The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 1/To a Knot of Ungenerous Critics
TO A KNOT OF UNGENEROUS CRITICS.
Rail on, Rail on, ye heartless crew!
My strains were never meant for you;
Remorseless Rancour still reveal,
And damn the verse you cannot feel.
Invoke those kindred passions' aid,
Whose baleful stings your breasts pervade;
Crush, if you can, the hopes of youth,
Trampling regardless on the Truth:
Truth's Records you consult in vain,
She will not blast her native strain;
She will assist her votary's cause,
His will at least be her applause,
Your prayer the gentle Power will spurn;
To Fiction's motley altar turn,
Who joyful in the fond address
Her favoured worshippers will bless:
And lo! she holds a magic glass,
Where Images reflected pass,
Bent on your knees the Boon receive—
This will assist you to deceive—
The glittering gift was made for you,
Now hold it up to public view;
Lest evil unforeseen betide,
A Mask each canker'd brow shall hide,
(Whilst Truth my sole desire is nigh,
Prepared the danger to defy,)
"There is the Maid's perverted name,
"And there the Poet's guilty Flame,
"Gloaming a deep phosphoric fire,
"Threatening—but ere it spreads, retire."
Says Truth "Up Virgins, do not fear!
"The Comet rolls its Influence here;
"'Tis Scandal's Mirror you perceive,
"These dazzling Meteors but deceive—
"Approach and touch—Nay do not turn,
"It blazes there, but will not burn."—
At once the shivering Mirror flies,
Teeming no more with varnished Lies;
The baffled friends of Fiction start,
Too late desiring to depart—
Truth poising high Ithuriel's spear
Bids every Fiend unmask'd appear,
The vizard tears from every face,
And dooms them to a dire disgrace.
For e'er they compass their escape,
Each takes perforce a native shape—
The Leader of the wrathful Band,
Behold a portly Female stand!
She raves, impelled by private pique,
This mean unjust revenge to seek;
From vice to save this virtuous Age,
Thus does she vent indecent rage!
What child has she of promise fair,
Who claims a fostering Mother's care?
Whose Innocence requires defence,
Or forms at least a smooth pretence,
Thus to disturb a harmless Boy,
His humble hope, and peace annoy?
She need not fear the amorous rhyme,
Love will not tempt her future time,
For her his wings have ceased to spread,
No more he flutters round her head;
Her day's Meridian now is past,
The clouds of Age her Sun o'ercast;
To her the strain was never sent,
For feeling Souls alone 'twas meant—
The verse she seized, unask'd, unbade,
And damn'd, ere yet the whole was read!
Yes! for one single erring verse,
Pronounced an unrelenting Curse;
Yes! at a first and transient view,
Condemned a heart she never knew.—
Can such a verdict then decide,
Which springs from disappointed pride?
Without a wondrous share of Wit,
To judge is such a Matron fit?
The rest of the censorious throng
Who to this zealous Band belong,
To her a general homage pay,
And right or wrong her wish obey:
Why should I point my pen of steel
To break "such flies upon the wheel?"
With minds to Truth and Sense unknown,
Who dare not call their words their own.
Rail on, Rail on, ye heartless Crew!
Your Leader's grand design pursue:
Secure behind her ample shield,
Yours is the harvest of the field.—
My path with thorns you cannot strew,
Nay more, my warmest thanks are due;
When such as you revile my Name,
Bright beams the rising Sun of Fame,
Chasing the shades of envious night,
Outshining every critic Light.—
Such, such as you will serve to show
Each radiant tint with higher glow.
Vain is the feeble cheerless toil,
Your efforts on yourselves recoil;
Then Glory still for me you raise,
Yours is the Censure, mine the Praise.
December 1, 1806.
- [From an autograph MS. at Newstead, now for the first time printed. There can be little doubt that these verses were called forth by the criticisms passed on the "Fugitive Pieces" by certain ladies of Southwell, concerning whom, Byron wrote to Mr. Pigot (Jan. 13, 1807), on sending him an early copy of the Poems, "That unlucky poem to my poor Mary has been the cause of some animadversion from ladies in years. I have not printed it in this collection in consequence of my being pronounced a most profligate sinner, in short a 'young Moore."—Life, p. 41.]