1791 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Rushton

William Shepherd, "An Epistle to Edward Rushton" 1791 ca.; Rushton, Poems and Other Writings (1824) 1-7.



O thou! whose mental eye, with keen survey,
Beholds, undazzled, truth's resplendent ray,
(Blest boon! descending from the source of light
To cheer the darkness of corporeal night)
Thou, whose firm soul no shape of fear appals,
No whispering interest sways when duty calls;
Whose heart indignant swells with honest rage,
While injured millions all thy thoughts engage;
While tyrants, titled or untitled, join
Man's sacred rights to ravish or purloin;
Thou, whose cheek feels the flush of virtuous shame,
When Priestcraft libels the Eternal's name;
When false religion forms the galling chain,
Inflicts the wrong, and joins oppression's train,
Share my bold flight whilst I attempt to scan
Those awful scenes which fix the fate of man.

Yes! awful scenes; that shew in doubtful fight
The powers of darkness 'gainst the powers of light.—
Yes awful scenes; where agonizing throes
Of pregnant freedom break the world's repose
Where keen impatience rends the sons of earth,
While all, on tiptoe, wait the promised birth;
While all expect, by hope or fear beguiled,
A vile abortion or a faultless child.

In self concentred, shall the human mind
Wish God's best blessings to one spot confined?
As dull Batavia's sons, in eastern isles,
With hearts contracted and with selfish smiles,
Kind to themselves alone, collect the store,
And burn vast remnants on the spicy shore;
Shall Britain's sons, to Freedom once so true,
With jealous eyes her glorious progress view,
Grudge the rich gifts which new-born nations bless,
And, spread through earth, would make their stores no less?

If, fainting in the sultry blaze of day,
'Cross Arab wilds we urged our thirsty way,
And favouring heaven our weary steps should guide,
Where the stream murmurs down the mountain's side,
Say, should we rush in fury on the band,
Whose glittering sabres guard the moisten'd sand?
Ah! who could tamely bear the dreadful thought
Of turning back to die by quenchless drought?
Britons, beware! 'tis God's all-righteous voice,
"Let man in human happiness rejoice,
Learn his own wishes and his wants to scan,
And grant those wishes to his fellow man."
Britons, beware! nor cross the fates that bring
The weary wretch to drink of Freedom's spring.

If then, with soul regenerate, the Gaul
Break his vile chains at freedom's powerful call,
Root from their base the melancholy towers,
Where the pale captive cursed the lingering hours;
Where madness lour'd in every living tomb,
And silence brooded o'er the fearful gloom
(Save when the deep-toned bell, with solemn toll,
To deeper sorrows sunk the fainting soul);
Where cruel caution watch'd the vital breath,
And wild distraction raved in vain for death—
Lives there a man who blames the noble deed,
Whose anger swells to see a nation freed?
Ye fates! immure him in some dungeon drear,
'Till nature cries within him "Freedom's dear."

Or are there, awed by Truth's illustrious rays,
Who dare not blame, yet yield extorted praise;
Whose selfish bosoms damn the glorious cause,
While jealous envy dictates half-applause?
Gall'd by oppression's fetters may they groan,
And judge a brother's feelings by their own.

Friends of the human race! whose souls refined
Through earth expansive, feel for all mankind,
Attuned to pity, hear the shriek of woe
Wafted from Afric's sands or Zembla's snow,
Or chord responsive, while the cheering tale
Of human bliss swells every varying gale—
Give, give a loose to joy, and bless the day
When Louis bent beneath the people's sway,
Fix'd the proud apex of the wonderous plan,
Built on the broadest base, — the eternal Rights of Man.

Illustrious band! that rear'd this mighty frame,
What verse can duly celebrate your name?
What power of words can reach the theme sublime,
A theme unequall'd in the rolls of time?
Language is weak — let nature sound your praise,
While millions, rescued from oppression, raise
The loud acclaim of joy, and bend the knee
To bless the men who taught them — to be free—
The wretch condemn'd to please some titled whore,
To pine in misery on a foreign shore,
Waked to new life, shall swell the grateful throng,
Shall tune to gratitude the patriot song,
And teach his listening sons, with youthful fire,
To bless the men who saved their injured sire.
Tyrants, foreboding that propitious hour,
When suffering slaves shall spurn at lawless power,
Scared at your names, confess their rooted hate,
And tremble 'midst the pageantry of state.
Dread persecution shakes his shaggy mane,
And in grim fury gnaws his shorten'd chain.
He growls indignant in the massy cage,
Raised by your hands to circumscribe his rage.
Growls to your praise — for truth's keen touch will find
Your foes the deadliest foes of human kind.
With sombre pinions and discordant cry,
Fanatic fury sweeps along the sky.
In bootless rage her blood-stain'd eye-balls roll,
And speak the malice of her secret soul.
Scared at the beam of freedom's heavenly light,
The indignant daemon wings her heavy flight;
Oft looks behind, and risks a short delay,
In hopes, once more, to snuff her wonted prey.
Vain every hope! she mourns her palsied power,
And with loud curses quits your happy shore.

But, ah! black venom rankling in her breast,
O'er Albion soars the execrated pest;
'Tis she — dark vapour shrouds her as she flies,
And pestilential blasts corrupt the skies;
Swell after swell her clarion sounds afar,
The horrific signal of religious war.
Roused by the lengthen'd blast, a ruthless band
Deal wild destruction round the frighted land.

Lo! wandering in the dismal gloom of night,
The guiltless victim speeds his trembling flight,
While sounds of riot rend the troubled air,
With aching heart he marks the fiery glare,
Then thinks, with anguish, on his loved retreat
Of purest bliss, domestic joy, the seat;
Towards the dear spot he casts an anxious gaze,
And sees it sinking in the general blaze.

Thus wanders he [note: Dr. Priestley], the pride of human kind,
The daring champion of the free-born mind;—
Thus wanders he, to truth for ever dear,
In virtue's cause who knew not how to fear.
He, for whom learning op'd her amplest store,
Whom science taught on eagle wing to soar;
Pure as the precept from his lips that flow'd,
The friend of man, the minister of God;
He, dogg'd by priests, fell murder's destined prey,
Darkling and houseless speeds his weary way.

Oh! shame to Britons, whose illustrious sires
So sternly guarded freedom's sacred fires.
Oh! shame to those who, nursed in ease and pride,
Fain would forge chains for all the world beside;
Those who, in mean contraction of the mind,
Wish Freedom's blessings to themselves confined.

But vain their wish — earth hears the high decree,
"Be man enlighten'd, and be nations free."
France sounds the alarm, 'tis heard from pole to pole,
And wakes to action every generous soul.
In vain shall tyrants league their dogs of war,
The noblest work of human hands to mar;
In vain shall Priests, who mourn their gainful trade,
With devilish arts excite the mad crusade;
When freedom once has touch'd the human breast,
There will she settle — a perpetual guest.

Then, O ye scourges of the nations! say
What earthly power her glorious course shall stay?
What arm of flesh can subjugate the brave,
Whose dearest wish is "Freedom or the Grave?"
Sustain'd by hearts unknowing how to yield,
True to their rights, they dare the unequal field.
Proud tyrants fall before the patriot train,
While hostile myriads strew the ensanguined plain.

So when the Belgians fence the barren strand,
Trench on old ocean, and protrude the land,
The fretted seas in wild commotion roar,
And dash incessant on the usurping shore:
'Till, when black clouds the face of heaven deform,
And screaming sea-fowl shoot athwart the storm,
Uprouse the waves, and with concentred force,
Through the vast rampire urge their whelming course;
O'er the huge mass are spread the watery plains,
And not a trace of all its pride remains.