The Pleasures Of Hope "What Millions Died That Caesar Might Be Great!"

Thomas Campbell

"What Millions Died That Caesar Might Be Great!"

Context: One editor of a volume of Campbell's poetry expressed indignation at the present neglect of the works of a Scotsman, so celebrated during his lifetime. His rise to fame was meteoric. Pleasures of Hope, completed when he was barely twenty-one, immediately became popular, not only for its poetic beauty, but for its graphic lines about the downfall of Poland. Schoolboys orated about the massacre of the citizens of Warsaw, with that couplet: "Hope for a season bade the world farewell,/ And Freedom shrieked–as Kosciusko fell." Perhaps one reason for the loss of popularity of the last eighteenth century practitioner of the heroic couplet was that the era of Pope, Thomson, and Cowper was over. Yet Campbell's bold patriotic songs, such as "Ye Mariners of England," "Napoleon and the British Soldier," and "The Battle of the Baltic," should have kept his memory alive. A few of his quotable lines still live, but few people know either the source or the name of the author of, for example, "Distance lends enchantment," and "Like angel-visits, few and far between." For his first work, Campbell originally had a fifty-line introduction, full of personal references to his feelings during its composition. Wisely it was omitted in publication. He had also provided a prose analysis of both parts, which was not included until later. Another change was the expansion of Part II from 326 to 474 lines. He left the first part untouched. Pleasures of Hope opens with a comparison between imagination and reality. Anticipation is discussed in its influence on passions, with the story of man's guardian deities abandoning the world and leaving only Hope behind. "Hope inspires the mother, the prisoner, the wanderer." Then with a political twist, the poet hopes for improvement in society and in the humanizing arts among the uncivilized nations, despite the victory of the oppressors in Poland. In the section of Part II in which Campbell makes his contribution to the nature poetry, so popular in his time, he discusses a summer and a winter evening and the ideas they create in a person's mind. In the winter, he may think of furious storms at sea, or be moved by the reading of Schiller's tragedy, The Robbers. Other thoughts may intrude, happy thoughts or tragic ones about the two million estimated victims of Caesar's wars, or the more recent battle of Pultowa of 1709, under Charles XII of Sweden.

Turn to the gentler melodies that suit
Thalia's harp, or Pan's Arcadian lute;
Or, down the stream of Truth's historic page
From clime to clime descend, from age to age!
Yet there, perhaps, may darker scenes obtrude
Than Fancy fashions in her wildest mood;
There shall he pause with horrent brow, to rate
What millions died–that Caesar might be great!
Or learn the fate that bleeding thousands bore,
Marched by their Charles to Dneiper's swampy shore;
Faint in his wounds, and shivering in the blast,
The Swedish soldier sunk–and groaned his last!