A Celebration of Women Writers

"On The King's Illness." by Anna Lætitia Barbauld (1743 - 1825)

First Publication: Monthly Repository. 6, October, 1811: 608.
This Edition: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:263-265.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

On The King's Illness

Rest, rest afflicted spirit, quickly pass {1}
Thine hour of bitter suffering! Rest awaits thee,
There, where, the load of weary life laid down,
The peasant and the king repose together.
There peaceful sleep, thy quiet grave bedewed
With tears of those who loved thee. Not for thee,
In the dark chambers of the nether world,
Shall spectre kings rise from their burning thrones,
And point the vacant seat, and scoffing say
"Art thou become like us?" Oh not for thee:
For thou hadst human feelings, and hast liv'd
A man with men, and kindly charities,
Even such as warm the cottage hearth, were thine.
And therefore falls the tear from eyes not used
To gaze on kings with admiration fond:
And thou hast knelt at meek Religion's shrine
With no mock homage, and hast owned her rights {2}
Sacred in every breast: and therefore rise,
Affectionate, for thee, the orisons
And mingled prayers, alike from vaulted domes
Whence the loud organ peals, and raftered roofs {3}
Of humbler worship.Still, remembering this,
A Nation's pity and a Nation's love
Linger beside thy couch, in this the day
Of thy sad visitation, veiling faults
Of erring judgement, and not will perverse.
Yet, Oh that thou hadst closed the wounds of war! {4}
That had been praise to suit a higher strain.
  Farewell the years rolled down the gulph of time!
Thy name has chronicled a long bright page
Of England's story, and perhaps the babe
Who opens, as thou closest thine, his eyes
On this eventful world, when aged grown,
Musing on times gone by, shall sigh and say,
Shaking his thin grey hairs, whitened with grief,
"Our fathers' days were happy." Fare thee well!
My thread of life has even run with thine
For many a lustre, and thy closing day
I contemplate, not mindless of my own,
Nor to its call reluctant.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

Notes:

  1. Afflicted spirit: King George III suffered from recurrent bouts of what was believed by his contemporaries to be madness. Modern physicians suspect that he suffered from porphyria. In late 1810 he suffered his fourth attack of the disease, and in February 1811, the Prince of Wales (later to be George IV) took over as Prince Regent.
  2. Her rights: George III had recognized and protected the Protestant Dissenters' choice of worship.
  3. Vaulted domes... raftered roofs: The vaulted domes refer to Anglican churches, the raftered roofs to the Dissenters' simpler places of worship.
  4. Closed the wounds of war: During George III's reign, Britain was at war with both America and France.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom