Britannia. A poem:
Thomson, James, 1700-1748.
Page  3



_AS on the Sea-beat Shore BRITANNIA sat,
Of her degenerate Sons, the faded Fame,
Deep in her anxious Heart revolving sad:
Bare was her throbbing Bosom to the Gale,
That hoarse, and hollow, from the bleak Surge blew;
Loose flow'd her Tresses; Rent her Azure Robe
Hung o'er the Deep: from her Majestick Brow
She tore the Laurel, and she tore the Bay.
Nor ceas'd the copious Grief to bathe her Cheek;
Page  4 Nor ceas'd her Sobs to murmur to the Main.
Peace discontented nigh, departing, stretch'd
Her Dove-like Wings. And War, tho' greatly rous'd,
Yet mourn'd his fetter'd Hands. While thus the Queen
Of Nations spoke; and what she said the Muse
Recorded, faithful, in unbidden Verse.
EVEN not you Sail, that, from the Sky-mixt Wave,
Dawns on the Sight, and wafts the ROYAL YOUTH,
A Fraight of future Glory to my Shore;
Even not the flattering View of golden Days,
And rising Periods yet of bright Renown,
Beneath the PARENTS, and their endless Line
Thro' late revolving Time, can sooth my Rage;
While, unchastis'd, the insulting Spaniard dares
Infest the trading Flood, full of vain War
Despise my Navies, and my Merchants seize;
As, trusting to false Peace, they fearless roam
The World of Waters wild, made, by the Toil,
And liberal Blood of glorious Ages, mine:
Nor bursts my sleeping Thunder on their Head.
Whence this unwonted Patience? This weak Doubt?
This tame Beseeching of rejected Peace?
This meek Forbearance? This unnative Fear,
To generous Britons never known before?
Page  5 And sail'd my Fleets for this; on Indian Tides
To float, unactive, with the veering Winds?
The Mockery of War! While foul Disease,
And Sloth distemper'd, swept off burning Crowds,
For Action ardent; and amid the Deep,
Inglorious, sunk Them in a watry Grave.
There now they lie beneath the rowling Flood,
Far from their Friends, and Country unaveng'd;
And back the weeping War-Ship comes again,
Dispirited, and thin; her Sons asham'd
Thus idly to review their native Shore;
With not one Glory sparkling in their Eye,
One Triumph on their Tongue. A Passenger,
The violated Merchant comes along;
That far-sought Wealth, for which the noxious Gale
He drew, and sweat beneath Equator Suns,
By lawless Force detain'd; a Force that soon
Would melt away, and every Spoil resign,
Were once the British Lyon heard to roar.
Whence is it that the proud Iberian thus,
In their own well-asserted Element,
Dares rouze to Wrath the Masters of the Main?
Who told him, that the big, incumbent War
Would not, ere this, have rowl'd his trembling Ports
In smoaky Ruin? And his guilty Stores,
Page  6 Won by the Ravage of a butcher'd World,
Yet unatton'd, sunk in the swallowing Deep,
Or led the glittering Prize into the Thames?
THERE was a Time (Oh let my languid Sons
Resume their Spirit at the rouzing Thought!)
When all the Pride of Spain, in one dread Fleet,
Swell'd o'er the labring Surge; like a whole Heaven
Of Clouds, wide-roll'd before the boundless Breeze.
Gaily the splendid Armament along
Exultant plow'd, reflecting a red Gleam,
As sunk the Sun, o'er all the flaming Vast;
Tall, gorgeous, and elate; drunk with the Dream
Of easy Conquest; while their bloated War,
Stretch'd out from Sky to Sky, the gather'd Force
Of Ages held in its capacious Womb.
But soon, regardless of the cumbrous Pomp,
My dauntless Britons came, a gloomy Few,
With Tempest black, the goodly Scene deform'd,
And laid their Glory waste. The Bolts of Fate
Resistless thunder'd thro' their yielding Sides;
Fierce o'er their Beauty blaz'd the lurid Flame;
And seiz'd in horrid Grasp, or shatter'd wide,
Amid the mighty Waters, deep they sunk.
Then too from every Promontory chill,
Page  7 Rank Fen, and Cavern where the wild Wave works,
I swept confederate Winds, and swell'd a Storm.
Round the glad Isle, snatch'd by the vengeful Blast,
The scatter'd Remnants drove; on the blind Shelve,
And pointed Rock, that marks the indented Shore,
Relentless dash'd, where loud the Northern Main
Howls thro' the fractur'd Caledonian Isles.
SUCH were the Dawnings of my liquid Reign;
But since how vast it grew, how absolute,
Even in those troubled Times, when dreadful Blake
Aw'd angry Nations with the British Name,
Let every humbled State, let Europe say,
Sustain'd, and ballanc'd, by my Naval Arm.
Ah what must these immortal Spirits think
Of your poor Shifts? These, for their Country's Good,
Who fac'd the blackest Danger, knew no Fear,
No mean Submission, but commanded Peace.
Ah how with Indignation must they burn?
(If ought, but Joy, can touch aetherial Breasts)
With Shame? With Grief? To see their feeble Sons
Shrink from that Empire o'er the conquer'd Seas,
For which their Wisdom plann'd, their Councils glow'd,
And their Veins bled thro' many a toiling Age.
Page  8
OH first of human Blessings! and Supreme!
Fair PEACE! how lovely, how delightful thou!
By whose wide Tie, the kindred Sons of Men,
Like Brothers live, in Amity combin'd,
And unsuspicious Faith; while honest Toil
Gives every Joy, and to those Joys a Right,
Which idle, barbarous Rapine but usurps.
Pure is thy Reign; when, unaccurs'd by Blood,
Nought, save the Sweetness of indulgent Showers,
Trickling distils into the vernant Glebe;
Instead of mangled Carcasses, sad-seen,
When the blythe Sheaves lie scatter'd o'er the Field;
When only shining Shares, the crooked Knife,
And Hooks imprint the vegetable Wound;
When the Land blushes with the Rose alone,
The falling Fruitage, and the bleeding Vine.
Oh, PEACE! thou Source, and Soul of social Life;
Beneath whose calm, inspiring Influence,
Science his Views inlarges, Art refines,
And swelling Commerce opens all her Ports;
Blest be the Man divine, who gives us Thee!
Who bids the Trumpet hush his horrid Clang,
Nor blow the giddy Nations into Rage;
Who sheaths the murdrous Blade; the deadly Gun
Page  9 Into the well-pil'd Armoury returns;
And, every Vigour, from the Work of Death,
To grateful Industry converting, makes
The City flourish, and the Country smile.
Unviolated, Him the Virgin sings;
And Him the smiling Mother to her Train.
Of Him the Shepherd, in the peaceful Dale,
Chaunts; and, the Treasures of his Labour sure,
The Husbandman of Him, as at the Plow,
Or Team, He toils. With Him the Sailor sooths,
Beneath the trembling Moon, the Midnight Wave;
And the full City, warm, from Street to Street,
And Shop to Shop, responsive, rings of Him.
Nor joys one Land alone; his Praise extends
Far as the Sun rolls the diffusive Day;
Far as the Breeze can bear the Gifts of Peace,
Till all the happy Nations catch the Song.
WHAT would not, PEACE! the Patriot bear for Thee?
What painful Patience? What incessant Care?
What mixt Anxiety? What sleepless Toil?
Even from the rash Protected what Reproach?
For He thy Value knows; thy Friendship He
To human Nature: but the better thou,
The richer of Delight, sometimes the more
Page  10 Inevitable WAR; when ruffian Force
Awakes the Fury of an injur'd State:
Then the good easy Man, whom Reason rules;
Who, while unhurt, knew nor Offence, nor Harm,
Rouz'd by bold Insult, and injurious Rage,
With sharp, and sudden Check, th' astonish'd Sons
Of Violence confounds; firm as his Cause,
His bolder Heart; in awful Justice clad;
His Eyes effulging a peculiar Fire:
And, as he charges thro' the prostrate War,
His keen Arm teaches faithless Men, no more
To dare the sacred Vengeance of the Just.
AND what, my thoughtless Sons, should fire you more,
Than when your well-earn'd Empire of the Deep
The least beginning Injury receives?
What better Cause can call your Lightning forth?
Your Thunder wake? Your dearest Life demand?
What better Cause, than when your Country sees
The sly Destruction at her Vitals aim'd?
For Oh it much imports you, 'tis your All,
To keep your Trade intire, intire the Force,
And Honour of your Fleets; o'er that to watch,
Even with a Hand severe, and jealous Eye.
In Intercourse be gentle, generous, just,
Page  11 By Wisdom polish'd, and of Manners fair;
But on the Sea be terrible, untam'd,
Inconquerable still: let none escape,
Who shall but aim to touch your Glory there.
Is there the Man, into the Lyon's Den
Who dares intrude, to snatch his Young away?
And is a Briton seiz'd? and seiz'd beneath
The slumbring Terrors of a British Fleet?
Then ardent rise! Oh great in Vengeance rise!
O'erturn the Proud, teach Rapine to restore:
And as you ride sublimely round the World,
Make every Vessel stoop, make every State
At once their Welfare and their Duty know.
This is your Glory; this your Wisdom; this
The native Power for which you were design'd
By Fate, when Fate design'd the firmest State,
That e'er was seated on the subject Sea;
A State, alone, where LIBERTY should live,
In these late Times, this Evening of Mankind,
When Carthage, Rome, and Athens are no more,
The World almost in slavish Sloth dissolv'd.
For this, these Rocks around your Coast were thrown;
For this, your Oaks, peculiar harden'd, shoot
Strong into sturdy Growth; for this, your Hearts
Swell with a sullen Courage, growing still
Page  12 As Danger grows; and Strength, and Toil for this
Are liberal pour'd o'er all the fervent Land.
Then cherish this, this unexpensive Power,
Undangerous to the Publick, ever prompt,
By lavish Nature thrust into your Hand:
And, unencumber'd with the Bulk immense
Of Conquest, whence huge Empires rose, and fell,
Self-crush'd, extend your Reign from Shore to Shore,
Where-e'er the Wind your high Behests can blow,
And fix it deep on this eternal Base.
For should the sliding Fabrick once give Way,
And on the Brink of Fate begin to nod,
Soon blacken'd quite, and past Recovery broke,
It gathers Ruin as it rowls along,
Steep-rushing down to that devouring Gulph,
Where many a mighty Empire buried lies.
And should the big redundant Flood of Trade,
In which ten thousand thousand Labours join
Their several Currents, 'till the boundless Tide
Rolls in a radiant Torrent o'er the Land,
Fruitful of Wealth, Magnificence, and Joy,
Of every glittering Harvest, richer far
Than what Hesperian Gardens bore of old;
Should this bright Stream, the least inflected, point
Its Course another Way, o'er other Lands
Page  13 The various Treasure would resistless pour,
Ne'er to be won again; its antient Tract
Left a vile Channel, desolate, and dead,
With all around a miserable Waste.
Not Egypt, were, her better Heaven, the Nile
Turn'd in the Pride of Flow; when o'er his Rocks,
And roaring Cataracts, beyond the Reach
Of dizzy Vision pil'd, in one wide Flash
An Ethiopian Deluge foams amain;
(Whence wond'ring Fable trac'd him from the Sky)
Even not that Prime of Earth, where Harvests croud
On untill'd Harvests, all the teeming Year,
If of the fat, o'erflowing Culture robb'd,
Were then a more uncomfortable Wild,
Steril, and void; than of her Trade depriv'd,
Britons, your boasted Isle: Her Princes sunk;
Her high-built Honour moulder'd to the Dust;
Unnerv'd her Force; her Spirit vanish'd quite;
With rapid Wing her Riches fled away;
Her unfrequented Ports alone the Sign
Of what she was; her Merchants scatter'd wide;
Her hollow Shops shut up; and in her Streets,
Her Fields, Woods, Markets, Villages, and Roads,
The chearful Voice of Labour heard no more.
Page  14
OH let not then waste Luxury impair
That manly Soul of Toil, which strings your Nerves,
And your own proper Happiness creates!
Oh let not the soft, penetrating Plague
Creep on the free-born Mind! And working there,
With the sharp Tooth of many a new-form'd Want,
Endless, and idle all, eat out the Heart
Of LIBERTY; the high Conception blast;
The noble Sentiment, th' impatient Scorn
Of base Subjection, and the swelling Wish
For general Good, erazing from the Mind:
While nought save narrow Selfishness succeeds,
And low Design, the gloomy Passions all
Let loose, and reigning in the rankled Breast.
Induc'd at last, by scarce-perceiv'd Degrees,
Sapping the very Frame of Government,
And Life, a total Dissolution comes:
Sloth, Ignorance, Dejection, Flattery, Fear,
Oppression raging o'er the Waste He makes;
The human Being almost quite extinct;
And the whole State in broad Corruption sinks.
Oh shun that Gulph! That gaping Ruin shun!
And countless Ages roll it far away
From you, ye Heaven-belov'd! May LIBERTY,
Page  15 The Light of Life! the Sun of human kind!
Whence Heroes, Bards, and Patriots borrow Flame,
Even where the keen depressive North descends,
Still spread, exalt, and actuate your Powers!
While slavish Southern Climates beam in vain.
And may a publick Spirit from the THRONE,
Where every Virtue sits, go copious forth
Wide o'er the Land! the finer Arts inspire;
Make thoughtful Science raise his pensive Head,
Blow the fresh Bay, bid Industry rejoice,
And the rough Sons of lowest Labour smile.
As when, profuse of Spring, the loosen'd West
Lifts up the pining Year, and luscious breathes
Youth, Life, and Love, and Beauty o'er the World.
BUT haste We from these melancholly Shores,
Nor to deaf Winds, and Waves, our fruitless Plaint
Pour out; the Country claims our active Aid;
That let Us rome; and where we find a Spark
Of publick Virtue, blow it into Flame.
The THRONE be chief our Care; th' aetherial Streams
Of Wisdom, Justice, and Benevolence,
That issue thence, refreshing all the Land,
Joyous to swell: and o'er the lovely Round
Of ROYAL BEAUTY, which about it glows,
Page  16 To hover fond, prophetick of those Days
That, FREDERICK! dawn delightful in thy Eye.
And now my Sons, the Sons of Freedom! meet
In awful Senate; thither let us fly;
Burn in the Patriot's Thought, flow from his Tongue
In fearless Truth; myself, transform'd, preside,
And shed the Spirit of BRITANNIA round.
THIS said; her fleeting Form, and airy Train,
Sunk in the Gale; and nought but ragged Rocks
Rush'd on the broken Eye; and nought was heard
But the rough Cadence of the dashing Wave.