1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Rackers: or, The Ruined Hamlet. An Elegy. Founded on Fact.

Morning Chronicle (25 November 1796).

Mary Leadbeater


An elegy on sectarian violence in Ireland in fifteen quatrains, signed "Humanus, Portadown." The title and the stanza are intended to recall Gray's Elegy and the subequent sequence of poems about rural injustice, though this poem is more of a news account, describing for English readers the villainy of the Orange factions purpatrated against the Catholic peasantry of northern Ireland: "Behold the peaceful CATH'LIC forc'd to fly | In consternation from his native spot | Beneath the rigours of a wintry sky, | While flames consume his Furniture and Cot!" Perhaps The Rackers might also be considered part of the series of Gray imitations on law and criminals.

Mary Leadbeater later rewrote this poem as "The Ruined Cottage" in Poems (1808), a kind of sequel in which Owen is murdered by a band of soldiers. A review of that poem reports that The Rackers moved an English woman to make a contribution to "Mabel"; see Belfast Monthly Magazine 1 (October 1808) 140. The lady in question may have been the poet Melisina Chenevix Trench, later a regular correspondent of Mary Leadbeater's.



Hard by the winding course of yonder rill,
That lofty thro' the meadow steals along,
Beneath the shelter of that sloping hill,
Late dwelt the subject of my mournful song.

OWEN his name: — of old Milesian race;
Humane, good natur'd, gen'rous without shew:
His Hamlet was MISFORTUNE'S resting-place;
His heart still welcom'd ev'ry Child of Woe.

The partner of his comforts and his cares
A sympathising bosom too possess'd:
Her Husband's virtues gentle MABEL shares.—
And OWEN felt himself hence doubly blest.

A little field of scarce six roods supplied
Their Cot with milk and vegetable store;
But on the Wheel and Loom they chief relied
For whatso'er their wants demanded more.

Brisk as the Lark that cheer'd him with her Lay,
To trim his Loom each morn would OWEN spring;
Blithe as the Linnet on the blooming spray
Would MABEL at her flaxen labour sing.

And, when to market with his Web he hied
(Perhaps to old Armagh or Tandgragee),
Short was his absence from his Hamlet's pride;
Still happiest when at home with her was he.

But, ah! that enemy of human bliss—
That dire disturber of our land's repose
(To blast this harmless Couple's happiness),
DISCORD, at length around their district rose!

Two varied ensigns first the Demon rear'd,
The engines of his enmity to rouse;
And now, by turns, each party he appear'd,
As suited best his purpose to espouse.

But, when the Faction destin'd to prevail
The Fiend had with its utmost fury fir'd,
He bade it ALL promiscuously assail
Who did not bear the Badge its Chiefs requir'd!

Then, unrestrain'd by pity, force, or fear,
Deform'd RELIGION'S venerable name:
That COLOUR Protestants were proud to wear
The Ruffians tarnish, prostitute, defame!

Behold the peaceful CATH'LIC forc'd to fly
In consternation from his native spot
Beneath the rigours of a wintry sky,
While flames consume his Furniture and Cot!

Nor dares his pitying Neighbour lend relief,
Whose faith's the same the racking hordes profess;
Nor dares he shew his sympathy or grief,
Lest they doom him to similar distress!

Such, hapless OWEN, was thy cruel fate:
Thy peaceful Cot attack'd by midnight band,
They burst thy door, resolv'd t' assassinate!—
But Heav'n, protecting, snatch'd thee from their hand.

Under the fav'ring cover of the night,
Thy MABEL too escap'd the Murd'rer's aims,
While at thy hearth two masqu'd Destroyers light
The brands that set thy property in flames!

Low lies in ashes now that friendly roof,
So oft the shelter of the wand'ring poor;
Exhibiting a melancholy proof
Of what the helpless CATH'LICS here endure!

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