1819 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lines suggested by a Portrait of the unfortunate Queen of France.

A Collection of Poems, chiefly manuscript, and from living Authors. Edited for the Benefit of a Friend of Joanna Baillie. [Joanna Baillie, ed.]

Margaret Holford


Five Spenserians treat a portrait of Marie Antoinette as a kind of memento mori. The complete title is "Lines suggested by a Portrait of the unfortunate Queen of France, taken on the last Examination previous to her Execution." Not seen.

Monthly Review: "The benevolent feelings, which gave birth to this publication, might justly intitle it to an indulgent criticism; for it was undertaken by Miss Baillie, with the patronage of a numerous and fashionable list of subscribers, for the benefit of a friend who has been lately visited by misfortune. It stands not, however, in need of any indulgence, since the larger part of the poetry which composes it belongs to a too high an order to fear animadversion. Here and there, in common with all collections, it is sprinkled with a few productions which should not have migrated from the peaceful obscurity of the writing-desk, or have fluttered through their little lives in any other shape than that of manuscript: but, on the other hand, they serve to throw the pieces of more distinguished merit into bolder relief; and such names as those of Miss Baillie, Mrs. Barbauld, Sir Walter Scott, Mr. Rogers, Mr. Sotheby, and others, are sufficient to redeem the flatness of humbler contributions" NS 103 (April 1824) 410.

The poem was written in or before 1819, as appears by a letter reprinted in Collected Correspondence of Joanna Baillie (1999) 2:550.



And this was she! the peerless and the bright,
The false world's darling! she who did possess
(And held awhile in Europe's dazzled sight)
Glorious in majesty and loveliness,
The Heaven-lent power to ruin or to bless!
Yes, — this was she! — but mark ye, I beseech,
Who love the world, — mark this mute wretchedness,
And grave it on your hearts, for it doth reach
To regions unexplored by eloquence of speech!

Nature gave loveliness, and fate gave power,
And millions lavish'd incense, — poets hung
Their amaranth over the royal bower;
For Gallia's lily every lyre was strung,
Pride of all eyes, and theme of every tongue:—
Love, Awe, and Wonder, were her ministers;
Life, and its hours, upon her fiat hung;
She held in poise a nation's hopes and fears—
Dominion, beauty, pomp, and the world's shout, were her's!

Gracious and mighty! Yet there came an hour
Of desolation; and away it swept,
In one rude whirlwind, empire, pomp, and power!
On the fair brow the hoary winter crept
Of Sorrow, not of Time. — Those eyes have wept,
Till Grief had done with tears, and calm and cold,
Tired with its own excess, in stupor slept,
Or gazed in frozen wonder to behold
The black and hideous page of destiny unroll'd.

Yet trace these faded lines! For they impart
A tale may do your careless bosoms good!
Muse o'er the fragments of a mighty heart,
Broken by sorrow: — ye, whose jocund mood
Insatiate feeds on Pleasure's tempting food,
Look here! — It will not harm ye, though your thought
Leave its fay flight to melt in Pity's flood!
To each light heart, home be the lesson brought,
With what enduring bliss the world's fair smile is fraught!

And is this all? No! — ye may learn beside
That all which fate can threaten may be borne;
To see life's blessings, one by one, subside,
Its wild extremes from tenderness to scorn,
But as the changes of an April morn!
For still she was a queen! — and majesty
Survived, though she, deserted and forlorn,
Save Heaven, had ne'er a friend to lift her eye;
But Heaven return'd the glance, and taught her how to die!

[The Port Folio S4 18 (December 1824) 500-01]