Robert Southey

(1774 - 1843 / Bristol / England)

Wat Tyler - Act Iii - Poem by Robert Southey

ACT III.


SCENE—SMITHFIELD.


PIERS (meeting JOHN BALL.)

You look disturb'd, my father?


JOHN BALL.

Piers, I am so.
Jack Straw has forced the Tower: seized the Archbishop,
And beheaded him.


PIERS.

The curse of insurrection!


JOHN BALL.

Aye, Piers! our nobles level down their vassals—
Keep them at endless labour like their brutes,
Degrading every faculty by servitude:
Repressing all the energy of the mind.
We must not wonder then, that like wild beasts,
When they have burst their chains, with brutal rage
They revenge them on their tyrants.


PIERS.

This Archbishop!
He was oppressive to his humble vassals:
Proud, haughty, avaricious.—


JOHN BALL.

A true high-priest!
Preaching humility with his mitre on!
Praising up alms and Christian charity
Even whilst his unforgiving hand distress'd
His honest tenants.


PIERS.

He deserv'd his fate then.


JOHN BALL.

Justice can never link with cruelty.
Is there among the catalogue of crimes
A sin so black that only Death can expiate?
Will Reason never rouse her from her slumbers,
And darting thro' the veil her eagle eye,
See in the sable garment of the law
Revenge conceal'd? —This high priest has been haughty—
He has oppress'd his vassals: tell me, Piers,
Does his Death remedy the ills he caused?
Were it not better to repress his power
Of doing wrong—that so his future life
Might expiate the evils of the past,
And benefit mankind?


PIERS.

But must not vice
Be punished?


JOHN BALL.

Is not punishment revenge?
The momentary violence of anger
May be excus'd: the indignant heart will throb
Against oppression, and the outstretch'd arm
Resent its injured feelings: the Collector
Insulted Alice, and roused the keen emotions
Of a fond father. Tyler murder'd him.


PIERS.
Murder'd!—a most harsh word.


JOHN BALL.

Yes, murder'd him:
His mangled feelings prompted the bad act,
And Nature will almost commend the deed
That Justice blames: but will the awaken'd feelings
Plead with their heart-emoving eloquence
For the cool deliberate murder of Revenge?
Would you, Piers, in your calmer hour of reason
Condemn an erring brother to be slain?
Cut him at once from all the joys of life,
All hopes of reformation! to revenge
The deed his punishment cannot recall?
My blood boil'd in me at the fate of Tyler,
Yet I revenged not.


PIERS.

Oh my Christian father!
They would not argue thus humanely on us,
Were we within their power.


JOHN BALL.

I know they would not!
But we must pity them that they are vicious,
Not imitate their vice.


PIERS.

Alas, poor Tyler!
I do repent me much that I stood back,
When he advanced fearless in rectitude
To meet these royal assassins.


JOHN BALL.

Not for myself,
Tho' I have lost an honest virtuous friend,
Mourn I the death of Tyler: he was one
Gifted with the strong energy of mind,
Quick to perceive the right, and prompt to act
When Justice needed: he would listen to me
With due attention, yet not yielding lightly
What had to him seem'd good; severe in virtue
He awed the ruder people whom he led
By his stern rectitude.


PIERS.

Witness that day
When they destroy'd the palace of the Gaunt;
And hurl'd the wealth his avarice had amass'd,
Amid the fire: the people, fierce in zeal,
Threw in the flames the wretch whose selfish hand
Purloin'd amid the tumult.


JOHN BALL.

I lament
The death of Tyler, for my country's sake.
I shudder lest posterity enslav'd
Should rue his murder!—who shall now control
The giddy multitude, blind to their own good,
And listening with avidity to the tale
Of courtly falsehood!


PIERS.

The King must perform
His plighted promise.


(Cry without) —The Charter!—the Charter!

(Enter Mob and Herald.)


TOM MILLER.

Read it out—read it out.


HOB.

Aye, aye, let's hear the Charter.


HERALD.

Richard Plantagenet, by the grace of God,
King of England, Ireland, France, Scotland,
and the town of Berwick upon Tweed, to all
whom it may concern, These presents,
Whereas our loving subjects have complained
to us of the heavy burdens they endure,
particularly from our late enacted
poll-tax; and whereas they have risen in
arms against our officers, and demanded the
abolition of personal slavery, vassalage, and
manorial rights; we, ever ready in our sovereign
mercy to listen to the petitions of our
loving subjects, do annul all these grievances.


MOB.

Huzza! long live the king!


HERALD.

And do of our royal mercy, grant a free
pardon to all who may have been anyways
concerned in the late insurrections. All this
shall be faithfully performed on our royal
word. So help us God.
God save the King.


(Loud and repeated shouts.)


HERALD.

Now then depart in quiet to your homes.


JOHN BALL.

Nay, my good friend—the people will remain
Embodied peaceably, till Parliament
Confirm the royal charter: tell your king so:
We will await the Charter's confirmation,
Meanwhile comporting ourselves orderly
As peaceful citizens, not risen in tumult,
But to redress their evils.


Exit Herald, &c. HOB, PIERS, and
JOHN BALL, remain.


HOB.

'Twas well order'd.
I place but little trust in courtly faith.


JOHN BALL.

We must remain embodied; else the king
Will plunge again in royal luxury;
And when the storm of danger is past over,
Forget his promises.


HOB.

Aye, like an aguish sinner,
He'll promise to repent when the fit's on him,
When well recover'd, laugh at his own terrors.


PIERS.

Oh ! I am grieved that we must gain so little!
Why are not all these empty ranks abolish'd;
King, slave, and lord, 'ennobl'd into MAN?'
Are we not equal all?—have you not told me
Equality is the sacred right of man,
Inalienable, tho' by force withheld?


JOHN BALL.

Even so: but Piers, my frail and fallible judgment
Knows hardly to decide if it be right,
Peaceably to return; content with little,
With this half restitution of our rights,
Or boldly to proceed through blood and slaughter,
Till we should all be equal and all happy.
I chose the milder way:—perhaps I erred.


PIERS.

I fear me—by the mass, the unsteady people
Are flocking homewards! how the multitude
Diminishes!


JOHN BALL.

Go thou, my son, and stay them.
Carter, do you exert your influence.
All depends on their stay: my mind is troubl'd,
And I would fain compose my thoughts for action.

(Exeunt HOB and PIERS.)

Father of mercies! I do fear me much
That I have err'd: thou gav'st my ardent mind
To pierce the mists of superstitious falsehood;—
Gav'st me to know the truth. I should have urg'd it
Thro' every op, perhaps,
The seemly voice of pity has deceiv'd me,
And all this mighty movement ends in ruin!
I fear me, I have been like the weak leech,
Who, sparing to cut deep, with cruel mercy
Mangles his patient without curing him.

(Great tumult.)

What means this tumult? hark! the clang of arms!
God of eternal justice! the false monarch
Has broke his plighted vow!


Enter PIERS, wounded.


PIERS.

Fly, fly, my father—the perjur'd king—fly! fly!


JOHN BALL.

Nay, nay, my child—I dare abide my fate,
Let me bind up thy wounds.


PIERS.

'Tis useless succour,
They seek thy life; fly, fly, my honour'd father.
Fain would I die in peace to hope thee safe.
I shall soon join thee, Tyler!—they are murdering
Our unsuspecting brethren: half unarm'd,
Trusting too fondly to the tyrant's vows,
They were dispersing:—the streets swim with blood.
O! save thyself.


Enter Soldiers.


SOLDIER.

This is that old seditious heretic.


(Seizes JOHN BALL.)


SECOND SOLDIER.

And here the young spawn of rebellion;
My orders ar'n't to spare him.

(Stabs PIERS.)

Come, you old stirrer-up of insurrection,
You bell-wether of the mob—you ar'n't to die
So easily.


(They lead off JOHN BALL—the tumult
increases—Mob fly across the Stage—
the Troops pursue them—loud cries and
shouts.)




SCENE—WESTMINSTER HALL.

KING, WALWORTH, PHILPOT, SIR JOHN TRESILIAN, &c.


WALWORTH.

My liege, 'twas wisely order'd to destroy
The dunghill rabble, but take prisoner
That old seditious priest: his strange wild notions
Of this equality, when well exposed,
Will create ridicule, and shame the people
Of their late tumults.


SIR JOHN TRESILIAN.

Aye, there's nothing like
A fair free open trial, where the king
Can chuse his jury and appoint his judges.


KING.

Walworth, I must thank you for my deliverance;
'Twas a bold deed to stab him in the parley!
Kneel down, and rise a knight, Sir William Walworth.


Enter Messenger.


MESSENGER.

I left them hotly at it. Smithfield smoked
With the rebels' blood: your troops fought loyally,
There's not a man of them will lend an ear
To pity.


SIR WILLIAM WALWORTH.

Is John Ball secur'd?


MESSENGER.

They have seiz'd him.


Enter Guards with JOHN BALL.


GUARD.

We've brought the old villain.


SECOND GUARD.

An old mischief-maker—
Why there's fifteen hundred of the mob are kill'd,
All thro' his preaching!


SIR JOHN TRESILIAN.

Prisoner! are you the arch-rebel, John Ball?


JOHN BALL.

I am John Ball; but I am not a rebel.
Take ye the name, who, arrogant in strength,
Rebel against the people's sovereignty.


SIR JOHN TRESILIAN.

John Ball, you are accus'd of stirring up
The poor deluded people to rebellion;
Not having the fear of God and of the king
Before your eyes; of preaching up strange notions
Heretical and treasonous; such as saying
That kings have not a right from heaven to govern;
That all mankind are equal; and that ranks
And the distinctions of society,
Aye, and the sacred rights of property
Are evil and oppressive:—plead you guilty
To this most heavy charge?


JOHN BALL.

If it be guilt—
To preach what you are pleas'd to call strange notions.
That all mankind as brethren must be equal;
That privileg'd orders of society
Are evil and oppressive; that the right
Of property is a juggle to deceive
The poor whom you oppress;—I plead me guilty.


SIR JOHN TRESILIAN.

It is against the custom of this court
That the prisoner should plead guilty.


JOHN BALL.

Why then put you
The needless question?—Sir Judge, let me save
The vain and empty insult of a trial.
What I have done, that I dare justify.


SIR JOHN TRESILIAN.

Did you not tell the mob they were oppress'd,
And preach upon the equality of man;
With evil intent thereby to stir them up
To tumult and rebellion?


JOHN BALL.

That I told them
That all mankind are equal, is most true:
Ye came as helpless infants to the world:
Ye feel alike the infirmities of nature;
And at last moulder into common clay.
Why then these vain distinctions!—bears not the earth
Food in abundance?—must your granaries
O'erflow with plenty, while the poor man starves?
Sir Judge, why sit you there clad in your furs?
Why are your cellars stor'd with choicest wines?
Your larders hung with dainties, while your vassal,
As virtuous, and as able too by nature,
Tho' by your selfish tyranny depriv'd
Of mind's improvement, shivers in his rags,
And starves amid the plenty he creates.
I have said this is wrong, and I repeat it—
And there will be a time when this great truth
Shall be confess'd—be felt by all mankind.
The electric truth shall run from man to man,
And the blood-cemented pyramid of greatness
Shall fall before the flash!


SIR JOHN TRESILIAN

Audacious rebel!
How darest thou insult this sacred court,
Blaspheming all the dignities of rank?
How could the Government be carried on
Without the sacred orders of the king,
And the nobility?


JOHN BALL.

Tell me, Sir Judge,
What does the government avail the peasant?
Would not he plow his field and sow the corn,
Aye, and in peace enjoy the harvest too:
Would not the sunshine and the dews descend,
Tho' neither King nor Parliament existed?
Do your Court Politics ought matter him?
Would he be warring even unto the death
With his French neighbours?—Charles and
Richard contend;
The people fight and suffer:—think ye, Sirs,
If neither country had been cursed with a chief,
The peasants would have quarrell'd?


KING.

This is treason!
The patience of the court has been insulted—
Condemn the foul mouth'd, contumacious rebel.


SIR JOHN TRESILIAN.

John Ball, whereas you are accused before us
Of stirring up the people to rebellion,
And preaching to them strange and dangerous doctrines;
And whereas your behavior to the court
Has been most insolent and contumacious;
Insulting Majesty—and since you have pleaded
Guilty to all these charges; I condemn you
To death: you shall be hanged by the neck,
But not till you are dead—your bowels opened—
Your heart torn out and burnt before your face—
Your traitorous head be sever'd from your body—
Your body quartered, and exposed upon
The city gates—a terrible example—
And the Lord God have mercy on your soul!


JOHN BALL.

Why be it so. I can smile at your vengeance,
For I am arm'd with rectitude of soul.
The truth, which all my life I have divulg'd
And am now doom'd in torment to expire for,
Shall still survive—the destin'd hour must come,
When it shall blaze with sun-surpassing splendor,
And the dark mists of prejudice and falsehood
Fade in its strong effulgence. Flattery's incense
No more shall shadow round the gore-dyed throne;
That altar of oppression, fed with rites,
More savage than the Priests of Moloch taught,
Shall be consumed amid the fire of Justice;
The ray of truth shall emanate around,
And the whole world be lighted!


KING.

Drag him hence—
Away with him to death! order the troops
Now to give quarter and make prisoners—
Let the blood-reeking sword of war be sheathed,
That the law may take vengeance on the rebels.

THE END.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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