The Vision of Judgement, by Byron

Preface

It hath been wisely said, that “One fool makes many;” and it hath been poetically observed—

“[That] fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

[Pope’s Essay on Criticism, line 625.]

If Mr. Southey had not rushed in where he had no business, and where he never was before, and never will be again, the following poem would not have been written. It is not impossible that it may be as good as his own, seeing that it cannot, by any species of stupidity, natural or acquired, be worse. The gross flattery, the dull impudence, the renegade intolerance, and impious cant, of the poem by the author of “Wat Tyler,” are something so stupendous as to form the sublime of himself—containing the quintessence of his own attributes.

So much for his poem—a word on his preface. In this preface it has pleased the magnanimous Laureate to draw the picture of a supposed “Satanic School,” the which he doth recommend to the notice of the legislature; thereby adding to his other laurels the ambition of those of an informer. If there exists anywhere, except in his imagination, such a School, is he not sufficiently armed against it by his own intense vanity? The truth is that there are certain writers whom Mr. S. imagines, like Scrub, to have “talked of him; for they laughed consumedly.”1

I think I know enough of most of the writers to whom he is supposed to allude, to assert, that they, in their individual capacities, have done more good, in the charities of life, to their fellow-creatures, in any one year, than Mr. Southey has done harm to himself by his absurdities in his whole life; and this is saying a great deal. But I have a few questions to ask.

1stly, Is Mr. Southey the author of Wat Tyler?

2ndly, Was he not refused a remedy at law by the highest judge of his beloved England, because it was a blasphemous and seditious publication?2

3rdly, Was he not entitled by William Smith, in full parliament, “a rancorous renegado?”3

4thly, Is he not poet laureate, with his own lines on Martin the regicide staring him in the face?4

And, 5thly, Putting the four preceding items together, with what conscience dare he call the attention of the laws to the publications of others, be they what they may?

I say nothing of the cowardice of such a proceeding; its meanness speaks for itself; but I wish to touch upon the motive, which is neither more nor less than that Mr. S. has been laughed at a little in some recent publications, as he was of yore in the Anti-jacobin, by his present patrons. Hence all this “skimble scamble stuff” about “Satanic,” and so forth. However, it is worthy of him—“qualis ab incepto.”

If there is anything obnoxious to the political opinions of a portion of the public in the following poem, they may thank Mr. Southey. He might have written hexameters, as he has written everything else, for aught that the writer cared—had they been upon another subject. But to attempt to canonise a monarch, who, whatever were his household virtues, was neither a successful nor a patriot king,—inasmuch as several years of his reign passed in war with America and Ireland, to say nothing of the aggression upon France—like all other exaggeration, necessarily begets opposition. In whatever manner he may be spoken of in this new Vision, his public career will not be more favourably transmitted by history. Of his private virtues (although a little expensive to the nation) there can be no doubt.

With regard to the supernatural personages treated of, I can only say that I know as much about them, and (as an honest man) have a better right to talk of them than Robert Southey. I have also treated them more tolerantly. The way in which that poor insane creature, the Laureate, deals about his judgments in the next world, is like his own judgment in this. If it was not completely ludicrous, it would be something worse. I don’t think that there is much more to say at present.

Quevedo Redivivus.

P.S.—It is possible that some readers may object, in these objectionable times, to the freedom with which saints, angels, and spiritual persons discourse in this Vision. But, for precedents upon such points, I must refer him to Fielding’s Journey from this World to the next, and to the Visions of myself, the said Quevedo, in Spanish or translated.5 The reader is also requested to observe, that no doctrinal tenets are insisted upon or discussed; that the person of the Deity is carefully withheld from sight, which is more than can be said for the Laureate, who hath thought proper to make him talk, not “like a school-divine,”6 but like the unscholarlike Mr. Southey. The whole action passes on the outside of heaven; and Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, Pulci’s Morgante Maggiore, Swift’s Tale of a Tub, and the other works above referred to, are cases in point of the freedom with which saints, etc., may be permitted to converse in works not intended to be serious.

Q.R.

. . . Mr. Southey being, as he says, a good Christian and vindictive, threatens, I understand, a reply to this our answer. It is to be hoped that his visionary faculties will in the meantime have acquired a little more judgment, properly so called: otherwise he will get himself into new dilemmas. These apostate jacobins furnish rich rejoinders. Let him take a specimen. Mr. Southey laudeth grievously “one Mr. Landor,”7 who cultivates much private renown in the shape of Latin verses; and not long ago, the poet laureate dedicated to him, it appeareth, one of his fugitive lyrics, upon the strength of a poem called “Gebir.” Who could suppose, that in this same Gebir the aforesaid Savage Landor (for such is his grim cognomen) putteth into the infernal regions no less a person than the hero of his friend Mr. Southey’s heaven,—yea, even George the Third! See also how personal Savage becometh, when he hath a mind. The following is his portrait of our late gracious sovereign:—

(Prince Gebir having descended into the infernal regions, the shades of his royal ancestors are, at his request, called up to his view; and he exclaims to his ghostly guide)—

“‘Aroar, what wretch that nearest us? what wretch

Is that with eyebrows white and slanting brow?

Listen! him yonder who, bound down supine,

Shrinks yelling from that sword there, engine-hung;

He too amongst my ancestors! [I hate

The despot, but the dastard I despise.

Was he our countryman?’

‘Alas,]8 O king!

Iberia bore him, but the breed accurst

Inclement winds blew blighting from north-east.’

‘He was a warrior then, nor fear’d the gods?’

‘Gebir, he feared the Demons, not the gods,

Though them indeed his daily face adored;

And was no warrior, yet the thousand lives

Squandered, as stones to exercise a sling,

And the tame cruelty and cold caprice—

Oh madness of mankind! addressed, adored!’”

Gebir [Works, etc., 1876, vii. 17].

I omit noticing some edifying Ithyphallics of Savagius, wishing to keep the proper veil over them, if his grave but somewhat indiscreet worshipper will suffer it; but certainly these teachers of “great moral lessons” are apt to be found in strange company.

1 [“Aye, he and the count’s footman were jabbering French like two intriguing ducks in a mill-pond; and I believe they talked of me, for they laughed consumedly.”—Farquhar, The Beaux’ Stratagem, act iii. sc. 2.]

2 [These were not the expressions employed by Lord Eldon. The Chancellor laid down the principle that “damages cannot be recovered for a work which is in its nature calculated to do an injury to the public,” and assuming Wat Tyler to be of this description, he refused the injunction until Southey should have established his right to the property by an action. Wat Tyler was written at the age of nineteen, when Southey was a republican, and was entrusted to two booksellers, Messrs. Ridgeway and Symonds, who agreed to publish it, but never put it to press. The MS. was not returned to the author, and in February, 1817, at the interval of twenty-two years, when his sentiments were widely different, it was printed, to his great annoyance, by W. Benbow (see his Scourge for the Laureate (1825), p. 14), Sherwood, Neely and Jones, John Fairburn, and others. It was reported that 60,000 copies were sold (see Life and Correspondence of R. Southey, 1850, iv. 237, 241, 249, 252).]

3 [William Smith, M.P. for Norwich, attacked Southey in the House of Commons on the 14th of March, 1817, and the Laureate replied by a letter in the Courier, dated March 17, 1817, and by a letter “To William Smith, Esq., M.P.” (see Essays Moral and Political, by R. Southey, 1832, ii. 7–31). The exact words used were, “the determined malignity of a renegade” (see Hansard’s Parl. Debates, xxxv. 1088).]

4 [One of Southey’s juvenile poems is an “Inscription for the Apartment in Chepstow Castle, where Henry Martin, the Regicide, was imprisoned thirty years” (see Southey’s Poems, 1797, p. 59). Canning parodied it in the Anti-jacobin (see his well-known “Inscription for the Door of the Cell in Newgate, where Mrs. Brownrigg, the ‘Prentice-cide, was confined, previous to her Execution,” Poetry of the Anti-jacobin, 1828, p. 6).]

5 [See “The Vision, etc., made English by Sir R. Lestrange, and burlesqued by a Person of Quality:” Visions, being a Satire on the corruptions and vices of all degrees of Mankind. Translated from the original Spanish by Mr. Nunez, London, 1745, etc.

The Sueños or Visions of Francisco Gomez de Quevedo of Villegas are six in number. They were published separately in 1635. For an account of the “Visita de los Chistes,” “A Visit in Jest to the Empire of Death,” and for a translation of part of the “Dream of Skulls,” or “Dream of the Judgment,” see History of Spanish Literature, by George Ticknor, 1888, ii. 339–344.]

6

[“Milton’s strong pinion now not Heav’n can bound,

Now Serpent-like, in prose he sweeps the ground,

In Quibbles, Angel and Archangel join,

And God the Father turns a School-divine.”

Pope’s Imitations of Horace, Book ii. Ep. i. lines 99–102.]

7 [Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864) had recently published a volume of Latin poems (Idyllia Heroica Decem. Librum Phaleuciorum Unum. Partim jam primum Partim iterum atque tertio edit Savagius Landor. Accedit Quæstiuncula cur Poetæ Latini Recentiores minus leguntur, Pisis, 1820, 410). In his Preface to the Vision of Judgement, Southey illustrates his denunciation of “Men of diseased hearts,” etc. (vide ante, p. 476), by a quotation from the Latin essay: “Summi poetæ in omni poetarum sæculo viri fuerunt probi: in nostris id vidimus et videmus; neque alius est error a veritate longiùs quàm magna ingenia magnis necessario corrumpi vitiis,” etc. (Idyllia, p. 197). It was a cardinal maxim of the Lake School “that there can be no great poet who is not a good man. . . . His heart must be pure” (see Table Talk, by S. T. Coleridge, August 20, 1833); and Landor’s testimony was welcome and consolatory. “Of its author,” he adds, “I will only say in this place, that, to have obtained his approbation as a poet, and possessed his friendship as a man, will be remembered among the honours of my life.” Now, apart from the essay and its evident application, Byron had probably observed that among the Phaleucia, or Hendecasyllables, were included some exquisite lines Ad Sutheium (on the death of Herbert Southey), followed by some extremely unpleasant ones on Taunto and his tongue, and would naturally conclude that “Savagius” was ready to do battle for the Laureate if occasion arose. Hence the side issue. With regard to the “Ithyphallics,” there are portions of the Latin poems (afterwards expunged, see Poemata et Inscriptiones, Moxon, 1847) included in the Pisa volume which might warrant the description; but from a note to The Island (Canto II. stanza xvii. line 10) it may be inferred that some earlier collection of Latin verses had come under Byron’s notice. For Landor’s various estimates of Byron’s works and genius, see Works, 1876, iv. 44–46, 88, 89, etc.]

8 [The words enclosed in brackets were expunged in later editions.]

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51