The Vision of Judgment
The Vision of Judgment is a satirical poem in ottava rima
Ottava rima
Ottava rima is a rhyming stanza form of Italian origin. Originally used for long poems on heroic themes, it later came to be popular in the writing of mock-heroic works. Its earliest known use is in the writings of Giovanni Boccaccio....

 by Lord Byron, which depicts a dispute in Heaven over the fate of George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

's soul. It was written in response to the Poet Laureate
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
The Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, also referred to as the Poet Laureate, is the Poet Laureate appointed by the monarch of the United Kingdom on the advice of the Prime Minister...

 Robert Southey
Robert Southey
Robert Southey was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the so-called "Lake Poets", and Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death in 1843...

's A Vision of Judgement (1821
1821 in literature
The year 1821 in literature involved some significant events.-Events:* In the first known obscenity case in the United States, a Massachusetts court outlawed the John Cleland novel, Fanny Hill ...

), which had imagined the soul of king George triumphantly entering Heaven to receive his due. Byron was provoked by the High Tory
High Tories
High Toryism is a term used in Britain, Canada and elsewhere to refer to a traditionalist conservatism which is in line with the Toryism originating in the 17th century. It tends to be at odds with the modern emphasis of the Conservative Party in these countries. High Toryism has been described as...

 point of view from which the poem was written, and he took personally Southey's preface which had attacked those "Men of diseased hearts and depraved imaginations" who had set up a "Satanic school
Satanic School
The Satanic School was a name applied by Robert Southey to a class of writers headed by Byron and Shelley, because, according to him, their productions were "characterized by a Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety."...

" of poetry, "characterized by a Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety". He responded in the preface to his own Vision of Judgment with an attack on "The gross flattery, the dull impudence, the renegado intolerance, and impious cant, of the poem", and mischievously referred to Southey as "the author of Wat Tyler", an anti-royalist work from Southey's firebrand revolutionary youth. His parody of A Vision of Judgement was so lastingly successful that, as the critic Geoffrey Carnall wrote, "Southey's reputation has never recovered from Byron's ridicule."


Byron's poem is set in Heaven, where we find that the carnage of the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

 has placed a massive workload on the Recording Angel
Recording angel
The Recording angel is, in Judaic, Christian and Islamic angelology, one or more angels assigned by God with the task of recording the events, actions, and/or prayers of each individual human...

, though since most of the dead have been damned St. Peter
Saint Peter
Saint Peter or Simon Peter was an early Christian leader, who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The son of John or of Jonah and from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, his brother Andrew was also an apostle...

 has little to do. After "a few short years of hollow peace" comes the death of George III, whom the poet describes as,
                           …although no tyrant, one
Who shielded tyrants, till each sense withdrawn
Left him nor mental nor external sun:
A better farmer ne'er brushed dew from lawn,
A worse king never left a realm undone!

A cherub brings the news of the king's death to St. Peter, and George III then arrives accompanied by Lucifer
Traditionally, Lucifer is a name that in English generally refers to the devil or Satan before being cast from Heaven, although this is not the original meaning of the term. In Latin, from which the English word is derived, Lucifer means "light-bearer"...

, the archangel Michael
Michael (archangel)
Michael , Micha'el or Mîkhā'ēl; , Mikhaḗl; or Míchaël; , Mīkhā'īl) is an archangel in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teachings. Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans refer to him as Saint Michael the Archangel and also simply as Saint Michael...

 and an angelic host. Lucifer claims him for Hell, portraying him as a friend of tyrants and an enemy of liberty: "He ever warr'd with freedom and the free". In support of this view Lucifer calls the John Wilkes
John Wilkes
John Wilkes was an English radical, journalist and politician.He was first elected Member of Parliament in 1757. In the Middlesex election dispute, he fought for the right of voters—rather than the House of Commons—to determine their representatives...

's shade as witness, who however declines to give evidence against the king, claiming that his ministers were more to blame. The soul of the pseudonymous pamphleteer Junius
Junius was the pseudonym of a writer who contributed a series of letters to the Public Advertiser, from 21 January 1769 to 21 January 1772. The signature had been already used, apparently by him, in a letter of 21 November 1768...

 is then summonsed, and on being asked for his opinion of king George, replies "I loved my country, and I hated him." Lastly the demon Asmodeus
Asmodeus may refer to:* Asmodai, a demon-like figure of the Talmud and Book of Tobit* Asmodeus , Austrian black-metal band*Asmodeus , the name of several characters in Marvel Comics*Asmodeus...

 produces Robert Southey himself, whom he has abducted from his earthly home. Southey gives an account of his own history, which Byron thus summarises:
He had written praises of a regicide
Henry Marten (regicide)
Sir Henry Marten was an English lawyer and politician who sat in the House of Commons in two periods between 1640 and 1653...

He had written praises of all kings what ever;
He had written for republics far and wide,
And then against them bitterer than ever
For pantisocracy
Pantisocracy was a utopian scheme devised in 1794 by the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey for an egalitarian community...

 he once had cried
Aloud, a scheme less moral than 't was clever;
Then grew a hearty anti-jacobin
Jacobin (politics)
A Jacobin , in the context of the French Revolution, was a member of the Jacobin Club, a revolutionary far-left political movement. The Jacobin Club was the most famous political club of the French Revolution. So called from the Dominican convent where they originally met, in the Rue St. Jacques ,...

Had turn'd his coat – and would have turn'd his skin.

Southey then begins reading from his Vision of Judgement, but before he has got further than the first few lines the angels and devils flee in disgust, and St. Peter knocks the poet down so that he falls back to Derwent Water
Derwent Water
Derwentwater is one of the principal bodies of water in the Lake District National Park in north west England. It lies wholly within the Borough of Allerdale, in the county of Cumbria....

He first sank to the bottom – like his works,
But soon rose to the surface – like himself;
For all corrupted things are buoy'd like corks,
By their own rottenness.

George III meanwhile takes advantage of the confusion to slip into Heaven unnoticed, and begins practising the hundredth psalm
Psalm 100
Psalm 100 is part of the biblical Book of Psalms. It may be used as a canticle in the Anglican liturgy of Morning Prayer, when it is referred to by its incipit as the Jubilate or Jubilate Deo...


Publication and prosecution

Byron wrote The Vision of Judgment in Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...

, beginning it on 7 May 1821 (four weeks after the publication of Southey's poem) and completing it by 4 October. It was sent in the first instance to John Murray, at that time his usual publisher, but Murray hesitated to accept such a dangerous work, and finally rejected it. Murray then passed The Vision of Judgment on to the radical publisher John Hunt, who included it in the first number of his short-lived magazine The Liberal
The Liberal
The Liberal is a UK-based online magazine "dedicated to promoting liberalism around the world". The publication explores liberal attitudes to a range of cultural issues, and encourages a dialogue between liberal politics and the liberal arts...

on 15 October 1822, minus Byron's preface which Murray had neglected to send. In this edition Byron's name was not used, the poem being said to be by "Quevedo Redivivus" (Quevedo
Francisco de Quevedo
Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Santibáñez Villegas was a Spanish nobleman, politician and writer of the Baroque era. Along with his lifelong rival, Luis de Góngora, Quevedo was one of the most prominent Spanish poets of the age. His style is characterized by what was called conceptismo...

 revived). Some months after publication a legal action was brought against Hunt for publishing a libel against George IV
George IV of the United Kingdom
George IV was the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and also of Hanover from the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820 until his own death ten years later...

, in spite of the fact that he is not mentioned in the poem. A verdict was brought in against Hunt, and he was fined £100.

Critical reception

Reviews of the poem were generally vitriolic. The Courier for 26 October 1822 described Byron as having "a brain from heaven and a heart from hell", assuring its readers that he "riots in thoughts that fiends might envy," and "seems to have lived only that the world might learn from his example how worthless and how pernicious a thing is genius, when divorced from religion, from morals, and from humanity." The Literary Gazette
Literary Gazette
The Literary Gazette was a British literary magazine, established in London in 1817 with its full title being The Literary Gazette, and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences. Sometimes it appeared with the caption title, "London Literary Gazette". It was founded by the publisher Henry Colburn,...

for 19 October 1822 held a similar opinion:
If we do not express our abhorrence of such heartless and beastly ribaldry, it is because we know no language strong enough to declare the disgust and contempt which it inspires…We deliver the judgment of Britain when we assert, that these passages are so revolting to every good feeling, there is not a gentleman in the country who will not hold their author in contempt as unworthy of the character of a gentleman.

Yet some 19th century readers agreed with Byron's own assessment of it as "One of my best things". Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, pictorial artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath. He is considered the supreme genius of modern German literature. His works span the fields of poetry, drama, prose, philosophy, and science. His Faust has been called the greatest long...

 called it "Heavenly! Unsurpassable!", and Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He invented the roundel form, wrote several novels, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica...

A poem so short and hasty, based on a matter so worthy of brief contempt and long oblivion as the funeral and the fate of George III, bears about it at first sight no great sign or likelihood of life. But this poem which we have by us stands alone, not in Byron's work only, but in the work of the world.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.