Ten Prior stanzas addressed to the Duke of Cumberland (who in 1746 had defeated the forces of the Pretender at Culloden). Minorca, in the western Mediterranean, had been a strategic part of the British Empire since 1708. William Blakeney (1672-1761) heroically defended the island against the French until he was compelled to surrender for want of reinforcements; he was made an Irish peer. Admiral Byng, sent to relieve the garrison, was less fortunate: being made the scapegoat for the debacle, he was executed by firing squad 14 March 1757. Among those fanning the public malice against Byng was David Mallet, who is said to have received a pension for his efforts.
In Free's poem the ghost of Hannibal's brother appears to Blakeney to draw a parallel with Carthage, ruined by pursuing a commercial policy when war was called for. The Rev. Free's advice was taken; in the Seven-Year's War, begun in 1756, vast territories were acquired by Britain. The stanza and some archaic diction recall Matthew Prior's Ode to the Queen (1706), written for a happier occasion. Henry Dill wrote a tragedy, "Minorca," on this subject in 1756.
Author's note: "I am sorry to find that in some late Speeches the English have been considered as a People fitted for Trade only. One would be glad to know how they came so suddenly to degenerate from their Forefathers. This Alteration can never be in the Genius of the People: It must rather proceed from the Artifice of some of the pacific Managers" p. 8n.
Horace Walpole: "Sixteen thousand French had landed there without opposition: no part of the island, indeed was capable of defence, but Fort St. Philip. The inhabitants received the invaders even with alacrity, though their privileges had been preserved under the English Government, and though they enjoyed all the folly of their religion without the tyranny of it. The Jews and Greeks established there behaved with more gratitude: of the natives, sixteen only adhered to the English" 1756; in Memoirs of the Reign of King George II (1847) 2:209-10.
Samuel Austin Allibone: "John Free, D.D., Vicar of East Croker, Somersetshire. Sermons, Poems, &c. 1739-86." Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:636.
After his death in 1791 papers was found among Dr. Free's an epitaph expressing great bitterness towards the church and government for failing to promote their tireless servant the author; the Latin poem and English translation were published in the Gentleman's Magazine and must have struck a chord with more than a few readers.
To you, brave PRINCE, I whilom tun'd my Song,
When o'er old Pictland's bleak and steep Ascents,
You fought the Gallick Foe, and Rebel Throng,
Whose mingled Force portended great Events:
Till your right-trusty, and well-temper'd Sword,
Out-drawn by Victory, and by her upheld,
As Justice gave the Death-dispensing Word,
Mow'd the thick Harvest of the bloody Field,
Then! — each surviving Felon fled dismay'd,
And GALLIA's Trophies at your Feet were laid.
Not now triumphant, but in Fear of Thrall
See thy lov'd Country, see BRITANNIA weep,
By Treach'ry humbled to th' insulting Gaul
By Treach'ry — now scarce MISTRESS of the DEEP:
Hard Terms and new! and never to be borne
While on the English Throne thy SIRE shall sit,
Shall HE and BRITAIN be expos'd to Scorn?
Who us'd on Glory's lofty Top to greet?
No! die the secret Authors of these Harms,
These civil Traitors, worse then those in Arms.
SUBJECT and PRINCE! our Lot, as Subject, feel,
Our publick Woe, our deep-imprinted Shame:
As PRINCE, uphold the sinking common Weal,
And vindicate thy Royal Father's Fame.
Apt once for Arms, and train'd to martial Deeds
Ten thousand-thousand English on thee wait;
If chance thy habil Wisdom do succeeds
To drive these Caitiff from the Palace-Gate,
To free our Sovereign from each Carpet-Knight,
And let his People for their Parent fight.
For where a FONDNESS for corrupting Gold
The Heart of Man ambitious doth infect;
Each Trust is doubtful, and all Duty sold;
And those betray the State who should protect:
Whether from Foes they hope some better Meed,
For all the Deeds of Treason they can boast;
Or doom'd by Fate in Folly to exceed,
They look to save themselves, tho' ALL be lost;
Such Moon-struck Counsellors forever bring
Toil to a LAND, and Danger to a KING.
See yon good LEADER, mark'd with Age and Scars,
Propping his feeble Footsteps with his Lance,
Wrapt in deep Thought, amidst the Din of Wars,
By Moonlight, tow'rds the gleaming Waves advance.
Why comes he? but some Succours to descry,
For sore his Castle by the Foe is prest:
Yet ah! in vain he rolls his haggard Eye,
His hopeless State is not to be redress'd;
He sighs indignant, and in Grief returns,
Tho' still his Thunders roar, and all the Welkin burns.
Hard Fate, that no such Efforts can avail,
Whole Armies of the Foe come pouring on:
If once again they should attempt to scale,
Not VICTORY alone; but ALL is gone.
His worn-out Soldiers now with Cause complain
Of Blood mispent, and long-defrauded Hope:
"By England not by Us," they cry amain
"This Fort, — this Work of Years — is yielded up."
Their Leader heard them — Sorrow shook his Head,
And Anguish sunk him, heart-sick, on his Bed.
Here while he lay, as some record the Tale,
In visionary Trance, or broken Sleep,
There seem'd an antique Figure stern and pale
To rise from the Mists, that hover'd o'er the Deep;
"This Place," it said, "so many Ages known,
And now the Monument of Blakeney's Fame,
I first explor'd; the Title is my own:
For Carthaginian MAGO was my Name.
I come my Brother's Story to relate:
So like to Hannibal's is Blakeney's Fate.
"As now MINORCA, Brutium once was lost:
For Hanno's Faction govern'd all at Home,
Averse to Wars they drew him from his Post,
And HANNIBAL by Hanno was o'ercome:
To this the Fall of CARTHAGE we may place.
Our Tyrian COLONIES were Traders all,
In WAR they purchas'd AIDS; then purchas'd Peace,
And thought the World would follow Money's Call:
No native Troopos, the while, their Wealth secur'd,
Nor longer than they paid, their foreign Strength endur'd.
So when the Romans came, by Action bold,
How did our puny Shops and Streets resound?
Just like the helpless Bleatings of the Fold,
When the Getulian Lion stalks around.
But better Fate attends your native Land,
Her ample Soil a numerous Race supplies;
Sufficient both for Traffick and Command,
A Nation fam'd for earning Victories.
E'en now see WILLIAM waft his Levies o'er,
And Normanby submit to Fance no more.
Brave VERNON Wonders shall again atchieve,
This Isle regretted ne'er shall France obey,
Your Glory sunk by Byng shall HAWKE retrieve;
And friendly CORSICA the Loss repay."—
He spoke and plung'd into his antient Berth;
Hoarse Thunder shook the Balearick Shore,
The Turrets totter'd, and the rocking Earth
Gave each French Heart Presage of Woe in Store.
But Blakeney 'woke and smil'd, assur'd that YOU,
Illustrious PRINCE, would make the Vision true.