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

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In thy magnifical incendiary
To use a masterstroke should teach the brood
Of puny things to come what 'twas to be
Acute in wit : for no dexterity
Of after-men can now the name destroy
Of fiddling, murdering Nero

Cease thy glee !

Returned the Roman, or thy tongue employ
On themes that will thy hapless fellows less annoy.


The prince thou slander'st had a noble soul,
Although eccentric : hireling scribes defamed
Him, or the world would his great deeds extol,
Not censure. Man's advance he always aimed
To hasten : wisdom, art, song, music claimed
Him ever as their blandest, truest friend ;
And, in the deed thou hast so lightly named,
His purposes were princely : a quick end
He put to ugliness that did with beauty blend :



Filth-nests with palaces, that erst distilled

Their feculent odours on the air, and spread

Nausea and death. Thou shouldst have seen Rome rilled

With homes of stateliness and grace, instead

Of mere mud-huts of squalor: 'twould have bred

In thee much admiration [11]

And the roast,

Resumed Mordaunt, was trifling : to the dead
Those who were burnt Decay would soon have tossed,
And Death, doubtless, preferred the speedier holocaust.


Filth-nests! why, ay; and the mere wingless fowls
I'd term them such, did the old Cynic sneer,
As in wise Plato's face, [12] the dirty thralls
Were of no worth. Besides, how vain ii were
Of the birds' filthy nests fair Rome to clear,
And yet to leave the filth-birds ! Thus, brave War
Is the world's health's effectual pioneer,
As well as burning: Earth, it doth not mar, [car.
But mend to bruise it, now and then, with Slaughter's


Spite of thy jeers, Villeneuve, inclined to wrath,
Took up the strife, and said, War hath its use
As well as honours : harvest and aftermath
Are rendered plenteous by the tide diffuse
Of blood : the vulture's leavings do conduce,
As well, to fertilize the barren earth,
Which might, but for the timely stream let loose
On it, become one general mass of dearth,
Nor yield another grain for things of human birth.


Thus doth the carnage of the field assist
Great Providence. Nay, more : the lord of fight
Is Nature's mightiest, best phlebotomist :
Tis well that the fell falchion doth alight
On thousands, and more slaughterous nitre blight
Myriads of crawling things. What would the world
Grow, but a putrid swarm, in the vast flight
Of years, if oft the warrior's flag unfurled
The sun saw not, nor smiled on crowds to swift deathhurled?



And, if Earth's youth the sword did not thus sweep
Away by thousands, in what woe and want,
What scorn and rags, would many of them creep
To helpless age ? But, next, the combatant
Regard with Glory fired

Nay, said Mordaunt,

Mar not thy theme ; for thou hast pictured well
The truest commendations War can vaunt :
Slide not to farce : thou never wilt excel
The argument, though tragic, we have heard thee tell.


Such were the shameless reas'nings of the Strong
For murdering the Weak, I heard in life :
And yet these very reas'ners pale at wrong
Wrought by the lone assassin with the knife :
These very men whose arguments are rife
Of aiding mystic Providence, by huge
Assassination ! That such hateful strife
Of inconsistency we fled, I grudge
Not, though it be for aye in this dull zone to lodge.


And I judge otherwise, with lazy speech
The suicidal glutton 'gan to break
His moody silence : could I old Earth reach
Again, at will, 1 quickly would forsake
This clime that fits perception so opaque
As thine. Why wonder at aught strange or mad
They do or say on Earth ? Do they not make
A thing for worship that they say doth add
To being merely' to slay what he with life hath clad?


And justify they not his deathful laws
By the same logic we have heard but now ?
' All things hath framed this great uncaused Cause,'
They say, ' to prey upon each other, through
' His blest design to save them from the slow
' And lingering death of helpless age : and thus,'
Say they, ' when men the universe of woe
' And murder view, and shudder, vision gross
' Leads them to term its kindly beauty hideous.'



If such their model of perfection be,
How canst thou wonder, if, with kindliness
Like his to whom in awe they bow the knee,
Their human slaughter-shapes they drape and dress?
Mordaunt, I ever laughed at answerless
Priest-riddles, and unto the joys ot sense
And appetite betook me ; and possess
Them now I would, if this new residence
Of being, and its laws, compelled not abstinence.

And as thou think'st, Apicius, so think I,
Said dull Tigillinus ; sense, and its joy,
But nought beside on earth, are worth a sigh:
They rendered Life worth having, though alloy
Was mingled with it : he who was least coy
Of these true pleasures, was, in my esteem,
The wisest man : ay, he who from a boy
Led life of revel, filling up his dream
With merriment daring the rapids of Life's stream.


So judged I that our prince lived by the rule
Of truest wisdom : could I once more share
His favour and his joys, I would not pule
At the world's contradictions, like this rare
Sample of folly, who with haste so yare [13]
Fled hither from wealth's, pleasure's lavishment,
In quest of dark remediless despair.
Rome knew not such a lunatic: content
We were to live, 'less ill with good was overblent.

Ye may bepraise yourselves, Mordaunt replied ;
But I regard ye as twin swine for nought
More noble ye resemble : things of pride
And filthiest greed ye be ; and Earth o'erfraught
With such as ye becomes the irksome spot
It is, and hath been. Nature doth contain
No greater mystery than that with thought
Such grovelling clay she doth endow ; the chain
Of mire and mind ye link : your being else is vain.



Is not our life all life as vain as theirs P
Asked Lumley, while the Romans sank supine
And slumberous, on the rock : we were the heirs
Of Vanity on earth; and this confine
Of wretchedness aifords no cheering sign
That we shall e'er attain a nobler state
Although some fable it who still entwine
Earth's credulous dreams with doubt, and consolate
This miserable being' with emulous debate.


And what, if such debate high truths evolve
We wot not of? earnestly asked Vatel :
My mind doth much misgive 'twas rash resolve,
When ghost-kings messaged us, that did impel
Our souls to scoff. If we have bid farewell
To esperance ourselves

Nurse no regret

So infantile, said Lumley : wisely quell
Its yearnings : ne'er can dreams in me beget
A ray of hope that we shall 'scape from Torture's net.


It is a universe designed for sorrow
Designed if 't be ; and if it rose by chance,
'Tis still as vile. I wish a vast death thorough
All life would penetrate, until expanse
Of space were filled with discontinuance
Of thought, sense, motion. Worthless are they all,
Serving no end but pain the heritance
Of all things: pleasure doth but serve to pall.
'Tis but a sweet to render bitterer Life's gall.


Tell us Annihilation shall imbibe
All being, and I thy prophecy will name
Worthy rehearsal and regard : but gibe
No dreams of some fantastic afterdrame
Of blessedness for men and spirits : maim
Their wits must be who doatingly desire
For boon what we ought rather to disclaim
And shun, judging from Past and Present: ire,
Not joy, I feel, when told I shall new bliss acquire.

or SUICIDKS. 219


Would that on earth physician for the mind
Like to thyself I had discovered, said
Vatel: thy morbid discontent and blind
Distortion ev'n of joy, benignly spread
With grief through Being, into woe as dread
As evil's self creates so deep distaste
By its untruth, that thou in me hast bred
More reverence for the good in life amassed,
Than if thou wert Nature's devout encomiast.


Spirits, within me hath awoke new hope,
New faith! Ev'n here we are not wholly lost :
It is because in sluggard thought we mope
And drivel, that we deem this mystic coast
Our perdurable prison. Swiftly trust
Shall rise to break our bondage, when no more
We palter with ourselves, but with robust
Resolve probe our life-errors to the core
Until, not Fate, but our own folly we abhor.


Soon shall we then discover why we made
Shipwreck of mortal life, and why we here,
By turns, sink in low sloth, fiercely upbraid
Being itself, or agonize with Fear
And Pain; and soon deliverance will appear :
For Mind was formed all Evil to subdue

By its own might

Old earth-dreams! wilh a sneer,
Villeneuve exclaimed ; and let Earth still pursue
Her dreams: but, do not here the sickening theme renew.


But who approacheth by the gloomy strand,
With step of haste bounding o'er rock and level ?
Strange haste, in this supine, lethargic land !
'Tis he who did on earth so deeply revel
In Jiis dark theme of ' Suicide no Evil,'
And, when the page was finished, finished life
Robert of Normandy, yclept the Devil .
Thy visage is a herald of new strife [rife !

Wild spirit! Speak the thoughts with which thy soul is



Already by the groupe, Le Diable

Stood, with a look that seemed to reprehend

Those sojourners in gloom all, save Vatel,

Whose eyes of new-born hope a light I kenned,

Of mystic sympathy and joy to send

Forth as a greeting to the Norman's eyes.

And thus the Norman spake:

Spirits, attend

The invitation from the Good and Wise,
That now I bring : attend, and from your sloth arise !


Brothers, although their primal call ye slighted,
Sages and bards and princely spirits yearn
To kindle in your essences benighted
The fire of faith with which they inly burn.
And, thus, by one who erst, ye know, with scorn
Viewed being's gift, message they have renewed,
That ye may cease, when his soul's hope ye learn,
And ken the faith with which he is imbued,
To think they mock ye with a feigned solicitude.


It is no dream : Hades and Earth are waking
To consciousness of Mind's omnipotence.
Not less unwise than guilty in forsaking
Old Earth we were ; for we with affluence
Of might to subdue Evil's vehemence
Were gifted : ev'n the weakest might have won
Some vict'ry helpful to the prevalence
Of Mind o'er Evil. But, it is begun
The lofty strife and conquest shall be gained, full soon !


I tell ye that on earth all natural ill
Begins to yield to Science : Pest'lence flees
Her climes ; and men shall soon begin to fill
Th' expansive measure of their days. The seas
Already own the power of Mind : with ease
Men vault above the wave, fearing no rage
Of giant storms. On land, the very breeze
That vital is, they hold in vassalage, [sledge.

And yoke, by viewless chains, unto the thought-winged



Mind glows and fulmines even in the clown ;
And men from yoke conventional and old
Shake themselves free : the crosier and the crown,
The sword and gun all men begin to hold
For useless and pernicious things, and bold
The very peasants grow to laugh aloud
At swollen names of gew-gaw shapes in gold.
Think ye that changes such as these uncloud [proud ?
No change for Hades, and her kings and pomp-thrones


I tell ye Change hath come : judgment condign
Hath fallen on the essences of kings
Who raged to hear deep sage and bard divine
Tell, in prophetic strain, pomp-glisterings
Should pass away, and spirit-homagings
Be paid to Mind and Goodness. Where the bow
Of promise skieth mystic symbolings
Of monarch-splendour, forfeiture I saw [awe.

Of thrones, which congregrated ghost-kings shook with


Arise, arise, my brothers ! we were wrong
To quit Earth's life in craven discontent
At Evil ; and ignoble to prolong
Our murmuring here it is. Evil was blent
With Good through being ; but the Blender meant
T' ennoble human thought by healthful toil
That should have issue in magnificent
And universal triumph. Brothers, foil
The lethargy that doth your might-girt spirits spoil !


Come, listen the inspiring theme of Good

And Right, and how doth dawn their jubilee!

Spirits, the universe one brotherhood

Of Knowledge, Truth, and Love, full soon shall be !

I say, arise !

Hence, with thy ribaldry !
Apicius fiercely answered : of such fare
I covet not the taste. Hence, devotee
Of dreams ! To mock our misery forbear !
Hence ! let us slumber on to deaden our despair !


Thus spake his swinish spirit ; nor arose
His shade from its recumbency to greet
The earnest messenger. In deeper doze
Sophonius lay, as if he would maltreat
The Norman with contempt. The rest with meet
Attention heard ; and, with a countless host
The descant drew around, in haste more fleet
Than they had used for ages on that coast, [trust.
Expressed, as with one voice, their new-born hope and


Then, to our brother exiles let us speed !

The Norman said ; But what shall be your fate

Victims of sensual gust ? Is it decreed

That Essences like yours in afterstate

Of absolute brutality prostrate

Shall lie for ever? Oh ! that one bright ray

From Nature's central fire would ye create

Anew, with souls more human !

And, away
Faded my dream, as light renewed the prison-day.


[1] Stanza 20. Some few monuments of men of real
worth have been placed in St. Paul's within the last fevr
years ; but the statues of Howard, Dr. Johnson, Sir "William.
Jones, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, are yet the only prominent
figures of truly great men amidst the assemblage of marbled

[2] Stanza 23. " And, though all the winds of doctrine
were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the
field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to mis-
doubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple ; who
ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open en-
counter ?" Milton's Areopagitica.

[3] Stanza 29. " Caloyers" monastics of the Greek church.

[4] Stanza 38. The portrait of Sophouius Tigellinus,
who was distinguished in Nero's court alike for dissoluteness
and treachery, and who, at last, betrayed even the imperial
libertine himself, is well known to all readers of Juvenal ;
and Tacitus has left us a medallion picture (Hist. lib. 1.
cap. 72 ) truly characteristic of his portable and expressive

[5] Stanza 38. The circumstances of Petronius Arbiter'*
singular suicide are described in the 19th chapter of the 16th
book of Tacitus's Annals.

[6] Stanza 39. Millies sestertiQm" or 807,290, is stated
to have been the worth of the estate of Apicius ; and when


he had hanged himself in the diseased belief that he had
not enough left for a maintenance, "ceuties sestertifim," or
80,000, was found to be the remnant of his fortune. In the
stanza, I have used the rhymer's license to employ round

If these notes were intended for comment in lieu of neces-
sary explication, I could not pass by the name of Apicius
without observing, that the bearer of it fairly won his pre-
eminence over all gormandizers ancient or modern, not merely
by the vast sums spent on his appetite and by his self-
inartyrdom to the lunatic dread of want, but by his com-
position of the treatise "de Arte Cocjuinaria," wherefrom,
perhaps, even Eude himself might derive some hints for
exciting dishes : though from Smollett's well-known satirical
expos'- of the delicacies of Roman cookery, modern epicures
may imagine there can be nothing very enticing in the trea-
tise on Cookery by Apicius Ccelius.

[7] and [8] Stanzas 39 and 40. The general reader may
find notices of the suicides of Mordaunt, cousin to the great
earl of Peterborough, and of Lumley, earl of Scarborough, in
various publications : the article " Suicide" contained in a
translation of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, that I
read when a boy, first made me acquainted with their whim-
sical cases.

[9] Stanza 41. Vatel My only knowledge of his suicide
is derived from Winslow's " Anatomy of Suicide." [Since
the publication of my first edition, a friend has referred me
to Mad. de Sevigne's Letters for an account of this suicide.
The English reader will find it in Letter 52 of the transla-
tion, published in 7 duodecimo vols. London, 1801. The
account is too long to copy into a note ; but should be read.]

[10] Stanza 41. Villeneuve. Seeing that one account of
his death is as mysterious as another (see " Biographic Uni-
verselle," "Vol.49.), it may be, after all, that O'Meara's ac-
count of it, as given by Napoleon, is as true as any other.
" The conversation then turned upon French naval officers.


Villeneuve said he, when taken prisoner and brought to
England, was so much grieved at his defeat, that he studied
anatomy that lie might destroy himself. For this purpose he
bought some anatomical plates of the heart, and compared
them with his own body, in order to ascertain the exact situ-
ation of that organ. On his arrival in France, I ordered that
he should remain at Rennes, and not proceed to Paris. Vil-
leneuve, afraid of being tried by a court martial for disobedi-
ence of orders and consequently losing the fleet, for I had
ordered him not to sail, or to engage the English, determined
to destroy himself, and accordingly took his plates of the
heart, and compared them with his breast. Exactly in the
centre of the plate, he made a mark with a large pin, then
fixed the pin as near as he could judge,in the same spot in
his own breast, shoved it in to the head, penetrated his heart,
a nd expired. When the room was opened, he was found
dead ; the pin in his breast, and the mark in the plate cor-
responding with the wound in. his breast. He need not have
done it, continued he, as he was a brave man, though he
possessed no talent." Barry O'Meara's "Voice from St.
Helena,' ' vol. i. page 57.

[11] Stanza 48. My Ghost of Petronius Arbiter does not
argue half so earnestly in defence of Nero, as Mr. Walter
Savage Landor. See his " Imaginary Conversations."

[12] Stanza 49. The practical joke of Diogenes upon
Plato's definition of a Man, will be remembered by almost
every reader. [" Not so," say several of my friends. Here,
then, is the whimsical anecdote which was my authority :
" Plato defining Man a two-footed animal without wings, and this
definition being approved ; Diogenes took a cock, and pluck-
ing off all its feathers, turned it into Plato's school, saying,
This is Plato's Man: whereupon, to the definition was added,
having broad nails" Stanley's Hist, of Philosophy.]

[13] Stanza 58. " Yare" ready, nimble. The word is em-
ployed in the 1st Scene of " The Tempest."

15 a


[14] Stanza 67. Robert le Diable is become a familiar
personage by the success of Meyerbeer's famous opera ; but
whether he had ever any other existence than in the terrific
soubriquet given by his subjects to Robert I., Duke of Nor-
mandy, or whether a real personage existed, who either
wrote a defence of Suicide, and then committed it, or made
a compact with the Evil One after the manner of Faust, I
suppose will remain a doubt. I trust I may be allowed the
use of his imaginary existence, in a merely imaginary vision :
if I have employed as a spiritual agent, the "mere shadow
of a shade," he cannot be very much out of character.




Unbidden visitors, yet welcome, tears
Gush forth, while streams that dulcet melody
The tremulous, soft ' Sicilian Mariners'
Upon the evening air. How Love doth flee,-
Winged by the thrill of organ minstrelsy
So suddenly renewed within a gaol,[l]
To visit the heart's home ! Thoughts full of thee,
My bosom's own, so blest they banish bale
For joy, breathe from the tones of that heart-madrigal.

How wondrous is existence! what strange ties
It hath : what individable soul-links
There be with formless sounds and harmonies.
The Mind, dulled by Life's grosser turmoil, thinks
Extinct in power, bereft of charm : how sinks
My spirit into Rapture's lap, even now :
Such ecstasy, in Thraldom's spite, Love drinks,
By help of those sweet notes, from gentle flow [woe !
Of Memory's streams, that Joy saith nought can bring back

Hush ! 'tis my infancy's quaint 'Evening Hymn,'
My mother's favourite ! Tears ! ye best can tell
What thoughts the heart's deep fountains overbrim
With tenderness when that loved choral swell
Its potency o'er memory sways. A knell
It seems ; and yet, a carol sweeter far
Than mirth can troll. Lives in its strain a spell
Which shews the grave that dear brave face doth mar,
But ever shields that heart from the oppressor's war.

a 2



Hark ! 'tis the grand ' Old Hundredth' that now peals
Its solemn glory through the tranced soul !
That matchless marshalry of chords reveals,
Luther! thy freeborn majesty : [2] they roll
So boldly, gravely full, that man's control,
We feel, befits not the thew'd mind upgrown
Which germs such thought-sounds. Term yeme athrall ?
How, then, upwakes the Saxon with each tone,
Within me ? Nay, I feel true freedom still my own !


Vain are your fetters, tyrants, for the mind !
Thy championship, brave stripling, proved them vain,
What time thou didst so fearlessly unbind
Old Europe from the triple tyrant's chain,
Enthroning Reason the soul's suzerain :
Reason the judge o' th' book. True warrior
For all men's right to think unawed by man,
What though mirk Superstition on the shore
Of Mind still lingers? She shall raise her throne no more.


Thy enterprize is speeding, and hath sped.
I care not that thou didst not comprehend
Its ultimate : it may be, wholesome dread
Of wild excess Nature doth sagely blend
With courage in great souls ; and, that the end
Of noblest change must gradually be sought,
And Reason's heroes with Mind's foes contend
From step to step, yea, victory for Thought
By years of struggling toil be stably, fully wrought.


I care not though some weaknesses were thine :
Who shares thy giant strength ? None but the high
And mighty mental lineage who divine.
From age to age, the ground whereon to ply
At vantage their souls' sinews, and rely
On their own strength in truth for victory.
Thou art our own, great Saxon ! we descry
Our brave old W T ickliffe's soul restored in thee ;
And claim thee for our honoured land of Lollardy !



Honour, all honour to ye, glorious band
Who broke the bondage of the Priest of Rome !
Sires of our common Saxon fatherland,
England and Germany, a glorious home
Ye left us, if we will! amid the gloom
'Lighting a candle' by your noble lives
And martyred deaths that quenchless, shall illume
Our land for aye ! Oh, that death-vaunt still gives
Us strength; and with it, brave one, thy great deed re-
vives ! [3]


What though those words, like oracles of old,
Were sealed, in their full meaning, to the seer,
Who uttered them ? The future shall behold
Their splendid verity, with vision clear !
Then honour to each stalwart pioneer
Of mental Freedom, Wickliffe, Jerome, Huss,
Luther, Melancthon, Cobham, Latimer !
Honour to all who dared the flame, scorn, loss,
Who spurned to live mere spirit thralls inglorious !

O thrice-blest children of that age of light
And love, which now from the far future beams?
To you it will pertain to place aright
In Truth's great temple whom herself esteems
Her true disciples. Ye, when Time's dim dreams
And weakling fears are fled, and Knowledge pure
Hath given the topstone to Truth's fane, like gems
In gold, shall place each dazzling form secure
In its eternal niche. Our hands were premature !

But, when the toil of Mind hath wrought its aim ;
When later Faiths, like older Phantasies,
Are reckoned with the Past; when Man's high name
Is grander than all titles ; when all things of lies
And bloodshed, thrones and altars, creeds, and toys
Of Priests and Kings, Knowledge hath swept away ;
When Wisdom hath outgrown the childish guise
Of mythic story, and put on th' array
Of manhood ; in that boon, free, happy, brother-day,


It may be that, in Truth's eternal fane
Enshrined, each in his kindred niche of glory,
He quaintly termed 'rebellious needleman,'[4]
By thee, great age-fellow ! with martyr gory,
Or some old stout confessor of faith hoary,
May stand, as right co-workers, equal, true,
For Truth ; although the world's old bigot-story
Of Man's mind-infancy did long misview [knew !

The scope of their twin-toil : scope that themselves scarce


It may be that, around that temple's space,
Splendours may wreathe full many a doubter's brow

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