March 15 1812: Charles Lamb's Triumph of the Whale

Charles Lamb
On March 15, 1812, Charles Lamb published his poem "The Triumph of the Whale," a vicious satire on the prince regent, in Leigh and John Hunt's Examiner. Charles Lamb was a well known poet and critic. Charles' life was also marked by tragedy from a mental illness that afflicted him, his sister Mary Lamb, and their mother. The strain of caring for their mother was particularly hard on Mary. Tragically, in 1796, Mary broke down. In a manic attack, she stabbed and killed her mother with a kitchen knife. She was charged with her death but a jury returned a finding of lunacy. Charles became Mary's official guardian when their father died. They lived together for the rest of their lives and never married.

 Leigh Hunt 
Charles' poem, published in the Examiner, attacks the Prince Regent in personal terms making fun of his weight ('See his blubbers at his gills"), promiscuity ("Mermaids, with their tails and singing / His delighted fancy stinging") and his obsequious new followers ("Dog-like Seals, they fawn around him"). A week later, on March 22, 1812, Leigh Hunt and his brother, John, will publish in the Examiner an article under the title of “The Prince on St. Patrick’s Day.”  The article is so scathing a critique of the Prince Regent that they were charged with libel. They were convicted, fined and sentenced to two years each in prison. Charles Lamb was not charged but it is probable that the publication of his poem may have played a role in the later libel charges against the Hunts. For more on Charles Lamb see here

The Triumph Of The Whale

Io! Paean! Io! sing
To the funny people's King.
Not a mightier whale than this
In the vast Atlantic is;
Not a fatter fish than he
Flounders round the polar sea.
See his blubbers--at his gills
What a world of drink he swills,
From his trunk, as from a spout,
Which next moment he pours out.
Such his person--next declare,
Muse, who his companions are.--
Every fish of generous kind
Scuds aside, or slinks behind;
But about his presence keep
All the Monsters of the Deep;
Mermaids, with their tails and singing
His delighted fancy stinging;
Crooked Dolphins, they surround him,
Dog-like Seals, they fawn around him.
Following hard, the progress mark
Of the intolerant salt sea shark.
For his solace and relief,
Flat fish are his courtiers chief.
Last and lowest in his train,
Ink-fish (libellers of the main)
Their black liquor shed in spite:
(Such on earth the things _that write_.)
In his stomach, some do say,
No good thing can ever stay.
Had it been the fortune of it
To have swallowed that old Prophet,
Three days there he'd not have dwell'd,
But in one have been expell'd.
Hapless mariners are they,
Who beguil'd (as seamen say),
Deeming him some rock or island,
Footing sure, safe spot, and dry land,
Anchor in his scaly rind;
Soon the difference they find;
Sudden plumb, he sinks beneath them;
Does to ruthless seas bequeath them.

Name or title what has he?
Is he Regent of the Sea?
From this difficulty free us,
Buffon, Banks or sage Linnaeus.
With his wondrous attributes
Say what appellation suits.
By his bulk, and by his size,
By his oily qualities,
This (or else my eyesight fails),
This should be the PRINCE OF WHALES.

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