Thomas Cooper.

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

. (page 4 of 20)
Online LibraryThomas CooperThe purgatory of suicides; a prison-rhyme in ten books → online text (page 4 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Accrue to spirits from the confluent blaze
Of Essences, when each his glowing thought displays.

Lycurgus ceased : the column'd monster shapes
Wox dim to faintness ; and a hue of dread
Fell on each spirit, knowing torture's lapse
Was ended. Ere their sceptred glory fled,
Methought, a dying beam of radiance shed
From each fast-fading visage did betoken
Mute acquiescence in their judgment bred

"With fair proposal by the Spartan spoken

And, as that dying beam was shed my dream was broken.


[1] Stanza 3. " Hollo's robber-brood" was intended as a
compliment to the English nobility, so many of whom claim
to be descended, in common with William the Bastard, their
brigand chief, from the soldiers of Hollo the Norman. Mr.
Disraeli, however, seems to be of opinion that these preten-
sions to chivalrous descent deserve no credit ; and, surely,
he is an authority on such a subject.

" I have always understood," said Coningsby, " that our
peerage was the finest in Europe." '

" From themselves," said Millbank, " and the heralds they
pay to paint their carriages. But I go to facts. When
Henry the Seventh called his first Parliament, there were
only twenty-nine temporal peers to be found, and even some
of them took their seats illegally, for they had been attainted.
Of those twenty-nine not five remain, and they, as the
Howards for instance, are not Norman nobility. We owe
the English peerage to three sources : the spoliation of the
Church ; the open and flagitious sale of its honours by the
elder Stuarts ; and the boroughmongeriug of our own times."
Coningsby : vol. ii., chap. 4.

[2] Stanza 42. " Scythians with heel in front," and
" Ethiops dark and headless." The Abarimonides, and
Blemmyae, will be recognized by readers acquainted with
Pliny's portraits of human monsters.

[3] Stanza 43." That breathing stone, &c." The author,
it need scarcely bo said, has never seen the Laocoon ; but
does not the imagination, on the mere receipt of testimony,
often conceive a more passionate worship of that which is


believed to be surpassingly beautiful or perfect as an effort
of human skill, than the judgment yields when directed by
actual observation ?

[4] Stanza 44. "Sculptured temple in Hindoo cave."
See Captain Seely's enthusiastic description of " Keylas the
Proud," among the caverned temples of Elora.

[5] Stanza 44. " Or where wild audience the Arab gives,
&c." These and the remaining lines of the stanza form
almost a literal embodiment of a picture that I remember to
have met with in some volume of Eastern Travels, but I can-
not tell where it is to be found. I have searched for the pas-
sage in Belzoni, Richardson, Rae Wilson, &c. &c., in the
British Museum library, since liberation, but cannot find it.

[6] Stanza 50. Chow-Sin, Emperor of China, B.C. 1122.
His suicide is related to have resembled that of Sarda-
napalus, whose story Lord Byron's splendid tragedy has ren-
dered familiar to the most unclassic reader.

[7] Stanza 50. " Cambes." Xanthus, in Coelius, tells the
wildly horrid story of this ancient royal gourmand, or Ogre-
king of the Lydians. After supper, one night, he ate up
his wife, as she lay by his side, and committed suicide next
morning, when he woke and found one of her hands in his
mouth !

[8J Stanza 51. Of the three suicides named in this stanza
the story of CEdipus " who solved the Sphinx's riddle," will
be familiar. "Sad Nauplius, the sire of Palamedes" one of
the heroes of the Trojan war, put to death by the Greeks
through the plots of " guileful Ithacus" (Ulysses) committed
siiicide by jumping into the sea when he failed to revenge
himself on his son's betrayer. ^Bgeus gave his name to
the .ffigean Sea, or Archipelago, by leaping into it from a
tower where he watched for the return of his son Theseus,
who had gone to slay the Minotaur. Theseus forgot to hoist
the white flag as a signal on his return, so that when his
ship came in sight his father supposed him dead.

4 E


[9j Stanza 52. Zimri. His story is narrated in the 16th
chap, of the 1st Kings.

[10J Stanza 53. Ajax Telamon, so called to distinguish
him from Ajax O'ileus, another of Homer's heroes, killed
himself with the sword given him by Hector, because " when
stern Pelides (Achilles) fell" the counsel of Grecian chiefs
adjudged the fallen hero's armour to Ulysses for his wisdom,
rather than to himself (Ajax) for his acknowledged valour.
Codrus, the last king of Athens provoked the Lacedemonians
to kill him in battle, in order to fulfil the oracle which
promised victory to his subjects if their king were slain.

[11] Stanza 54. The story of Lycurgus who bound the
Spartans, by oath, to observe his laws till his return from
Delphi, and committed suicide there, to bind the Spartans
to their oath for ever, is well known. Charondas was that
truthful lawgiver of ancient Sicily who having established a
law that none should come into the public assembly armed,
and afterwards entering it with his sword unwittingly, slew
himself immediately when reminded that he had broken
his own law.

[12] Stanza 55. Mr. Sheridan Knowles' fine tragedy of
"Virginius" must have made merely English readers ac-
quainted with the character of Appius Claudius, the tyranni-
cal Roman Decemvir.

[13J Stanza 56. It may be necessary, for some readers,
to say that Nero is the suicide indicated in the latter part
of this stanza.

[14] Stanza 57. Maximian's suicide will be found in Gib-
bon. Bonosus was also one of the " imperial" rulers of the
divided Roman world, during its decay

[15] Stanza 58. I have not named Maxentius, and other
imperial suicides, also found during the period of " The De-
cline and Fall."

[16] Stanza 58. Mithridates, king of Pontus, who for six


and twenty years kept the Romans in alarm, and baffled,
several of their greatest, generals, was, according to Cicero
in his oration for Manilius, the greatest monarch that ever
sat on a throne. Twelve days were appointed for public
thanksgiving to the immortal gods, when the news of his
death arrived at Rome. lie first attempted suicide by poison,
but it would not take effect upon him : the antidotes he had
taken against poison, we are told, had so fortified his con-
stitution that, although seventy-two years old, nothing but
the outward violence of the sword would end him. All the
Roman historians combine to represent him as more terrible
than even Hannibal to the senate, people, and armies.

[17] Stanza 59. Juba's suicide with that of his friend
Petreius is described in the 94th chapter of Caesar's (or Hir-
tius's) book " De Bello Africano." Like Cato " of Utica,"
Juba slew himself rather than submit to (Jiesar.

[18] Stanza 60. The mythological hero, Meleager, who
slew the famous Calydonian boar, offended his mother Al-
thcea by killing her two brothers who had quarrelled with
him for giving away the head and skin of the boar to Ata-
lanta, the heroine who first wounded the animal. Althrca
had kept, from his birth, a billet of wood, which she had
snatched from the fire when the Fates declared that her son's
life depended on it. On learning that Meleager had slain
her brothers she threw the billet into the fire, and the hero
died as soon as it was consumed : " As did the fatal brand
Althcea burned." (Shakspere's Henry VI. Part 1. Act 1.
Scene 1.) Althoea afterwards slew herself through regret.
Homer and others contain parts of the story ; but the
fullest account may be gathered by an English reader in
a- y translation of the 8th book of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

[19] Stanza 61. Dido's suicide was really committed to
avert a marriage with the king of Mauritania, nearly 300
years after the voyage of ./Eneas could have occurred. I
have followed Virgil's poetical romance, and described her

E 2


as throwing herself into the sea for loss of .ffineas " her
wandering Teucrian (Trojan) guest."

[20] Stanza 62. " Teen," a beautiful Spensereau word for
$orrow, which the scarcity of rhyme tempted me to use,
much, it seems, to the distaste of some tasteful critics.
Sisygambis, the mother of Darius, from the tender treatment
she received from Alexander, was so afflicted at the news of
his death that she killed herself, though she had borne for-
mer misfortunes calmly.

[21] Stanza 62. It can scarcely be necessary to say that
Antony and Cleopatra are the suicides indicated in this

[22] Stanza 63. The story of Boadicea, the old British
queen who, with her daughters, committed suicide, rather
than submit to the Romans, must be familiar.

[23] Stanza 64. I have used the word "Chaldee" to
describe Sardanapalus. The Assyrians are called Casdim
(Chaldees) in the Hebrew bible.

[24] Stanza 6S. " Danaian," "Achaian," Graian," I
have used for " Greek," after Homer.

[25] Stanza 71. " Lacon,'' inhabitant of Laconia, that dis-
trict of Greece in which lay Sparta or Lacedcemon.

[26] Stanza 72. "Cathay," the old name, among Eu-
ropeans, for China.

[27] Stanza 79." Hellas," the name by which the Greeks
themselves called Greece.

[28] Stanza 85. "Mitzraim," (sons of Mitzr) the name
for Egypt in the Hebrew bible.

[29] Stanza 86." Babel," in the Hebrew bible is the
Babylon of our translation, from the Sep!ungint.


[30] Stanza 86. "Cambalu," the name for Pekin, with
early European travellers.

[31 ] Stanza 102. The laurel, into which Daphne the nymph
who fled from the embraces of Apollo was turned, may be
considered an emblem of coyness, as well as of valour.

[32] Stanza 107. The " learned" reader knows all about
Juvenal's " panem et circenses," of course : others, it may be
necessary to inform, that the Satirist affirms a Roman mob
could be managed by " bread and theatres." Only, let it be
observed that the bread had to be given to the Roman mob
in order to keep them quiet. The way of managing starving
men by building "Bastiles" for them had not been dis-
covered then.

[33] Stanza 115. " Esterling," one of our fine old words
signifying a dweller in the East.

[34] Stanza 117. Mithridates is related to have ruled over
twenty-four nations, and to have been able to converse in
all their languages. His skill in medicine and other sciences
was also great. " Mithridate" is an antidote for poison, said
to derive its name from him.

[35] Stanza 124. " Beteem," permit or suffer, (Hamlet,
Act 1. Scene 2.) I am ashamed (for my critics) to have to
swell these notes with such interpretations. Some of the
deeply-read writers in our periodicals are so profoundly ac-
quainted with Shakspere and Milton that they wonder where
1 found such words as "beteem," "perdurably," "frore," &c. !




LYRE of my fatherland ! anew, to wake
Thy solemn shell, I come, with trembling hand,
Feeling my rudeness doth harsh discord make
With strings great minstrels all divinely spanned.
How shall a thrall essay to join your band,
Ye freeborn spirits whose bold music fired
My freeborn sires to draw the glittering brand
For home and England, or, in arms attired,
To awe their lion kings who to sole power aspired?


How shall a thrall, from humble labour sprung,
Successful, strike the lyre in scornful age,
When full-voiced bards have each neglected sung,
When loftiest rhyme is deemed a worthless page,
And Taste doth browse on bestial pasturage ?
Gray Prudence saith the world will disregard
My harping rude, or term it sacrilege
That captive leveller hath rashly dared
To touch the sacred function of the tuneful bard.


A.h ! when hath joined the servile world to say
Truth's song was fitly-chosen, fitly-timed ?
The bard fit songster for a lofty lay,
Or, that he worthily for bays had climbed ?
Great spirits ! who, from mortal clay sublimed,
Securely wear your immortality,
By impulse incontrollable ye hymned
Soul-worship of the Beautiful, the Free,
By freeborn strains, aroused to spurn at Tyranny !



Thou wert no beggar for permissive grace,
Illustrious sire, so blythely debonair,
Who did'st from Monkery's mis-shapen face
The mask of purity, indignant tear,
And its deep-grained licentiousness lay bare,
What time our simple fathers thou didst sing
On merry journey bent to patter prayer [king

At Martyr-shrine, where bowed the priest-scourged
That saint with tameless English heart low homaging ! [I


And if thou sought'st thou didst no favour gain
Worthy to be esteemed a guerdon meet
For one who did in such instructive strain
As thine, great chief of Allegory ! greet
A queenly ear, with rhyme of knightly feat
And dark enchantment, weaving moral pure
So deftly with harmonious numbers sweet
That, while thou didst the outward sense allure, [2]
Thou fedd'st the mind and heart with Virtue's nouriture.


matchless Archimage of nature, whom

1 name with awe, when thou aloft didst hold
Thy living ' mirror' to strike mortals dumb
With vision of its wonders manifold,

To render uglier still the ugly mould
Of baneful vice, and gibbet to mankind
Their general villainy, didst thou, for gold,
Or great ones' smiles, forbear to tell thy Mind,
Or shape thy glass like one to their foul vices blind ?


Or thou, immortal Childe, with him that saw
Islam's Revolt, in rapt prophetic trance,
Did fear of harsh reception overawe
Your fervid souls from fervid utterance
Of Freedom's fearless shout ? your scathing glance
On priestly rottenness, did ye tame down
Till priests could brook that lightning's mitigance ?
Snowing your cold award would be the frown [known.
Of Power and Priestcraft, ye your sternest thoughts made



Arid what if all were helot-thoughted things
Old Hellene bards to meet thy sacred fount
Would scorn, save thee, to whom my spirit clings
With worship true, it were enough to count
Thy life of toil example paramount
To coward precept. ' Evil days,' were thine,
And 'evil tongues' and 'dangers,' yet confront
The storm thou didst with courage all divine,
And reared thy stately fabric 'spite of cloud malign!

Bard of the mighty harp, whose golden chords,
Strung by th' Eternal, no befitting theme
Found among mortals and their low records,
But pealed high anthems to the throne supreme,
Or, thundering, echoed where the lurid gleam

Of Erebus revealed the primal fall !

Since thou o'er 'darkness' lone triumph'd, I'll deem
This grated cell no dungeon of a thrall,
But banquet-chamber where the Mind holds festival !


Great minstrel, let the night entomb the day,
Let bolts and bars, in mockery, last till doom,
So that heaven-robed, thou walk'st with me, thy lay
Shall dissipate all thought of prison-gloom.
Transcendant spirit, in this narrow room
Oft tenanted by woe-worn, bruted child
Of man, crushed from his cradle to the tomb
By tyrants, how hast thou my nights beguiled !
' Smoothing the raven down of darkness till it smiled'! [3]

I joy that my young heart a covenant made
To take thee for its guide in patriot deed,
If Life's eventful roll should shew arrayed

*The brethren of my fatherland agreed
To claim their ancient birthright, and be freed.
O how the lesson of thy deathless toil,
While my soul homaged thee, in me did feed
The flame of freedom ! Shall the sacred oil

Not keep it quenchless till the grave its foemen foil ?


Be thou enthroned, bright patriot, tuneful seer,
Not on a regal seat that thou wouldst scorn
As loftily as e'er thou scornedst here
The thrones of kings, or baubles by them worn ;
But, be thy name on England's bosom borne
In pride, while all her sons thy lineage boast !
Thy awful brow is shaded ! Dost thou mourn
And bode thy darling Commonweal is lost ?
Nay ! but we'll win her back, by Labour's gathered host !


She shall return, with face more heavenly fair,
And graced with limbs of fitlier symmetry !
Aye, shall return ! for we thy kindred are :
We'll win thy 'mountain nymph, sweet Liberty' !
Thou, and the glorious phalanx of the free,
Hampden, and Pym, and Elliott, Selden, Vane,
Marvell, and martyred Sydney, what were ye ?
Our elder brethren ! and the kingly chain [gain !
Ye loosed we'll break : our kingless birthright we'll re-

Honour all honour to thee, patriot bard !
With whom I took sweet counsel in my youth :
I joy, that though my lowly lot was hard,
My spirit, raised by thine, forgot its ruth,
And, smiling, dared the dint of Want's fell tooth :
I joy, that all enamoured of thy song,
While simpletons esteemed my ways uncouth,
I wandered, by day's dawn, the woods among,
Or did, with midnight lamp, my grateful task prolong.

Poet of Paradise, whose glory' illumed
My path of youthful penury, till grew
The desert to a garden, and Life bloomed
With hope and joy, 'midst suffering, ' honour due'
I cannot render thee ; but reverence true
This heart shall give thee, till it reach the verge
Where human splendours lose their lustrous hue ;
And, when, in death, my mortal joys all merge
Thy grand and gorgeous music, Milton, be my dirge !


Long had the night o'erveiled the summer sky,
And, through the grated casement of my lair,
Was it some guardian spirit's wakeful eye
The captive keeping ? one mild, silver star,
Benignant, beamed. Meanwhile, of angel war,
Fierce waged in heaven against the Eternal king,
Of great Messiah, in his cherub car,
Routing the foe, I heard the minstrel sing, [4]
And heaven's magnific vault with clash of conflict ring!


Then, in extatic whispers, of the love
And joy, and peace, and harmony, that reigns
Unceasing, 'mid the radiant choir above,
Now war is o'er, he sang : anon, in strains
Sonorous chaunted how, on burning plains,
Rallied the fallen warriors' myriad host,
And hurled defiance, 'spite of fiery pains
And torments, at the Conqueror, their vain boast
Of strength original maintaining although lost !

The mighty stature, and still mightier pride
And energy of him who ' seemed alone
' Th' antagonist of heaven' in gloom descried
Breasting the flaming waves, or, on the throne
Of stately Pandemonium regal grown,
And confident in ruin, the high seer,
Filled with his theme, in deep unearthly tone
Rehearsed, while I, entranced with pleasing fear,
Imagined I beheld the proud archangel near !

Thus night sped on until the golden lyre
And song magnificent brought sense of rest,
As late they woke the spirits sleepless fire :
So breathe, conjunctive, at Her high behest,
Nature's great servitors, to make Man blest
Maugre his foes ! the Muse and Phantasy,
Hope, Music, Sleep : until into his nest
Straw on an iron slab he sinks with glee
Ev'n where the lordlings trow he pines in misery !


Nor did my minstrel guest upon me look
Farewell until the soul her mystic flight,
Leaving the flesh to slumber, once more took:
When, o'er Death's sea, by supernatural might
Upborne, we seemed to speed, and then to' alight
Together on that ' boundless continent
' Dark, waste, and wild, under the frown of Night,
' Starless exposed' [5] where wandered souls that rent
Themselves, unbidden, from their earthly tenement.


Familiar seemed that drear and gloomy land
Unto the stately Shade with whom I trod
The swamp and rock o'er which the ghastly band
Essayed their march. But, now, as if some god
Potential had transfixed them by his nod,
The chasms forgot to yawn, the rocks to roll
And threaten, warlike meteors to forebode,
And spectres ceased their gibings fierce and foul :
Horror was hushed; and, patient, owned the bard's control


Swiftly we threaded through the caverned aisle
Of wondrous masonry; and, forthwith, passed
Thorough the vault that seemed sepulchral pile
Scooped from primeval rock. Then with light haste
Upborne again, as if on gentle blast
Pillowed, or winged away by flying steed
Invisible, we neared a mountain vast,
Where toiled a troop thinking its height would lead
Up to some happier clime from pains of penance freed.

Aloft we floated, passing crowd on crowd,
Their guises varied as the flowers a-field,
While with all nameless hues their features glowed,
Betokening them self-exiles, unannealed,
From every mortal clime. Still up we wheeled
Our flight, reaching no summit, countless souls
Hard toiling upwards being still revealed,
As if the discontented in huge shoals
Had hither 'scaped from Earth's old hated prison walls I



Our flying travel ended where a grove
Grew on the mount. 'Midst, sat a form which seemed
With raised right hand to mock the pomp of Jove
Hurling his lightnings. Asking, as I dreamed,
Who this might be 'twas ' he who to be deemed
1 A god leapt fondly into Etna flames
1 Empedocles' [6] the bard replied ; while gleamed
From the throned figure looks of one who aims
Unto some high pretension to assert his claims.


Methought, on this aspiring form 1 gazed
Until a youth, who downcast looked, and coy,
Came near ; when wond'ring that he never raised
His eyes, I asked what thoughts him might employ :
The minstrel said, 'twas ' he who to enjoy
' Plato's Elysium leapt into the sea
' Cleombrotus' [7] and, the fanatic boy
Thus briefly named, my minstrel guide from me
Departed. [8] I, to follow felt I was not free.


Perplex'd, I seemed awhile, to look around,
And wistfully to think of mother Earth ;
But soon all thought and consciousness were bound
Unto that mountain region : I felt dearth
Of earthly sense, as heretofore, but birth
Of intellection ; for the spirits twain,
Of Hellas sprung, seemed now, in words of worth,
Though without mortal sound, of their soul's stain
And essences of things, to speak in fervid strain.


Sage Agrigentine, shall we never leave
Our earth-born weaknesses ? the youth began :
Ages of thought, since Hades did receive
Our spirits, have elapsed, by mortal span,
Still, from the great disciplinarian
Stern Truth, we slowly learn ! A juggler's dupe
Thou art, ev'n now thyself the charlatan !
Nay ! like an intellectual eagle, stoop
Upon thy quarry, Self-Deceit, with conquering swoop !


Vainly, thou know'st, thou wilt seek worshippers
Of thy proud foolery, here. Before thee fall
No votaries ; and thy own spirit stirs,
In vain, her sovereignty to re-enthral
By harbouring old thoughts terrestrial :
None will thy godship own ! Thy rock descend,
Laying stale follies by, and let us call
Forth from the mind the vig'rous powers that rend
Fate's curtain ; and our ken beyond these shades extend !

The younger Hellene ceased; and, while he spake,
The elder changed, like one who having quaffed
The madd'ning cup, up from his couch doth wake,
And told by crowds that old Lyoean craft [9]
Beguiled him, till he skipt, and mouthed, and laught,
As one moon-struck, now, ebriate with rage,
Dashes to earth the foul venenose draught :
So changed, from pride to ire, the thought-smit sage :
As if the soul now spurned her self- wrought vassalage.

Descending his imaginary throne
With haste, upon the rugged granite peak
He seemed to' have laid his fancied godhead down ;
For, like to glow that crimsons mortal cheek,
A glow of shame came o'er the lofty Greek,
When, 'midst the grove, upon the mountain's sward
He stood, and, couched in phrase antique,
Poured forth his inmost thoughts. A rapt regard
Rendered the youth while thus discoursed the ancient bard



Cleombrotus, thou humblest me ; yet I
Thy debtor am : fraternal chastisement
Our spirits need, even here O mystery
Inexplicable ! Vainly, on earth outwent
The rnind on high discovery, prescient
Herself esteeming of her after-state ;
For Ease, Pain's issue, here, is incident,
As to Earth's clime ; and all unlike our fate
To what we did in mortal life prognosticate.

OP U1C1DBS. 63

Thou find'st not here deep ecstacy absorb
With ravishment perpetual the soul ;
Although Elysian dreams yon dreaming orb
Enticed thee to forsake, and flee to goal
Eternal. Neither do fierce fires control
Our thought with mystic torture, as they feign
On earth, who now affright, and then cajole
Poor trampled earthworms picturing joy or pain
Ghostly, until the mind subserves the body's chain.


Here, as on earth, we feel our woe or joy
Is of and from ourselves : the yearning mind
Her own beatitude, and its alloy,
Creates, and suffering ever intertwined,
She proves, with error. Fool I am, and blind
Amidst my fancied wisdom ! What impels
The soul to err ? If in the right she find
Her happiness concentred, why rebels
The will against the judgment till it foams and swells,

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryThomas CooperThe purgatory of suicides; a prison-rhyme in ten books → online text (page 4 of 20)