1794
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Botany Bay Eclogue. Elinor.

Morning Chronicle (18 September 1794).

Robert Southey


A blank-verse pastoral monologue, not signed. Elinor is the first of four times-of-day eclogues written in 1794 and collected in 1797. The speaker recalls her happy youth and feels shame at the prostitution that led to transportation; she resolves to make a new life in a new world: "What, tho' the garb of Infamy I wear— | Tho', day by day, along the echoing beach, | I call the wave-wash'd shells: yet, day by day, | I gain in honesty the scanty food, | And lay me down at night to calm repose—" Robert Southey develops a deliberately plain style in this cycle of poems concerned with the suffering empire imposes upon simple provincials. As the poet predicted, the Botany Bay Eclogues became popular; "Elinor" was widely reprinted in British and American periodicals.

A number of pastorals had dealt with the theme of exile, beginning with Virgil's first eclogue. One source source for the narrative may be Goldsmith's The Deserted Village, though such stories were very common. George Wither had written prison-eclogues, though altogether different in character from these repentant murmurs. William Haller improbably suggests John Gay's Shepherd's Week as the source, The Early Life of Robert Southey (1917) 76. More likely, Southey had been reading Edward Rushton's West-Indian Eclogues (1787), which have strong affinities stylistically and politically with the Botany Bay Eclogues. But source-hunting is not likely to prove particularly helpful: Southey assimilates a whole tradition of eighteenth-century pastoral, thematically and stylistically, bringing the "realist" mode begun in English with Ambrose Philips to something like fulfillment. The plaintive tone of the Botany Bay eclogues sounds the authentic Spenserian note.

Robert Southey to Grosvenor C. Bedford: "My Triumph of Woman is manufactured into a tolerable poem. My Hymn to the Penates will be the best of my minor pieces. The B. B. Eclogues may possibly become popular" 21 November 1796; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 1:297.

John Aikin: "As lyric compositions are not the author's favourites, we shall say nothing of two Birth-day Odes, but proceed to a theme perfectly novel, the Botany-bay Eclogues. The sort of music, which the touch of genius can draw from this wild instrument, will appear from the following specimen; — which, we presume, will move some concordant strings in every feeling heart: 'Once more, to daily toil — once more to wear | The weeds of infamy [...]" Monthly Review NS 22 (March 1797) 299.

Nathan Drake: "A poet of fine imagination, and great pathetic powers, has lately presented us with Botany-Bay Eclogues, a subject fruitful in novelty both of scenery and character; nor has he failed strongly to interest our feelings. In Elinor, the first of his four eclogues, he has more particularly availed himself of the peculiar features of the country" Literary Hours (1798, 1800) 1:341.

A number of verbal changes were made to Elinor when the eclogues were gathered, and again in the collected Works. A fifth Botany Bay eclogue was printed in The Monthly Magazine 5 (January 1798) 41.



TIME — MORNING. SCENE — THE SHORE.

Once more to daily toil; — once more to wear
The weeds of infamy: from ev'ry joy
The heart can feel, excluded — I arise,
Worn out and faint with unremitting woe!
And once again, with wearied steps, I trace
The hollow-sounding Shore. The rippling waves
Gleam to the morning sun, and dazzle o'er
With splendour multifold, the breezy strand.
Oh! there was once a time, when ELINOR
Gaz'd on the op'ning beam, with joyous eye—
Undimm'd by guilt and grief; — when her full soul
Felt thy mild radiance, and the rising day
Wak'd but to pleasure. On thy sea-girt verge,
O, England! as my careless steps stole on,
How have mine eyes survey'd the blue expanse,
And mark'd the wild wind swell the ruffled surge,
And seen the upheav'd billows bosom'd rage
Rush on thge rock; and then my timid soul
Shrunk at the perils of the boundless deep—
And heav'd a sigh for suff'ring mariners.
Ah! little deeming I myself was doom'd—
Doom'd, by the tyrant voice of merciless Law,
To tempt the perils of the boundless deep—
A forlorn object, friendless, unbewail'd!

Why, stern Remembrance! must thy iron hand
Thus rive my soul? why calls thy cruel power
The fields of England to my streaming eyes?—
The joys which once were mine! E'en now I see
The lowly, lovely dwelling; even now
Behold the woodbine clasping its white walls—
And hear the fearless Redbreasts chirp around,
To ask their morning meal: for I was wont,
With friendly hand, to spread their wintry food—
Was wont to love their song, when hazy Morn
Streak'd o'er the landscape the chill hues of light,
And thro' the lattice oft I hung my head—
To view the snow-drop's bud; and thence, at eve,
When, soft and beauteous, sunk the summer sun,
Oft have I lov'd to mark the Rook's slow course—
And hear his hollow croak, what time he sought
The Church-yard Elm, whose wide-embow'ring boughs,
Full-foliag'd, half-conceal'd the House of God.
There, my departed father! have I heard
Thy hallow'd voice explain the wond'rous works
Of Heav'n to crying man. Ah! little deem'd
Thy virtuous bosom, that thy ELINOR,
Hard urg'd by want, should sink the anguish'd Slave
Of Vice and Infamy — the hireling prey
Of brutal appetite! At last, worn out
With famine, and the storm of guilt within,
Should dare Dishonesty, yet dread to die!

Welcome, ye savage lands! ye barbarous climes!
Where pitiless England sends her outcast sons,
I hail your joyless shores! — my weary bark,
Long tempest-tost on life's inclement sea,
Here hails her haven — welcomes the dull scenes,
The marshy plain, the briar-entangled wood,
And all the perils of a world unknown:
For ELINOR has nothing new to fear—
From fickle Fortune. All her rankling shafts,
Or venom'd with disease, or barb'd with scorn,
Have pierc'd her bosom; and the dart of Death
Has lost its terrors to a wretch like her.
Welcome, ye marshy heaths! ye pathless woods!
Where the rude native rests his drowsy frame
Beneath the shelt'ring shade; where, when the storm,
Rough-rolling through the sky, with biting force,
Benumbs his naked limbs, he flies to seek
The dripping covert; welcome, ye wild plains,
Unbroken by the plough! — undelv'd by hand
Of patient rustic; where, for lowing herds,
And ,for the music of the bleating flocks,
Alone is heard the Kangaroo's sad note—
Deep'ning in distance; welcome, ye rude climes—
The reign of Nature! for, as yet unknown
The crimes and comforts of luxurious life,
Nature benignly gives to all enough—
Denies to all a superfluity.
What, tho' the garb of Infamy I wear—
Tho', day by day, along the echoing beach,
I call the wave-wash'd shells: yet, day by day,
I gain in honesty the scanty food,
And lay me down at night to calm repose—
No more condemn'd, the mercenary tool
Of savage lust, while heaves th' indignant heart
With Virtue's stiffled sigh, to clasp my arms
Round the rank felon; and, for daily bread,
To hug Contagion to my poison'd breast:
On these wild shores, Repentance' saviour hand
Shall probe my secret soul, and cleanse its wounds—
And fit the faithful Penitent for Heav'n.

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