THE MASQUE OF ANARCHY.
THIS poem was originally written on occasion of the Manchester Massacre, in 1819; and was intended for insertion in the Ex- aminer newspaper. Mr. LEIGH HUNT, then the editor of that journal, did not publish it, for reasons which he explains in his very peculiar way. He thought that the public at large had not yet become sufficiently discerning to da justice to the sincerity and kindheartedness of the spirit that walked in this flaming robe of verse. The author's charity, Mr. LEIGH HUNT observes, "was avowedly more than proportionate to his indignation; yet I thought that even the suffering part of the people, judging, not unnaturally, from their own feelings, and from the exasperation which suffering produces before it produces knowledge, would believe a hundred- fold in his anger to what they would in his good intention : and this made me fear that the common enemy would take advantage of the mistake to do them both a disservice." If Mr. LEIGH HUNT means that the poem was likely to be prosecuted, he probably ex- ercised a sound discretion in suppressing it: as for any mistake the public might make in balancing Mr. SHELLEY'S anger and his good intentions, it was of small consequence. Every lover of li- berty was indignant at that ruthless and disgraceful scene; and the lover of liberty who wrote a poem on the subject, recommend- ing the people en masse to kneel and be cut down, without any further resistance than a countenance of protest, was hardly to be considered more angry than anybody else.
"Let the horsemen's scimitars Wheel and flash, like sphereless stars, Thirsting to eclipse their burning In a sea of death and mourning.
" Stand ye calm and resolute, Like a forest close and mute, With folded arms, and looks which are Weapons of an unvanquished war."
A public counsellor, who recommends the multitude on the point of falling victims to the fury and brutality of the few anar- chists, to hold'" a vast assembly,' and permit themselves to be cut down,—after the manner of the Roman Senators, as they sat in their curule chairs, and only presented their bald heads to the stroke of the barbarian sword,—is surely not to be confounded with the intemperate zealot, the promoter of violence and rebel- lion. The sort of resistance recommended by SHELLEY was laid down for the conduct of the Birmingham Union. The following stanzas might be supposed a versification of the words of some speech of Mr. ATTWOOEI- " Those prison-halls of wealth and fashion,
Where some few feel such compassion For those who groan, and toil, anti wail,
As must make their brethren pale;
"Ye who suffer woes untold, Or to feel, or to behold Your lost country bought and sold With a price of blood and gold; "Let a vast assembly be, And with great solemnity Declare with measured words, that ye Are, as God has made ye, free! "
And if so powerful and efficient has this advice proved in Mr. AITWOOD'S mouth, something might have resulted from it in Mr. SHELLEY'S. On the whole, we do not understand the motives of the suppression altogether; but so far as we can comprehend them, they are to be disapproved. The poem was a sort of admoni- tory prophecy, full of power, hope, and wisdom : now it is published after the event, when it becomes only a curious work of art—a mere poem, of more or less vigour and talent. The idea of the Masque of Anarchy is not very clear. The cruel misdeeds of tyrants are not usually deemed anarchy. Anarchy is, however, tyranny. It may be supposed, that at the tera of Peterloo, the poet imagined that repetitions of such scenes must necessarily take place; and that, were they enacted in va- rious parts of the country with as little provocation as at Manches- ter, the reign of anarchy must be the result—that there would en- sue a wild war of the concentrated Few against the scattered Many. In these circumstances, he seems to have looked forth to see if there were light about to break forth upon so dark a scene, and to have found it in the quarter vhere indeed it was only to be found—in the Public Enlightenment and the Progress of General Intelli- gence. The spirit of this Enlightenment arises, and scatters the Pommies of the People before it with a breath. The speech ad- dressed to the Many, in the voice of this Being of Intelligence, 'contains the advice we have spoken of, a description of their wrongs, and the panacea—which would seem to be assemblage, and non- resistance; difficult doctrines, more especially when combined. Considered as a mere poem, and without looking very nicely into its application to particular circumstances, the Masque of jinarcky iE..a grand political satire, the spirit of which is entirely 0Pposed to things as they have been. Like all SHELLEY'S poems, it is sjyadawyiand, though of gigantic, still of indistinct propor- tions; but; differing from most of his other compositions, there is here a mixture of familiar objects and homely phrase, that brings all his imaginative phantasmagoria in most appalling closeness down to our very firesides and daily experience. This poet, as he "lay asleep in Italy," is supposed to be led forth, by a "voice that came o'er the sea" with great power, to witness a vision of Poesy. This vision is the Masque of Anarchy : it does not sweep by with tragic pall, but the poet goes forth to meet its hideous procession.
I met Murder on the way— He had a mask like Castlereagh—
Very smooth he looked, yet grim ; Seven bloodhounds followed him: All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two, He tossed them human hearts to chew, Which from his wide cloak he drew.
Next came Fraud ; and he had on, Like Lord E—,_ an ermined gown; His big tears, for he wept well, Turned to millstones as they fell; And the little children, who Round his feet played to and fro, Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them.
Clothed with the * * as with light, And the shadows of the night, Like"* * next, Hypocrisy On a crocodile rode by.
And many more Destructions played In this ghastly masquerade; All disguised, even to the eyes, Like bishops, lawyers, peers, or spies.
Last came Anarchy ; he rode On a white horse, splashed with blood; He was pale even to the lips, Like Death in the Apocalypse.
And he wore a kingly crown ; And in his grasp a sceptre shone; And on his brow this mark I saw- " I am God, and King, and Law !"
With a pace stately and fast, Over English land he passed, Trampling to a mire of blood The adoring multitude.
And a mighty troop around With their trampling shook the ground, Waving each a bloody sword, For the service of their Lord.
And with glorious triumph, they Rode through England proud and gay, Drunk as with intoxication Of the wine of desolation.
O'er fields and towns, from sea to sea,
Passed the pageant swift and free, Tearing up, and trampling down,
Till they came to London town.
Then comes the panic-stricken terror of the dwellers, in the city; and the pompous adulation of the corrupt, who look to King Anarchy for privilege to prey and plunder— Then all cried with one accord, "Thou art King, and God, and Lord;
Anarchy, to thee we bow, Be thy name made holy now!"
And Anarchy, the skeleton,
Bowed and grinned to every one,
As well as if his education
Had cost ten millions to the nation.
Every one sees the aim of the disrespectful allusion in the last stanza; it is a very severe insinuation against the Civil List. While Anarchy is disposing of poor London town, seizing the Bank and Tower, and so forth, another image presents herself, of far kindlier nature, though bringing but small consolation. The wild despair of Hope is expressed in these magnificent stanzas.
When one fled past, a maniac maid, And her name was Hope, she said; But she looked more like Despair; And she cried out in the air—
"My father, Time, is weak and grey With waiting for a better day; See how idiot-like he stands, Fumbling with his palsied hands !
"He hashed child after child, And the dust of death is piled Over every one but me— Misery! oh, Misery ! "
Then she lay down in the street, Right before the horses' feet, Expecting, with a patient eye, Murder, Fraud, and Anarchy.
The subsequent rise of that generous and inspiring influence, to which Britain was to owe the destruction of her foes and the establishment of her rights and enjoyments, is described in a few stanzas of the most exquisite poetry— When between her and her foes A mist, a light, an image rose. Small at first, and weak and frail Like the vapours of the vale: Till, as clouds grown on the blast, Like tower-crown'd giants striding fast, And glare with lightnings as they fly, And speak in thunder to the sky,
It grew—a shape arrayed in mail Brighter than the viper's scale, And upborne on wings whose grain Was as the light of sunny rain.
On its helm, seen far away, A planet, like the Morning's, lay; And those plumes it light rained through, Like a shower of crimson dew.
With step as soft as wind it passed O'er the heads of men—so fast That they knew the presence there, And looked—and all was empty air.
As flowers beneath the footstep waken, As stars from night's loose hair are shaken, As waves arise when loud winds call, Thoughts sprung where'er that step did fall.
And the prostrate multitude Looked—and ankle deep in blood, Hope, that maiden most serene, Was walking with a quiet mien : And Anarchy, the ghastly birth, Lay dead earth upon the earth ; The Horse of Death, tameless as wind, Fled, and with his hoofs did grind To dust the murderers thronged behind.
The sublime address uttered by this Spirit to the People in their -dismay, we cannot, and scarcely ought to extract, entire : we must, however, gratify our readers with its commencement- " Men of England, Heirs of Glory,
Heroes of unwritten story, . Nurslings of one mighty mother, Hopes of her, and one another, " Rise, like lions after slumber, In unvanquishable number; Shake your chains to earth like dew, Which in sleep had fallen on you.
" What is Freedom ? 'Ye can tell That which Slavery is too well, For its very name has grown To an echo of your own.
" 'Tis to work, and have such pay As just keeps life from day to day In your limbs, as in a cell For the tyrants' use to dwell: " So that ye for them are made, Loom, and plough, and sword, and spade, With cr without your own will. bent To their defence and nourishment.
" 'Tis to see your children weak With their mothers pine and peak, When the winter winds are bleak :— They are dying whilst I speak.
" 'Tis to hunger for such diet, As the rich man in his riot Casts to the fat dogs that lie Surfeiting beneath hiseye.
'Tis to let the Ghost of Gold Take from toil a thousand fold More than e'er its substance could In the tyrannies of old : " Paper coin—that forgery Of the title-deeds, which ye -Hold to something of the worth Of the inheritance of Earth.
" 'Tis to be a slave in soul, And to hold no strong control Over your own wills, but be All that others make of ye.
"And at length when ye complain, With a murmur weak and vain, 'Tis to see the tyrant's crew Ride over yonr wives and you : Blood is on the grass like dew.
" Then it is to feel revenge, Fiercely thirsting to exchange Blood for blood, and wrong for wrong :
Do 2:0T THUS, WHEN YE ARE STRONG.
" Birds find rest in narrow nest, When weary of the winged quest ; Beasts find fare in woody lair, When storm and snow are in the air; " Asses, swine, have litter spread, And with fitting food are fed ;
All things have a home, but one—
Thou, dr Englishman, hast none!
" This is Slavery—savage men, Or wild beasts within a den, Would endure not as ye do : But such ills they never knew.
" What art thou, Freedom ? Oh! could slaves Answer from their living graves This demand, tyrants would flee Like a dream's dim imagery.
" Thou art not, as impostors say, A shadow soon to pass away, A superstition, and a name Echoing from the caves of Fame.
"For the labourer thou art bread, And a comely table spread, From his daily labour come, In a neat and happy home.
Thou art clothes, and fire, and food For the trampled multitude : No—in countries that are free Such starvation cannot be, As in England now we see. CC
"To the rich thou art a cheek, When his foot is on the neck Of his victim; thou dost make That he treads upon a snake. "Thou art Justice—ne'er for gold May thy righteous laws be sold, As laws are in England : thou Shield'st alike the high and low.
"Thou art wisdom—Freedom never Dreams that God will damn for ever All who think those things untrue, Of which priests make such ado.
"'Thou art Peace—never by thee 'Would blood and treasure wasted be, As tyrants wasted them, when all Leagued to quench thy flame in Gaul.
"What if English toil and blood Was poured forth, even as a flood ? It availed, oh Liberty ! To dim but not extinguish thee.
"Thou art Love—the rich have kiss'd Thy feet, and like him following Christ, Give their substance to the free, And through the rough world Low thee. "Oh turn their wealth to arms, and make War for thy beloved sake,
On wealth and war and fraud—whence they Drew the power which is their prey. "Science, and Poetry, and Thought, Are thy lamps; they make the lot Of the dwellers in a cot
So serene they curse it not.
" Spirit, Patience, Gentleness, All that can adorn and bless,
Art thou : let deeds, not words, express Thine exceeding loveliness."
The poet then goes on to explain the power and might of a " passive resistance ;" and shows that the Few would soon want tools to work their infamous intentions, and that for very shame the weapon would quickly fall powerless from the hands of the persecutor. This then is his advice to the people.
Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable NUMBER !
Shake your chains to earth, like dew Which, in sleep, had fallen on you :
YE ARE MANY-THEY ARE FEW.
It must be allowed that this is one of the finest occasional poems in the language; and though published now long after the oc- casion, it is not wanting in interest and instruction.