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THE PRELUDE

BOOK SEVENTH

RESIDENCE IN LONDON

          SIX changeful years have vanished since I first
          Poured out (saluted by that quickening breeze
          Which met me issuing from the City's walls)
          A glad preamble to this Verse: I sang
          Aloud, with fervour irresistible
          Of short-lived transport, like a torrent bursting,
          From a black thunder-cloud, down Scafell's side
          To rush and disappear. But soon broke forth
          (So willed the Muse) a less impetuous stream,
          That flowed awhile with unabating strength,                 10
          Then stopped for years; not audible again
          Before last primrose-time. Beloved Friend!
          The assurance which then cheered some heavy thoughts
          On thy departure to a foreign land
          Has failed; too slowly moves the promised work.
          Through the whole summer have I been at rest,
          Partly from voluntary holiday,
          And part through outward hindrance. But I heard,
          After the hour of sunset yester-even,
          Sitting within doors between light and dark,                20
          A choir of redbreasts gathered somewhere near
          My threshold,--minstrels from the distant woods
          Sent in on Winter's service, to announce,
          With preparation artful and benign,
          That the rough lord had left the surly North
          On his accustomed journey. The delight,
          Due to this timely notice, unawares
          Smote me, and, listening, I in whispers said,
          "Ye heartsome Choristers, ye and I will be
          Associates, and, unscared by blustering winds,              30
          Will chant together." Thereafter, as the shades
          Of twilight deepened, going forth, I spied
          A glow-worm underneath a dusky plume
          Or canopy of yet unwithered fern,
          Clear-shining, like a hermit's taper seen
          Through a thick forest. Silence touched me here
          No less than sound had done before; the child
          Of Summer, lingering, shining, by herself,
          The voiceless worm on the unfrequented hills,
          Seemed sent on the same errand with the choir               40
          Of Winter that had warbled at my door,
          And the whole year breathed tenderness and love.

            The last night's genial feeling overflowed
          Upon this morning, and my favourite grove,
          Tossing in sunshine its dark boughs aloft,
          As if to make the strong wind visible,
          Wakes in me agitations like its own,
          A spirit friendly to the Poet's task,
          Which we will now resume with lively hope,
          Nor checked by aught of tamer argument                      50
          That lies before us, needful to be told.

            Returned from that excursion, soon I bade
          Farewell for ever to the sheltered seats
          Of gowned students, quitted hall and bower,
          And every comfort of that privileged ground,
          Well pleased to pitch a vagrant tent among
          The unfenced regions of society.

            Yet, undetermined to what course of life
          I should adhere, and seeming to possess
          A little space of intermediate time                         60
          At full command, to London first I turned,
          In no disturbance of excessive hope,
          By personal ambition unenslaved,
          Frugal as there was need, and, though self-willed,
          From dangerous passions free. Three years had flown
          Since I had felt in heart and soul the shock
          Of the huge town's first presence, and had paced
          Her endless streets, a transient visitant:
          Now, fixed amid that concourse of mankind
          Where Pleasure whirls about incessantly,                    70
          And life and labour seem but one, I filled
          An idler's place; an idler well content
          To have a house (what matter for a home?)
          That owned him; living cheerfully abroad
          With unchecked fancy ever on the stir,
          And all my young affections out of doors.

            There was a time when whatsoe'er is feigned
          Of airy palaces, and gardens built
          By Genii of romance; or hath in grave
          Authentic history been set forth of Rome,                   80
          Alcairo, Babylon, or Persepolis;
          Or given upon report by pilgrim friars,
          Of golden cities ten months' journey deep
          Among Tartarian wilds--fell short, far short,
          Of what my fond simplicity believed
          And thought of London--held me by a chain
          Less strong of wonder and obscure delight.
          Whether the bolt of childhood's Fancy shot
          For me beyond its ordinary mark,
          'Twere vain to ask; but in our flock of boys                90
          Was One, a cripple from his birth, whom chance
          Summoned from school to London; fortunate
          And envied traveller! When the Boy returned,
          After short absence, curiously I scanned
          His mien and person, nor was free, in sooth,
          From disappointment, not to find some change
          In look and air, from that new region brought,
          As if from Fairy-land. Much I questioned him;
          And every word he uttered, on my ears
          Fell flatter than a caged parrot's note,                   100
          That answers unexpectedly awry,
          And mocks the prompter's listening. Marvellous things
          Had vanity (quick Spirit that appears
          Almost as deeply seated and as strong
          In a Child's heart as fear itself) conceived
          For my enjoyment. Would that I could now
          Recall what then I pictured to myself,
          Of mitred Prelates, Lords in ermine clad,
          The King, and the King's Palace, and, not last,
          Nor least, Heaven bless him! the renowned Lord Mayor.      110
          Dreams not unlike to those which once begat
          A change of purpose in young Whittington,
          When he, a friendless and a drooping boy,
          Sate on a stone, and heard the bells speak out
          Articulate music. Above all, one thought
          Baffled my understanding: how men lived
          Even next-door neighbours, as we say, yet still
          Strangers, not knowing each the other's name.

            Oh, wondrous power of words, by simple faith
          Licensed to take the meaning that we love!                 120
          Vauxhall and Ranelagh! I then had heard
          Of your green groves, and wilderness of lamps
          Dimming the stars, and fireworks magical,
          And gorgeous ladies, under splendid domes,
          Floating in dance, or warbling high in air
          The songs of spirits! Nor had Fancy fed
          With less delight upon that other class
          Of marvels, broad-day wonders permanent:
          The River proudly bridged; the dizzy top
          And Whispering Gallery of St. Paul's; the tombs            130
          Of Westminster; the Giants of Guildhall;
          Bedlam, and those carved maniacs at the gates,
          Perpetually recumbent; Statues--man,
          And the horse under him--in gilded pomp
          Adorning flowery gardens, 'mid vast squares;
          The Monument, and that Chamber of the Tower
          Where England's sovereigns sit in long array,
          Their steeds bestriding,--every mimic shape
          Cased in the gleaming mail the monarch wore,
          Whether for gorgeous tournament addressed,                 140
          Or life or death upon the battle-field.
          Those bold imaginations in due time
          Had vanished, leaving others in their stead:
          And now I looked upon the living scene;
          Familiarly perused it; oftentimes,
          In spite of strongest disappointment, pleased
          Through courteous self-submission, as a tax
          Paid to the object by prescriptive right.

            Rise up, thou monstrous ant-hill on the plain
          Of a too busy world! Before me flow,                       150
          Thou endless stream of men and moving things!
          Thy every-day appearance, as it strikes--
          With wonder heightened, or sublimed by awe--
          On strangers, of all ages; the quick dance
          Of colours, lights, and forms; the deafening din;
          The comers and the goers face to face,
          Face after face; the string of dazzling wares,
          Shop after shop, with symbols, blazoned names,
          And all the tradesman's honours overhead:
          Here, fronts of houses, like a title-page,                 160
          With letters huge inscribed from top to toe,
          Stationed above the door, like guardian saints;
          There, allegoric shapes, female or male,
          Or physiognomies of real men,
          Land-warriors, kings, or admirals of the sea,
          Boyle, Shakspeare, Newton, or the attractive head
          Of some quack-doctor, famous in his day.

            Meanwhile the roar continues, till at length,
          Escaped as from an enemy, we turn
          Abruptly into some sequestered nook,                       170
          Still as a sheltered place when winds blow loud!
          At leisure, thence, through tracts of thin resort,
          And sights and sounds that come at intervals,
          We take our way. A raree-show is here,
          With children gathered round; another street
          Presents a company of dancing dogs,
          Or dromedary, with an antic pair
          Of monkeys on his back; a minstrel band
          Of Savoyards; or, single and alone,
          An English ballad-singer. Private courts,                  180
          Gloomy as coffins, and unsightly lanes
          Thrilled by some female vendor's scream, belike
          The very shrillest of all London cries,
          May then entangle our impatient steps;
          Conducted through those labyrinths, unawares,
          To privileged regions and inviolate,
          Where from their airy lodges studious lawyers
          Look out on waters, walks, and gardens green.

            Thence back into the throng, until we reach,
          Following the tide that slackens by degrees,               190
          Some half-frequented scene, where wider streets
          Bring straggling breezes of suburban air.
          Here files of ballads dangle from dead walls;
          Advertisements, of giant-size, from high
          Press forward, in all colours, on the sight;
          These, bold in conscious merit, lower down;
          'That', fronted with a most imposing word,
          Is, peradventure, one in masquerade.
          As on the broadening causeway we advance,
          Behold, turned upwards, a face hard and strong             200
          In lineaments, and red with over-toil.
          'Tis one encountered here and everywhere;
          A travelling cripple, by the trunk cut short,
          And stumping on his arms. In sailor's garb
          Another lies at length, beside a range
          Of well-formed characters, with chalk inscribed
          Upon the smooth flint stones: the Nurse is here,
          The Bachelor, that loves to sun himself,
          The military Idler, and the Dame,
          That field-ward takes her walk with decent steps.          210

            Now homeward through the thickening hubbub, where
          See, among less distinguishable shapes,
          The begging scavenger, with hat in hand;
          The Italian, as he thrids his way with care,
          Steadying, far-seen, a frame of images
          Upon his head; with basket at his breast
          The Jew; the stately and slow-moving Turk,
          With freight of slippers piled beneath his arm!

            Enough;--the mighty concourse I surveyed
          With no unthinking mind, well pleased to note              220
          Among the crowd all specimens of man,
          Through all the colours which the sun bestows,
          And every character of form and face:
          The Swede, the Russian; from the genial south,
          The Frenchman and the Spaniard; from remote
          America, the Hunter-Indian; Moors,
          Malays, Lascars, the Tartar, the Chinese,
          And Negro Ladies in white muslin gowns.

            At leisure, then, I viewed, from day to day,
          The spectacles within doors,--birds and beasts             230
          Of every nature, and strange plants convened
          From every clime; and, next, those sights that ape
          The absolute presence of reality,
          Expressing, as in mirror, sea and land,
          And what earth is, and what she has to show.
          I do not here allude to subtlest craft,
          By means refined attaining purest ends,
          But imitations, fondly made in plain
          Confession of man's weakness and his loves.
          Whether the Painter, whose ambitious skill                 240
          Submits to nothing less than taking in
          A whole horizon's circuit, do with power,
          Like that of angels or commissioned spirits,
          Fix us upon some lofty pinnacle,
          Or in a ship on waters, with a world
          Of life, and life-like mockery beneath,
          Above, behind, far stretching and before;
          Or more mechanic artist represent
          By scale exact, in model, wood or clay,
          From blended colours also borrowing help,                  250
          Some miniature of famous spots or things,--
          St. Peter's Church; or, more aspiring aim,
          In microscopic vision, Rome herself;
          Or, haply, some choice rural haunt,--the Falls
          Of Tivoli; and, high upon that steep,
          The Sibyl's mouldering Temple! every tree,
          Villa, or cottage, lurking among rocks
          Throughout the landscape; tuft, stone scratch minute--
          All that the traveller sees when he is there.

            Add to these exhibitions, mute and still,                260
          Others of wider scope, where living men,
          Music, and shifting pantomimic scenes,
          Diversified the allurement. Need I fear
          To mention by its name, as in degree,
          Lowest of these and humblest in attempt,
          Yet richly graced with honours of her own,
          Half-rural Sadler's Wells? Though at that time
          Intolerant, as is the way of youth
          Unless itself be pleased, here more than once
          Taking my seat, I saw (nor blush to add,                   270
          With ample recompense) giants and dwarfs,
          Clowns, conjurors, posture-masters, harlequins,
          Amid the uproar of the rabblement,
          Perform their feats. Nor was it mean delight
          To watch crude Nature work in untaught minds;
          To note the laws and progress of belief;
          Though obstinate on this way, yet on that
          How willingly we travel, and how far!
          To have, for instance, brought upon the scene
          The champion, Jack the Giant-killer: Lo!                   280
          He dons his coat of darkness; on the stage
          Walks, and achieves his wonders, from the eye
          Of living Mortal covert, "as the moon
          Hid in her vacant interlunar cave."
          Delusion bold! and how can it be wrought?
          The garb he wears is black as death, the word
          "Invisible" flames forth upon his chest.

            Here, too, were "forms and pressures of the time,"
          Rough, bold, as Grecian comedy displayed
          When Art was young; dramas of living men,                  290
          And recent things yet warm with life; a sea-fight,
          Shipwreck, or some domestic incident
          Divulged by Truth and magnified by Fame;
          Such as the daring brotherhood of late
          Set forth, too serious theme for that light place--
          I mean, O distant Friend! a story drawn
          From our own ground,--the Maid of Buttermere,--
          And how, unfaithful to a virtuous wife
          Deserted and deceived, the Spoiler came
          And wooed the artless daughter of the hills,               300
          And wedded her, in cruel mockery
          Of love and marriage bonds. These words to thee
          Must needs bring back the moment when we first,
          Ere the broad world rang with the maiden's name,
          Beheld her serving at the cottage inn;
          Both stricken, as she entered or withdrew,
          With admiration of her modest mien
          And carriage, marked by unexampled grace.
          We since that time not unfamiliarly
          Have seen her,--her discretion have observed,              310
          Her just opinions, delicate reserve,
          Her patience, and humility of mind
          Unspoiled by commendation and the excess
          Of public notice--an offensive light
          To a meek spirit suffering inwardly.

            From this memorial tribute to my theme
          I was returning, when, with sundry forms
          Commingled--shapes which met me in the way
          That we must tread--thy image rose again,
          Maiden of Buttermere! She lives in peace                   320
          Upon the spot where she was born and reared;
          Without contamination doth she live
          In quietness, without anxiety:
          Beside the mountain chapel, sleeps in earth
          Her new-born infant, fearless as a lamb
          That, thither driven from some unsheltered place,
          Rests underneath the little rock-like pile
          When storms are raging. Happy are they both--
          Mother and child!--These feelings, in themselves
          Trite, do yet scarcely seem so when I think                330
          On those ingenuous moments of our youth
          Ere we have learnt by use to slight the crimes
          And sorrows of the world. Those simple days
          Are now my theme; and, foremost of the scenes,
          Which yet survive in memory, appears
          One, at whose centre sate a lovely Boy,
          A sportive infant, who, for six months' space,
          Not more, had been of age to deal about
          Articulate prattle--Child as beautiful
          As ever clung around a mother's neck,                      340
          Or father fondly gazed upon with pride.
          There, too, conspicuous for stature tall
          And large dark eyes, beside her infant stood
          The mother; but, upon her cheeks diffused,
          False tints too well accorded with the glare
          From play-house lustres thrown without reserve
          On every object near. The Boy had been
          The pride and pleasure of all lookers-on
          In whatsoever place, but seemed in this
          A sort of alien scattered from the clouds.                 350
          Of lusty vigour, more than infantine
          He was in limb, in cheek a summer rose
          Just three parts blown--a cottage-child--if e'er,
          By cottage-door on breezy mountain-side,
          Or in some sheltering vale, was seen a babe
          By Nature's gifts so favoured. Upon a board
          Decked with refreshments had this child been placed
          'His' little stage in the vast theatre,
          And there he sate, surrounded with a throng
          Of chance spectators, chiefly dissolute men                360
          And shameless women, treated and caressed;
          Ate, drank, and with the fruit and glasses played,
          While oaths and laughter and indecent speech
          Were rife about him as the songs of birds
          Contending after showers. The mother now
          Is fading out of memory, but I see
          The lovely Boy as I beheld him then
          Among the wretched and the falsely gay,
          Like one of those who walked with hair unsinged
          Amid the fiery furnace. Charms and spells                  370
          Muttered on black and spiteful instigation
          Have stopped, as some believe, the kindliest growths.
          Ah, with how different spirit might a prayer
          Have been preferred, that this fair creature, checked
          By special privilege of Nature's love,
          Should in his childhood be detained for ever!
          But with its universal freight the tide
          Hath rolled along, and this bright innocent,
          Mary! may now have lived till he could look
          With envy on thy nameless babe that sleeps,                380
          Beside the mountain chapel, undisturbed.

            Four rapid years had scarcely then been told
          Since, travelling southward from our pastoral hills,
          I heard, and for the first time in my life,
          The voice of woman utter blasphemy--
          Saw woman as she is, to open shame
          Abandoned, and the pride of public vice;
          I shuddered, for a barrier seemed at once
          Thrown in that from humanity divorced
          Humanity, splitting the race of man                        390
          In twain, yet leaving the same outward form.
          Distress of mind ensued upon the sight,
          And ardent meditation. Later years
          Brought to such spectacle a milder sadness,
          Feelings of pure commiseration, grief
          For the individual and the overthrow
          Of her soul's beauty; farther I was then
          But seldom led, or wished to go; in truth
          The sorrow of the passion stopped me there.

            But let me now, less moved, in order take                400
          Our argument. Enough is said to show
          How casual incidents of real life,
          Observed where pastime only had been sought,
          Outweighed, or put to flight, the set events
          And measured passions of the stage, albeit
          By Siddons trod in the fulness of her power.
          Yet was the theatre my dear delight;
          The very gilding, lamps and painted scrolls,
          And all the mean upholstery of the place,
          Wanted not animation, when the tide                        410
          Of pleasure ebbed but to return as fast
          With the ever-shifting figures of the scene,
          Solemn or gay: whether some beauteous dame
          Advanced in radiance through a deep recess
          Of thick entangled forest, like the moon
          Opening the clouds; or sovereign king, announced
          With flourishing trumpet, came in full-blown state
          Of the world's greatness, winding round with train
          Of courtiers, banners, and a length of guards;
          Or captive led in abject weeds, and jingling               420
          His slender manacles; or romping girl
          Bounced, leapt, and pawed the air; or mumbling sire,
          A scare-crow pattern of old age dressed up
          In all the tatters of infirmity
          All loosely put together, hobbled in,
          Stumping upon a cane with which he smites,
          From time to time, the solid boards, and makes them
          Prate somewhat loudly of the whereabout
          Of one so overloaded with his years.
          But what of this! the laugh, the grin, grimace,            430
          The antics striving to outstrip each other,
          Were all received, the least of them not lost,
          With an unmeasured welcome. Through the night,
          Between the show, and many-headed mass
          Of the spectators, and each several nook
          Filled with its fray or brawl, how eagerly
          And with what flashes, as it were, the mind
          Turned this way--that way! sportive and alert
          And watchful, as a kitten when at play,
          While winds are eddying round her, among straws            440
          And rustling leaves. Enchanting age and sweet!
          Romantic almost, looked at through a space,
          How small, of intervening years! For then,
          Though surely no mean progress had been made
          In meditations holy and sublime,
          Yet something of a girlish child-like gloss
          Of novelty survived for scenes like these;
          Enjoyment haply handed down from times
          When at a country-playhouse, some rude barn
          Tricked out for that proud use, if I perchance             450
          Caught, on a summer evening through a chink
          In the old wall, an unexpected glimpse
          Of daylight, the bare thought of where I was
          Gladdened me more than if I had been led
          Into a dazzling cavern of romance,
          Crowded with Genii busy among works
          Not to be looked at by the common sun.

            The matter that detains us now may seem,
          To many, neither dignified enough
          Nor arduous, yet will not be scorned by them,              460
          Who, looking inward, have observed the ties
          That bind the perishable hours of life
          Each to the other, and the curious props
          By which the world of memory and thought
          Exists and is sustained. More lofty themes,
          Such as at least do wear a prouder face,
          Solicit our regard; but when I think
          Of these, I feel the imaginative power
          Languish within me; even then it slept,
          When, pressed by tragic sufferings, the heart              470
          Was more than full; amid my sobs and tears
          It slept, even in the pregnant season of youth.
          For though I was most passionately moved
          And yielded to all changes of the scene
          With an obsequious promptness, yet the storm
          Passed not beyond the suburbs of the mind;
          Save when realities of act and mien,
          The incarnation of the spirits that move
          In harmony amid the Poet's world,
          Rose to ideal grandeur, or, called forth                   480
          By power of contrast, made me recognise,
          As at a glance, the things which I had shaped,
          And yet not shaped, had seen and scarcely seen,
          When, having closed the mighty Shakspeare's page,
          I mused, and thought, and felt, in solitude.

            Pass we from entertainments, that are such
          Professedly, to others titled higher,
          Yet, in the estimate of youth at least,
          More near akin to those than names imply,--
          I mean the brawls of lawyers in their courts               490
          Before the ermined judge, or that great stage
          Where senators, tongue-favoured men, perform,
          Admired and envied. Oh! the beating heart,
          When one among the prime of these rose up,--
          One, of whose name from childhood we had heard
          Familiarly, a household term, like those,
          The Bedfords, Glosters, Salsburys, of old,
          Whom the fifth Harry talks of. Silence! hush!
          This is no trifler, no short-flighted wit,
          No stammerer of a minute, painfully                        500
          Delivered, No! the Orator hath yoked
          The Hours, like young Aurora, to his car:
          Thrice welcome Presence! how can patience e'er
          Grow weary of attending on a track
          That kindles with such glory! All are charmed,
          Astonished; like a hero in romance,
          He winds away his never-ending horn;
          Words follow words, sense seems to follow sense:
          What memory and what logic! till the strain
          Transcendent, superhuman as it seemed,                     510
          Grows tedious even in a young man's ear.

             Genius of Burke! forgive the pen seduced
          By specious wonders, and too slow to tell
          Of what the ingenuous, what bewildered men,
          Beginning to mistrust their boastful guides,
          And wise men, willing to grow wiser, caught,
          Rapt auditors! from thy most eloquent tongue--
          Now mute, for ever mute in the cold grave.
          I see him,--old, but vigorous in age,--
          Stand like an oak whose stag-horn branches start           520
          Out of its leafy brow, the more to awe
          The younger brethren of the grove. But some--
          While he forewarns, denounces, launches forth,
          Against all systems built on abstract rights,
          Keen ridicule; the majesty proclaims
          Of Institutes and Laws, hallowed by time;
          Declares the vital power of social ties
          Endeared by Custom; and with high disdain,
          Exploding upstart Theory, insists
          Upon the allegiance to which men are born--                530
          Some--say at once a froward multitude--
          Murmur (for truth is hated, where not loved)
          As the winds fret within the Aeolian cave,
          Galled by their monarch's chain. The times were big
          With ominous change, which, night by night, provoked
          Keen struggles, and black clouds of passion raised;
          But memorable moments intervened,
          When Wisdom, like the Goddess from Jove's brain,
          Broke forth in armour of resplendent words,
          Startling the Synod. Could a youth, and one                540
          In ancient story versed, whose breast had heaved
          Under the weight of classic eloquence,
          Sit, see, and hear, unthankful, uninspired?

             Nor did the Pulpit's oratory fail
          To achieve its higher triumph. Not unfelt
          Were its admonishments, nor lightly heard
          The awful truths delivered thence by tongues
          Endowed with various power to search the soul;
          Yet ostentation, domineering, oft
          Poured forth harangues, how sadly out of place!--          550
          There have I seen a comely bachelor,
          Fresh from a toilette of two hours, ascend
          His rostrum, with seraphic glance look up,
          And, in a tone elaborately low
          Beginning, lead his voice through many a maze
          A minuet course; and, winding up his mouth,
          From time to time, into an orifice
          Most delicate, a lurking eyelet, small,
          And only not invisible, again
          Open it out, diffusing thence a smile                      560
          Of rapt irradiation, exquisite.
          Meanwhile the Evangelists, Isaiah, Job,
          Moses, and he who penned, the other day,
          The Death of Abel, Shakspeare, and the Bard
          Whose genius spangled o'er a gloomy theme
          With fancies thick as his inspiring stars,
          And Ossian (doubt not--'tis the naked truth)
          Summoned from streamy Morven--each and all
          Would, in their turns, lend ornaments and flowers
          To entwine the crook of eloquence that helped              570
          This pretty Shepherd, pride of all the plains,
          To rule and guide his captivated flock.

            I glance but at a few conspicuous marks,
          Leaving a thousand others, that, in hall,
          Court, theatre, conventicle, or shop,
          In public room or private, park or street,
          Each fondly reared on his own pedestal,
          Looked out for admiration. Folly, vice,
          Extravagance in gesture, mien, and dress,
          And all the strife of singularity,                         580
          Lies to the ear, and lies to every sense--
          Of these, and of the living shapes they wear,
          There is no end. Such candidates for regard,
          Although well pleased to be where they were found,
          I did not hunt after, nor greatly prize,
          Nor made unto myself a secret boast
          Of reading them with quick and curious eye;
          But, as a common produce, things that are
          To-day, to-morrow will be, took of them
          Such willing note, as, on some errand bound                590
          That asks not speed, a traveller might bestow
          On sea-shells that bestrew the sandy beach,
          Or daisies swarming through the fields of June.

            But foolishness and madness in parade,
          Though most at home in this their dear domain,
          Are scattered everywhere, no rarities,
          Even to the rudest novice of the Schools.
          Me, rather, it employed, to note, and keep
          In memory, those individual sights
          Of courage, or integrity, or truth,                        600
          Or tenderness, which there, set off by foil,
          Appeared more touching. One will I select--
          A Father--for he bore that sacred name;--
          Him saw I, sitting in an open square,
          Upon a corner-stone of that low wall,
          Wherein were fixed the iron pales that fenced
          A spacious grass-plot; there, in silence, sate
          This One Man, with a sickly babe outstretched
          Upon his knee, whom he had thither brought
          For sunshine, and to breathe the fresher air.              610
          Of those who passed, and me who looked at him,
          He took no heed; but in his brawny arms
          (The Artificer was to the elbow bare,
          And from his work this moment had been stolen)
          He held the child, and, bending over it,
          As if he were afraid both of the sun
          And of the air, which he had come to seek,
          Eyed the poor babe with love unutterable.

            As the black storm upon the mountain top
          Sets off the sunbeam in the valley, so                     620
          That huge fermenting mass of human-kind
          Serves as a solemn back-ground, or relief,
          To single forms and objects, whence they draw,
          For feeling and contemplative regard,
          More than inherent liveliness and power.
          How oft, amid those overflowing streets,
          Have I gone forward with the crowd, and said
          Unto myself, "The face of every one
          That passes by me is a mystery!"
          Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed          630
          By thoughts of what and whither, when and how,
          Until the shapes before my eyes became
          A second-sight procession, such as glides
          Over still mountains, or appears in dreams;
          And once, far-travelled in such mood, beyond
          The reach of common indication, lost
          Amid the moving pageant, I was smitten
          Abruptly, with the view (a sight not rare)
          Of a blind Beggar, who, with upright face,
          Stood, propped against a wall, upon his chest              640
          Wearing a written paper, to explain
          His story, whence he came, and who he was.
          Caught by the spectacle my mind turned round
          As with the might of waters; and apt type
          This label seemed of the utmost we can know,
          Both of ourselves and of the universe;
          And, on the shape of that unmoving man,
          His steadfast face and sightless eyes, I gazed,
          As if admonished from another world.

            Though reared upon the base of outward things,           650
          Structures like these the excited spirit mainly
          Builds for herself; scenes different there are,
          Full-formed, that take, with small internal help,
          Possession of the faculties,--the peace
          That comes with night; the deep solemnity
          Of nature's intermediate hours of rest,
          When the great tide of human life stands still:
          The business of the day to come, unborn,
          Of that gone by, locked up, as in the grave;
          The blended calmness of the heavens and earth,             660
          Moonlight and stars, and empty streets, and sounds
          Unfrequent as in deserts; at late hours
          Of winter evenings, when unwholesome rains
          Are falling hard, with people yet astir,
          The feeble salutation from the voice
          Of some unhappy woman, now and then
          Heard as we pass, when no one looks about,
          Nothing is listened to. But these, I fear,
          Are falsely catalogued; things that are, are not,
          As the mind answers to them, or the heart                  670
          Is prompt, or slow, to feel. What say you, then,
          To times, when half the city shall break out
          Full of one passion, vengeance, rage, or fear?
          To executions, to a street on fire,
          Mobs, riots, or rejoicings? From these sights
          Take one,--that ancient festival, the Fair,
          Holden where martyrs suffered in past time,
          And named of St. Bartholomew; there, see
          A work completed to our hands, that lays,
          If any spectacle on earth can do,                          680
          The whole creative powers of man asleep!--
          For once, the Muse's help will we implore,
          And she shall lodge us, wafted on her wings,
          Above the press and danger of the crowd,
          Upon some showman's platform. What a shock
          For eyes and ears! what anarchy and din,
          Barbarian and infernal,--a phantasma,
          Monstrous in colour, motion, shape, sight, sound!
          Below, the open space, through every nook
          Of the wide area, twinkles, is alive                       690
          With heads; the midway region, and above,
          Is thronged with staring pictures and huge scrolls,
          Dumb proclamations of the Prodigies;
          With chattering monkeys dangling from their poles,
          And children whirling in their roundabouts;
          With those that stretch the neck and strain the eyes,
          And crack the voice in rivalship, the crowd
          Inviting; with buffoons against buffoons
          Grimacing, writhing, screaming,--him who grinds
          The hurdy-gurdy, at the fiddle weaves,                     700
          Rattles the salt-box, thumps the kettle-drum,
          And him who at the trumpet puffs his cheeks,
          The silver-collared Negro with his timbrel,
          Equestrians, tumblers, women, girls, and boys,
          Blue-breeched, pink-vested, with high-towering plumes.--
          All moveables of wonder, from all parts,
          Are here--Albinos, painted Indians, Dwarfs,
          The Horse of knowledge, and the learned Pig,
          The Stone-eater, the man that swallows fire,
          Giants, Ventriloquists, the Invisible Girl,                710
          The Bust that speaks and moves its goggling eyes,
          The Wax-work, Clock-work, all the marvellous craft
          Of modern Merlins, Wild Beasts, Puppet-shows,
          All out-o'-the-way, far-fetched, perverted things,
          All freaks of nature, all Promethean thoughts
          Of man, his dulness, madness, and their feats
          All jumbled up together, to compose
          A Parliament of Monsters. Tents and Booths
          Meanwhile, as if the whole were one vast mill,
          Are vomiting, receiving on all sides,                      720
          Men, Women, three-years' Children, Babes in arms.

            Oh, blank confusion! true epitome
          Of what the mighty City is herself,
          To thousands upon thousands of her sons,
          Living amid the same perpetual whirl
          Of trivial objects, melted and reduced
          To one identity, by differences
          That have no law, no meaning, and no end--
          Oppression, under which even highest minds
          Must labour, whence the strongest are not free.            730
          But though the picture weary out the eye,
          By nature an unmanageable sight,
          It is not wholly so to him who looks
          In steadiness, who hath among least things
          An under-sense of greatest; sees the parts
          As parts, but with a feeling of the whole.
          This, of all acquisitions, first awaits
          On sundry and most widely different modes
          Of education, nor with least delight
          On that through which I passed. Attention springs,         740
          And comprehensiveness and memory flow,
          From early converse with the works of God
          Among all regions; chiefly where appear
          Most obviously simplicity and power.
          Think, how the everlasting streams and woods,
          Stretched and still stretching far and wide, exalt
          The roving Indian, on his desert sands:
          What grandeur not unfelt, what pregnant show
          Of beauty, meets the sun-burnt Arab's eye:
          And, as the sea propels, from zone to zone,                750
          Its currents; magnifies its shoals of life
          Beyond all compass; spreads, and sends aloft
          Armies of clouds,--even so, its powers and aspects
          Shape for mankind, by principles as fixed,
          The views and aspirations of the soul
          To majesty. Like virtue have the forms
          Perennial of the ancient hills; nor less
          The changeful language of their countenances
          Quickens the slumbering mind, and aids the thoughts,
          However multitudinous, to move                             760
          With order and relation. This, if still,
          As hitherto, in freedom I may speak,
          Not violating any just restraint,
          As may be hoped, of real modesty,--
          This did I feel, in London's vast domain.
          The Spirit of Nature was upon me there;
          The soul of Beauty and enduring Life
          Vouchsafed her inspiration, and diffused,
          Through meagre lines and colours, and the press
          Of self-destroying, transitory things,                     770
          Composure, and ennobling Harmony.


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