The Conspiracy of Kings

An Electronic Edition · Joel Barlow (1754-1812)

Original Source: Joel Barlow: "The Conspiracy of Kings; A Poem: Addessed to the Inhabitants of Europe from Another World." London: J. Johnson, 1792.

Copyright 2003. This text is freely available provided the text is distributed with the header information provided.

Full Colophon Information

Eternal Truth, thy trump undaunted lend,1.
People and priests and courts and kings, attend 
While, borne on western gales from that far shor 
Where Justice reigns, and tyrants tread no more 
Th’unwonted voice, that no dissuasion awes,5.
That fears no frown, and seeks no blind applause, 
Shall tell the bliss that Freedom sheds abroad, 
The rights of nature and the gift of God. 

Think not, ye knaves, whom meanness styles the Great,9.
Drones of the Church and harpies of the State,— 
Ye, whose curst sires, for blood and plunder fam’d, 
Sultans or kings or czars or emp’rors nam’d, 
Taught the deluded world their claims to own,13.
And raise the crested reptiles to a throne,— 
Ye, who pretend to your dark host was given 
The lamp of life, the mystic keys of heaven; 
Whose impious arts with magic spells began 
When shades of ign’rance veil’d the race of man;18.
Who change, from age to age, the sly deceit 
As Science beams, and Virtue learns the cheat; 
Tyrants of double powers, the soul that blind, 
To rob, to scourge, and brutalize mankind,— 
Think not I come to croak with omen’d yell23.
The dire damnations of your future hell, 
To bend a bigot or reform a knave, 
By op’ning all the scenes beyond the grave. 
I know your crusted souls: while one defies 
In sceptic scorn the vengeance of the skies,28.
The other boasts,—”I ken thee, Power divine, 
“But fear thee not; th’avenging bolt is mine.” 

No! ’tis the present world that prompts the song,31.
The world we see, the world that feels the wrong, 
The world of men, whose arguments ye know, 
Of men, long curb’d to servitude and wo, 
Men, rous’d from sloth, by indignation stung,35.
Their strong hands loos’d, and found their fearless tongue; 
Whose voice of fire, whose deep-descending steel 
Shall speak to souls, and teach dull nerves to feel. 

Think not (ah no! the weak delusion shun,39.
Burke leads you wrong; the world is not his own), 
Indulge not once the thought, the vapory dream, 
The fool’s repast, the mad-man’s thread-bare theme, 
That nations, rising in the light of truth,43.
Strong with new life and pure regenerate youth, 
Will shrink from toils so splendidly begun, 
Their bliss abandon and their glory shun, 
Betray the trust by Heav’n’s own hand consign’d, 
The great concentred stake, the interest of mankind.48.

Ye speak of Kings combin’d, some league that draws49.
Europe’s whole force, to save your sinking cause; 
Of fancy’d hosts by myriads that advance 
To crush the untry’d power of new-born France. 
Misguided men! these idle tales despise;53.
Let one bright ray of reason strike your eyes; 
Show me your kings, the sceptred horde parade,— 
See their pomp vanish! see your visions fade! 
Indignant Man resumes the shaft he gave, 
Disarms the tyrant, and unbinds the slave,58.
Displays the unclad skeletons of kings* , 
Spectres of power, and serpents without stings. 
And shall mankind,—shall France, whose giant might 
Rent the dark veil, and dragg’d them forth to light, 
Heed now their threats in dying anguish tost?63.
And She who fell’d the monster, fear the ghost? 
Bid young Alcides, in his grasp who takes, 
And gripes with naked hand the twisting snakes, 
Their force exhausted, bid him prostrate fall, 
And dread their shadows trembling on the wall.68.

But grant to kings and courts their ancient play,69.
Recall their splendour and revive their sway; 
Can all your cant and all your cries persuade 
One power to join you in your wild crusade? 
In vain ye search to earth’s remotest end;73.
No court can aid you, and no king defend. 

Not the mad knave that — sceptre stole,75.
Nor She, whose thunder shakes the northern pole; 
Nor Frederic’s widow’d sword, that scorns to tell 
On whose weak brow his crown reluctant fell. 
On whose weak brow his crown reluctant fell.79.
Not the tri-sceptred prince, of Austrian mould, 
The ape of wisdom and the slave of gold,  
Theresa’s son, who, with a feeble grace, 
Just mimics all the vices of his race; 
For him no charm can foreign strife afford,84.
Too mean to spend his wealth, too wise to trust his sword. 

Peep o’er the Pyrenees,—but you’ll disdain 86.
To break the dream that sooths the Monk of Spain.  
He counts his beads, and spends his holy zeal 88.
To raise once more th’inquisitorial wheel,  
Prepares the faggot and the flame renews,  
To roast the French, as once the Moors and Jews;  
While abler hands the busy task divide,  
His Queen to dandle and his State to guide.93.

Ye ask great Pitt to join your desp’rate work,—94.
See how his annual aid confounds the Turk!  
Like a war-elephant his bulk he shows, 96.
And treads down friends, when frighten’d by his foes. 

Where then, forsaken villains, will ye turn?98.
Of France the outcast and of earth the scorn;  
What new-made charm can dissipate your fears?100.
Can Burke’s mad foam, or Calonne’s house of Peers*  
Can Artois’ sword, that erst near Calpe’s wall, 
Where Crillon fought and Elliot was to fall, 
Burn’d with the fire of fame, but harmless burn’d, 
For sheath’d the sword remain’d, and in its sheath return’d?* 105.

Oh Burke, degenerate slave! with grief and shame106.
The Muse indignant must repeat thy name. 
Strange man, declare,—since, at creation’s birth,108.
From crumbling Chaos sprang this heav’n and earth 
Since wrecks and outcast relics still remain, 
Whirl’d ceaseless round Confusion’s dreary reign, 
Declare, from all these fragments, whence you stole 
That genius wild, that monstrous mass of soul;113.
Where spreads the widest waste of all extremes, 
Full darkness frowns, and heav’n’s own splendour beams; 
Truth, Error, Falsehood, Rhetoric’s raging tide, 
And Pomp and Meanness, Prejudice and Pride, 
Strain to an endless clang thy voice of fire,118.
Thy thoughts bewilder and thy audience tire. 

Like Phoebus’ son, we see thee wing thy way,120.
Snatch the loose reins, and mount the car of day, 
To earth now plunging plough thy wasting course,122.
The great Sublime of weakness and of force. 
But while the world’s keen eye, with generous glance, 
Thy faults could pardon and thy worth enhance,  
When foes were hush’d, when Justice dar’d commend, 
And e’en fond Freedom claim’d thee as a friend,127.
Why in a gulph of baseness sink forlorn, 
And change pure praise for infamy and scorn? 

And didst thou hope, by thy infuriate quill.
To rouse mankind the blood of realms to spill? 
Then to restore, on death-devoted plains,131.
Their scourge to tyrants, and to man his chains? 
To swell their souls with thy own bigot rage, 
And blot the glories of so bright an age? 
First stretch thy arm, and, with less impious might, 
Wipe out the stars, and quench the solar light:136.
“For heav’n and earth,” the voice of God ordains, 
“Shall pass and perish, but my word remains,” 
Th’eternal Word, which gave, in spite of thee,  
Reason to man, that bids the man be free. 

Thou could’st not hope: ’twas Heav’n’s returning grace,141.
In kind compassion to our injur’d race, 
Which stripp’d that soul, ere it should flee from hence,143.
Of the last garb of decency or sense, 
Left thee its own foul horrors to display, 
In all the blackness of its native day, 
To sink at last, from earth’s glad surface hurl’d, 
The sordid sov’reign of the letter’d world.148.

In some sad hour, ere death’s dim terrors spread,149.
Ere seas of dark oblivion whelm thy head, 
Reflect, lost man,—If those, thy kindred knaves,151.
O’er the broad Rhine whose flag rebellious waves, 
Once draw the sword; its burning point shall bring 
To thy quick nerves a never-ending sting; 
The blood they shed thy weight of wo shall swell, 
And their grim ghosts for ever with thee dwell.156.

Learn hence, ye tyrants, ere ye learn too late,157.
Of all your craft th’inevitable fate. 
The hour is come, the world’s unclosing eyes159.
Discern with rapture where its wisdom lies; 
From western heav’ns th’inverted Orient springs, 
The morn of man, the dreadful night of kings. 
Dim, like the day-struck owl, ye grope in light, 
No arm for combat, no resource in flight;164.
If on your guards your lingering hopes repose, 
Your guards are men, and men you’ve made your foes; 
If to your rocky ramparts ye repair, 
* De Launay’s fate can tell your fortune there. 
No turn, no shift, no courtly arts avail,169.
Each mask is broken, all illusions sail; 
Driv’n to your last retreat of shame and fear, 
One counsel waits you, one relief is near: 
By worth internal, rise to self-wrought fame, 
Your equal rank, your human kindred claim;174.
‘Tis Reason’s choice, ’tis Wisdom’s final plan, 
To drop the monarch and assume the man. 

Hail Man, exalted title! first and best,177.
On God’s own image by his hand imprest; 
To which at last the reas’ning race is driv’n,179.
And seeks anew what first it gain’d from Heav’n. 
O Man, my brother, how the cordial flame 
Of all endearments kindles at the name! 
In every clime, thy visage greets my eyes, 
In every tongue thy kindred accents rise;184.
The thought expanding swells my heart with glee, 
It finds a friend, and loves itself in thee. 

Say then, fraternal family divine,187.
Whom mutual wants and mutual aids combine, 
Say from what source the dire delusion rose,189.
That souls like ours were ever made for foes; 
Why earth’s maternal bosom, where we tread, 
To rear our mansions and receive our bread, 
Should blush so often for the race she bore, 
So long be drench’d with floods of filial gore;194.
Why to small realms for ever rest confin’d 
Our great affections, meant for all mankind. 
Though climes divide us; shall the stream or sea, 
That forms a barrier ‘twixt my friend and me, 
Inspire the wish his peaceful state to mar,199.
And meet his falchion in the ranks of war? 

Not seas, nor climes, nor wild ambition’s fire201.
In nations’ minds could e’er the wish inspire; 
Where equal rights each sober voice should guide,203.
No blood would stain them, and no war divide. 
‘Tis dark deception, ’tis the glare of state, 
Man sunk in titles, lost in Small and Great; 
‘Tis Rank, Distinction, all the hell that springs 
From those prolific monsters, Courts and Kings.208.
These are the vampires nurs’d on nature’s spoils; 
For these with pangs the starving peasant toils, 
For these the earth’s broad surface teems with grain, 
Theirs the dread labours of the devious main; 
And when the wasted world but dares refuse213.
The gifts oppressive and extorted dues, 
They bid wild slaughter spread the gory plains, 
The life-blood gushing from a thousand veins, 
Erect their thrones amid the sanguine flood, 
And dip their purple in the nation’s blood.217.

The gazing crowd, of glittering State afraid,218.
Adore the Power their coward meanness made; 
In war’s short intervals, while regal shows220.
Still blind their reason and insult their woes. 
What strange events for proud Processions call! 
See kingdoms crowding to a Birth-night Ball! 
See the long pomp in gorgeous glare display’d, 
The tinsel’d guards, the squadron’d horse parade;225.
See herald’s gay, with emblems on their vest, 
In tissu’d robes, tall, beauteous drest; 
Amid superior ranks of splendid slaves, 
Lords, Dukes and Princes, titulary knaves, 
Confus’dly shine their crosses, gems and stars,230.
Sceptres and globes and crowns and spoils of wars. 
On gilded orbs see thundering chariots roll’d, 
Steeds, snorting fire, and champing bits of gold, 
Prance to the trumpet’s voice; while each assumes 
A loftier gait, and lifts his neck of plumes.235.
High on a moving throne, and near the van, 
The tyrant rides, the chosen scourge of man; 
Clarions and flutes and drums his way prepare, 
And shouting millions rend the troubled air; 
Millions, whose ceaseless toils the pomp sustain,240.
Whose hour of stupid joy repays an age of pain. 

Of these no more. From Orders, Slaves and Kings,242.
To thee, O Man, my heart rebounding springs. 
Behold th’ascending bliss that waits your call,244.
Heav’n’s own bequest, the heritage of all. 
Awake to wisdom, seize the proffer’d prize; 
From shade to light, from grief to glory rise. 
Freedom at last, with Reason in her train, 
Extends o’er earth her everlasting reign;249.
See Gallia’s sons, so late the tyrant’s sport, 
Machines in war and sycophants at court, 
Start into men, expand their well-taught mind, 
Lords of themselves and leaders of mankind. 
On equal rights their base of empire lies,254.
On walls of wisdom see the structure rise; 
Wide o’er the gazing world it towers sublime, 
A modell’d form for each surrounding clime. 
To useful toils they bend their noblest aim, 
Make patriot views and moral views the same,259.
Renounce the wish of war, bid conquest cease, 
Invite all men to happiness and peace, 
To faith and justice rear the youthful race, 
With strength exalt them and with science grace, 
Till Truth’s blest banners, o’er the regions hurl’d,264.
Shake tyrants from their thrones, and cheer the waking world. 

In northern climes, where feudal shades of late266.
Chill’d every heart and palsied every State, 
Behold, illumin’d by th’instructive age,268.
That great phenomenon, a Sceptred Sage. 
There Stanislaus unfolds his prudent plan, 
Tears the strong bandage from the eyes of man, 
Points the progressive march, and shapes the way, 
That leads a realm from darkness into day.273.

And deign, for once, to turn a transient eye274.
To that wide world that skirts the western sky; 
Hail the mild morning, where the dawn began,276.
The full fruition of the hopes of man. 
Where sage Experience seals the sacred cause; 
And that rare union, Liberty and Laws, 
Speaks to the reas’ning race “to freedom rise, 
Like them be equal, and like them be wise.”281.

Full Colophon Information

Genre: Poetry
Subjects: Philosophy
Period: 1750-1800
Location: British America
Format: verse

This text was first published in 1792 in London.

The text of the document was initially prepared from and has subsequently been proof-read against Joel Barlow: "The Conspiracy of Kings; A Poem: Addessed to the Inhabitants of Europe from Another World." London: J. Johnson, 1792. All preliminaries have been omitted except those for which the author is responsible and those in which editorial notes indicate significant textual variations. Line and paragraph numbers contained in the source text have been retained. In cases where the source text displays no numbers, numbers are automatically generated. In the header, personal names have been regularized according to the Library of Congress authority files as "Last Name, First Name" for the REG attribute and "First Name Last Name" for the element value. Names have not been regularized in the body of the text.