This poem was printed in the 1703 issue of the popular verse miscellany Poems on Affairs of State. Presumably it earlier circulated in manuscript, as several witnesses testify to having found copies on the street. Alexander Pope attributed the poem to his friend Bevil Higgons, a prominent Jacobite poet, playwright, and historian. There is no reason to doubt the attribution.
During his thirteen years on the throne, William III (1650-1702) had siphoned art and money out of England to his Dutch palaces. He had raised land taxes hugely to match the exorbitant costs of his wars against France. Higgons attacks both policies in this poem. The reference to Sorrel in the final line requires some explication. William died from pneumonia following a broken collarbone sustained by a fall from his horse, called Sorrel. Toasts to Sorrel became a staple at Jacobite clubs and were satirized by Whig publicists such as John Tutchin in his newspaper The Observator.
In sable weeds the beaux and belles appear,
Dismal their out, what ever their insides are.
Mourn on, you foolish fashionable thing,
But mourn your own condition, not the king’s;
Mourn for the mighty sums by him misspent,
Those prodigally given, those idly lent;
Mourn for the statues, and the tapestry too,
From Windsor, gutted to aggrandize Loo.
Mourn for the miter long from Scotland gone,
And mourn as much the union coming on.
Mourn for ten years of war and dismal weather,
For taxes, strung like necklaces together,
On salt, malt, paper, cider, lights and leather.
Much of the Civil List need not be said:
They truly mourn who are eighteen months unpaid.
It matters then, my friends, you see are so,
Though now you mourn, it had lessened much your woe
Had Sorrel stumbled thirteen years ago.