THOUGHTS in PRISON: Commenced SUNDAY Evening, Eight O’Clock,The hour when they lock up in this dismal place. Feb. 23, 1777. WEEK THE FIRST. The Imprisonment.

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Thoughts in Prison, Edited by Charles J. Rzepka
TEI

THOUGHTS in PRISON:
Commenced
SUNDAY Evening, Eight O’Clock, [1] 
Feb. 23, 1777.

WEEK THE FIRST.
The Imprisonment.

My Friends are gone! Harsh on its sullen hinge
1
Grates the dread door: the massy bolts respond
2
Tremendous to the surly Keeper’s touch.
3
The dire keys clang with movement dull and slow
4
While their behest the ponderous locks perform:
5
And, fastened firm, the object of their care
6
Is left to Solitude,--to Sorrow left!
7
But wherefore fastened? Oh still stronger bonds
8
Than bolts, or locks, or doors of molten brass,
9
To Solitude and Sorrow would consign
10
His anguish’d Soul, and prison him, tho' free!
11
For, whither should he fly, or where produce
12
In open day, and to the golden Sun,
13
His hapless head! whence every laurel torn,
14
On his bald brow sits grinning Infamy;
15
And all in sportive triumph twines around
16
The keen, the stinging Adders of Disgrace!
17
Yet what’s Disgrace with Man? or all the stings
18
Of pointed Scorn? What the tumultuous voice
19
Of erring Multitudes? Or what the shafts
20
Of keenest Malice, levell’d from the bow
21
Of human Inquisition?—if the God,
22
Who knows the heart, looks with complacence down
23
Upon the struggling victim; and beholds
24
Repentance bursting from the earth-bent eye,
25
And Faith’s red cross held closely to the breast!
26
Oh Author of my being! of my bliss
27
Beneficent Dispenser! wond’rous Power,
28
Whose eye, all-searching, thro’ this dreary gloom
29
Discerns the deepest secrets of the Soul;
30
Assist me!--With thy ray of light divine
31
Illumine my dark thoughts; upraise my low;
32
And give me Wisdom’s guidance, while I strive
33
Impartially to state the dread account,
34
And call Myself to Trial! Trial far
35
Than That more fearful—tho' how fearful That
36
Which trembling late I proved! Oh aid my hand
37
To hold the balance equal, and allow
38
The few sad moments of remaining life
39
To Retrospection useful! Make my End,
40
As my first wish (thou know’st the heart) has been,
41
To make my whole of Being to my Friends,
42
My fellow-pilgrims thro' this world of woe,
43
Instructive!—Oh could I conduct but one,
44
One only with me, to our Canaan’s rest,
45
How could I meet my fate, nor think it hard!
46
Not think it hard?—Burst into tears, my Soul;
47
Gush every pore of my distracted frame,
48
Gush into drops of blood!—But one; save one,
49
Or guide to Canaan’s rest?—when all thy Views
50
In better days were dedicate alone
51
To guide, persuade to that celestial rest
52
Souls, which have listened with Devotion’s ear
53
To Sion’s songs enchanting from thy lips,
54
And tidings sweet of Jesu’s pardoning Love!
55
But one, save one?—Oh, what a Rest is this!
56
Oh what a Sabbath in this dungeon’s gloom,
57
This prison-house, meet emblem of the realm
58
Reserv’d for the ungodly! Hark, methinks
59
I hear the cheerful melody of Praise
60
And penitential Sweetness!  [2]  ‘Tis the sound,
61
The well-known sound, to which my Soul, attun’d
62
For year succeeding year, hath hearken’d glad,
63
And still with fresh delight: while all my powers
64
In blest employ, have prest the saving truths
65
Of Grace Divine, and Faith’s all-conquering might,
66
On the sure Rock of Ages grounded firm.
67
Those hours are gone! and here, from Heaven shut out,
68
And heavenly works like these, on this lov’d day,
69
Reft of my God,--I only hear around
70
The dismal clang of chains; the hoarse rough shout
71
Of dissonant Imprecation; and the cry
72
Of Misery and Vice, in fearful din
73
Impetuous mingled; while my frighted mind
74
Shrinks back in horror! while the scalding tears,
75
Involuntary starting, furrow down
76
My sickly cheeks; and whirling thought confus’d
77
For giddy moments, scarce allows to know
78
Or where, or who, or what a Wretch I am!
79
Not know?—Alas! too well it strikes my heart,
80
Emphatical it speaks; while dungeons, chains,
81
And bars and bolts proclaim the mournful truth,
82
“Ah what a Wretch thou art! how sunk, how fallen,
83
" [3] From what high state of bliss, into what woe!”
84
Fallen from the topmost bough that plays in air
85
E’en of the tallest cedar; where aloft
86
Proud Happiness her tow’ring eyrie built;
87
Built, as I dreamt, for ages. Idle dream!
88
And yet, amongst the millions of mankind,
89
Who sleep like me, how few like me deceiv’d,
90
Do not indulge the same fantastic dream!
91
Give me the Angel’s Clarion!—Let me sound,
92
Loud as the blast which shall awake the dead;
93
Oh let me sound, and call the slumberers forth
94
To view the vision, which delusive charms;
95
To shake the potent incantation off;
96
Or ere it burst in ruin on their Souls,
97
As it has burst on mine.—Not on my Soul!
98
Retract the dread idea: Righteous God!
99
Not on my Soul! Oh Thou art gracious all;
100
And with an eye of pity from thy Throne
101
Of Majesty Supernal, Thou behold’st
102
The creatures of thy hand, thy feeble sons,
103
Struggling with Sin, with Satan, and the World,
104
Their sworn and deadly foes; and, having felt
105
In human flesh the trials of our kind,
106
Know’st sympathetic how to aid the Tried!
107
Rock of my hope! the rash, rash phrase forgive;
108
Safe is my Soul; nor can it know one fear,
109
Grounded on Thee Unchangeable! Thee first,
110
Thee last, great Cleanser of all human sin!
111
But tho' secure the vessel rides in port,
112
Held firm by Faith’s strong anchor,--well it suits
113
The mariner to think, by what strange means
114
Thro' perils unconceivable he pass’d;
115
Thro' rocks, sands, pirates, storms, and boisterous waves,
116
And happily obtain’d that port at last.
117
On these my thoughts are bent: nor deem it wrong,
118
Ministring Angels! whose benignant talk
119
Assign’d by Heav’n, is to console Distress,
120
And hold up human hearts amidst the toil
121
Of human woe!  [4]  --Blest Spirits, who delight
122
In sweet, submissive Resignation’s smile,
123
To that high Will you know for ever right;--
124
Deem it not wrong, that with a weeping eye,
125
Deem it not wrong, that with a bleeding heart,
126
I dwell awhile,--unworthiest of my race,--
127
On those black rocks, those quick-sands, waves and storms,
128
Which in a sea of trouble have engulf’d
129
All, all my earthly comforts; and have left
130
Me, a poor naked, shipwreck’d, suffering wretch
131
On this bleak shore, in this confinement drear;
132
At sight of which, in better days, my Soul
133
Hath started back with horror! while my Friend,
134
My bosom-partner in each hour of pain,
135
With antidotes preventive kindly arm’d,
136
Trembling for my lov’d health; when christian calls
137
And zeal for others welfare, haply brought
138
My steps attendant on this Den of Death!
139
Oh dismal change! Now, not in friendly sort
140
A christian Visitor, to pour the balm
141
Of christian comfort in some wretch’s ear,--
142
I am that Wretch myself! and want, much want,
143
The christian consolation I bestow'd;
144
So cheerfully bestow'd! want, want, my God,
145
From Thee the mercy, from my fellow-man
146
The lenient mercy, which,--great Judge of Hearts,
147
To Thee I make the solemn, sad appeal--
148
That mercy which Thou know'st my gladsome soul
149
Ever sprang forth with transport to impart!
150
Why then, mysterious Providence! pursued
151
With such unfeeling ardour? why pursued
152
To death's dread bourn, by men to me unknown!
153
Why--Stop the deep question; it o'erwhelms my soul;
154
It reels, it staggers!--Earth turns round!--my brain
155
Whirls in confusion! my impetuous heart
156
Throbs with pulsations not to be restrain'd:
157
Why?--where?--Oh Chesterfield! my son, my son!
158
Nay, talk not of composure! I had thought
159
In olden time, that my weak heart was soft,
160
And Pity's self might break it.--I had thought
161
That marble-eyed Severity would crack
162
The slender nerves which guide my reins of sense,
163
And give me up to madness. 'Tis not so:
164
My heart is callous, and my nerves are tough:
165
It will not break; they will not crack; or else
166
What more, just Heaven! was wanting to the deed,
167
Than to behold--Oh that eternal Night
168
Had in that moment screen'd me from myself!--
169
My Stanhope to behold, whose filial ear
170
Drank pleas'd the lore of wisdom from my tongue.
171
My Stanhope to behold!--Ah piercing sight!
172
Forget it; --'its distraction:--Speak who can!
173
But, I am lost! a criminal adjudg'd!
174
A guilty miscreant!--Canst thou think, my Friend,
175
Oh Butler,--midst a million faithful found!--
176
Oh canst thou think, who know'st, who long hast known
177
My inmost soul; oh canst thou think that life,
178
From such rude outrage for a moment sav'd,
179
And sav'd almost by miracle,  [5]  deserves
180
The languid wish, or e'er can be sustain'd?
181
It can--it must! That miracle alone
182
To life gives consequence. Oh deem it not
183
Presumptuous, that my grateful soul thus rates
184
The present high deliverance it hath found;--
185
Sole effort of thy wisdom, Sovereign Power,
186
Without whose knowledge not a sparrow falls!
187
Oh may I cease to live, ere cease to bless
188
That interposing Hand, which turn'd aside,--
189
Nay, to my life and preservation turn'd
190
The fatal blow precipitate, ordain'd
191
To level all my little hopes in dust,
192
And give me to the grave! Rather, my hand,
193
Forget thy cunning! Rather shall my tongue
194
In gloomy silence bury every note
195
To my glad heart respondent, than I cease
196
To dedicate to Him who spar'd my life,
197
Each breath, each power, while He vouchsafes to lend
198
The precious boon!--To Him be all its praise!
199
To Him be all its service! Long or short,
200
The gift's the same: to live or die to him,
201
Is gain sufficient, everlasting gain:
202
And may that gain be mine!--I live, I live!
203
Ye hours, ye minutes, bounty of his grace,
204
Fleet not away without improvement due:
205
Rich on your wings bear Penitence and Prayer
206
To Heaven's all-clement Ruler; and to Man
207
Bear all the Retribution Man can make!
208
Ye precious hours, ye moments snatch'd from death,
209
Replete with incense rise,--that my cheer'd soul,
210
When comes the solemn call, may spring away
211
Delighted, to the bosom of its God!
212
Who shall condemn the trust?--Proud Rationals
213
(That deep in Speculation's wildering maze
214
Be-muse themselves with error, and confound
215
The Laws of Men, of Nature, and of Heaven)
216
Presumptuous in their wisdom, dare dethrone
217
Even from his works the Maker; and contend,
218
That he who form'd it governs not the World:
219
While, steep'd in Sense's Lethe, Sons of Earth
220
From the World's partial picture gaily draw
221
Their mad conclusions. Bold broad-staring Vice,
222
Lull'd on the lap of every mundane bliss,
223
At meek-eyed Virtue's patient suffering scoffs,
224
And dares with dauntless insolence the God
225
Regardless of his votaries!--Vain and blind!
226
Alike thro' Wisdom or thro' Folly blind--
227
Whose dim contracted view the petty round,
228
The mere horizon of the present hour
229
In darkness terminates! Oh could I ope
230
The golden portals of eternal day;
231
Pour on your sight the congregated blaze
232
Of light, of wisdom, bursting from the throne
233
Of Universal Glory; on the round,
234
The boundless cycle of His moral plan,
235
Who, hid in clouds, terrific Master sits
236
Of subject Men and Worlds; and sees at once
237
The ample scene of Present, Future, Past,
238
All naked to his eye of Flame:--all rang'd,
239
In harmony complete, to work His will,
240
And finish with the plaudit of the Skies!
241
But,--while this 'whelming blazon may not burst
242
On the weak eyes of mortals; while confin'd
243
Thro' dark dim glass, with dark dim sight to look
244
All trembling to the Future, and collect
245
The scatter'd rays of Wisdom; while referr'd
246
Our infant Reason to the guiding hand
247
Of Faith strong-eyed, which never quits the view
248
Of Jesus, her great Pole-star; from whose Word,
249
Irradiate with the lustre of his love,
250
She learns the mighty Master to explore
251
In all his works; and from the meanest taught
252
Beholds the God, the Father;--Scorn ye not,
253
My fellow-pilgrims, fellow-heirs of Death,
254
And, oh triumphant thought!--my fellow-heirs
255
Of life immortal;--if not sold to Sense
256
And Infidelity's black cause, you cast
257
Ungracious from yourselves the proffer'd boon:
258
--Then scorn not, oh my friends, when Heaven vouchsafes
259
To teach by meanest objects, reptiles, birds,
260
--To take one lesson from a Worm like me!
261
Proof of a gracious Providence I live;--
262
To Him be all the glory! Of his care
263
Paternal, his supporting signal love,
264
I live each hour an argument. Away,
265
The systematic dulness of dispute!
266
Away, each doating reasoner!--I feel,
267
Feel in my inmost heart the conscious sense,
268
The grateful pressure of distinguish'd Grace,
269
And live, and only wish for life to praise it!
For say, my soul,--nor 'midst this silence sad,
270
This midnight, aweful, melancholy gloom,
271
Nor in this solemn moment of account
272
'Twixt thee and Heaven,--when on his altar lies
273
A sacrifice thy naked, bleeding heart!
274
Say, nor, self-flattering, to thy conscience hold
275
The mirror of Deceit;--could'st thou have thought
276
Thy nerves, thy head, thy heart, thy frame, thy sense,
277
Sufficient to sustain the sudden shock,
278
Rude as a bursting earthquake, which at once
279
Toppled the happy edifice adown,
280
Whelm'd thee and thine beneath its ruinous crash,
281
And buried all in sorrow?--Torn away
282
Impetuous from thy Home, thy much-lov'd Home,
283
Without one moment to reflection giv'n!
284
By soothing, solemn promise led to place
285
Ingenuous all thy confidence of life
286
In Men, assuming gentle Pity's guise!
287
Vain confidence, in ought beneath the Sun!
288
Behold the Hour, the dreadful Hour arriv'd:
289
The Prison opes its ruthless gates upon thee!
290
Oh Horror! But what's this, this fresh attack?
291
'Tis she, 'tis she! my weeping, fainting Wife!
292
"And hast Thou, faithful, found me? Has thy love
293
"Thus burst thro' ev'ry barrier?--Hast thou trac'd
294
"--Deprest in health, and timid as thou art--
295
"At midnight trac'd the desolate wild streets;
296
"Thus in a Prison's gloom to throw thy arms
297
"Of conjugal endearment round the neck
298
"Of thy lost husband?--Fate, exact thy worst;
299
"The bitterness is past."--Idea vain!
300
To tenfold bitterness drench'd in my deep cup
301
Of gall the morning rises! Statue like,
302
Inanimate, half dead, and fainting half,
303
To stand a spectacle!--the Praetor stern
304
Denying to my pleading tears one pang
305
Of human sympathy! Conducted forth,
306
Amidst th' unfeeling populace; pursued
307
Like some poor deer, which from the hunter's aim
308
Hath ta'en its deadly hurt; and glad to find--
309
Panting with woe,--my refuge in a Gaol!
310
Can Misery stretch more tight the torturing cord?
311
But hence this softness! Wherefore thus lament
312
These petty, poor escutcheons of thy fate,
313
When lies--all worthy of thyself and Life,
314
Cold in the hearse of Ruin?--Rather turn
315
Grateful thine eyes, and raise, tho' red with tears,
316
To His high throne, who looks on thy distress
317
With fatherly compassion; kindly throws
318
Sweet Comfort's mixture in thy cup; and sooths
319
With Gilead's balm thy death-wound. He it is
320
Who, 'midst the shock disrupting, holds in health
321
Thy shatter'd frame, and keeps thy Reason clear;
322
He, He it is, whose pitying power supports
323
Thy humbled soul, deep humbled in the dust,
324
Beneath the sense of guilt; the mournful sense
325
Of deep transgression 'gainst thy fellow-men,
326
Of sad offence 'gainst Him, thy Father-God;
327
Who, lavish in his bounties, woo'd thy heart
328
With each paternal blessing;--ah ingrate,
329
And worthless! Yet--(His mercies who can count,
330
Or truly speak his praise?)--Yet thro' this gloom
331
Of self-conviction lowly He vouchsafes
332
To dart a ray of comfort, like the Sun's
333
All-cheering thro' a summer's-evening shower!
334
Arch'd in his gorgeous sky, I view the Bow,
335
Of Grace fix'd emblem! 'Tis that Grace alone
336
Which gives my soul its firmness;--builds my hope
337
Beyond the grave; and bids me spurn the earth!
338
First of all blessings, hail! Yet Thou, from whom
339
Both first and last, both great and small proceed;
340
Exhaustless Source of every good to Man,
341
Accept for all, the tribute of my praise;
342
For all are thine!--Thine the ingenuous Friends,
343
Who solace with compassion sweet my woe;
344
Mingle with mine their sympathetic tears;
345
Incessant and disinterested toil
346
To work my weal; and, delicately kind,
347
Watch every keener sensibility
348
That lives about my soul. Oh, more than Friends,
349
In tenderness my Children!--Thine are too
350
The very Keepers of the rugged Jail,
351
--Ill school to learn Humanity's soft lore!--
352
Yet here Humanity their duty pays,
353
Respectably affecting! Whist they tend
354
My little wants, officious in their zeal,
355
They turn away, and fain would hide the tear
356
That gushes all unbidden to their eye,
357
And sanctifies their service.--On their heads
358
Thy blessing, Lord of Bounty!----
359
----But, of all,
360
All thy choice comforts in this drear distress,
361
God of our first young love! Thine is the Wife,
362
Who with assiduous care, from night to morn,
363
From morn to night, watches my every need;
364
And, as in brightest days of peace and joy,
365
Smiles on my anguish, while her own poor breast
366
Is full almost to bursting! Prostrate, Lord,
367
Before thy footstool----Thou, whose highest style
368
On Earth, in Heaven, is Love!--Thou, who hast breath'd
369
Thro' human hearts the tender charities,
370
The social fond affections which unite
371
In bonds of sweetest amity those hearts,
372
And guide to every good!--Thou, whose kind eye
373
Complacent must behold the rich, ripe fruit,
374
Mature and mellow'd on the generous stock
375
Of thy own careful planting!--Low on earth,
376
And mingled with my native dust, I cry;
377
With all the Husband's anxious fondness cry;
378
With all the Friend's solicitude and truth;
379
With all the Teacher's fervour;--"God of Love,
380
"Vouchsafe thy choicest comforts on her head!
381
"Be thine my fate's decision: To thy Will
382
"With Angel-resignation, lo! we bend!"
383
But hark! what sound, wounding the Night's dull ear,
384
Bursts sudden on my sense, and makes more horrible
385
These midnight horrors?--'Tis the solemn Bell,
386
Alarum to the Prisoners of Death  [6]  !--
387
Hark! what a groan, responsive from the Cells
388
Of Condemnation, calls upon my heart,
389
My thrilling heart, for intercession strong,
390
And pleadings in the Sufferer's behalf--
391
My Fellow-Sufferers, and my Fellow-Men!
392
Cease then awhile the strain, my plaintive Soul,
393
And veil thy face of sorrow! Lonely hours
394
Soon will return thee to thy midnight task,
395
For much remains to sing; sad themes, unsung,
396
As deem'd perchance too mournful;--yet, what else
397
Than themes like these can suit a Muse like mine!
398
--And might it be, that while ingenuous woe
399
Bleeds thro' my verse; while the succeeding page
400
Weaving with my sad story the detail
401
Of Crimes, of Punishments, of Prisons drear,
402
Of present Life and future,--sad discourse
403
And serious shall contain; Oh might it be,
404
That human hearts may listen and improve!
405
Oh might it be, that benefit to Souls
406
Flow from the weeping tablet: tho' the Man
407
In torture die,--the Painter shall rejoice!
408


1.         Sunday, March 2, 1777.



2.        END of the FIRST WEEK.

Notes

(see also Works Cited)

[1] The hour when they lock up in this dismal place. BACK

[2] Referring more immediately to the duty of the Magdalen-Chapel. BACK

[3] Milton. Par. L. B. 5. 540. BACK

[4] See Psalm xxxiv. 7. Heb. i. 14. BACK

[5] Referring to the case reserved for the solemn decision of the twelve Judges; and which gave the prisoner a much longer space than his most sanguine friends could have expected, from the complexion of the Process. See the Sessions Paper for Feb. 1777. BACK

[6] This alludes to a very striking and awful circumstance. The Bellman of St. Sepuchre's, near the Prison, is by long and pious custom appointed to announce at Midnight to the condemned Criminals in their Cells, That the Hour of their Departure is at Hand! BACK

Published @ RC

October 2010