1793
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Fragment. Supposed to be written near the Temple on the Night before the Murder of Louis XVI.

The Oracle (27 Feburary 1793).

Mary Robinson


Seven couplet stanzas (the first irregular) with the Spenserian alexandrine. Mary Robinson, never known for subtlety, pulls all the stops in a gothic description of the last hours of Louis XVI, who was guillotined 21 January 1793. The stanzas are replete with the imagery and diction of William Collins, a favorite with Robinson and the Della Cruscan poets (normally more sympathetic to the revolution in France). The poem is signed "Laura Maria."

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie: "At Paris she became an object of great interest, and was noticed by Marie Antoinette, who called her 'La belle Anglaise,' and gave her a purse netted by her own hand" The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most Eminent Persons (1832-34) 4:404.

Frances Burney to Charles Burney, 4 February 1793: "Madame de Stael, daughter of M. Necker, is now at the head of the colony of French noblesse, established near Mickleham. She is one of the first women I have ever met with for abilities and extraordinary intellect. She has just received, by a private letter, many particulars not yet made public, and which the Commune and Commissaries of the Temple had ordered should be suppressed. It has been exacted by those cautious men of blood that nothing should be printed that could 'attendrir le peuple.' Among other circumstances, this letter relates that the poor little Dauphin supplicated the monsters who came with the decree of death to his unhappy father, that they would carry him to the Convention, and the forty-eight Sections of Paris, and suffer him to beg his father's life. This touching request was probably suggested to him by his miserable mother or aunt. When the King left the Temple to go to the place of sacrifice, the cries of his wretched family were heard, loud and shrill, through the courts without! — Good Heaven! what distress and horror equalled ever what they must then experience!" Diary and Letters of the Author of Madam D'Arblay, ed. Austin Dobson (1904) 5:169-70.

John Aikin to an unknown correspondent: "The condition of France becomes every day more extraordinary; — a country without religion, without laws, without settled government, yet from individual ardor and enthusiasm capable of the most surprising and regular exertions, and never more formidable to its foes than at this moment. A very moderate degree of superstition would make one hunt through old prophecies to find a clue to events otherwise inscrutable, and many minds seem at present to look that way. It is however, perhaps, no superstition to suppose that this wonderful impetus, seemingly governed by no human principles, is an instrument in the hands of the Deity by which he means to effect some great purposes of overturning systems which cool reason is unable to master. And yet — I know not if the past experience of the world will authorise such notions of Divine Providence" 1793; in Lucy Aikin, Memoir of John Aikin (1823) 1:162-63.



Now MIDNIGHT spreads her sable vest
With Starry Rays light tissued o'er;
Now from the Desart's thistled breast
The chilling Dews begin to soar;
The OWL shrieks from the tott'ring Tow'r,
Dread watch-bird of the witching hour!
Spectres, from their charnel cells
Cleave the air with hideous yells!
Not a Glow-worm ventures forth,
To gild his little speck of Earth!
In wild despair Creation seems to wait,
While HORROR stalks abroad to deal the shafts of FATE!

To yonder damp and dreary Cave,
From black OBLIVION'S silent Wave,
Borne on Desolation's wings,
DEATH his poison'd Chalice brings!
Wide beneath the turbid Sky
Red REBELLION'S banners fly,
Sweeping to her Iron den
The agonizing hearts of Men;
There in many a ghastly throng,
Blood-stain'd Myriads glide along,
While each, above his crest a Falchion rears,
Imbu'd with TEPID GORE, or drench'd in SCALDING TEARS!

Beneath yon Tow'r (whose grated cell
Entombs the fairest Child of Earth,
August in MISERY as in BIRTH),
The Troops of PANDIMONIUM dwell!
Night and Day the Fiends conspire
To glut their desolating Ire!
IRE! that feeds on Human Woe;
That smiling deals the murd'rous blow!
And as the helpless Victim dies,
Fills with shouts the threat'ning skies;
Nor trembles, lest the vengeful light'ning's glare
Should blast their recreant arms, and scatter them to AIR!

Round the deep entrenchments stand
Bold AMBITION'S giant band;
Beneath, insidious MALICE creeps,
And keen REVENGE — that never sleeps!
While dark SUSPICION hovers near,
Strung by the dastard Scorpion — FEAR!
REASON, shrinking from her gaze,
Flies the scene in wild amaze!
While trembling PITY dies, to see
The barb'rous Sons of ANARCHY,
Drench their unnat'ral hands in REGAL blood,
While Patriot VIRTUE sinks beneath the whelming flood.

HARK! the petrifying shriek
Issues from yon TURRET bleak!
The lofty Tower returns the sound,
Echoing through its base profound!
The rising MOON, with play light,
Faintly greets the aching sight
With many a gliding CENTINEL,
Whose shadow would his sense appall;
Whose Soul, convuls'd with conscious woe,
Pants for the MORNING'S purple glow—
The Purple Glow that cheers his breast,
And gives his startled MIND a short-liv'd hour of rest.

But when shall MORN'S effulgent light
The hopeless Sufferer's glance invite?
When shall the Breath of rosy Day,
Around the infant Victims play?
When will the vivifying ORB,
The tears of widow'd Love absorb?
SEE! SEE! the palpitating breast,
By all the Weeping Graces drest,
Now dumb with grief — now raving wild,
Bending o'er each with'ring Child,
The ONLY Treasures spar'd by savage Ire,
The fading SHADOWS of their MURDER'D SIRE!

OH! FANCY, spread thy pow'rful wing,
From HELL'S polluted confines spring—
Quit, quit the Cell where Madness lies,
With wounded breast and staring eyes!
RUTHLESS FIENDS have done their worst,
They triumph in the DEED ACCURS'D!
See, her veil OBLIVION throws
O'er the last of Human Woes;
The ROYAL STOLE, with many a crimson stain,
Closes from every eye the scene of pain,
While from afar the WAR SONG dins the ear,
And drowns the dying groan which ANGELS WEEP TO HEAR!

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