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

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The book of Nature, said the bard : the men
Ye also wisely laud who o'er their clay
Superior rose, and, for their kind, the way
Opened to nobler life and high command
O'er outward ill: but know ye not that they
Were fitted for their work by Nature's hand,
From embryons in the primal purposes she planned ?

That Nature's volume lay unspelled so long
Attribute to her wisdom which doth shun
Rash haste : she forms her favourites lithe, but strong
To bear and to endure, as well as run
Their race and slack not till the gaol is won.
Neither forget how many sought to find
Out Nature's ways, but failed. Sought they the boon,
Then, vainly, through sheer impotence of mind,
Or was successful quest for later men designed ?

Brothers, have noblest intellects, late-born,
In grasp excelled the mighty Stagyrite ?
Did any cast o'er Nature's face extern
Larger discourse, or with more piercing sight
Scan her deep secrets, or pour fuller light
Intense of Reason on her footsteps broad
That men might not her bounteous purpose slight?
Who, while late Western sages they applaud,
The earlier toiler of his guerdon will defraud P


Yet, often, where he thought he knew 'twas guess :
And what he would have known, ev'n at the cost
Of life itself, his eagle-sightedness
Of soul failed to perceive. Then, 'twas the boast
Of some mere modern dwarf to show where lost
His search the ancient giant ; though the vaunt
Belonged not him who said, he found : a host
Of names have won from men extravagant
Applause, while of their worth Truth was uncognisant.

Not their more skilful thought plombed the great deep
Of Nature's mystery, which others failed
To fathom: 'twas Herself away did sweep
Th' incumbent waves of darkness, and unsealed
Truth's gems, for then the channels were revealed
Where they had lain for ages. Accident,
Contingency, some called it, when to yield
Her fruit mature Nature prepared : content
With any name to hide their gross-souled wonderment !

Some said the wondrous optic tube had been
For ever undiscovered, vast expanse
Of space with all her suns and systems, seen
By its weird aid, and all their utterance
Of dateless Nature's old continuance
And might and grandeur been for ever hid,
If the mechanic had not marked, by chance,
His children's wonder, while, at play, they slid
Together and peeped through the chrystals pellucid. [7]

Others the thread-bare story oft rehearsed
Whenas the godlike sage of Albion's isle
Beheld the apple fall, at once dispersed
Were Nature's mists, and, without further toil
Of mind, he rose, and with complacent smile,
Serious but glad, proclaimed the force sublime
That binds Earth's surface to her centre while
She wheels around the sun, pervades his clime,
And keeps all planets in their bounds from birth of Time.


'Twas accident, they said, that from the bough
The apple fell, the sage in musing vein
Beheld it, and, like other truths that flow
By chance into men's minds, within the brain
Of Newton this upsprung, else, it had lain,
Belike, still unperceived, still unproclaimed.
Thus some the noblest toils of thought were fain
To reck for nought, enthroning Chance; while maimed
Inferior wits with awe by other tongues were named.

Few were thy words, Lycurgus, but profound
In truth : from earliest eld all was designed
Or ordered that hath been : Nature's great round
Must needs be travelled : Circumstance and Mind,
Alike, must be brought forth, and be combined,
Ere mightiest Truths evolved : Necessity
O'er all prevailed : the flame, the flood, the wind,
Were masters till the march of Thought set free
The world of struggling men from that old tyranny :


The march of Thought was onward from of old,
Onward, for aye, to Nature's eye, though dense
Film-sighted men no progress could behold :
Thought sprung from thought by chain of consequence,
In old or newer clime, till violence,
Fraud, ignorance, want, woe, and pain, and thrall
Evanished at the new omnipotence
Of Mind Nature brought forth : Mind that thro' all
The universe now reigns by might perpetual.

Lucretius ceased ; and sounds applausive rose
From myriads, though in gentlest mode exprest.
And, next, high reas'nings on effect and cause,
And strong necessity, suavely addrest
The soul of Atticus unto the blest
Assemblage of untroubled minds who heard
Discourse on mysteries deep without unrest
In their new state, since mysteries ensnared
Todoubt no more : doubt, fear, with pain had disappeared.


Thereafter rose the Gracchus, and with mild
Yet firm aspect, what seemed forgot, thus urged:
Brothers, with metaphysic thought beguiled,
And descant on discovery that enlarged
Man's rule o'er outward things, not undischarged
Leave we commemoration due of their
Desert whose tireless energies converged
To throne the thought of Brotherhood where'er
They went : but for their zeal our lot were still despair :

But for their holy strife, smit with the type,
Great Spartan, thou in mortal life didst frame,
Earth had been yet for franchisement unripe ;
And thence unblest. Brothers, to mar no claim
Of Wisdom's children to their during fame
I seek : honour, all honour to each shade
Of Enterprize, to every hallowed name
Of Genius, and to all who first displayed
To man the power o'er ill that for his seizure stayed !-

But who can fail remember that this power
Was long usurped by Selfishness ? that Wonder
Herself was mazed through every passing hour
At man's achievements, as he bound the thunder,
Smoothed the storm-wave, clave the live rock asunder,
Or rendered distance but a name ; yet Love
Wept to behold Earth's sable children under
The chain, while their fair-visaged brother drove
Them onward with the lash ! Let Time the stain disprove !


The foul aspersive stain on Freedom cast
By those whose boast of freedom was most loud !
Bethink ye also that if men now fast
And pine no more, it is because the Proud
Have ceased to be : Earth ever was endowed
With tenfold more of plenty than her sum
Of life required for food : the hills were browed
With luscious vines that smiled as round they clomb
The olives, or festooned them with their purple bloom ;


The vallies spread their waving treasures forth ;
But, when the vintage came and harvest-tide,
Although the toiler gave his heart to mirth
To Nature's impulse true the wealth for Pride
Was garnered up, and Toil was pittanced. Wide
O'er ocean islets fair were scattered, filled
With overwealth of fruits, but desert-void
Of human life ; the dainty fig there spilled
Her seeds; the golden orange her perfume distilled

Upon the vacant air ; the grateful palm
And wholesome guava and banana stored
In vain the sea-girt garden ; sweetest balm
Of gums or delicatest juice of mangoes poured
Their riches on the tasteless earth ; down showered
Their flavoured kernels shelly fruits in vain,
Unless for brutes. Men, starving men, looked tow'rd
The sea, and sighed for ships to pass the main
And end their famine ; but they could no help obtain !

Avarice still held them where their numbers served
To render them dog-cheap as things of hire
For labour: Avarice, that never swerved
From sordid grasping, though it might acquire
Unreckoned wealth. Vapour, electric fire,
All mineral virtues, air, and flame, and flood,
Science subdued ; but Pride did still conspire
With Avarice the lean toilers to exclude
From all that Science willed to spread for general good.

O Mithridates, thou didst this forget,
Or leave untold. Doth not thy soul perceive
It was when signs of Brotherhood were met
With open heart by Pride, and Power to leave
Its lawlessness the toiler to retrieve
From suffering, yielded, that the glorious dawn *
Of Bliss appeared, and moral light did cleave
Earth's age-woofed darkness? But I joy 'tis gone
The reign of Wrong; and toiling men no more shall



Th' Agrarian ceased, at once : such gentle dread
The blest assemblage swayed to raise a thought
Averse in brethren. With mild zeal to tread
The same thought-track Curtius arose : Thence caught
The theme Charondas, and, then, Codrus brought
His aid : and, then, Themistocles : but suave
Their accents were, with tempered reason fraught,
"""* Although they told how patriot deeds raised brave
Resolve in toiling men till Slavery found its grave.

Next, rose Athenae's soul-compelling tongue,
And joined his sentence for the patriot's praise;
Yet told, therewith, that poets had not sung
In vain, nor sculptor vainly fixed the gaze
Of nations, architect with deep amaze
Entranced them vainly, nor had Music's joy
Earth visited and failed the mind to raise
And heart to bless; but Nature did employ
Innumerous powers the thrall of Evil to destroy.

And, next Demosthenes, Condorcet's soul
Uttered its fervour : 'twas when Man disdained,-
He said, to kneel beneath the priest's control,
An altar-serf, that human freedom gained
Its first true vantage-ground, and Evil waned
In all its monstrous forms and torturous might ;
And only when free-thought all men maintained
To be their indefeasible birth-right,
It was, that Error multiform was put to flight,

Then Romilly renewed his eulogy

Of Gentleness ; and spirits thrilled to hear

His laud of Mercy, till with jubilee

Of love they rose, monarch, and bard, and seer,

Fanatic wild, and misanthrope austere,

That were on earth, now all in equal state

. Of happy brotherhood, and, thus, with clear
Euphonic chaunt, I heard them celebrate,

In concord blest, Earth's, Hades' gladness consummate :


' All hail the glorious power of Gentleness,
' Of Pity' and Mercy, Goodness, Love, and Truth !
' Knowledge all hail, and Reason fetterless,
' Philanthropy, that yearned with god-like ruth
' O'er suffering, Patriotism, whose eloquent mouth,
' Bold heart, and sinewed hand dissolved the thrall
'Of Tyrants ! Genius, Song, and Wisdom sooth,
' All hail ! Great sources of old Evil's fall
' Men, spirits, hymn your power, in jocund festival !

' Earth's children raise their universal song
' Of love and joy : mountain, and strand, and sea
' Are vocal with your praise ! Spirits prolong
' The strain : through endless life they anthem ye
' Their endless afterlife of jubilee :
' And hymning ye our essences enhance
' Still more the bliss-guage of their destiny,
' Assured more deeply of their heritance,
' The more their joyous thought hath joyous utterance !

' Spirits, still more rejoice ! for pain and woe
' Are gone, and universal life doth bloom
' With joy!'

The dream o'erwrought me to a throe
Of bliss ; and I awoke to find my home
A dungeon, thence, to ponder when would come
The day that Goodness shall the earth renew,
And Truth's young light disperse old Error's gloom,
When Love shall Hate, and Meekness Pride subdue,
And when the Many cease their slavery to the Few !


[1] Stanza 5. Anaxarchus, the follower of Democritus
who, when the tyrant of Cyprus threatened to cut out his
tongue, bit it off, and spit it at the despot. See Diogenes Laer-
tius, or Stanley's or Enfield's Hist, of Philosophy. Galgacus
and Wallace are, of course, alluded to in the following lines
of the stanza.

[2] Stanza 34. For a description of Petra, the city in
the rock, - the capital of Idumea, or the kingdom of Edom,
see the travels of Stephens the American. The description
of this mysterious relic of the Past, can never be forgotten
when once read.

[3] Stanza 38. The suicide of Demetrius Phalereus (driven
from Athens by Demetrius IloXiojOKj/Tjie, (or the City-sieger)
is related by Diogenes Laertius and others.

[4] Stanza 41. Marshal Berthier's suicide occurred under
the following circumstances : One of the German sovereigns,
at whose court he was, if I recollect aright, was blaming the
defection of Ney and others from the cause of the Bourbons,
at Napoleon's return from Elba, and took occasion to compli-
ment Berthier on his firmness in resisting a temptation
natural to one who had been the bosom friend of Buonaparte.
Berthier took the compliment so self-reproachfully to heart,
that he withdrew to his chamber, threw himself from a win-
dow, and was taken up dead.

[5] Stanza 44. " The unhappy monarch now perceived
how low he was sunk, and the haughty spirit, which seemed
to have been so long extinct, returning, he scorned to survive


this last humiliation, and to protract ail ignominious life, not
only as the prisoner and tool of his enemies, but as the object
of contempt or detestation among his subjects. In a trans-
port of rage he tore the bandages from his wounds and re-
fused, with such obstinacy, to take any nourishment, that he
soon ended his wretched days, rejecting, with disdain, all the
solicitations of the Spaniards to embrace the Christian faith."
Robertson's Hist, of America book 5.

[6J Stanza 99. Clitomachus, a Carthaginian, and pupil of
Carneades, founder of the Third Academy, arid Metrocles
(mentioned in the following stanza,) the pupil of Theophrastus,
are recorded as ancient suicides. Metrocles, according to
Diogenes Laertius, suifocated himself to escape from the in-
firmities of age.

[7] Stanza 106. The story of Janssen, the Dutch spectacle-
maker, and his construction of a telescope from a thought
originated by the exclamations of his children, who were
playing with two lenses, and beheld how they magnified
objects, was familiar to my boyhood ; and although modern
historians of science reject the account as a fable, it seemed
to me not an improper incident to employ in a work of


G. Johnston, J'rintcr. Friitoa's Building's, Bartholomew Close.





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