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The purgatory of suicides; a prison-rhyme in ten books online

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All, all is mystery ! I sought no throne :
My father's asses, as I, following, roamed
O'er the wide wilderness, if on me shone
The cheering sun, or sterile Nature gloomed,
A kingdom seemed to me. But I was doomed
To know the mockery of earthly bliss !
And is not Sheol mockery ? We are wombed
In dread and doubt, fearing to do amiss ;
And, to do well, lack power to burst our destinies !


Abruptly, in despair, thus ended Saul,
And on his throne sank down ; while smoothly rose
Achitophel, and round the regal hall
Glanced, then, obsequious, cringed, ere to disclose
His frauds he made essay, or to dispose
Them in the guise of truths :

Potential Shades,

And great Regalities, he said ; why lose
In arguings vain since mystery being pervades
The respite to deep pain Nature for ye here spreads ?



Why thus afflict your essences with fears?
Why droop, dispirited, and pale and shrink,
As if the soul were still a thing of tears,
As when it wore earth's clay ? What, if some think,
Or dream, that these imperial pomps shall sink
To nought ? Where is the doting prophet's proof
Of his true inspiration? Not a link
Is broken that your thrones, with wonder-woof,
Blends with these columned shapes, and this supernal roof.


Judgment hath fallen on the guilty seats
Of some: what then? On earth stern judgments fell
On the incorrigible: guilt still meets
Its bad desert: this is nought new. Dispel
Your gloom, great kings, that in high thought excel,
Soaring beyond the crowd ! Like eagles, preen
Your splendours, and this boding prophet quell
With winged vengeance ! Shall ye suffer teen,
Because this dreaming fantast thus doth overween ?


Monarchs are gods, in lustre and in strength :
Thrones were, and are, and shall be : they exist
By an eternal fitness : neither length
Of spiritual duration hath decreased
Their virtue, nor can captious casuist
Allege true reasons for their overthrow.
1 challenge anarch revolutionist
By thoughts of reach, not dreams sound cause to shew
Why Thrones, in Sheoland on earth, to Change shall bow.


Thou, regal Saul, spak'st of thy earthly course.
Know thou, that monarchs by good counsel stand,
And fall by evil rede. Changes, perforce,
Must come : young Comeliness will, aye, command
More love than Age : valour to wield the brand
More worship than sleek sloth : issue of joy
Awaiteth kingly acts in every land,
Unless the monarch doth his heart upbuoy
By fulsome counsel, and his own fair peace destroy.



Thus spake the Hebrew courtier-suicide,
And looked for plaudits ; but, the Maccabee
Rose up in haste, his glozing strain to chide :
This from Rebellion's counsellor do ye
Endure ? he said ; the flames of anarchy
Who blew with viperous breath shall kings advice
Receive from him the tool of Treachery ?
Shall not the part this hoary cockatrice
Played, while on earth, to prove his worthlessness suffice ?

Oh, monarchs, nobler, holier counsel take !
Not to wage spiritual war on the calm ghost
Of the Laconian, vile revenge to slake ;
Not of your gaudy pomps to swell and boast,
Regardless of the souls in Tophet tossed
In agony, and of Earth's myriads born
To pain, and in degrading cares engrossed:
Oh, treat not thus the Spartan's words with scorn;
I f, by some deed of yours, mankind may cease to mourn !


Oh, cleave no longer to these grandeurs vague,
If they the jars and wounds of earth prolong
Slaughter and famine, pestilence and plague,
Bondage of weaker brethren to the strong,
Envy and hatred, robbery and wrong !
The bards on Judah's mountains, where we drew
The sword against our tyrants, in their song
Foretold Earth, one day, should be born anew, .
And smile with brotherhood of all Gentile and Jew.


And if, in Sheol, the Danaian's mind
Survey the future with prophetic glance
Discerning inmost sympathies that bind
Earth's thrones with yours the deep significance
Perceiving of strange shapes that but enhance
The wildered wonder of inferior souls
Monarchs, resist not His high Puissance
Who universal destiny controls,
And, to His chosen ones, the fatal scroll unrols.



Thus Eleazar spake ; and Nicocles,

The Paphian king, essayed, with gentle zeal,

To aid like counsel :

That the stronger seize

The weak, he said, and bruised nations feel
The conqueror's burthen ; that victorious steel
Bereaves the widow and the orphan child
Of earthly hope and joy ; that human weal
Is sacrificed to Power, and Man is spoiled
Of every good, by Wrong; proofs Earth, for ages, piled.


And, while on earth thrones stand, monarchs will vie
With monarchs, in excess of pomp and power ;
Slavery and woe conquest will multiply ;
And Death, in crescent shapes, mankind devour.
Not before dreaming oracles I cower,
Fearing more pain from ruin ; but to purge
Hades from present pain, and speed Earth's hour
Of jubilee, brothers, like suit I urge,
That we in equal state these sceptred splendours merge !


And I, spake Otho, join the fervid prayer,
And plead for preference of the general good
To sordid selfishness, and empty glare
Of unsubstantial shows: our brotherhood
With man demands it : while our thrones have stood
Thus mystically radiant, clouds of gloom
Have enwrapt millions, men shed brothers' blood,
And Toil's child found no refuge but the tomb !
Spirits, to quit these pomps, I give my instant doom !


Lo ! while the Cyprian and the Roman spoke,
Transcendant glories decked their glowing brows,
And joy-beams from the Spartan's count'nance broke,
That seemed a peerless light to circumfuse
On thrones and statues. Inly to arouse
His vengefulness, Achitophel essayed ;
But utterance failed; and, shuddering with strange throes
Of some new torture that upon him preyed
A ghastly sight he stood; while kings looked on dismayed.


Distorted grew his visage, limbs, and trunk
Though spiritual essence till they joined
His reptile seat ; and into it he shrunk
With grin horrific, and, with it combined,
Crawled, prostrate : hybrid monster undefined
In loathsome hideousness: a shape more strange
Than night-mared gourmand's glut-vexed brain e'er
Or madman formed, at full of moon, or change ; [coined ;
Or bard, with frightfull'st phrenzies smit, could niisarrange !

Slow waned the uncouth horror-spawn from sight
Of spirits, who, with stark marmorean look
Such as, at banquet, did the countenance blight
Of Pelops' sire [25] sat, with soul-palsy strook :
And with such goading sense of self-rebuke
Ached the Cathaian and Assyrian kings,
Nile's queen, and paramour, they could not brook
To be beheld, but hid, like guilty things,
Their faces : smitten with remorseful torturings.


Kings' faces, now, with apprehension deep
Were filled, and some, to wailing words gave vent :
When, like a veteran seaman who would keep
Undaunted heart, though sails and cordage rent,
And rudder broken, render impotent
The pilot's strength and skill, and fear and grief
Burst from young sailors' tongues with eloquent
Expression of despair, the Pontic chief,
Though shook, thus sought, with speech, to minister relief :


Spirits, I rise not to renew debate
On human rights, nor arguings to gainsay
Of those who favour new and equal state
In Hades and on earth. Let him who may
Contend 'gainst Nature's impulses that sway
The soul to tender and fraternal thoughts
If Custom did not blight them in our clay,
And taint the spirit's essence. No cold doubts
Have I, that Men, as brothers, share like attributes:



Neither cleave I to kingship from regard
To Nature's great distinctions, though she gives
With choice, not blindly : genius of the bard
To one ; deep reach unto the sage who dives
Into her mysteries ; prerogatives
Of leadership, not less, to some who wield
A natural power o'er men a strength that lives
And germs within, compelling men to yield
Unto its forceful energy where'er revealed :


I dwell not to repeat what hath been told
How nature thus elects, yet doth impress,
Each human essence with so like a mould,
That all are brothers in their helplessness
Children of Fate driving to refugeless
Despair their kind, or being, themselves, forth driven.
Maugre these thoughts, if mankind may possess
General beatitude when thrones are riven
From their foundations let the judgment now be given !

Wherefore this pallor, brother Thrones ? Why faint
And fear ? When we threw off our mortal load
And gained these shores, unlike what earth-dreams paint
Of lite beyond the grave, we were endowed,
At torture's lapse, with pomps, in kingly mode,
Ere we could choose. What guilt, then, have we nursed,
By wearing these regalities ? what rod
Deserved ? in what new penalties amerced
Shall spirits writhe ? in what new regions be dispersed ?


And wherefore fear, if such, for Nature's sport,
Be destinies that wait us ? Let us meet
Them calmly, since we cannot controvert
Our fate. 1 pause to see upon his seat,
Neither unsceptred nor discrowned, as yet,
Imperial Otho, and the Cyprian prince.
Wait they the Spartan's sign ? Why doth his threat
Tarry in its fulfiment ? Monarchs, since [vince ?

Thrones fade not,wherefore should mere bodements us con-



Wise men use omens for their ends, on earth,
While fools and weaklings see, or hear, and quake.
Star-gazers saw a comet, at my birth ;
And, at my father's death, I saw it shake
Its fiery hair, as it the world would wake
To see a king. The double omen served
To fix expectant looks on me, and make
My name, itself, a host. That knowledge nerved
My soul to combat Rome : my courage, else, had swerved.



Not to the fiery star, but, to kind rule
I trusted to infix my subjects' love ;
And, while I left each astrologic fool
To prate of hosts, he saw in heaven above,
Asia's vast swarms I sought, on earth, to move
Against all-grasping Rome. Knowledge and Will
Enable men and spirits oft to prove
Superior to all circumstance of ill ;
Ay, render them, by Fate itself, invincible.


Kings, if we quail, we draw destruction down :
Resolve preserves our state. Thrones, I aver,
The energy of will upholds each throne
In Hades, nor can prescient sorcerer
These dazzling seats from their foundations stir,
If we put forth resolve.

He ceased, disturbed ;
And though his words of resolution were,
His strength was weakness. No applause reverbed
Through the wide hall; for, apprehension thought absorbed,


Deep silence reigned, until the Spartan rose,
With godlike dignity, and thus began :
Spirits, 1 triumph to foresee the close
Of Error's reign. Kings hold their last divan :
When next beneath this arch cerulean
We met, All will be equal ! But I cease
To prophesy ; and calmly trace the plan
Of sovereign Nature, since she seeks your peace,
Your joy, Spirits ! that henceforth, endless, shall increase.



Error, from human ignorance darkly sprang.
As children misname things, and shout or shriek,
From pleasure or affright, so mankind sang,
In rhapsodies of joy, the golden streak
Of morn ; and, when they heard the thunder speak,
Bowed down in awe, and wept. Infants in mind,
They marvelled, and made gods of visage meek
Or terrible ; and, then, to them assigned
Rule o'er the sun and cloud, the sky, and sea, and wind.

ex vi i.

Thrones, likewise, sprang from human ignorance.
Nature's rude elements presented war
For Man : rocks, earth-flames, ocean's vast expanse,
Storms, forests, savage beasts, were found to mar
Man's ease or rest : on every side a bar
Opposed itself, alike to further good,
Or present peace. Then, he an exemplar
Was held who overcame by hardihood,
Lion or bear, horrors of cavern, flame, or flood.


Such were old Earth's primeval monarchs : kings,
Leaders, by courage, holding simple sway
If sway they held by useful compassings
Of larger means for nourishing man's clay.

Mithridates, when I heard thee say
Some were born natural leaders, unto these

1 turned the chiefs of patriarchal day
Comparing them with lords that Earth now sees :

The puny hildings [28] man approaches on his knees I


Cities were built, and man subdued the soil.
But, now, Craft grew, and seized on mystery
Life, death, sun, stars all that the sons of toil
Saw without comprehending ; and, with glee,
Secret but strong, made Man a devotee
Become, credent and humble reverent laud
Rendering unto the Priest as lowlily
As to the gods this minister of fraud
Said he heard speak, while men him listed, overawed.


Then, between Priest and King grew contest rife

For mastership; and Ganges and old Nile,

Whose sacred servants foremost led the strife,

Beheld the proof, in many a mighty pile

That decked their marges, how completely Guile

Could triumph over Strength. But, in the end,

Altar and Throne felt it unworth the while

To waste each other, since, they shrewdly kenned

The prey enough for both : so King called Priest his

[friend !

Long, dreary, miserable years have fled,
Since the foul compact first was ratified,
By Priestcraft placing on throned Kingship's head,
With hands in reeking blood of victim dyed,
The gaud of gold the sign of kingly pride :
Long, dreary, suffering, weeping, wailing years.
Oft have the bruised and trampled sufferers tried
To rise ; but the Priest's curse woke inward fears,

And they bowed down again unto their toil with tears !

Yet, in some climes, the sufferers dared a deed
Of glorious boldness : breaking Kingship's chain,
And, standing upright, from, their fetters freed,
Sang songs of joy that o'er the purple main
Floated in triumph, till the startling strain
Kings heard in other lands, and called their slaves
To arm, and quell the sacrilegious train.
And, often, when their menials crossed the waves,

They gained, in patriot-land, not conquest but, their


But, Treason germed, even in Freedom's womb ;
And Power and Craft were born again the twin
Ubiquities of Evil that still gloom
The bleeding world, and widely o'er it win
Accursed sway. Thus, ever to begin
Anew was Freedom's struggle ; and the proud
Duality of Thraldom did but grin
And mock, at length, thinking the strugglers cowed

By loss, and sunk into a helpless, murmuring crowd.
13 o



Hence, out of Evil, Good hath grown : for, now,
Good shall begin to overcome. The strong
Become remiss, the weak to overthrow
Their masters, and redeem themselves from wiwg
Safely aspire. Thus, Right its sinews strung
Afresh while Might securely slept, or woke
For dalliance and debauch : thus Right, grown young
And strong, by hardship, will throw off the yoke
Of hoary Might too palsied to withstand the shock.


Say ye, Right's triumph, like a dream, shall fade,
'Neath swift rewaking vigour of throned Power ?
Monarchs, be not deceived ! Right, now, hath aid
From Knowledge hid by priests in secret bower,
And when thence 'scaped, caught, and to dungeon-tower
By them condemned yea, to the fiery flame !
They knew not of her high immortal dower
The veritable Phoenix whom to tame,
Or to destroy, will ever mock old priestly aim !

Lo ! she hath ta'en young Freedom by the hand,
And, in the strength and comeliness of youth,
Supplanting Craft and Power in every land,
And heralding the reign of Love and Truth,
They go ! Yet little reck they of the growth
Of Right and Knowledge, who the glorious pair
Regard not : the besotted shapes uncouth
That dream, like age-crampt spiders in their lair,
Their cobweb safe, though it hath grown asport unto theair.

And ye, in Hades, monarchs, though beholding
Judgments on monstrous vice, are slow to yield.
Meanwhile, on earth, like judgments are unfolding ;
For, thus, in mystic sympathy upsealed,
Of mortal men and spirits unannealed
The destinies remain ; and, soon though Might,
Counting her hirelings trapping'd, hors'd, and steeled,
The judgments mocks to scorn a total blight
On Power, and Craft, and lordly Privilege, shall light.



Ye by your own great deed, kings, can avert
The threatened ruin. Let the glowing themes
Of brotherhood, before ye urged, exhort
Ye to denude your spirits of their dreams
Of selfish good to cast your diadems
And sceptres down resolved the grand emprise
To aid of glorious Goodness ! I see beams
Of high resolve from forth your essence rise :
Though, still, in some, old Prejudice doth agonize !

How vain that agony ! The strains of truth
And loving earnestness, full souls have poured
Forth to your thought, shall work within ye ruth
For human woe ; and, soon, resolve matured
Shall be within ye to make firm accord
With Mercy's gentle champions : for, it hath
Been here proclaimed, that some have long explored
The way to end Man's misery, strife, and wrath,
And bring in Peace, if, happ'ly, they might find the


And, brothers, here we solemnly obtest
The Sovereignties of Nature that the toil
We will not end, till Men and spirits blest
Hold general jubilee !

He said; and, while

He stretched aloft his hand, from motley pile
And throne, great souls arose, and instant raised
A hand aloft each with a godlike smile !
And light empyreal from each Essence blazed,
Until I woke, with the bright vision soul-bedazed !


[1] Stanza 3. Six human beings underwent capital punish-
ment in front of Stafford Gaol during the two years I remained
in it. The entire procedure in any one instance, of course, I
could not witness ; on one occasion, only, when, on account
of the early hour and season of the year, I had not been re-
moved from my night-cell, I beheld the grim preface to the
legal butchery. Without repeating the testimonies of re-
flecting men who have attended executions, as to the harden-
ing effect of those savage spectacles, I will just observe that
while the sound of the death-bell for the first execution filled
me and my fellow-prisoners with paroxysms of distress, on
the second, third, and fourth occasions, we became compara-
tively unconcerned. And, when I was left a solitary pri-
soner, the sound of the death-bell for the last time, created a
few bitter thoughts of the abhorrent and uncivilized nature of
the impending tragedy ; but a kind of careless disgust fol-
lowed, from the instant reflection that all my dislike of the
brutal transaction, was vain. And, within ten minutes after
the death-bell had ceased, I actually caught myself humming
" The Banks and Braes o' bonny Boon !" Now, a more sensi-
tive and excitable human creature than myself, perhaps,
does not exist : but there is the honest fact such as startled
me by its strangeness, at the time : let the advocates for
the usefulness of capital punishments, as " impressive moral
lessons," make what they can of it.

[2] Stanza 6. Compare Exodus, Chap. 21, verse xxiv., and
Matthew, chap 5, and verses xxxviii, xxxix.


[3] Stanza 22. "God became their Deity." The esta-
blished etymology of the word " God," is that which derives
it from the Saxon adjective signifying good, as I have given it
in the text. But there are scholars who doubt of the correct-
ness of this derivation. " The chief who conducted the Goths
into Scandinavia appears by his Gothic names Odin, Wodan,
and Godan, to have been confounded with the Deity, because
his name, like the Persian Udu, the Gothic Aud, denoted
power ;".... "The Bodh, Voda, or Vogd of the Indians,
Tartars, and Russians, the But, Bud, Wud, of the Persians,
and idolatrous Arabs, the Qud or Khoda of all the tribes ot
Turkey throughout Tartary, the Godami (Gaudama) of the
Malays and Ceylonese, appear to be merely different pro-
nunciations of Wodan, especially as bodh or boodh in Sanscrit
and the common dialects of Hindostan is used for our Wed-
nesday or Odin's day." Thomson's " Observations intro-
ductory to a work on English Etymology : John Murray,
Albemarle Street, 1818." See also Godfrey Higgins's "Ana-

[4] Stanza 25. The ascription of the attribute " modern
Stagyrite" to the mitred author of the celebrated "Analogy"
may be an untasteful anachronism (though all anachronisms
are not untasteful) ; but I could not resist the wish to register
my conviction, in some form, that of all reasoners for the
truth of written Revelation, Butler is the most potent.

[5] Stanza 37. That bees swarmed on the mouth of the
infant Plato, as an angury of the sweetness of his future elo-
quence, is a well known Greek story : a similar relation is
made of Pindar's infancy.

[6] Stanza 38. Demosthenes, in fear of being delivered up
to Antipater and Craterus, fled to the temple of Neptune in
Calauria, and commited suicide by sucking poison from a
quill, which he carried about with him in the expectation
that, one day, he would be driven to desperation.

[7] Stanza 40. Themistocles, having fled to the court of


Artaxerxes, after his banishment from Athens, and being
taken into high favour, was requested by the Persian monarch
to conduct a war against Greece. He committed suicide (by
" drinking bull's blood," it is said) rather than bear arms
against his native country.

[8] Stanza 41. Diceus of Megalopolis, general of the
Achaean league, slew himself, when he found it impossible to
resist the legions of Rome : Pausanias, 7. c. 16.

[9] Stanza 41. Zeno, the founder of the Stoics, I find, it
was not, who committed suicide, but Zeno of Elea, the dis-
ciple of Parmenides. Others say, he was put to death by
being pounded in a mortar, for attempting to deliver his
country from the tyrant Nearchus, after biting off his tongue
and spitting it in the face of his torturer, The facts of this
suicide were in my mind, but I had forgot the identity of the
person, and had no means, in prison, of rectifying my error.

[10] Stanza 42. Cato of Utica, who professed the Stoic
philosophy, will be known to every English reader as a
suicide, by Addison's fine tragedy.

[11] Stanza 42. Marcus Curtius, according to the mythic
Roman story, threw himself, armed and mounted, into a gulf
which had suddenly opened in the forum. The oracle had
said that it would close when what was most precious in
Rome was thrown into it ; and it did close, says the story,
when patriotic virtue was thus sacrificed.

[12] Stanza 43. Brutus and Cassius, after the battle of
Philippi, each, alike in fear that the other was killed, com
mitted suicide by running upon the sword of his freed-man.

[13] Stanza 44. Caius Gracchus, ten years after the as-
sassination of his elder brother Tiberius, finding it impossible
to escape the vengeance of the patricians whom he had
humbled, also committed suicide by running upon the sword
of his slave, Epicrates. Statues were erected to the memory


of these proposers of the "Agrarian law," (or plan for the
division of land among the people) after their death ; and
their mother, Cornelia boasted that she was the happiest of
liomari matron?, in having given birth to such sons.

[14] Stanza 45. Carbo, the orator, according to Cicero,
killed himself because he could not endure to behold the
vices of his countrymen. This kind of suicide has been long
out of fashion in the world.

[15] Stanza 4-5. The younger Marius. For affirmation of
his suicide see Appian de Bellis Civilibus, lib. 1, c. 94.

[16] Stanza 46. Photius. " A secret remnant of Pagans,
who still lurked in the most refined and most rustic condition
of mankind, excited the indignation of the Christians, who
were perhaps unwilling that any strangers should be witnesses
of their intestine quarrels. A bishop was named as the in-
quisitor of the faith, and his diligence soon discovered in the
court and city, the magistrates, lawyers, physicians, and
sophists, who still cherished the superstition of the Greeks.
They were sternly informed that they must chuse, without
delay, between the displeasure of Jupiter or Justinian, and
that their aversion to the gospel could no longer be disguised
under the scandalous mask of indifference or impiety. The
patrician Photius, perhaps alone, was resolved to die like his
ancestors : he enfranchised himself with the stroke of a dagger,
and left his tyrant the poor consolation of exposing with igno-
miny the lifeless corpse of the fugitive." Gibbon, chap. 47.

[17] Stanza 47. "A pard, with hide besprent, like that
gruff' Scythian by Ceres changed :" Lyncus. Ovid. Metam.,
lib. 5., v. 660. To Ovid's simple expression, "Lynca Ceres

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Online LibraryThomas CooperThe purgatory of suicides; a prison-rhyme in ten books → online text (page 13 of 20)