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NELSON, PITT, AND FOX
Scott's introduction to Canto I of Marmion was written in November, 1806. Nelson had died at Trafalgar in October, 1805; Pitt after Austerlitz in January, 1806; Fox in September of the same year. The opening lines of the poem reflect the gloom in England at Napoleon's unbroken successes on the Continent.
To mute and to material things
But oh! my country's wintry state
Deep grav'd in every British heart,
To him, as to the burning levin,
21. levin] lightning.
Where'er his country's foes were found,
Nor mourn ye less his perish'd worth
And brought the freeman's arm to aid the freeman's laws.
Had'st thou but liv'd, though stripp'd of power, 45 A watchman on the lonely tower,
Thy thrilling trump had rous'd the land,
When fraud or danger were at hand;
By thee, as by the beacon-light,
Our pilots had kept course aright;
As some proud column, though alone,
Thy strength had propp'd the tottering throne:
Now is the stately column broke,
The beacon-light is quench'd in smoke,
The trumpet's silver sound is still,
The warder silent on the hill!
Oh think, how to his latest day,
When Death, just hovering, claim'd his prey,
Firm at his dangerous post he stood;
Each call for needful rest repell'd,
With dying hand the rudder held,
Convoke the swains to praise and pray;
Nor yet suppress the generous sigh,
Of those who fought, and spoke, and sung;
Here, where the fretted aisles prolong
'All peace on earth, good-will to men;'
SIR W. SCOTT (from Marmion).
14. Nelson's shrine. In St. Paul's Cathedral.
20. on Gadite wave, i. e. at the battle of Trafalgar, which is not far from Cadiz (L. Gades).
30. On Egypt. At the Battle of the Nile, 1798.
Hafnia. Copenhagen (1801).
32. early wise. Pitt the younger was Prime Minister at twenty-four. Both father and son died poor men, in spite of many opportunities their position gave them for gaining wealth.
The next few lines refer to Pitt's stern treatment of agitators in England during the French Revolution, and his plan for the defence of England when invasion was threatened.
38. Albion. England.
59. Palinure. The steersman who refused to give up the helm to the god of sleep. Virgil, Aeneid, v. 854.
68. tocsin's. The tocsin is an alarm-bell rung as a call to
76. requiescat (in pace). May he rest in peace. often written on tombstones.
102. When Europe crouched. Fox, a consistent supporter of Liberty and the French Revolution, took office after Pitt's death. Finding it impossible to come to terms with Napoleon and save Europe, he carried on the war just as vigorously as Pitt had done.
103. Austria bent. A reference to the defeat of the Austrians by Napoleon at the battle of Austerlitz in 1805, which destroyed the Third Coalition.
Prussia broke. After the battle of Jena in 1806. (See introduction to 'Sonnets to Liberty-vi, After Jena', p. 51).
105. timorous slave. The Czar, Alexander I, came to terms with Napoleon at the Treaty of Tilsit, 1807.
TO THOMAS CLARKSON
Clarkson spent practically all his life in working for the abolition of the slave trade. Wilberforce was the main mover in the Commons, but Clarkson gave him the facts with which he was able to convince Parliament of the horrors of the traffic.
CLARKSON! it was an obstinate hill to climb: