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Over the course of their long affair, Banastre Tarleton served as the inspiration for a variety of Mary Robinson's literary works. When they were first in love, she wrote for him an overblown poem entitled "Ode to Valour. Inscribed to Colonel Banastre Tarleton", which begins:
TRANSCENDENT VALOUR! godlike Pow'r!
Lord of the dauntless breast, and stedfast mien!
Who, rob'd in majesty sublime,
Sat in thy eagle-wafted car,
And led the hardy sons of war,
With head erect, and eye serene,
Amidst the arrowy show'r;
When unsubdued, from clime to clime,
YOUNG AMMON taught exulting Fame
O'er earth's vast space to sound the glories of thy name.
Years later, after their relationship had ended in a messy and acrimonious breakup, she apparently turned him into "Treville", the villain of her novel The False Friend,1 as well as taking vicious satirical potshots at him and his family in another novel, The Natural Daughter. Ah, the dangers of becoming involved with a writer, who can get her vengeance in print...
In between these extremes came various poetical works which seem to charted the ups and downs of their relationship for the world to read. (It can be argued whether or not individual poems were aimed specifically at Tarleton, since the dedication for "Ode" is the only time Mary ever mentioned him by name.) Included in the list of "likely suspects" is including this amusing and melodramatic little poem:
Ah! tell me not that jealous fear
Betrays a weak, suspicious mind;
Were I less true, and though less dear,
I should be blest, and thou be kind!
But while, by giddy Fancy led,
In search of Joy you wildly rove, --
Say, can my Mind be free from dread,
When ev'ry sense is chain'd by love?
Yet, soon my anxious fears shall cease,
Since I am doom'd from Thee to part;
That day will give me lasting peace;
For oh! that day will Break My Heart!
When their relationship was nearing its end, Mary became especially prolific on the topic of her love -- and its tribulations -- in poems such as "Absence," and "Lines to Him Who Will Understand Them." (Some literary historians believe the latter poem was aimed at the Prince of Wales, and certainly Mary did "quit [Britain's] shores" when that affair ended. But lines such as "That charm'd my senses many a year, // Thro' smiling summers, winters drear." as well as the timing of the publication fit her relationship with Tarleton far better than her year-long fling with Prinny.)
As far as I know, the final poem specific to their relationship was "Bounding Billow," which goes as far as to address itself to "T******". It became one of her most popular efforts, and was even set to music. According to its introduction, it was "written between Dover and Calais, in July, 1792." By then, their relationship was already entering its final phase, reflected in such sentiments as
Ten long years of anxious sorrow,
Hour by hour I counted o'er;
Looking forward till tomorrow,
Every day I loved thee more!
The poem ends with the mournful prediction --
Fare thee well, ungrateful rover!
Welcome Gallia's hostile shore;
Now the breezes waft me over;
Now we part -- to meet no more!
-- but the thought was premature. Four more years of deteriorating break-ups and reconciliations still lay ahead before the final split which would fill her with enough anger and resentment to lacerate Tarleton in her novels.
In general, Mary's prose works are long out of print, but some of her poetry and her memoirs are available on-line, through the "Celebration of Women Writers" page. One of her more interesting poems, a lyrical description of life in an army camp, can be found at "The Wondering Minstrels" site. See links.
As an aside, Mary wasn't the only author to dedicate a poem to Ban Tarleton. The April, 1781, issue of Scots Magazine published the extremely silly "Hudibrastic Epistle to Col. TARLETON," which praised Ban's fighting methods -- and correctly predicted that they would never be properly appreciated.
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1 I know Linden Salter would wish me to point out that she utterly, vehemently and totally disagrees with the assumption that Tarleton is the inspiration for Treville, largely because Tarleton, obviously, was not a clergyman whereas Treville is. We haven't reached an agreement on the point. It seems to me that by that line of argument, Tarleton and his family could not be the templates for the Leadenheads in Natural Daughter, either. Gregory Leadenhead, the overt Ban satire, is an only son with the wrong number of sisters and a living father. Nevertheless, the Leadenheads obviously are twisted variants on the Tarletons, although they also sport characteristics which originally belonged to some of Mary's own family. Similarly, Treville may well be a composite character, an avenue through which to snipe at Tarleton and one or more others. For myself, I have not read The False Friend, so I'm judging all of it from second-hand sources. Pending further investigation, Bass's conclusions seem reasonable. Daughter certainly shows ample evidence for Mary's willingness to strike back at Tarleton in print, and from the examples he quotes (pp389-90) of the public reaction, their contemporaries easily recognized her target(s?). One of these decades I'll get through the run of newspapers surrounding its publication, in search of stronger evidence pro or con. [ back ]
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