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piece in verse called Le Mystere du Siege d'Orleans. In these modern times, says Millin, all Paris has run to the theatre of Nicolet to see a pantomime entitled Le Fameux Siege de la Pucelle d'Orleans. I may add, that, after the publication of this poem, a pantomime upon the same subject was brought forward at Covent-Garden Theatre, in which the heroine, like Don Juan, was carried off by devils and precipitated alive into hell. I mention it, because the feelings of the audience revolted at such a catastrophe, and, after a few nights, an angel was introduced to rescue her. But among
the number of worthless poems upon this subject, there are two which are unfortunately notorious, – the Pucelles of Chapelain and Voltaire. I have had patience to peruse the first, and never have been guilty of looking into the second; it is well said by George Herbert,
Make not thy sport abuses, for the fly
On the eighth of May, the anniversary of its deliverance, an annual fête is held at Orleans; and monuments have been erected there and at Rouen to the memory of the Maid. Her family was ennobled by Charles; but it should not be forgotten in the history of this monarch, that in the hour of
misfortune he abandoned to her fate the woman who had saved his kingdom.
Bristol, November, 1795.
The poem thus crudely conceived, rashly prefaced, and prematurely hurried into the world, was nevertheless favourably received, owing chiefly to adventitious circumstances. A work of the same class, with as much power and fewer faults, if it were published now, would attract little or no attention. One thing which contributed to bring it into immediate notice was, that no poem of equal pretension had appeared for many years, except Glover's Athenaid, which, notwithstanding the reputation of his Leonidas, had been utterly neglected. But the chief cause of its favourable reception was, that it was written in a republican spirit, such as may easily be accounted for in a youth whose notions of liberty were taken from the Greek and Roman writers, and who was ignorant enough of history and of human nature to believe, that a happier order of things had commenced with the independence of the United States, and would be accelerated by the French Revolution. Such opinions were then as unpopular in England as they deserved to
be; but they were cherished by most of the critical journals, and conciliated for me the good-will of some of the most influential writers who were at that time engaged in periodical literature, though I was personally unknown to them. They bestowed upon the poem abundant praise, passed over most of its manifold faults, and noticed others with indulgence. Miss Seward wrote some verses upon it in a strain of the highest eulogy and the bitterest invective; they were sent to the Morning Chronicle, and the editor (Mr. Perry) accompanied their insertion with a vindication of the opinions which she had so vehemently denounced. Miss Seward was then in high reputation; the sincerity of her praise was proved by the severity of her censure, and nothing could have been more serviceable to a young author than her notice thus indignantly but also thus generously bestowed. The approbation of the reviewers served as a passport for the poem to America, and it was reprinted there while I was revising it for a second edition.
A work, in which the author and the bookseller had engaged with equal imprudence, thus proved beneficial to both. It made me so advantageously known as a poet, that no subsequent hostility on the part of the reviews could pull down the reputation which had been raised by
their good offices. Before that hostility took its determined character, the charge of being a hasty and careless writer was frequently brought against
Yet to have been six months correcting what was written in six weeks, was some indication of patient industry; and of this the second edition
gave farther evidence. Taking for a second motto the words of Erasmus, Ut homines ita libros, indies seipsis meliores fieri oportet, I spared no pains to render the poem less faulty both in its construction and composition ; I wrote a new beginning, threw out much of what had remained of the original draught, altered more, and endeavoured from all the materials which I had means of consulting, to make myself better acquainted with the manners and circumstances of the fifteenth century. Thus the second edition differed almost as much from the first, as that from the copy which was originally intended for publication. Less extensive alterations were made in two subsequent editions ; the fifth was only a reprint of the fourth ; by that time I had become fully sensible of its great and numerous faults, and requested the reader to remember, as the only apology which could be offered for them, that the poem was written at the age of nineteen, and published at one-and-twenty. My intention then was, to take no farther pains in correcting a work
of which the inherent defects were incorrigible, and I did not look into it again for many years.
But now, when about to perform what at my age may almost be called the testamentary task of revising, in all likelihood for the last time, those works by which it was my youthful ambition “ to be for ever known,” and part whereof I dare believe has been “so written to aftertimes as they should not willingly let it die,” it appeared proper that this poem, through which the author had been first made known to the public, two-and-forty years ago, should lead the way; and the thought that it was once more to pass through the press
my own inspection, induced a feeling in some respects resembling that with which it had been first delivered to the printer, .. and yet how different? For not in hope and ardour, nor with the impossible intention of rendering it what it might have been had it been planned and executed in middle life, did I resolve to correct it once more throughout ; but for the
purpose of making it more consistent with itself in diction, and less inconsistent in other things with the well-weighed opinions of my maturer years. The faults of effort, which may generally be regarded as hopeful indications in a juvenile writer, have been mostly left as they were. The faults of language which remained from the first edition