Williams, Helen Maria, 1759-1827. Poems on various subjects: with introductory remarks on the present state of science and literature in France. London: G. and W. B. Whittaker, 1823.
- POEMS ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS. WITH INTRODUCTORY REMARKS ON THE PRESENT STATE OF SCIENCE AND LITERATURE IN FRANCE.
- TO CHARLES L. COQUEREL AND AUGUSTIN COQUEREL, THESE POEMS ARE INSCRIBED, BY THEIR AFFECTIONATE AUNT, HELEN MARIA WILLIAMS.
- An Address to Poetry 3
- Peruvian Tales: — Alzira, Tale I. 19
- Alzira, Tale II. 29
- Zilia, Tale III. 36
- Cora, Tale IV. 46
- Aciloe, Tale V. 55
- Cora, Tale VI. 69
- The Bastille, a Vision 85
- Euphelia, an Elegy 92
- Duncan, an Ode 103
- Queen Mary's Complaint 107
- To Sensibility 111
- Edwin and Eltrada, a Legendary Tale 117
- Ode to Peace 140
- The Morai 145
- Scotch Ballad 156
- Song 159
- Song 162
- On the Bill which was passed in England for regulating the Slave-Trade; a short time before its Abolition 166
- An American Tale 181
- Part of an Irregular Fragment 190
- Sonnet to Hope 203
- Sonnet to Twilight 204
- Sonnet on reading Burn's "Mountain Daisy. " 205
- Sonnet to the Moon 206
- Sonnet to Peace of Mind 207
- Sonnet to Mrs. Bates 209
- Sonnet to Expression 210
- Sonnet to Love 211
- Sonnet to Disappointment 212
- Sonnet to Simplicity 213
- Sonnet to the Strawberry 214
- Sonnet to the Curlew 215
- Sonnet to the Torrid Zone 216
- Sonnet to the Calbassia Tree 217
- Sonnet to the White Bird of the Tropic 218
- Dulce Domum, an old Latin Ode, sung annually by the Winchester Boys upon leaving college at the vacation, translated at the request of Dr. Joseph Warton 219
- [Page viii]Elegy on a Young Thrush, which escaped from the Writer's hand, and falling down the area of a house, could not be found 222
- The Linnet and the Cat 225
- To Dr. Moore, in answer to a Poetical Epistle written to me by him in Wales, September 1791 229
- Hymn, imitated from the French 234
- Imitation of Lines written by Roucher, below his Picture, which a fellow-prisoner had drawn, and which he sent to his Wife and Children the day before his Execution. — 1794 236
- Imitation of Lines addressed by M. D—, a young Man of twenty-four years of age, the night before his execution, to a Young Lady to whom he was engaged. — 1794 237
- To a Friend, who sent me Flowers, when confined by illness 239
- The Complaint of the Goddess of the Glaciers to Doctor Darwin 241
- Verses addressed to my two Nephews, on Saint Helen's Day, 1809 245
- To James Forbes, Esq. Author of "The Oriental Memoirs," who asked for some lines of my hand-writing on leaving France, after his captivity at Verdun 251
- Lines written on the Pillar erecting to the Memory of Mr. Barlow, Minister of the United States at Paris, who died at Narowith, in Poland, on his return from Wilna, Dec. 26, 1812 253
- To the Baron De Humboldt, on his bringing me some Flowers in March 255
- To Mrs. K—, on her sending me an English Christmas Plum-cake at Paris 256
- The Travellers in Haste; addressed to Thomas Clarkson, Esq. in 1814, when many English arrived at Paris, but remained a very short time 258
- To James Forbes, Esq. on his bringing me Flowers from Vaucluse, and which he had preserved by means of an ingenious process in their original beauty 262
- Lines on the tomb of a favourite dog 264
- The Charter; addressed to my nephew Athanase C. L. Coquerel, on his wedding day, 1819 266
- Lines addressed to A. C., an infant, on his first new-year's day, 1821 273
- Lines to Helen, a new-born infant, 1821 276
- Lines written in the Album of the Baroness D' H—, to her two daughters 277
- A Hymn 279
- Paraphrase. — Psalam lxxiv, 16, 17 281
- Paraphrase. — Isaiah xlix, 15 284
- Paraphrase. — Matt. vii, 22 288
- Paraphrase. — Matt. vi, 4 291
- Hymn, written among the Alps 293
- AN ADDRESS TO POETRY.
- PERUVIAN TALES.
- THE BASTILLE, A VISION.
- EUPHELIA, AN ELEGY.
- DUNCAN, AN ODE.
- QUEEN MARY'S COMPLAINT.
- TO SENSIBILITY.
- EDWIN AND ELTRADA, A LEGENDARY TALE.
- ODE TO PEACE.
- THE MORAI.
- SCOTCH BALLAD.
- ON THE BILL WHICH WAS PASSED IN ENGLAND FOR REGULATING THE SLAVE-TRADE; A SHORT TIME BEFORE ITS ABOLITION.
- AN AMERICAN TALE.
- PART OF AN IRREGULAR FRAGMENT.
- SONNET TO HOPE.
- SONNET TO TWILIGHT.
- SONNET ON READING BURNS' “MOUNTAIN DAISY.”
- SONNET TO THE MOON.
- SONNET TO PEACE OF MIND.
- SONNET TO MRS. SIDDONS.
- SONNET TO MRS. BATES.
- SONNET TO EXPRESSION.
- SONNET TO LOVE.
- SONNET TO DISAPPOINTMENT.
- SONNET TO SIMPLICITY.
- SONNET TO THE STRAWBERRY.
- SONNET TO THE CURLEW.
- SONNET TO THE TORRID ZONE.
- SONNET TO THE CALBASSIA-TREE.
- SONNET TO THE WHITE-BIRD OF THE TROPIC.
- DULCE DOMUM, AN OLD LATIN ODE.
- ELEGY ON A YOUNG THRUSH, WHICH ESCAPED FROM THE WRITER'S HAND, AND FALLING DOWN THE AREA OF A HOUSE, COULD NOT BE FOUND.
- THE LINNET AND THE CAT.
- TO DR. MOORE, IN ANSWER TO A POETICAL EPISTLE WRITTEN TO ME BY HIM IN WALES, SEPTEMBER 1791.
- HYMN, IMITATED FROM THE FRENCH.
- IMITATION OF LINES WRITTEN BY ROUCHER, BELOW HIS PICTURE, WHICH A FELLOW-PRISONER HAD DRAWN, AND WHICH HE SENT TO HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN THE DAY BEFORE HIS EXECUTION. — 1794.
- IMITATION OF LINES ADDRESSED BY M. D—, A YOUNG MAN OF TWENTY-FOUR YEARS OF AGE, THE NIGHT BEFORE HIS EXECUTION, TO A YOUNG LADY TO WHOM HE WAS ENGAGED. — 1794.
- TO A FRIEND, WHO SENT ME FLOWERS, WHEN CONFINED BY ILLNESS.
- THE COMPLAINT OF THE GODDESS OF THE GLACIERS TO DOCTOR DARWIN.
- VERSES ADDRESSED TO MY TWO NEPHEWS, ON SAINT HELEN'S DAY, 1809.
- TO JAMES FORBES, ESQ. Author of “The Oriental Memoirs,” WHO ASKED FOR SOME LINES OF MY HAND-WRITING ON LEAVING FRANCE, AFTER HIS CAPTIVITY AT VERDUN.
- LINES WRITTEN ON THE PILLAR ERECTING TO THE MEMORY OF MR. BARLOW, Minister of the United States at Paris, WHO DIED AT NAROWITCH IN POLAND, ON HIS RETURN FROM WILNA, DEC. 26, 1812.
- TO THE BARON DE HUMBOLDT, ON HIS BRINGING ME SOME FLOWERS IN MARCH.
- TO MRS. K—, ON HER SENDING ME ENGLISH CHRISTMAS PLUMB-CAKE, AT PARIS.
- THE TRAVELLERS IN HASTE; ADDRESSED TO THOMAS CLARKSON, ESQ. IN 1814, WHEN MANY ENGLISH ARRIVED AT PARIS, BUT REMAINED A VERY SHORT TIME.
- TO JAMES FORBES, ESQ. ON HIS BRINGING ME FLOWERS FROM VAUCLUSE, AND WHICH HE HAD PRESERVED BY MEANS OF AN INGENIOUS PROCESS IN THEIR ORIGINAL BEAUTY.
- LINES ON THE TOMB OF A FAVOURITE DOG.
- THE CHARTER; ADDRESSED TO MY NEPHEW ATHANASE C. L. COQUEREL, ON HIS WEDDING DAY, 1819.
- LINES ADDRESSED TO A. C., AN INFANT, ON HIS FIRST NEW-YEAR'S DAY, 1821.
- LINES TO HELEN, A NEW-BORN INFANT, 1821.
- LINES WRITTEN IN THE ALBUM OF THE BARONESS D' H——, TO HER TWO DAUGHTERS.
- A HYMN.
- HYMN, WRITTEN AMONG THE ALPS.
- THE END.
BY HELEN MARIA WILLIAMS. LONDON: G. AND W. B. WHITTAKER, AVE-MARIA LANE. 1823.
SOME of the following poems, the productions of my early youth, and which were published many years since in two small volumes, have been long out of print; others have been scattered in different works, and several are now for the first time presented to the Public.
I feel that I have little to urge in behalf of these slight compositions, which I wish to preserve. They bear a character of melancholy that nature and early sorrows have made the habitual disposition of my mind; this is all I shall venture to say of them, for they scarcely deserve the honours of a grave defence.
I have indeed endeavoured to correct some of their inaccuracies, yet I feel far more apprehension than usual at the publication of the present volume: this may be easily explained. I have long renounced any attempts in verse, confining my pen almost entirely to sketches of the events of the Revolution. I have seen[Page x] what I relate, and therefore I have written with confidence; I have there been treading on the territory of History, and a trace of my footsteps will perhaps be left. My narratives make a part of that marvellous story which the eighteenth century has to record to future times, and the testimony of a witness will be heard. Perhaps, indeed, I have written too little of events which I have known so well; but the convulsions of states form accumulations of private calamity that distract the attention by overwhelming the heart, and it is difficult to describe the shipwreck when sinking in the storm.
Four poems only of this collection have any reference to public events. The first in the order of time is one of my earliest productions, and appeared many years ago under the title of Peru; which title, although vague, seemed to promise far more than it performed. I have now adopted what appears to me a more appropriate denomination, that of Peruvian Tales in Verse; I have not ventured to dignify them with the appellation of historical, although they are chiefly composed of facts taken from Robertson's History of Spanish America, which first suggested the idea of this subject to my mind. In relating the adventures of that period, it was little[Page xi] necessary to seek to inspire interest by having recourse to fiction; misery and oppression have at all times composed the great materials of human history, and the fashion has not passed away; it may be traced from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, from the invasion of Peru to that of Naples. ** The events which took place twenty years ago at Naples were well fitted to be the precursors of those that have followed. The sketch I published in 1801, of the Revolution of Naples in 1799, together with copies of the original documents of the violated treaty, which were confided to me by the persons in whose possession they had been placed, have been inserted by Mr. Belsham in his continuation of Hume, and have therefore become a part of history.With respect to the Peruvian Tales I shall only add, that I have corrected them with care, and, above all, have found sufficient time to make them shorter.
The second poem to which I allude is entitled "A Poem on the Bill passed for regulating the Slave Trade." This Bill was passed a short time before that glorious law, by which England renounced for ever her share of oppression. On the Continent of Europe, egotism, and an antient respect for abuses, have raised an army of opponents to the abolition; and their path has not yet been crossed by a Wilberforce or a Clarkson —
"In Heaven they write Names, such as their's, in characters of light" †[Page xii]† Mr. Rogers' Human Life, p. 15.
The third poem I have to mention is an Ode on the taking of the Bastille. Of that event I shall only say, in those eloquent words,** Answer of Sir James Mackintosh to Burke. which have hung on my recollection across the lapse of years, and amidst scenes of revolutionary danger, "it was an action not to be excused but applauded; not to be pardoned but admired: I shall not descend to vindicate acts which history will teach the remotest posterity to admire, and which is destined to kindle in unborn millions the holy enthusiasm of freedom."
The fourth poem which bears on its brow the mark of politics, is an Ode on the Peace signed between the French and English at Amiens, in the year 1801. I shall offer no apology either for the sentiments or predictions contained in that little poem. It is so easy to make mistakes in the common calculations of life, that error may well be pardoned in marking the phases of a mighty revolution, which sweeps away hopes and predictions with other things, and leaves us to perceive too late that we have "read the book of destiny amiss." †† Mrs. Barbauld's Corsica.The only memorable circumstance in the history of this Ode is its having[Page xiii] incurred the displeasure of Buonaparte: he found it in a corner of the Morning Chronicle, and it was translated into French by his order. He pretended to be highly irritated at the expression "encircled by thy subject-waves," applied to England, and which he said was treasonable towards France; but what he really resented was, that his name was not once pronounced in the Ode. However singular it may seem that he should have paid the slightest attention to such a circumstance, it is nevertheless true. The ambitious find time for every thing, and while they appear to be wholly absorbed by great objects, never lose sight of the most minute if connected with their own egotism. Buonaparte is no more; and perhaps we are too much disposed to forgive his treasons against liberty in favour of the expiation he has made. But those who have abused power must not escape the sentence of posterity because they were unfortunate. Buonaparte must appear at the bar of history to give an account of his legions, and of that immense stock of human happiness confided to his care, and which he, guilty spendthrift, threw away.
I shall add no further observations respecting the following poems; previous apologies soften little of critical rigour, and, considered as a stranger in England[Page xiv] (although my heart throbs at its name), my portion of indulgence will perhaps be scanty. My literary patrons belonged to "the days of other years," when a ray of favour sometimes fell on my early essays in verse. I can now only expect that, it being the nature of the English public to be just, I shall meet with no more severity than I deserve.
BEFORE I close these pages I cannot resist seizing the occasion of protesting against the opinions which have of late gone forth in England, respecting "the present degenerate State of Science and Literature in France." I consider it the more a duty to offer some remarks on this subject, these assertions having been made under the high authority of a Journal no less distinguished for its liberal principles than for the ability with which it is written. An accusation therefore, coming from that quarter, against modern France, wears something like an air of justice.
The professors of science in this country may indeed be safely left to defend themselves. The learned only are fit to be their own judges, and I know not what my eulogium could add to such names as those of La Place, Delambre, Hauy, Cuvier, Jussieu,[Page xv] Gay-Lussac, Arrago, Biot, Thenard, and many others worthy to augment the list. Some of those persons belong, from their age to the new order of things; and others, whose talents had already shed lustre on the old monarchy, proceeded in their learned labours during the course of the Revolution, and even amidst the crimes that marked the reign of terror, as if they sought to console mankind for those passing horrors by the eternal lessons of wisdom and truth. What, for instance, can be more noble and affecting than the conduct of Condorcet and Rabaut St. Etienne, at that period? who, while hors la loi, and certain, if their retreat were discovered, of being dragged without trial to the scaffold, pursued with the calmness of a superior nature the lofty speculations of philosophy, and left posthumous works, in which they disdained to make the slightest allusion to their own desperate situation, which for both terminated in death! ** This last work of Condorcet is entitled "Sur la Perfectibilité de l'Homme;" that of Rabaut St. Etienne Was a "Treatise on Public Instruction," which fell into the hands of the Omars of the day, and was destroyed. But a collection of his letters that have been preserved, and are now in the possession of Madam Rabaut-Pommier, his sister-in-law, will be published; they throw more light on the first years of the Revolution than any work that has yet appeared. He has also left a collection of Sermons, which he had preached in "the Desert," the sole temple of the French Protestants before the Revolution.[Page xvi]
It being my particular purpose at present to plead the cause of the Poets, I shall hastily pass over the merits of the French literati, and the orators at the bar and in the legislature, who have acquired celebrity under the auspices of liberty. It would indeed be superfluous to relate what is already well known; to repeat, for instance, that the admirable philosophical discourses of M. Daunou on history, the brilliant memoirs of M. Le Montey, the transcendent genius of Madame de Stael, belong to the new order of things; or, that at the bar, Dupin, Odillon-Barrot, Berville, the advocates of freedom, may stand with brow erect before the celebrated lawyers of the old despotism, who perhaps possessed equal abilities, but defended a less noble cause.
French eloquence, shackled in a thousand ways before the Revolution, burst at once into splendour, when the delegates of the people were permitted to proclaim their rights, and discuss their interests. The Constituent Assembly furnished models of public speaking; and the small minority of the Convention, the immortal members of the Gironde, proved that the purest source of eloquence is found in the love of liberty; they who, after having vainly pleaded her cause, gloriously died in its defence: and such men,[Page xvii] among whom are found the Hampdens, the Sidneys, the Russels of their country, have been styled, in a tone of irony, "revolutionary worthies!" and this expression is not found in a manifesto of the Holy Alliance, dated from their head-quarters at Naples, but comes from the head-quarters of science, literature, and liberal principles, at Edinburgh!
When, after the fall of Buonaparte, the legislators ceased to be mute, eloquence revived with the use of speech. The most splendid talents in the Chamber of Deputies belong exclusively to the minority; the partizans of the past can boast of no such orators as Benjamin Constant, Royer-Collard, Daunou, General Foy, Chauvelin, Manuel, Saint-Aulaire, François de Nantes, D'Argenson, Dupont de L'Eure, Girardin, Etienne, Bignot, &c. Arguments and votes are found, indeed, to have little connection at the appel-nominal, but reason and eloquence have a mighty power over public opinion, not only in France but throughout Europe. The enlightened traveller now visits Paris, not merely to gaze upon the façade of the Louvre, or the master-pieces of art; he hastens to the sanctuary where the great interests of mankind are nobly defended, and where the vanquished obtain the palms.[Page xviii]
Before I attempt to give a Sketch of the Influence of the Revolution on French Poetry, it may be proper to repeat, what I have already observed in a work lately published, that, in this country, politics have long absorbed almost entirely the public mind; not only on account of their magnitude, but because the connection of political events with the fate of individuals is here far more immediate and overwhelming than in old settled governments. It has, indeed, been pretended that, the Revolution being now terminated, the people have given their dismission from public affairs; but this is not quite exact: if they no longer place themselves in the breach, they still maintain a post of observation, and their vigilant jealousy of the Charter, sole compensation of all their sacrifices, leaves them little leisure for letters and arts. Yet at every period of the Revolution, even at the gloomy epocha of terror, there existed some minds who sought in books their most soothing consolations amidst their own dangers, or, which perhaps they found more difficult to bear, the dangers of those who were dear to them. It requires to have been in such perilous situations to know the rapture of turning for a moment to Literature, from the turbulence of a world in commotion. Even then, also, were[Page xix] found a chosen few worthy to guard the vestal flame of the Muses; and the complainings of the poet were heard at intervals amidst the fury of the political tempest. The great event of the Revolution has had an influence in this country on the whole existence of man; on his thoughts, his principles, his manners, and his taste; and no doubt Poetry has been subject to its irresistible ascendency. From the natural connection that exists between our feelings and our situation, a new state of society must have led the vivid imagination of the poet to new images, and his heart, tremblingly awake to every human sympathy, must have felt new emotions. Enough has been said of the crimes of the Revolution, and perhaps too little of those examples of self-abrogation, those deeds of devotedness, those sublime public virtues, which seem to slumber in the soul in ordinary times, and which it requires the greatness of such a circumstance to call forth. The contemplation of those noble actions, piercing like the beautiful colours of the rainbow through the blackness of the cloud, and seeming also the symbols of security on which man might still repose, were well fitted to awaken lofty thoughts, and produce those habits of deep and serious meditation which gave birth to the marvels of intellectual energy.
Louis the Fourteenth has, indeed, the glory of[Page xx] giving his name to the Augustan age of literature in France; but there can be no reason on that account to believe that superstition and slavery are favourable to letters. What is there in common between despotism and genius? they may meet together, like many an ill-assorted pair, but the union was never made in heaven, and every generous feeling of our nature conspires to forbid the banns. Had Racine lived in our days, no doubt his mind would have taken a different tone, and feeling; he would have written more after his own heart; far from the ceremonial of a court by which he was sometimes shackled, he would have seized the philosophic spirit of the times, and allied the fervour of the patriot with the pathetic tenderness of the poet; and surely he would never have died of despondency because a monarch, on whose reign his divine genius sheds so bright a lustre, gave him an angry look. ** The Revolution has even created a new phraseology in France. Many new words have been introduced, the result of new circumstances. But this is a truth which the French admit with reluctance: they tremble at the slightest innovation in their language, and consider every addition to its vocabulary as a profanation. Those upstart words seem despised like the people, by the privileged orders, for having no ancestry. The French Academy stedfastly persist in excluding many parliamentary terms which the Chamber of Deputies have resolutely adopted. Even the word Budjet, although a most uncouth sound to a French ear, is completely naturalized, in defiance of the Academicians. The new denomination of romantic in literature, gives a French critic the same kind of shivering fit, as that of liberal in politics produces on the nerves of an ultra.[Page xxi]
It were easy to exemplify the propitious effects which the new order of things has produced on Poetry in many remarkable instances but I shall confine myself to a few examples. There existed two poets in France at the period of the revolution, pre-eminent above the rest: Le Brun, and Delille. Their poetry differed as much as their political opinions; that of Le Brun is daring and original; that of Delille elegant and polished; but the Revolution exerted a powerful influence on both. Le Brun hailed that event with all the fervour of an impassioned spirit; his patriotic odes, and invocations to Liberty have‘ "Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn."’
Liberty lends his age new fires, and gives his muse the exulting glow of youth; he sweeps the chords of his lyre with a bolder hand, and draws forth tones of more lofty inspiration; he stamps upon his verse all the vehemence of his political sentiments, and proves that what Pope has said of the sorrows of love may be applied to the triumphs of liberty:‘ "He best can paint them who shall feel them most."’
Le Brun sometimes honoured me with his visits, and loved to recite his poetical compositions, even to a large circle; this is one of the last things a man of letters in England would chuse to undertake; but it[Page xxii] has always been the practice and the fashion, under every regime, in France. His tall meagre form, and his long thin visage, became full of animation while he repeated his verses; he seemed possessed by a kind of poetic furor; his eye flashed fire, his voice was sonorous; but, with a temper impetuous as his song, he could bear no interruption; irritated by the slightest movement, the lowest whisper in the apartment, he would suddenly pause, and sometimes inflexibly refuse to proceed. Irascible in his temper, warm in his friendships, and no less violent in his enmities, he excelled in epigram, which he could point with a cruel skill that never missed its aim. Upon the whole, it cannot be denied that Le Brun was a greater poet for having witnessed the Revolution; that his muse took a higher flight after escaping from the trammels in which poetry had been confined in France; and that, by mingling the dearest interests of mankind with the passionate language of the muse, he gave his divine art a charm and an empire till then unknown in his country. ** Le Brun had the good fortune to have a poet for the editor of his works, M. Guingené, who was a member of the Institute, well known for his taste and erudition, for many elegant literary and poetical productions, and an history of Italian literature, which is considered as a classical work. The memory of this accomplished and enlightened friend of liberty, will ever be cherished by those who enjoyed the privilege of his society, and the fascinating powers of his conversation.[Page xxiii]
Delille, the contemporary of Le Brun, and like him advanced in age at the period of the Revolution, was one of its most resolute antagonists. But we are sometimes subject, by a sort of fatality, to the influence of what we hate; Delille, impelled by his political opinions to emigrate, took refuge in England, where he no doubt enlarged the sphere of his ideas, acquired perhaps more greatness of thought, and enriched his imagination with bolder images. While devoted to old systems of politics, he learnt to adorn the new systems of science with the most beautiful colouring of poetry. Even their rugged nomenclature becomes flexible to the will of the hand who possessed a peculiar power of bending the French language to his purpose, while he preserved all its grace and harmony.
Thus a new situation combined with the general progress of modern improvement and discovery, to make Delille a greater poet, in spite of his political prejudices, and almost against his will. He would have been satisfied to look at what could be seen of nature by a poet's eye, through the narrow casements of a gothic castle; but he was borne down the torrent-stream of the Revolution, and his muse was[Page xxiv]forced to walk abroad amidst scenery of more extensive beauty and sublimer grandeur.
There belongs to Delille's character a moral excellence which cannot be passed unnoticed, and that was his stedfast adherence to his principles. He was called, in the eloquent language of M. de Chateaubriand, "le courtisan de l'adversité;" and he has been celebrated also for his unshaken fidelity by a young poet now no more, Charles Loyson,** This young poet died not long since, of a consumption. His last composition, a farewell to life, is entitled "Le Jeune Poète au Lit de Mort," where he laments his untimely fate in a strain of beautifully plaintive verse. I shall transcribe a few of the stanzas. "Couvrez mon lit de fleurs, couronnez-en ma tête; Placez, placez ma lyre en mes tremblantes mains; Je salûrai la mort par une hymne de fête; Vous, de mes derniers chants répéter les refrains. " Mais quel trouble s'élève en mon âme affaiblie? Pourquoi tombent soudain ces transports généreux? Mes regards, malgré moi, se tournent vers la vie, Et ma lyre ne rend que des sons douloureux. "Malheureux que je suis! je n'ai rien fait encore Qui puisse du tré pas sauver mon souvenir! J'emporte dans la tombe un nom que l'on ignore, Et tout entier la mort m'enlève à l'avenir!" who has joined with the name of Delille that of the venerable poet and patriot Ducis, the translator of Hamlet and Macbeth. Ducis braved far longer than Delille the power of Buonaparte; refused all his gifts, and[Page xxv] honours, the red ribbon, and the place of senator, and acquired the title of the last of the Romans. The following are the lines of Charles Loyson:
"Voyez-vous ce tyran? la foule en vain l'encense" De Ducis, de Delille, il entend la silence, "Qu'il soumette à ses loix l'Europe, et l'Univers," De leur muse inflexible il n'aura pas un vers. "
Those who have passed through the various phases of a revolution, know how to appreciate the virtue of independence. ** It must be acknowledged that the fine arts too often follow the impulsion of power. Of this the first exhibition of painting at the Louvre, after the Restoration, furnished a striking evidence. We had been accustomed to see nothing but battles on every canvas, and the figure of Napoleon ever in the foreground of the piece. But suddenly "all pomp and circumstance of war" disappeared; the snows of Wagram stained with blood melted away; the fields of Austerlitz and Jena sunk from the horizon; and marshals, soldiers, cannon, precipices, camps, and broken bridges, were all swept into one common ruin. The walls were crowded with Madonas and processions, and not one single warrior fixed the eye but the good Henry the Fourth, always dear indeed to the French, and to whom they have never forgotten their allegiance.
Among the poets whose compositions have embellished the Revolution, and softened its stern aspect, Chenier seems to require a particular mention, because he has been attacked with peculiar severity, not in his writings, but in his moral character; he is accused of nothing less than being an accomplice in the murder of his brother, or, at least, of having made no effort to save him from the scaffold. This[Page xxvi] accusation is a detestable calumny, and the story of the letter comparing him to Cain, a fable invented by his relentless enemies. Chenier was naturally of a timid disposition, which served as a pretext for those horrible suggestions; but there is the most positive evidence that he pleaded for his brother with all the energy of which he was capable; and what evidence would it require to believe the contrary? It is true that Chenier omitted doing one thing which would have silenced his adversaries, and that was to die with his brother, whom he could not save: he had perhaps no other way left of obliging them to admit that he had done what he could. There are cases in times of revolution in which dying is the only means of escaping censure. Chenier had talents that excited envy, without having those qualities of the heart that obtain pardon for intellectual superiority; he was not amiable, either in the French or English definition of the term; his manners had no charm, and his virtues no gentleness. His genius for poetry was allied with a distinguished taste for the kindred art of music; his voluntaries on the piano were delightful, and he possessed a fine voice; but when asked to play or sing, he never forgot to refuse; he sat down at the instrument to please himself, and if he gave pleasure to others it[Page xxvii] was not his fault. When I first came to France he inhabited the same hotel with myself and my family, and used to pass his evenings in our society. When we were dragged to prison in the time of terror, as guilty of being born in England, Chenier happened to meet us as we descended the staircase, surrounded by soldiers and revolutionary commissaries, and passed by us without daring to take off his hat. This slight circumstance serves to shew that he was a timid man; but there are many gradations in morals between weakness and the barbarous sacrifice of a brother. Had Chenier been a terrorist, of which he is accused, he would have had no dangers to dread; guilt was the order of the day, and had nothing to fear but its own reproaches. Chenier's apprehensions never led him to join that sanguinary faction, like some others, whose apostacy at that fatal period gave occasion to observe, that in moments of peril nothing is more atrocious than fear. He was an object of suspicion to Robespierre, and had his tyranny been prolonged, would no doubt have been his victim. The writings of Chenier are all on the side of freedom and philosophy; he was one of the poets who were best inspired by the new order of things; and if he had not the courage as a legislator to "wield a fierce demo-[Page xxviii]cracy, and thunder in the forum," he has in his quality of poet nobly defended the cause of his country. It must ever be lamented that, like too many French philosophers, he had not learnt to separate the abuses of Catholicism from the doctrines of Christianity. He wished to instruct man to break the chains of superstition: but he sent the unbound captive to wander amidst the deserts of infidelity, without one hope to cheer his path.
France is still rich in tragic poets. The tragedies of Chenier, Reynouard, Le Mercier, Arnaud, Jouy, Casimir and De Lavigne, are composed in the most philosophical spirit. Instead of compelling the sages and heroes of antiquity to talk the language of modern gallantry, the passions and the sorrows of the drama are connected with the great political interests of mankind; and on the French stage this is now the surest way of awakening that contagious sympathy, which becomes so powerful when the audience are already of one mind. The most popular piece that has appeared for a long time on the French stage is the new tragedy of "Sylla," by M. Jouy. It is a noble production of genius; and the poet has displayed in Sylla many features of a family likeness with our own modern dictator. Liberty is destroyed in Rome,[Page xxix] and nothing but victory is left. The Roscius of our times gives also a peculiar interest to the piece, when, wrapping himself in his purple robe, he seizes so precisely the fugitive tones and gestures of Napoleon, which are not yet traditional, but in the memory of all, that it seems as if the perturbed spirit had swept along the surges, and returned to tread the scene. When Talma exclaims,
"Du poids de ma grandeur plus accablé que vous," Je viens briser le joug qui nous fatiguait tous, "
and throws aside the purple, and breaks his golden palm, we recollect that it was expected by many that Napoleon would have performed the same part at the Champ de Mai. Had he done so, he would probably have changed his own destiny, and that of Europe.
In the beautiful and pathetic tragedy of M. de Lavigne, entitled "The Paria," one passage (conveying a lesson of tolerance) was applauded with rapture, which the young poet probably borrowed from Shakespeare. The Paria, who is the hero of the piece, belongs to a reprobated caste of the Hindoos; he exclaims, speaking of the Divinity,
"Nous sommes ses enfans. Comme sur leur visage" N'a-t-il pas sur le nôtre imprimé son image? —[Page xxx] "Ces mortels, comme nous, sont condamnés aux larmes," Soumis aux mêmes maux, blessé des mêmes armes; "Les mêmes passions nous brûlent de leurs feux;" Ils souffrent comme nous, et nous aimons comme eux. "
M. de Lavigne had perhaps read "Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?"
France has been always rich in comic authors, and she can now boast of Picard, Duval, Merville,** A new comedy by M. Merville, entitled "Les Quatre Ages," has very lately appeared at the Théâtre Français, and obtained the distinguished applause it deserved. The dramatic censors had indeed clipped several fine passages respecting the French youth, but the public perceived that a great deal of beauty and merit had escaped their inexorable scissars. In picturing the four ages of man, it was natural to say something of the generous sentiments that belong to the young; but that part of the community is so obnoxious, not only to the ultras of France, but the ultras of all Europe, that a foreign minister at Verona lately proposed, it is said, to the Congress, the following arrêté: "La Jeunesse Française est, et demeuré supprimée!" Andrieux, and others of distinguished merit. Andrieux is professor of poetry at the College de France, and no one knows better than himself the secret of attracting a crowded audience. He encourages his pupils in their love of study, and never mingles, with invocations to the genius of antient Greece and Rome, any philippics against liberal principles, or treats the rising generation, like some others, with as much acrimony as if it were a misdemeanor to be young. Professors may argue, and statesmen may[Page xxxi] knit their brows: but they might as well hope to change the course and order of nature, as teach the youth of France to unlearn the lesson of their lives, and adopt opinions that are falling, like their partizans, into old age and decrepitude. How will the young be persuaded that the principles on which the Revolution is founded are less true, because the adherents of the past consider the Revolution as an innovation; or, that absolute power is better than liberty, because it has the merit of being old? The young have a chord in their hearts which vibrates to noble impulses; they have reached that glowing hour of enthusiasm when visions of perfection and happiness visit the imagination; when liberty wears an angel form, and is not merely hailed as a principle, but adored as a passion. The youth of France know that freedom is the dear-bought legacy which the Revolution has bequeathed them, and they understand the price and value of their patrimony. They have thrown aside the levity of the French youth heretofore; they are less gay, less brilliant: but their minds have more dignity and elevation; their manners are simple, and their thoughts are serious; for they feel that their conduct must solve the great question, whether France is worthy to be free. They have also[Page xxxii] been nurtured amidst stupendous circumstances, and have seen in some sort, living, and embodied before their eyes, events of such magnitude, as the youth of other countries have only marvelled at in their school-books; where, perhaps amidst the ordinary occurrences of history, some tattered page, the record of freedom or glory, denotes in its worn condition how often it has been turned over. It is indeed a part of the delinquency of their age to be irritable; they may be won by confidence, but they would rebel against oppression, for they have not reached that period when the buoyant spirit recedes into timidity; when sacrifices and self-devotedness lose their perilous charm, and caution takes its place among the virtues. But while they guard their rights they remember their duties, and injustice alone would find in them "something that's dangerous." They have also, in the midst of the lengthened controversy between old and new politics, Time for their auxiliary, impelling them forward with vigorous wings, and brushing from his broad pinion the decaying obstacles in his way.
I shall transcribe the names of only a few poets to whom we owe some elegant compositions; such as Vigée, Tissot, Merville, Millvoye, Viennet; Madame[Page xxxiii] de Salm, Madame Dufresnoy, and Madame Victoire Babois. ** Madame de Salm has written several didactic poems of great merit; she is eminently the poet of reason; Madame Dufresnoy has acquired great celebrity by some beautiful love elegies, and some philosophical essays in prose; and Madame Victoire Babois has composed a succession of elegiac complaints on the loss of an only child. It has been said of the famous French actress, Mlle. Duchesnois, "qu'elle a des larmes dans la voix;" and with no less propriety, it may be said of Madame Babois, that there are tears in her words.Esmenard's poem "On Navigation" is considered as a classical work. †† M. Esmenard, and the Marquis de Boufflers did me the honour of translating some of the following Poems into French verse.
One of the most popular poets of the present time is M. Beranger, a writer of such songs as rather merit the name of odes, or hymns to liberty. They are for the most part local, and therefore would be less relished elsewhere than in France, where the allusions to persons and things are seized upon instantaneously; some are of a more general nature, and prove that a great deal of philosophy may be comprized in the burden of a song. M. Beranger lately published a collection of these celebrated compositions, of which an immense number were sold in a few days; but he was guilty of casting a shade over his glory, by inserting some productions which religion and morals are, alas, compelled to put on their index. His genius was rich enough to have been less parsimonious of a few pages which the Muse of History[Page xxxiv] would wish, as she did for the Great Condé, to tear out. M. Beranger ought to have remembered that he also belongs to History: Anacreon is as well known to posterity as Themistocles. M. Beranger was tried for sedition, and condemned to a short imprisonment; while in captivity he caused his trial to be published, and inserted the forbidden songs on which his condemnation was founded. For that offence he was ordered to be tried a second time at the Cour D'Assises, the Old Bailey of Paris. There the poetical culprit appeared as on a scene of triumph. The court was filled with all the wits and the elegant women of Paris; he was defended by the admirable eloquence of M. Dupin, and the Jury were reminded by M. Berville of the fate that awaited the persecutors of the Muses in all ages; of his guilt who exiled Ovid; of the eternal infamy of him who imprisoned Tasso; and the recorded severity of him from whose presence Racine departed and died. M. Beranger was acquitted.
One young poet only in France M. La Martine, has ranged himself under the banners of power; he has addressed odes to the high-priest of intolerance the Abbé Menais; and invocations, not on stamped paper, but in Pindaric measures, to the[Page xxxv] Attorney General. M. La Martine has, however real talents, and his muse has, without his leave, borrowed energy from freedom.
I shall forbear further to enumerate the poets who have laid their votive offerings on the altar of liberty, and whom the austere critics of the north would perhaps call des illustres inconnues. They may be so in England, for a poet seldom acquires honour except in his own country; his name may be pronounced abroad, but he is only understood at home. It is the poetry of that language in which we have lisped in numbers, in which we first heard the voice that is dearest to us, in which we have breathed our earliest accents of joy and sorrow, that strongly affects the heart; that penetrates its inmost folds, and awakens its most deep-felt emotions: the poetry of a language which we have learnt with the dictionary has no such prerogative. My long residence in France qualifies me perhaps as much as any stranger to taste the charms of French poetry, and I am not insensible to its influence; but when I seek for consolation from verse I take up Pope, or Thomson. Science and History can be taught to speak every language, but Poetry knows only her own. The prejudices, therefore, that prevail every where against the poetry of other countries are natural enough; the poet is not[Page xxxvi] understood by foreigners in his original tongue, and when his verse is translated, its enchantment is fled. Sir Walter Scott's novels have been read eagerly in French, but his poetry in its Parisian costume has lost all the simple graces of the Highland plaid; no Caledonian vapours hang upon the hill; no native voices are in the hall; the strings of the minstrel's harp are slackened, and there is little music in the murmurs of the Yarrow.
But it is time to conclude this imperfect sketch of the tendencies of the Revolution on poetry. If we are just, we shall not only absolve liberty of the crimes by which it has been profaned, but we shall beware of asserting that the new order of things has in any manner degenerated, rather than exalted the human mind, or enfeebled genius instead of giving fresh strength to its pinion. No; the Revolution has produced more energy of talent, more seriousness of thought, more virtue, more philanthropy, and more religion, than existed in this country at any former period. How can I resist mentioning, though it may be a digression, a recent and affecting proof of the progress of philanthropy, in the devotedness of the four French physicians, who lately hastened to pass the belt thrown around the desolate city of Barcelona,[Page xxxvii] to separate the living creation from the domain of death; who, like Howard, "plunged into the infection of hospitals," and while they risqued their lives for strangers, rejected the uncounted gold which the families of the sick threw at their feet, for services it would have profaned, but never could pay. These glorious philanthropists
"drew purer breath," While Nature sicken'd, and each gale was death, "
with the exception of one young physician, M. Mazet, who fell the martyr of humanity. Two nations weep over his fate; two monuments will record his virtue. He has left a widowed mother to deplore his loss; but she may well exclaim, in the words of an English father, "I would not give my dead son for any living son in Christendom" ** It seems scarcely necessary to mention the pilgrimage of les Soeurs de la Charité to attend the sick of Barcelona; pity is their vocation, and to them might be applied what was said by M. Thomas, the Celebrated academician, of the virtues of Madame Necker, "le roman des autres est son histoire."
Religion is also become more than ever an object of respect in this country; there prevails a general ardour of inquiry, a general wish for light and information on that subject. The French feel the importance of having a religion, and the want of its compensations and its hopes. But it will readily be[Page xxxviii] believed, that what the thinking part of so enlightened a people desire, is not the religion of the Jesuists; that it has nothing in common with the ravings of the missionaries, who fancy themselves Bossuets because they are fanatics; with the miracles of Amiens and of Saint Geneviéve, since she retook the Pantheon; or with that bigot zeal of proselytism, which, in its cruel perfidy, tears a Protestant child from her father, and teaches her that the way to merit heaven is to violate every duty on earth. Such vain and gloomy superstition may shelter itself under the banner of religion, as the guilty, in some countries, take refuge within the precincts of a temple; but it is no less reprehended by every liberal Catholic than by persons of other persuasions. The religion sought for by the French nation is that which is founded on the principles of rational inquiry, and on the sublime morality and the eternal truths of the Gospel; that religion, without which life in its utmost blessedness would be a path of weariness, but which, to those whose passage through the world has led them amidst such tremendous scenes as have convulsed society to its very foundations, is all that can calm the agitations of memory, all that can console for what is irreparable.[Page xxxix]
I conclude with the wish that the above observations may have had some power to persuade the reader, that the Revolution has left some talents, some morality, and some religion in France.[Page xl]
Since the foregoing pages were written, I have heard that Mr. O'Meara, in his Memoirs of Buonaparte, asserts that, having lent the Emperor a volume I published "On the Events of his Government of a Hundred Days," Buonaparte declared first, that it was a very silly composition, filled with a string of falsehoods; secondly, that he had never worn any other breastplate than his flannel-waistcoat; and thirdly, that the book, foolish as it was, must have been well paid. With regard to the imputation of my work being silly, it is before the Public and must defend itself; but when Buonaparte added "that it was filled with falsehoods," he well knew that all it uttered was truth; and indeed so much anger has something of a guilty air; nothing is calmer than innocence. With respect to the slight circumstance of his having worn, during the latter part of his reign, some kind of mysterious ægis beneath his flannel-waistcoat, I shall only repeat that it was a fact of public notoriety at Paris, and that it gave a very awkward appearance to his person. But[Page xli] I hasten from his coating to a far more serious allegation against me, that of having been well paid. What pages of my volume deserved best the recompense? Was it the tribute offered to Kosciusko, the hero of Poland; or to La Fayette, the veteran of liberty in two worlds? It is the misfortune of those who write in times of revolution, that every successive Government begins by proclaiming principles which the friend of liberty is tempted to applaud, and as regularly ends by governing in its own way. Exulting in the fall of one tyranny, the heart deludes itself with the hope of better things from new rulers, who take care, in their turn, to convict the dreamer of folly. All I said of Buonaparte, in that volume, were well known facts, upon which the stamp of fate was impressed, and which, while I traced them in a feeble sketch, History had already seized, and graven with her iron pen. If the glow of enthusiastic feeling were not one of the things which it is difficult to buy or sell, the person by whom I might most reasonably be suspected of having been heretofore paid, was Buonaparte himself. But no: when I offered incense at his shrine, when I never pronounced his name without emotion, he had no recompense to give: he was not then an Emperor. My first lavish[Page xlii] panegyric on Buonaparte, in my "Tour through Switzerland," was published before he went to Egypt, when no imperial diadem bound his brows, and he was only the Deliverer of Italy. At the date of my succeeding eulogium, in "A Sketch of the State of France towards the End of the Eighteenth Century," he was simply first Consul, with no other title than that of citizen; but I own I praised him as extravagantly as if consuls, like kings, could do no wrong. His imperial purple at length cured my enthusiasm, and no odes of my inditing hailed his coronation, or his marriage; I saluted with no acclamations the daughter of the Cæsars, and essayed no imitation of Pollio on the birth of the King of Rome.
Weary of military despotism, I rejoiced indeed in the deliverance of the country, although not insensible to the bitter pang which must have rankled in the breast of the fallen monarch; but while his misfortunes are pitied by the lovers of liberty, they must not be compelled to mourn over him as its friend. He! who finished the Revolution by undoing all it had done; who overthrew its best and most sacred institutions, with the mockery of a Senate that was prostrate, and a Legislature that was mute; who gave back to France her courtly pageantry her titles, her[Page xliii] distinctions, her feudal majorats, and wrested from her those equal rights for which she had sacrificed them all; till at length his frantic ambition, unsatisfied with the inheritance of empires, brought hosts of strangers within the gates of the capital, while Liberty hid her prostrate head the dust. It was he who accustomed Europe to the action of immense masses of armed men, and thus gave rise to those Holy Alliances of bayonets, which hover over the nations with new invasions, new despotism and consequently new revolutions.