27 elegiac quatrains, after Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard. Robert Merry's poem opens as a pastoral eclogue and concludes as a broadside ballad, the shift in genre marking the changes of fortune affecting the life of a young peasant who made the mistake of enlisting as a British soldier: "O hapless Day! when at a neighb'ring Wake, | The gaudy Sergeant caught my wond'ring Eye; | And as his Tongue of War and Honor spake, | I felt a wish to Conquer or to Die" p. 6. At the conclusion of the poem he returns to his village a broken man; Merry regards the French army, inspired by the principles of democracy, as invincible: "Unequal Contest! — at fair FREEDOM'S call, | The lowliest Herd glows with celestial Fire; | She rules, directs, pervades, and conquers all, | And Armies at her sacred Glance expire" p. 7.
Having run through most of his patrimony, Robert Merry had taken up the French cause during several visits to Paris; shortly after "The Wounded Soldier" was published he emigrated to the United States. His poem was published as a broadside in London and Edinburgh, with a notice advertising works by Thomas Spence, John Thelwall, "and a great Variety of Patriotic Publications."
Robert Merry to Samuel Rogers: "I am troubled by the Revolutionary Struggle; the great object of human happiness is never long removed from my sight. O that I could sleep for two centuries like the youths of Ephesus and then awake to a new order of things! But alas! our existence must be passed amidst the storm; the fair season will be for posterity" January 1794; P. W. Clayden, The Early Life of Samuel Rogers (1887) 284.
The Sun was just retir'd, the dews of Eve,
Their glow-worm lustre scatter'd o'er the vale;
The lonely Nightingale, began to grieve,
Telling, with many a Pause, her tend'rest tale.
No clamours rude disturbed the pensive Hour,
And the young Moon, yet fearful of the Night,
Rear'd her pale crescent, o'er the burnish'd Tower,
That caught the parting Orb's still lingering light.
'Twas then, where peasant Footsteps marked the way,
A Wounded Soldier feebly moved along,
Nor ought regarded he the Soft'ning ray,
Nor the melodious Bird's expressive Song.
On Crutches borne, his mangled Limbs he drew,
Unsightly remnants of the Battles rage;
While Pity, in his youthful form, might view
A helpless Prematurity of Age.
Then as with strange contortions, lab'ring slow
He gain'd the summit of his native Hill,
And saw the well known Prospect spread below,
The Farm, the Cot, the Hamlet and the Mill.
In spite of Fortitude, one struggling sigh,
Shook the firm Texture of his tortured Heart,
And from his hollow and dejected Eye,
One tremb'ling Tear hung ready to depart.
"How chang'd" he cried "is the fair scene to me,
Since last across this narrow Path I went:
The soaring Lark felt not superior Glee,
Nor any human Breast, more true Content.
"When the fresh Hay was o'er the Meadow thrown
Amidst the Busy Throng I still appeared,
My Prowess too at Harvest Time was shewn,
While Lucy's carrol ev'ry Labour cheered.
"The burning rays I scarcely seemed to feel,
If the dear Maiden near me chanc'd to rove,
Or if she deigned to share my frugal meal,
It was a rich Repast, a Feast of Love.
"And when at Evening, with a Rustics' pride,
I dared the sturdiest Wrestler on the Green,
What Joy was mine! to hear her at my side,
Extol my Vigour, and my manly Mien.
"Ah! no more the sprightly Lass shall run,
To bid me welcome from the sultry plain;
But her averted Eye my sight shall shun,
And all our cherish'd fondest Hopes be vain.
"Alas! my Parents, must ye too endure,
That I should gloom for e'er your homely mirth,
Exist upon the pittance ye procure,
And make me curse the Hour that gave me birth.
"O hapless Day! when at a neighb'ring Wake,
The gaudy Sergeant caught my wond'ring Eye;
And as his Tongue of War and Honor spake,
I felt a wish to Conquer or to Die.
"Then while he bound the Ribbands on my Brow,
He talked of Captains kind, and Generals good;
Said a whole Nation would my Fame avow,
And Bounty call'd the Purchase of my Blood.
"Yet I refused that bounty, I disdained
To sell my service in a Righteous cause;
And such to my dull sense it was explain'd,
The Cause of Monarchs, Justice and the Laws.
"The Rattling Drums beat loud, the Fifes began,
My King and Country seem'd to ask my aid,
Thro' every Vein, the thrilling ardour ran,
I left my humble Cot, my Village Maid.
"O hapless Day! torn from my Lucy's charms,
I thence was hurried to a Scene of Strife;
To painful Marches, and the din of Arms,
The wreck of Reason and the waste of Life.
"In loathsome Vessels, now with crowds confin'd,
Now led the Hosts to Slaughter in the Field;
Now backward driv'n, like Leaves before the Wind,
Too weak to Stand, and yet asham'd to Yield.
"Till oft repeated Victories inspir'd
With tenfold Fury the indignant Foe;
Who ruthless still advanced, as we retir'd,
And laid our boasted, proudest Honors low.
"Thro' frozen Desarts then compell'd to fly,
Our bravest Legions mouldered fast away;
Thousands of Wounds and Sickness left to Die,
While hov'ring Ravens mark'd them for their prey.
"Ah! sure Remorse their savage Hearts must rend
Whose selfish, des'prate phrenzy could decree,
That in one mass of Murder MAN should blend,
Who sent the Slave to fight against the Free.
"Unequal Contest! — at fair FREEDOM'S call,
The lowliest Herd glows with celestial Fire;
She rules, directs, pervades, and conquers all,
And Armies at her sacred Glance expire.
"Then be this Warfare of the world accurs'd;
The Son now weeps not on the Father's Bier;
But grey Hair'd Age, for Nature is revers'd,
Drops o'er his Children's Grave an Icy tear."
Thus having spoke, — by varying Passions tost,
He reach'd the Threshold of his Father's shed,
Who knew not of his Fate, yet mourn'd him lost,
Amidst the Number of the unnam'd Dead.
Soon as they heard his well remember'd voice,
A ray of Rapture chas'd habitual Care;
"Our Henry lives, we may again rejoice,"
And Lucy sweetly blushed, for she was there.
But when he entered in such horid guise,
His Mother shriek'd, and dropp'd upon the Floor;
His Father look'd to Heaven with streaming Eyes,
And Lucy sunk, alas! to rise no more.
O may this Tale, which agony must close,
Give deep Contrition to the self-call'd great;
And shew the Poor, how hard's the lot of those,
Who shed their Blood, for Ministers of State.