1763
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Liberty: an Ode.

Christian's Magazine; or, A Treasury of Divine Knowledge 4 (April 1763) 186-87.

Rev. Walter Shirley


An allegorical ode in ten ten-line Prior stanzas. The poet travels in search of Liberty in courts and camps and rural games; he encounters a fair Lady calling herself Liberty in Love, who is revealed to be Vice. He meets a schoolmaster bearing a book of the Law, who informs the poet that the price of liberty is obeying its strict commands; the poet tries to obey, but "all was ill perform'd, and nothing right." He hears a voice, who enjoins him to drink from a translucid stream gushing from a rock, and at last discovers true liberty in growing faith.

William Woty (?): "Your publication of the following stanzas from a poem wrote some time ago (by the Hon. and Rev. Mr. Shirly, of Ireland) will much oblige many of your constant readers, and perhaps be of service to some, who have been so misled, as to mistake the most daring Licentiousness for that true Liberty, which is the birthright of the natives of Great Britain, and can only be supported by a proper and dutiful observance of, and obedience to, the laws of their country, and a just honour for their gracious and rightful Sovereign. Your's, W. W." Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (26 May 1769).

Samuel Austin Allibone: "Walter Shirley, Rector of Loughrea, co. of Galloway, Ireland, a cousin of the Countess of Huntingdon, was born 1725, died 1786. Twelve Sermons, Dublin; reprinted, Lon., 1763, (some 1764,) 12mo. He was the author of two poems — Liberty, an Ode; and The Judgment, — and some hymns, ('Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing,' is believed to be his,) and revised Lady Huntingdon's Hymn-Book, published in 1764" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 2:2088.

Walter Shirley (1725-86) was an Oxford-educated Irish Methodist, brother to the fourth Earl Ferrers, who in 1771 disputed the doctrine of good works with John Wesley. In some sense Wesley may be the "school-master" alluded to in the poem. Of all the allegorical odes to Liberty, this seems to be unique in developing a theological argument. In Zion's Trumpet (1798) the poem was anonymously reprinted with the note, "The Author wrote this poem just before his last return to his living in Ireland" 199n.



O'er hill, o'er dale, o'er mountains wide extent,
In quest of Liberty I fondly stray'd;
Still wander'd on, unknowing where I went;
Charm'd by report alone I lov'd the maid.
For oft in senates had I heard her name;
In pop'lous meetings oft applauded high;
And sometimes, speaking through the trump of fame,
Patriots had claim'd her for their near ally.
O tell me where's this wonder to be found?
Or lives she in the air? or dwells on fairy ground?

As late I sought her in a verdant grove,
A nymph approach'd and whisper'd in my ear,
"Give o'er thy search; see Liberty in love;
Give o'er thy search; the ready nymph is here!
By these distinguish'd names I'm far ador'd;
And all the gay, and all the young, are mine;
No rude restraint my spacious courts afford;
No peevish laws the loosen'd will confine.
Yet some, or dull of taste, or over-nice,
Spurn all these proffer'd goods, and madly call me vice."

She spoke; and now, presenting (as in play)
A fillet, fain she would have bound my eyes;
But I, impatient of secluded day,
Resisted warmly, for I scorn'd surprize.
When lo! three galling chains, before conceal'd,
Drop'd from her side, and, rattling, fell to ground:
Lust, Death, and Misery, on the fetters seal'd;
And each had fretted deep a ghastly wound.
And art thou Liberty? I, smiling said:
The sorc'ress, sore dismay'd, with conscious horror fled.

At court I ask'd, if Liberty were there?
The courtiers laugh'd, and ridicul'd her name:
Yet some had lov'd the visionary fair;
But solid gold had wak'd them from their dream,
In vain I sought her in the soldier's tent;
The slave of glory knew not where she dwelt:
Under her banners to the wars he went;
But ne'er her sacred influence had felt.
In cities much she's talk'd of, never found:
For av'rice drove her thence, and still maintains her ground.

In rural sports I pass'd a weary day;
Each jocund youth pretended she was there:
But cruelty, and noise, and wild despair,
Could ne'er prevail, if Liberty were near.
But oft Licentiousness her name assumes;
Her easy gesture, and her light attire:
And, mingling with the riotous, presumes
Lawless to sanctify her baleful fire.
Oft blazing forth amidst the giddy croud,
Treason she lead in hand, and ruin threatens loud.

A school-master I met, of brow severe,
Who held an ancient book he call'd the law:
Aloud he read with accent full and clear;
Prostrate I bow'd with reverential awe.
"All this, says he, you strictly must obey;
Nor dream of Liberty this side the grave.
Then, sternly viewing me, he went his way;
And left me, doom'd an everlasting slave.
How should I dare to disobey his will?
Or how should I, alas! such strict commands fulfil?

Bound by this law, I labour'd, wept, and pray'd
And tedious thought the day, and long the night:
Works left undone my conscience did upbraid;
And all was ill perform'd, and nothing right.
All weary and athirst I press'd the ground;
And almost wish'd life's fretful fever o'er:
When, to my ears, a more than mortal sound,
Soft, still, and sweet, this heav'nly message bore.
"Here lab'rer, here for ever quench thy thirst;
No second draught you need; sufficient is the first."

Erect I stood, and strait a rock I view'd,
From whence a stream translucid seem'd to leap:
Already were my spirits half renew'd;
And deep I drank, for oh! my thirst was deep.
What joy! what bliss, the potent draught convey'd!
No tongue can utter, and no heart conceive:
Light felt my bosom, and, as man new-made,
From this bless'd hour I but began to live.
All former years I wish'd to be forgot,
For all my former acts were one continu'd blot.

Now, from a neighb'ring mount, descending down,
Of angel form, I saw a smiling maid:
One hand a spunge, the other held a crown:
"And now behold true Liberty," she said.
"All your transgressions thus are wip'd away;
And this your growing faith shall well reward;
The genius of this rock thus bade me say,
The Saviour of my life, my mighty lord.
He gave me free to rove along the plains:
When death, and hell, my foes, he bound in lasting chains."

Then to my task, with giant strength, I flew;
And liberty my sweet companion went;
Care fled my breast, and toil a pleasure grew;
Light was the burden, and the yoke unbent.
From liberty I learnt due songs of praise;
From her each blissful moment to employ:
Loud to the west, my voice she bade me raise;
And wretches call to quaff immortal joy.
"Here, lab'rer, here for ever quench your thirst;
No second draught you need; sufficient is the first."

[pp. 186-87]