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307. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [21 April 1798] ⁠* 

JASPAR. [1] 

____

Jaspar was poor, & want & vice
Had made his heart like stone,
And Jaspar lookd with envious eyes
On riches not his own.

On plunder bent abroad he went
Towards the close of day,
And loitered on the lonely road
Impatient for his prey.

No traveller came, he loitered long
And often lookd around,
And pausd & listened eagerly
To catch some coming sound.

He sat him down beside the stream
That crost the lonely way; –
So fair a scene might well have charmd
All evil thoughts away.

He sat beneath a willow tree
That cast a trembling shade,
The gentle river full in front
A little island made,

Where pleasantly the moon-beam shone
Upon the poplar trees,
Whose shadow on the stream below
Playd slowly to the breeze.

He listend – & he heard the wind
That waved the willow tree,
He heard the waters flow along
And murmur quietly.

He listened for the travellers tread –
The nightingale sung sweet;
He started up, for now he heard
The sound of coming feet.

He started up & graspt a stake
And waited for his prey,
There came a lonely traveller,
And Jaspar crost his way.

But Jaspars threats & curses faild
The traveller to appal,
He would not lightly yield the purse
That held his little all.

Awhile he struggled, but he strove
With Jaspars strength in vain,
Beneath his blows he fell & groand
And never spake again.

He lifted up the murdered man
And plunged him in the flood,
And in the running waters then
He cleansed his hands from blood

The waters closed around the corpse
And cleansed his hands from gore,
The willow waved, the stream flowd on
And murmurd as before.

There was no human eye had seen
The blood the murderer spilt,
And Jaspars conscience never knew
The avenging goad of guilt.

But soon the ruffian had consumd
The gold he gaind so ill,
And years of secret guilt past on
And he was needy still.

One eve beside the alehouse fire
He sat as it befell,
When in there came a labouring man
Whom Jaspar knew full well.

He sat him down by Jaspars side
A melancholy man,
For spite of honest toil, the world
Went hard with Jonathan.

His toil a little earnd; & he
With little was content,
But sickness on his wife had fallen
And all he had was spent.

Then with his wife & little ones
He shared his scanty meal,
And saw their looks of wretchedness
And felt what wretches feel.

That very morn the Landlords power
Had seized the little left,
And now the sufferer found himself
Of every thing bereft.

He lent his head upon his hand
His elbow on his knee,
And so by Jaspars side he sat,
And not a word said he.

Nay – why so downcast? Jaspar cried –
Come cheer up Jonathan!
Drink neighbour – drink – twill warm thy heart
Come come – take courage man.

He took the cup that Jaspar gave
And down he draind it quick;
I have a wife, said Jonathan
And she is deadly sick.

She has no bed to lie upon –
I saw them take her bed –
I have three children – would to God
That they & I were dead.

Our Landlord he goes home to night
And he will sleep in peace;
I would that I were in my grave
For there all troubles cease!

In vain I prayd him to forbear
Tho wealth enough has he.–
God be to him as merciless
As he has been to me!

When Jaspar saw the poor mans soul
On all his ills intent,
He plied him with the heartening cup
And with him forth he went.

This Landlord on his homeward road
Twere easy now to meet;
The road is lonesome Jonathan!
And vengeance man, is sweet.

He listened to the tempters voice
The thought it made him start –
His head was hot, & wretchedness
Had hardened now his heart.

Along the lonely road they went
And waited for their prey,
They sat them down beside the stream
That crost the lonely way.

They sat them down beside the stream
And never a word they said,
They sat & listened silently
To hear the travellers tread.

The night was calm, the night was dark,
No star was in the sky,
The wind it waved the willow boughs,
The stream flowed quietly.

The night was calm, the air was still,
Sweet sung the nightingale,
The soul of Jonathan was soothd
His heart began to fail.

Tis weary waiting here, he cried
And now the hour is late,
Methinks he will not come to night –
Tis useless more to wait.

Have patience man! the ruffian said
A little we may wait,
But longer shall his wife expect
Her husband at the gate.

Then Jonathan grew sick at heart,
My conscience yet is clear –
Jaspar it is not yet too late –
I will not linger here.

How now! cried Jaspar. why I thought
Thy conscience was asleep!
No more such qualms. the night is dark
The river here is deep.

What matters that, said Jonathan
Whose blood began to freeze,
When there is one above whose eye
The deeds of darkness sees.

We’re safe enough, said Jaspar then
If that be all thy fear,
Nor eye below, nor eye above
Can pierce the darkness here.

That instant as the Murderer spake
There came a sudden light,
Strong as the midday sun it shone
Tho all around was night.

It hung upon the willow tree
It hung upon the flood,
It gave to view the poplar isle
And all the scene of blood.

The traveller who journies there
He surely has espied
A Madman who has made his home
Upon the river side.

His cheek is pale, his eye is wild
His look bespeaks despair.
For Jaspar since that hour has made
His home unsheltered there.

And fearful are his dreams at night
And dread to him the day,
He thinks upon his untold crime
And never dares to pray.
The summer suns, the winter storms
Oer him unheeded roll –
For heavy is the weight of blood
Upon the maniacs soul. [2] 

_________

I am going on well with Sir Edward, [3]  & believe myself possessed of a good deal of unorganized knowledge, which will soon arrange itself when my company & conversation must perforce give my thoughts a legal direction. at times I feel dispirited by the uncertainty of the future, which presents more to fear than to hope – these ideas however seldom or never slacken me. Some time I lose in dwell living thus between Bath & Bristol, for I must see [MS torn] Mother often – & society is indeed necessary to her & yet I cannot yet remove Edith to a situation wh[MS torn] is less favourable to her health. My Mother is better but all consumptives complaints are perpetually flattering with false hopes. I have even known persons apparently much better, six hours only before their death. Ediths most unpleasant symptoms have been relieved by strong tonic medicines taken in large quantities – they but they are only lessened – & I fear their return when the medicines are left off. You will not wonder that my I pursue with most ardour those employments that refer only to the present hour.

The inclosed letter may perhaps amuse you. return it when next you write as I have two more of the same genus – which if you are curious I will send to you.

Have you seen in the papers a little ballad The Lovers Rock? [4]  a moorish story from Mariana. [5]  if not I will send it

God bless you

yrs affectionately

R S.

Friday.


Notes

* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ 5. Stone Buildings/ 4 Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmarks: [partial] B/ AP; B/ P/ 21/ 98; 98
Endorsement: Mr. Wynn
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4819E
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Published anonymously as ‘Jasper’, Morning Post, 3 May 1798. BACK

[2] Jaspar was poor ... maniacs soul: Verse written in double columns. BACK

[3] Edward Coke (1552–1643; DNB), Institutes of the Laws of England (1628–1644). BACK

[4] Published anonymously in the Morning Post, 18 April 1798. BACK

[5] Juan de Mariana (1536–1623), Historia General de Espana, 9 vols (Valencia, 1783–1796), VI, pp. 463–464; Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 83–84. BACK

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August 2011