Twenty-three anapestic quatrains, the "pastoral ballad" meter Mary Leadbeater adopts to a subject quite unlike earlier members of the Shenstone sequence. Her ballad tells the story of Owen, a Catholic blacksmith caught up in the Irish rebellion of 1798, and the sufferings of his wife after his execution by a band of marauding soldiers: "The firebrands his dwelling invade, | The smoke — it ascends to the sky; | There innocence injur'd may plead! | There heard is the sufferer's cry!" p. 261. Mary Leadbeater was a Quaker poet whose village of Ballitore suffered badly during the rebellion. Her volume contains poems to and letters from Edmund Burke, a family friend who had been tutored by her father at Ballitore.
An earlier and very different version of this poem, entitled The Rackers, had appeared in Morning Chronicle (25 November 1796).
Belfast Monthly Magazine: "The amiable writer of these poems gives evident proofs in this volume, that she possesses a good heart, which feels for the woes of others. She can also participate in the joys of her friends. The greater number of these poems are on such scenes as would naturally present themselves in a sequestered village, those still scenes of life, which are often most favourable for cherishing the finer and the more gentle feelings of the human heart... To give a specimen of the poetry, the following [The Ruined Cottage] is inserted, as characteristic of the state of Ireland, in more situations than one, and as exemplifying the author's benevolent manner of treating her subjects.... What adds greatly to the merit of these poems is, that they are drawn, it is presumed, from real life, the circumstances recorded having come under the author's observation. We have heard of the author's merit in pathetically and successfully delineating distress, in an instance of a lady in England, entirely unacquainted with the author, who was so touched on reading The Tale of Distress in The Ruined Cottage, as to send a handsome donation to poor Dora. This is an example of poetry doing good, by being actively and usefully engaged in the cause of benevolence, and is an interesting comment on the author's power to touch the heart" 1 (October 1808) 137-40.
Eclectic Review: "We consider these as specimens of the middle order of poesy. We may say of Mrs. L., what cannot be said of every modern poet, that she seldom sinks below the tame, insipid, and neutral style displayed in the above citations. Now and then, however, she does become very ridiculous" 4 (September 1808) 816.
Ye trees, does your foliage delay,
Refusing to veil with its shade
That spot — once so chearful and gay,
That cottage — in ruin now laid?
While others arise on the plain,
These walls in sad silence repose;
As never expecting again
Such social delights to enclose.
Fair decency, cheerful content,
By industry honest were won:
Here quiet his days Owen spent,
And counted these blessings his own.
His forge knew no weapons of blood,
Devoted to peaceful employ;
The stranger partook of his food,
Nor want chill'd the bosom of joy.
Yet, torn from his babes, and his home,
From his consort so fond and so fair,
He must change, for a prison's dark gloom,
This balmy, salubrious air.
Her infant new-born at her breast,
His Doro beheld him depart;
She sunk, with her sorrows opprest,
(Ah more — thou must ten times more smart!)
"And O if the lashes," she cried,
"My Owen be forc'd to endure,
With his blood if the scourges be died,
His life will sink under it sure!"
See her Owen returning again,
His neighbours all smiling around,
His innocence free from a stain,
And no lash has inflicted a wound!
How chang'd the glad prospect, how soon!
See the clouds of Rebellion arise!
The prison had then been a boon
Most grateful to Owen's sad eyes.
What, though from the maddening train,
As soon as he might he retir'd;
In his cottage resolv'd to remain,
While innocence courage inspir'd!
But innocence cannot avail,
When danger like this is so nigh:
This Doro, all weeping and pale,
Revolv'd, and implor'd him to fly.
For see, breathing vengeance and dread,
The disciplin'd armies appear;
The bands so tumultuous are fled,
And the cannon's dire thunder they hear!
But resolv'd in his cottage to stay,
In his cottage mild Owen they found;
Like furies they seize on their prey,
And his bosom receives the death wound.
The firebrands his dwelling invade,
The smoke — it ascends to the sky;
There innocence injur'd may plead!
There heard is the sufferer's cry!
Then Doro, her infants around,
Beheld her lov'd home wrapt in fire;
They heard the explosion's dread sound,
And in agony call'd on their sire.
Her stores by hard industry gain'd,
To rapine and flames were a prey:
But ah — if her Owen remain'd,
Of how little value are they!
She darts through the furious crowd,
Resolving his fate to explore:
She calls on her Owen aloud;—
She sees him — all bath'd in his gore!
Oh then, on his corse as she lay,
Her babe all unconscious beside,
In vain she invok'd the cold clay;
Her Owen no longer replied.
The warriors, reproach'd by her moans,
Their bosoms all poison'd with strife,
With insults reply to her groans,
And threaten her innocent life.
Oh what was her life in that hour!—
The load she had gladly resign'd;
Nor insults, nor threats could have pow'r
To quell the fierce pangs of her mind.
She lives for her fatherless train,
She lives, though her comfort is dead,
Chill poverty's gripe to sustain,
And strive for a morsel of bread.
Humanity weeps at the tale;
Yet frequent such scenes will appear,
Till Concord's soft voice shall prevail,
Which angels delighted will hear.