1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edmund Burke

Anonymous, "Elegy, on the Death of Edmund Burke, Esq." Morning Chronicle (4 September 1797).



Say, shall the Muse, when EDMUND dies,
Abhorrent of the light,
Retire from the public light,
And seek the lonely cell
Where MELANCHOLY loves to dwell,
Imploring ECHO to repeat her sighs,
And, tearing form her head
The laurell'd Bays she long hath worn,
Bind Yew and Cypress in their stead—
And weave a wreath to deck his Fun'ral Urn?

Or shall she, breathing fresh the sacred flame
Of Liberty, exult to see her foe,
He who would tarnish her fair fame,
Hurl'd to the Shades below?
Say, should she not indignant turn,
Daughter of Freedom, from th' Apostate's tomb,
And leave his kindred minds to mourn
In solitude and gloom?

Let SUPERSTITION darken o'er her face
With tenfold blackness; let her veil her head,
Retire from sight, and sink into disgrace;
For, ah, her friend, her doughty Champion's dead;
He who so well could varnish o'er her crimes,
Paint her a Goddess bright with heav'nly charms,
That th' artless progeny of future times,
Seduc'd, might woo the Goddess to their arms!

Yet, had they seen her when, as erst, she reign'd
Triumphant o'er mankind; — Oh, had they view'd
Her furious starting eye balls, teeth all stain'd,
And hands with reeking human gore imbrued;
Had they beheld how REASON, at her feet
Suppliant, was forc'd to crouch, and VIRTUE bow,
While TRUTH and VIRTUE did in vain entreat,
Nor Truth nor Liberty would she allow;

They ne'er again would bend before her shrine,
Nor wish to reinstate her sacrifice.
Yet BURKE, alas! conceiv'd the bold design,
And strove to restore the Age of Prejudice;—
Nutur'd at St. Omer's, he caught the flame,
The dire contagion, the destructive fire,
The poison of the soul: from Rome it came—
And let it now with Rome and BURKE expire!

While the proud sons of Truth and Freedom join
In universal, in one loud acclaim,
Yet not insulting, triumph o'er his name;
Who would not rather grieve that pow'rs divine
Should be employ'd in SUPERSTITION'S aid;
For he had pow'rs which might with Angels vie,
Possess'd a Genius elegant, refin'd,
Could draw the starting tear from PITY'S eye,
And rouse to energy the palsied mind!

Yes, he had advocated Freedom's cause,
Stood boldly forward as COLUMBIA'S friend,
Gain'd in her service merited applause—
And nobly did the RIGHTS OF MAN defend.
Strange that, when GALLIA'S Sons would fain be free,
And tear from off their necks the galling chain,
E'en us should wish to rivet them again,
And not unite to hail the dawn of Liberty!

But who can penetrate the human mind,
Or tell the secret sources of the thought;
Where is the best, the wisest of mankind,
Who liv'd secure from error or from fault?
Perchance he thought that what he did was best.
Then lightly tread across the grass-green sod
Where now his ashes in retirement rest,
And let him answer for himself to GOD.