks I hear thee proudly say,
"What! shall I listen to the impious lay
"That dares with Tory license to profane
"The bright bequests of William's glorious reign?
"Shall the great wisdom of our patriot sires,
"Whom Hawkesbury quotes and savory Birch admires,
"Be slandered thus? shall honest Steele agree
"With virtuous Rose to call us pure and free,
"Yet fail to prove it? Shall our patent pair
"Of wise state-poets waste their words in air,
"And Pye unheeded breathe his prosperous strain,
"And Canning take the people's sense in vain?"
The people!--ah! that Freedom's form should stay
Where Freedom's spirit long hath past away!
That a false smile should play around the dead
And flush the features when the soul hath fled!
When Rome had lost her virtue with her rights,
When her foul tyrant sat on Capreae's heights,
Amid his ruffian spies and doomed to death
Each noble name they blasted with their breath,--
Even then, (in mockery of that golden time,
When the Republic rose revered, sublime,
And her proud sons, diffused from zone to zone,
Gave kings to every nation but their own,)
Even then the senate and the tribunes stood,
Insulting marks, to show how high the flood
Of Freedom flowed, in glory's bygone day,
And how it ebbed,--for ever ebbed away!
Look but around--tho' yet a tyrant's sword
Nor haunts our sleep nor glitters o'er our board,
Tho' blood be better drawn, by modern quacks,
With Treasury leeches than with sword or axe;
Yet say, could even a prostrate tribune's power
Or a mock senate in Rome's servile hour
Insult so much the claims, the rights of man,
As doth that fettered mob, that free divan,
Of noble tools and honorable knaves,
Of pensioned patriots and privileged slaves;--
That party-colored mass which naught can warm
But rank corruption's heat--whose quickened swarm
Spread their light wings in Bribery's golden sky,
Buzz for a period, lay their eggs and die;--
That greedy vampire which from Freedom's tomb
Comes forth with all the mimicry of bloom
Upon its lifeless cheek and sucks and drains
A people's blood to feel its putrid veins!
Thou start'st, my friend, at picture drawn so dark--
"Is there no light?"--thou ask'st--"no lingering spark
"Of ancient fire to warm us? Lives there none,
"To act a Marvell's part?"--alas! not one.
To place and power all public spirit tends,
In place and power all public spirit ends;
Like hardy plants that love the air and sky,
When out, 'twill thrive--but taken in, 'twill die!
Not bolder truths of sacred Freedom hung
From Sidney's pen or burned on Fox's tongue,
Than upstart Whigs produce each market-night,
While yet their conscience, as their purse, is light;
While debts at home excite their care for those
Which, dire to tell, their much-loved country owes,
And loud and upright, till their prize be known,
They thwart the King's supplies to raise their own.
But bees on flowers alighting cease their hum--
So, settling upon places, Whigs grow dumb.
And, tho' most base is he who, 'neath the shade
Of Freedom's ensign plies corruption's trade,
And makes the sacred flag he dares to show
His passport to the market of her foe,
Yet, yet, I own, so venerably dear
Are Freedom's grave old anthems to my ear,
That I enjoy them, tho' by traitors sung,
And reverence Scripture even from Satan's tongue.
Nay, when the constitution has expired,
I'll have such men, like Irish wakers, hired
To chant old "Habeas Corpus" by its side,
And ask in purchased ditties why it died?
See yon smooth lord whom nature's plastic pains
Would seem to've fashioned for those Eastern reigns
When eunuchs flourisht, and such nerveless things
As men rejected were the chosen of kings;--
Even he, forsooth, (oh fraud, of all the worst!)
Dared to assume the patriot's name at first--
Thus Pitt began, and thus begin his apes;
Thus devils when first raised take pleasing shapes.
But oh, poor Ireland! if revenge be sweet
For centuries of wrong, for dark deceit
And withering insult--for the Union thrown
Into thy bitter cup when that alone
Of slavery's draught was wanting--if for this
Revenge be sweet, thou hast that daemon's bliss;
For sure 'tis more than hell's revenge to fee
That England trusts the men who've ruined thee:--
That in these awful days when every hour
Creates some new or blasts some ancient power,
When proud Napoleon like the enchanted shield
Whose light compelled each wondering foe to yield,
With baleful lustre blinds the brave and free
And dazzles Europe into slavery,--
That in this hour when patriot zeal should guide,
When Mind should rule and--Fox should not have died,
All that devoted England can oppose
To enemies made fiends and friends made foes,
Is the rank refuse, the despised remains
Of that unpitying power, whose whips and chains
Drove Ireland first to turn with harlot glance
Towards other shores and woo the embrace of France;--
Those hacked and tainted tools, so foully fit
For the grand artisan of mischief, Pitt,
So useless ever but in vile employ,
So weak to save, so vigorous to destroy--
Such are the men that guard thy threatened shore,
Oh England! sinking England! boast no more.