The Trial of Selim the Persian, for divers High Crimes and Misdemeanours.

The Trial of Selim the Persian, for divers High Crimes and Misdemeanours.

Edward Moore

Edward Moore's allegorical frame, with its figures of Faction, Envy, and Clamour, likely owes something to the Spenserian allegory popular among Opposition writers of the 1740s. The Trial of Selim defends George Lyttelton ("Selim," after his Persian Letters) for betraying his former friends among the Patriots by accepting a position as lord of the Treasury. Moore's poem, however, is slightly equivocal, and the writer was disappointed when he was later passed over by Lyttelton. But Selim was roundly praised by Henry Fielding in the Jacobite's Journal for 16 July. The allegorical account of Faction was reprinted in the Gentleman's Magazine (May 1748).

Selim is brought to trial before three judges, Faction, Envy, and Clamour, backed by Hypocrisy, Impudence, Contention, and Slander. The court is decorated with images representative of the triumph of Faction. Selim is charged with betraying the Opposition by accepting a place, along with William Pitt, during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Selim is further charged with promoting religious and political orthodoxy in his Letter to Gilbert West, and Letters to the Whigs. The charges having been laid out, witnesses are brought forth: Detraction, Hatred, Distrust, Party, Malice, Revenge, Unbelief, Disappointment, and Dishonour. The prisoner makes a curiously modest defense, and is backed by Integrity, Honour, Benevolence, Religion, and Knowledge. Faction sentences the defendant to be attacked by the press, "With every foe that WORTH procures, | And only VIRTUE'S friends be YOURS."

David Erskine Baker: "In verse he had certainly a very happy and pleasing manner; in his Trial of Selim the Persian, which is a compliment to the ingenious Lord Lyttelton, he has shown himself a perfect master of the most elegant kind of panegyric, viz. that which is couched under the appearance of accusation; and his Fables for the Female Sex seem, not only in the freedom and ease of the versification, but also in the forcibleness of the moral and poignancy of the satire, to approach nearer to the manner of Mr. Gay, than any of the numerous imitations of that author which have been attempted since the publication of his Fables" Biographia Dramatica (1764; 1782; 1812) 1:523.

John Homer Caskey: "The Trial of Selim was ingenious and clever; it defended Lyttelton against all the attacks which had been made, and it continued creditably the satire of the Age of Pope. Moore used again here the same talents which he had shown in the Fables. The Trial of Selim was a political fable, into which one character had been introduced from life. The other figures were allegorical, and the manner in which the simple plot was handled was the manner of the fabulist. But when Moore had a specific case with which to deal, he threw off the moralizing and so-called poetic ornaments with which he had encumbered his Fables, and used the trenchant style of the best parts of the earlier work" Life and Works of Edward Moore (1927) 56.

The court was met; the pris'ner brought;
The council with instructions fraught;
And evidence prepar'd at large,
On oath, to vindicate the charge.

But first 'tis meet, where form denies
Poetic helps of fancy'd lies,
Gay metaphors, and figures fine,
And similies to deck the line;
'Tis meet (as we before have said)
To call description to our aid.

Begin we then (as first 'tis fitting)
With the three CHIEFS in judgment sitting.

Above the rest, and in the chair,
Sat FACTION with dissembled air;
Her tongue was skill'd in specious lies,
And murmurs, whence dissentions rise;
A smiling mask her features veil'd,
Her form the patriot's robe conceal'd;
With study'd blandisments she bow'd,
And drew the captivated crowd.

The next in place, and on the sight,
Sat ENVY, hideous to the sight;
Her snaky locks, her hollow eyes,
And haggard form forbad disguise;
Pale discontent, and sullen hate
Upon her wrinkled forehead sat;
Her left-hand, clench'd, her cheek sustain'd,
Her right (with many a murder stain'd)
A dagger clutch'd, in act to strike,
With starts of rage, and aim oblique.

Last on the left was CLAMOUR seen,
Of stature vast, and horrid mein;
With bloated cheeks, and frantic eyes,
She sent her yellings to the skies;
Prepar'd with trumpet in her hand,
To blow sedition o'er the land.

With these, four more of lesser fame,
And humbler rank, attendant came;
HYPOCRISY with smiling grace,
And IMPUDENCE with brazen face,
CONTENTION bold, with iron lungs,
And SLANDER with her hundred tongues.

The walls in sculptur'd tale were rich,
And statues proud (in many a nich)
Of chiefs, who fought in FACTION'S cause,
And perish'd for contempt of laws.
The roof in vary'd light and shade,
The seat of Anarchy display'd.
Triumphant o'er a falling throne
(By emblematic figures known)
Confusion rag'd, and Lust obscene,
And Riot with distemper'd mein,
And Outrage bold, and Mischief dire,
And Devastation clad in fire.
Prone on the ground a martial maid
Expiring lay, and groan'd for aid;
Her shield with many a stab was pierc'd,
Her laurels torn, her spear revers'd;
And near her, crouch'd amidst the spoils,
A lion panted in the toils.

With look compos'd the pris'ner stood,
And modest pride. By turns he view'd
The court, the council, and the crowd,
And with submissive rev'rence bow'd.

Proceed we now, in humbler strains,
And lighter rhymes, with what remains.

Th' indictment grievously set forth,
That SELIM, lost to patriot worth,
(In company with one WILL P--T,
And many more, not taken yet)
In Forty-five, the royal palace
Did enter, and to shame grown callous,
Did then and there his faith forsake,
And did accept, receive, and take,
With mischievous intent and base,
Value unknown, a certain place.

He was a second time indicted,
For that, by evil zeal excited,
With learning more than layman's share,
(Which parsons want, and He might spare)
In letter to one GILBERT WEST,
He, the said SELIM, did attest,
Maintain, support, and make assertion
Of certain points, from PAUL'S conversion;
By means whereof the said apostle
Did many an unbelievable jostle,
Starting unfashionable fancies,
And building truths on known romances.

A third charge ran, that knowing well
Wits only eat, as pamphlets fell,
He, the said SELIM, notwithstanding,
Did fall to answ'ring, shaming, branding
Three curious Letters to the Whigs;
Making no reader care three figs
For any facts contain'd in therein;
By which uncharitable sin
An author, modest and deserving,
Was destin'd to contempt and starving;
Against the king, his crown and peace,
And all the statutes in that case.

The pleader rose with brief full charg'd,
And on the pris'ner's crimes enlarg'd—
But not to damp the Muse's fire
With rhet'ric, such as courts require,
We'll try to keep the reader warm,
And sift the matter from the form.
Virtue and social love, he said,
And honour from the land was fled;
That patriots now, like other folks,
Were made the butt of vulgar jokes;
While OPPOSITION dropp'd her crest,
And courted pow'r for wealth and rest.
Why some folks laugh'd, and some folks rail'd,
Why some submitted, some assail'd,
Angry or pleas'd — all solv'd the doubt
With who were in, and who were out.
The sons of CLAMOUR grew so sickly,
They look'd for dissolution quickly;
Their weekly journals, finely written,
Were sunk in privies all besh----n;
Old-England, and the London-Evening,
Hardly a soul was found believing in,
And Caleb, once so bold and strong,
Was stupid now, and always wrong.

Ask ye whence rose this foul disgrace?
Why SELIM has receiv'd a place,
And thereby brought the cause to shame;
Proving that people, void of blame,
Might serve their country and their king,
By making both the self-same thing.
By which the credulous believ'd,
And others (by strange arts deceiv'd)
That Ministers were sometimes right,
And meant not to destroy us quite.

That bart'ring thus in state affairs,
He next must deal in sacred wares,
The clergy's rights divine invade,
And smuggle in the gospel trade.
And all this zeal to re-instate
Exploded notions, out of date;
Sending old rakes to church in shoals,
Like children, sniv'ling for their souls,
And ladies gay, from smut and libels,
To learn beliefs, and read their bibles;
Erecting conscience for a tutor,
To damn the present by the future.
As if to evils known and real
'Twas needful to annex ideal;
When all the human life we know
Is care, and bitterness, and woe,
With short transitions of delight,
To set the shatter'd spirits right.
Then why such mighty pains and care,
To make us humbler than we are?
Forbidding short-liv'd mirth and laughter,
By fears of what may come hereafter?
Better in ignorance to dwell;
None fear, but who believe a hell;
And if there should be one, no doubt,
Men of themselves would find it out.

But SELIM'S crimes, he said, went further,
And barely stopp'd on this side murder;
One yet remain'd to close the charge,
To which (with leave) he'd speak at large.
And first 'twas needful to premise,
That through so long (for reasons wise)
The press inviolate had stood,
Productive of the public good;
Yet still, too modest to abuse,
It rail'd at vice, but told not whose.
That great improvements, of late days,
Were made, to many an author's praise,
Who, not so scrupulously nice,
Proclaim'd the person with the vice,
Or gave, where vices might be wanted,
The name, and took the rest for granted.
Upon this plan, a Champion rose,
Unrighteous greatness to oppose,
Proving the man "inventus no est,"
Who trades in pow'r, and still is honest;
And (God by prais'd) he did it roundly,
Flogging a certain junto soundly.
But chief his anger was directed,
Where people least of all suspected;
And SELIM, not so strong as tall,
Beneath his grasp appear'd to fall.
But INNOCENCE (as people say)
Stood by, and sav'd him in the fray.
By her assisted, and one TRUTH,
A busy, prating, forward youth,
He rally'd all his strength anew,
And at the foe a Letter threw,
His weakest part the weapon found,
And brought him senseless to the ground.
Hence OPPOSITION fled the field,
And IGN'RANCE with her sev'n-fold shield;
And well they might, for (things weigh'd fully)
The pris'ner, with his Whore and Bully,
Must prove for ever foe too hard,
Who never fought with such a guard.

But TRUTH and INNOCENCE, he said,
Would stand him here in little stead;
For they had evidence on oath,
That would appear too hard for both.

Of witnesses a fearful train
Came next, th' indictments to sustain;
And PARTY, of all foes the worst,
And DISAPPOINTMENT, worn with grief,
DISHONOUR foul, anaw'd by shame,
And every fiend that vice can name.
All these in ample form depos'd
Each fact the triple charge disclos'd,
With taunts and gibes of bitter sort,
And asking vengeance from the court.

The pris'ner said in his defence,
That he indeed had small pretence
To soften facts so deeply sworn,
But would for his offences mourn;
Yet more he hop'd than bare repentance
Might still be urg'd to ward the sentence.
That he had held a place some years,
He own'd with penitence and tears,
But took it not from motives base,
Th' indictment there mistook the case;
And though he had betray'd his trust
In being to his country just,
Neglecting FACTION and her friends.
He did it not for wicked ends,
But that complaints and feuds might cease,
And jarring parties mix in peace.

That what he wrote to GILBERT WEST
Bore hard against him, he confess'd;
Yet there they wrong'd him; for the fact is,
He reason'd for Belief, not Practice;
And people might believe, he thought,
Though Practice might be deem'd a fault.
He either dreamt it, or was told,
Religion was rever'd of old,
That it gave breeding no offence,
And was no foe to wit and sense;
But whether this was truth, or whim,
He would not say; the doubt with him
(And no great harm he hop'd) was how
Th' enlighten'd world would take it now;
If they admitted it, 'twas well,
If not, he never talk'd of hell,
Nor even hop'd to change men's measures,
Or frighten ladies from their pleasures.

One accusation, he confess'd,
Had touch'd him more than all the rest;
Three Patriot-Letters, high in fame,
By him o'erthrown, and brought to shame.
And though it was a rule in vogue,
If one man call'd another rogue,
The party injur'd might reply,
And on his foe retort the lie;
Yet what accru'd from all his labour,
But foul dishonour to his neighbour?
And he's a most unchristian elf,
Who others damns to save himself.
Besides, as all men knew, he said,
Those Letters only rail'd for bread;
And hunger was a known excuse
For prostitution and abuse;
A guinea, properly apply'd,
Had made the Writer change his side;
He wish'd he had not cut and carv'd him,
And own'd, he should have bought, not starv'd him.

The court, he said, knew all the rest,
And must proceed as they thought best;
Only he hop'd such resignation
Would plead some little mitigation;
And if his character was clear
From other faults (and friends were near,
Who would, when call'd upon, attest it)
He did in humblest form request it,
To be from punishment exempt,
And only suffer their contempt.

The pris'ner's friends their claim preferr'd,
In turn demanding to be heard.
BENEVOLENCE, and twenty more,
That he was always of their party,
And that they knew him firm and hearty.
RELIGION, sober dame, attended,
And, as she could, his cause befriended;
She said, 'twas since he came from college,
She knew him, introduc'd by KNOWLEDGE;
The man was modest and sincere,
Nor farther could she interfere.
The MUSES begg'd to interpose,
But ENVY with loud hissings rose,
And call'd them women of ill fame,
Liars, and prostitutes to shame;
And said, to all the world 'twas known,
SELIM had had them every one.
The pris'ner blush'd, the MUSES frown'd,
When silence was proclaim'd around,
And FACTION, rising with the rest,
In form the pris'ner thus address'd.

You, SELIM, thrice have been indicted,
First, that by wicked pride excited,
And bent your company to disgrace,
You have receiv'd, and held a Place.
Next, Infidelity to wound,
You've dared, with arguments profound,
To drive Freethinking to a stand,
And with Religion vex the land.
And lastly, in contempt of right,
With horrid and unnat'ral spite,
You have an Author's fame o'erthrown,
Thereby to build and fence your own.

These crimes successive, on your trial,
Have met with proofs beyond denial;
To which yourself, with shame, conceded,
And but in mitigation pleaded.
Yet that the justice of the court
May suffer not in men's report,
Judgment a moment I suspend,
To reason as from friend to friend.

And first, that You, of all mankind,
With Kings and Courts should stain your mind!
You! Who were Opposition's lord!
Her nerves, her sinews, and her sword!
That You at last, for servile ends,
Should wound the bowels of her friends!—
Is aggravation of offence,
That leaves for mercy no pretence.
Yet more — For You to urge your hate,
And back the church, to aid the state!
For You to publish such a Letter!
You! who have known Religion better!
For You, I say, to introduce
The fraud again! — There's no excuse.
And last of all, to crown your shame,
Was it for You to load with blame
The writings of a Patriot-Youth,
And summon Innocence and Truth
To prop your cause? — Was this for You?—
But justice does your crimes pursue;
And sentence now alone remains,
Which thus, by Me, the court ordains.

"That you return from whence you came,
There to be stript of all your fame
By vulgar hands; That once a week
Old-England pinch you till you squeak;
That ribbald Pamphlets do pursue you,
And Lies and Murmurs, to undo you,
With every foe that WORTH procures,
And only VIRTUE'S friends be YOURS."

[Poems (1756) 7-23]