A Danish Tale
(A La Southey)
The Morning Chronicle (March 26, 1808)
As It Will Be Said or Sung Some Fifty Years Hence.
Lemens! et saevas curra per Alpes
Ut pueris placeas et declamatio fius.
A Summer ev'ning's fairy dye
Had crimson'd o'er the western sky;
Grey-headed HOFFMAN'S work was done,
And he was sitting in the sun;
An aged hawthorn stood before
His ivy-mantled cottage door,
And honey-suckles lent their aid
To beautify his humble shed;
His little grand child PETERKIN
Was sporting on the distant green,
Rolling round a circling ball
He found beside a mouldring wall.
He came to ask what he had found
That was so smooth, and large, and round;
The old man took it from the boy,
Then shook his head, and with a sigh,
"'Tis some poor fellow's skull," said he,
"Who fell in Wellesley's victory.
"That Wellesley was a man of might,
"And well he fought that gallant fight,
"For then was many a fearless Dane
"Laid low upon his native plain."
The anxious boy, with earnest plea,
Impatient climbs his grandsire's knee;
And while the ardour of surprise
Shone in his wonder-waiting eyes
Entreats the spirit-stirring story
Who fought for fame? who died for glory?
And wily pats the old man's chin
"Now tell your little PETERKIN;
"Come, tell me all about the war,
"And what they kill'd each other for;
"And all about this WELLESLEY, too,
"And what he did, I may not do."
"I'll tell you what 'twas all about:
"The English put the Danes to route,
"And by a splendid victory,
"Enforc'd the new morality.
"It was a shocking sight, they say,
"When noble CATHCART won the day,
"And march'd into the smoking town,
"And found the ruins all his own."
"But tell me what 'twas all about,
And why they put the Danes to rout."
"'Tis no great matter, in a war,
What people kill each other for;
The only ground of proper boast
Is, which of them shall kill the most.
'Tis idle, therefore, to inquire
Why they set the town on fire.
But every body said, quoth he,
The English had the victory.
And yet it was a shocking sight
To see the fearful mother's flight,
While with frantic care she prest
Still closer to her throbbing breast
The babe that pass'd, with transient breath,
From instant life to instant death;
To see, when all the work was done,
The corses rotting in the sun;
The dying mingled with the dead;
The wounded, bleeding as he fled,
While the frequent drops betray
And track the wretch's faltering way,
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.
And then the shells that burst around;
The houses tumbling to the ground;
The frighted virgin's piercing cry,
While the ruins round her fly.
Great praise the mighty CATHCART won,
And WELLESLEY too, for all he'd done.
The brave GAMBIER was there that day
Stood by, look'd on, and saw fair play,
Then prais'd the LORD, andwent to pray."
"Fair play!" cried little PETERKIN,
"Why, 'twas a very naughty thing;
Kill women! sack a peaceful town!
And plunder what was not their own;
Why surely every one must say,
That this was very naughty play."
"No, no, my boy, they said," quoth he,
"The English had the victory;
"The service too was prized so dear,
"The King made each a mighty Peer."
"A Peer!" rejoin'd the little prater,
"What's he! a man! or something greater?"
"A Peer iswhat I'm not quite sure
He gets a pension when he's poor:
That is, whene'er he can't afford
To be the thing they call a Lord."
"I'm glad that neither you nor I
"Are Lords," replied the simple boy:
"Let England war with women then,
"We'll never fight with less than men."
The placid old man griev'd to find
What errors cloud the new-born mind.
"Poor Ignorance! away," quoth he;
"Go, read the New Morality;
"And then, my child, you'll cease to wonder,
"Why praise should sanction lawless plunder;
"Why solemn Senates shou'd applaud
"Ruthless rapine, shabby fraud;
"Why, in this enlighten'd season,
"Force should be the "better reason;"
"In every case why greater might
"Should constitute superior right;
"And why, such things must always be
"The fruits of such a Victory.
"But in my boy; the sun is down,
"And all his cheering heat is gone;
"The evening-dew is on the leaves,
"And lo! the modest twilight weaves
"Of clouds that wander west away,
"Her fairy robe of night and day."