A patriotic ode "written and recited by William Thomas Fitz-Gerald, Esq." "SPENSER, whom GREAT ELIZA could commend, | And all-accomplished SIDNEY call his friend" fills the position of honor in a conventional catalogue of suffering bards (Homer, Milton, Camoens, Spenser, Dryden, Butler, Otway, Chatterton). The patriotic declaimer then gets down to the real business of the evening, which is to steel the national will against the threat from across the channel. The patriotic tenor of this poem was typical of poetry read at Literary Fund dinners, not a little of which found its way into the newspapers, most frequently Fitzgerald's. He was a good friend of the proprietor of The Sun, John Taylor.
William Thomas Fitzgerald (later known as "the small beer poet") was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office whose patriotic effusions were ridiculed in the James and Horace Smith's Rejected Addresses (1812). Byron's English Bards and Scotch Reviewers begins, "Still must I hear? — shall hoarse FITZGERALD bawl | His creaking couplets in a tavern hall...."
Headnote in The Sun: "The following Poem made such an impression on the Audience, and was received with so much applause, that the Earl of Chichester paid an elegant compliment to the Author, and proposed that his health should be drank with 'four times three,' a proposal that was warmly and unanimously adopted by the Company."
Gentleman's Magazine: "Mr. Fitz-Gerald was one of the earliest and warmest supporters of the Literary Fund, founded by the late David Williams, for the relief of distressed authors, their widows, and children. Mr. F. first advocated the cause of that benevolent Institution at their anniversary in 1797; and those who about this period heard Mr. Fitz-Gerald recite his own compositions, and have witnessed the powerful effect he invariably produced, will agree with us, that Mr. Fitz-Gerald at that time stood unrivalled as a reciter of English verse. After this, for the long period of thirty-two years, Mr. Fitz-Gerald never omitted attending the anniversaries of the Literary Fund, and constantly favoured the Society with a poem and recitation. The spirit they infused into the company, and the consequent benefits to the funds of the Institution, were generally acknowledged. He wrote twenty-five original poems on the subject; and was considered not only as one of the most active, but also as one of the best friends of Genius in distress" 99 (November 1829) 472.
Ernest Hartley Coleridge: "William Thomas Fitzgerald (circ. 1759-1829) played the part of unofficial poet laureate. His loyal recitations were reported by the newspapers. He published, inter alia, Nelson's Triumph (1798), Tears of Hibernia, dispelled by the Union (1802), and Nelson's Tomb (1806). He owes his fame to the first line of [Byron's] English Bards, and the famous parody in Rejected Addresses" Byron, Poetical Works, ed. E. H. Coleridge (1898-1904) 1:297-98n.
As the revolving Sun, and genial showers
In leaf the trees, and renovate the flowers;
To plants long torpid vegetation yield,
And clothe in Nature's mantle all the field!
So this auspicious day returns to bless
Neglected talents pining in distress.
Genius, above the Hypocrite's disguise,
Who scorns by sycophantic arts to rise;
Who ne'er to servile Flattery descends,
To gain a Patron, or promote his ends;
Oft sees his brilliant prospects fade away,
Like glitt'ring ice-drops in the beams of day!
Age steals upon him with augmented care,
'Till Death at last relieves him from Despair.
Here letter'd Indigence, Decease and Pain,
May hope relief, nor find that hope is vain,
For the worst evils gifted minds endure,
'Tis yours, to mitigate, if not to cure;
And when, restrain'd, you have not to bestow,
Your hearts in sympathy weep tears of woe.
In ev'ry age, it is the Poet's fate
To have his worth acknowledg'd when too late—
And who a happier lot can hope to find
Than Homer, mendicant; or Milton, blind!
Thro' Greece the Prince of Poets begg'd his bread,
And barren Laurels crown'd our Milton's head!
While Camoens, Lusitania's pride and shame!
Starv'd that land which lives but through his fame:
Spenser, whom Great Eliza could commend,
And all-accomplished Sidney call his friend,
His Golden Dreams, and Fairy Visions past,
His Country left to die in want at last.
Urg'd by distress to write the servile rhyme,
The Muse of Dryden, nervous and sublime,
In Epic Verse had soar'd a loftier height—
But chilling Poverty forbade her flight:
Butler and Otway swell the mournful page,
And Chatterton — the vision of our age.
Thus nations to their Ornaments unjust,
Neglect them living, then enshrine their Dust;
Cruel, unwise, capricious in their plan,
They make an Idol, whom they starv'd a Man!
But slighted Genius shall repine no more;
Nor turn disgusted from the Miser's door;
For England's Heir a bright example shows,
Of power and will to mitigate his woes.
Perhaps some praise, some merit may be due
To that firm band, that persevering few,
Who to an honourable purpose just,
Will ne'er betray their delegated trust;
In public life this points the road to fame,
And well deserves the real Patriot's name—
Name still rever'd! though often misapply'd,
That Traitors fear, and Hypocrites deride!
The Muse, with ardent zeal, invokes thy power,
To warm each bosom, at this awful hour,
When Europe's Tyrant, Europe's strength unites,
Against our Monarch, and his People's Rights;
Against the Noble Swede, who still remains,
Free from the vile dishonour of his chains.
Britons united may the World withstand!
'Tis only Faction can subdue this land;
There, in the thoughts of all the Good and Wise,
Our Foe's sole hope, and all our danger lies!
When the winds whistle, and the billows roar,
To drive the lab'ring Vessel on the shore;
Do seamen then in private feuds engage,
And waste their time in enmity and rage?
Do little jealousies the Crew divide,
When Death rides ghastly on the foaming tide?
When round the Ship the elements conspire,
To sink in whirlpools, or to whelm in fire!
The Ship in danger, all contention ends,
One common peril makes them common friends;
A gen'rous warmth, and emulation glows,
And false ambition cannot make them foes:
Unaw'd by tempests, unsubdu'd by fears,
Through raging seas the watchful Pilot steers;
The Crew united every danger brave,
And the proud vessel nobly stems the wave!
True Patriots will forego, at such an hour,
The love of rule, and quenchless thirst of power:
For rival Parties have this truth confess'd,
That England is above all nations bless'd!
Where can man call, but near the British Throne,
His house his castle, and his mind his own?
Let us survey each prostrate Country round,
Where else can Freedom's sacred tree be found?
France, drench'd in blood, its shadow sought in vain,
Holland's enslav'd, and trebly shackled Spain!
The gallant Swiss for ever must deplore
Those happy scenes that bless'd their vales before;
While poor Germania, France, in fatal hour,
Seduc'd by treason, or oppress'd by pow'r!
And left to plunder'd Italy alone
Her Scorpion Sceptre, and her Iron Throne!
But could the Corsican this Land subdue,
Their chains are light to those he'd forge for you;
For England's freedom, wealth, and envied state,
Are the great objects of his deadliest hate.
Then let the spirit of the Isle appear,
Nerve ev'ry arm, and sharpen ev'ry spear;
Let civil feuds — disgraceful discord! —end,
Let ev'ry Briton be Britannia's friend!
To public love let private interests yield.
And Rich, and Poor, be ready for the field!
In strong fraternal bands when marshall'd there,
Can any man of England's Cause despair?
If such there be, let fear his tongue withhold,
Nor damp the patriot ardour of the Bold;
Let him remember, to his lasting shame,
The Hour of Danger is the Hour of Fame!
Our native free-born spirit is not broke—
Britons will never bear the Gallic yoke;
Like subject slaves endure the Tyrant's rod,
Betray their Country, and offend their God!
Perish the thought! — for England still shall be
Queen of the Isels! and Empress of the Sea!
And through degraded Kingdoms round her fall,
Her fame shall rise superior to them all;
Till Gallia's Tyrant shall with anguish own,
That Freedom makes impregnable her Throne!
There Britons serve the Monarch they revere;
While Nations crouch beneath the scourge they fear—
Let him then trample on a World of Slaves,
That Land defies him which commands the Waves!