118 Spenserians: Bernard Barton presents Quaker reflections on Napoleon, the wars, and God's Providence: "Let us awhile but soberly reflect | On rules that guide opinions of our own, | When we or hope for good, or ill expect, | And in another's fault, our folly we detect" p. 11. The poem opens with a description of an English landscape, and proceeds with a scriptural defense of pacifism. The second half begins with a long description of domestic happiness laid waste by war. There follows a character of Napoleon and further objections to warfare and statecraft; the death of the Emperor in exile, like the fall of Babel, is a standing lesson to all.
Bernard Barton to Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen: "The Napoleon has not yet of course excited much notice, nor do I anticipate much for it — But I am willing to hope that the Volume altogether will not ultimately discredit me in the estimation of those whom I most wish to please — The Literary Gazette seems to regard its leading Poem as a sort of Homily in Verse, and Sir Richard Phillips, or his Critic in the Monthly Magazine, calls it a Politico-Religious Poem, written for the purpose of inculcating those peaceable principles of which Napoleon WAS the friend, and which the Quakers PROFESS. All this is very well — and has not surprized, or very seriously disconcerted me. I wrote to Sir Richard, tho' wishing to be allowed briefly to comment on his Critic's notice in the next No. of his Magazine — Of course openly and in my own Name. Sir Richard prefers it being done by proxy, so I sent a Note to John Bowring and thy Brother [Alaric Alexander] Watts" 10 May 1822; in Literary Correspondence, ed. James E. Barcus (1966) 53-54.
Robert Southey to Bernard Barton: "You will not like Buonaparte the better, perhaps, if I confess to you that, had it not been for him, I should perhaps have assented to your general principle concerning the unlawfulness of war, in its full extent. But when I saw that he was endeavouring to establish a military despotism throughout Europe, which, if not successfully withstood abroad, must at last have reached us on our own shores, I considered him as a Philistine or a heathen, and went for a doctrine applicable to the times, to the books of Judges and of Maccabees. Nevertheless, I will fairly acknowledge that the doctrine of non-resistance connected with non-obedience is the strongest point of Quakerism. And nothing can be said against it but that the time for the general acceptance is not yet come. Would to God that it were nearer than it appears to be!" 18 May 1822; in Barton, Memoir, Letters, and Poems (1850) 165-66.
Literary Chronicle: "The poem, which consists of nearly a hundred and twenty stanzas, possesses much poetical vigour, beauty, and correct sentiment: Mr. Barton estimates the character of Napoleon with the feelings of a Christian, to whom the hero cannot appear a very attractive character, and with the reflection of a philosopher, who, tracing events to their causes, is less astonished at distinguishing success attending a man of daring enterprise than the million generally are" 4 (13 April 1822) 225.
Literary Gazette: "The design is most laudable, but we are of opinion that its execution offered too heavy a task for the most poetical mind to overcome. A homily in verse is an appalling performance; and pleased as we are with parts of this composition, we must confess that, on the whole, its languor, its ethical argument, and its lecturing enforcements, seem to us to be ill adapted for poetry. Yet the amiable mind and talents of the author have done much to reconcile us to his theme; and teach us, at least to esteem the writer and approve his means" (20 April 1822) 241.
Gentleman's Magazine: "Some fancy, some imagination, some feeling, are essential in poetry; but the two former ought to be pure, the latter natural and simple; and, if plain common sense be combined, and a vein of quiet, sober reflection, at times leading to devotional contemplation, be superadded (as in the Volume now under review), our beau ideal of a poet of the true old English school is made out" 92 (May 1822) 434.
Monthly Review: "On the whole, then, we think that this additional volume, if not calculated to add much to the poetical reputation of its author, will by no means detract from it, in the estimation of readers, who can be pleased with the exhibition of virtuous principles, and kind and affectionate feelings, expressed in simple and touching language. The great difficulty, as we have remarked on his former productions, which Mr. Barton has to encounter, is to prevent this simplicity from degenerating into a low, prosaic, and pedestrian style; like that which has infected the writings of almost all his associates in this novel line of composition, and which is the joint offspring of conceit and indolence" NS 98 (June 1822) 191.
New Monthly Magazine: "We think his Napoleon as a while, somewhat too tedious and deliberate for a poem. He weights Napoleon as in a balance, and our feelings refrigerate whilst he adjusts the scales. Moreover his reasoning does not always satisfy us; and though we cordially esteem the religious brotherhood to which he belongs, yet we are not converts to the Quaker doctrine of the total illegality of war, which he advocates. It is needless, either in prose or poetry, to introduce such a doctrine in conexion to the name of Napoleon. We condemn that hero for his lawless ambition, and not for his being a warrior in the abstract" 6 (August 1822) 364.
It was a lovely morning; — all was calm,
As if creation, thankful for repose,
In renovated beauty, breathing balm
And blessedness around, from slumber rose;
Joyful once more to see the East unclose
Its gates of glory: — yet subdued and mild,
Like the soft smile of Patience, amid woes,
By hope and resignation reconciled,
That morning's beauty shone, that landscape's charm beguiled.
The heavens were mark'd by many a filmy streak,
Even in the orient; and the sun shone through
Those lines, as Hope upon a mourner's cheek
Sheds, meekly chasten'd, her delightful hue.
From groves and meadows, all impearl'd with dew,
Rose silv'ry mists, — no eddying wind swept by,—
The cottage chimneys, half conceal'd from view
By their embow'ring foliage, sent on high
Their pallid wreaths of smoke unruffled to the sky.
And every gentle sound which broke the hush
Of morning's still serenity, was sweet;
The sky-lark over head; the speckled thrush,
Who now had taken with delight his seat
Upon the slender larch, the day to greet;
The starling, chattering to her callow young;
And that monot'nous lay, which seems to fleet
Like echo through the air, the cuckoo's song,
Was heard at times, far off, the leafy woods among.
Surrounded by such sights and sounds, I stood,
Delighted auditor, spectator there;
And gave full scope, in meditative mood,
To thoughts excited by a scene so fair:
Feeling renewedly how matchless are
The power and goodness of that GREAT SUPREME,
Who form'd and fashion'd all things to declare
Even to those who lightly of Him deem,
The beauty and the love of His creative scheme.
"And God beheld, and saw that all was good!"
Thus was it at the first; thus would it be,
If man would ponder rightly, as he should,
His duty, and deputed sov'reignty.
Nature pursues aright the course which HE
Prescribed, nor violates her Maker's will:
The mighty earth, and the magnificent sea,
The bright stars, in their courses, serve him still;
Beast, bird, fish, insect, all alike his laws fulfil.
Nor can rebellious man, however great
His aberrations from the simple line
Of manifested duty, violate
The purpose of Omnipotence divine;
Nor mar his blest and ultimate design,
With whom e'en angels fruitlessly have striven;
Whose word enjoins us, when we seek the shrine
Of prayer, to supplicate to be forgiven,
And that His will be done on earth as 'tis in heaven.
But though man's disobedience, by the skill
Of Him who rules alike effect and cause,
Bringing forth real good from seeming ill,
Unconsciously co-operate with those laws
That govern all; yet he who so withdraws
From duty's path, which leads to happiness,
Whether seduced from thence by Fame's applause,
Or by less noble motives, brings distress
Most surely on himself. — Who must not this confess?
And oh, how often that distress extends
To innocent suff'rers, whose delight, or woe,
By Heaven's appointment, with our being blends,
Happy, or wretched, as ourselves are so!
Even in private life, full well we know
That no man lives unto himself, nor dies;
But that around the humblest beings grow
Those flowers, or weeds, which every hour that flies,
Flings shade or sunshine on, and more augments the ties
By which the joy or sorrow of one heart
Is link'd unto another's: — and if this
Hold true of those who act a private part
Upon the world's wide stage, whose bale or bliss
But unto two, or three, of moment is,
By all beside unheeded, or unknown;
How is it proved when they decide amiss,
Tempted by lust of power, or pride alone,
Who wear the jewell'd crown, and fill the splendid throne!
Such thoughts as these, on that delightful morn,
Pass'd through my mind; partly deriving birth
From the unruffled aspect, sweetly worn
By Nature's features, in her chasten'd mirth;
Partly from tidings which had just gone forth,
That He, the marvel of our Iatter age,
NAPOLEON! who had seem'd to look on earth,
As does the actor on his scenic stage,
Had now fulfill'd his part, and closed his pilgrimage.
Nor did that hour and scene, so sweetly mild,
To me unfitted for such thoughts appear;
In the world's turmoil man may be beguiled,
Approving what might rather wake a tear:
The heart's best feelings, the soul's eye and ear,
Are deaden'd, blinded, deafen'd! party's spell
O'erclouds what else were questionless and clear;
Nor can we Judge aright, or reason well,
Of earth, or earth's affairs, while in its toils we dwell.
Would we appreciate truly even things
Of the world's converse daily, hourly theme,
And put them to the test time only brings,
By which posterity their worth will deem,
We must not judge of them by what they seem,
But what they are must for ourselves inquire;
See with what latent good or ill they teem,
Mark well what thoughts, what feelings they inspire;
And to do this we must into ourselves retire.
For 'tis not in the conflict, fierce and loud,
Of disputants, that truth is easiest gain'd;
Nor from the vague opinions of the crowd,
That accurate judgment soonest is attain'd.
These must be won by charity unfeign'd,
Discriminating thought, deep self-distrust;
By weighing well what time hath not explain'd,
And making that allowance truly just,
Which we ourselves should claim, were ours the case discuss'd.
Does the world do this? are its judgments form'd,
Its verdicts given, upon this sober scale?
Alas! too oft the judgment seat is storm'd
By passions, which make coward conscience quail;
Or sophistry, by her delusive tale,
Or zeal to prop some fair hypothesis,
O'er candour, truth, and justice will prevail,
Until "the worse, the better reason" is,
Or seem so unto us, through our own prejudice.
And thus, perchance, the conflict of opinion
Has ris'n respecting Him, whose ensign bird,
Before adversity had quail'd its pinion,
Nor sun relax'd, nor winter's snows deterr'd.
Where'er the rustling of its wing was heard
The nations sprang to arms, their senates met,
Debates ran high; for treaty some demurr'd,
While others on one throw the stake would set,
Cried, "Onward! to the field! Our arms shall triumph yet!"
Can it be strange, then, when brief breathing space
From fiercest struggle only has been known,
That widely diff'ring judgments should have place
In minds which unambiguously have shown
Or blame, or praise, from int'rest's source alone?
Let us awhile but soberly reflect
On rules that guide opinions of our own,
When we or hope for good, or ill expect,
And in another's fault, our folly we detect.
That they who in WAR'S stormy element,
And in its fiercer energies, can find
That excitation, rude and violent,
Which satisfies the unreflecting mind,—
That these should be to war alone inclined,
Is natural; and still more, if such a state
Of warfare with self-int'rest be combined;
'Twere strange, indeed, if these could hesitate,
Nor eagerly admire the mischievously great.
Nor is this all; for there exists in man,
In spite of better feelings, given to bless
And truer wisdom, what is good to scan,
An appetite, a craving restlessness,
And vulgar sympathy, (nor more nor less
Can truth regard it,) that extracts its food
From poison; and is touch'd by no distress,
Unless the sufferer in its presence stood,—
By which the warrior's tale is as a pastime woo'd.
Such must have moving accidents to stir
The current of their feelings; thought, with them,
Calm thought, is not the wise interpreter
Of noiseless deeds; the conqueror's diadem
Is sullied not, although its brightest gem
With innocent blood be stain'd: these ask not how
Was planted, water'd, rear'd, the laurel's stem
Which gave the wreath that decks their idol's brow;
They see it glitters there, and unto it they bow.
Again; Napoleon was not famed alone
For feats, of arms, or for that magic skill,
By which he made his hardy followers prone
T' obey his edicts, and effect his will.
In science, as in war, his name may fill
No common niche; though in the first he might
Be no profound adept, he wielded still
What he had won with that consummate sleight,
Which best might lure their praise who in her power delight.
Can we then marvel that a man like this
Should win the idle plaudits of the crowd,
Who reason little, and oft judge amiss,
In praise now lavish, now in censure loud?
Nor wondrous is it that some minds endow'd
With powers that should not have been so misled,
Forgot themselves; and to a splendour bow'd
Which was not truly glorious though it shed
A brilliant lustre round the conqueror's crowned head.
Reverse we now the picture; we shall find,
Or I mistake much, no less ample cause,
At the abuse and obloquy assign'd
Unto his name, at least awhile to pause,
And doubt the portraiture which passion draws:
The opposite of wrong, at times, may be
Not wholly right; and truth, and candour's laws,
Alike demand our judgment should be free
From bigoted applause, or baser calumny.
He who has rear'd his throne "upon the neck
Of Fortune proud," and who, in doing so,
Has made of human welfare wanton wreck;
Proving himself unmindful of the woe
Of countless millions; must not hope to go
Unscarr'd, and scatheless from the field of strife:
Power and injustice, by example, show
To basest natures, with resentment rife,
Some way to be revenged; and this, to such, is life!
The conqueror, therefore, must expect the meed
Of his own lawlessness: that is, he must
Not only bear the righteous doom decreed,
The condemnation of the good and just;
But even the renown he made his trust,
For which he barter'd honourable fame,
Will be denied him. Round the marble bust,
The graven tablet, or the portrait's frame,
A legend will be traced that charity must blame.
Not only will his real actions be
Grossly misconstrued, foully vilified;
But even darker deeds, perhaps, than He,
In his most wanton lust of power, or pride,
Ever contemplated, will be supplied
By fraud, or falsehood; till the portraiture
Be one from which his shade would turn aside,
Humbled to think how little to allure
Posterity is left; how much for pride to endure.
He has no right to murmur; for he set
Himself the example others have pursued;
By violating rights, without regret,
Which should with strictest reverence have been view'd:
But not less watchfully to be eschew'd,
By genuine charity, this foul disgrace,
Than usurpation's wrongs: a mind endued
With generous feelings rather would efface
A blot unjustly thrown, than such with pleasure trace.
These will not echo each opprobrious name
Which party spirit chooses to apply;
Nor give prompt credence to each tale that fame
May trumpet forth, unasking "how," or "why:"
Knowing how readily a specious lie
May even genuine worth calumniate;
And that the man, on whom the public eye
Is ever fix'd, in honour or in hate,
Must pay the forfeit due unto such high estate.
But is there then no medium? or, because
Napoleon's name alternately has been
A theme for indiscriminate applause
And fiercest censure, must we blindly lean
To either? Truth is, surely, found between.
And he who has not mingled in debate
With those who loudest talk when least they mean,
May, without erring widely, estimate
Napoleon's lasting claim to be consider'd GREAT.
True greatness is not won by POWER alone,
Even it that power be nobly, fairly gain'd;
But as its influence unto GOOD is prone,
The plaudits of the virtuous are obtain'd.
By this sure test alone may be explain'd
All genuine greatness; — it has made mankind
Wiser, and happier; it has never stain'd
Its fame by selfishness, but borne in mind,
That glory, to be true, must be with good combin'd.
GOD is not great because omnipotent!
But because power, in Him, is understood,
And felt, and prov'd, to be benevolent,
And wise, and holy; — thus it ever should!
For what HE wills, we know, is pure and good,
And has in view the happiness of ALL:
Hence love and adoration; — never could
The contrite spirit at his footstool fall,
If Power, and Power alone, its feelings did appal!
If then divinest power be truly so,
Because its end and object is to bless;
It follows, that all power which man can know,
The highest even monarchs can possess,
Displays alone their "less than littleness,"
Unless it seek the happiness of man,
And glory of the Highest; — nothing less
Than such a use of power one moment can
Make its possessor great, on Wisdom's godlike plan.
Thus judg'd, Napoleon was not truly great;
Because his actions to the world have shown,
In language which admits of no debate,
Self-aggrandizement was his end alone.
He us'd his power, as conquerors are prone,
And ever were, for selfish ends; and sought
To extend his sway, and fortify his throne;
Not by those gentler arts, with blessings fraught,
But by War's ruthless spoil, with blood and rapine bought.
I will not say that he had no excuse,
With those who judge by worldly policy;
But this can never justify the abuse
Of power, to Truth's discriminating eye:
All the apology it can supply
Amounts to this, alas! and little more;
"He did but do, as some, in days gone by,
Have done before him: it was thus of yore,
And will be so, howe'er the fact we may deplore."
This brings me, then, unto the main intent,
Which first inspir'd this unelaborate strain;
And, O! could I, by force of argument,
Or by appeal to sympathy, obtain
Even brief audience, surely not in vain,
Precepts, to which all Christians ought to bow,
Might be again declar'd: Messiah's reign
Of peace once more announc'd! "Assist me, Thou
Who worest, for our sakes, around thy patient brow,
"The thorny diadem! may thy meek Spirit,
Which all who bear thy name should, in degree,
By word and action, prove that they inherit
May this alone my inspiration be!
The glorious cause is THINE! for unto Thee
Was given, before thy sway on earth began,
A holy kingdom from contention free;
And angels thus announc'd its scope and plan,
Glory to God on high! peace and good will to man!
"Since Thou art fitly styl'd the PRINCE OF PEACE!
And unto thee all power by love is given,
So shed abroad thy Spirit, so increase
Its influence upon earth; that hearts, now riven
With angry feelings, which too long have striven
To injure, may each harsher thought disown;
And thy pure law of love, revered in heaven,
May be on earth in human actions shown,
Proving thy kingdom come, the heart of man thy throne.
"And unto them whose hearts anticipate,
With earnest prayers, thy pure and peaceful reign,
Give wisdom, meekness, zeal — to advocate
The good they hope for; patience to sustain
Its slow fulfilment; power to 'turn again
The battle to the gate;' that these, made strong
By Thee alone, may steadfastly remain
Oppos'd to every violence and wrong;
Seeking, by holy love, what Seers have promis'd long.
"And, on this feeble effort to extend
Thy gentle government and quiet creed,
May that pure blessing through thy power descend,
Which giveth good, and maketh wise indeed.
Suffer THY SPIRIT for itself to plead,
With its own energetic eloquence,
That some who these unstudied lines shall read,
May find them answer'd by that inward sense
Which gives awaken'd thought sublime intelligence."
His blessing crav'd, revert we to our theme,
And let us humbly ask ourselves, what right
The Christian has, upon the Gospel scheme,
To employ of force the all-unhallow'd might,
And wrong unmerited, by wrong requite?
My kingdom is not of this world, if 'twere,
The Saviour said, then would my followers fight:
And can we, who profess his name to bear,
In spite of his commands, for murderous strife prepare?
Put up thy sword! the cup my Father gives.
Shall I not drink? 'Twas thus our Master spake;
And he who in his Spirit breathes and lives,
Like him will patiently injustice take,
And bear it meekly, for his Pattern's sake:
Knowing who hath immutably decreed—
"Vengeance is MINE alone!" he dares not wake
For apprehended wrongs, in word or deed,
Wrath's devastating woes, or to redress proceed.
But not by insulated precepts, strown
Throughout the Gospel, war is prov'd to he
Unlawful: that unlawfulness is shown
By Christianity's whole tendency:
This should be happiness and harmony;
For all its doctrines uniformly prove
How genuine is its holy sympathy,
With peace, and gentleness, and joy, and love
To all on earth below, and all in heaven above.
The wrath of man works not, nor can it work,
The righteousness of God; because in it
That latent evil cannot fail to lurk,
Which proves it for such glorious task unfit:
In characters of blood its deeds are writ;
Nor has it learnt that lesson, first and best,
Religion teaches, calmly to submit,
And all its wishes, cares, and griefs to rest
On His disposing power, and bow to its behest.
These are hard sayings; who can such receive?
Not they who, easily provok'd by ill,
Resent it promptly, and themselves believe
Fit arbiters of retribution still;
Although their purpose is but to fulfil
The puny wrath of disappointed pride;
Whose judgment is the dictate of the will,
Uncurbed by reason, and unsanctified
By meek Religion's laws, which fitlier would decide.
Now, he who has been tutor'd in the school
Of Christ, and by its precepts has been taught
To judge of all things by that nobler rule,
Which revelation, by its light, has brought
To bear upon those secret springs of thought
Whence actions flow — sees how unfit is man,
Viewing himself as truth proclaims he ought,
His own imagin'd injuries to scan,
And chastisement inflict, ev'n where he safely can.
They know but little of the human heart,
Nor have they ever studied well their own.
Who have not learnt with what insidious art
To what we will our sophistry is prone.
Our better reason will not speak alone;
Passion will plead, and selfishness be heard;
And these, combin'd, will overpower the tone
Of conscience, whose in speaking heavenly word
Should be unquestion'd there, and unto all preferr'd.
But is there not a reason, yet unnam'd,
That home to every human heart should come;
Which, if it were on glory's field proclaim'd,
Ay! on the verge of conflict! when the drum,
The echoing trumpet, and the mingled hum
Of hosts were heard — at once should break the spell?
Appal each Christian's heart, and render dumb
The boldest voice? — oh! let us ponder well,
How different are the hopes on which IN PRAYER we dwell!
"Father! forgive our trespasses, AS we
Others forgive, who trespass against us!!"
If, when we supplicate Heaven's majesty,
Our words have ANY meaning, is it thus,
We show forgiveness? praying now with HUSS,
And then with ZISCA fighting! Oh! in vain
May sciolists minuter points discuss;
This outward rite reject, and that retain;
We cannot, must not hide so palpable a stain.
Is there a man, — I ask not of his creed
On minor points of faith, — whose lips have been
Accustom'd thus to pray, that does not need
Forgiveness from his God? with unblench'd mien
Is he prepar'd to dye the verdant green
He stands on with a brother's blood? and then
Present himself with countenance serene,
Before his Maker, with his fellow men,
And thus for mercy plead, by mercy shown again?
I write in charity, and freely make
Ample allowance for unconscious crime;
I grant all any disputant could take
For views and habits, which the poet's rhyme
Has cherish'd long, from bards of olden time
To those of latter days: my heart can thrill,
I trust it can, with patriot hopes sublime:
Yet, feeling thus, to me all war is still
Forbidden by the law which says, Thou shalt not kill.
Tradition, custom, habit, cannot plead
Excuse for what is, evil: well I know
That many who have own'd the Christian creed,
And have in part adorn'd it, o'er a foe
Have fought, and conquer'd; and, in doing so,
Have render'd, as they thought, a patriot's due;
But, owning this, I cannot so forego
My views of right and wrong, of false and true,
As think them right in this, and own the Gospel too.
Nay more, I have delightful converse held
On themes of lofty thought, with some who wear
The livery of war; and, uncompell'd,
Most grateful testimony I could bear,
Not to their moral worth alone, and care
To walk uprightly in the sight of men,
But more than this; nor would my spirit dare
To doubt for such divine acceptance, when
The final trump shall sound, the dead shall rise again.
But can e'en such examples, while I feel
Renewedly their force still unforgot,
Th' express command of God himself repeal,
Or from his book its brightest precept blot?
Christians may err, but surely Christ could not;
And he declar'd the simple, touching sign
Of holiest fellowship with him was — what?
Wrathful contention? no! but love benign!
"By this shall all men know that ye are mine!"
As for the common-place, heroic rant
Of wreaths by fame twin'd round a warrior's head;
Such move me not, if gather'd from a plant
Nurtur'd by tears and blood; of valiant dead,
Gloriously laid on honour's gory bed,
From whence they look to Heav'n with noble pride:
Of such things I have often heard and read,
"In sorrow, not in anger;" misapplied
Indeed, are words like these to men who thus have died!
"Die for thy country! thou romantic fool!
Seize, seize one plank, thyself, and get to shore."
The bard upbraids not thus the hireling tool,
Who fights for sordid pay, and asks no more;
Content to fall as thousands fell before,
And millions will when he is senseless clay:
But those of nobler natures would implore
To pause, and seriously reflect, if they,
By dying for its sake, a patriot's debt can pay.
He pays it better, surely, who still lives,
Blessing, and blest; who, in his humble sphere,
To aid the poor his scanty pittance gives,
Befriends the orphan, dries the widow's tear;
Or if by poverty forbade to cheer,
Even with trivial boons, the lot of woe,
By kindness, and by sympathy sincere,
Gives more, perhaps, than affluence can bestow,
To mitigate those griefs the suff'rers only know.
And oh! how much of these have war's wide pest,
And those harsh feelings from whence wars arise,
Inflicted upon man! He who, at rest
Under his vine or fig-tree, feasts his eyes
On scenes of peace alone, can sympathize
Imperfectly with all those horrors which
Attend the foul, unnatural sacrifice,
To Moloch offer'd, only to enrich
The blood-stain'd altar plac'd before an idol's niche.
We read of battles won, and battles lost,
"The Senate's thanks, the Gazette's pompous tale;"
Our streets are by triumphal arches cross'd,
The rustic quaffs his mug of nut-brown ale;
Pride pours the wine-cup; music fills the gale;
And all to celebrate a feat, which few,
Who thus rejoice, could see, and not turn pale;
Which many could not for a moment view,
Nor cry "Forgive them, God! they know not what they do."
Allow me, therefore, reader, not to paint
The scene itself; I will not trust so far
My own imperfect powers of verse; too faint
Even to sketch the actual strife of war,
Where dying groans on music's concord jar:
I would but paint a quiet, peaceful scene,
Not meant, methinks, for man himself to mar;
First in its native loveliness serene;
Last, as it may be found when glory there has been.
Come, take thy stand upon this gentle ridge,
Which overlooks yon sweet secluded vale;
Before us is a rude and rustic bridge,
A simple plank; and by its side a rail
On either hand, to guide the footsteps frail
Of first or second childhood; while below
The murm'ring brooklet tells its babbling tale,
Like a sweet under-song, which, in its flow,
It chanteth to the flowers that on its margin grow.
For many a flow'ret blossoms there to bless
The gentle loveliness whose charms imbue
Its border; — strawberry of the wilderness;
The star-like daisy; violet brightly blue;
Pale primrose, in whose cup the pearly dew
Glistens till noon-tide's languid, listless hour;
And last of all, and sweetest to the view,
The lily of the vale, whose virgin flower
Trembles at every breeze within its leafy bower.
Now glance thine eye along the streamlet's banks
Up through yon quiet valley; thou wilt trace
Above, the giant mountains in their ranks,
Of bold and varied outline; little space
Below their summits, far above their base,
Umbrageous woods; and, last of all, thine eye
Will rest on many an humble dwelling-place
Of happy human beings; and descry
The lowly temple where they worship the Most High.
How quietly it stands within the bound
Of its low wall of grey, and mossy stone!
And like a shepherd's peaceful flock around
Its guardian gather'd, — graves, or tombstones strown,
Make their last narrow resting-places known,
Who, living, lov'd it as a holy spot;
And, dying, made their deep attachment shown
By wishing here to sleep when life was not,
That so their turf, or stone, might keep them unforgot!
It is a bright and balmy afternoon,
Approaching unto even-tide; and all
Is still except that streamlet's placid tune,
Or hum of bees, or lone wood-pigeon's call,
Buried amid embow'ring forest tall,
Which feathers, half way up, each hill's steep side:
Dost thou not feel such landscape's soothing thrall;
And wish, if not within its bowers t' abide,
At least to explore its haunts, and know what joys they hide?
Nor need'st thou wish a truer luxury
Than in its depths, delighted, thou might'st share;
I will not say that nought of agony,
Blest as it is, at times may harbour there,
For man is born to suffer, and to bear:—
But could I go with thee from cot to cot,
And show thee how this valley's inmates fare,
Thou might'st confess, to live in such a spot,
And die there in old age, were no unlovely lot.
But time suffices not to loiter so
Then let us take, as sample of the rest,
That lowly hut, where blooming wall-flowers grow
Above the ivy time has made its vest,
Like glist'ning foam-wreaths on a green wave's crest:
On one side of its porch, poor, old, and weak,
A patriarch sits, in homely raiment drest;
A woman opposite, whose faded cheek,
Though younger far than his, some lines of sorrow streak.
Yet in her form, once beautiful, is seen
Still fair proportion, natural elegance;
And though most matronly is now her mien,
And meekly chasten'd is the downward glance
Of her dark eye, who looks on it, perchance
May well conjecture, from its beauty, how,
Ere grief had dimm'd by painful circumstance
Its lustre, from beneath its arching brow
It sparkled at love's tale, fill'd at affection's vow.
And though that cheek is not, as youth's may be,
In blooming beauty drest, 'tis lovely yet;
And whoso looks upon it, soon may see
That disappointed hope, and keen regret,
Have marr'd, but not effaced, the charms that met
In softest union on those features mild:
Still may be traced the stamp which nature set
Upon them, when sweet Agnes, then a child,
Here warbled, like a bird, her carols free and wild.
She lov'd, and, married one, who long had been
First playmate, then companion; — only son,
And child, of that old man before her seen;
And for a time existence smoothly run
In a calm current; children many a one
Were theirs, and if not wealth, at least content;
Childless, and widow'd, is she now; for none
Of those rich blessings bounteous Heaven had lent,
Are left to call her own, — one after one they went.
But though it cost poor Agnes many tears
To see first one and then another die
Of those sweet children, loveliest of their peers,
At least they seem'd so in a mother's eye;
And though it was still deeper agony
When the pale messenger the last time came
To call her husband hence; no impious sigh
Impeach'd Omnipotence: she felt His claim
"Who gives, and takes away; and bless'd his holy name!"
The woes which God inflicts, he gives the power
To bear; or would, did man but supplicate;
And this the sufferer found; yet many an hour,
Or casual incident, would lay in wait,
As if to make her feel more desolate,
In this her desolation, by the view
Of happy objects, which her stript estate
Renewedly recals; but patience too
Is given to bear them all. This moment proves it true!
Behold, two lovely children now have stray'd
From some near cottage to that bowery tree;
And Agnes sees them coming, half afraid
To trust herself a sight like this to see:
A girl, the eldest, who perhaps may be
Ten summers old, assumes her sagest look,
Sits down, and opens wide upon her knee
Her youngling brother's well-conn'd spelling-book,
Who turns from thence his eye to yonder bubbling brook.
For sweetest flow'rets are up-springing there,
Which he would rather pluck than learn to spell;
But when he bears his teacher's lips declare
That he shall have those flowers he loves so well,
As guerdon of his labour — to compel
His fix'd attention, there requires no more;
The task is learnt, repeated; then pell-mell
They scamper forth amid that shining store;
His pupilage is past, her gravity is o'er.
Among those flowers the happy playmates quaff
Delight as innocent as flowers are fair;
And Agnes hears the frequent shout, the laugh,
Break on the stillness of the balmy air.
But now a tenderer scene ensues; — look where
The sister quietly resumes her seat
Under that tree of blameless knowledge there,
And hears him, kneeling by her side, repeat
His evening prayer to God, in lisping accents sweet!
That done, his rosy cheek the guileless boy
Rests on her knee, upturns his eyes to hers,
And glances of affection, truest joy,
Between their hearts are still interpreters.
The sun, meantime, behind those sable firs,
Is softly sinking; but his lingering streak
Is on those lovely children: — zephyr stirs
The glistening locks which hide his cherub cheek,
And many a kiss she prints, a sister's love to speak!
This is no tight for Agnes to behold
Unmov'd; — nor can she, viewing it, forget
How her own darling us'd to be of old
Just such, and so employ'd. But though regret
May thrill her heart, its better hopes are set
Upon its inward comforter and stay;
She rises up, and going forth, has met
Those young companions on their homeward way;
They know her kindness well, and childhood's greetings pay.
She kisses each with tenderness, and smiles
As meekness only can, when tears supprest
Are felt — though viewless they, with gentle wiles
Of playful innocence, by her carest,
Whom next to their own parents they love best,
Beguile her from herself; — till when they part
Even she is sooth'd, nor thinks her lot unblest,
Since still she can, though tears at seasons start,
Partake in others' joys with no ungrateful heart!
Why do I linger o'er this portraiture
Of idle fancy? — wherefore — but to show
How much there is of beauty to allure
In peaceful quietude; did man but know,
And knowing, seek, what is most truly so.
O much there is to be most thankful for,
E'en in this world, despite of all its woe,
Would we but love each other, and abhor
Each harsh and cruel thought that leads to strife and war.
But to that happy valley turn once more,
When War's destroying angel there has been:—
Had Winter's devastations, or the roar
Of elements, alone, deform'd the scene;
Still, in its ruins it had worn the mien
Such natural scourges mostly leave behind;
Some of its features yet had smil'd serene,
Ev'n in the absence of all human-kind,
And with our darkest fears a hope might be combin'd.
Now its once rustic bridge is lopp'd away
By some rude pioneer's regardless stroke;
Each peaceful homestead, blest but yesterday,
A shapeless mass of ruins, black with smoke
The graceful birch, tall pine, and sturdy oak,
Which bosom'd the sweet hamlet, too, are hewn
And hideous, maim'd, half putrid corpses choke
The murmuring brook, which, on that afternoon,
Had music in its flow of most delightful tune.
Nor have they spared the solitary tree,
Beneath whose boughs that child her brother taught;—
Agnes, the patient Agnes! where is she?
And her old helpless father? He who caught,
From her meek smiles and accents, feelings fraught
With more than joy. Those lovely children too,
Where are they all? We dare not trust our thought
To tell their tale, nor follow fancy's clue;
Lest e'en the very worst should fearfully prove true.
Perhaps — but why conjecture? can we guess
Horrors more foul than War itself supplies?
The blood of age staining its silver tress;
Childhood, or fright, or famine's sacrifice;
The ruin'd maiden's unavailing cries:—
All these might be their lamentable lot,
Whose home was late so lovely in our eyes:
We know but this — they were! and here are not!
And feel we stand indeed on an ACCURSED SPOT!
O War! thou art indeed the deadliest curse
Which Heaven can suffer, or the world endure;
However pride thy glories may rehearse,
Or hopes of fame thy votaries may allure.
Volcano, earthquake, pestilence impure,
Are evils; but they poison not the spring
Of thought and feeling: lenient time may cure
Their devastations; but to thine there cling
Resentment, rooted hate, and each, unholy thing.
"But what," perhaps some reader may exclaim,
Weary at last of this digression long,
"Has War to do with him, who gives its name
And title to thy Poem?" — Am I wrong?
Or are there not an almost countless throng
Of thoughts, to which Napoleon's name gives rise,
Blended with war? — on which the poet's song,
The historian's page, alike should moralize,
If either hope to please the virtuous or the wise?
What is Napoleon now — admitting all
His former talents, enterprise, and power?
The time has been, nor distant, when the thrall
Of his portentous name made monarchs cower,
And tremble in the proudest palace-tower:
Fate seem'd his fiat, fortune as his guide;
And empire, held by suff'rance, was the dower
Which, when he took unto himself a bride,
He spared an elder throne, with cool, contemptuous pride.
What is he now? Ten years ago his death
Had spread through Europe with a voice of thunder;
Fame's trump had blazon'd with her loudest breath
The tale; and many a captive, groaning under
The conqueror's yoke, had snapt his chains asunder.
Stupid indifference 'now supplies the place,
In many minds, of that mute vacant wonder
They then had known, what time they paus'd a space,
Before they deem'd him dead, with solemn doubtful face.
He dies upon a surf-surrounded rock!
Far from each court, and every courtly ring
Far from the fields where once, in battle's shock,
Death stalk'd around him, a familiar thing:
His "eagle" long before had furl'd his wing;
His "star of honour" set, to rise no more!
Nor could a hope remain that time might bring
Glory to either spell, as heretofore;
Therefore to him the life of life itself was o'er.
And we, who of his death the tidings hear,
Receive them as a tale of times gone by,
Which wakes nor joy, nor grief, nor hope, nor fear:
And if in nobler hearts a passing sigh
For such a lot reflection may supply,
Few follow up that feeling to its source:
The multitude, with undiscerning eye,
See all around pursue its usual course,
And care not for his death, nor thoughts it should enforce.
But if such life, succeeded by such end,
Be void of interest like a thrice told tale;
If it have nought to "bless mankind, or mend,"
Ponder'd aright, and weigh'd in truth's just scale;
Sermons are useless! homilies must fail!
And man be uninstructed still, because
He WILL NOT LEARN! May wiser thoughts prevail;
And may our better feelings, as we pause
To contemplate his course, teach wisdom's holier laws.
Nor could there be a fitter time than this
For genuine friends of peace to vindicate
The truer policy, superior bliss,
Of milder precepts; now when warfare's weight
Has left on each exhausted, weary state,
Its natural burthen — debt; and deeper woes
Than statists can repair or calculate;
While he, whose greatness from false glory rose,
Illustrates, by his lot, the boons which war bestows.
What can it give of glory, power, and fame,—
And these are toys that make the heart-strings stir
Of those who wish to win a hero's name,
Which on Napoleon it did not confer?
It made him for a time the arbiter
Of thrones and dynasties; and Fortune smil'd,
As she may do on some who follow her
Believing her existence, — thus beguil'd,
Till in the end they know 'twas but a phantom wild.
Can any future conqu'ror vainly hope
Success more brilliant than Napoleon won?
Or think with power's temptations he shall cope,
Nor blindly err as Fortune's child has done?
Let him, with self-distrust, the trial shun.
As darkness comes with night, and light with day,
Power brings temptation; and, of mortals, none
Entering on such a path can safely say,
But so far will I go, and there my steps shall stay.
Nor unto kings alone, should such a fall
As thine, Napoleon! timely warning teach;
Though such a striking case may loudly call,
Like Wisdom in the streets, to all, and each;
Preaching, as facts alone have power to preach,
Unwelcome truths. The people too, should learn
Instruction, when thus plac'd within the reach
Of even humblest intellect; nor spurn
The lesson it proclaims unto themselves in turn.
"War is a game, which, were their subjects wise,
Kings would not play at." Not on kings, alone,
Should rest the censure therefore. Truth supplies,
Conscience admits, when candour cause has shown,
Many apologies for monarchs prone
To this delusive, dangerous foolishness:
They have, like others, passions of their own;
Little they risk, — and feel, and suffer less,
And see not what they cause of vice, and deep distress.
"War is a game, which, were their subjects wise,
Kings would not play at." Suffer me, again,
Reader! to quote a poet whom I prize;
Nor fancy such a repetition vain.
Of pride in kings 'tis folly to complain,
And fling the blame of war upon their will,
If those who see its evil, feel its pain,
Instead of striving all they can to kill
This baneful Upas tree, admire its grandeur still.
So long as kings have subjects who believe
That war is glorious; peace is insecure!
So long as poets victory's garlands weave,
Or hist'ry's praise to martial fame allure,
Or wealth be won by violence impure,
Or, worst of all, the pulpit shall proclaim
That war is guiltless: elements endure
To foster deeds, which, spite of worldly fame,
Crucify Christ afresh; put him to open shame.
"War is a game, which, were their subjects wise,
Kings" COULD "not play at." Reader, mark that word!
And having done so with impartial eyes;
By sophistry and interest undeterr'd,
Inquire how far thy folly has concurr'd,
In any way to administer fresh force
Unto this deadly evil. Hast thou stirr'd
One finger to avert its fearful course?
Hast thou e'er thought aright upon its hidden source?
"What! would you then deny a sov'reign's right,
Or cripple the resources of the state?"
I would do neither; in the Christian's sight
A patriot's duties all will concentrate
To one bright centre! I hold no debate
On Caesar's dues as paid to Caesar's throne:
He who imagines I would desecrate
What good men name with deferential tone,
But vilifies my aim: nor libels me alone;
He does a gross injustice to the cause
Of THRONE and ALTAR; which fears no appeal
Unto those peaceable and righteous laws
The Prince of Peace descended to reveal,
His life their comment, and his death their seal!
And in their spirit, only, I would win
Those who most deeply their importance feel,
To trace the progress of this deadly sin
From its polluted source where all its woes begin.
For "Whence come wars and fightings? come they not
From your own lusts?" — Believing this, can we
Blindly imagine that they fling no blot
On Christian faith, and hope, and charity?
If by its fruits we are to know the tree,
Can THAT be fitly call'd the TREE OF LIFE,
Whose foliage Scripture has declar'd to be
For "healing of the nations," which is rife—
With falsehood, anger, pride, and all unholy strife?
Believe it not: there can be no accord
'Twixt Christ and Belial. Now, as heretofore
There is "one faith, one baptism, and one Lord!"
That FAITH, still works by LOVE; and is no more
Where love is not: that BAPTISM would restore,
Even though, it be of fire, through LOVE divine;
And that ONE LORD remains, as known of yore,
The high and holy priest of LOVE'S pure shrine;
Whose mild response is this: "Your love declares you mine!"
But some, perhaps, may say, "We know that war
Is anti-Christian; knew it long ago;
And all the wise and virtuous must abhor
The crimes and miseries it inflicts below.
But, while we deprecate its vice, and woe,
We can do no thing to avert the pest;
Perhaps in time Almighty Power may show,
By some new dispensation, how unblest
Its lawless triumphs are, and give creation rest."
To this I answer, — Christians cannot need,
And have no right to anticipate on earth,
Another dispensation, law, or creed,
Than that which has already issued forth,
Whose light to IMMORTALITY gave birth!
As to the plea that frail and finite man
Can do but little, while we own its worth,
Let us inquire if, on the Gospel plan,
That little has been done? Have we done all we can?
Let each, to whom the cause of peace is dear,
That cause with patient meekness advocate;
And, in his own immediate humble sphere,
Endeavour that his life may illustrate
His best conceptions of that happier state,
Which meekness, long-forbearance, kindness, love,
Alone can introduce: with calmness wait,
Attempting not in human strength to move
In that which is His work, who dwells and reigns above.
"There is a might which the world little heeds,
The irresistible armour of the weak,
Who only dare move onwards as God leads;
As He gives utterance, only dare to speak."
These shall experience that unto THE MEEK,
The pillar of whose hopes seems rent and riven
That holy, pure inheritance they seek,
By Him, who cannot lie, was long since given;
And in his strength they strive, and patiently have striven.
Art thou a father? Teach thy sons that this
Makes CHRISTIAN HEROES! Made such by his might
Whose peaceful empire is man's perfect bliss;
For easy is his yoke, his burthen light.
Allow them not in infancy to slight
Even trivial acts of natural brotherhood,
And childish kindnesses: stain in their sight
All honours won by waste of human blood.
And teach them those are GREAT, whom GOD hath first made GOOD!
But I must turn me, it is time, to thee,
Who gav'st this verse its title, and its theme:
And doing so, I could desire to be
Preserv'd alike from either rash extreme.
I cannot think upon thee with the esteem.
Thy talents should have won thee; and the page,
Which for a fallen enemy could teem
With scorn; or with the dead its warfare wage;
Would shame the bard, not thee, and unbefit the age.
In truth, thou wast not one for common men
To look on with contempt: though not a few
In senates, from the pulpit, with the pen,
Have heap'd upon thee scorn and hatred too;
Denying thee the tribute justly due
To genius, enterprise, and energy:—
Forgetting still, in such distorted view,
They could not these consistently deny,
Without admitting all their absence must imply.
It were, indeed, a dubious compliment
Unto thy foes, such falsehoods to assert;
Because, if unto them we yield assent,
Can sophistry the inference avert,
That nought but imbecility inert,
On their part who oppos'd thee, was thy rise,
And made thee, by degrees, the thing thou wert?
Thou didst not reach this by thy own emprise
Alone; nor was thy fall achiev'd by enemies.
From circumstances, complicate in kind,
In part thy marvellous success arose:
These, with no common powers in thee combin'd,
First pav'd thy path; and as with power still grows
Ambition's daring, which not only shows
More to be won; but gives, as sure effect,
The will to win, the pride that scorns repose:
Thou wouldst be of thy fate the architect,
Until thy Babel tower was all in ruins wreck'd.
Do I exult in this? O! if I do,
It is not in a foe-man's bitter mood;
But as a friend to freedom; in whose view
Thou, as her deadly enemy, hast stood,
Conspicuous in those countless fields of blood,
The sad aceldemas of latter days:
And having been such, then man's general good
Compels me, though I pity while I gaze,
To own the lesson just, a fall like thine displays.
But, beyond this, I know no exultation,
Nor have I aught of pleasure in thy fall;
Except in hoping that its contemplation
May teach the world, promote the good of all.
If they who held thee recently in thrall,
Such power abus'd, or still remain untaught;
Theirs is a penalty which should appal
The truly noble, viewing, as they ought,
Thee, and themselves in turn, with sober, serious thought.
This must be left for time to demonstrate,
And history, in her annals, to declare;
I neither seek to blame, nor vindicate
Thy exile and captivity; nor dare
Pronounce upon the fruit they seem to bear
In others' conduct: — fruitless if they be,
Even Hope herself might for mankind despair;
For those who have learnt nothing, viewing thee,
Possess not hearts that feel, nor eyes that truly see.
Such must acquire instruction in the school
Of sad experience, which makes dearly wise,
Flashing conviction on the veriest fool
Who dupes himself by solemn vanities;—
Unrav'lling all the flimsy sophistries
By which the worldly wise each other cheat;
Yet wiser, sure, is he who so applies
Unto himself the ills that others meet;
Than him who blunders on, untaught by their defeat.
Yet unto thee, Napoleon! once again,
I turn with feelings inexpressible;
And, long as may appear this parting strain,
So deeply do I feel the potent spell
Its theme supplies; unwearied I could dwell
On thoughts it wakens: — and I linger yet,
Before I can pronounce a last "farewell!"
Like one before whose mournful gaze is set
A thing he must forego, but not so soon forget.
Forget! No, never! Thou hast left behind,
If not a glorious, yet a deathless name;
Which almost seems as if it were design'd
To show the world the nothingness of fame;
And unto ages yet unborn, proclaim.
That he who builds, in fortune's brightest hour,
And with a master's skill, the monstrous frame
Of arbitrary will, and lawless power,
Toils in a worthless cause, and rears a tottering tower.
Like his, who built his house upon the sands,
Foolishly trusting such foundation sure,
The splendid fabric, rear'd by servile hands
To honour despotism, and allure
The gaze of sycophants, can not endure!
When rude adversity's bleak storms descend,
It falls, because its base is insecure;
Unblest alike its origin and end,—
That to no joys gave birth, on this no griefs attend.
Thou should'st have known this; and have ponder'd well,
Before unwieldy empire made thee proud,
That power usurp'd, howe'er it seem'd to swell
Thy strength, was weakness! minds remain unbow'd
To slavery's yoke; and, in the dark'ning cloud
Which blacken'd the horizon, still was set
The bow of promise, with a voice endow'd,
Pronouncing calmly words with welcome met,
"The flood shall cease — the dove bring back her olive yet!"
Since this has been accomplish'd, may the past
Suffice to teach us wisdom! if it may,
The lesson of thy downfal shall outlast
All the seduction of thine earlier day;
And thy example strikingly display
The power of Him who useth at his will,
With wisdom infinite, man's feeble sway;
And, making all his purposes fufil,
Is of the world he form'd ALMIGHTY SOVEREIGN still!