Political Essays (1819)/Mr. Southey's New Year's Ode
MR. SOUTHEY'S NEW-YEAR'S ODE.
Jan. 8, 1814.
Mr. Southey's Ode has at length appeared—not as was announced, under the title of "Carmen Annuum," but under that of "Carmen Triumphale, for the Commencement of the Year 1814." We see no reason why the author might not have adopted the title of Horace's Ode entire, and have called it Carmen Seculare, which would have been the best account he could give of it. We fear Mr. Southey will not form a splendid exception to the numberless instances which prove that there is something in the air of a court, not favourable to the genius of poetry. He has not deprived himself of the excuse made by one of his predecessors, of versatile memory, in extenuation of the degeneracy of his courtly lays,—"That poets succeed best in fiction." The Ode is in the ballad style, peculiar to Mr. Southey and his poetical friends. It has something of the rustic simplicity of a country virgin on her first introduction at Duke's Place, or of Pamela on the day of her marriage with Mr. B. Or rather it resembles a fancy birth-day suit, a fashionable livery worn inside out, a prince's feather with a sprig of the tree of liberty added to it,—the academy of compliments turned into quaint Pindarics,—is a sort of methodistical rhapsody, chaunted by a gentleman-usher, and exhibits the irregular vigour of Jacobin enthusiasm suffering strange emasculation under the hands of a finical lord-chamberlain. It is romantic without interest, and tame without elegance. It is exactly such an ode as we expected Mr. Southey to compose on this occasion. We say this from our respect for the talents and character of this eminent writer. He is the last man whom we should expect to see graceful in fetters, or from whom we should look for the soul of freedom within the liberties of a court!—The commencement of the Ode is as follows, and it continues throughout much as it begins:—
"In happy hour doth he receive
The Laurel, meed of famous bards of yore,
Which Dryden and diviner Spenser wore,
In happy hour, and well may he rejoice,
Whose earliest task must be
To raise the exultant hymn for victory,
And join a nation's joy with harp and voice,
Pouring the strain of triumph on the wind,
Glory to God, his song—deliverance to mankind!
Wake, lute and harp! &c. &c."
Mr. Southey has not exactly followed the suggestion of an ingenious friend, to begin his poem with the appropriate allusion,
"Awake, my sack-but!"
The following rhymes are the lamest we observed. He says, speaking of the conflict between the Moors and Spaniards,
"Age after age, from sire to son,
The hallowed sword was handed down;
Nor did they from that warfare cease,
And sheath that hallowed sword in peace,
Until the work was done."
Indeed, if Mr. S. can do no better than this, in his drawing-room verses, he should get some contributor to the Lady's Magazine to polish them for him.
We have turned over the Ode again, which extends to twenty pages, in the hope of finding some one vigorous or striking passage for selection, but in vain. The following is the most likely to please in a certain quarter:—
"Open thy gates, O Hanover! display
Thy loyal banners to the day!
Receive thy old illustrious line once more!
Beneath an upstart's yoke oppress'd,
Long has it been thy fortune to deplore
That line, whose fostering and paternal sway
So many an age thy grateful children blest.
The yoke is broken now!—a mightier hand
Hath dash'd—in pieces dash'd—the iron rod.
To meet her princes, the delivered land
Pours her rejoicing multitudes abroad;
The happy bells, from every town and tower,
Roll their glad peals upon the joyful wind;
And from all hearts and tongues, with one consent,
The high thanksgiving strain is sent—
Glory to God! Deliverance to mankind!"
In various stanzas, Bonaparte is called an upstart, a ruffian, &c. We confess, we wish to see Mr. Southey, like Virgil, in his Georgics, "scatter his dung with a grace."
We do not intend to quarrel with our Laureat's poetical politics, but the conclusion is one which we did not anticipate from the author. We have always understood that the Muses were the daughters of Memory!
"And France, restored and shaking off her chain,
Shall join the Avengers in the joyful strain—
Glory to God! Deliverance for mankind!"
The poem has a few notes added to it, the object of which seems to be to criticise the political opinions of the Edinburgh Reviewers with respect to Spain, and to prove that the author is wiser after the event than they were before it, in which he has very nearly succeeded.
Mr. Southey announces a new volume of Inscriptions, which must furnish some curious parallelisms.