1794
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Botany Bay Eclogues III. John, Samuel, and Richard.

Poems, by Robert Southey. [Vol. 1]

Robert Southey


A singing contest in which a soldier and sailor describe the miseries of their respective professions. The judge's cynical commentary was excised in later editions.

Anna Seward to Thomas Lister: "The Botany Bay Eclogues are poetically good, however execrable as to moral. Some of them at least have the worst tendency, encouraging injustice of the state. Falsely imputed, surely, since, if there ever was a government in which honest industry might preserve itself form want, and the attendant temptations, it was that of England, till within these few years at least" 13 April 1797; in Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 4:330.

W: "The Botany Bay Eclogues are attractive from their novelty. They cannot be read without that melancholy pleasure, which the pen of Mr. S. seems peculiarly adapted to inspire. The first and fourth exhibit, with exquisite touches of pathos and sublimity, the misery of two wretched out-casts from society. The second and third have some portion of humorous dialogue, and contain just sketches of character and manners. Mr. S. appears to regard war, as the fruitful parent of corruption and crime, adding daily to the number of those victims who expiate their guilt in distant and hopeless exile" Monthly Magazine and American Review 1 (February 1799) 136.

George Kitchin: "Could anyone from the mere title alone escape the belief that these eclogues are burlesques? They were born in tears of anger at the misery brought about by a wicked social system. They contain some good writing. The feeling is never in doubt, and the picture he draws of besotted England with its drabs and recruiting sergeants, its eternal wars, and glory, and dirt, and misery, is worthy to be placed with Crabbe's best pieces. But over all hovers the suspicion of burlesque" Survey of Burlesque and Parody in English (1931) 190.



TIME, EVENING.

JOHN.
'Tis a calm pleasant evening, the light fades away,
And the sun going down has done watch for the day.
To my mind we live wonderous well when transported;
It is but to work, and we must be supported.
Fill the cann, Dick! success here to Botany Bay!

RICHARD.
Success if you will — but God send me away.

JOHN.
Ah! you lubberly landsmen don't know when you're well!
Hadst thou known half the hardships of which I can tell!
The sailor has no place of safety in store—
From the tempest at sea, to the press-gang on shore!
When Roguery rules all the rest of the earth,
God be thanked in this corner I've got a good berth.

SAMUEL.
Talk of hardships! what these are the sailor dont know!
'Tis the soldier, my friend, that's acquainted with woe;
Long journies, short halting, hard work, and small pay,
To be popt at like pigeons for sixpence a day!—
Thank God! I'm safe quarter'd at Botany Bay.

JOHN.
Ah! you know but little! I'll wager a pot
I have suffer'd more evils than fell to your lot.
Come, we'll have it all fairly and properly tried,
Tell story for story, and Dick shall decide.

SAMUEL.
Done.

JOHN.
Done. 'Tis a wager, and I shall be winner;
Thou wilt go without grog Sam to-morrow at dinner.

SAMUEL.
I was trapp'd by the Sergeant's palavering pretences,
He listed me when I was out of my senses;
So I took leave to-day of all care and all sorrow,
And was drill'd to repentance and reason to-morrow.

JOHN.
I would be a sailor and plough the wide ocean,
And was soon sick and sad with the billow's commotion,
So the Captain he sent me aloft on the mast,
And curs'd me, and bade me cry there — and hold fast!

SAMUEL.
After marching all day, faint and hungry and sore,
I have lain down at night on the swamps of the moor,
Unshelter'd and forced by fatigue to remain,
All chill'd by the wind and benumb'd by the rain.

JOHN.
I have rode out the storm when the billows beat high,
And the red gleaming lightnings flash'd thro' the dark sky;
When the tempest of night the black sea overcast,
Wet and weary I labour'd, yet sung to the blast.

SAMUEL.
I have march'd, trumpets sounding — drums beating — flags flying,
Where the music of war drown'd the shrieks of the dying;
When the shots whizz'd around me, all dangers defied,
Push'd on when my comrades fell dead at my side;
Drove the foe from the mouth of the cannon away,
Fought, conquer'd and bled, all for sixpence a day.

JOHN.
And I too, friend Samuel, have heard the shots rattle,
But we seamen rejoice in the play of the battle;
Tho' the chain and the grape-shot roll splintering around,
With the blood of our messmates tho' slippery the ground,
The fiercer the fight, still the fiercer we grow,
We heed not our loss so we conquer the foe;
And the hard battle won, so the prize be not sunk,
The Captain gets rich, and the Sailors get drunk.

SAMUEL.
God help the poor soldier when backward he goes,
In disgraceful retreat thro' a country of foes!
No respite from danger by day or by night,
He is still forced to fly, still o'ertaken to fight;
Every step that he takes he must battle his way,
He must force his hard meal from the peasant away;
No rest — and no hope, from all succour afar,
God forgive the poor Soldier for going to the war!

JOHN.
But what are these dangers to those I have past,
When the dark billows roar'd to the roar of the blast?
When we work'd at the pumps worn with labour and weak,
And with dread still beheld the increase of the leak,
Sometimes as we rose on the wave could our sight,
From the rocks of the shore catch the light-houses light;
In vain to the beach to assist us they press;
We fire faster and faster our guns of distress;
Still with rage unabating the wind and waves roar—
How the giddy wreck reels — as the billows burst o'er—
Leap — leap — for she yawns — for she sinks in the wave!
Call on God to preserve — for God only can save!

SAMUEL.
There's an end of all troubles, however, at last!
And when I in the waggon of wounded was cast,
When my wounds with the chilly night-wind smarted sore,
And I thought of the friends I should never see more,
No hand to relieve, scarce a morsel of bread,
Sick at heart I have envied the peace of the dead!
Left to rot in a jail till by treaty set free,
Old England's white cliffs with what joy did I see!
I had gain'd enough glory, some wounds, but no good,
And was turn'd on the public to shift how I could.
When I think what I've suffer'd, and where I am now,
I curse him who snared me away from the plough.

JOHN.
When I was discharged I went home to my wife,
There in comfort to spend all the rest of my life.
My wife was industrious, we earn'd what we spent,
And though little we had, were with little content;
And whenever I listen'd and heard the wind roar,
I bless'd God for my little snug cabin on shore.
At midnight they seiz'd me, they dragg'd me away,
They wounded me sore when I would not obey,
And because for my country I'd ventured my life,
I was dragg'd like a thief from my home and my wife.
Then the fair wind of fortune chopt round in my face,
And Want at length drove me to guilt and disgrace—
But all's for the best; — on the world's wide sea cast,
I am haven'd in peace in this corner at last.

SAMUEL.
Come, Dick! we have done — and for judgement we call.

RICHARD.
And in faith I can give you no judgement at all.
I've been listening to all the hard labours you've past
And think in plain truth, you're two blockheads at last.
My lads where the Deuce was the wit which God gave ye
When you sold yourselves first to the army or navy?
By land and by sea hunting dangers to roam,
When you might have been hang'd so much easier at home!
But you're now snug and settled and safe from foul weather,
You drink up your grog and be merry together.

[pp. 92-98]