November 5, 2010

Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot (c. 1823), Henry Perronet Briggs

From The Fifth of November 
John Milton

[. . . ]

But still, Fame, you have deserved praise in our song for one good report, and there was never a rumor more truly honest. You are worthy of our song, and I shall never regret having commemorated you at such length in my verse. We English, who were plainly saved by your good offices, wandering goddess, render to you just thanks. God who tends the eternal fires in their motions, hurled down a thunderbolt and then, the earth still trembling, addressed you: "Are you silent, Fame? Is this band of impious Papists hidden from your sight, this crew that has conspired against me and my Britons, and this novel kind of murder been planned against King James?"

No more said he, but she responded at once to the Thunderer's commands, and, though swift of flight before, now she puts on creaking wings and covers her thin body with parti-coloured plumes. In her right hand she takes a sonorous Temesaean trumpet. Without delay, she beats the yielding air with her wings. And not content to outstrip the rushing clouds, she soon leaves behind her the winds and the horses of the sun. As usual she first spreads ambiguous rumours and vague rumors throughout the English towns, and then in a clear voice she makes public the plots and foul deeds of treason, unspeakably horrible; and she even names the authors of the crime. Nor does her garrulity conceal the places prepared for this ambush. Her news amazes young men, frightened girls and weak old men alike. People of all ages are suddenly struck to the heart by the sense of so great a disaster.

But meanwhile the heavenly father looked down from above with pity on his people, and thwarted the Papists' cruel attempt. They are seized and taken off to severe punishments. Sacred incense is burned and grateful honours paid to God. All the joyous crossroads smoke with genial fumes; the young people dance in crowds, for in all the year there is no day more celebrated than the fifth of November.

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