Sunday, January 25, 2015

An Elegiac Ode on the Death of Louis XVI by Edmund Eyre

Edmund Eyre's An Elegiac Ode on the Death of Louis XVI was published shortly after the execution of Louis XVI. It was later re-published in a 1797 collection of his poetic works, which also included his ode to Marie Antoinette.

An Elegiac Ode on the Death of Louis XVI
Ruin seize ye, lawless band
Destruction on your councils wait;
For stain'd by Murder's gory hand,
Humanity recoils from Fate.

Mark the year--abhor the sight,
When France re-murmur'd with affright:--
The shrieks of Anguish, borne on Echo's wing,
Proclaim'd the sorrows of a suff'ring King.

Such were the sounds that Gallia's Genius bore,
As slow she mov'd along the Belgic-shore,
Then on some ndoding cliff's projecting brow,
Shrinking, bemoan'd the horrors of the blow;
Fond to lament, though impotent to save,
She pour'd her sorrows for the good and brave;
And now inspir'd with all a Patriot's glow
She tun'd her lyre and struck the notes of Woe.

Did cruel Destiny ere shed
Such horrors on a Regal-Head;
Did ere once happy Monarch know,
Such sad reserve of heart-felt woe?
"Without a friend to close his eyes,"
The Parent groans--the Monarch dies:
Deny'd the blessings of a miscreant slave,
The sev'ring axe cosigns him to the grave--

Tho' Faction staind' the Sov'reign-bloomd,
And bid it wither in the tomb;
With seraph's flight, Religion came,
To strengthen Nature's feeble frame--
Clad in the splendor of the sky,
A whisp'ring cherub, wing'd on high,
With heav'nly light illum'd Death's awful way,
And chang'd his darkness to eternal day.

Ah, hapless Queen! Repress that sigh,
Thy happier stars may intervene--
Hope darts her ever radiant eye,
To calm Affliction's stormy-scene.
Hark! 'Tis the chorus of seraphic strain!
Triumphant shouts the Empyrean sky!
The Monarch murder'd--lives to joy again,
Crown'd, and array'd in immortality.

Now from life, and labours freed,
he receives his virtues' meed;
Tastes of bliss to men unknown,
Far above an earthly throne.

What, tho' no sculptur'd, marble-bust,
Is seen to grace his mould'ring-dust,
Yet Mem'ry shall his name revere;
For whilst the crystal song of Woe,
With tributary drops shall flow,
The best memorial is--the pitying tear.

Blow the brazen trump of War;
Erect the standard in the field!
Mars, high-throned in his car,
Displays the dire, ensanguin'd shield.

Stream wide your banners, roll the martial drums,
For England's champion, Royal Frederick, comes,
to right an injur'd nation's sov'reign cause,
Protect its freedom, and defend her laws;
To add new trophies to the opening year,
And curb Rebellion in its mad career--
Till Britain's vengeance on her foes be hurl'd,
And England rise the Mistress of the World.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Review: Marie Antoinette, Fashionable Queen or Greedy Royal? by Sarah Powers Webb

Perspectives on History is a non-fiction children's book series about famous but polarizing historical figures. The current series includes figures such as Cleopatra, Christopher Columbus and Marie Antoinette.

The 'Marie Antoinette' entry in the series (Marie Antoinette: Fashionable Queen or Greedy Royal?) was written by Sarah Powers Webb. The book begins with a short description of Marie Antoinette's last morning, leading to the book's premise: "Who was Marie Antoinette? Some said she was a criminal who deserved to die. Others claimed she was just a victim of politics. What events led the queen to her death?"

The aim of the Perspectives on History series is to help younger readers understand how different perspectives in history can result in a very different 'story' being told; it can also help children develop skills in considering different viewpoints when thinking or writing about history.

'Fashionable Queen or Greedy Royal?' examines Marie Antoinette's story from multiple angles to provide readers with a broader sense of who she was--or wasn't. In doing so, the book provides different viewpoints for some of the more significant aspects of her life, such as spending and her public image in France. For example, when discussing Marie Antoinette's extensive spending, the book points out that she spent lavishly on clothing and entertaining, while many struggled for basic necessities due to France's declining economy--but that court etiquette required much of this spending, and that her spending was not the real source of France's financial trouble. When discussing her frequent retreats to the Petit Trianon, the book points out that the Trianon was her personal retreat from the intense stress of court--but that such behavior was not considered appropriate for a queen of France by both commoners and nobles, who felt that she was hiding something, which in turn became fodder for exaggerated libelles.

The book does a good job with presenting decades of history in a short format, supplemented by paintings and engravings; the book is written clearly enough that target readers should have no trouble following the narrative.  In addition to the regular narrative, the book includes various asides with additional information about her life and times. It can be difficult for books written for children to cover an entire life or extensive event in a short and simple way, but for the most part the book works as a good starting point for younger readers.

Sometimes, however, I felt that the book didn't provide quite enough historical context for its target audience. For example, in the book's narrative, the fall of the Bastille (and thus the beginning of the revolution) is described as being the result of the people no longer being able to contain their anger, due to the declining economy that made jobs--and thus, food--scarce. The political aspects of the event (the Estates General, Necker, etc) are not mentioned. It may be that the short format of the books didn't allow for a description of the political climate in France at the time, but even a short aside about the Estates General would have helped in this case.

I do think the premise of the book (and the series) is a worthwhile one, especially since developing an understanding of historical perspectives and how to create opinions based on multiple perspectives is a skill that children will need for their later school years. I would recommend the book for younger readers, especially supplemented with additional material on the French Revolution.

[A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher upon my request]

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Captive Queen, an Elegiac Ode by Edmund Eyre

After the deaths of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, many British writers who turned to the pen to published odes, elegies, plays and other literary treatments of the royal family. These British works were published as early as 1793, after the death of the king. Edmund Eyre was one of these British writers who felt inspired by the events in France to take up his pen. Eyre's ode to Marie Antoinette, which I have transcribed below, was published in a collection in 1797.


The Captive Queen, an Elegiac Ode.
Scarce had the night her shadowy curtain spread,
To hide the blush of eve;
Than gloomy Silence cast a solemn dread,
And Nature seem'd to grieve:
But Cynthia soon o'er half the globe
Display'd her star-bespangled robe,
Emitting forth her silver-ray
To cheer the trav'ller's lonely way,
And guide him to the social cot,
Where all his sorrows are forgot--
Oblivious slumber, with Lathaean-pow'r
Snatches the lapse of time, and rules the mid-night hour.

Mute is the warbling concert of the air--
Save the sad minstrel of the night;
Whose trilling-notes, responsive to despair,
Vibrate on Echo's rapid flight!
And, hark, what breathing groans transpierce
the solemn scene!
Ah! 'tis the mourning sorrows of a Captive-Queen!

Borne on Fancy's eagle-height,
I see her pictur'd to the sight
Immur'd within a dungeon's bloom,
Invoking Heav'n to change the doom--
Her rosy-cheeks, of crimson-hue,
Now moisten'd by Affliction's dew,
Fading, have wither'd, by a wintry blight,
And, in despair, the roses red--have chang'd to white.

Her eyes, that with Promethean glow,
Warm'd the chill'd breast, congeal'd by woe,
Sink in their sockets, griev'd to see
Th' unpity'd tears of Misery:
Her voice, that once diffus'd around
The magic-harmony of sound,
Now faintly murmurs, like an Aeolian lyre,
Whose sounds charm most--just as the notes expire.

Ah, what avails the pomp of state,
The envy'd glories of the great,
Or, e'en Ambition's great-stride
When bold Rebellion rushes forth,
And like the pestilential North,
Nips all the blossoms of our pride.
Life is, alas! an evening breeze at best,
That blows still sun-set, and then sinks to rest.

What, is the cruel lot decreed,
And must the Royal-Mother bleed?
Ah, heard I not the fleeting groan,
Breathed in Sorrow's deepest tone?
Hark, 'tis the din of Discord's roar,
Her dart's besmear'd with clotted gore!
yet, fears, vaunt--wan Terror fly--
Death's but a passport to eternity!

Confin'd by treason, and the will of Fate,
A Royal captive, mock'd with idle state,
(Shame to the annals of historic-page,)
Expires a victim to republic rage!

The sigh that heav'd the parting knell--
The tear that bade a long farewell--
The Mother's pangs--the Children's cries,
No friend to grace her obsequies--
Shall cause the Muse's stream to flow
In all the energy of woe,
Whilst they record amidst a nation's sighs,
In Death's cold shade a murder'd Princess lies.

Be mute, my lyre--thy elegy refrain--
Megara rife, and breathe a bolder strain--
Avenging Nemesis, at whose decree,
Tyrants are taught to bend the stubborn knee,
Inrob'd with justice, send thy missile dart,
To drive rebellion from the canker'd heart;
Scourge those who brought a Monarch to the tomb,
And thunder in their ears Lycaon's doom.--
Inspire each breast with patriotic zeal
To guard the safety of the public weal;
Bid us avow Religion's holy cause,
Adorn out country, and protect her laws--
Such god-like cares all British hearts must own;
And ev'ry honest man support the Throne.

Eyre's elegies to Marie Antoinette and later, Louis XVI, were only somewhat well received in his day. They were described in one contemporary review as "not destitute of poetical imagery." Hardly a glowing review! But at least his odes were published: Eyre had a rather unfortunate history when it came to getting his 1794 play, first called The Maid of Normandy and later retitled The Death of the Queen of France, cleared past the British censors. But that's a topic for another day!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Marie-Antoinette: Carnet secret d'une reine by Benjamin Lacombe

Marie-Antoinette: Carnet secret d'une reine is the latest offering from artist Benjamin Lacombe, who is best known for his beautiful and unique illustrations. 'Carnet secret' is a treasure trove for anyone who fancies his illustrations--which I do, enough so that I pre-ordered my own copy!

'Carnet secret' is a quasi-historical fiction tome, which combines some authentic letters of Marie Antoinette with fictional letters and diary entries written by the queen and various other figures, including Axel Fersen. The book is completely in French and I am very slowly working my way through it; while I can't yet provide a review on the literary content, I can definitely praise the illustrations in the book--which were actually the reason for my purchase!

My favorite aspect of Lacombe's illustrations is that you never quite know what to expect when you turn the page. Will it be something fairly direct, such as an illustration inspired by a historical painting (with, of course, a little twist)? Something totally absurd, like Lacombe's take on some of the 'Marie Antoinette' caricatures of the day? Or even something somber, mournful and dark? Every illustration is a detailed treasure trove, and I find myself returning to the pages more than once to see what I've missed!

If you are a fan of gorgeous illustrations or Lacombe's illustrations specifically, I heartily recommend picking up a copy of Marie-Antoinette: Carnet secret d'une reine as soon as possible! I purchsed my copy from You can also see more examples of his work on his official website.

A few sample pages:


Monday, December 15, 2014

'Casanova' illustrations by Helma Baison

illustrator: Helma Baison
source: my scan

I came across a lovely little German translation of Casanova's memoirs at the thrift store recently. It was the cover which first intrigued me but I was completely sold on the purchase when I saw the illustrations inside! The artwork, which was drawn by Helma Baison, hits all the right notes for Casanova's adventurous life, without crossing the line into vulgarity.  If you're a fan of interesting book illustrations, I'd definitely look into picking up a copy! Here are three illustrations from the book:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

'An angel of goodness'

 credit: my scan/collection

"The features of [Madame Elisabeth] were not regular, but her face expressed gentle affability, and the freshness of her complexion was remarkable; altogether, she had the charm of a pretty shepherdess. She was an angel of goodness. Many a time have I been a witness to her deeds of charity on behalf of the poor. All the virtues were in her heart: she was indulgent, modest, compassionate, devoted. In the Revolution she displayed heroic courage; she was seen going forward to meet the cannibals who had come to murder the Queen, saying, 'They will mistake me for her!'"

 --the memoirs of  Elisabeth VigĂ©e Lebrun