The Vision of Liberty. Written in the Manner of Spencer.

Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine 9 (Appendix, 1801) 515-20.

Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe

Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, an undergraduate at Christ Church College, Oxford, and one of the romantic era's more curious eccentrics, anonymously attacks the "Gallic savages" in 27 Spenserian stanzas. Sharpe, described as "the Scottish Horace Walpole," was afterwards a notable Scottish antiquary, and longtime friend of Sir Walter Scott. The poem is signed "C. K."

Sharpe's vituperative Vision of Liberty imitates Spenser's procession of the seven deadly sins in the fourth canto of the Book I of the Faerie Queene, with British sympathizers for the French Revolution cast in the leading roles. Sharpe wishes for Spenser's powers of description to paint the woes of Marie Antoinette: "O heaven! that I could sing | With Spencer's tongue, her spotless purity, | Her holy zeal." The opening stanzas are strangely reminiscent of Wordsworth's Spenserian stanzas in the Salisbury Plain MSS.

Author's note: "The insertion of the foregoing poem (which was never printed) into your entertaining and useful publication, will much oblige Your humble servant, C.K." 520n.

Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe to his mother: "My 'Vision of Liberty' I have seen in print at last, with many mistakes of orthography. I shall procure the number, and bring it to Hoddam when I have the happiness to see you. Tell my father that I must humbly dun him for some cash against next term, which comes in the space of four week" 1801; Sharpe, Letters to and from C. K. Sharpe (1888) 1:114.

W. K. R. Bedford: "During his residence at Oxford, two outlets for his genius were placed in his way. The first of these, through Canning ('a bachelor of the House' Oedes Christi), was his enlistment in the band of Anti-Jacobin writers. His first contribution was a poem entitled "The Vision of Liberty," written after the manner of Spenser, which may be found in the Anti-Jacobin Review, vol. ix. p. 515. It commences with an introductory description of ravaged and deserted France, over the wasted fields and ruined chateaux of which appears the towering brazen temple of the idol Liberty, supported by pillars of the bleeding heads of the victims of the Reign of Terror — three stanzas being dedicated to the memory of the Queen, the Dauphin, and Madame de Lamballe. Towards this shrine approach in procession, after the manner of the Court of Queen Lucifera ('Fairy Queen,' book i, canto iv.) the leaders of the English Whigs, headed by Fox. Mrs. Wollstonecraft Godwin and her spouse are not forgotten, nor is Peter Pindar, nor his special antipathy, the Irish devotees of liberty" Memoir in Sharpe, Letters to and from C. K. Sharpe (1888) 1:23.

Florence MacCunn: "Sharpe was destined for the Church, and in 1798 went up to Christ Church. In one of his letters he describes the place as "so full of noblemen at present that one's eyes require green spectacles to preserve them from the glare of the golden tufts among these peers. At Oxford he followed undisturbed the bent of his own genius. He ransacked the libraries, instinctively picking out historical memoirs, chiefly of the Stuart period, some in MS., some in obscure publications. At one time he was attracted to the idea of writing the Life of the Duke of Monmouth, a character for whom he confesses a "womanish fondness." ... The set with which Sharpe consorted did not court the society of the tutors. In 1812, writing to one who had been at college with him, he says: — "Things are much altered at Christ Church if tutors are admitted to the society of noblemen. The tufted set of my youth never thought, 'Dieu merci!' of such a thing. Their presence would have turned our wine and tea into tears, ... and our nobles did not like unpolished gems." It is difficult to recognise the Oxford of these later times in the life reflected in Sharpe's letters from Christ Church. The river is never mentioned. Those young gentlemen in silk stockings, pumps, muslin cravats, and fine blue coats did not row nor play games. It is odd that, though both an artist and antiquary, Sharpe never refers to the beauty of Oxford" Sir Walter Scott's Friends (1909) 139.

William Hazlitt, deploring the decline of radicalism in his essay on Godwin, likewise invokes Spenser: "Is the Modern Philosophy (as it has been called) at one moment a youthful bride, and the next a withered beldame, like the false Duessa in Spenser? Or is the vaunted edifice of Reason, like his House of Pride, gorgeous in front, and dazzling to approach, while 'its hinder parts are ruinous, decayed, and old?'" Spirit of the Age (1825) 34.

O wretched man, how long wilt thou refuse
Thy maker's favour, and his mercy great?
How long thy worldly happiness abuse,
And growl and grumble at thy present state?
Seeking accursed change both soon and late,
And newest modes allured still to try—
England, beware God's wrath to aggravate,
For foreign magic binds thy charmed eye,
And Liberty, sweet Liberty, is now the constant cry.

As on my couch in slumber's arms I lay,
A vision did my senses entertain;
Of late, me thought in France I miss'd my way,
Amid a columnless deserted plain;
No man or beast upon it did remain,
Swept off by Discord's wide destroying strife;
Ne planted fence, ne field of waving grain,
Marking the toiling farmer's busy life,
But ruin'd huts and castles, brent, were wondrous rife.

Yet on this plain, most goodly to behold,
Saw I a temple tow'ring to the sky,
The dome whereof was made of basest gold,
Most false, but yet most lovely to the eye;
And rotting pillars reareth it on high,
Of ghastly human heads, and clotted gore,
With dust, y'mixt the mortar doth supply,
While foulest birds still round this temple soar,
And filthy serpents hiss, and gaunt hyenas roar.

Among the herds that did the mass compose,
Three royal skulls were there — one of a king—
Meek saint, who never once revil'd his foes,
His bloody foes that him to scaffold bring:
One of a maid! — O heaven! that I could sing
With Spencer's tongue, her spotless purity,
Her holy zeal, in courts so rare a thing,
By lawless fiends condemn'd she was to die,
And sent, untimely sent, to seek her native sky.

The third I mark'd with melancholy eyes,
A female head, that once a crown did wear,
Cut off in life's full bloom, now low she lies,
The loose loves weeping o'er her early bier,
Nor Virtue's self denies a tender tear;
So young a creature, wonder not she fell,
And left the paths of chastity severe,
Debauched by a Court where lust did dwell,
Like treach'rous Circe, skill'd in many a witching spell.

The third I mark'd with melancholy eyes,
A female head, that once a crown did wear,
Cut off in life's full bloom, now low she lies,
The loose loves weeping o'er her early bier,
Nor Virtue's self denies a tender tear;
So young a creature, wonder not she fell,
And left the paths of chastity severe,
Debauched by a Court where lust did dwell,
Like treach'rous Circe, skill'd in many a witching spell.

Ah! where are now her gorgeous robes of state,
The glitt'ring gems that did her fairness deck?
The cringing nobles that on her did wait,
The high-born dames that kneeled at her beck?
Alas! a ghastly face, a bloody neck,
A simple winding-sheet is now her share;
Look here, ye proud ones, on this mighty wreck,
And learn what perishable stuff ye are,
From her poor mangled carcase, once so sweet and fair.

And on the ground there lay a murder'd child,
A piteous sight it was, and full of woe,
Who, when alive, by ev'ry art defil'd,
With poison, they at last did overthrow.
Wretches, who never ruth or conscience know;
O lovely flowret cropt by villain hands,
How will thy butchers dread th' almighty brow,
Arm'd with frowns, when each at judgement stands,
And God the meed of murder from his throne commands.

Then o'er the portal was this motto plac'd,
"The house of liberty," in gold y'writ,
And, ven'tring in, I stood like one amaz'd,
Such sights of horror on my heart-strings smit,
There Infidelity, in moody fit,
Hugg'd Suicide — there Rage, and deadly Fears,
There Lechery, with goatish leer did sit,
And Murder, quaffing up his victim's tears,
With thousand other crimes, too foul for human ears.

In mid the house an image stood in state,
Like to Voltaire in visage and in shape,
Wither'd, his heart with fellest rage and hate,
Shrivell'd and lean his carcase like an ape:
And num'rous crowds upon the same did gape,
As he all-naked stood to every eye;
Above an altar covered with crape,
And formed of his books one might descry,
Prophane and lewd it was, and cramm'd with many a lie.

And still from 'neath the altar roar'd he,
As from a bull lowing in cavern deep,
"Come worship me, O men, come worship me;
Spit on the cross, of Jesus take no keep,
I promise you an everlasting sleep;
The soul and body both shall turn to clay;
Ye penitents, why do ye sigh and weep?
Let no damnation's terrors you affray,
Come learn my lore that drives all foolish fears away."

Then in tumultuous haste a number came
To this foul fiend, their homage base to pay,
Fighting which should be first; O fie for shame!
To kiss him on a part I shall not say.
And wonder strange their 'haviour and array,
As riding upon beasts they hasted on,
My feeble pen cannot the whole portray,
Yet will I chronicle each leading one,
A tedious task, in truth, would heaven that it were done.

The first appeared like to Sathanas,
Yet had the daemon neither hoof nor horn,
And lo, his bold unblushing front of brass
A crown of pikes and poinards did adorn.
His garments fouly all were patched and torn,
And in his hand he held a begging-box,
Whining for charity, like one forlorn,
And farthings asking. O most cunning fox,
Full craftily he knew to cant and eke to coax.

His coat was divers colours, red, white, blue,
And he was riding on a filthy swine,
And oft would ope his beastly mouth to spue,
In that same cup, from whence he drank his wine.
Behind him sat a lusty concubine,
Whom still he kiss'd with wine-distained lip:
Painted she was, and deckt in taudry fine,
Her eye well skill'd the wanton wink to tip,
And hand from doting men their gold away to slip.

Next came that cursed felon Thomas Paine,
Mounted upon a tiger fierce and fell;
And still a shower of blood on him doth rain,
With tears that from the eyes of widow's well;
Loud in his ears the cries of orphans yell;
The axe impending o'er his head alway,
While devils wait to catch his soul to hell,
The knave is fill'd with anguish and dismay—
And anxious round he looks, even straws to him affray.

The saw I mounted on a braying ass,
William and Mary, sooth, a couple jolly;
Who married, note ye how it came to pass,
Although each held that marriage was but folly?
And she of curses would discharge a volley
If the ass stumbled, leaping pales or ditches:
Her husband, sans-culottes, was melancholy,
For Mary verily would wear the breeches—
God help poor silly men from such usurping b—s.

Whilom this dame the Rights of Women writ,
That is the title to her book she places,
Exhorting bashful womankind to quit
All foolish modesty, and coy grimaces;
And name their backsides as it were their faces;
Such licence loose-tongued liberty adores,
Which adds to female speech exceeding graces;
Lucky the maid that on her volume pores,
A scripture, archly fram'd, for propagating w—s.

William hath penn'd a waggon-load of stuff,
And Mary's life at last he needs must write,
Thinking her whoredoms were not known enough,
Till fairly printed off in black and white.—
With wondrous glee and pride, this simple wight
Her brothel feats of wantonness sets down,
Being her spouse, he tells, with huge delight,
How oft she cuckolded the silly clown,
And lent, O lovely piece! herself to half the town.

Then came Maria Helen Williams Stone,
Sitting upon a goat with bearded chin:
And she hath written volumes many a one;
Better the idle jade had learnt to spin—
Dearly she loves a philanthropic sin
Call'd fornication — and doth it commit;
Nor careth she for modesty a pin,
And laughs at Satan and the burning pit;
Ah! dame! belike one day you'll know the truth of it.

Next mounted on a monster like a louse,
With parchments loaded, came a man of law,
Sprung from an ancient Caledonian house,
Cunningly could he quibble out a flaw:
And this sage man could chatter like a daw,
To prove the moon green cheese, and black, pure white,
Spitting out treason from his greedy maw;
To breed sedition was his chief delight,
And scratch men's scabs to ulcers still with all his might.

Then on an Irish bull of skin and bone,
A foul churb rode, who still a harp would strum,
A harp Hibernian, stringless, saving one
Well tun'd to harsh sedition's growling hum:
He hit the bull on which he had his bum,
Full many a bitter band, nor gave him rest—
Dealing his blows on Teague's that round him come,
Grieving the while for man and brute oppress'd,
Chaunting the Irish howl, abhorr'd of man and beast.

O Ireland, spot accurs'd! — tho' glorious fair,
Shines there the sun, the flowers enamell'd blow.
And scent, with fragrance sweet, the balmy air,
Rippling the gliding pools that softly flow:
No noxious reptile there to man a foe
Abides — but black revenge with cautious plan,
Cool-blooded cruelty with torments slow,
Springs rank; with weeds the goodly soil's o'er-ran,
And all the reptile's venom rankles in the man.

Then in a gorgeous car of beaten gold,
Drove on a portly man, of mighty rank,
A person comely, of extraction old:
But carrion-like, his reputation stank:
Sly was the wight with crafty quip and crank,
To cram with glittering coin his bursting bags;
Yet whilom taxing-men play'd him a prank,
By catching in their traps some stray'd nags,
And eke some livery slaves, in miser's livery rags.

Then on a turtle came proud London's Mayor,
Follow'd by Aldermen, a frowsy crew,
Strong smelling of Cheapside, and luscious fare,
Yet apoplexy made his followers few.
Long antlers on the head of each man grew,
So that they seem'd a host of moving horn;
Anon as on they came they'd mump and chew,
Stuffing their guts from dawning of the morn,
Till shades of evening fell — for eating only born.

On a cock sparrow fed with Spanish flies,
A swilling Captain came, with liquor mellow,
And still the croud in hideous uproar cries,
"Sing us a bawdy song thou d—d good fellow."
Incontinent he sets himself to bellow,
And shouts with all the strength that in him lies:
The Citizetts exclaim "he's sans pareille O!"
The Citizens in raptures roll their eyes,
And drink, with leathern ears, the fool's lewd ribaldries.

On came these wights, and many more beside,
Thick as the grains of sand upon the shore,
Thick as a swarm of flies in summer tide,
That on a dunghill hive and hover o'er:
Most had their hides all scall'd, their trowses tore;
Many sans-breaches, shameless trudg'd along,
And many a noble knave and titled w—e,
With Irish bog-trotters would crowd and throng,
Carolling catches base, and filthy French Chanson.

Like roaring waves they cover'd all the plain;
And tho' equality they still requir'd,
Each cudgell'd sore his breast with might and main,
Each to get foremost ardently desir'd.
Some fell into the dirt, and foul were mir'd,
The rest rode over them and took no head.
Their yells, with patriotic ardour fir'd,
So made my flesh to quake with very dread,
That Morpheus left my couch, and all the vision fled.

[pp. 515-20]