- This is a collection of British poetry written during the years 1793
through 1815. Its special significance lies in the fact that its theme
is war and war was, if we take the mass of poetry of the period into
account, perhaps the principal poetic subject in an age in which society
was being restructured in terms of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic
wars, industrialization. The three hundred and fifty poems presented
here, selected from more than three thousand poems collected from contemporary
publications, are representative of the massive number of war poems
which were then widely circulated, but which have not been previously
collected, or edited, or, with some exceptions, reprinted. They have
been selected to illustrate not only the attitudes of the poets toward
the war, which is of importance to a full understanding of the historical
background of Romanticism, but they also trace in a broad, popular spectrum
the development of the poetic styles of Romanticism. Their continuity
of subject matter is especially useful in revealing this development.
- War was the single most important fact of British life from 1793
to 1815. The poetry of the major Romantic writers concerned with the
warBlake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, and Shelleyreflects
this imperfectly because their war poetry constitutes only a part of
the total poetic response. To understand in full historical context
both poetic and public attitudes toward the war and the poetic means
developed by the poets themselves to embody their feelings, it is necessary
to see the corpus of war poetry as a whole. This collection does not
include the works of the major Romantic poets, since they are readily
accessible; rather, it is intended to offer, in its overview of the
influence and effects of war on the age, new perspectives on these poets
and their responses, both poetic and political.
- Among the many war poems that appeared in journals and newspapers,
there are some which were published anonymously or are identified by
initials or pseudonyms. Included in this group are unsigned verses by
minor poets as well as well-known poets, such as Leigh Hunt and Coleridge.
The authors of a number of these poems have been identified in this
study, often through multiple publication. For example, Walcheren
Expedition; or, the Englishman's Lament for the Loss of His Countrymen
appeared anonymously in The Examiner 
and in The Morning Chronicle.
However, The Poetical Register and Repository of Fugitive Poetry
reprinted the poem and gave the author as Leigh Hunt.
In the case of the poet who signed himself "Hafiz," The
Gentleman's Magazine noted in the December, 1801 issue that both
"Hafiz" and "T.S." were signatures of Thomas Stott
of Dromore, Ireland.
Despite this identification, Stott's many verses continued to appear
under "Hafiz" or "T.S." In a few instances, works
appeared in periodicals and newspapers which have not been included
in the collected works of a poet, such as Leigh Hunt's The
Field of Battle and The
Olive of Peace.
Footnotes to particular poems include information on multiple publication
as well as other unusual publishing history, and, wherever possible,
identify authors not named at the time of original publication.
- The representative verses in this collection have been gathered from
a variety of sources, chiefly from newspapers, such as The Morning
Chronicle, The Examiner, The Cambridge Intelligencer, The Morning
Post, The Champion; from periodicals, such as The European Magazine,
The Gentleman's Magazine, The Scots Magazine (Edinburgh), and Exshaw's
Gentleman's and London Magazine (Dublin), The Anti-Jacobin,
The Monthly Magazine, The New Monthly Magazine. This main body of
poetry is supplemented by works from contemporary anthologies, collections,
individually published poems, and broadsides. The periodicals and newspapers,
however, are the chief source, since it was through their pages that
most poets reached the public. As Walter Graham has pointed out, "nearly
every literary periodical of note has had its section devoted to the
and it was common practice for newspapers to print poems, or, in some
instances, include poetry as a part of the paper's regular format.
This was true of The Morning Post, The Courier, The Examiner
and The Morning Chronicle.
- The Introduction to this collection is in four parts. The first speaks
to the nature of the poetry included. The second is historical and discusses
the relation of politics and poetry in terms of the publishing practices
of the journals in which most of this poetry appeared. The third section
details the shifting ideologies of "liberty" and "justice"
around which the poems revolve. Finally, the poems have a literary significance
apart from their subject matter. The fourth part of the Introduction
discusses the poems as a crucial link in the development of Romantic
poetic styles. These popular poems illustrate the transition from Percy's
Reliques and Burns to Wordsworth and Coleridge. They reflect
the evolution of styles, subject matter, and attitudes that have come
to be called Romantic.
- The poems are annotated sufficiently, it is hoped, for their significance
to be understood by the contemporary reader. Information is given, where
possible, about lesser known poets. Often all that seems to be known
about some of the poets are their names and titles of other works. It
is hoped that readers may be familiar with some of these figures, and
may share their information, thereby filling in some of the biographical
gaps. The poems are arranged chronologically according to the year in
which they first appeared and full imprint data is included with the
text. Titles in brackets indicate that the poem was published without
a title; sub-titles in brackets, however, are as they appeared in the
original. The poems are reproduced with no editorial emendation, since
the variant punctuation and spelling cause no major difficulties in
reading the poems while allowing the reader to become acquainted with
some of the publishing practices of the day. In instances where meaning
may be confused, a bracketed [sic] or a footnote is given for clarification.
- This collection is offered not in any sense as definitive, but rather
as an exploration of a relatively untapped resource of Romantic studies.
The shortcomings in the collection are my own; however, those aspects
which may enlighten and inform have come about through the assistance
of a number of people and institutions, whom I am pleased to here acknowledge.
First, I am grateful to Kenneth N. Cameron, who guided me into the age
of Romanticism, and has been a constant example of excellence in scholarship
and human compassion. My gratitude is due also to Donald H. Reiman for
his careful reading of the manuscript and his many suggestions about
form and substance. For furnishing me with poems and information, I
thank David V. Erdman and Roland Bartel. For kindly permitting the use
of their facilities and collections, I thank the Carl H. Pforzheimer
Library, the New York Public Library, the Yale University Library, the
Princeton University Library, the Library of Congress, the British Museum,
the Bodleian, and the Library of the State University of New York at
Stony Brook. In particular, I wish to thank Norman O. Jung of the Stony
Brook Library for accompanying me in long, sometimes unfruitful, searches
for details about the poetry and poets. For her diligent accuracy in
typing, I thank Lynn C. Kelly. The initial manuscript was completed
with the aid and advice of Joseph T. Bennett, and read and commented
on by Paul J. Dolan. The final manuscript was read and commented on
by Rosalind A. Teicher who, along with Ruth A. Dolan, gave many words
of encouragement. To all, I am particularly grateful.
- Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to my sons Peter and Matthew
to whom "dining-room table" has become synonymous with "desk,"
for their patience and love and peacefulness in a war-zone.
Betty T. Bennett
State University of New York
at Stony Brook
I. British Poets and The War Between Britain and France
- From the fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 throughout the revolutionary
and Napoleonic wars, which continued almost without cessation until
Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo on June 18, 1815, British poets
responded to war activities to an extent unprecedented in British history.
Blake's The French Revolution, passages of Wordsworth's The
Prelude as well as a number of his sonnets, Coleridge's France:
An Ode and Fears in Solitude, Byron's Napoleon's Farewell
and parts of Childe Harold, and Shelley's Henry and Louisa
are among the best known representatives of this poetic response.
But many of these poems were unpublished during the war period. Furthermore,
these poems have generally been examined within the context of the total
body of work of the principal Romantic poets, an approach which has
served to obscure the fact that the war was a primary poetic preoccupation
of the age. However important, the war poems by the major poets constitute
a small segment of a vast body of contemporary verse both in favor of
and opposed to the war. To understand more fully the larger, generalized
tradition of Romanticism, one must consider the more specific, topical
tradition of war verse which influenced and was influenced by both the
greater and lesser Romantic poets.
- The quality of the war verses varies greatly, ranging from plainly
nationalistic songs, which embody rhetorical effect rather than intrinsic
poetic merit, to the most seriously intended works of art with their
metaphoric use of the war experience. As many varieties of poetic mode
as possible are included within this collection to present the poetically
as well as the politically revolutionary aspects of the period. The
doggerel and the simple call-to-arms in song, for example, are not only
historical facts of the time; they are the out-growth of the will to
write for an ever-expanding, more democratic audience, one that for
the first time included the workingman. Nationalistic verse had been
written before, but with the growth of the popular periodical press
and with both readers and writers of poetry drawn from the middle and
the working classes, the simple stanza-plus-refrain form acquired a
poetic respectability which it had not previously had. The virtue of
this form was its accessibility to readers accustomed to the simple
rhythms and repetitive patterns of the familiar jingle or nursery rhyme
as well as to the popular ballads customarily found in chap books 
- The French Revolution provided a ready focus for British poets. Even
before the Revolution took place, the thinking which inspired itthe
writings of Voltaire, Rousseau, and othershad excited many minds
in Britain, and there was wide-spread sympathy for victims of Bourbon
This attitude may be attributed to the more republican nature of British
political philosophy which was buttressed by the recent revolt against
Britain itself by the American colonies.
The American Revolution seemed to have had many of the same republican
objectives as the French, and the favorable considerations it provoked
in some British minds were readily applied to French revolutionary action.
The overthrow of the Bastille was regarded as the overthrow of the feudal,
tyrannic rule of the Bourbons, and poets celebrated it in these terms
immediately and for some years to follow. The famous "Swan of Litchfield,"
Anna Seward wrote Sonnet to France on Her Present Exertions which
appeared in at least six publications from August through October 1789;
section in The Task which prophetically anticipated the destruction
of the Bastille was reprinted in at least two periodicals; 
Coleridge wrote the Destruction of the Bastille (first published
in 1834); 
and there appeared a spate of unsigned works in newspapers and periodicals
expressing the same sentiments. The approbation accorded the fall of
the Bastille was also expressed in Britain through annual festivities
held on the fourteenth of July, a day celebrated by many Whigs and radicals
alike during the early years of the French Republic. The tenacity with
which some Britons held to the significance of the event is further
demonstrated by the fact that some Britons marked the date with poetic
celebration even after Britain and France were at war and the ideals
of the Revolution had become tarnished.
- The initial positive response in Britain to the French Revolution
altered as the excesses of the revolutionary tribunals were reported.
In terms of the poetry, the approval of earlier events in France perceptibly
changed in 1792 with the imprisonment of the King and Queen of France,
and particularly in 1793 with the execution of the royal couple and
Britain's official entry into the war against the Republic of France.
Much of the anti-revolutionary poetry centered upon the plight of the
deposed monarchs. Edmund Burke's personal and highly sentimental view
of the Queen, "glittering like the morning-star, full of life,
and splendor, and joy," 
fixed an image which could be used to full effect by the anti-revolutionary
poets. Burke's representation of Marie Antoinette as the principal figure
in a tragedy about the death of chivalry in which the "glory of
Europe is extinguished forever," was rebutted by Thomas Paine's
more factual account in The Rights of Man, 
but Burke's tragic queen, the wife and mother, proved more appealing,
and the majority of British poets dealt with the Queen sympathetically.
Stanzas supposed to be
Written Whilst the Late Queen of France was Sleeping, by Her Attendant
in the Temple is typical of the poetry which echoed Burke's
image of the Queen. A rare instance of an attack on the French Queen
was Blake's notebook ballad, Let the Brothels of Paris be opened,
in which the Queen is personally held responsible for the suffering
of the French people:
The Queen of France just touchd this Globe
And the Pestilence darted from her robe. 
Blake's poem was not published at that time but, as
David V. Erdman suggests, although Blake's works "did not reach
the awakening citizens who were reading Paine and rushing together in
republican societies, they did nevertheless reflect the stir and tumult
of that awakening." 
- Wordsworth and Coleridge reflect that awakening as well. The young
"revolutionary and radical" 
Wordsworth's personal and political involvement in the French Revolution
is well documented, but it is too often overshadowed by the portrait
of "the level-headed elderly man, shrewdly practical, settling
down to an uneventful domestic life, a confirmed Tory in politics."
The fact is that Wordsworth's response to the Revolution was sympathetic
. . . I gradually withdrew
Into a noisier world, and thus ere long
Became a patriot; and my heart was all
Given to the people, and my love was theirs. 
Although Wordsworth reacted against the excesses of
the Revolutionary Tribunals, there is little evidence that he ever reacted
against his faith in man. His belief in Utopian institutions may have
been destroyed by his experience with France, but his somewhat mystical
belief in the elemental passions and sentiments of common people remained
intact and it was this belief rather than a political philosophy, which
led him into sympathy with the French Revolution in the first place.
- Coleridge treated the Revolution and the subsequent war with France
in prose and verse. Philosophically wary of the ideals of Rousseau and
his concept of "natural religion," Coleridge was concerned
with analyzing the philosophical foundations of the Revolution. France:
An Ode, 1798 is a poetical version of Coleridge's political philosophy,
and in the fifth stanza of that poem he expresses his notion that the
ideal of freedom belongs to the individual and cannot be found in a
society or in the institutions of human government. In Fears in Solitude,
1798, Coleridge presented the dilemma of war: the poem is forceful in
describing the horrors of warfare but admits the necessity for Britons
to "repel an impious foe." Coleridge believed that Britain's
war against Napoleon was a struggle of those who possessed a higher
conception of liberty and justice against a materialist foe.
- Southey, like Wordsworth and Coleridge, began as an anti-war poet
who gradually reversed his position to become a staunch supporter of
His early anti-tyrannic Joan of Arc drew fire from Anna Seward
in The European Magazine,
1797 and his The Soldier's Wife was parodied in The Anti-Jacobin.
The 1799 Annual Anthology, which was edited by Southey, printed
his The Soldier's Funeral
and The Battle of Blenheim.
But this and the 1800 Annual Anthology, which published war verse
by Coleridge as well, 
contained poems written during the pre-Napoleonic stage of the protracted
war, though Southey had already come to favor the war against France.
The biting irony of The Battle of Blenheim directedas was
so much of Southey's war poetryagainst the inhumanity of war stands
in striking contrast to his vindictive Ode Written During the Negotiations
with Bonaparte, in January 1814 in which he argues against the peace
negotiations and in favor of the complete destruction of Napoleon:
When innocent blood
From the four corners of the world cries out
For justice upon one accursed head. 
- Although the change in Southey's view of the war occurred long before
he became poet-laureate in 1813, he was attacked by Leigh Hunt, 
among others, for his political reversal. His shift from radical politics
to a "Philanthropic brand of Toryism" 
can be seen as a response to the change in 1796 in the character of
the war itself. What had begun as a revolution against French tyranny
in 1796 was seen as a war which seemed to have as its goal total European
domination by France. The concept of one tyranny being substituted for
another became the subject matter of Southey's war poetry, as well as
that of Coleridge, Wordsworth, and others. Nevertheless, the selections
of Southey included here, particularly the earlier works, proved not
only popular but influential.
- While Thomas Campbell was not so prolific a war poet as Southey, his
work was often reprinted and his war verses provided a model which was
imitated by others. Although Campbell consistently supported Britain,
he maintained a poetic objectivity which enabled him to deal artistically
and compassionately with the scourges of war, as in
The Soldier's Dream.
- The role of Robert Burns as a war poet must be considered in terms
of his influence on the poetry of the period in general, and part four
of this introduction will deal with his contribution in some detail.
Burns died in 1796, and the few war poems he wrote were of mixed quality,
from the touching The Soldier's Return to the nationalistic The
Dumfries Volunteers, but all his poetry was well received and well
circulated during this period.
- The war was so popular a subject that a commentator in The Analytical
Review noted in 1793 that it was treated by "every hireling
The poets concerned themselves with the events of the war in such topical
poems as Nelson's Victory:
An Ode, on Nelson's defeat of the French in Egypt; they treated
the effects of the war on individuals, as Amelia Opie's The
Orphan Boy's Tale or on the country as in January,
1795; and frequently poets offered philosophical poems on the
subject as in The Age
of War. Poems were sometimes frankly hortatory as English,
Scots, and Irishmen: A Patriotic Address to the Inhabitants of the United
Kingdom, July, 1803, by John Mayne; they ranged from the satiric
A Modern Ballad
to the unabashedly sentimental The
Generous Soldier by Mr. Booker, 1800.
- Generally poetry columns contained at least one poem on the war and
some poems were published and circulated as broadsides as well, such
as The Ploughman's Ditty;
Being an Answer to that Foolish Question, What Have the Poor to Lose?
which was printed in at least four periodicals and as a broadside. In
addition, periodical verses were occasionally reprinted and circulated
in book form: The Spirit of the Public Journals 
was a collection of brief prose passages and verse specifically gathered
from newspapers, and The Anti-Gallican 
was a collection of prose and verse gathered from broadsides as well
as from newspapers and periodicals.
- The Spirit of the Public Journals, unlike most publications
of the period, avoided political distinctions or partisan connections
in its editorial policy. Instead, it published a cross-section of all
jeux d'esprits of the popular journals, although there is a notable
absence of material from radical publications. In the early editions
of The Spirit of the Public Journals such anti-war poems as The
Fruits of the War and A
Fast Day Hymn 
appeared, but by the turn of the century, although selections from both
Whig and Tory publications continued to appear, there is no discernable
difference in attitude towards the war. By that time, both Whigs and
Tories generally agreed that it was a necessity, if not a duty, for
Britain to defeat Napoleon and put to rest once and for all the French
threat to British liberty.
- The Anti-Gallican, on the other hand, was clearly intended
to bolster the war morale of its readers. It reproduces approximately
two hundred verses, in addition to many prose pieces, on the threatened
invasion of Britain by France. Many of the pieces date from before 1803,
the year Britain felt that invasion was imminent, but they are consistent
in their hostility towards the French and their insistence on the necessity
of continuing the struggle to defend Britain. The collection, printed
partially for J. Asperne, 
draws upon many of the broadsides which Asperne printed in 1803to
which he frequently appends the suggestion that they be distributed
among the poor by those who could afford to do so in order to rouse
the lower classes against the French.
Included in The Anti-Gallican are Wordsworth's Anticipation,
Burn's The Dumfries Volunteers, and Campbell's The
- The broadside itself was a popular way of circulating war verses during
the war period. It has been noted that although periodicals gained in
prestige during the eighteenth century, "the broadside stubbornly
held its ground in the service not only of hack writers but of poets
of name" and continued to do so into the nineteenth century.
In addition to the previously mentioned Ploughman's
poems which appeared in broadsides as well as periodicals or collections
include John Mayne's English,
Scots, and Irishmen 
and several works by Leigh Hunt which were published in a special form
of broadside known as Bellman's verses, 
verses printed as a broadside and sold to Bellmen or Beadles 
for distribution as New Year's gifts. Hunt occasionally reprinted these
verses in one of his newspapers: Orange Boven appeared as a Bellman's
Verse for 1814 
and in The Examiner on January 23, 1814.
- Shelley also made use of the broadside to circulate war verses. His
early opposition to the war, as well as to the aristocracy and Napoleon,
is demonstrated in his Esdaile Note-Book poems, The Crisis,
To the Emperors of Russia and Austria who eyed the battle from the heights
whilst Buonaparte was active in the thickest of the fight, and Henry
Influenced by Coleridge's and Southey's The Devil's Thoughts,
Shelley wrote an anti-establishment, anti-war ballad entitled The
Devil's Walk and had it printed as a broadside, 
which resulted in the arrest of Shelley's servant as he was distributing
- Although the broadside was employed to some effect, the chief medium
of publication of war poetry were the magazines and newspapers, which
provided poets concerned with the war a steady outlet for their encomiums,
their warnings, their arguments. Opposition to the war and acclamation
for the war were based on a variety of grounds: political, ethical,
religious, economic, humanitarian, nationalistic, moralistic. Content
and approach vary not only from poet to poet, but according to the political
stance of the medium in which the poems are found. To understand the
frequency of particular points of view, it is necessary to examine the
influence of politics on the publishing practices of the day.
II. Politics and Poetry
- In the aftermath of the French Revolution, a new term was introduced
into British political nomenclature. The term "Jacobin," derived
from the French political club established in 1789 to develop and maintain
egalitarian government, was found to be a useful pejorative designation
and was applied indiscriminately to those who sympathized with the Revolution
as well as to British republicans, radicals, and Whigs. In fact, all
who opposed the policies of the Tory government found themselves attacked
- The terms designating the two major political parties in Britain during
this period, the Tories and the Whigs, had themselves been pejorative
appellations used in 1679 during the struggle to exclude James, Duke
of York, from succession to the throne.
From the Revolution of 1688-89 until the death of Queen Anne in 1714,
the Whig and Tory parties maintained a political balance of power and
opposition in England. After 1714, however, with the crowning of the
Whig nominee George I as king, and the flight of the Tory leader Bolingbroke
to France, the Tories declined as a political party. The situation was
changed in 1784, when the young Pitt became leader of a new Tory party
which represented the interests of the country gentry and the powerful
merchant classes. The Whig party, as opposition under the leadership
of Charles James Fox, was made up of dissenters, shopkeepers, and the
- Pitt's Tory government was firmly opposed to the Revolution in France
and took a position of defending and maintaining the status quo. The
Whigs, on the other hand, desired electoral, parliamentary, and philanthropic
reform, and were more open to social change. Many Whigs supported the
Revolution and opposed the war with France, though the more conservative
among them supported the policies of the Pitt government. Thus, the
rather imprecise term "Jacobin" was used to suggest all those
who sympathized with France and to designate those who opposed Pitt's
policies: radicals, republicans, and Whigs alike. Jacobinism was even
extended to impute the morals as well as the politics of opponents of
the Pitt government.
Indeed, the term carried so much negative weight that Wordsworth and
Coleridge published the Lyrical Ballads anonymously because they
were aware that they were "marked out as Jacobins."
Coleridge gives the term some precision in an article in The Morning
Post of October 21, 1802, entitled "Once a Jacobin Always a
Jacobin," in which he states that the term has been applied to
"all who, from whatever cause, opposed the late war and the late
ministry." However, this is a definition of the term by "bigots
alarmed and detected culprits." More properly, he maintains, a
Jacobin is one who affirms:
that no legislature can be rightful or good which did not
proceed from universal suffrage. In the power and under the control
of a legislature so chosen he places all and everything, with the exception
of the natural rights of man and the means appointed for the preservation
and exercise of these rights, by a direct vote of the nation itselfthat
is to say, by a constitution. Finally, the Jacobin deems it both justifiable
and expedient to effect these requisite changes in faulty governments
by absolute revolutions, and considers no violences as properly rebellious
or criminal which are the means of giving to a nation the power of declaring
and enforcing its sovereign will...
- Coleridge intended to sum up and at the same time criticize the views
of Rousseau which, rather imperfectly understood, were those which the
French Revolution had sought to put into practice. The article attempts
to define a total Jacobin creed and to indicate that only advocates
of despotism did not subscribe to some of the tenets of Jacobinism.
While arguing that he was not a Jacobin, Coleridge tries to dispel the
emotion which had become attached to the term.
- In the context of the poetry in this collection, "Jacobin"
tells less about those who are attacked in satire, or who are impugned
in more serious poetry, than it does about the Tory position of those
who attack or impugn. Since, throughout the period, the Jacobin label
is often used without discrimination, the term "radical" might
be substituted as a more appropriate and encompassing designation for
those who opposed government policies. The range of opposition was broadaltering
as the war progressed and
the term "radical" in this discussion is intended to include
all factions which supported the French Revolution as well as those
which desired major governmental reform in England.
- While there were radical thinkers in Britain before the French Revolution,
the radicals were, for the most part, loosely organized and unenfranchised.
Those with any political power at all belonged to the tradition of Whig
"commonwealthmen," and, in fact, the radicals were not organized
into a specific political party until 1820.
It was the French Revolution which became a catalystic agent for those
in England who were dissatisfied with the British government. The Revolution
became synonymous to many with the struggle of the British working class
for better living conditions and more representative government. Dr.
Richard Price's Sermon, A Discourse on the Love of Our Country
(November 4, 1789), in support of the Revolution was greeted enthusiastically
by a number of radicals and by liberal Whigs.
Not all liberal Whigs, however, accepted Price's stand, and Edmund Burke
was to take him to task in his Reflections Upon the Revolution in
A significant number of radical thinkers took the opportunity afforded
by the French Revolution to press for consideration of the working class
and the need for reform. The Second Part of Thomas Paine's Rights
of Man, in calling the aristocracy into account, effected a bridge
between the old tradition of Whig "commonwealthmen" and the
radicals. The strong disapproval of the monarchy and of aristocratic
hereditary principles was related to the economic hardships of the poor.
Much of the anti-war poetry written during this early phase renders
these sentiments in verse, as in Effects
of War published in The Cambridge Intelligencer, February
22, 1794. The opposition was quick to attack those poets who opposed
the war on such grounds, and verses in favor of the war linked support
of France with destruction of the British establishment.
- The argument that the war was being conducted by men "Too high
to stoop, too proud to feel,/ For England's bleeding woes" who
are disinterested in the "thousands begging at their gates,/ Or
welt'ring in their gore," but who are more concerned with "gaudy
luxries" and "a scarf or garter blue," 
is prevalent in the anti-war poetry throughout the war years. In fact,
the image of an aristocratic class indifferent to the suffering of the
poor became so prevalent that it is used in later years of the war even
by poets who do not necessarily oppose government policies. For example,
a poet in The Scots Magazine in 1802, speaks in the voice of
The Beggar Girl
orphaned by the war:
To the Rich, by whom Virtue's too often
I tell my sad storyand crave for relief:
But Wealth seldom feels for a wretch unpro-
'Tis Poverty only partakes of her grief!
Ah, little they think that the thousands they
On the playthings of Folly and fripp'ries
Would relieve the keen wants of the wretched
While the soft tear of pity would soothe
- Debating societies in which the working man participated were formed
sporadically in England from 1776 on. Although there had been such clubs
in Sheffield, Derby, and Manchester, it was not until the London Corresponding
Society was founded in January 1792 that they were organized into a
significant vocal group.
This Society, which held meetings at "The Bell" tavern off
the Strand, was composed of artisans, small shopkeepers, tradesmen,
journeymen, printers, engravers, young attorneys, apothecaries, teachers,
journalists, surgeons, and Dissenting clergy.
It was a popular radical society, rather than a strictly working-class
debating society, and it was formed to discuss the current events and
to attempt to influence government. The aristocratic opponents of the
radical groups were quick to form "counter-revolutionary"
organizations directed against them. "Church and King" clubs
proliferated. (It was a "Church and King" club which caused
a riot in Birmingham in the summer of 1791 by interrupting a dinner
in celebration of the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille.) The
position of the "Church and King" groups is enunciated in
Church and King, a Song
True Freedom is a temp'rate treat,
Not savage mirth, not frantic noise;
'Tis the brisk pulse's vital beat;
'Tis not the fever that destroys.
Let Britons then united sing,
Old England's Glory,Church and King.
- The violence and the scare tactics of "Church and King"
mobs did not succeed in repressing the early radical groups but on the
contrary helped publicize the activities of anti-war factions. Men like
John Thelwall, Thomas Spence, Thomas Hardy and other advocates of the
rights of the working class voiced their beliefs at meetings and in
broadsides and pamphlets.
Their work resulted in poetic response both from sympathizers and detractors.
The detractors, for the most part, resorted to satire, much of it personal,
such as On Mister Surgeon
Thelwall which implies that Thelwall in his profession as a
surgeon has dealings with the illegal "resurrection men,"
i.e. those who stole newly buried bodies to sell for medical experimentation.
Since Thelwall is such an unsavory character, the satirist suggests,
it is no wonder that he is sympathetic to the democratic ideals of the
French Revolution. Other detractors, however, resorted to simple invective,
as John Shilettoe in his 1795 Portrait
of a Jacobin, calling the radicals "a MASS of every FILTH
combin'd!/ The horror of the HUMAN KIND!" Those who sympathized
with the French ideals attempted to respond in poetic terms to the insinuations
of the "Church and King" mobs. The editor of The Cambridge
Intelligencer, for example, on September 14, 1793 extracted the
lines entitled The Bishop
of London's Opinion on War from a poem which the bishop, Dr.
Porteous, had written while a student at Cambridge. The lines suggest
a response to Burke and the reaction to the death of the French king:
__________________One murder makes a
Millions a Hero: Princes are privileged
To kill, and numbers sanctify the crime.
Ah! Why will Kings forget that they are
And men that they are brethren? Why delight
In HUMAN SACRIFICE?
The author of the Sonnet
to W. Wilberforce calls upon the philanthropist to:
. . .teach a guilty Court the Rights of Man;
Not made to suffer only, and to bleed
Though he has bled of late, and largely too,
At their command,Tell them that GOD design'd
A nobler object when he made mankind,
And trace the noble purpose to their view.
- In the beginning of their existence, the radical artisan groups were
supported by the agitation of the ever-increasing manufacturing class
and by religious groups such as the Methodist New Connexion, the so-called
"Tom Paine Methodists."
As the establishment perceived that the reform groups were increasing
in strength, the semi-official agency for intimidation of reformers,
the Association for Protecting Liberty and Property against Republicans
and Levellers, was formed in the 1790's. From 1794 to 1804 there was
steady repression of reformers in England: so-called Jacobins were arrested
and tried; the London Corresponding Society was outlawed; the Rights
of Man was banned, and meetings were prohibited. However, as E.
P. Thompson points out:
. . . after the success of Rights of Man, the radicalism
and terror of the French Revolution, and the onset of Pitt's repression,
it was the plebian Corresponding Society which alone stood up against
the counter-revolutionary wars. And these plebian groups, small as they
were in 1796, did nevertheless make up an "underground" tradition
which ran through to the end of the Wars. 
- Both the establishment and the radical opposition attempted to stir
up public opinion by means of pamphlets, broadsides, and public meetings,
but recognized that the quickest and most effective means of reaching
large segments of the public was through newspapers and periodicals.
Political bias determined what was published, and it was political consideration
rather than artistic merit which was the overriding criterion in the
selection of verse.
- All the newspapers were committed to a particular party and, more
often than not, this commitment was purchased in the form of a regular
stipend from a political party or faction which then exercised control
over the publication.
Lucyle Werkmeister, in summing up the situation as it was in 1789, points
out that both the government and the opposition each controlled seven
newspapers. The government had The Daily Advertiser, The Public Advertiser,
The Public Ledger, The Times, The World, The Star, and The Diary,
or Woodfall's Register; the opposition maintained The Gazetter,
The General Advertiser, The Morning Herald, The Morning Post, The Morning
Chronicle, the "spurious Star," and The Argus.
- The change in ownership of a newspaper could mean a reversal of its
political stance and a parallel change in the character of the poetry
which it published. One such instance was The Courier which,
during its Whig years 1792-1799, 
printed anti-ministerial as well as anti-war poetry. In 1799, however,
the paper was purchased by Daniel Stuart and Thomas George Street. Stuart,
who already owned the then radical Morning Post, left The
Courier in the hands of Street. Street, a Tory or, as an enemy called
him, an "anythingarian," proceeded to make The Courier
into the chief government organ in London.
- The Morning Post, a journal which published Wordsworth and
Coleridge as well as a host of other poets, was put on the payroll of
Carleton House 
in 1789 when its editors threatened to make much of the Prince Regent's
secret marriage to Mrs. Fitzherbert.
However the newspaper did not long remain in government hands. In 1795
it was purchased by Daniel Stuart who made The Post a leading
Stuart gave his support to Addington's government from 1802 to 1803,
and an anti-Napoleonic, pro-ministerial position was maintained by The
Post after Stuart sold it in 1803.
- The leading organ of governmental opposition throughout the war years
was The Morning Chronicle, edited and owned by James Perry.
Unlike so many of the papers of the day, The Morning Chronicle
remained consistent in its adherence to the Whig position. Initially
the paper opposed the war, but it altered its policy during the uneasy
peace created by the Treaty of Amiens (1802-1803), as did Charles James
Fox, leader of the Whig opposition, to support the war against Napoleon.
Nevertheless, The Morning Chronicle maintained its staunch condemnation
of the Tory party in general, and often printed prose and poetry critical
of what it considered to be the war-mongering policies of the Tories.
Indeed, after the Battle of Waterloo, The Morning Chronicle printed
a poem entitled Napoleon
by P. Cornwall, who prefaced a letter to the editor to his verse complaining
that even the most "liberal-minded" men in the ministry were
vilifying Buonaparte and stating that The Morning Chronicle was
"the only corner left in the world of politics where one may hear
both sides of the question."
- John Walter, editor and proprietor of The Times, was in the
pay of the Tory government until 1799 when his subsidy stopped. However,
from 1801-1804, the Times supported Addington's Tory government not
for a subsidy but for a government promise that the Times would be the
only paper to have immediate access to government information regarding
events on the Continent.
Thus, the Times was perhaps the first of the newspapers to cede a financial
subsidy in favor of prior intelligence. By 1814 newspapers had become
more financially independent of direct government financing, with prior
intelligence and the indirect subsidy of government advertising generally
taking the place of the more obvious, direct financial control.
- The Tory government, in the interest of gaining as much support as
possible for its war policy, attempted to control newspapers not only
through direct purchase but through restrictive laws. Although the long
range effect of the Libel Act of 1792 was beneficial to the press, in
that the government could no longer arbitrarily suppress publications
and imprison newspapermen, but had to grant them full trial before a
jury of their peers, the immediate effect of the act was to increase
The price of newspapers rose throughout the period as the government
tried to halt circulation of anti-Tory journals by increasing the fee
for the required newspaper stamps. The 1798 Newspaper Act not only raised
the cost of stamps; it required that all newspapers be registered with
- Despite these measures, newspapers continued to flourish, and the
government attempted to find still other methods of control. By 1812
there were at least eighteen Sunday newspapers. These were attacked
on the basis of violating the Sabbath, but actually they incurred disfavor
because they were mostly democratic in nature and disapproved of governmental
- As the war continued it became increasingly difficult for newspapers
to obtain information from the continent. The government took full advantage
of this situation to apply pressure on journals to print only what government
policy favored or run the risk of obtaining no information at all. Attempted
control of newspapers by the government reached beyond London into Scotland,
Ireland, and the English provinces. Scottish "Jacobins" who
were active in pursuit of reform found no support from the press 
at the beginning of the nineteenth century since newspapers in Scotland
were controlled by the government and Scotland did not have a truly
independent newspaper until 1817.
- The situation in Ireland differed in that most newspapers before the
Union of 1800 were anti-English.
The French, aware of the hostility between Ireland and England, attempted
several landings in Ireland with the aid of Irish radicals. The landings,
however, were unsuccessful. After the Union of 1800, the attitude of
many Irish newspapers seemed more sympathetic to the British cause,
but it has been suggested that this was due to "the lavish bribery
resorted to by the government" rather than "any change in
the sentiment of the people." 
- As for the provincial newspapers, in the early years of the war radical
or Whig-radical journals were founded in opposition to the war and to
the Tory government. Coleridge's Watchman (1796), James Montgomery's
Sheffield Iris (1794-1824), and Benjamin Flower's Cambridge
Intelligencer (1793-1800) are outstanding examples of the small
provincial newspapers that were more than advertising sheets. After
1796, however, these papers found little support, and the provincial
newspapers generally consisted of little more than advertisements, many
of them governmental, and such poetry and news as the government saw
fit to circulate.
- Throughout the war, magazines and reviews as well as newspapers were
established specifically to treat the war issue. Coleridge founded the
Watchman to protest against Pitt's war policy and agitate for
government reform. In Norwich, a group of anti-war advocates joined
together to publish The Cabinet (1795), a journal which recalled
the ideals of the French Revolution and its initial cause of liberty.
On the other side of the political scale were such journals as The
Anti-Gallican Monitor (1811), The Tomahawk (1795-1796), and
The Anti-Jacobin (1797-1798), whose sole purposes were to publish
poetry and prose favoring the war and attack detractors of war policy.
One issue of The Anti-Jacobin, for example, described The
Cambridge Intelligencer as "more false than the Morning
Post, more blasphemous than the Morning Chronicle, and more
devoted to the cause of Anarchy and Blood than that exploded vehicle
of idiot frenzy, the Courier."
- The Anti-Jacobin was by far the most outstanding of these publications,
its reputation based not upon its prose but upon the superior quality
of its satiric verse. Organized and contributed to by William Gifford,
George Canning, and John Hookman Frere, 
this weekly was quite popular, and poetry from The Anti-Jacobin
has been republished at least four times since it was first collected
in 1799. The "Introduction" to the poetry section of the first
issue of The Anti-Jacobin offers a statement explanatory of its
policy of publishing mostly satire. Moreover, it gives an ironically
candid statement on the quality of Tory vs. radical poetry:
But whether it be that good Morals, and what We should
call good Politics, are inconsistent with the spirit of true Poetrywhether
"the Muses still with Freedom found" have an aversion to
regular Governments, and require a frame and
system of protection less complicated than King, Lords, and Commons;
"Whether primordial nonesense springs
In the wild War of Democratic strife,"
and there onlyor for whatever other reason it may be, whether
physical, or moral, or philosophical (which last is understood to
mean something more than the other two, though exactly what,
it is difficult to say), We have not been able to find one good and
true Poet, of sound principle and sober practice, upon whom we could
rely for furnishing us with a handsome quantity of good and approved
Versesuch Verse as our Readers might be expected to get by heart
and to sing, as MONGE describes the little children of Sparta, and
Athens singing the songs of Freedom, in expectation of the coming
of the Great Nation.
In this difficulty, We have had no choice but either to provide no
Poetry at all,a shabby expedient,or to go to the only
market where it is to be had good and ready made, that of the Jacobínsan
ex-pedient full of danger, and not to be used but with the utmost
caution and delicacy. 
- Crane Brinton's statement that "literature was often blamed as
the effective bond between Jacobins" 
is well underscored by the testimony of the editors of The Anti-Jacobin.
It is certainly true that literature qua literature played an
important role in unifying "Jacobin" sentiment, and it is
equally true that the literary productions of the "Jacobin"
writers were often superior to those of their political adversaries.
However, it is well to remember that "Jacobins" were as often
Whigs as republicans, and their poetry appeared both in the opposition
as well as in the more radical press. Coleridge, who was at first marked
out as a Jacobin, contributed poetry on the war to anti-war papers and
later to the government press: from 1794 his work appeared in Flower's
Cambridge Intelligencer; in 1794-1795 his series of sonnets to
radical men appeared in The Morning Chronicle; from 1797 on he
contributed to The Morning Post.
During the peace created by the Treat of Amiens, Coleridge wrote anti-Napoleonic
works for The Courier 
and The Morning Post.
He believed these contributions were instrumental in the rupture of
the treaty, and his belief is supported by the fact that The Morning
Post "was said by Fox to have helped bring about the renewal
of the war in May 1803."
- Among the younger generation of poets, Byron, Shelley, Hunt, and Moore
were opposed to Pitt and those who carried out his policies.
Both Shelley and Byron believed in the necessity of fundamental reform
in government, their agitation against the Tories based largely on what
they considered to be the immorality of the war. It was clear even before
Napoleon's defeat that Britain and her allies intended to restore the
Bourbons to the throne of France, thus totally defeating the democratic
spirit of the French Revolution. Byron's disappointment and disillusion
at the outcome of the war were expressed in two poems printed in periodicals;
The Champion, The European Magazine, The Morning Chronicle, and
The Examiner 
all published his Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte in which
he gives to the defeated Emperor:
Thanks for that lessonit will teach
To after-warriors more
Than high Philosophy can preach,
And vainly preach'd before.
That spell upon the minds of men
Breaks never to unite again,
That led them to adore
Those Pagod things of sabre sway,
With fronts of brass and feet of clay.
The only note of hope struck in the poem occurs in
the concluding stanza:
Where may the wearied eye repose,
When gazing on the Great;
Where neither guilty glory glows,
Nor despicable state?
Yesonethe firstthe lastthe best
The Cincinnatus of the West,
Whom envy dared not hate,
Bequeath'd the name of Washington,
To make man blush there was but one!
Byron's compassionate Napoleon's Farewell (which
is discussed in the next section of this introduction) appeared in
The Morning Chronicle and The Examiner.
All the journals which published these two poems were Whig affiliated.
- Because of the large extent to which politics determined publication,
poetic response to the war cannot be measured by a statistical evaluation
of the thousands of war verses printed. The radical press, effectively
hampered by the vilification campaign launched by the government as
well as by restrictive laws, was in a difficult position from the beginning
of the war.
To oppose the war was to subject oneself to accusations of treason and
the violence of "Church and King" mobs.
The Whig press, on the other hand, continued and prospered, backed as
it was by the established opposition party.
- The majority of the verses published favored the war, but surely this
can be attributed to the strong hand of the Tory government 
as well as to the changes in France's revolutionary and war objectives.
The poems in this edition have been gathered from Tory, Whig, and radical
publications. In selecting the works, an attempt has been made to draw
upon all political viewpoints, and less emphasis has been given to numerical
response (Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, for example, evoked hundreds
of verses praising the event, all of almost equal dullness) in favor
of offering a wide range of poetic response.
III. The Flight for "Liberty" and "Justice"
- From the time of the "Glorious Revolution" throughout the
eighteenth century, England, the sole European country governed by a
monarchy established as the result of a successful rebellion, regarded
itself as the bastion of "liberty" and "justice."
Maintaining this tradition, the poets of the war years were consistent
advocates of these two principles. Since poets who supported the war
as well as those who opposed it use the same terms, some distinction
must be made between them according to the context in which the terms
are used. Certainly the use of "liberty" in the lines:
Yet, happy Britain!with proportion'd
Guard the just balance of thy three Estates;
For, in that balance only, canst thou find
Order and rule, with Liberty combin'd.
Cautions to England
differs greatly from the concept expressed by the
author of Ode, Written
on the opening of the Last Campaign:
. . if on this hour
The fate of Freedom shall depend
If o'er this earth th' Eternal Pow'r
The scale of Justice now extend.
For then, O Spring, thy sun shall see
The patriot flame triumphant shine;
GALLIA shall bid the world be free,
And WAR his blood-stain'd throne resign!
And, again, from the ironic use of the term in the
satiric The Soldier's
Friend of 1797:
Liberty's friends thus all learn to amalgamate,
Freedom's volcanic explosion prepares itself,
Despots shall bow to the Fasces of Liberty,...
And all three differ from that employed by the author
of the 1797 Mutiny at
The Genius of Britain went hovering round,
For she fear'd that fair Freedom had fled,
But she found, to her joy that she was
But remain'd with the Fleet at Spithead.
- Although "liberty" and "justice" (and synonymous
expressions) are common to much of the war poetry, the principles underlying
the terms vary according to the poet's position on the war and on the
policies of the government. The author of Cautions to England
is concerned with maintaining the status quo and is most likely a Tory.
The author of the Ode is probably a Jacobin. The satire above
is opposed to sympathy with France and to democratic notions of any
kind. But what of the Mutiny at Portsmouth? An author who finds
"Freedom" dwelling with the mutinous sailors at Spithead (April
15, 1797) may be considered radical, but in the case of the sailor's
widow who is alleged to have written the poem, she may be without political
ties altogether. Instead, she may well be continuing in a British tradition
of rebellion as a means of obtaining justice.
- To the British citizen of the 1790's, the liberty to rebel had historic
roots; there had been rebellions in 1753, 1768, and 1780.
The right of rebellion against government action of which the citizenry
disapproved or "the right of resistance" as it was termed
by the lawyers was "an integral part of the national tradition."
This national tradition included other freedoms as well. The Revolution
of 1688 had confirmed the Saxon laws 
and the British counted in their heritage freedom from foreign domination,
freedom allowed by a constitutional monarchy, "freedom from arbitrary
arrest, trial by jury, equality before the law, the freedom of the home
from arbitrary entrance and search," 
and, within limitations, freedom to think, believe, and speak as one
liked. The English also believed in the freedom to oppose parliamentary
decisions (either by demonstration or by petition), and to participate
in elections, even when unenfranchised, through the liberty of "huzzaing
- However, by the end of the eighteenth century, more and more Britons,
especially from the middle and working classes, were no longer satisfied
with participation in elections by parading and huzzaing. As the previous
section points out, the French Revolution was seen by many Britons as
a dramatic representation of citizens of a foreign state attempting
to gain liberties which the English already held. In Britain, a wave
of democratic agitation broke out, partly in sympathy with the Revolution
in France and partly to remind the government at home that long called
for electoral reform was due.
Although there were those in Britain who were critical of some aspects
of their own government, the majority of Britons in 1789 felt as did
a writer in The Edinburgh Review some eighteen years later, "All
civilized Governments may be divided into free and arbitrary: or, more
accurately,. . . into the Government of England and the other European
- It is not surprising, then, that at the outset of the French Revolution
a wide spectrum of British poets sympathized with its objectives and
could write about them comfortably, believing that the British and the
French sought the same goals. Advocates of republican doctrine as well
as those who believed in limited monarchy (the Whig "commonwealthman")
flocked to Paris both before the 1793 declaration of war between Britain
and France and during the peace period created by the Treaty of Amiens
in 1802-1803. When Wordsworth and his friend Robert Jones went to the
continent in 1790, they were welcomed by the French as representatives
Helen Maria Williams also traveled to Paris in 1790, to remain in France
for the rest of her life, retaining her beliefs in the ultimate success
of the ideas of the Revolution. Her Ode
to Peace testifies to her faith in ultimate liberty resultant
from the Revolution. This faith remained unbroken despite the fact that
she was twice arrested by the French: in 1793 she incurred the disfavor
of the Republican regime; in 1802 Napoleon had her arrested in irritation
at her not having mentioned him by name in her well-circulated Ode.
- The initial reaction of many British poets to the Revolution was that
it was a means of bringing liberty to France, and the 1789-1792 period
is marked by a number of verses written about the destruction of the
Bastille as symbolic of new liberty. This initial reaction was not confined
to poets alone; Charles James Fox, leader of the Whig opposition, wanted
Britain to accept and recognize democratic France.
However, the bloodshed involved in establishing the new republic, and
the various French internal battles which led to further bloodshed,
complicated the issue of French liberty for the British. Some poets,
such as Anna Seward in her 1789 Sonnet to France on Her Present Exertions,
immediately defended the destructive elements of the Revolution as a
necessary but temporary condition in the process of the establishment
of a new political state:
Thou, that where Freedom's sacred fountains
Which spring effulgent, tho' with crimson
On transatlantic shores, and widening plains
Hast, in their living waters, washed away
Those cankering spots, shed by tyrannic sway
On thy long drooping lilies, English veins
Swell with the tide of exultation gay,
To see thee spurn thy deeply-galling chains.
Wordsworth, in the 1850 Prelude, gives a more
temperate justification of the Revolutionary bloodletting:
. . When a taunt
Was taken up by scoffers in their pride,
Saying, "Behold the harvest that we reap
From popular government and equality,"
I clearly saw that neither these nor aught
Of wild belief engrafted on their names
By false philosophy had caused the woe,
But a terrific reservoir of guilt
And ignorance filled up from age to age,
That could no longer hold its loathsome
But burst and spread in deluge through the
11. 470-480) 
Despite attempts to explain and justify the events
which followed the Revolution, as the internal tumult in France continued
many of those who supported British liberty and who were basically
anti-aristocratic came to believe that the result of the Revolution
was to substitute one form of tyranny for another. The dilemma presented
by France's complete renunciation of monarch and church and the execution
of the King and Queen was brought to a head by the British declaration
of war with France in 1793. For many British, there was no alternative
but to support their own country against what was viewed as the threatened
loss of British liberty. Spurred by fear, many Britons came to agree
with the sentiments expressed in Dr. Mavor's 1793 Sonnet
to Rational Liberty:
No tyrant's frown, no traitor's harlot
My free born soul shall awe, my sense
Rais'd on the throne of LAW and RIGHT,
O ever shield thy favourite land!
While Anarchy, with wild affright,
Flies to GALLIA'S frantic strand.
O check these scenes of dire uproar
Revenge thy prostituted name!
And far, O far, from BRITAIN'S shore
Drive the foul deeds that clothe
thy charms with shame.
Others, in sympathy with the reaction depicted by
Thomas Day in The Disgusted
Patriot, decided to retire to "solitude indignant"
and "leave the world to courtiers, priests, and kings."
- The war brought a marked increase in the number of poems concerned
with both British and French liberty. The mocking satire of The
Humble Petition of the British Jacobins to their Brethren of France,
which hits at the French who "Mirth and murder so merrily blend"
and then goes on to attack the British who support the ideals of the
Revolution and invite then to spread to Britain, is a prime example
of the hostile attitude which became increasingly prevalent as the war
- From 1793 it was left to an ever decreasing minority to support the
original tenets of the Revolution. Among these was Wordsworth, who was
shocked by the war and the fact that he supported not his own country
but its enemy. Even in the 1850 Prelude Wordsworth portrays the
complex emotion he felt when:
. . with open
Britain opposed the liberties of France.
This threw me first out of the pale of love;
Soured and corrupted, upwards to the
My sentiments; was not, as hitherto,
A swallowing up of lesser things in great,
But change of them into their contraries;
And thus a way was opened for mistakes
And false conclusions, in degree as gross,
In kind more dangerous. What had been a
Was now a shame; my likings and my loves
Ran in new channels, leaving old ones dry;
And hence a blow that, in maturer age,
Would have but touched the judgment struck
Into sensations near the heart: meantime,
As from the first, wild theories were
To whose pretensions, sedulously urged,
I had but lent a careless ear, assured
That time was ready to set all things
And that the multitude, so long oppressed,
Would be oppressed no more.
Not until Napoleon assumed the title of Emperor did
Wordsworth finally give up his hopes in the ideals of the Revolution.
When the Pope was summoned to crown Napoleon, Wordsworth considered
This last opprobrium, when we see a
That once looked up in faith, as if to
For manna, take a lesson from the dog
Returning to his vomit . . . .
- Coleridge, faced with the same problem of divided allegiance, was
less a friend to France than an enemy of his own country's Tory government.
Indeed, he accused Pitt, in the pages of The Watchman, as Pitt
had accused Lord North, of being "at war with a nation of patriots."
Furthermore, in his Religious Musings (1796) Coleridge indicates
that the "Giant Frenzy" of the early days of the French Revolution
was a part of divine apocalyptic justice and, as such, was a reaction
to "The Great, the Rich, the Mighty Men,/The Kings and Chief Captains
of the World."
However, as the events in France progressed and when the French took
repressive measures against the right of assembly and the printing of
political news, Coleridge grew out of sympathy with the French.
Napoleon's entry into Switzerland and the pillaging of Italy by the
French troops proved the turning point for Coleridge.
After 1798 he supported the war against Napoleon.
- Much of the poetry written in 1793-1796 against the war with France
generally regarded the war as one in which the monarch and the Pitt
government of Britain conspired with Austria and Prussia to preserve
their own thrones. The resentment on the part of many Britons was two-fold.
It was felt that Britain, a constitutional monarchy, should not support
a war fought by totalitarian monarchs to reinstate a totalitarian government
in France, and also there was sympathy for the Revolution's ideal of
- The twenty-six years from the fall of the Bastille to Waterloo was
a period of almost unremitting war. The ideals of the French Revolution
were practically forgotten in the course of the Napoleonic Wars. The
first generation of romantic poets experienced the fervor of witnessing
the establishment of a republican state in Europe, and then suffered
the disappointment and disillusionment caused by the turn in France's
objectives. The next generation of poets, including Byron and Shelley,
had the advantage of historical perspective. Untouched by the genuine
threats of invasion (Napoleon kept troops stationed across the Channel
until 1805), they were able to regard the ideals of the Revolution with
unqualified admiration. They recognized that the Revolution had to struggle
for survival from the very beginning against the monarchs of Europe,
a view expressed in Shelley's A Translation of The Marsellois Hymn:
Tremble, Kings! despised of Man!
Ye traitors to your country
Tremble! your parricidal plan
At length shall meet its destiny.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Frenchmen! on the guilty brave
Pour your vengeful energy.
Yet in your triumph, pitying save
The unwilling slaves of tyranny;
But let the gore-stained despots bleed. 
Shelley was opposed to aristocracy in general and
to Napoleon in particular. In To The Emperors of Russia and Austria
who eyed the battle of Austerlitz from the heights whilst Buonaparte
was active in the thickest of the fight, Shelley addresses the
Emperors as "Coward Chiefs" and bids them "Think ye
on the restless fiend who haunts/ The tumult of yon gory field"
Yet may your terrors rest secure.
Thou, Northern chief, why starest thou?
Pale Austria, calm those fears. Be sure
The tyrant needs such slaves as you.
Think ye the world would bear his sway
Were dastards such as you away?
No! they would pluck his plumage gay
Torn from a nation's woe
And lay him in the obvious gloom
Where Freedom now prepares your tomb. 
- Byron, on the other hand, makes it quite clear in his Ode to Napoleon
Buonaparte that he admired the heroic qualities in Napoleon, but
was disappointed that he "forsooth must be a king":
Thine evil deeds are writ in gore,
Nor written thus in vain
Thy triumphs tell of fame no more,
Or deepen every stain:
If thou hadst died as honour dies,
Some new Napoleon might arise,
To shame the world again
But who would soar the solar height,
To set in such a starless night?
- To both Shelley and Byron the war represented the efforts of a group
of tyrants leagued to defeat one tyrant. The poets' radical stand on
the war was based on their accurate assessment that Napoleon's defeat
would reinstate a Bourbon regime in France and would, on a Continental
scale, retard the establishment of government on the basis of liberty
- Byron, Shelley, and other young radicals concerned themselves with
international as well as national reform. The majority of Britons, however,
had endured the privations of many years of war and were far more concerned
with conditions at home. The French were seen by the majority of British
citizens as the enemy to be defeated and, perhaps, punished. At the
root of this enmity one finds not the bloody aftermath of the Revolution
and the subsequent tyranny of Napoleon, but the threat of invasion by
the French, potential intrusion on the English freedom.
- From the declaration of war on France, the British, through the careful
propaganda of the Pitt government, were led to expect invasion by the
enemy. This propaganda campaign was undoubtedly waged by the Pitt government
to lessen the democratic agitation in Britain by uniting Britons against
an enemy threat. A "Letter from DAVID DUNGEON to His COUSIN BILLY
PIT" in The Cambridge Intelligencer of September
7, 1793 presents this viewpoint satirically:
Allow me therefore, dear Cousin, to trespass on your well-known
modesty, by congratulating you on the success of that scheme by which
you fascinated two-thirds of the inhabitants of Britain, and turned
the thoughts of the Swinish Multitude, 
from grunting threats of Reform and complaints against taxes and oppression,
to squeaking vengeance on the French for injuries which they never
meant, and for plots into which they never entered.
- The threatened invasion of Britain by the French served as a stimulus
to British nationalism at the outbreak of the war, but the threat came
to be a very real one. While France was still under the Republic a small
band of Frenchmen landed in Ireland.
And in July 1796, plans for the invasion of Ireland were drawn up by
the French, with the expectation of aid from the rebellious Irish under
At the close of the year, a fleet under the command of the French General
Hoche actually embarked for Ireland, but turned back due to inclement
weather. In 1797, a small band of Frenchmen reached Wales, only to be
Not until February, 1798, when Napoleon turned his "Army of England"
from Brest towards Egypt, did the British nave any relief from their
fear of invasion. However, this proved to be a respite before the last
and most alarming threat of all when the Treaty of Amiens failed in
- Scores of verses appeared with each new sign of invasion and were
widely circulated. The repetitive theme of these often satiric verses
is the combined threat to King, to God, and to Womanhood. A
Word to the Wise is an early example of this popular type of
warning verse. Not satisfied with picturing the plight of British women
should the French succeed, the author sets up a comparison between French
and British women. The former are referred to as "fish wives"
and of questionable moral fibre:
But our ladies are virtuous, our ladies
Which is more than they tell us your French-
- In no year during the war were more of these warning verses produced
than in 1803 when it was believed invasion was imminent. Wordsworth's
response to the threat was Anticipation in which he foresaw a
"mighty Victory," where "On British ground the Invaders
are laid low."
Anticipation was one of hundreds of poems written on the subject,
and it was common for journals such as The Gentleman's Magazine
to fill poetry columns almost exclusively with war verses throughout
1803. French troops remained on the coast until August 1805, but by
1804 the general alarm had considerably lessened. 
- With the immediacy of invasion gone, there yet remained the possibility
of French victory on the Continent, and renewed threat of the domination
of Europe by the French. This possibility was just as much a threat
to British liberty as the immediate prospect of invasion and poets continued
to use the threat to King, God, and Womanhood to keep alive the defence
of British liberty until the end of the war.
- Many of those who objected to the war labeled it a "Church and
King" enterprise because the clergy of the Church of England, as
part of the establishment, failed to take action by speaking out against
the war. As Roland Bartel has pointed out in "English Clergymen
and Laymen on the Principle of War, 1789-1802":
Judging by publications announced in contemporary journals,
the church remained incredibly silent, for the records fail to show
a single pulpit declaration against the war during the first four
years of the French Revolution when optimism about world peace was
at a peak in England. It is true that after England entered the war
a few clergymen denounced the evils of war but then it was too late.
Bishop of London's Opinion on War, published in 1793, laments
the fact that "Monarchs dream of universal empire, growing up
from universal ruin" but these lines were not written in response
to the war. They were extracted from a lengthy prizewinning poem,
Death, written when the bishop, Dr. Porteus, had been a student
at Cambridge in 1759. Porteus, far from opposing the war, was a staunch
anti-Jacobin and preached against the Rights of Man. In general,
the Church of England played an active role in supporting the government's
policies on war, and clergymen often wrote call-to-arms verses, such
as the War Song
by the Reverend Richard Mant of Oxford. Disappointment in the church's
position was voiced both in satire, such as Impromptu
on the Late Fast and in earnest prayer-like poems such as
Hymn sung at
a meeting of "Friends of Peace and Reform." Most
often, those who opposed the war belonged to
dissenting religious groups and suffered from limited liberty due
to their religious belief. The group which met at Sheffield to observe
the official Fast Day during March, 1794 was a group composed of the
working class and dissenters. Between five and six thousand persons
held an open-air meeting, during which they heard a lecture written
by a "labouring mechanic," preceded by a prayer and concluded
with the above mentioned Hymn in which they called upon God
Make bare thine Arm, great King of Kings!
That Arm alone Salvation brings,
That Wonder-working Arm which broke,
From Israel's Neck th' Egyptian Yoke.
Burst every Dungeon, every Chain;
Give injur'd Slaves their Rights again;
Let TRUTH prevail, let Discord cease;
Speakand the World shall smile in PEACE! 
- Another important "liberty" which developed during the war
years was "Free Trade." Indeed, it was during the Napoleonic
Wars that the British commercial interests were converted to the cause
of Free Trade.
After the destruction of the French fleet at Trafalgar, Napoleon sought
to destroy Britain commercially by organizing an economic blockade of
the British Isles. In 1806, the Decrees of Berlin prohibited all commerce
with Britain and ordered the arrest of British subjects found on French
territory as well as the seizure of British vessels and cargoes in Continental
waters. More severe decrees followed 
in a concentrated attempt to bring the British into submission by destroying
them financially. The British reaction to the economic boycott was to
seek markets elsewhere; to import from the Far East and from the markets
in North and South America. The British also responded to Napoleon's
blockade by a tariff policy which attempted to prohibit all neutral
countries from trade with France unless their ships put in at an English
port and paid a high duty to the English Exchequer; the high duty rate
applied to English goods as well. British manufacturers were immediately
against this policy, and the government bowed before them and opened
to Free Trade a number of German and Italian ports. The restrictions
put upon neutrals dealing with France, however, was the chief cause
of the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States.
- A growing number of poems during this period deal with commerce, linking
the protection of trade and commerce to the protection of God and Country.
This is strikingly represented in an ode written in 1812 by a clergyman,
the Reverend John Black, addressed To
the Sons of Britain and America. In bidding an end to the war
between Britain and America, the clergyman argues first in terms of
the numbers who will die in the fighting. If this argument does not
prevail, he warns:
Reflect, how Commerce must
The loom stand still, and Want assail
The many that must starving pine;
And burdens weigh each nation down,
And wild Despair with fury frown.
It is only in the last stanza that the clergyman-poet
- There were those for whom the preoccupation with commerce in Great
Britain at this time seemed somewhat of an embarrassment. The author
of an article in The Monthly Mirror protested:
The present ruler of France has called Great Britain a
nation of shopkeepers; but if it had been his fortune, instead
of gathering together unwilling conscripts, to have superintended
the voluntary contributions to the MONTHLY MIRROR, we think he would
have denominated us a nation of poets. 
Not all protests were so mild and good-humored. John
Thelwall felt that Commerce was a "monopolizing fiend" which
bred inhumane monsters at home and sent abroad the voice of war "to
bellow hideous discord through the World."
Blake, too, considered the trade expansion, which was heightened by
the Napoleonic Wars, "Fiends of Commerce," which led to
war and destruction.
Scattered throughout the period are poems which accuse those in powerthe
Toriesof continuing the war for their own profit. A
New Song to an Old Tune pictures Pitt and his circle as conspiring
to beat Napoleon in order to raise prices on the stockmarket; the
author of an 1813 poem hits at industries supported by the war and
war profiteering in his title War
the Source of Riches.
- However, the majority of war poems on this theme view commerce as
the very heart of British greatness. The well-known jibe of Napoleon,
noted by the author of the article in The Monthly Mirror quoted
above, "L'Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers" 
had a resounding response in the verse of the day. The verse writers
ignored the contempt in Napoleon's statement and, like the author of
refused to "a charge contradict so extremely correct." Furthermore,
many poems, such as The
Want, accused Napoleon and the French of using warfare as a
means of developing their own commerce and industry.
- Although Napoleon threatened English commerce by his system of embargoes
on British goods, he found it necessary to violate his own system. His
troops required clothing and boots and in order to supply these wants,
Napoleon imported British cloth and leather by way of Hamburg "in
perfect safety and at half-price."
- The accelerated growth of industry and the development of commerce
was a potentially divisive issue between industrialists and the working-class.
A strong effort was made to convince British workers that the Revolution
had reduced the amount of liberty held by the French under the monarchy
and as the war continued, more and more poetry called upon all classes
to join forces in order to defeat their common foe. For example, the
1804 A New Song on the
Renewed Threat of Invasion calls upon farmers, artisans, tailors,
blacksmiths as well as merchants and bankers"For, Trade is
our Sheet-anchor"to unite; taking no chances, it also lists
"Quaker, Churchman, Presbyterian."
- The universality of this and other call to arms verses represents
not so much a political swing towards democracy as a literal call-to-arms
to the workingman. In the early years of the war, British troops were
commonly gathered through impressment or through a variety of deceitful
and devious practices called "crimping." These methods raised
a great outcry, and poets wrote of hardships endured both by those kidnapped
or otherwise forced into service and by the families of those men. The
Tender's Hold Or, Sailor's Complaint was a popular poem on the
subject. Wordsworth's Guilt and Sorrow (1793-1794) tells the
A Sailor he, who many a wretched hour
Hath told; for, landing after labour hard,
Full long endured in hope of just reward,
He to an arméd fleet was forced away
By seamen, who perhaps themselves had
Like fate; was hurried off, a helpless
'Gainst all that in his heart, or theirs
say nay. 
Shelley's The Voyage (1812) concludes with
the sailor's return home, only to be impressed again and told:
. . "oh! your wife
"Died this time year in the House of Industry
"Your young ones all are dead, except one
"Stubborn as youParish apprentice now" 
- In 1793, seventy-five per cent of the crews on British vessels consisted
of prisoners of war, convicts, etc. forced into service.
In 1794, "crimping houses" in Holborn, the City, Clerkenwell,
and Shoreditch were wrecked by rioters.
As a result of the public condemnation of government recruiting practices,
the government found itself caught between the strong position of those
who opposed the prevalent unjust methods of conscription and the ever
escalating need for men in the British armed forces, particularly the
Navy. The solution resolved upon in 1799 and maintained until 1815 was
to offer militiamen bounty money to join the regular British forces.
This was considered the most feasible approach since compulsory military
service was regarded as out of the question at this time.
- Throughout the war period, journals and newspapers published verses
in praise of the fighting forces, and considerable anger was aroused
when military decisions led to the needless destruction of British troops,
as at Walcheren in August 1810. Forty-thousand men sent to the Continent
had succeeded in capturing Flushing. Instead of continuing their march
towards Antwerp, they remained immobile and plagued by epidemic diseases
unrelieved due to lack of provisions, the men perished by the thousands.
When, at the end of September, they set sail, they had lost 106 men
in battle and 4,000 from disease.
The incompetence of the military inspired highly critical poetry, particularly
in the Whig press, none more bitter than Leigh Hunt's Walcheren
Expedition; Or, the Englishman's Lament for the Loss of His Countrymen
and Thomas Clio Rickman's Extempore
on the Invasion of Walcheren. The government was so embarrassed
by this expedition that they ordered home Peter Finnerty, the Irish
radical journalist, to whom they had granted permission to report on
the expedition for The Morning Chronicle.
- British poetry of the war years demanded liberty and justice not only
for themselves but for British allies and neutral nations as well. When
the British fleet attacked neutral Denmark in September 1807, many poems
appeared deprecating a war policy which led to the deaths of more than
two thousand Danish citizens.
The Morning Chronicle published Ode
On the Big-Endiuns in 1807, Song
on the New Affair of Copenhagen, and A
Danish Tale in 1808, the last a parody of Southey's The
Battle of Blenheim. Burton R. Pollin notes that Southey in private
correspondence considered the act an atrocity, whereas Coleridge defended
the attack in The Friend.
Another poet to respond in the negative was the youthful Shelley, whose
Fragment of a Poem the original idea of which was suggested by the
cowardly and infamous bombardment of Copenhagen 
leaves no doubt of the author's anguish and his contempt for British
- Even greater was the outcry against the "Convention of Cintra"
of August 1808. In March 1808 Spain was invaded by the French under
the guise of protecting the coast from the British. The Spanish monarchs,
first Charles IV and then his son Ferdinand, abdicated, and Napoleon
placed his brother Joseph on the throne. This resulted in a general
uprising against the French on the part of the Spanish people, and Britain
entered the fray on the side of Spain. The British, commanded by Sir
Arthur Wellesley (who had also participated in the attack on Copenhagen),
defeated the French at Vimeiro, Portugal.
Instead of continuing the war to a complete rout, Wellesley's superior,
Sir Hew Dalrymple, agreed to permit the defeated French General Jurot
and his troops not only to leave unmolested, but also to carry with
them booty as well as supplies. This led to cries of outrage in England,
with the strongest protest appearing in the Whig press. The Morning
Chronicle published scores of poems on the events in Portugal many
of which, like Catch,
are angry satires which hold Wellesley and Dalrymple as well as the
entire ministry responsible. Catch is written in the form of
a song with each verse attributed to the People, Sir Arthur, Sir Hew,
and the Ministers. The People conclude:
We heed you not a feather;
You're drivellers altogether!
And we'll hang you altogether up; yes, you,
There are also poetic expressions of sorrow and disappointment
at the events surrounding Cintra, such as the simply-worded, ballad-like
There, sharing one destiny
Under a nameless stone,
Let the Knights Cintra, three,
Mingle their dust alone.
Shame and dishonour sit,
By their graves ever,
Blessings shall hollow it
The Courier, although a strong Tory supporter
in 1808, also criticized the Convention, much to the surprise of the
- Byron expressed his view of the Convention of Cintra in Childe
Harold's Pilgrimage, published in 1812:
And ever since that martial synod met,
Britannia sickens, Cintra! at thy name;
And folks in office at the mention fret,
And fain would blush, if blush they could,
How will posterity the deed proclaim!
Will not our own and fellow-nations sneer,
To view these champions cheated of their
By foes in flight o'erthrown, yet victors
Where Scorn her finger points through many
But perhaps the most famous protest, although not
well known to readers in its day, 
is Wordsworth's pamphlet Concerning the Convention of Cintra.
Wordsworth and Coleridge were by then firm supporters of the war against
France. The pamphlet, which Coleridge helped write and which Thomas
De Quincey saw through the press, regarded the treatment accorded
the French troops as unnecessarily kind and detrimental to Spanish
and Portuguese nationalism. It suggested that the national feeling
of these peoples had to be aroused in order to defeat Napoleon.
Thus, Wordsworth and Coleridge who, at the beginning of their careers,
had been considered radicals for their pro-revolutionary, anti-war
position had become advocates and advisors on methods of waging war.
- During the war years the question, in the British press, of any single
nation's love of liberty seems almost always to have been
that nation's fighting allegiance at the moment, for the period was
marked by shifting alliances and separate peace treaties. For example,
in 1796-97, Britain sent the Earl of Malmesbury to Lillie to negotiate
since its allies Prussia and Austria had already signed treaties with
Hostilities between Britain and France were initially somewhat diminished,
and poems appeared hailing an impending peace. The failure of the negotiations,
however, engendered not only an ever-increasing militancy against France;
it also evoked hostility towards Austria and Prussia which was voiced
in poetry until 1798, at which time an alliance was concluded between
Russia and Great Britain to which Austria, Naples, Portugal, and the
Ottoman Eire were parties.
- To understand the various attitudes of British poetry towards Spain,
it is necessary to trace Spain's shifting alliances during the war years.
- At war with France from 1793, Spain was defeated and signed a peace
treaty in April 1795; in August 1796 Spain became an ally of France.
Until the 1808 uprising of the Spanish against the French and the ensuing
Peninsular War in which Britain and Spain were allied, Spain was depicted
in British poetry as a land governed by a tyrannic monarch and a repressive,
corrupt church. After 1808, however, Spain is treated in numerous poems
as a nation which defends liberty. This attitude seems to continue throughout
the remaining war years, although the end of the war in Spain brought
back the Bourbon regime and the Inquisition.
- Towards the end of war, a number of poems deal with the continuation
of the slave trade in Spain and Portugal, 
suggesting that nations which seek their own freedom should support
freedom for others.
- The British ideal of justice occasionally found voice even in the
manner of treatment of Napoleon and the French after their defeat. In
contrast to the many poems of celebration, there were some like the
Epistle from Tom Cribb
to Big Ben 
which dealt with the problem of a conqueror's peace and the effect it
would have not only on France but on all Europe.
However, towards the end of the war it was the unusual poem which expressed
dismay at the thought of reinstating the Bourbons in France. Napoleon
had become synonymous with tyranny to the British, and he is the principal
object of attack in poem after poem. If mercy towards the French is
suggested, it is usually after the poet carefully differentiates between
the people of France and their leader. When Byron's dramatic monologue
Napoleon's Farewell was published in The Examiner, the
editors took the precaution of appending the following explanatory note:
We scarcely need remind our readers, that there are points
in the following spirited Lines, with which our opinions do not accord;
and indeed the Author himself has told us, that he rather adapted
them to what may be considered as the speaker's feelings, than his
The poem is unusually sympathetic to Napoleon, "The
last single Captive to millions in war":
Farewell to thee, France! when thy diadem
I made thee the gem and the wonder of earth,
But thy weakness decrees I should leave as I
Decay'd in thy glory, and sunk in thy worth.
Oh! for the veteran hearts that were wasted
In strife with the storm, when their battles
Then the Eagle, whose gaze in that moment
Had still soar'd with eyes fix'd on victory's
- The explanatory note is consistent with The Examiner's view
of the war and Napoleon. Although the paper, begun in 1808, was considered
liberal in the sense that it was an outspoken medium for criticism of
maladministration in Britain, it was firmly committed from its inception
to the defeat of Napoleon.
- The final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo made the continental monarchs
more powerful than before the Revolution. The Ancien Regime
under Louis XVIII was restored in France, a Bourbon was again on the
Spanish throne, and Napoleon was to spend his days in closely guarded
exile on the island of Saint Helena. While British poets jubilantly
celebrated the victory and the end of the war, there is also an air
of exhaustion in the poetry. Certainly one reason for this was the disappointment
and dismay at the failure of the first Treaty of Paris of May 1814.
"The Hundred Days" in which Napoleon again waged war forced
Britain to reassemble her armies; the long-awaited peace had lasted
only until March 1815 and Britain was again at war. After Waterloo,
the exile imposed on Napoleon seemed to secure the peace. Wordsworth's
1815 Ode suggests that the victory at Waterloo was not sustained
because praise was given to men for that victory and not to God:
Just God of christianised Humanity,
Shall praises be poured forth, and thanks
That Thou has brought our warfare to an end,
And that we need no second victory! 
- However joyful the British were, there was still the recognition on
the part of this nation which cherished its ideals of liberty and justice
that these ideals were, at least at that time, restricted to their own
nation. Among the Whigs and the radicals there was an uneasiness because
Britain had joined Prussia, Austria, and Russia in the Quadruple Alliance
to prevent further violations of the Treaty of Paris.
- Britons had looked forward to the end of the war for alleviation of
economic hardshipsthe high cost of food and the high income tax
particularly. Instead, an economic depression followed. Thousands were
out of work, and there was agitation in proportions unknown in Britain
before. If the ideals of British liberty and justicethe ideals
also of the French Revolutionseemed to have lost hold on the Continent,
in Britain they found new support. The end of the war signified the
beginning of an unflagging struggle by the working and middle classes
for liberty and justice, a struggle which was to continue throughout
the nineteenth century.
IV. War Poetry and Romanticism
- The Lyrical Ballads, published anonymously by Wordsworth and
Coleridge in 1798, have long been considered the demarcation line which
divides the "romantic age" from the "age of sensibility"
as well as from the earlier "Augustan age." In recent years,
attempts have been made to reconsider the position and influence of
the Lyrical Ballads arising from a natural uneasiness about assigning
the beginning of any literary movement to a pinpoint in time. Critics,
such as Mary Moorman in her biography of Wordsworth and Emile Legouis
in "Some Remarks on the Composition of the Lyrical Ballads
of 1798," have noted but not underscored the fact that the ballad
was a popular poetic mode of the day prior to the composition of the
The significant study by Robert Mayo on the question of the originality
of the Lyrical Ballads, which contains a variety of forms including
ballad, ode, and blank verse, buttresses its argument that they were
neither revolutionary in form nor in content by citing lists of similar
poems selected from several periodicals of the 1790's.
Mayo's study is confined to the ten year period before the Lyrical
Ballads, and does not consider the multitude of ballad-like verse
written after 1798. Nor does he treat the content of the ballads that
appeared in periodicals beyond their similarity to the Lyrical Ballads.
- A study of British periodicals from 1789 through 1815 makes it readily
apparent that the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars were a major
topic and inspiration for poetry not only for the nine years preceding
the Lyrical Ballads but for the sixteen war years that followed.
The question which arises from this nexus of poetry and war centers
on the role of the war poetry in the development of romanticism.
- Due to the duration of hostilities, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and their
contemporaries had the experience of contributing to a movement which
in turn circled back and influenced them. It is not simply that the
Ballads had been anticipated by earlier newspaper and periodical
verse, but that the Ballads themselves are part of a larger movement
which developed out of the social and political conditions of the period.
- To begin with, it is essential to understand what was meant by the
term "ballad" during the 1790's. Charles Ryskamp points out
that the word carried a far broader definition than is generally realized;
that, in fact, "ballad" was then synonymous with "song":
Under "Ballad" in the Encyclopedia Brittanica
of 1797 we read only of "a kind of song, adapted to the capacity
of the lower class of people; who, being mightily taken with this species
of poetry, are thereby not a little influenced in the conduct of their
lives. Hence we find, that seditious and designing men never fail to
spread ballads among the people, with a view to gain then over to their
To this definition add the words of Wordsworth and Coleridge
in their Advertisement published with the 1798 edition of the Ballads:
The majority of the following poems are to be considered
as experiments. They were written with a view to ascertain how far the
language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society
is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.
Note that the experiment consists not in "if"
middle and lower class conversational language is suited to poetic expression
but, rather, "how far" it is suited. The reason for this is
evident to anyone who reads the journals and periodicals of the 1790's.
Experimentation with every-day language was commonplace; variations
on the ballad, blank-verse, and the ode were commonplace. Because of
the impact of the Revolution and the subsequent wars, it is not surprising
to find that war is central to the many variations in form and language.
Indeed, the incorporation of everyday speech patterns stems at least
in part from the plethora of nationalistic war ballads and odes that
were addressed to the middle and working classes. Furthermore, the favored
subjects of the periodthe beggar, the orphan, the widow, the sailor
and soldier and veteran, the country cottagewere largely derived
from the war experience.
- The French Revolution and the romantic era are alike not in their
suddenness but in their elemental democracy. Signs of discontent in
France were recognized for years before the overthrow of the Bastille
and, as the war poetry in this edition indicates, signs of romanticism
were quite apparent during the decade preceding the Lyrical Ballads.
Romantic literature was essentially an evolutionary not a revolutionary
process. Its roots are found in the rejection of the heroic couplet
of Pope and Johnson by poets of the second half of the eighteenth century.
A cursory look at the period recalls Macpherson's Poems of Ossian
(1762-63), Hurd's Letters of Chivalry and Romance (1765),
Chatterton's Rowley poems (1777), Cowper's Olney Hymns and The
Diverting History of John Gilpin (1782), Gray's Elegy Written
in a Country Churchyard (1750) the hymns of Charles and John Wesley
which began to appear in 1739 and, perhaps most significantly, Percy's
Reliques (1765) and the works of Robert Burns. These and other
contemporaries rejected the emphasis on clarity, mimesis, objectivity,
balance, and the aristocratic in favor of ambiguity, subjectivity, the
exotic, the simple, and the sentimental. The seemingly antithetical
turn to both the exotic and the simple is explicable when evaluated
in terms of their equi-distance from neo-classical aristocratic standards
and topics of poetry.
- The period of English literature that spanned the latter half of the
eighteenth century is generically referred to as "the age of sensibility"
or "the age of sentiment." Used as such, the terms are synonymous;
they refer to an age that relied on the senses as the means of perceiving
all knowledge. This belief in the "quickness and acuteness of apprehension
or feeling" 
was supported by the theory that people are innately good, and, if not
led astray by "bad education, false religion, or faulty social
their own senses would lead them to a state of perfect understanding.
This perfect understanding would naturally develop sympathetic feelings
towards the problems of fellow creatures, and the result is that the
ideal human being would feel, weep, and be charitable.
- Along with the utilitarian aspect of this extension of brotherhood
(and wealth), which was based on Locke and was developed early in the
century in the teachings of Collier and Shaftsbury, there developed
the need to instruct the "new man," that is, the then-evolving
bourgeoisie and trade-aristocracy, how to "properly feel."
One outgrowth of the notion of "proper feelings" was sentimentalism
in its modern, pejorative sense: "an overindulgence in emotion,
especially the conscious effort to induce emotion in order to analyze
or enjoy it."
Thus, the term "sentimentality" applied to the
refers to a range of emotions, from realistic benevolence to romantic
titillation. However, underlying the variable of sentimentalism is a
fairly uniform philosophic rationale: the novelists and the poets of
the period, including the most sensational, viewed their work as a means
of pleasurable moral instruction.
- The war poetry of the last decade of the century had much the same
principles operative, but there is a noticeable change in authors and
audience. What had begun as a response on the part of the wealthy and
well-educated to instruct the middle class in sensibility filtered through
to the lower class as well. We have already noted the growth of newspapers
and periodicals directed toward the working class in the 1790's. So,
too, writing poetry became less the exclusive sphere of the upper strata
of society. Although there remained remnants of benevolence in the act,
it was not uncommon for the well-educated to
encourage poets among the working class. James Hogg 
was referred to as "The Ettrick Shepherd;" Burns was regarded
and celebrated as an unread rustic, a legend that still clings today
despite the many scholarly works that disprove it. This collection of
war poetry includes selected verses by other members of the working
â class, for example William Cunningham, whose poem On
the Peace, appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine
with a lengthy footnote giving credit to his mentors, the poet T. S.
Stott (Hafiz) and the Bishop of Dromore, for encouraging his writing.
The footnote reveals that Cunningham's change from loom operator to
student in the Diocesan Grammar School was effectuated by the Bishop
of Dromore. To the contemporary reader, this note of endorsement carried
particular weight for the Bishop of Dromore was Thomas Percy, the one
man perhaps most instrumental in introducing the ballad into eighteenth-century
- In 1765 Percy published his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry,
a collection of ballads dating from before Chaucer to the period of
Charles I, 
including verses by Scottish poets. Contained in the Reliques
are a variety of poetic structures and subject matter. The xaxa four
line ballad stanza structure of Chevy Chase 
and The Battle of Otterbourne 
is dominant in the collection, but also there are other stanza forms
such as eight line stanzas which rhyme xaxaxbxb, as in Hardyknute;
three line aaa structures, as in Verses by King Charles I;
six line ababcc verse such as My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is; 
the abab quatrain doubled, that is abababab as in Robin and Makyne
and the xaxa quatrain doubled, as in Plain Truth and Blind Ignorance,
as well as any number of other variations in stanza length and rhyme
scheme. These variations, and more, are later found in the war poetry.
To the Tyrants Infesting
France (abab); The
Tender's Hold (ababcdcd); [All
Hail the Shouting Trumpet] (xaxaxbxb); Poor
Tom (xaxa) are a few examples of the many verses which duplicate
the variations found in Percy's Reliques. The significance of
the war poetry is not structural innovation, for there were few poets
who were truly experimental at this time. Blake is the great exception;
however, his poetry did not reach a contemporary audience, and even
Blake was influenced by the ballad revival as his Songs of Innocence
and Songs of Experience indicate.
- Percy's Reliques was well-known to the educated eighteenth-century
reader, but it was the poetry written in response to the war which was
the chief means of popularizing the ballad and its variants. Never before
in British literary history had one topic evoked so diverse and so extensive
a response. Nor had poetry concerned with one subject ever before reached
so wide an audience. Printed in newspapers, magazines, and broadsides,
the war verse reached the middle and working classes, and was designed
to engage their sentiments and emotions in a language which they could
understand. Percy's theory in the Reliques that the Saxon bard,
speaking to the people in simple poetic forms, was a powerful political
and moral force is applicable to the war poets as well in the sense
that the poets, in creating a popular poetry, saw themselves as addressing
and educating the populace on a vital national question.
- While many of the poems in the Reliques conform to a generalized
description of the ballad as a condensed, objectified narrative containing
repetition and elements of the mysterious or the super-natural, there
are many works in the collection that do not adhere to this formula.
Several of the ballads are personal and use the first-person voice:
An Elegy on Henry, Fourth Earl of Northumberland; 
The Tower of Doctrine; 
The Aged Lover Renounceth Love; 
and Jane Shore 
all employ the first-person voice and are concerned more with emotional
response to events than objective narration of events. Furthermore,
the collection contains a number of explicit dialogues, ranging from
Plain Truth and Blind Ignorance, 
fashioned after the traditional Medieval dialogue, to the dramatic The
Nut-Browne Mayd 
or the Browningesque A Ballad of Luther, the Pope, a Cardinal, and
- Just as the war poetry often utilized rhyme schemes derived from Percy,
so, too, it duplicated the traditional objectivity of the ballad, as
in The Soldier,
1795; the dialogue, Dialogue
Betwixt Peace and War, 1799; the first person narrative, The
Orphan Sailor-Boy, 1803. While the forms exist in the Reliques
and the war poetry alike, there is a notable difference in emphasis.
The Reliques offer a majority of objective ballads; the war poetry
consists far more of verse written from a personalized and frankly emotional
point of view. For example, in Hardyknute, a poem that passed
for some years as "ancient" although it may have been written
in the early eighteenth century, the plight of the widow is considered
in one stanza of a forty-two stanza ballad:
On Norways coast the widowit dame
May wash the rocks with tears,
May lang luik ow'r the shipless seas
Before her mate appears.
Cease, Emma, cease to hope in vain;
Thy lord lyes in the clay;
The valiant Scots nae revers thole
to carry life away.
During the 1793-1815 period, it is far more common for
entire poems to treat the experience of the war widow. In The
Alternate Hope, alternate Fear,
In NANCY'S constant bosom reign:
In vain she dropp'd the pearly tear
Hope sooth'd her constant heart in vain:
Her WILLIAM'S fate was told; she heard and
Cast up to Heav'n her eyesthen bow'd and died.
Complaint, 1795, combines the war widow's sorrow:
On Thanet's rock, beneath whose steep,
Impetuous rolls the foaming deep,
A lowly maid to grief consign'd,
Thus pour'd the sorrow of her mind:
And while her streaming eyes pursue
Of Gallia's cliffs the misty view,
Accurst she cries that guilty shore,
Whence William shall return no more.
Thou, cruel war, what has thou done!
Thro' thee the mother mourns her son,
The orphan joins the widow's cries,
And torn from lovethe lover dies.
with anti war-propaganda:
Fair-sounding words my love deceiv'd,
The great ones talk'd, and he believ'd,
That war would fame and treasure bring,
That glory call'd to serve the king.
- A more self-evident quality of the ballads included in Percy's collection
(and sometimes overlooked because it is obvious) has to do with poetic
diction. The ballad by its very nature employs condensed, concise, and
simple diction. As a popular form of verse, the ballad is directed to
an oral audience, and the diction of the ballad is close to that of
common speech. However, the diction employed by the ballads collected
by Percy is antiquarian, that is, the simple speech of an earlier age.
The effect of this was to encourage poets in two directions: there were
poems which sought to imitate archaic language, such as Imitation
of the Ancient Ballad, 1807, and at the same time, an ever-increasing
tendency towards simple speech patterns. Certainly the Reliques
can be seen as a major influence in the period's turning away from the
Latinate diction prescribed by Augustan theorists.
- As the century continued, poets inclined more and more toward the
dual standards of archaic and modern common speech. In 1786, a key poetic
work appeared that seemed to draw at once on the ancient and the simpleRobert
Burn's Kilmarnock poems. Beginning with Allan Ramsay (1686-1758)
and Robert Fergusson (1750-1774), 
the use of the Scottish vernacular had been revived in Scotland. The
publication of the Reliques encouraged David Herd, a Scots antiquarian,
to publish his excellent collection of Scots ballads The Ancient
and Modern Scots Songs, Heroic Ballads, etc. Now First Collected in
One Body (1769).
Burns, inspired by Fergusson's Scots poems, 
developed a poetic style that incorporated English grammar and syntax
with Scottish and English vocabulary.
The impact Burns had on the world of British letters in the last decade
of the eighteenth-century was extraordinary and dramatic. His poetry
was reprinted in English as well as Scottish periodicals. That he was
known and admired by English newspaper readers is demonstrated by Peter
Stuart's offer to Burns to become a regular contributor to The Star.
Mary Moorman, in discussing Burns and Wordsworth, suggests: "It
is almost impossible to overestimate the effect of Burns's poems on
Critics have also traced Burns's influence on Coleridge, Southey, Campbell,
- Wordsworth's own testimony to his regard for Burns is expressed in
his poem At the Grave of Burns, 1808:
I mourned with thousands, but as one
More deeply grieved, for He was gone
Whose light I hailed when first it shone,
showed my youth
How Verse may build a princely throne
Leigh Hunt paid homage to Burns in his Ode to the
Memory of Robert Burns which imitates Burns's use of English syntax
with Scottish vocabulary:
But in the grave na wealthy scorn
Frowns on the Muse's blushing morn;
Nor fra' her tear-dew'd brow is torn
That cherish'd by no dews, forlorn,
Yet shouldst thou scorn a hundred deaths,
On Scotia's wild red-blossom'd heaths,
For Burns they weave immortal wreaths;
His lay each ruby lip soft breaths,
talks o' love!
Adieu, wi' a' thy wood-notes wild,
Thy rural pipe sae sweetly mild,
Thy song that mony a sigh beguil'd
Adieu, Misfortune's tuneful child,
gane to rest!
- Burns influenced the well-known poets of the period and the mass of
newspaper and periodical verse writers. For example, on February 28,
1804 The Hull Packet, a provincial English newspaper, reported
the proceedings of a meeting of Burns's admirers and printed an Ode
on the Anniversary of the Birthday of Burns:
While Gaul's martial Demon, inflated with
Of Invasion sends threat after threat o'er the
And the Sons of the Britons with Banners
By Patience heroic astonish the world:
In wielding our arms, and our glasses by
We will spend the convivial hours;
And fir'd by the bold independence of
Wake our social, our patriot powers:
And till the loud roar of the battle shall cease,
Round the chaplet of war wreath the garland
The 1804 Anti-Gallican reprinted a Parody
of Burns's For a' that and a' that along with Burns's 1795 The
- Burns's influence on his contemporaries was due to his ability to
write poetry which all classes of society could read and appreciate
and to his never-failing celebration of the spirit of the individual.
He was an early supporter of the French Revolution until the French
became aggressors. In 1792, in his capacity of exciseman, he had purchased
a cannon confiscated from a smuggler and sent it to the French legislative
body with an encouraging letter.
Burns's reversal of attitude toward the French was consistent with his
egalitarian ideals. While his 1795 poem to the Dumfries Volunteers
demonstrates his support of the war against France, it is balanced by
his well known democratic song, also written in 1795, For a' that
and a' that 
(based on a Jacobite song of the same title) which sets up a comparison
between wealthy men of rank and working men:
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, and a' that.
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their
A Man's a Man for a' that.
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, and a' that;
The honest man, though e'er saw poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.
- Before the Religues, ballads were considered the products of
minor and uneducated poets and had been consigned to special collections
of antiquarians. The ballad existed as a verbal tradition, as it still
does, and in broadside form, but until Percy, David Herd, and their
followers, the ballad, in any of its variations, was not regarded as
a serious art form. Burns treated the ballad as a serious art form.
His was the outstanding example to his contemporaries and to the following
generations of poets who used direct realistic diction and dealt with
people and places of a real world. His poetry demonstrated a democratic
political attitude in an age of political upheaval and reassessment,
an age in which the "rights of man" came to be a vital
- The influence which brought Burns to his poetic as well as political
positionand this is to set aside the fact of his great artistic
accomplishmentwere also operative on other poets of the age. The
French Revolution served as a poetic and a political stimulus to a populace
firmly entrenched in concepts of a constitutionally limited monarchy
which guaranteed its subjects certain rights and liberties, and who
were newly re-evaluating their government as it in fact existed. This
re-evaluation did not necessarily lead to the conclusion that Britain
required a new form of government or that Britain's position in the
war was untenable. In fact, the majority of war verse published in newspapers
and periodicals supported Britain's fight against France though, as
has been noted, the reasons for this stem from government control as
well as political attitude.
- Most of the nationalistic war verse imitates one or another variation
of ballad structure, for example,
Church and King, 1793:
Go, democratic Demons, go!
In France your horrid banquet keep!
Feast on degraded Prelates' woe,
And drink the tears that Monarchs weep!
Chorus.While Britons still united sing,
Old England's Glory,Church and King.
The 1813 poem Written
the Night of the Illuminations For the Battle of Vittoria:
"Hark! the loud peal, the thund'ring gun,
"Another glorious field is won,
"Another wreath crowns WELLINGTON,
Freedom's sacred cause.
Prayer in the Field of Battle, 1803:
God of my fathers! guide my way
Amidst the Battle's fierce alarms;
Grant me to see, this dreadful day,
The triumph of my Country's arms.
And John Mayne's well-circulated
English, Scots, and Irishmen, 1803:
ENGLISH, SCOTS, and IRISHMEN,
All that are in VALOUR'S ken!
Shield your KING; and flock agen
Where his sacred Banners fly!
Now's the day, and now's the hour,
Frenchmen would the Land devour
Will ye wait till they come o'er
To give ye Chains and
- No doubt the haste required in writing topical verse as well as the
desire to reach a broad audience contributed to the popular use of the
stanza plus refrain pattern. This type of war song, commonly hawked
as broadsheets and popularized through newspapers and periodicals to
an ever-increasing working and middle-class readership, furthered the
idea, however unintentionally, of the place of unadorned speech in verse.
- Since the war verses were written prior to, and after, the Lyrical
Ballads, the experiment "to ascertain how far the language
of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted
to the purposes of poetic pleasure" must be understood in terms
of an age that produced a multitude of verse written in the language
of the middle and working classes. The prevalence of the war verse in
the journals of the day may have even contributed to the experimental
notion behind the Lyrical Ballads. However, the object of the
Ballads was not merely to use simple language, it was to use
it in a way that gave "poetic pleasure" whereas the emphasis
in much of the war verse was less on poetic pleasure than on political
- Before the war, an obvious distance is found between the poet and
subject in almost all the poetry which dealt with the common man. This
is especially true in the popular sentimental poetry of the latter eighteenth
century. Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,
1751, presents the rural way of life in almost idyllic terms:
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.
The poet, however, partakes neither of the "homely
joys" nor of the realm of "Grandeur." He recognizes beauty
in the simplicity of country-life, but fails to look beyond its apparent
calm to the constant struggle for survival which marked the lives of
so many of Britain's lower classes. What the poet sees from the country
churchyard seems to be those aspects of the "simple" life
which might comfort him. Where he is concerned with the actual lives
he comments upon, it is in terms of comparison with an urban world which
he castigates for its shrines to "Luxury and Pride." George
Crabbe (1754-1832) in The Village, 1783, is an exception in the
period. He depicts village life as one of hardship and frustration,
drawing on the experience of his own life as a member of a poor family
in the bleak town of Aldeburgh.
- The poets of the Revolution and the Napoleonic wars brought closer
together the experience of the subject of the poetry, the reader, and
the poet. The change that occurred cannot be discussed in terms of a
movement from the position that the purpose of poetry was "to instruct"
towards a position that poetry was "to delight." Much of the
war poetry, as well as other poetry of the period, was clearly didactic
in purpose. Neither can the change which occurred be demonstrated by
dividing pre-war poets from post-war poets in terms of subject matter.
Rather, it is primarily the kind and degree of response which differentiated
Romanticism from the age which preceded it.
- The change which occurred in poetry was one of intensity combined
with a basic discontent for surface appearances. And these were two
qualities of the political climate as well. The American colonies had
successfully rebelled against Britain; the impoverished French had rebelled
against the Bourbons; and in Britain there was growing agitation for
government reform by the middle and working classes. The rapidity with
which old aristocratic social standards were being questioned brought
re-evaluations and demands on all social levels. Poets, stirred by the
needs and demands of the common people, began to write in terms of the
democratizing spirit of the time. Poetry no longer idealized the condition
of the poor but, in a more realistic vein, dealt with the hungry, the
weary, the poorly-clothed and housed, the ill.
- Writing in an age which combined a penchant for the sentimental with
the desire to treat more realistically the problems of ordinary people,
it was natural for poets, particularly those who opposed the war, to
focus upon the effects of the hostilities on the working classes. The
declaration of war called for an immediate increase in the fighting
forces, and methods of impressment and crimping (deceitful recruiting
methods) became a poetic topic. The
Tender's Hold; Or, Sailor's Complaint, 1794 is only one of many
poems which deplored the impressing of seamen:
While Landmen wander uncontrol'd,
And boast the rights of Freemen,
Oh! view the tender's loathsome hold,
Where droop your injur'd Seamen:
Dragg'd by Oppression's savage grasp,
From ev'ry dear connection;
'Midst putrid air, Oh! see them gasp,
Oh! mark their deep dejection.
Blush then, Oh! blush
ye pension'd host,
wallow in profusion,
For our foul cell proves
all your boast
be but mere delusion.
If Liberty be ours, Oh! say
Why are not all protected;
Why is the hand of ruffian sway
'Gainst Seamen thus directed?
Is this your proof of British rights?
Is this rewarding bravery?
Oh! shame to boast your Tars' exploits,
Yet doom those Tars to slavery.
The 1813 Crimp
Serjeant first attacks the heroic image of war:
The bed of honour is a pretty spot,
For heroes to lie down and rot,
And war's a very noble game,
At which Kings play at arms and legs
Of soldiers, who thenceforward walk on pegs,
And Mister CROKER doth such feats proclaim
So do Crimp Serjeants'tis their bounden duty
To call grim-visaged carnage, Beauty;
After a narrative in which "poor PAT CLOD"
is induced to join the army with lavish promises of rank and honor:
PAT took the shilling, and e'er three
He died in Portugala common soldier.
- As has been noted earlier, many poems were written about war widows
or lovers parted by war. Quite often, the poems depict a wife or sweetheart
searching for her soldier on battle sites, as in The
Field of Battle, 1794:
Faintly bray'd the battle's roar,
Distant, down the hollow wind;
Panting terror fled before,
Wounds and death were left behind.
The war-fiend curs'd the sunken day,
That check'd his fierce pursuit too soon;
While, scarcely lighting to the prey,
Low hung, and lour'd, the bloody moon:
The field, so late the hero's pride,
Was now with various carnage spread;
And floated with a crimson tide,
That drench'd the dying and the dead!
The heroine of the poem, Maria, searches for her beloved
Edgar and finally finds him "Half buried with the hostile dead,/
And bor'd with many a grisly wound;":
She knewshe sunkthe night-bird scream'd,
The moon withdrew her troubled light,
And left the fair, tho' fall'n she seem'd,
To worse than deathand deepest night!
Shelley's 1809 Henry and Louisa 
is written in this vein, with an anti-religious theme added to the anti-war
theme. Louisa, too, searches the battlefield:
"Where is my love!my Henryis he dead?"
Half-drowned in smothered anguish wildly
From her parched lips"is my ador'd one
Knows none my Henry? War! thou source
In whose red blood I see these sands immerst,
Hast thou quite whelmed compassion's tear-
Where thy fierce tide rolls to slake Glory's
Finding Henry wounded and dying, Louisa willingly dies
with him. Shelley depicts Louisa's death as an act of virtue based on
love, and envisions a new anti-despotic movement as the result:
Shall Virtue perish? No;
Superior to Religion's tie,
Emancipate from misery,
Despising self, their souls can know
All the delight love can bestow
When Glory's phantom fades away
Before Affection's purer ray,
When tyrants cease to wield the rod
And slaves to tremble at their nod.
The Story of Henry and Louisa may have been derived
from any number of poems which told the same tale, for it was an often
used narrative from the outset of the war.
- In the 1795 Thomas and
Kitty the widow is not only far from home "on Batavia's
sea-beat shore," she has with her an infant who perishes from starvation:
Now, rage ye winds! 'tis but on me,
Pour on, ye rainsYe thunders, reel!
My baby sleeps too sound to feel.
Drench'd with the rain,
I'll lay me by my Tom once more,
Tho' louder still the tempests roar,
And all the biting blasts
Ah me! my shivering, fainting heart!
My Tom! my Tom! we shall not part.
Far from our home, from friends afar,
My Tom, my little babe,
Shall rest in one cold bedAh! ruthless
My heart!O Heaven!I
faint, I die.
A child who either perishes with its parents as a result
of war, or is left an unprotected orphan is yet another much used theme
of the war verse. Wordsworth's The Female Vagrant, 1798, 
tells the story of another woman who, like "Kitty" and "Maria,"
is the victim of war:
The pains and plagues that on our heads
Disease and famine, agony and fear,
In wood or wilderness, in camp or town,
It would thy brain unsettle even to
All perishedall, in one remorseless
Husband and children! one by one, by
And ravenous plague, all perished:
Dried up, despairing, desolate, on board
A British ship I waked, as from a trance
- The best of the war poetry closed the gap that had existed between
poet and subject in eighteenth-century poetry before the French Revolution.
Benevolence and condescension were swept aside as genuine interest in
the subject matter took precedence over interest in creating a poem-experience
which would allow the reader to feel "understanding" and "generous".
- In his 1800 "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads,'' Wordsworth
Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in
that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil
in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and
speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in that condition
of life our elementary feelings co-exist in a state of greater simplicity,
and consequently, may be more accurately contemplated, and more forcibly
communicated; because the manners of rural life germinate from those
elementary feelings, and, from the necessary character of rural occupations,
are more easily comprehended, and are more durable; and, lastly, because
in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful
and permanent forms of nature.
Wordsworth made Burns's democratic attitude an official
tenet of a poetic creed. The poet as "a man speaking to men"
was a democratic ideal; "to keep the Reader in the company of flesh
and blood" 
was a poetic ideal. Both ideals give voice to principles underlying
the war poetry which dealt compassionately and far more realistically
with the common man. Poems like The
Soldier 1795 juxtaposed individual conscience and religious
fealty with the aims of war:
Tell me now thou gallante soldier,
Now thy lockes with age be hoarie,
Can'st thou praise thy wilde carriere,
Can'st thou call thy madnesse glorie?
To upholde some lordlinge proud,
Or king with curst ambition,
What soule murders hast thou done!
Sweet Christ, give thee contrition.
Amen, amen, thou reverent priest,
Thy Counsaile is most holie;
Thy wordes do teache repentante age,
To curse its manhood's follie.
But doubly curst be kinglie pride,
Makinge erthe one charnel,
Millions of masses dailie sayde
Stay not Hell's payees eternal.
Published in the anti-war Cabinet (1795), this
poem vehemently expresses its opposition to war in terms of the responsibility
of the individual for his acts, whether he be soldier or king. The romantic
tendency to regard nobility not as an inherited condition but rather
as an individual quality found in all ranks of society was bolstered
by the war poetry which often placed the common man and the nobleman
on the same plane.
- To counter the war poetry which emphasized the agonies and deprivations
of war and the injustice permitted, even sanctioned by government, an
opposite kind of poetry developed. Thousands of call-to-arms verses
were written which celebrated the willingness of the common man to join
the armed services:
Bob Rusty, who ne'er a rupee got
(He roundly swears that he ought not,)
Is in his hammock pent.
Safe moor'd, he hugs his swinging-bed,
Without a rag to bind his head,
Bob's night cap is CONTENT.
The heroism of the common man in battle:
From the main-deck to the quarter,
Strew'd with limbs and wet with blood,
Poor Tom Halliard, pale and wounded,
Crawl'd where his brave Captain stood.
"O, my noble Captain! tell me
Ere I'm borne a corpse away,
Have I done a Seaman's duty
On this great and glorious day?
"Tell a dying Sailor truly,
For my life is fleeting fast;
Have I done a Seaman's duty?
Can there aught my mem'ry blast?"
"Ah! brave Tom!" the Captain answer'd,
"Thou a Sailor's part hast done!
I revere thy wounds with sorrow
Wounds by which our glory's won."
And the willing sacrifice of the working classes to
defend their rights and property:
Because I'm but poor,
And slender my store,
That I've nothing to lose is the cry;
Let who will declare it,
I vow I can't bear it,
I give all such praters the lie.
Tho' my house is but small,
Yet to have none at all,
Would sure be a greater distress, Sir;
â Shall my garden so sweet,
And my orchard so neat,
Be the pride of a foreign oppressor?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Now do but reflect,
What I have to protect;
Then doubt if to fight I shall choose
King, Church, Babes and Wife,
Laws, Liberty, Life,
Now tell me I've nothing to lose. 
- To a large extent, the image of the common man presented in these
verses is fictional. The common soldier generally had no property, and
it was property which determined the right to vote. The object of many
of these verses was to gain allegiance to the government's war policy
(and so induce men to join the services) and generally to keep
spirit of the populace at a pitch sufficient to offset the deprivations
and suffering caused by the war.
- These poems, however, had an effect quite apart from what was intended.
In their effort to enhance the role of the common man as soldier and
citizen, they glorified the image of the individual as much as did the
anti-war poetry. The epithets once reserved only for officers of the
army and navy were applied to ordinary fighting men. They were ennobled
not only in their military role, but given credit for excellent, albeit
rough, intelligence, and sensitivity as well. In The
British Soldier, 1813 for example, a soldier, having disobeyed
his officer's command to shoot an enemy officer, argues:
"Chide not my chief, the gallant soldier
"Knit not your brows, oh cast that frown
"Your wishes to my feelings sacrifice,
"Nor harshly judge me if I disobey.
"Oh, I have seen the day when thousands
"Have join'd in th' inspiring battle cry;
"These scars, more eloquent than words,
"I did my part towards the victory.
"Then pardon, chieftain, if this once
"Refuse performing the too harsh decree;
"Oh pardon then, and in my feelings share,
"Unsoldier like I am, unchristian cannot
The officer perceives "beneath a rough war-beaten
form,/ Nature's affections, and best virtue lie," and so he "could
not punish, where reward was due."
- Ironically, the result of the effort to ennoble the position of the
fighting man was less to bind him to notions of status quo, that is
servitude and obedience without question, then to further democratize
the working and middle classes. If the ordinary man demonstrated the
capacity to respond intelligently and bravely in the defence of his
nation why then might not the same ordinary man have a voice in government
and a greater share of the national wealth.
- The war poetry, then, is an extensive body of verse which deals compassionately
and sympathetically with the common man. The lyricism, emotionalism,
simplicity of language and subject matter are the basic elements of
Romanticism. This is true of war poetry both before and after the Lyrical
Ballads and Wordsworth and Coleridge can be placed within this larger
- The many varieties of war verses are, to a great extent, imitations
within the Percy-Burns ballad revival. The poets of the Lyrical
Ballads, however, broke through what might have become a static
poetic mode. They re-shaped and re-directed the qualities found in the
war poetry in a way which evoked in the reader the emotional as well
as the intellectual experience of the poem. Wordsworth and Coleridge,
Shelley and Byron celebrated the individuality of the common man, but
it was the popular war poetry that, for the first time in British literary
history, put the common man center-stage.
New Bibliography of Additional War