Ainsi va le Monde (1806)
AINSI VA LE MONDE.
INSCRIBED TO A FRIEND.
Written at the beginning of the French Revolution.
O THOU, to whom superior worth's allied,
Thy Country's honour---and the Muses' pride;
Whose pen gives polish to the varying line
That blends instruction with the song divine;
Whose fancy, glancing o'er the hostile plain,
Plants a fond trophy o'er the mighty slain;*
Or to the daisied lawn directs its way,
Blithe as the songstress of returning day;
Who deign'd to rove where twinkling glow-worms lead
The tiny legions o'er the glitt'ring mead;
Whose liquid notes in sweet meand'rings flow,
Mild as the murmurs of the Bird of Woe;
Who gave to Sympathy its softest pow'r,
The charm to wing Affliction's sable hour;
Who in Italia's groves, with thrilling song,
Call'd mute attention from the minstrel throng;
Gave proud distinction to the Poet's name,
And claim'd, by modest worth, the wreath of fame---
Accept the Verse thy magic harp inspires,
Nor scorn the Muse that kindles at its fires.
O, justly gifted with the Sacred Lyre,
Whose sounds can more than mortal thoughts inspire,
Whether its strings HEROIC measures move,
Or lyric numbers charm the soul to love;
Whether thy fancy "pours the varying verse"
In bow'rs of bliss, or o'er the plumed hearse;
Whether of patriot zeal, or past'ral sports,
The peace of hamlets, or the pride of courts:
Still Nature glows in ev'ry classic line---
Still Genius dictates---still the verse is thine.
Too long the Muse, in ancient garb array'd,
Has pin'd neglected in oblivion's shade;
Driv'n from the sun-shine of poetic fame,
Stripp'd of each charm, she scarcely boasts a name:
Her voice no more can please the vapid throng;
No more loud Pæans consecrate her song,
Cold, faint, and sullen, to the grove she flies,
A faded garland veils her radiant eyes:
A with'ring laurel on her breast she wears,
Fann'd by her sighs, and spangled with her tears:
From her each fond associate early fled,
She mourn'd a MILTON lost, a SHAKSPERE dead:
Her eye beheld a CHATTERTON oppress'd,
A famish'd OTWAY---ravish'd from her breast;
Now in their place a flutt'ring form appears,
Mocks her fall'n pow'r, and triumphs in her tears:
A flippant, senseless, aëry thing, whose eye
Glares wanton mirth, and low-soul'd ribaldry.
While motley mumm'ry holds her tinsel reign,
SHAKSPERE might write, and GARRICK act in vain:
True Wit recedes, when blushing Reason views
This spurious offspring of the banish'd Muse.
The task be thine to check the daring hand
That leads fantastic folly o'er the land;
The task be thine with witching spells to bind
The feath'ry shadows of the fickle mind;
To strew with deathless flow'rs the dreary waste;
To pluck the weeds of vitiated taste;
To cheer with smiles the Muse's glorious toil,
And plant perfection on her native soil:
The Arts, that thro' dark centuries have pin'd,
Toil'd without fame, in sordid chains confin'd,
Burst into light with renovated fire,
Bid Envy shrink, and Ignorance expire.
No more prim KNELLER'S simp'ring beauties vie,
Or LELY'S genius droops with languid eye:
No more prepost'rous figures pain the view,
Aliens to Nature, yet to Fancy true,
The wild chimeras of capricious thought,
Deform'd in fashion, and with errors fraught:
The Gothic phantoms sick'ning fade away,
And native Genius rushes into day.
REYNOLDS, 'twas thine with magic skill to trace
The perfect semblance of exterior grace;
Thy hand, by Nature guided, marks the line
That stamps perfection on the form divine.
'Tis thine to tint the lip with rosy die,
To paint the softness of the melting eye;
With auburn curls luxuriantly display'd,
The ivory shoulder's polish'd fall to shade;
To deck the well-turn'd arm with matchless grace,
To mark the dimpled smile on Beauty's face:
The task is thine, with cunning hand to throw
The veil transparent on the breast of snow:
The Statesman's thought, the Infant's cherub mien,
The Poet's fire, the Matron's eye serene,
Alike with animated lustre shine
Beneath thy polish'd pencil's touch divine.
As BRITAIN'S Genius glories in thy Art,
Adores thy virtues, and reveres thy heart,
Nations unborn shall celebrate thy name,
And waft thy memory on the wings of Fame.
Oft when the mind, with sick'ning pangs oppress'd,
Flies to the Muse, and courts the balm of rest,
When Reason, sated with life's weary woes,
Turns to itself---and finds a blest repose,
A gen'rous pride that scorns each petty art,
That feels no envy rankling in the heart,
No mean deceit that wings its shaft at Fame,
Or gives to pamper'd Vice a pompous Name;
Then, calm reflection shuns the sordid crowd,
The senseless chaos of the little proud,
Then, indignation, stealing through the breast,
Spurns the pert tribe in flimsy greatness drest;
Who, to their native nothingness consign'd,
Sink in contempt---nor leave a trace behind.
Then Fancy paints, in visionary gloom,
The sainted shadows of the laurel'd tomb,
The Star of Virtue glist'ning on each breast,
Divine insignia of the spirit blest!
Then MILTON smiles serene, a beauteous shade,
In worth august---in lustrous fires array'd:
Immortal SHAKSPERE gleams across the sight,
Rob'd in ethereal vest of radiant light.
Wing'd Ages picture to the dazzled view
Each mark'd perfection---of the sacred few,
POPE, DRYDEN, SPENSER, all that Fame shall raise,
From CHAUCER'S gloom---till these enlighten'd days:
Then emulation kindles fancy's fire,
The glorious throng poetic flights inspire;
Each sensate bosom feels the god-like flame,
The cherish'd harbinger of future fame.
Yet timid genius, oft in conscious ease,
Steals from the world, content the few to please:
Obscur'd in shades, the modest Muse retires,
While sparkling vapours emulate her fires.
The proud enthusiast shuns promiscuous praise,
The Idiot's smile condemns the Poet's lays.
Perfection wisely courts the lib'ral few,
The voice of kindred genius must be true.
But empty witlings sate the public eye
With puny jest and low buffoonery,
The buzzing hornets swarm about the great,
The poor appendages of pamper'd state;
The trifling, flutt'ring insects of a day
Flit near the sun, and glitter in its ray;
Whose subtle fires with charms magnetic burn,
Where every abject fool may have his turn.
Lull'd in the lap of indolence, they boast
Who best can fawn---and who can flatter most;
Who with obsequious smiles mislead the mind,
And prove most mischievous, by seeming kind;
Pour on the Ear soft adulation's sound,
And give to infamy the fame they wound;
While with a cunning arrogance they blend
Sound without sense---and wit that stabs a friend;
Slanders oblique---that check ambition's toil,
The pois'nous weeds, that mark the barren soil.
So the sweet blossoms of salubrious spring
Thro' the lone wood their spicy odours fling;
Shrink from the sun, and bow their beauteous heads
To scatter incense o'er their native beds,
While coarser flow'rs expand with gaudy ray,
Brave the rude wind, and mock the burning day.
Ah! gentle muse, from trivial follies turn,
Where Patriot souls with god-like passions burn;
So shall thy song to glorious themes aspire,
Rapt in the wonders of the Poet's lyre.
Thro' all the scenes of Nature's varying plan,
Celestial Freedom warms the breast of man;
Led by her daring hand, what power can bind
The boundless efforts of the lab'ring mind.
The god-like fervour, thrilling thro' the heart,
Gives new creation to each vital part;
Throbs rapture thro' each palpitating vein,
Wings the wild thought, and warms the fertile brain.
To her the noblest attributes of Heav'n,
Ambition, valour, eloquence, are giv'n.
She binds the soldier's brow with wreaths sublime,
From her, expanding reason learns to climb.
To her the sounds of melody belong,
She wakes the raptures of the Poet's song;
'Tis god-like FREEDOM bids each passion live,
That truth may boast, or patriot virtue give.
From her, the Arts enlighten'd splendours own,
She guides the peasant---She adorns the throne;
To mild Philanthropy extends her hand,
Gives Truth pre-eminence, and Worth command;
Her eye directs the path that leads to Fame,
Lights Valour's torch, and trims the glorious flame;
She scatters joy o'er Nature's endless scope,
Gives strength to Reason---ecstasy to Hope;
Tempers each pang Humanity can feel,
And binds presumptuous Power with nerves of steel;
Strangles each tyrant Phantom in its birth,
And knows no title---but SUPERIOR WORTH.
Enlighten'd Gallia! what were all your toys,
Your dazzling splendours---your voluptuous joys?
What were your glitt'ring villas---lofty tow'rs,
Your perfum'd chambers, and your painted bow'rs?
Did not insidious Art those gifts bestow,
To cheat the prying eye---with tinsel show?
Yes; luxury diffus'd her spells to bind
The deep researches of the restless mind;
To lull the active soul with witching wiles,
To hide pale Slavery in a mask of smiles;
The tow'ring wings of reason to restrain,
And lead the victim in a flow'ry chain.
When warlike LOUIS,* arrogant and vain,
Whom worth could never hold, or fear restrain,
The soul's last refuge in repentance sought,
The artful MAINTENON absolv'd each fault;
She who had led his worldly steps astray
Now, "smooth'd his passage to the realms of day!"
O, monstrous hypocrite!---who vainly strove
By pious fraud to win a people's love;
Whose coffers groan'd with reliques from the proud,
The pompous offsprings of the venal croud,
And yet---so sacred was the matron's fame,
Nor truth, nor virtue, dar'd assail her name;
None could approach but with obsequious breath,
To speak was TREASON---and to murmur DEATH.
In meek and humble garb, she veil'd command,
While helpless millions shrunk beneath her hand.
And when Ambition's idle dream was o'er,
And art could blind, and beauty charm no more;
She, whose luxurious bosom spurn'd restraint,
Who lived the slave of passion---died A SAINT!*
What were the feelings of the hapless throng,
By threats insulted, and oppress'd with wrong?
While grasping avarice, with skill profound,
Spread her fell snares, and dealt destruction round;
Each rising sun some new infringement saw,
While pride was consequence---and pow'r was law;
A people's suff'rings hop'd redress in vain,
Subjection curb'd the tongue that dar'd complain.
Imputed guilt each virtuous victim led
Where all the fiends their direst mischiefs spread;
Where, thro' long ages past, with watchful care,
THY TYRANTS, GALLIA, nurs'd the witch DESPAIR.
Where in her black BASTILE the harpy fed
On the warm crimson drops her fangs had shed;
Where recreant malice mock'd the suff'rer's sigh,
While regal lightnings darted from her eye.---
Where deep mysterious whispers murmur'd round,
And death stalk'd sullen o'er the treach'rous ground.
O DAY---transcendent on the page of Fame!
When from her Heav'n insulted Freedom came;
Glancing o'er earth's wide space, her beaming eye
Mark'd the dread scene of impious slavery;
Warm'd by her breath, the vanquish'd, trembling race,
Wake from the torpid slumber of disgrace;
Rous'd by oppression, Man his birth-right claims,
O'er the proud battlements red vengeance flames;
Exulting thunders rend the turbid skies;---
In sulph'rous clouds the gorgeous ruin lies!---
The angel PITY now each cave explores,
Braves the chill damps, and fells the pond'rous doors,
Tears from the flinty walls the clanking chains,
Where many a dreadful tale of woe remains,
Where many a sad memorial marks the hour,
That gave the rights of man to rav'nous pow'r,
Now, snatch'd from death, the wond'ring wretch shall prove
The rapturous energies of social love;
Whose limbs each faculty denied---whose sight
Had long resign'd all intercourse with light;
Whose wasted form the humid earth receiv'd,
Who, numb'd with anguish---scarcely felt he liv'd;
Who, when the midnight bell assail'd his ears,
From fev'rish slumbers woke---to shed new tears:
While slow-consuming grief each sense enthrall'd,
'Till Hope expir'd, and Valour shrunk---appall'd:
Where veil'd suspicion lurked in shrewd disguise,
While eager vengeance op'd her thousand eyes;
While the hir'd slave, the fiend of wrath, design'd
To lash, with scorpion-scourges, human-kind---
Dragg'd with ingenious pangs the tardy hour,
To feed the rancour of insatiate Pow'r.
Blest be the favour'd delegates of Heav'n,
To whose illustrious souls the task was giv'n
To wrench the bolts of tyranny---and dare
The petrifying confines of despair;
With Heav'n's own breeze to cheer the gasping breath,
And spread broad sun-shine in the caves of death.
What is the charm that bids mankind disdain
The Tyrant's mandate, and th' Oppressor's chain;
What bids exulting Liberty impart
Ecstatic raptures to the Human Heart;
Calls forth each hidden spark of glorious fire,
Bids untaught minds to valiant feats aspire;
What gives to Freedom its supreme delight?
'Tis Emulation, Instinct, Nature, RIGHT!
When this revolving Orb's first course began,
Heav'n stamp'd divine pre-eminence on man;
To him it gave the intellectual mind,
Persuasive Eloquence and Truth refin'd;
Humanity to harmonize his sway,
And calm Religion to direct his way;
Courage to tempt Ambition's lofty flight,
And conscience to illume his erring sight.
Who shall the natural Rights of Man deride,
When Freedom spreads her fost'ring banners wide?
Who shall contemn the heav'n-taught zeal that throws
The balm of comfort on a Nation's woes?
That tears the veil from superstition's eye,
Bids despots tremble, and oppression die?
Wrests hidden treasure from the sordid hand,
And flings profusion o'er a famish'd land?---
Nor yet, to GALLIA are her smiles confin'd,
She opes her radiant gates to all mankind;
Sure on the peopled earth there cannot be
A foe to Liberty---that dares be free?
Who that has tasted bliss will e'er deny
The magic power of thrilling ecstasy?
Who that has breath'd Health's vivifying breeze,
Would tempt the dire contagion of Disease?
Or, prodigal of joy, his birth-right give
In shackled slavery---a wretch to live?
Yet let Ambition hold a temp'rate sway,
When Virtue rules---'tis Rapture to obey;
Man can but reign his transitory hour,
And love may bind---when fear has lost its pow'r.
Proud may he be who nobly acts his part,
Who boasts the empire of each subject's heart,
Whose worth exulting millions shall approve,
Whose richest treasure---IS A NATION'S LOVE.
[Robinson's three notes to Ainsi va le Monde]
See the Elegy written on the plains of Fontenoy, by Mr. Merry. ["Elegy Written on the Plain of Fontenoy" published in The Poetry of the World, vol. 1, 1788].
Madame de Maintenon died a perfect devotee at the Convent of St. Cyr.
Editorial notes for Ainsi va le Monde
A Note on the Text of Ainsi va le Monde: This 1806 edition of the poem is taken from Robinson's posthumous volume, edited by her daughter: The Poetical Works of the Late Mrs. Mary Robinson. 3 Vols. London: Richard Phillips, 1806; London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press, 1996. Facsimile Reprint edition. Vol. 1. pp. 15-27. Page numbers in brackets refer to the original pagination of the 1806 edition. In the 1806 Ainsi va le Monde, Robinson's daughter tries to distance her mother from Merry and the Della Cruscan school, omitting Robinson's lengthy prefatory dedication to him , as well as several passages in praise of his works, and adding the disclaimer "Written at the beginning of the French Revolution" at the poem's start. Also, the 1806 edition omits the last stanza on freedom, which Wollstonecraft had excerpted in her review of Ainsi va le Monde for the Analytical Review. (See editorial note on Robert Merry (FRIEND) below.)
FRIEND: The 1790 edition of Ainsi va le Monde specifically dedicates the poem to Robinson's friend and fellow republican Robert Merry. Merry was the leading figure in the "Della Cruscan" school of poetry, a highly sensuous and decorative style controversial in Britain because of its adherents' support for the French Revolution and because of its eroticism. His poem The Laurel of Liberty (1790) was an outspoken celebration of the French Revolution and the immediate inspiration for Robinson's Ainsi va le Monde; Robinson is also responding to his "Elegy Written on the Plain of Fontenoy" (included in The Poetry of the World, vol. 1, 1788). Hannah Cowley, in whose plays Robinson had acted, was another leading member of the Della Cruscan school, and she corresponded publicly with Merry (whose pen name was "Della Crusca") as "Anna Matilda" in the World periodical. It was Merry who introduced Robinson to William Godwin in 1796. On the Della Cruscans, see McGann, "The Literal World of the Della Cruscans" in The Poetics of Sensibility.