William Stanley Roscoe, "On the Last Regiment" (1834)



ON THE LAST REGIMENT

OF POLISH PATRIOTS BEING ORDERED BY THE

FRENCH GOVERNMENT TO SERVE IN THE

ISLAND OF ST. DOMINGO.

____________

RELIC of that noble band,
That slumber in their native land,
Blest in death, in battle slain,
On Warsaw's dark ensanguin'd plain,
What time immortal liberty
Bow'd her head to tyranny!
Wretched race! condemn'd to roam
Exiles from your native home;
Condemn'd to stem the western wave,
And crush the pale and struggling slave,
Who dar'd like us to clothe his breast
In Freedom's red and martial vest;
To scorn the tyrant's scowling eye,
And snatch the wreath of liberty!
  Oh! had we fallen that direful night,
When Warsaw echo'd with affright,
When, rous'd in horror from her bed,
Her Russian foes by murder led,
She saw in gory troops advance,
And heard the clashing of the lance,
Trembling oft with thrilling fear
At the lightning of the spear;
When death invaded all our towers,
And rapine sack'd our princely bowers;
And, clotted thick with Polish blood,
Our river roll'd a crimson flood;
As gleaming to the cannon's flash,
We saw its waves tumultuous dash!
O happy had we clos'd our eyes
Amidst our dying country's cries!
What now, alas, for us remains,
But scorn, and penury, and chains?
Fellow swordsmen, rally round,
Hush the trumpet's fiery sound;
Hush the shrill fife's Spartan breath,
And shroud the drum in weeds of death!
Fellow warriors! tear, O tear
Your banner bright that woos the air:
Never shall it tarnish'd be
By the hands of slavery!
A captive in the hall of kings,
Ne'er shall the eagle plume his wings;
But feed his green on the ray
And splendour of the rising day;
Longing his heavenly course to run,
And revel in the golden sun!
  Native Poland, fare thee well!
Thy future fate, ah, who shall tell?
The god of battle may rise
With vengence on thine enemies!
May bid thee raise thy drooping head
From the dwellings of the dead!
And crown thee, with destin'd hand,
Empress of a blooming land!
But we, alas, must see thee lie
Pining in captivity!
With nothing left but tears, to shed
For valour lost, and freedom fled!
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Notes on the poem

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Introduction

Gentle of heart and noble of spirit, William Stanley Roscoe (1782-1843) is best remembered as the eldest son of William Roscoe, famed Liverpool poet, scholar, statesman, collector and benefactor. William Stanley bore a strong resemblance to his father in his interests and beliefs. He pursued knowledge in classical languages, particularly Italian, and literature from a young age. He was educated by Dr. William Sheperd of Gatehouse and at Peterhouse, Cambridge. He apparently established his passion for literary pursuits early in life, writing poetry and working on translations. His poems were eventually published in the 1834 volume Poems by William Stanley Roscoe, a volume praised in Gentleman's Magazine (October 1834) for its purity of taste and propriety of sentiment. William Stanley thought to pursue a career in law, as many of his brothers did, but instead joined as partner in his father's bank. The bank went under in 1816, bankrupting both father and son. He later became Serjeant-at-Mace in the Liverpool Court of Passage. William Stanley married Hannah Caldwell, daughter of James Caldwell of Liverpool. Their son William Caldwell Roscoe carried on the literary traditions of the Roscoe family as a poet and essayist. William Roscoe and his circle of friends vehemently opposed the slave trade and this opposition blossomed in his son. Thomas Campbell, author of the Pleasures of Hope, was a close friend to William Stanley. It may have been Campbell's passion for the cause of the Polish patriots that influenced William Stanley to write "On the Last Regiment of Polish Patriots Being Ordered by the French Government to Serve in the Island of St. Domingo."

"On the Last Regiment" was first published in Poems (1834). It laments the plight of a regiment of Polish soldiers who fought under Tadeusz Kosciuszko during the Polish Revolution of 1794. Kosciuszko embodied the principles of freedom and liberty for a generation of poets. He is famous, among other things, for his fervent anti-slavery ideals. The remnants of the 1794 Polish revolutionaries gathered in France and fought for Napoleon in the belief that France would help free Poland. Instead, troops that had fought for freedom and liberty at home were sent abroad to further Napoleon's imperial aims. The 3rd and 4th demibrigades of the Polish legion were sent to St. Domingo between 1801 and 1803. Of the 6000 Polish troops sent, 4000 were killed in combat or by yellow fever. The Poles were ill prepared for combat on the island. In battle after battle they were slaughtered by slaves fighting for the same freedom the Poles desired. The irony and tragedy of the situation was not lost on William Stanley Roscoe. "On the Last Regiment" captures the desperation of the Polish cause while highlighting the evils of slavery.

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Bibliographical note

Roscoe, William Stanley, "On the Last Regiment of Polish Patriots Being Ordered by the French Government to Serve in the Island of St. Domingo," Poems by William Stanley Roscoe (London: William Pickering, 1834), pp. 57-59.
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This hypertext was created on November 3, 1999, by Kathleen McCormick.