1814
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Carmen Triumphale.

Carmen Triumphale, for the Commencement of the Year 1814.

Robert Southey


Robert Southey, the new laureate, opens his Pindaric with a salute to his predecessors: "In happy hour doth he receive | The Laurel, meed of famous Bards of yore, | Which Dryden and diviner Spenser wore." The text of what is in effect a new year's ode rehearses the Duke of Wellington's victories in the Peninsular War. While Southey would break with the convention of publishing annual odes on the state of the nation, the convention of abusing the new laureate, which had begun with Whitehead, continued unabated. Not seen.

Lord Byron to James Wedderburn Webster: "I have been passing my time with Rogers and Sir James Mackintosh; and once at Holland House I met Southey; he is a person of very 'epic' appearance, and has a fine head — as far as the outside goes, and wants nothing but taste to make the inside equally attractive" 30 September 1813; Letters and Journals, ed. Rowland E. Prothero (1898-1901) 2:269-70.

Leigh Hunt: "Spenser was not Poet-Laureate; — the only poetical names, in the laureat-list, besides that of Dryden, are Davenant and Ben Jonson. Why did not Mr. Southey chuse to mention these? Dryden, who changes his opinions more than once, and who valued himself on being favoured by Charles the Second, does very well, but Spenser, who was a consistent man, and whose finest things were written in praise of temperance, — such things as his Sovereign need not have blushed to read, — what has he to do with the Laureat's recollections? — Now Davenant was a turn-coat as well as ladies' man, and Ben Jonson was a drinker, and either of these would not have been quite unexceptionable, (not that we mean to accuse Mr. Southey of being a gay fellow or a toper, but Davenant had a spirit, and Jonson could say a bold thing even to Courts), there is Skelton, Poet-Laureat to Henry the Eighth, would have done capitally Some persons therefore may be inclines to give a different reading to Mr. Southey's exordium, and perhaps the following will do instead: — 'In lucky hour doth he receive | The laurel, meed of bowing bards of yore, | Which Dryden and obscener Skelton wore, — | In lucky hour, and well may he rejoice, | Whose yearly task must be | Nothing at Court but what is right to see, | And have, for nothing but fine words, a voice; | Wearing bag-wigs and other princely raiment, | Glory to Kings, his song: — a hundred pounds, his payment!" The Examiner (16 January 1814) 42.

Francis Jeffrey?: "On the whole, we cannot congratulate Mr. Southey on Carmen Triumphale; — and, high as our expectations were, when we heard that he had 'forsworn thin potations, and addicted himself to sack,' we are now satisfied that this diet does not at all agree with his poetical temperament; and advise him to shake off his foolish bays, and return to his fresh water a speedily as possible. We think very favourably of his abilities, when his head is clear, and divested of these incumbrances; and promise ourselves much and frequent gratification from the sober use of his pen. We have read his spirited and honest Life of Nelson with very great pleasure; and only hesitate about making it the subject of a review, because we believe it to be already almost as popular as it would be our object to make it. We are delighted also to see that he has announced a Dramatic Poem; which we earnestly hope was written before he came to his Laurel and Butt of Sherry" Edinburgh Review 22 (January 1814) 454.

William Taylor of Norwich to Robert Southey: "Of the Carmen Triumphale, I admired most the sixth stanza about the Carmelite; there are others very fine; yet I thought the whole too long and the doxology too often repeated. How you have overcome your prejudices against military excellence! Time was, when in reviewing your Metrical Tales in the Annual, I abused the 'Battle of Blenheim' for its cowing tendency. It is not in everything that our opinions are beginning to diverge. You display correct taste in consecrating the New Year's Ode to the country, and to the sovereign the Birth-day Ode. Are you sure that Spenser wore the laurel?" 13 March 1814; in J. W. Robberds, Memoir of the Life and Writings of William Taylor (1843) 2:420-21.

Critical Review: "When Mr. Southey, 'in happy hour,' was appointed to the laurel, all the world was astonished. Critics of twenty years standing, with much gravity, expatiated on the operations of time, the mutability of man, and the poetry of the Antijacobin; while the vast body of people, who read birth day odes, waited with extraordinary impatience for the first courtly effusions of a converted muse. Fortunately for the bard, all Europe conspired to furnish him with a subject; and in consequence, Carmen Triumphale, for the commencement of the year 1814, by Robert Southey, Esq. Poet Laureate, with more than poetical punctuality, appeared on New Year's Day" NS 5 (February 1814) 203.

Christopher Lake Moody: "What a splendid aera is the present, for Great Britain! Never before did she stand on so proud an eminence in the estimation of the world; never was she so decidedly the arbitress of the fate of nations! Mr. Southey, having commenced his career of poet-laureate at a period so sublimely auspicious, and not being obliged to compose the usual New-Year's ode for recitation, is more than justified in expanding it into a Carmen Triumphale. To say the truth, he could not otherwise have so well expressed his own feelings as a warm patriot; nor have played up to the feelings of his readers. The poet-laureate of 1814 would have been unworthy of his office, had he not been animated by a glowing enthusiasm in decorating with poetic laurels the brows of our illustrious heroes, who, by their skill and valour, have foiled the ambitious prospects of a daring enemy; in congratulating Europe on the happy changes which have taken place in consequence of our generous interposition; and in depicting the bright prospects which are now opening before us" Monthly Review NS 73 (April 1814) 428-29.

Eclectic Review: "Since the time of Dryden, the Court has not bestowed the bays on any poet comparable to Mr. Southey. Warton alone deserved the name; and yet we have never felt that he was a poet of Nature's making, but such an one as any man of mind and study can make of himself by patient brooding within the walls of a college. A king is always a kind, a poet is always a poet. The actor who assumes the dignity of a monarch, however excellently he who may sustain it, is a monarch only while he is performing the part: as soon as that is finished, he returns into himself, or transmigrates into another character. But he who inherits a throne is, at all times, and under all circumstances, like poor mad Lear, 'every inch a king.' He, too, who is born a poet, is a poet in all things, in prose as well as in verse, in his greatest failures as well as in his most glorious performances. In every production of his mind there is a peculiar form of thought, habit of feeling, and done of expression, which belong to him exclusively, and distinguish him unequivocally from the man who merely loves poetry, and practises it as an art, — who is a poet only when he acts a poet's part. Mr. Southey is eminently a poet, in the first sense of the term as we have used it: Mr. Warton was one in the second sense. In his History of English Poetry, Warton is thoroughly the critic and the antiquary; he understands, admires, and loves his subject; but if he had never written a line of metre, we doubt whether he would have written a line of those three heavy quartos otherwise than as it is written. Southey, who busies himself with literature in every shape, whether he writes history, biography, criticism, romance, or 'Omniana,' inevitably shews himself to be a poet; for though he may occasionally be prosaic in his poetry, he is always poetical in his prose; we do not mean ostentatiously, or even meritoriously so, but that he treats all these subjects as no one but a poet would treat them. We therefore augur well of the laureatship during his reign; for though his periodical lyrics should be deemed tame in comparison with the choice themes of his heart, into which he as breathed his whole soul, they will still be of a character far superior to the feeble, cold, and insipid effusions of ordinary laureats, and possess more natural interest than the gorgeous pageants exhibited by Warton's Gothic Muse. It was a perilous experiment to take so long a first flight as the new Laureat had done in the Carmen Triumphale. We remember no precedent, except the late Mr. Pye's Carmen Seculare, on the commencement of the present century, of which we now recollect nothing but the first two lines, and that there were several hundreds equally energetic and sublime. 'Incessant down the stream of Time, | And days, and years, and ages roll.' In his attempt to give a poetical bird's eye of 'the deliverance of Europe,' from the time that Spain, aided by by Britain, unexpectedly made a stand against the usurpation of Bonaparte, and turned the tide of fortune against him, from the straits of Gibraltar to the shores of the Baltic, Mr. Southey has succeeded as well as poetical talent could be expected to succeed. Even Lucan's Pharsalia, (which, however, is rather an historical romance,) the patriotism overpowers the poetry: and what can be made of a chronicle in verse of modern warfare, of which the scene alternately lies in Spain, Germany, Holland, and Russia, and remains in neither long enough to make the reader feel at home in it?" Eclectic Review NS 1 (April 1814) 433-34.

Analectic Magazine [Philadelphia]: "We are more disposed to commiserate than to criticise Mr. Southey on this occasion. Every topic in the circle of his profession had been successively resorted to from 'his master Spencer' down to himself: they had all sung the same tune in its different changes till the permutation and combination of the eight notes were absolutely exhausted; yet a carmen nuptiale must be produced — and what could he do? We can only tell our readers what he has done. The prince and princess of Cobourg are placed in a convenient nursery; where they sit and receive successive lectures from personifications of Britannia, the British constitution, and all the numerous departments of English church and state. When the exhibition is over, — which by the way is the most monotonous imaginable, — he winds up his Lay with an envoy of 'go little, book,' &c." Analectic Magazine [Philadelphia] NS 8 (October 1816) 303-04.

The poem was answered by Edward Ruston in "Verses, occasioned by reading Southey's Carmen Triumphale" in the Liverpool Mercury and reprinted in the Monthly Repository 12 (April 1817) 243.



I.
In happy hour doth he receive
The Laurel, meed of famous Bards of yore,
Which Dryden and diviner Spenser wore, . .
In happy hour, and well may he rejoice,
Whose earliest task must be
To raise the exultant hymn for victory,
And join a nation's joy with harp and voice,
Pouring the strain of triumph on the wind,
Glory to God, his song, Deliverance for Mankind!

II.
Wake, lute and harp! My soul take up the strain!
Glory to God! Deliverance for Mankind!
Joy, . . for all Nations, joy! But most for thee,
Who hast so nobly fill'd thy part assign'd,
O England! O my glorious native land!
For thou in evil days didst stand
Against leagued Europe all in arms array'd,
Single and undismay'd,
Thy hope in Heaven and in thine own right hand.
Now are thy virtuous efforts overpaid,
Thy generous counsels now their guerdon find,
Glory to God! Deliverance for Mankind!

III.
Dread was the strife, for mighty was the foe
Who sought with his whole strength thy overthrow.
The Nations bow'd before him; some in war
Subdued, some yielding to superior art;
Submiss, they follow'd his victorious car.
Their Kings, like Satraps, waited round his throne;
For Britain's ruin and their own,
By force or fraud in monstrous league combined.
Alone, in that disastrous hour,
Britain stood firm and braved his power;
Alone she fought the battles of mankind.

IV.
O virtue which, above all former fame,
Exalts her venerable name!
O joy of joys for every British breast!
That with that mighty peril full in view,
The Queen of Ocean to herself was true!
That no weak heart, no abject mind possess'd
Her counsels, to abase her lofty crest, . .
(Then had she sunk in everlasting shame,)
But ready still to succour the oppress'd,
Her Red Cross floated on the waves unfurl'd,
Offering Redemption to the groaning world.

V.
First from his trance the heroic Spaniard woke;
His chains he broke,
And casting off his neck the treacherous yoke,
He call'd on England, on his generous foe:
For well he knew that wheresoe'er
Wise policy prevail'd, or brave despair,
Thither would Britain's liberal succours flow,
Her arm be present there.
Then, too, regenerate Portugal display'd
Her ancient virtue, dormant all-too-long.
Rising against intolerable wrong,
On England, on her old ally, for aid
The faithful nation call'd in her distress:
And well that old ally the call obey'd,
Well was that faithful friendship then repaid.

VI.
Say from thy trophied field how well,
Vimeiro! Rocky Douro tell!
And thou, Busaco, on whose sacred height
The astonished Carmelite,
While those unwonted thunders shook his cell,
Join'd with his prayers the fervour of the fight.
Bear witness those Old Towers, where many a day
Waiting with foresight calm the fitting hour,
The Wellesley, gathering strength in wise delay,
Defied the Tyrant's undivided power.
Swore not the boastful Frenchman in his might,
Into the sea to drive his Island-foe?
Tagus and Zezere, in secret night,
Ye saw that host of ruffians take their flight!
And in the Sun's broad light
Onoro's Springs beheld their overthrow.

VII.
Patient of loss, profuse of life,
Meantime had Spain endured the strife;
And though she saw her cities yield,
Her armies scatter'd in the field,
Her strongest bulwarks fall;
The danger undismay'd she view'd,
Knowing that nought could e'er appal
The Spaniards' fortitude.
What though the Tyrant, drunk with power,
Might vaunt himself, in impious hour,
Lord and Disposer of this earthly ball?
Her cause is just, and Heaven is over all.

VIII.
Therefore no thought of fear debased
Her judgement, nor her acts disgraced.
To every ill, but not to shame resign'd,
All sufferings, all calamities she bore.
She bade the people call to mind
Their heroes of the days of yore,
Pelayo and the Campeador,
With all who once in battle strong,
Lived still in story and in song.
Against the Moor, age after age,
Their stubborn warfare did they wage;
Age after age, from sire to son,
The hallowed sword was handed down;
Nor did they from that warfare cease,
And sheathe that hallowed sword in peace,
Until the work was done.

IX.
Thus, in the famous days of yore,
Their fathers triumph'd o'er the Moor.
They gloried in his overthrow,
But touch'd not with reproach his gallant name;
For fairly, and with hostile aim profest,
The Moor had rear'd his haughty crest,
An open, honourable foe;
But as a friend the treacherous Frenchman came,
And Spain received him as a guest.
Think what your fathers were! she cried,
Think what ye are, in sufferings tried;
And think of what your sons must be . .
Even as ye make them . . slaves or free!

X.
Strains such as these from Spain's three seas,
And from the farthest Pyrenees,
Rung through the region. Vengeance was the word;
One impulse to all hearts at once was given;
From every voice the sacred cry was heard,
And borne abroad by all the winds of Heaven.
Heaven too, to whom the Spaniards look'd for aid,
A spirit equal to the hour bestow'd;
And gloriously the debt they paid,
Which to their valiant ancestors they owed;
And gloriously against the power of France
Maintain'd their children's proud inheritance.
Their steady purpose no defeat could move,
No horrors could abate their constant mind;
Hope had its source and resting place above,
And they, to loss of all on earth resign'd,
Suffer'd, to save their country, and mankind.
What strain heroic might suffice to tell,
How Zaragoza stood, and how she fell?
Ne'er since yon sun began his daily round,
Was higher virtue, holier valour, found,
Than on that consecrated ground.

XI.
Alone the noble Nation stood,
When from Coruna, in the main,
The star of England set in blood.
Ere long on Talavera's plain,
That star resplendent rose again;
And though that day was doom'd to be
A day of frustrate victory,
Not vainly bled the brave;
For French and Spaniard there might see
That England's arm was strong to save;
Fair promise there the Wellesley gave,
And well in sight of Earth and Heaven,
Did he redeem the pledge which there was given.

XII.
Lord of Conquest, heir of Fame,
From rescued Portugal he came.
Rodrigo's walls in vain oppose;
In vain thy bulwarks, Badajoz;
And Salamanca's heights proclaim
The Conqueror's praise, the Wellesley's name.
Oh, had the sun stood still that hour,
When Marmont and his broken power
Fled from their field of shame!
Spain felt through all her realms the electric blow;
Cadiz in peace expands her gates again;
And Betis, who to bondage long resign'd,
Flow'd mournfully along the silent plain,
Into her joyful bosom unconfined,
Receives once more the treasures of the main.

XIII.
What now shall check the Wellesley, when at length
Onward he goes, rejoicing in his strength?
From Douro, from Castille's extended plain,
The foe, a numerous band,
Retire; amid the heights which overhang
Dark Ebro's bed, they think to make their stand.
He reads their purpose, and prevents their speed;
And still as they recede,
Impetuously he presses on their way;
Till by Vittoria's walls they stood at bay,
And drew their battle up in fair array.

XIV.
Vain their array, their valour vain:
There did the practised Frenchman find
A master arm, a master mind!
Behold his veteran army driven
Like dust before the breath of Heaven,
Like leaves before the autumnal wind!
Now, Britain, now thy brow with laurels bind;
Raise now the song of joy for rescued Spain!
And Europe, take thou up the awakening strain . .
Glory to God! Deliverance for mankind!

XV.
From Spain the living spark went forth:
The flame hath caught, the flame is spread!
It warms, . . it fires the farthest North.
Behold! the awaken'd Moscovite
Meets the Tyrant in his might;
The Brandenburg, at Freedom's call,
Rises more glorious from his fall;
And Frederic, best and greatest of the name,
Treads in the path of duty and of fame.
See Austria from her painful trance awake!
The breath of God goes forth, . . the dry bones shake!
Up Germany! . . with all thy nations rise!
Land of the virtuous and the wise,
No longer let that free, that mighty mind,
Endure its shame! She rose as from the dead,
She broke her chains upon the oppressor's head . .
Glory to God! Deliverance for Mankind!

XVI.
Open thy gates, O Hanover! display
Thy loyal banners to the day;
Receive thy old illustrious line once more!
Beneath an Upstart's yoke opprest,
Long hath it been thy fortune to deplore
That line, whose fostering and paternal sway
So many an age thy grateful children blest.
The yoke is broken now: . . A mightier hand
Hath dash'd, . . in pieces dash'd, . . the iron rod.
To meet her Princes, the deliver'd land
Pours her rejoicing multitudes abroad;
The happy bells, from every town and tower,
Roll their glad peals upon the joyful wind;
And from all hearts and tongues, with one consent,
The high thanksgiving strain to heaven is sent, . .
Glory to God! Deliverance for Mankind!

XVII.
Egmont and Horn, heard ye that holy cry,
Martyrs of Freedom, from your seats in Heaven?
And William the Deliverer, doth thine eye
Regard from yon empyreal realm the land
For which thy blood was given?
What ills hath that poor Country suffer'd long!
Deceived, despised, and plunder'd, and oppress'd,
Mockery and insult aggravating wrong!
Severely she her errors hath atoned,
And long in anguish groan'd,
Wearing the patient semblance of despair,
While fervent curses rose with every prayer,
In mercy Heaven at length its ear inclined;
The avenging armies of the North draw nigh,
Joy for the injured Hollander! . . the cry
Of Orange rends the sky!
All hearts are now in one good cause combined, .
Once more that flag triumphant floats on high, . .
Glory to God! Deliverance for Mankind!

XVIII.
When shall the Dove go forth? Oh when
Shall Peace return among the Sons of Men?
Hasten benignant Heaven the blessed day!
Justice must go before,
And Retribution must make plain the way;
Force must be crushed by Force,
The power of Evil by the power of Good,
Ere Order bless the suffering world once more,
Or Peace return again.
Hold then right on in your auspicious course,
Ye Princes, and ye People, hold right on!
Your task not yet is done:
Pursue the blow, . . ye know your foe, . .
Complete the happy work so well begun.
Hold on, and be your aim with all your strength
Loudly proclaim'd and steadily pursued;
So shall this fatal Tyranny at length
Before the arms of Freedom fall subdued.
Then, when the waters of the flood abate,
The Dove her resting-place secure may find:
And France restored, and shaking off her chain,
Shall join the Avengers in the joyful strain,
Glory to God! Deliverance for Mankind!

[Poetical Works (1844) 184-80]