1792
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Humanity.

The Oracle (20 September 1792).

Mary Robinson


An irregular ode appealing for peace by Mary Robinson, who had latterly been dividing her time between Paris and London. The poem, signed "Laura Maria, September 17, 1792," was later published with the subtitle, "Written during the Massacres at Paris, in September 1792." This allegorical ode in eight stanzas is modeled after William Collins's Ode to Mercy, written half a century earlier on behalf of the defeated Jacobites. The central figure is the Fiend Despair: "All around him sad appears, | Stain'd with gore, and drench'd in tears; | Where'er the MONSTER bends his eye, | Beneath the fatal glance devoted millions die."

Headnote: "If we have not been hurried away, by vivid Passages of the purest Poetry, past the calmness of decision, we think the following is by much the best ODE of this Writer. The strength of her impersonations comes very fast indeed after Sackville's Induction to the Mirror for Magistrates, parts of which are better than any thing in Spenser.... In a similar spirit, are conceived the Famine and the Death of the elegant Laura. Will she allow us to recommend the above Author to her perusal?"

Capel Lofft: "This most admir'd Woman was born 17 Nov. 1758; and died 26 Dec. 1800. Rarely have her Beauty, her Genius, her Tenderness, Elevation of Mind, and Goodness of Heart, b een equall'd" Note to Laura (1814) No. DVI.

George W. Bethune: "There were in her day many admirers of her writings, though they have since sunk into comparative forgetfulness, and justly, as they are not characterized by merit sufficient to warrant praise" British Female Poets (1848) 85.

W. Davenport Adams: "Mary Robinson, actress and poetess (b. 1758, d. 1800) produced Poems (1775) and Lyrical Tales (1800). Her Works were published in 1806; her Memoirs, written by herself, in 1801" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 532.

Robinson's "Ode to Humanity" was followed a few months later by "A Fragment. Supposed to be written near the Temple on the Night before the Murder of Louis XVI" in Scots Magazine 55 (April 1793) 192.



OFFSPRING OF HEAVEN! from whose bland Throne
Thou bend'st with salutary wing,
Bearing the OLIVE Branch divine,
To grace Britannia's lucid zone;
Where, in calm majestic pride,
Her conqu'ring NAVIES proudly ride;
While ART and COMMERCE smiling join,
And to the favouring skies exulting PEANS ring!

Oh! bend thy flight, from pole to pole;
With balmy pinions swiftly sweep
O'er the dark and foamy deep,
Where the warring Billows roll;
Where, in shad'wy vestments clad,
Ghastly Visions, pale and sad,
Rising from their prison wave,
Seem their destiny to brave;
DESTINY severe and dire!
That spurn'd each tender hope away,
Each social gleam of mortal day,
And gave their dauntless Souls to War's insatiate IRE.

Now their dismal Chorus sounds
E'en to earth's remotest bounds!
"BEWARE!" it says, "MANKIND, BEWARE!
Sheath the Sword of Death, nor wage
War with Heaven's impending rage;
Nor rouse the furious FIEND DESPAIR!
Already see, by Fate unfurl'd,
His poison'd banner shades the world;
All around him sad appears,
Stain'd with gore, and drench'd in tears;
Where'er the MONSTER bends his eye,
Beneath the fatal glance devoted millions die."

O, BLEST HUMANITY! 'tis thine
To shed consoling balm divine
Wide o'er the groaning Race beneath;
And when fell Slaughter lifts her wreath,
Let the Laurel still appear,
Gemm'd with Pity's holy tear;
Let it moisten ev'ry bud,
Glowing, hot with human blood;
And when no crimson tint remains,
When no foul blush it's lustre stains;
Bathe with oblivious balm, the dread record,
Grav'd on the page of FAME by Gallia's vengeful sword!

Mark, O! mark the tented PLAINS,
Where exulting DISCORD reigns;
Flush'd with rage, her panting breast,
Her eye with ruthless lightnings stor'd,
She lifts her never-failing Sword,
With wreaths of with'ring Laurel drest;
By her side, in proud array,
AMBITION stalks, with restless soul;
Madd'ning VENGEANCE leads the way,
Her Giant Crest disdains controul;
Triumphantly she waves her iron hand,
While her red Pinion sweeps the desolated Land!

See! beneath her murd'rous wing,
Howling FAMINE seems to cling!
Feeding on the putrid breeze,
Her wither'd heart begins to freeze;
With sullen eye she scowls around,
O'er the barren, hostile ground:
Where once the golden harvest wav'd,
Where the clust'ring Vineyard rose,
By many a lucid streamlet lav'd,
Now the purple torrent flows!
She marks the direful change with curses deep,
While o'er the scene forlorn distracted Nations weep!

Where the tow'ring CITY stands,
Once a polish'd Nation's pride,
See, stern DEATH, with rapid stride,
Leads on his grisly bands!
The Infant's shriek, the Sire's despair,
Rend the sulphur-stagnant air;
Nought illumes the direful shade,
Save the poignard's glitt'ring blade;
All along the flinty way,
See the tepid River stray,
Foaming — blushing, as it flows,
While every Dome resounds with agonizing woes!

Haste, HUMANITY! prepare
Chains, to quell the FIEND DESPAIR;
Round pale VENGEANCE swiftly twine;
DISCORD bind, in spells divine;
Now where FAMINE droops her head,
REASON'S balmy banquet spread;
And where the blood-stain'd Laurel dies,
Oh! let the OLIVE bloom, THE FAVOURITE OF THE SKIES.

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