Fragment of a Satire on Satire
Published by Edward Dowden, "Correspondence of Robert Southey and Caroline Bowles", 1880.
If gibbets, axes, confiscations, chains,
And racks of subtle torture, if the pains
Of shame, of fiery Hell's tempestuous wave,
Seen through the caverns of the shadowy grave,
Hurling the damned into the murky air
While the meek blest sit smiling; if Despair
And Hate, the rapid bloodhounds with which Terror
Hunts through the world the homeless steps of Error,
Are the true secrets of the commonweal
To make men wise and just;...
And not the sophisms of revenge and fear,
Bloodier than is revenge...
Then send the priests to every hearth and home
To preach the burning wrath which is to come,
In words like flakes of sulphur, such as thaw
The frozen tears...
If Satire's scourge could wake the slumbering hounds
Of Conscience, or erase the deeper wounds,
The leprous scars of callous Infamy;
If it could make the present not to be,
Or charm the dark past never to have been,
Or turn regret to hope; who that has seen
What Southey is and was, would not exclaim,
'Lash on!' ... be the keen verse dipped in flame;
Follow his flight with winged words, and urge
The strokes of the inexorable scourge
Until the heart be naked, till his soul
See the contagion's spots ... foul;
And from the mirror of Truth's sunlike shield,
From which his Parthian arrow...
Flash on his sight the spectres of the past,
Until his mind's eye paint thereon—
Let scorn like ... yawn below,
And rain on him like flakes of fiery snow.
This cannot be, it ought not, evil still—
Suffering makes suffering, ill must follow ill.
Rough words beget sad thoughts, ... and, beside,
Men take a sullen and a stupid pride
In being all they hate in others' shame,
By a perverse antipathy of fame.
'Tis not worth while to prove, as I could, how
From the sweet fountains of our Nature flow
These bitter waters; I will only say,
If any friend would take Southey some day,
And tell him, in a country walk alone,
Softening harsh words with friendship's gentle tone,
How incorrect his public conduct is,
And what men think of it, 'twere not amiss.
Far better than to make innocent ink—