1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Southey

Anna Seward, "Written after reading Southey's Joan of Arc" Morning Chronicle (5 August 1797).



SIR,
The obliging disposition you have manifested towards me, and the professed esteem with which you honour my writings, induce me to present the enclosed, and as yet unpublished Verses, to your Paper.
Though you may not think the Ministry defensible in their conduct of this disastrous War, I have too much confidence in your virtue and good sense, not to assure myself that you execrate French principles which authorise confiscation, plunder, and massacre in their own Nation, for mere difference in political opinion — which throw the property and life of their unhappy Slaves at the mercy of a junto of Tyrants, while the Liberty they boast is the dread of sensibility and the abhorrence of wisdom.
I also believe that you are too good a Patriot not warmly to disapprove Mr. Southey's attempt, in his late very fine Poem, to depreciate the English character and inspire hatred of our Constitution.
In confidence I commit my Verses to your press; and remain, Sir,
You obliged and obedient Servant,
ANNA SEWARD.
Lichfield.

* Our political opinions cannot interfere with the respect which we sincerely feel for the talents of our celebrated Correspondent; and, though we disagree with Miss SEWARD as to the character of the Poem of the ardent and virtuous SOUTHEY, we cheerfully publish her Verses, lamenting that, by the pressure of temporary events, they have been so long withheld. But we must express our astonishment, that a mind so largely and finely endowed as hers, is not in unison with SOUTHEY, on the horrid tendency to the human species of such an enterprise as that of HARRY THE FIFTH, where two great Nations were condemned to the miseries of War, because one individual aspired to the dominion of both. — ED.

Base is the purpose of this Epic Song,
Baneful its powers: — but, oh, the Poesy
("What can it less when Sun-born GENIUS sings?")
Wraps in reluctant ecstasy the soul
Where Poesy is felt! e'en tho' it paint,
In all the lurid traits of NERO'S heart,
The high heroic spirit of that Monarch
Who grac'd the Crown he wore, BRITANNIA'S boast—
"HARRY OF MONMOUTH!" — He, who ne'er expos'd
His ardent Legions on the deathful plain
Where flam'd not his broad shield, and his white plumes
Play'd in the battle's van. What claim'd he then
From France, at the sword's point, but ceded rights?
Howe'er perfidiously withheld, tho' pledg'd
For aye to England, after the proud day
Of Cressy's thund'ring field. Then GALLIA'S Star
Sunk — and the Planet of the "argent Shores"
Rose glitt'ring on the Zenith's azure height,
What time, upon the broken spears of France,
And prostrate helms, immortal GLORY stood—
And, with the Lillies of that vaunting clime,
Like a gay Bride, entwin'd the victor brows
Of our great EDWARD. Oh, unnat'ral Boy;
Oh, beardless Paricide! — thy treach'rous Muse
In Comet splendour, in MEDUSA'S beauty
Balefully deck'd, an impious task essays,
Lab'ring to turn to deadliest Aconite
The Laurel wreaths of Azincour; to brand
The hallow'd lustre of thy ENGLAND'S name
With slavish Meanness, with rapacious Avarice,
And the Wolf's rage. ENGLAND, whose martial fire
Applauding ages have pronounc'd adorn'd
With fair Munificence, and temper'd still
By dove-ey'd Mercy's sway. O, dark of heart
As luminous of fancy, quit, for shame
Quit, th' insidious pretence to Virtue—
To Gospel Faith, and Piety! Dry thy tears
For age-past woes (they are the Crocodiles);
And o'er the murder of the ROYAL VICTIMS,
And o'er the Christian Faith's apostacy,
With blood of Innocents, and Martyr-flames
Witness'd in France, cry — "VIVE LA LIBERTE!"
Dip thy young hands in her ensanguin'd chalice,
Brimm'd with the gore of Age, Infant, and Beauty,
And, throwing her RED CAP aloft in air,
Laugh with the fierce Hyena!