SUGGESTED BY THE COMPOSITION SO ENTITLED BY THE AUTHOR OF 'WAT TYLER'
'A Daniel come to judgment! yes a Daniel! I thank thee, Jew for teaching me that word.'
It hath been wisely said, that 'One fool makes many;' and it hath been poetically observed —
'That fools rush in where angels fear to tread.' - Pope
If Mr. Southey had not rushed in where he had no business, and where he never was before, and never will be again, the following poem would not have been written. It is not impossible that it may be as good as his own, seeing that it cannot, by any species of stupidity, natural or acquired, be worse. The gross flattery, the dull impudence, the renegado intolerance, and impious cant, of the poem by the author if 'Wat Tyler,' are something so stupendous as to form the sublime of himself — containing the quintessence of his own attributes.
So much for his poem — a word on his preface. In this preface it has pleased the magnanimous Laureate to draw the picture of a supposed 'Satanic School,' the which he doth recommend to the notice of the legislature; thereby adding to his other laurels, the ambition of those of an informer. If there exists anywhere, except in his imagination, such a School, is he not sufficiently armed against it by his own intense vanity? The truth is, that there are certain writers whom Mr. S. imagines, like Scrub, to have 'talked of him; for they have laughed consumedly.'
I think I know enough of most of the writers to whom he is supposed to allude, to assert, that they, in their individual capacities, have done more good, in the charities of life, to their fellow-creatures, in any one year, than Mr. Southey has done harm to himself by his absurdities in his whole life; and this is saying a great deal. But I have a few questions to ask.
1stly, Is Mr. Southey the author of 'Wat Tyler'?
2ndly, Was he not refused a remedy at law by the highest judge of his beloved England, because it was a blasphemous and seditious publication?
3rdly, Was he not entitled by William Smith, in full Parliament, 'a rancorous renegado'?
4thly, Is he not poet laureate, with his own lines on Martin the regicide staring him in the face?
And 5thly, Putting the four preceding items together, with what conscience dare he call the attention of the laws to the publications of others, be they what they may?
I say nothing of the cowardice of such a proceeding, its meanness speaks for itself; but I wish to touch upon the motive, which is neither more nor less than that Mr. S. has been laughed at a little in some recent publications, as he was of yore in the 'Anti-jacobin,' by his present patrons. Hence all this 'skimble-scamble stuff' about 'Satanic,' and so forth. However, it is worthy of him — 'qualis ab incepto.'
If there is anything obnoxious to the political opinions of a portion of the public in the following poem, they may thank Mr. Southey. He might have written hexameters, as he has written everything else, for aught that the writer cared — had they been upon another subject. But to attempt to canonise a monarch, who, whatever where his household virtues, was neither a successful nor a patriot king, — inasmuch as several years of his reign passed in war with America and Ireland, to say nothing of the aggression upon France, — like all other exaggeration, necessarily begets opposition. In whatever manner he may be spoken of in this new 'Vision,' his public career will not be more favourably transmitted by history. Of his private virtues (although a little expense to the nation) there can be no doubt.
With regard to the supernatural personages treated of, I can only say that I know as much about them, and (as an honest man) have a better right to talk of them than Robert Southey. I have also treated them more tolerantly. The way in which that poor insane creature, the Laureate, deals about his judgments in the next world, is like his own judgment in this. If it was not completely ludicrous, it would be something worse. I don't think that there is much more to say at present.
P.S. — It is possible that some readers may object, in these objectionable times, to the freedom with which saints, angels, and spiritual persons discourse in this 'Vision.' But, for precedents upon such points, I must refer him to Fielding's 'Journey from the World to the next,' and to the Visions of myself, the said Quevedo, in Spanish or translated. The reader is also requested to observe, that no doctrinal tenets are insisted upon or discussed; that the person of the Deity is carefully withheld from sight, which is more than can be said for the Laureate, who hath thought proper to make him talk, not 'like a school-divine,' but like the unscholarlike Mr. Southey. The whole action passes on the outside of heaven; and Chaucer's 'Wife of Bath,' Pulci's 'Morgante Maggiore,' Swift's 'Tale of a Tub,' and the other works above referred to, are cases in point of the freedom with which saints, &c. may be permitted to converse in works not intended to be serious.
*** Mr. Southey being, as he says, a good Christian and vindictive, threatens, I understand, a reply to this our answer. It is to be hoped that his visionary faculties will be in the mean time have acquired a little more judgment, properly so called: otherwise he will get himself into new dilemmas. These apostate jacobins furnish rich rejoinders. Let him take a specimen. Mr. Southey laudeth grievously 'one Mr. Landor,' who cultivates much prevate renown in the shape of Latin verses; and not long ago, the poet laureate dedicated to him, it appeareth, one of his fugitive lyrics, upon the strength of a poem called 'Gebir.' Who could suppose, that in this same Gebir the aforesaid Savage Landor (for such is his grim cognomen) putteth into the infernal regions no less a person than the hero of his friend Mr. Southey's heaven, — yea, even George the Third! See also how personal Savage becometh, when he hath a mind. The following is his portrait of our late gracious sovereign:
(Prince Gebir having descended into the infernal regions, the shades of his royal ancestors are, at his request, called up to his view; and he exclaims to his ghostly guide) —
'Aroar, what wretch that nearest us? what wretch Is that with eyebrows white and slanting brow? Listen! him yonder who, bound down supine, Shrinks yelling from that sword there, engine-hung. He too amongst my ancestors! I hate The despot, but the dastard I despise. Was he our countryman?' 'Alas, O king! Iberia bore him, but the breed accurst Inclement winds blew blighting from north-east.' 'He was a warrior then, nor fear'd the gods?' 'Gebir, he fear'd the demons, not the gods, Though them indeed his daily face adored: And was no warrior, yet the thousand lives Squander'd, as stones to exercise a sling, And the tame cruelty and cold caprice — Oh madness of mankind! address'd, adored!'
Gebir, p. 28.
I omit noticing some edifying Ithyphallics of Savagius, wishing to keep the proper veil over them, if his grave but somewhat indiscreet worshipper will suffer it; but certainly these teachers of 'great moral lessons' are apt to be found in strange company.
Saint Peter sat by the celestial gate: His keys were rusty, and the lock was dull, So little trouble had been given of late; Not that the place by any means was full, But since the Gallic era 'eight-eight' The devils had ta'en a longer, stronger pull, And 'a pull altogether,' as they say At sea — which drew most souls another way.
The angels all were singing out of tune, And hoarse with having little else to do, Excepting to wind up the sun and moon, Or curb a runaway young star or two, Or wild colt of a comet, which too soon Broke out of bounds o'er th' ethereal blue, Splitting some planet with its playful tail, As boats are sometimes by a wanton whale.
The guardian seraphs had retired on high, Finding their charges past all care below; Terrestrial business fill'd nought in the sky Save the recording angel's black bureau; Who found, indeed, the facts to multiply With such rapidity of vice and woe, That he had stripp'd off both his wings in quills, And yet was in arrear of human ills.
His business so augmented of late years, That he was forced, against his will no doubt, (Just like those cherubs, earthly ministers,) For some resource to turn himself about, And claim the help of his celestial peers, To aid him ere he should be quite worn out By the increased demand for his remarks: Six angels and twelve saints were named his clerks.
This was a handsome board — at least for heaven; And yet they had even then enough to do, So many conqueror's cars were daily driven, So many kingdoms fitted up anew; Each day too slew its thousands six or seven, Till at the crowning carnage, Waterloo, They threw their pens down in divine disgust — The page was so besmear'd with blood and dust.
This by the way: 'tis not mine to record What angels shrink from: even the very devil On this occasion his own work abhorr'd, So surfeited with the infernal revel: Though he himself had sharpen'd every sword, It almost quench'd his innate thirst of evil. (Here Satan's sole good work deserves insertion — 'Tis, that he has both generals in reveration.)
Let's skip a few short years of hollow peace, Which peopled earth no better, hell as wont, And heaven none — they form the tyrant's lease, With nothing but new names subscribed upon't; 'Twill one day finish: meantime they increase, 'With seven heads and ten horns,' and all in front, Like Saint John's foretold beast; but ours are born Less formidable in the head than horn.
In the first year of freedom's second dawn Died George the Third; although no tyrant, one Who shielded tyrants, till each sense withdrawn Left him nor mental nor external sun: A better farmer ne'er brush'd dew from lawn, A worse king never left a realm undone! He died — but left his subjects still behind, One half as mad — and t'other no less blind.
He died! his death made no great stir on earth: His burial made some pomp; there was profusion Of velvet, gilding, brass, and no great dearth Of aught but tears — save those shed by collusion. For these things may be bought at their true worth; Of elegy there was the due infusion — Bought also; and the torches, cloaks, and banners, Heralds, and relics of old Gothic manners,
Form'd a sepulchral melo-drame. Of all The fools who flack's to swell or see the show, Who cared about the corpse? The funeral Made the attraction, and the black the woe. There throbbed not there a thought which pierced the pall; And when the gorgeous coffin was laid low, It seamed the mockery of hell to fold The rottenness of eighty years in gold.
So mix his body with the dust! It might Return to what it must far sooner, were The natural compound left alone to fight Its way back into earth, and fire, and air; But the unnatural balsams merely blight What nature made him at his birth, as bare As the mere million's base unmarried clay — Yet all his spices but prolong decay.
He's dead — and upper earth with him has done; He's buried; save the undertaker's bill, Or lapidary scrawl, the world is gone For him, unless he left a German will: But where's the proctor who will ask his son? In whom his qualities are reigning still, Except that household virtue, most uncommon, Of constancy to a bad, ugly woman.
'God save the king!' It is a large economy In God to save the like; but if he will Be saving, all the better; for not one am I Of those who think damnation better still: I hardly know too if not quite alone am I In this small hope of bettering future ill By circumscribing, with some slight restriction, The eternity of hell's hot jurisdiction.
I know this is unpopular; I know 'Tis blasphemous; I know one may be damned For hoping no one else may ever be so; I know my catechism; I know we're caromed With the best doctrines till we quite o'erflow; I know that all save England's church have shamm'd, And that the other twice two hundred churches And synagogues have made a damn'd bad purchase.
God help us all! God help me too! I am, God knows, as helpless as the devil can wish, And not a whit more difficult to damn, Than is to bring to land a late-hook'd fish, Or to the butcher to purvey the lamb; Not that I'm fit for such a noble dish, As one day will be that immortal fry Of almost everybody born to die.
Saint Peter sat by the celestial gate, And nodded o'er his keys; when, lo! there came A wondrous noise he had not heard of late — A rushing sound of wind, and stream, and flame; In short, a roar of things extremely great, Which would have made aught save a saint exclaim; But he, with first a start and then a wink, Said, 'There's another star gone out, I think!'
But ere he could return to his repose, A cherub flapp'd his right wing o'er his eyes — At which St. Peter yawn'd, and rubb'd his hose: 'Saint porter,' said the angel, 'prithee rise!' Waving a goodly wing, which glow'd, as glows An earthly peacock's tail, with heavenly dyes; To which the saint replied, 'Well, what's the matter? 'Is Lucifer come back with all this clatter?'
'No,' quoth the cherub; 'George the Third is dead.' 'And who is George the Third?' replied the apostle; 'What George? what Third?' 'The king of England,' said The angel. 'Well, he won't find kings to jostle Him on his way; but does he wear his head? Because the last we saw here had a tussle, And ne'er would have got into heaven's good graces, Had he not flung his head in all our faces.
'He was, if I remember, king of France; That head of his, which could not keep a crown On earth, yet ventured in my face to advance A claim to those of martyrs — like my own: If I had had my sword, as I had once When I cut ears off, I had cut him down; But having but my keys, and not my brand, I only knock'd his head from out his hand.
'And then he set up such a headless howl, That all the saints came out and took him in; And there he sits by St. Paul, cheek by jowl; That fellow Paul— the parvenщ! The skin Of St. Bartholomew, which makes his cowl In heaven, and upon earth redeem'd his sin, So as to make a martyr, never sped Better than did this weak and wooden head.
'But had it come up here upon its shoulders, There would have been a different tale to tell; The fellow-feeling in the saint's beholders Seems to have acted on them like a spell, And so this very foolish head heaven solders Back on its trunk: it may be very well, And seems the custom here to overthrow Whatever has been wisely done below.'
The angel answer'd, 'Peter! do not pout: The king who comes has head and all entire, And never knew much what it was about — He did as doth the puppet — by its wire, And will be judged like all the rest, no doubt: My business and your own is not to inquire Into such matters, but to mind our cue — Which is to act as we are bid to do.'
While thus they spake, the angelic caravan, Arriving like a rush of mighty wind, Cleaving the fields of space, as doth the swan Some silver stream (say Ganges, Nile, or Inde, Or Thames, or Tweed), and 'midst them an old man With an old soul, and both extremely blind, Halted before the gate, and in his shroud Seated their fellow traveller on a cloud.
But bringing up the rear of this bright host A Spirit of a different aspect waves His wings, like thunder-clouds above some coast Whose barren beach with frequent wrecks is paved; His brow was like the deep when tempest-toss'd; Fierce and unfathomable thoughts engraved Eternal wrath on his immortal face, And where he gazed a gloom pervaded space.
As he drew near, he gazed upon the gate Ne'er to be enter'd more by him or Sin, With such a glance of supernatural hate, As made Saint Peter wish himself within; He potter'd with his keys at a great rate, And sweated through his apostolic skin: Of course his perspiration was but ichor, Or some such other spiritual liquor.
The very cherubs huddled all together, Like birds when soars the falcon; and they felt A tingling to the top of every feather, And form'd a circle like Orion's belt Around their poor old charge; who scarce knew whither His guards had led him, though they gently dealt With royal manes (for by many stories, And true, we learn the angels all are Tories.)
As things were in this posture, the gate flew Asunder, and the flashing of its hinges Flung over space an universal hue Of many-colour'd flame, until its tinges Reach'd even our speck of earth, and made a new Aurora borealis spread its fringes O'er the North Pole; the same seen, when ice-bound, By Captain Parry's crew, in 'Melville's Sound.'
And from the gate thrown open issued beaming A beautiful and mighty Thing of Light, Radiant with glory, like a banner streaming Victorious from some world-o'erthrowing fight: My poor comparisons must needs be teeming With earthly likenesses, for here the night Of clay obscures our best conceptions, saving Johanna Southcote, or Bob Southey raving.
'Twas the archangel Michael; all men know The make of angels and archangels, since There's scarce a scribbler has not one to show, From the fiends' leader to the angels' prince; There also are some altar-pieces, though I really can't say that they much evince One's inner notions of immortal spirits; But let the connoisseurs explain their merits.
Michael flew forth in glory and in good; A goodly work of him from whom all glory And good arise; the portal past — he stood; Before him the young cherubs and saints hoary — (I say young, begging to be understood By looks, not years; and should be very sorry To state, they were not older than St. Peter, But merely that they seem'd a little sweeter.
The cherubs and the saints bow'd down before That arch-angelic Hierarch, the first Of essences angelical, who wore The aspect of a god; but this ne'er nursed Pride in his heavenly bosom, in whose core No thought, save for his Master's service, durst Intrude, however glorified and high; He knew him but the viceroy of the sky.
He and the sombre, silent Spirit met — They knew each other both for good and ill; Such was their power, that neither could forget His former friend and future foe; but still There was a high, immortal, proud regret In either's eye, as if 'twere less their will Than destiny to make the eternal years Their date of war, and their 'champ clos' the spheres.
But here they were in neutral space: we know From Job, that Satan hath the power to pay A heavenly visit thrice a year or so; And that the 'sons of God', like those of clay, Must keep him company; and we might show From the same book, in how polite a way The dialogue is held between the Powers Of Good and Evil — but 'twould take up hours.
And this is not a theologic tract, To prove with Hebrew and with Arabic, If Job be allegory or a fact, But a true narrative; and thus I pick From out the whole but such and such an act As sets aside the slightest thought of trick. 'Tis every tittle true, beyond suspicion, And accurate as any other vision.
The spirits were in neutral space, before The gates of heaven; like eastern thresholds is The place where Death's grand cause is argued o'er, And souls despatch'd to that world or to this; And therefore Michael and the other wore A civil aspect: though they did not kiss, Yet still between his Darkness and his Brightness There pass'd a mutual glance of great politeness.
The Archangel bow'd, not like a modern beau, But with a graceful Oriental bend, Pressing one radiant arm just where below The heart in good men is supposed to tend; He turn'd as to an equal, not too low, But kindly; Satan met his ancient friend With more hauteur, as might an old Castilian Poor noble meet a mushroom rich civilian.
He merely bent his diabolic brow An instant; and then raising it, he stood In act to assert his right or wrong, and show Cause why King George by no means could or should Make out a case to be exempt from woe Eternal, more than other kings, endued With better sense and hearts, whom history mentions, Who long have 'paved hell with their good intentions.'
Michael began: 'What wouldst thou with this man, Now dead, and brought before the Lord? What ill Hath he wrought since his mortal race began, That thou cans't claim him? Speak! and do thy will, If it be just: if in this earthly span He hath been greatly failing to fulfil His duties as a king and mortal, say, And he is thine; if not, let him have way.'
'Michael!' replied the Prince of Air, 'even here, Before the Gate of him thou servest, must I claim my subject: and will make appear That as he was my worshipper in dust, So shall he be in spirit, although dear To thee and thine, because nor wine nor lust Were of his weaknesses; yet on the throne He reign'd o'er millions to serve me alone.
'Look to our earth, or rather mine; it was, Once, more thy master's: but I triumph not In this poor planet's conquest; nor, alas! Need he thou servest envy me my lot: With all the myriads of bright worlds which pass In worship round him, he may have forgot Yon weak creation of such paltry things; I think few worth damnation save their kings, —
'And these but as a kind of quit-rent, to Assert my right as lord: and even had I such an inclination, 'twere (as you Well know) superfluous; they are grown so bad, That hell has nothing better left to do Than leave them to themselves: so much more mad And evil by their own internal curse, Heaven cannot make them better, nor I worse.
'Look to the earth, I said, and say again: When this old, blind, mad, helpless, weak, poor worm Began in youth's first bloom and flush to reign, The world and he both wore a different form, And must of earth and all the watery plain Of ocean call'd him king: through many a storm His isles had floated on the abyss of time; For the rough virtues chose them for their clime.
'He came to his sceptre young: he leaves it old: Look to the state in which he found his realm, And left it; and his annals too behold, How to a minion first he gave the helm; How grew upon his heart a thirst for gold, The beggar's vice, which can but overwhelm The meanest of hearts; and for the rest, but glance Thine eye along America and France.
'Tis true, he was a tool from first to last (I have the workmen safe); but as a tool So let him be consumed. From out the past Of ages, since mankind have known the rule Of monarchs — from the bloody rolls amass'd Of sin and slaughter — from the Cжsar's school, Take the worst pupil; and produce a reign More drench'd with gore, more cumber'd with the slain.
'He ever warr'd with freedom and the free: Nations as men, home subjects, foreign foes, So that they utter'd the word "Liberty!" Found George the Third their first opponent. Whose History was ever stain'd as his will be With national and individual woes? I grant his household abstinence; I grant His neutral virtues, which most monarchs want;
'I know he was a constant consort; own He was a decent sire, and middling lord. All this is much, and most upon a throne; As temperance, if at Apicius' board, Is more than at an anchorite's supper shown. I grant him all the kindest can accord; And this was well for him, but not for those Millions who found him what oppression chose.
'The New World shook him off; the Old yet groans Beneath what he and his prepared, if not Completed: he leaves heirs on many thrones To all his vices, without what begot Compassion for him — his tame virtues; drones Who sleep, or despots who have not forgot A lesson which shall be re-taught them, wake Upon the thrones of earth; but let them quake!
'Five millions of the primitive, who hold The faith which makes ye great on earth, implored A part of that vast all they held of old, — Freedom to worship — not alone your Lord, Michael, but you, and you, Saint Peter! Cold Must be your souls, if you have not abhorr'd The foe to Catholic participation In all the license of a Christian nation.
'True! he allow'd them to pray God; but as A consequence of prayer, refused the law Which would have placed them upon the same base With those who did not hold the saints in awe.' But here Saint Peter started from his place, And cried, 'You may the prisoner withdraw: Ere heaven shall ope her portals to this Guelph, While I am guard, may I be damn'd myself!
'Sooner will I with Cerberus exchange My office (and his no sinecure) Than see this royal Bedlam bigot range The azure fields of heaven, of that be sure!' 'Saint!' replied Satan, 'you do well to avenge The wrongs he made your satellites endure; And if to this exchange you should be given, I'll try to coax our Cerberus up to heaven!'
Here Michael interposed: 'Good saint! and devil! Pray, not so fast; you both outrun discretion. Saint Peter! you were wont to be more civil! Satan! excuse this warmth of his expression, And condescension to the vulgar's level: Event saints sometimes forget themselves in session. Have you got more to say?' — 'No.' — If you please I'll trouble you to call your witnesses.'
Then Satan turn'd and waved his swarthy hand, Which stirr'd with its electric qualities Clouds farther off than we can understand, Although we find him sometimes in our skies; Infernal thunder shook both sea and land In all the planets, and hell's batteries Let off the artillery, which Milton mentions As one of Satan's most sublime inventions.
This was a signal unto such damn'd souls As have the privilege of their damnation Extended far beyond the mere controls Of worlds past, present, or to come; no station Is theirs particularly in the rolls Of hell assign'd; but where their inclination Or business carries them in search of game, They may range freely — being damn'd the same.
They're proud of this — as very well they may, It being a sort of knighthood, or gilt key Stuck in their loins; or like to an 'entrй' Up the back stairs, or such free-masonry. I borrow my comparisons from clay, Being clay myself. Let not those spirits be Offended with such base low likenesses; We know their posts are nobler far than these.
When the great signal ran from heaven to hell — About ten million times the distance reckon'd From our sun to its earth, as we can tell How much time it takes up, even to a second, For every ray that travels to dispel The fogs of London, through which, dimly beacon'd, The weathercocks are gilt some thrice a year, If that the summer is not too severe;
I say that I can tell — 'twas half a minute; I know the solar beams take up more time Ere, pack'd up for their journey, they begin it; But then their telegraph is less sublime, And if they ran a race, they would not win it 'Gainst Satan's couriers bound for their own clime. The sun takes up some years for every ray To reach its goal — the devil not half a day.
Upon the verge of space, about the size Of half-a-crown, a little speck appear'd (I've seen a something like it in the skies In the Жgean, ere a squall); it near'd, And growing bigger, took another guise; Like an aлrial ship it tack'd, and steer'd, Or was steer'd (I am doubtful of the grammar Of the last phrase, which makes the stanza stammer; —
But take your choice): and then it grew a cloud; And so it was — a cloud of witnesses. But such a cloud! No land e'er saw a crowd Of locusts numerous as the heavens saw these; They shadow'd with their myriads space; their loud And varied cries were like those of wild geese (If nations may be liken'd to a goose), And realised the phrase of 'hell broke loose.'
Here crash'd a sturdy oath of stout John Bull, Who damn'd away his eyes as heretofore: There Paddy brogued, 'By Jasus!' — 'What's your wull?' The temperate Scot exclaim'd: the French ghost swore In certain terms I shan't translate in full, As the first coachman will; and 'midst the roar, The voice of Jonathan was heard to express, 'Our president is going to war, I guess.'
Besides there were the Spaniard, Dutch, and Dane; In short, an universal shoal of shades, From Otaheite's isle to Salisbury Plain, Of all climes and professions, years and trades, Ready to swear against the good king's reign, Bitter as clubs in cards are against spades: All summon'd by this grand 'subpoena,' to Try if kings mayn't be damn'd like me or you.
When Michael saw this host, he first grew pale, As angels can; next, like Italian twilight, He turn'd all colours — as a peacock's tail, Or sunset streaming through a Gothic skylight In some old abbey, or a trout not stale, Or distant lightning on the horizon by night, Or a fresh rainbow, or a grand review Of thirty regiments in red, green, and blue.
Then he address'd himself to Satan: 'Why — My good old friend, for such I deem you, though Our different parties make us fight so shy, I ne'er mistake you for a personal foe; Our difference is political, and I Trust that, whatever may occur below, You know my great respect for you; and this Makes me regret whate'er you do amiss —
'Why, my dear Lucifer, would you abuse My call for witnesses? I did not mean That you should half of earth and hell produce; 'Tis even superfluous, since two honest, clean True testimonies are enough: we lose Our time, nay, our eternity, between The accusation and defence: if we Hear both, 'twill stretch our immortality.'
Satan replied, 'To me the matter is Indifferent, in a personal point of view; I can have fifty better souls than this With far less trouble than we have gone through Already; and I merely argued his Late majesty of Britain's case with you Upon a point of form: you may dispose Of him; I've kings enough below, God knows!'
Thus spoke the Demon (late call'd 'multifaced' By multo-scribbling Southey). 'Then we'll call One or two persons of the myriads placed Around our congress, and dispense with all The rest,' quoth Michael: 'Who may be so graced As to speak first? there's choice enough — who shall It be?' Then Satan answer'd, 'There are many; But you may choose Jack Wilkes as well as any.'
A merry, cock-eyed, curious-looking sprite Upon the instant started from the throng, Dress'd in a fashion now forgotten quite; For all the fashions of the flesh stick long By people in the next world; where unite All the costumes since Adam's, right or wrong, From Eve's fig-leaf down to the petticoat, Almost as scanty, of days less remote.
The spirit look'd around upon the crowds Assembled, and exclaim'd, 'My friends of all The spheres, we shall catch cold amongst these clouds; So let's to business: why this general call? If those are freeholders I see in shrouds, And 'tis for an election that they bawl, Behold a candidate with unturn'd coat! Saint Peter, may I count upon your vote?'
'Sir,' replied Michael, 'you mistake; these things Are of a former life, and what we do Above is more august; to judge of kings Is the tribunal met: so now you know.' 'Then I presume those gentlemen with wings,' Said Wilkes, 'are cherubs; and that soul below Looks much like George the Third, but to my mind A good deal older — Bless me! is he blind?'
'He is what you behold him, and his doom Depends upon his deeds,' the Angel said; 'If you have aught to arraign in him, the tomb Give licence to the humblest beggar's head To lift itself against the loftiest.' — 'Some,' Said Wilkes, 'don't wait to see them laid in lead, For such a liberty — and I, for one, Have told them what I though beneath the sun.'
'Above the sun repeat, then, what thou hast To urge against him,' said the Archangel. 'Why,' Replied the spirit, 'since old scores are past, Must I turn evidence? In faith, not I. Besides, I beat him hollow at the last, With all his Lords and Commons: in the sky I don't like ripping up old stories, since His conduct was but natural in a prince.
'Foolish, no doubt, and wicked, to oppress A poor unlucky devil without a shilling; But then I blame the man himself much less Than Bute and Grafton, and shall be unwilling To see him punish'd here for their excess, Since they were both damn'd long ago, and still in Their place below: for me, I have forgiven, And vote his "habeas corpus" into heaven.'
'Wilkes,' said the Devil, 'I understand all this; You turn'd to half a courtier ere you died, And seem to think it would not be amiss To grow a whole one on the other side Of Charon's ferry; you forget that his Reign is concluded; whatso'er betide, He won't be sovereign more: you've lost your labor, For at the best he will be but your neighbour.
'However, I knew what to think of it, When I beheld you in your jesting way, Flitting and whispering round about the spit Where Belial, upon duty for the day, With Fox's lard was basting William Pitt, His pupil; I knew what to think, I say: That fellow even in hell breeds farther ills; I'll have him gagg'd — 'twas one of his own bills.
'Call Junius!' From the crowd a shadow stalk'd, And at the same there was a general squeeze, So that the very ghosts no longer walk'd In comfort, at their own aлrial ease, But were all ramm'd, and jamm'd (but to be balk'd, As we shall see), and jostled hands and knees, Like wind compress'd and pent within a bladder, Or like a human colic, which is sadder.
The shadow came — a tall, thin, grey-hair'd figure, That look'd as it had been a shade on earth; Quick in it motions, with an air of vigour, But nought to mar its breeding or its birth; Now it wax'd little, then again grew bigger, With now an air of gloom, or savage mirth; But as you gazed upon its features, they Changed every instant — to what, none could say.
The more intently the ghosts gazed, the less Could they distinguish whose the features were; The Devil himself seem'd puzzled even to guess; They varied like a dream — now here, now there; And several people swore from out the press They knew him perfectly; and one could swear He was his father: upon which another Was sure he was his mother's cousin's brother:
Another, that he was a duke, or a knight, An orator, a lawyer, or a priest, A nabob, a man-midwife; but the wight Mysterious changed his countenance at least As oft as they their minds; though in full sight He stood, the puzzle only was increased; The man was a phantasmagoria in Himself — he was so volatile and thin.
The moment that you had pronounce him one, Presto! his face change'd and he was another; And when that change was hardly well put on, It varied, till I don't think his own mother (If that he had a mother) would her son Have known, he shifted so from one to t'other; Till guessing from a pleasure grew a task, At this epistolary 'Iron Mask.'
For sometimes he like Cerberus would seem — 'Three gentlemen at once' (as sagely says Good Mrs. Malaprop); then you might deem That he was not even one; now many rays Were flashing round him; and now a thick steam Hid him from sight — like fogs on London days: Now Burke, now Tooke he grew to people's fancies, And certes often like Sir Philip Francis.
I've an hypothesis — 'tis quite my own; I never let it out till now, for fear Of doing people harm about the throne, And injuring some minister or peer, On whom the stigma might perhaps be blown; It is — my gentle public, lend thine ear! 'Tis, that what Junius we are wont to call Was really, truly, nobody at all.
I don't see wherefore letters should not be Written without hands, since we daily view Them written without heads; and books, we see, Are fill'd as well without the latter too: And really till we fix on somebody For certain sure to claim them as his due, Their author, like the Niger's mouth, will bother The world to say if there be mouth or author.
'And who and what art thou?' the Archangel said. 'For that you may consult my title-page,' Replied this mighty shadow of a shade: 'If I have kept my secret half an age, I scarce shall tell it now.' — 'Canst thou upbraid,' Continued Michael, 'George Rex, or allege Aught further?' Junius answer'd, 'You had better First ask him for his answer to my letter:
'My charges upon record will outlast The brass of both his epitaph and tomb.' 'Repent'st thou not,' said Michael, 'of some past Exaggeration? something which may doom Thyself if false, as him if true? Thou wast Too bitter — is it not so? — in thy gloom Of passion?' — 'Passion!' cried the phantom dim, 'I loved my country, and I hated him.
'What I have written, I have written: let The rest be on his head or mine!' So spoke Old 'Nominis Umbra'; and while speaking yet, Away he melted in celestial smoke. Then Satan said to Michael, 'Don't forget To call George Washington, and John Horne Tooke, And Franklin;' — but at this time was heard A cry for room, though not a phantom stirr'd.
At length with jostling, elbowing, and the aid Of cherubim appointed to that post, The devil Asmodeus to the circle made His way, and look'd as if his journey cost Some trouble. When his burden down he laid, 'What's this?' cried Michael; 'why, 'tis not a ghost?' 'I know it,' quoth the incubus; 'but he Shall be one, if you leave the affair to me.
'Confound the renegado! I have sprain'd My left wing, he's so heavy; one would think Some of his works about his neck were chain'd. But to the point; while hovering o'er the brink Of Skiddaw (where as usual it still rain'd), I saw a taper, far below me, wink, And stooping, caught this fellow at a libel — No less on history than the Holy Bible.
'The former is the devil's scripture, and The latter yours, good Michael: so the affair Belongs to all of us, you understand. I snatch'd him up just as you see him there, And brought him off for sentence out of hand: I've scarcely been ten minutes in the air — At least a quarter it can hardly be: I dare say that his wife is still at tea.'
Here Satan said, 'I know this man of old, And have expected him for some time here; A sillier fellow you will scarce behold, Or more conceited in his petty sphere: But surely it was not worth while to fold Such trash below your wing, Asmodeus dear: We had the poor wretch safe (without being bored With carriage) coming of his own accord.
'But since he's here, let's see what he has done.' 'Done!' cried Asmodeus, 'he anticipates The very business you are now upon, And scribbles as if head clerk to the Fates, Who knows to what his ribaldry may run, When such an ass as this, like Balaam's, prates?' 'Let's hear,' quoth Michael, 'what he has to say; You know we're bound to that in every way.'
Now the bard, glad to get an audience which By no means oft was his case below, Began to cough, and hawk, and hem, and pitch His voice into that awful note of woe To all unhappy hearers within reach Of poets when the tide of rhyme's in flow; But stuck fast with his first hexameter, Not one of all whose gouty feet would stir.
But ere the spavin'd dactyls could be spurr'd Into recitative, in great dismay Both cherubim and seraphim were heard To murmur loudly through their long array: And Michael rose ere he could get a word Of all his founder'd verses under way. And cried, 'For God's sake stop, my friend! 'twere best — Non Di, non homines —- you know the rest.'
A general bustle spread throughout the throng. Which seem'd to hold all verse in detestation; The angels had of course enough of song When upon service; and the generation Of ghosts had heard too much in life, not long Before, to profit by a new occasion; The monarch, mute till then, exclaim'd, 'What! What! Pye come again? No more — no more of that!'
The tumult grew; an universal cough Convulsed the skies, as during a debate When Castlereagh has been up long enough (Before he was first minister of state, I mean — the slaves hear now); some cried 'off, off!' As at a farce; till, grown quite desperate, The bard Saint Peter pray'd to interpose (Himself an author) only for his prose.
The varlet was not an ill-favour'd knave; A good deal like a vulture in the face, With a hook nose and a hawk'd eye, which gave A smart and sharper-looking sort of grace To his whole aspect, which, though rather grave, Was by no means so ugly as his case; But that, indeed, was hopeless as can be, Quite a poetic felony, 'de se.'
Then Michael blew his trump, and still'd the noise With one still greater, as is yet the mode On earth besides; except some grumbling voice, Which now and then will make a slight inroad Upon decorous silence, few will twice Lift up their lungs when fairly overcrow'd; And now the bard could plead his own bad cause, With all the attitudes of self-applause.
He said — (I only give the heads) — he said, He meant no harm in scribbling; 'twas his way Upon all topics; 'twas, besides, his bread, Of which he butter'd both sides; 'twould delay Too long the assembly (he was pleased to dread), And take up rather more time than a day, To name his works — he would but cite a few — 'Wat Tyler' — 'Rhymes on Blenheim' — 'Waterloo.'
He had written praises of a regicide: He had written praises of all kings whatever; He had written for republics far and wide; And then against them bitterer than ever; For pantisocracy he once had cried Aloud, a scheme less moral than 'twas clever; Then grew a hearty anti-Jacobin — Had turn'd his coat — and would have turn'd his skin.
He had sung against all battles, and again In their high praise and glory; he had call'd Reviewing (1)'the ungentle craft,' and then Become as base a critic as e'er crawl'd — Fed, paid, and pamper'd by the very men By whom his muse and morals had been maul'd: He had written much blank verse, and blanker prose, And more of both than anybody knows.
He had written Wesley's life: — here turning round To Satan, 'Sir, I'm ready to write yours, In two octavo volumes, nicely bound, With notes and preface, all that most allures The pious purchaser; and there's no ground For fear, for I can choose my own reviews: So let me have the proper documents, That I may add you to my other saints.'
Satan bow'd, and was silent. 'Well, if you, With amiable modesty, decline My offer, what says Michael? There are few Whose memoirs could be render'd more divine. Mine is a pen of all work; not so new As it once was, but I would make you shine Like your own trumpet. By the way, my own Has more of brass in it, and is as well blown.
'But talking about trumpets, here's my Vision! Now you shall judge, all people; yes, you shall Judge with my judgment, and by my decision Be guided who shall enter heaven or fall. I settle all these things by intuition, Times present, past, to come, heaven, hell, and all, Like King Alfonso(2). When I thus see double, I save the Deity some worlds of trouble.'
He ceased, and drew forth an MS.; and no Persuasion on the part of devils, saints, Or angels, now could stop the torrent; so He read the first three lines of the contents; But at the fourth, the whole spiritual show Had vanish'd, with variety of scents, Ambrosial and sulphureous, as they sprang, Like lightning, off from his 'melodious twang.' (3)
Those grand heroics acted as a spell: The angels stopp'd their ears and plied their pinions; The devils ran howling, deafen'd, down to hell; The ghosts fled, gibbering, for their own dominions — (For 'tis not yet decided where they dwell, And I leave every man to his opinions); Michael took refuge in his trump — but, lo! His teeth were set on edge, he could not blow!
Saint Peter, who has hitherto been known For an impetuous saint, upraised his keys, And at the fifth line knock'd the poet down; Who fell like Phaeton, but more at ease, Into his lake, for there he did not drown; A different web being by the Destinies Woven for the Laureate's final wreath, whene'er Reform shall happen either here or there.
He first sank to the bottom - like his works, But soon rose to the surface — like himself; For all corrupted things are bouy'd like corks,(4) By their own rottenness, light as an elf, Or wisp that flits o'er a morass: he lurks, It may be, still, like dull books on a shelf, In his own den, to scrawl some 'Life' or 'Vision,' As Welborn says — 'the devil turn'd precisian.'
As for the rest, to come to the conclusion Of this true dream, the telescope is gone Which kept my optics free from all delusion, And show'd me what I in my turn have shown; All I saw farther, in the last confusion, Was, that King George slipp'd into heaven for one; And when the tumult dwindled to a calm, I left him practising the hundredth psalm.
The first publication of this satire on Southey's poem A Vision of Judgement was under the nom de plume of Quevedo Redivivus in volume number 1 of The Liberal, a periodical edited by Leigh Hunt and largely financed by Byron. In the copy of the first volume of The Liberal that I have (which appears to be a first edition), there is no preamble but it does appear in later collections and so I have included it for completeness.
Also for the sake of completeness, I have included several footnotes that appear in The Liberal but that do not seem to have been carried forward to subsequent collections.
1. See "Life of H Kirk White"
2. King Alfonso, speaking of the Ptolomean system said, that "had he been consulted at the creation of the world, he would have spared the Maker some absurdities."
3. See Aubrey's account of the apparition which disappeared "with a curious perfume and a melodious twang;" or see the Antiquary, Vol. I.
4. A drowned body lies at the body till rotten; it then floats, as most people know.