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

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And Great to join in converse !

lake a flood

Of rapture burst the choral song ' We come !*
From myriads hope-inspired; and ere I viewed
From darkness their departure, out of gloom
I passed, woke by that thrilling song's exordium.


[1] Stanza 1. The opening of an organ, in the gaol-chapel
(which adjoined the "day-room" apportioned to me and my
fellow-offenders), gave occasion to this and some of the fol-
lowing stanzas. In the scanty catalogue of prison-events, it
was one, to me, too exciting to be passed by either unfelt or

[2] Stanza 4. The evidence that the unequalled "Old
Hundredth" is Martin Luther's composition may be question-
able : I have yielded to the wish for having it regarded as
his, in the stanza.

[3] Stanza 8. " Courage my brother ! we shall this day
light up a candle that will never be extinguished in Eng-
land 1" Latimer's words to his fellow-martyr, Ridley, at the


[4] Stanza 12. " Rebellious needleman." I find I am
slightly mistaken in the phrase, which I quoted from me-
mory, without means of correction. Here is the emphatic
passage from Mr. Carlyle's magnificent unrhymed, unmetred
Epic : " Nor is our England without her missionaries. She
has her Paine : rebellious staymaker ; unkempt ; who feels
that he, a single Needleman, did by his 'Common Sense' Pam-
phlet, free America ; that he can and will free all this
world ; perhaps even the other." " The French Revolution :
a History :" vol. 2, chap. iii.

[5] Stanza 17. " Peopled with wolves thy old inhabitants."
2 Pt. of Hen. 4. The quotation was tempting for a rhyme ;


but I almost feel as if I had committed a mortal sin iu thus
literalizing in its application Shakspere's sublime and sinewy

[6] Stanza 20. Mozart's last words" Now I begin to see
what might be done in music !"

[7] Stanza 22. My venerable fellow-" conspirator" and
fellow-prisoner (for the first year) John Richards, whose
seventy-first birth-day occurred on the first Christmas-day
we passed in the gaol.

[8] Stanza 31. The mythic stories of Acis and Galatea
and the Cyclop Polyphemus, as well as that of Hero and
Leander, in this stanza, and of Orpheus and Eurydice in the
stanza preceding, I conclude to be known to every reader.

[9] Stanza 32. The allusion is to Artemisia, queen of
Caria, who built the * Mausoleum" which was esteemed one
of the "Seven Wonders of the World," over the ashes of
her husband Mausoleus, shut herself up in it, and perished
of grief.

[10] Stanza 32. The great poet .ffischylus, (according to
Pliny and Valerius Maximus,) being foretold by an oracle
that he would die by a falling ruin, retired into a field and
sat down to avoid fate : an eagle, however, let fall a tortoise
on his bald head and killed him instantly. The allusion, it
need scarcely be said, is to Socrates, in the remainder of
this stanza, and in the beginning of the next.

[11] Stanza 33. Cicero, Pliny, and others commemorate
the grandfather of Crassus, surnamed Ayi\aoTos, who never
laughed but once, namely, when he saw an ass eat thistles,
and then his exclamation was, "Similes habent labra lac-
tucas" Like lips like lettuces.

[12] Stanza 34. Agamedes and Trophouius, architects of
the vestibule to the temple of Delphos, and Biton and


Cleoljis, sous of Cydippe, priestess of Juno at Argos, we are
told by Plutarch, iu his Morals, were, alike rewarded with
tleath, by the gods, as the " highest gift" that could be con-
ferred on deserving mortals.

[13] Stanza 35. The allusions to the mirror of Praxiteles ;
the oracular cave of Trophonius, from which every visitor
returned a melancholy man ; Phaethon's fall from Apollo's
chariot ; and the dangerous navigation between Scylla and
Charybdis I hope, need no lengthened explications.

[14] Stanza 37. Pergolesi's Stabat Mater (I never heard
Rossini's) is the " theme" to which I allude. I never heard
it performed but once ; yet its pathetic power left an in-
delible impression on my memory,


[15] Stanza 42. The Cimbri,to save themselves frem what
they esteemed ignominious destruction by Marius ; the
Xauthians when besieged by Brutus ; and the Sagun tines when
beleaguered by Hannibal destroyed themselves. Readers
of history know that the catalogue of national suicides might
be enlarged immeasurably beyond the slight allusions in the

[16] Stanza 42. The suicidal massacre of the Jews of
York, to escape from the horrid persecution of the Christian
-citizens, on the llth of March, 1189, is related at consider-
able length (from Roger Hoveden, Matthew Paris, and Wil-
liam Newburgh), by Drake, in his Hist, and Antiq. of York :
Book 1, chap. iv.

ill] Stanza 46

While on my peace no feminine fiend did seize.
Dishonouring my children, and my own
Hoar age covering with shame, &c.

The brief account of M. de Pontalba, and his suicide, in
Winslow's " Anatomy of Suicide," is so absorbingly, hor-
lncally interesting that I transcribe it >
** M. de Poutalba was one of the great proprietors ef


France. His son had been a page of Napoleon's and after-
wards a distinguished officer, aide-de-camp to Marshal Ney,
and a protege of the Duke of Elchiugen. He married the
daughter of Madame d'Almonaster, and for some time they
lived happily ; but on the death of her mother, Madame de
Pontalba began to indulge in such extravagances that even
the enormous fortune of the Pontalbas was unequal to it.
This led to some remonstrance on the part of her husband,
on the morning after which she disappeared from the hotel,
and neither he nor his children had any clue to her retreat.
At last, after an interval of some months, a letter arrived
from her to her husband, dated New Orleans, in which she
announced that she meant to apply for a divorce ; but for
eighteen months nothing more was heard of her, except by
her drafts for money. At last she returned, hut only to
afflict her family. Her son was at the Military Academy of
St. Cyr. She induced him to elope, and the boy was plunged
in every species of debauchery and expense. This afflicted,
in the deepest manner, his grandfather, who revoked a be-
quest he had made him of about 4,000 a-year, and seemed
to apprehend from him nothing but future ruin and disgrace.
The old man, eighty two years of age, resided in his chateau
of Mont Leveque, whither, in October, 1834, Madame de
Pontalba went to attempt a reconciliation with the wealthy
senior. The day after her arrival she found she could make
no impression on her father-in-law, and was about to return
to Paris, when old M. de Pontalba, observing a moment when
she was alone in her apartment, entered it with a brace of
double-barrelled pistols, locked the door, and, approaching
his astonished daughter-in-law, desired her to recommend
herself to God, for that she had but few minutes to live ;
but he did not even allow her one minute he fired imme-
diately, and two balls entered her left breast. She started
up and fled to a closet, her blood streaming about, and ex-
claiming that she would subrnii to any terms, if he would
spare her. " No, no ! You must die /" he exclaimed, and
fired his second pistol. She had instinctively covered her
heart with her hand ; the hand was miserably fractured by


the balls, but it saved her heart. She then escaped to
another closet, where a third shot was fired at her without
effect ; and at last she rushed in despair to the door, and
while M. de Pontalba was discharging his last barrel at her,
she succeeded in opening it. The family, alarmed by the
firing, arrived, and she was saved. The old man, on seeing
that she was beyond- his reach, returned to his apartment,
and blew out his brains. It seemed clear that he had re-
solved to make a sacrifice of the short remnant of his own
life, in order to release his son and his grandson from their
unfortunate connexion with Madame de Pontalba. But he
failed none of her wounds were mortal ; and within a month
after, Madame de Pontalba, perfectly recovered, in high
health and spirits, radiant, and crowned with flowers, was to
be seen at all the fetes and concerts of the capital." Pp. 292

[18] Stanza 49. It is a well-known relation that when
I'omponius Atticits (the li-iend of Cicero) had subdued a fever
by fasting, or medicine, in his 77th year, he refused to take
food, from an unwillingness to prolong life.

" [19] Stanza 58. Menedenius, is another of the suicides of
antiquity who are described as escaping from life by refusing
food. False accusation of treason is stated to have been the
desperate provocative with this Socratic philosopher of

[20] Stanza 67. Livy (lib. 26. cap. 13, 14), tells how Vibius
Virius advised the Capuans to revolt to Hannibal, and, when .
the city was retaken by the Romans, took poison to escape
the vengeance of the victors.

[21] Stanza 69. Quintilius Varus : I have, for the sake of
introducing another character, asserted what is merely pro-
Mile, from Horace de Arte Poetica (438) the 18th Ode of
Book 1, and also the 24th. It is more generally believed
that Q. Varus the poet, and Q. Varus t he commander of the
Koinau armies in Gaul, who slew himself because overcome
by the craft of Ariminus, were different persons.





"Tis Woman's voice ! woman in wailful grief,
Joined by her babe's scarce conscious sympathy.
Thy wife hath come to take her farewell brief,
Gaunt felon ! brief and bitter must it be
For thy babe's mother, since the wide salt sea
Must roll, for life, its deep, dark gulph between
Thee, convict, and that form of agony !
Poor wretched thing! well may she wail, 1 ween,
And wring her hands, and wish that she had never beon !


* Let me have one last kiss of my poor babe !'
He saith, and clingeth to the grate. Oh ! how
The turnkey's answer will his bosom stab !
' Away ! we open not the bars !' and, lo !
They push him rudely back ! he may not know
What baleful bliss it gives to clasp a child
Or wife, ere one must yield them to life's woe.
Ah ! little had that kiss his grief beguiled ;
But, rather, filled his soul with after-throes more wild.


She fainteth ! yet awakes to moan and weep !
How little didst thou think that smiling morn
Thou didst, so early and so eager, peep
Into thy mirror, and thy breast adorn
With virgin rose, so soon the sorrow-thorn
Would there have pierced ! that thou, in two short years,
Wouldst see thy husband in that dress of scorn ;
And turn, a widowed bride a thing of tears
From that stern grate, forlorn, to meet the world's rude

[jeers ;



Poor sufferer! how wilt thou the future brook !
To drudge from morn to eve for beggar's bread ;
To hear thy ragged child receive rebuke
For his sire's sins, that on the exile's head
Already fall full sore; to see him shed
Tears when he asks for food, and thou hast none
To stop his hunger ; then, to make thy bed
With him upon the heath or moorland lone,
Unless, for infamy, thou tak'st the rich man's boon !

What misery, hadst thou never been a bride,
Thy heart had shunned ! Yet, thou wilt fondly cling
Unto the memory of thy love, nor chide,
Ev'n by a thought, in deepest suffering,
His error, who did thy young joy-bloom bring
To desolation ! Ill requited love
Was thine, ev'n from the bridal-revelling;
Yet, thou forgavest all, nor didst reprove
The wild excess which oft thee nigh to madness drove.


Oh Woman ! how thy truest worth is slighted j
Thy tenderness how often met with hate ;
Thy fondest, purest hopes, how often blighted ;
How Man, the tyrant, lords it o'er thy fate,
' Yet feigns for thy benign behests to wait;
How jealously he guards thy faithfulness,
And frowns a censure on thy every state :
Thy chastity terms coldness ; thy caress
Weak fooling," stratagem, or grosser love's excess!


Oh Woman ! fairest, frailest, sweetest flower
Of Nature's garden, what rude storms thee bend!
Thy heart, thou priceless, peerless, matchless dower
Of Nature's treasury, what sufferings rend !
How meanly men, through selfishness, contend
To pamper thee ! how silkenly their lays
Of love they lisp to gain their guilty end ;
How sensually Man lauds thy beauty's blaze ;
How heartlessly deserts thee in its dimmer days !



Oh Woman ! what anxieties destroy
The bliss thou dreamest none can take away
When hushing thy soft care thy cradled joy!
How Time the blessings thy fond hopes pourtray
Oft turns to curses, and thy heart a prey
To keenest woe condemns : maternal woe,
That like maternal love, the human clay
Moves more intensely than severest throe
Or most ecstatic thrill that mortal bosoms know.


Mysterious bonds of Nature ! can ye be
Without a wise Deviser? Hath a blind
Necessity, indeed, implanted ye?
Are ye not proofs of All-pervasive Mind ?
Hath Goodness, then, these spirit-throes designed,
Still mingled with the mother's cup of bliss ?
Wherefore, oh wherefore, still must mortals find
Mystery ne'er lessen, but, for aye, increase
Beneath their feeble search, or frail analysis ?

Ay, Woman ! for thy mother-heart remain
The keenest agonies ; to see revealed
Passions that do defy thee to restrain
Their baneful germs, and which, thou know'st must yield
A deadly fruit; to see thy young flower fell'd
In its sweet promise; or to be bereft
Of it by ruthless power that tyrants wield
O'er Poverty ; and, though thy heart be cleft
With sorrowing, no sight of it to be vouchsafed!

' Thou pampered tyrant who dost crush the Poor!
' Alien of Nature from thy mother's womb !
' Who never sucked the breast of her that bore
' Thy most unnatural self! Thou humoursome
1 Wealth-wanton, who dost send thy child from home,
'Or call'st a hireling, Life's sweet stream to give
' Unto thy babe ! What wonder that ye doom
' The Poor to pain? since in ye doth not live
A natural heart, how can ye Nature's pain perceive ?



' Ye artificial things in blood and breath,

' What human creatures feel how can ye tell ?'

Tush ! raving mother, the rich wanton saith

Thy pangs arc feigned, and whipping should dispel

Thy discontent ! Oh ! ye will wake the yell

Of reckless violence around ye yet,

Tyrants ! unless ye, timely, bid the knell

Be tolled of daemon-legislation !

Me strive that theme of rending heart-ache to forget !


Oh Woman ! what illustrious children thine
Oft prove ev'n when thy fate and theirs seems dark.
Slave-mother of old Smyrna, who didst pine
In grief, and in lorn hope thy babe embark
On Meles' stream, cradled in that frail ark,
How little didst thou dream thy infant's glory
Would beam through Time ; and he, the patriarch
Of song become, all bards and sages hoary
Transcend in honour, through the world, to latest story !


Or, if thy Homer, and the child on Nile,
The 'babe' that 'wept,' but soon proud Pharaoh's might
Defied, and led those thousands on their toil
Through the drear wilderness, the Canaanite
To dispossess, if these, to read aright
Their story, Reason must as Myths regard
Fertile in moral, albeit overdight
With marvel Mothers in late times have reared
Their sons in want, yet seen them win Fame's high reward.


How thy best children, Woman, testify
A mother's worth, attributing their zest
For enterprise, or love of good, to thy
Exalting nurture ! O let him attest
A mother's worth that Titan of the West-
Unequalled Washington ! And if such men,
That dwarf princes, vigour from thy meek breast
Now draw, Woman ! what will thy sons be when
Man looks on thee no longer with the tyrant's ken ?

of SUICIDES. 255

When chivalry's false homage is forgot ;
When eastern jealousy no more immures
And lenders thee a vernal idiot;
When thy young purity no villain-lures
Are spread to blemish ; when thy mind matures
In freedom, and thy soul can make its choice,
Untrammelled, unconstrained, where heart assures
The heart it is beloved ; shall not thy voice
And look restore to Earth its long-lost Paradise?

That Mind is of no sex, when thou art freed, [sense ;
Thy thought-deeds shall proclaim : our Edgeworth's
Our Baillie's truthful skill; Felicia's meed
Of grace with perfectest mellifluence
Of music joined ; or thy magnificence
Of heart and reason, Necker's glorious child!
Problems shall be no more : Woman's intense
Inherent claim to mind-rank, when befoiled
No more by Man, she will display with glow unsoiled,


And when her children see her move in joy,
And yet in truest dignity ; no more
A slave, no more a drudge, no more a toy !
When from her lips of love her spirit's store
Of high ennobling wisdom she doth pour
Into her offspring's ears, into their eyes,
Ere speech be learnt, looks Nature's purest lore
Of truth and virtue, shall not Man arise
From error, nurtured thus, and loftiest good devise ?

These day-dreams past of Woman's destiny,
To Man's auxiliar in beatitude,
The brain in sleep, instinct with phantasy,
But credent of its day-dreams, still pursued
The theme. A verdant pasture-plain, I viewed,
Unbounded, in that mystic spirit-land
. Where mortals who have ventured to denude

The soul of clay without His high command
The great Life-Giver feel his stern corrective hand.


But now, the end of punishment seemed near,
And spirits talked of blest participance
In life set free from pain and woe, and fear,
While I beheld them in thronged groups advance,

. On journey bent to hear the utterance
Of their high manumission. Prankt the plain
Appeared with flowers of wild luxuriance
Of growth and deep intensity of stain ;

But unto them no gloss nor perfume did pertain.


Their dyes seemed of such depth as dyes of flowers
At summer's even, when the garish sun
Hath set, and either human eyes new powers
Receive, bedazed no longer, the' air hath won
Strength to assist the optic nerve, or on
The flowers themselves sheds nitrous particles
That deepen colours : thus they glowed, not shone :
A rich array of blossoms, buds, and bells,
So fragrant to the eye, Fancy supplied their smells.


And ever and anon some feminine form,
For souls of men appeared not in my dream,
Stooped to select some favourite from the swarm
Of floral beauties, and then wound the stem
Within her hair : others an anadem
Of varied blossoms wove, and, garlanded,
Discoursing rapturously of their high theme,
Smiling, across the pleasant pasture sped :
Blythe sight it was to see, in soul-land of the Dead.


Nor unfamiliar seemed their faces fair,
Their names and deeds, unto the dream-rapt soul :
Though many a suicide of Eld was there :
Full many a virgin whom old bards extol
For spotless chastity, and of whose dole
They make sweet plaint : full many a wife
Of high heroic virtue that with cool
Resolve chose death by poison-cup or knife,
Or in the wave, disdaining a dishonoured life.


And groupes passed by who fled from widowhood
Through love excessive for their bosoms' lords ;
And throngs appeared that nobly shed their blood
In patriotic struggle, when the swords
Of tyrants slew their sons and sires, or hordes
Of foreign foes sought to pollute their homes ;
And forms were there whom History records
For questionable deeds, or whom Truth dooms
To infamy, though Fraud writ praises on their tombs.

From out a Roman groupe, methought, there passed
Into a daisied bye-path, matrons twain
Whose sable locks with hyacinths were graced;
To their dark eyes a fervour did pertain
That found its reflex in that sapphire stain :
Intensely truthful was their spirits' glow ;
And, as mine joined them, on the green champaign,
I pondered deeply on their mortal throe,
And cause for which they did that death-pang undergo.


The twain were Cato's daughter, Brutus' spouse
Illustrious suicidal lineage !
Whose death, so horridly courageous,
Old legends tell ; and she who to assuage
Fear in her husband by the tyrant's rage
Death-doomed plunged to her heart the steel, and cried
' It is not painful !' smiling, while the pledge
So dread she gave of love. These, side by side,
Porcia and Arria, [1] o'er the plain, conversing hied.

Say, sister spirit! Cato's daughter spake,
Seems it not, now, to thee, but yesterday
We did great Rome, our glorious home, forsake,
To rush on death ? Now they are passed away,
The ages of our pain, in mincl's survey,
Seem nought ; and yet, how drear in passing ! Earth
Produceth self-same thought and feeling : they
Who sorrow reckon ages from the birth [mirth.

Of woe ; but say 'twas short, when tears are changed for
17. s



Arria replied : such are my thoughts of weal
And woe on earth, my sister, and of joy
That doth the sorrows of our essence heal
In this strange afterstate, and mind upbuoy
With cheering faith that, henceforth, no alloy .

Shall mingle with our bliss. Yet, oft, our thought
Shall wander back, and memory employ
Her power to re wake many an image fraught
With tenderness earth-forms on which the soul will doat.


Oh ! never can the hours of youthful love
Cease to be precious, nor from memory fade,
Amid the highest rapture we may prove
Of that beatitude which shall pervade
Hades for ever !

Nor shall aught upbraid

The heart, Porcia rejoined, for this its truth
To what it chastely loved ; but, rather, aid,
From sweet revisitings of joys of youth,
The spirit shall derive for its eternal growth.


Aye, to the purest thoughts of Life's young spring
Oft shall the ever-growing soul return,
Drawn by the good each visit thence shall bring
To the advancing spirit which shall yearn
For loftier good the further it is borne
From evil : thus our minds boon sustenance
Deriving from the Past, and what we learn
Of noblest kindred's high participance
Of virtue, shall enlarge into a blest expanse.


And dost thou think it shall be thus, indeed ?
Said Arria : shall our essence still expand
In bliss the more on virtue it doth feed,
On soft beneficence, and breathings bland
To bless much more than to be blest ? How grand,
How glorious, then, is human nature ! frail
And puny though they termed it wh/> had scanned,
Or thought they scanned, its strength. Oh, that Mind's
Some Power had rent while in its house terrestrial ! [veil


Not wholly secret, sister, was the true
Sublimity of Man, said Porcia; some
There were in every age and clime, though few,
Who taught that goodness, and not awe and gloom,
Must nurture the soul's bud until its bloom
Should be unfolded into noblest bliss :
The distant East, fair Greece, and our own Rome
Possessed such sages, though the Priest's device
Thwarted them evermore : with force, or artifice.


Ev'n in Earth's infancy a sage arose
In Orient far, who taught how purely blest
The spirit grew that could forgive its foes ;
How happiness was won by scorn of rest
And ease, and choice of toil to the distrest,
In body or in mind, to bring relief:
And after-sages did these truths attest :
Alas ! too oft by violent death their brief
Love-toil was stayed : for Falsehood still held Man's belief!

But who is this the wider way that leaves
To cross our path, as if she sought to speak
Of some glad birth her joyous soul conceives ?
Hail, Carthaginian sister ! to the meek,
But fervid form, Porcia said on, thy cheek
Intensely glows, the gentle fire o'th' heart
Revealing : say, what blissfulness dost seek
To tell, that thrills thee, now our penal smart [part !
Is past ? Haste, blythesome one, thy joy-thought to im-

By sympathy, I knew that your discourse
Was of the power of Goodness, and I yearned
To hear ye its blest eulogy rehearse,
The wife of Asdrubal answer returned :
For she it was : the same who nobly scorned
To join her craven lord in traitorous flight
To Scipio, and with her two children burned
Within the sacred pyre herself did light,
Mid the beleaguered city, in the Roman's sight. [2]-

s 2



Oh ! well mayst thou the theme of gentleness
Desire to list, said Arria, for thy clime
Bruised by our sires' ambition 'neath excess
Of humbled suffering sank ; and though sublime
Was thy death-deed, it was fell War's great crime
That drove thee to that act.

But, now 'tis past,

Rejoined the Carthaginian, to o'erbrim
Joy's cup it seems that, though your sires laid waste
My own loved fatherland, my heart hath ye embraced.


And, sister, in our hearts we thee embrace,
Said Porcia, and partake thy bosom's thrill :

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