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THE PRELUDE

BOOK ELEVENTH

FRANCE (concluded)

          FROM that time forth, Authority in France
          Put on a milder face; Terror had ceased,
          Yet everything was wanting that might give
          Courage to them who looked for good by light
          Of rational Experience, for the shoots
          And hopeful blossoms of a second spring:
          Yet, in me, confidence was unimpaired;
          The Senate's language, and the public acts
          And measures of the Government, though both
          Weak, and of heartless omen, had not power                  10
          To daunt me; in the People was my trust:
          And, in the virtues which mine eyes had seen,
          I knew that wound external could not take
          Life from the young Republic; that new foes
          Would only follow, in the path of shame,
          Their brethren, and her triumphs be in the end
          Great, universal, irresistible.
          This intuition led me to confound
          One victory with another, higher far,--
          Triumphs of unambitious peace at home,                      20
          And noiseless fortitude. Beholding still
          Resistance strong as heretofore, I thought
          That what was in degree the same was likewise
          The same in quality,--that, as the worse
          Of the two spirits then at strife remained
          Untired, the better, surely, would preserve
          The heart that first had roused him. Youth maintains,
          In all conditions of society,
          Communion more direct and intimate
          With Nature,--hence, ofttimes, with reason too--            30
          Than age or manhood, even. To Nature, then,
          Power had reverted: habit, custom, law,
          Had left an interregnum's open space
          For 'her' to move about in, uncontrolled.
          Hence could I see how Babel-like their task,
          Who, by the recent deluge stupified,
          With their whole souls went culling from the day
          Its petty promises, to build a tower
          For their own safety; laughed with my compeers
          At gravest heads, by enmity to France                       40
          Distempered, till they found, in every blast
          Forced from the street-disturbing newsman's horn,
          For her great cause record or prophecy
          Of utter ruin. How might we believe
          That wisdom could, in any shape, come near
          Men clinging to delusions so insane?
          And thus, experience proving that no few
          Of our opinions had been just, we took
          Like credit to ourselves where less was due,
          And thought that other notions were as sound                50
          Yea, could not but be right, because we saw
          That foolish men opposed them.
                                          To a strain
          More animated I might here give way,
          And tell, since juvenile errors are my theme,
          What in those days, through Britain, was performed
          To turn 'all' judgments out of their right course;
          But this is passion over-near ourselves,
          Reality too close and too intense,
          And intermixed with something, in my mind,
          Of scorn and condemnation personal,                         60
          That would profane the sanctity of verse.
          Our Shepherds, this say merely, at that time
          Acted, or seemed at least to act, like men
          Thirsting to make the guardian crook of law
          A tool of murder; they who ruled the State--
          Though with such awful proof before their eyes
          That he, who would sow death, reaps death, or worse,
          And can reap nothing better--child-like longed
          To imitate, not wise enough to avoid;
          Or left (by mere timidity betrayed)                         70
          The plain straight road, for one no better chosen
          Than if their wish had been to undermine
          Justice, and make an end of Liberty.

            But from these bitter truths I must return
          To my own history. It hath been told
          That I was led to take an eager part
          In arguments of civil polity,
          Abruptly, and indeed before my time:
          I had approached, like other youths, the shield
          Of human nature from the golden side,                       80
          And would have fought, even to the death, to attest
          The quality of the metal which I saw.
          What there is best in individual man,
          Of wise in passion, and sublime in power,
          Benevolent in small societies,
          And great in large ones, I had oft revolved,
          Felt deeply, but not thoroughly understood
          By reason: nay, far from it; they were yet,
          As cause was given me afterwards to learn,
          Not proof against the injuries of the day;                  90
          Lodged only at the sanctuary's door,
          Not safe within its bosom. Thus prepared,
          And with such general insight into evil,
          And of the bounds which sever it from good,
          As books and common intercourse with life
          Must needs have given--to the inexperienced mind,
          When the world travels in a beaten road,
          Guide faithful as is needed--I began
          To meditate with ardour on the rule
          And management of nations; what it is                      100
          And ought to be; and strove to learn how far
          Their power or weakness, wealth or poverty,
          Their happiness or misery, depends
          Upon their laws, and fashion of the State.

            O pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
          For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
          Upon our side, us who were strong in love!
          Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
          But to be young was very Heaven! O times,
          In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways                110
          Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
          The attraction of a country in romance!
          When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights
          When most intent on making of herself
          A prime enchantress--to assist the work,
          Which then was going forward in her name!
          Not favoured spots alone, but the whole Earth,
          The beauty wore of promise--that which sets
          (As at some moments might not be unfelt
          Among the bowers of Paradise itself)                       120
          The budding rose above the rose full blown.
          What temper at the prospect did not wake
          To happiness unthought of? The inert
          Were roused, and lively natures rapt away!
          They who had fed their childhood upon dreams,
          The play-fellows of fancy, who had made
          All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength
          Their ministers,--who in lordly wise had stirred
          Among the grandest objects of the sense,
          And dealt with whatsoever they found there                 130
          As if they had within some lurking right
          To wield it;--they, too, who of gentle mood
          Had watched all gentle motions, and to these
          Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more mild,
          And in the region of their peaceful selves;--
          Now was it that 'both' found, the meek and lofty
          Did both find, helpers to their hearts' desire,
          And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish,--
          Were called upon to exercise their skill,
          Not in Utopia,--subterranean fields,--                     140
          Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!
          But in the very world, which is the world
          Of all of us,--the place where, in the end,
          We find our happiness, or not at all!

            Why should I not confess that Earth was then
          To me, what an inheritance, new-fallen,
          Seems, when the first time visited, to one
          Who thither comes to find in it his home?
          He walks about and looks upon the spot
          With cordial transport, moulds it and remoulds,            150
          And is half-pleased with things that are amiss,
          'Twill be such joy to see them disappear.

            An active partisan, I thus convoked
          From every object pleasant circumstance
          To suit my ends; I moved among mankind
          With genial feelings still predominant;
          When erring, erring on the better part,
          And in the kinder spirit; placable,
          Indulgent, as not uninformed that men
          See as they have been taught--Antiquity                    160
          Gives rights to error; and aware, no less
          That throwing off oppression must be work
          As well of License as of Liberty;
          And above all--for this was more than all--
          Not caring if the wind did now and then
          Blow keen upon an eminence that gave
          Prospect so large into futurity;
          In brief, a child of Nature, as at first,
          Diffusing only those affections wider
          That from the cradle had grown up with me,                 170
          And losing, in no other way than light
          Is lost in light, the weak in the more strong.

            In the main outline, such it might be said
          Was my condition, till with open war
          Britain opposed the liberties of France.
          This threw me first out of the pale of love;
          Soured and corrupted, upwards to the source,
          My sentiments; was not, as hitherto,
          A swallowing up of lesser things in great,
          But change of them into their contraries;                  180
          And thus a way was opened for mistakes
          And false conclusions, in degree as gross,
          In kind more dangerous. What had been a pride,
          Was now a shame; my likings and my loves
          Ran in new channels, leaving old ones dry;
          And hence a blow that, in maturer age,
          Would but have touched the judgment, struck more deep
          Into sensations near the heart: meantime,
          As from the first, wild theories were afloat,
          To whose pretensions, sedulously urged,                    190
          I had but lent a careless ear, assured
          That time was ready to set all things right,
          And that the multitude, so long oppressed,
          Would be oppressed no more.
                                       But when events
          Brought less encouragement, and unto these
          The immediate proof of principles no more
          Could be entrusted, while the events themselves,
          Worn out in greatness, stripped of novelty,
          Less occupied the mind, and sentiments
          Could through my understanding's natural growth            200
          No longer keep their ground, by faith maintained
          Of inward consciousness, and hope that laid
          Her hand upon her object--evidence
          Safer, of universal application, such
          As could not be impeached, was sought elsewhere.

            But now, become oppressors in their turn,
          Frenchmen had changed a war of self-defence
          For one of conquest, losing sight of all
          Which they had struggled for: up mounted now,
          Openly in the eye of earth and heaven,                     210
          The scale of liberty. I read her doom,
          With anger vexed, with disappointment sore,
          But not dismayed, nor taking to the shame
          Of a false prophet. While resentment rose
          Striving to hide, what nought could heal, the wounds
          Of mortified presumption, I adhered
          More firmly to old tenets, and, to prove
          Their temper, strained them more; and thus, in heat
          Of contest, did opinions every day
          Grow into consequence, till round my mind                  220
          They clung, as if they were its life, nay more,
          The very being of the immortal soul.

            This was the time, when, all things tending fast
          To depravation, speculative schemes--
          That promised to abstract the hopes of Man
          Out of his feelings, to be fixed thenceforth
          For ever in a purer element--
          Found ready welcome. Tempting region 'that'
          For Zeal to enter and refresh herself,
          Where passions had the privilege to work,                  230
          And never hear the sound of their own names.
          But, speaking more in charity, the dream
          Flattered the young, pleased with extremes, nor least
          With that which makes our Reason's naked self
          The object of its fervour. What delight!
          How glorious! in self-knowledge and self-rule,
          To look through all the frailties of the world,
          And, with a resolute mastery shaking off
          Infirmities of nature, time, and place,
          Build social upon personal Liberty,                        240
          Which, to the blind restraints of general laws,
          Superior, magisterially adopts
          One guide, the light of circumstances, flashed
          Upon an independent intellect.
          Thus expectation rose again; thus hope,
          From her first ground expelled, grew proud once more.
          Oft, as my thoughts were turned to human kind,
          I scorned indifference; but, inflamed with thirst
          Of a secure intelligence, and sick
          Of other longing, I pursued what seemed                    250
          A more exalted nature; wished that Man
          Should start out of his earthy, worm-like state,
          And spread abroad the wings of Liberty,
          Lord of himself, in undisturbed delight--
          A noble aspiration! 'yet' I feel
          (Sustained by worthier as by wiser thoughts)
          The aspiration, nor shall ever cease
          To feel it;--but return we to our course.

            Enough, 'tis true--could such a plea excuse
          Those aberrations--had the clamorous friends               260
          Of ancient Institutions said and done
          To bring disgrace upon their very names;
          Disgrace, of which, custom and written law,
          And sundry moral sentiments as props
          Or emanations of those institutes,
          Too justly bore a part. A veil had been
          Uplifted; why deceive ourselves? in sooth,
          'Twas even so; and sorrow for the man
          Who either had not eyes wherewith to see,
          Or, seeing, had forgotten! A strong shock                  270
          Was given to old opinions; all men's minds
          Had felt its power, and mine was both let loose,
          Let loose and goaded. After what hath been
          Already said of patriotic love,
          Suffice it here to add, that, somewhat stern
          In temperament, withal a happy man,
          And therefore bold to look on painful things,
          Free likewise of the world, and thence more bold,
          I summoned my best skill, and toiled, intent
          To anatomise the frame of social life;                     280
          Yea, the whole body of society
          Searched to its heart. Share with me, Friend! the wish
          That some dramatic tale, endued with shapes
          Livelier, and flinging out less guarded words
          Than suit the work we fashion, might set forth
          What then I learned, or think I learned, of truth,
          And the errors into which I fell, betrayed
          By present objects, and by reasonings false
          From their beginnings, inasmuch as drawn
          Out of a heart that had been turned aside                  290
          From Nature's way by outward accidents,
          And which was thus confounded, more and more
          Misguided, and misguiding. So I fared,
          Dragging all precepts, judgments, maxims, creeds,
          Like culprits to the bar; calling the mind,
          Suspiciously, to establish in plain day
          Her titles and her honours; now believing,
          Now disbelieving; endlessly perplexed
          With impulse, motive, right and wrong, the ground
          Of obligation, what the rule and whence                    300
          The sanction; till, demanding formal 'proof',
          And seeking it in every thing, I lost
          All feeling of conviction, and, in fine,
          Sick, wearied out with contrarieties,
          Yielded up moral questions in despair.

            This was the crisis of that strong disease,
          This the soul's last and lowest ebb; I drooped,
          Deeming our blessed reason of least use
          Where wanted most: "The lordly attributes
          Of will and choice," I bitterly exclaimed                  310
          "What are they but a mockery of a Being
          Who hath in no concerns of his a test
          Of good and evil; knows not what to fear
          Or hope for, what to covet or to shun;
          And who, if those could be discerned, would yet
          Be little profited, would see, and ask
          Where is the obligation to enforce?
          And, to acknowledged law rebellious, still,
          As selfish passion urged, would act amiss;
          The dupe of folly, or the slave of crime."                 320

            Depressed, bewildered thus, I did not walk
          With scoffers, seeking light and gay revenge
          From indiscriminate laughter, nor sate down
          In reconcilement with an utter waste
          Of intellect; such sloth I could not brook,
          (Too well I loved, in that my spring of life,
          Pains-taking thoughts, and truth, their dear reward)
          But turned to abstract science, and there sought
          Work for the reasoning faculty enthroned
          Where the disturbances of space and time--                 330
          Whether in matters various, properties
          Inherent, or from human will and power
          Derived--find no admission. Then it was--
          Thanks to the bounteous Giver of all good!--
          That the beloved Sister in whose sight
          Those days were passed, now speaking in a voice
          Of sudden admonition--like a brook
          That did but 'cross' a lonely road, and now
          Is seen, heard, felt, and caught at every turn,
          Companion never lost through many a league--               340
          Maintained for me a saving intercourse
          With my true self; for, though bedimmed and changed
          Much, as it seemed, I was no further changed
          Than as a clouded and a waning moon:
          She whispered still that brightness would return;
          She, in the midst of all, preserved me still
          A Poet, made me seek beneath that name,
          And that alone, my office upon earth;
          And, lastly, as hereafter will be shown,
          If willing audience fail not, Nature's self,               350
          By all varieties of human love
          Assisted, led me back through opening day
          To those sweet counsels between head and heart
          Whence grew that genuine knowledge, fraught with peace,
          Which, through the later sinkings of this cause,
          Hath still upheld me, and upholds me now
          In the catastrophe (for so they dream,
          And nothing less), when, finally to close
          And seal up all the gains of France, a Pope
          Is summoned in, to crown an Emperor--                      360
          This last opprobrium, when we see a people,
          That once looked up in faith, as if to Heaven
          For manna, take a lesson from the dog
          Returning to his vomit; when the sun
          That rose in splendour, was alive, and moved
          In exultation with a living pomp
          Of clouds--his glory's natural retinue--
          Hath dropped all functions by the gods bestowed,
          And, turned into a gewgaw, a machine,
          Sets like an Opera phantom.
                                       Thus, O Friend!               370
          Through times of honour and through times of shame
          Descending, have I faithfully retraced
          The perturbations of a youthful mind
          Under a long-lived storm of great events--
          A story destined for thy ear, who now,
          Among the fallen of nations, dost abide
          Where Etna, over hill and valley, casts
          His shadow stretching towards Syracuse,
          The city of Timoleon! Righteous Heaven!
          How are the mighty prostrated! They first,                 380
          They first of all that breathe should have awaked
          When the great voice was heard from out the tombs
          Of ancient heroes. If I suffered grief
          For ill-requited France, by many deemed
          A trifler only in her proudest day;
          Have been distressed to think of what she once
          Promised, now is; a far more sober cause
          Thine eyes must see of sorrow in a land,
          To the reanimating influence lost
          Of memory, to virtue lost and hope,                        390
          Though with the wreck of loftier years bestrewn.

            But indignation works where hope is not,
          And thou, O Friend! wilt be refreshed. There is
          One great society alone on earth:
          The noble Living and the noble Dead.

            Thine be such converse strong and sanative,
          A ladder for thy spirit to reascend
          To health and joy and pure contentedness;
          To me the grief confined, that thou art gone
          From this last spot of earth, where Freedom now            400
          Stands single in her only sanctuary;
          A lonely wanderer, art gone, by pain
          Compelled and sickness, at this latter day,
          This sorrowful reverse for all mankind.
          I feel for thee, must utter what I feel:
          The sympathies erewhile in part discharged,
          Gather afresh, and will have vent again:
          My own delights do scarcely seem to me
          My own delights; the lordly Alps themselves,
          Those rosy peaks, from which the Morning looks             410
          Abroad on many nations, are no more
          For me that image of pure gladsomeness
          Which they were wont to be. Through kindred scenes,
          For purpose, at a time, how different!
          Thou tak'st thy way, carrying the heart and soul
          That Nature gives to Poets, now by thought
          Matured, and in the summer of their strength.
          Oh! wrap him in your shades, ye giant woods,
          On Etna's side; and thou, O flowery field
          Of Enna! is there not some nook of thine,                  420
          From the first play-time of the infant world
          Kept sacred to restorative delight,
          When from afar invoked by anxious love?

            Child of the mountains, among shepherds reared,
          Ere yet familiar with the classic page,
          I learnt to dream of Sicily; and lo,
          The gloom, that, but a moment past, was deepened
          At thy command, at her command gives way;
          A pleasant promise, wafted from her shores,
          Comes o'er my heart: in fancy I behold                     430
          Her seas yet smiling, her once happy vales;
          Nor can my tongue give utterance to a name
          Of note belonging to that honoured isle,
          Philosopher or Bard, Empedocles,
          Or Archimedes, pure abstracted soul!
          That doth not yield a solace to my grief:
          And, O Theocritus, so far have some
          Prevailed among the powers of heaven and earth,
          By their endowments, good or great, that they
          Have had, as thou reportest, miracles                      440
          Wrought for them in old time: yea, not unmoved,
          When thinking on my own beloved friend,
          I hear thee tell how bees with honey fed
          Divine Comates, by his impious lord
          Within a chest imprisoned; how they came
          Laden from blooming grove or flowery field,
          And fed him there, alive, month after month,
          Because the goatherd, blessed man! had lips
          Wet with the Muses' nectar.
                                       Thus I soothe
          The pensive moments by this calm fire-side,                450
          And find a thousand bounteous images
          To cheer the thoughts of those I love, and mine.
          Our prayers have been accepted; thou wilt stand
          On Etna's summit, above earth and sea,
          Triumphant, winning from the invaded heavens
          Thoughts without bound, magnificent designs,
          Worthy of poets who attuned their harps
          In wood or echoing cave, for discipline
          Of heroes; or, in reverence to the gods,
          'Mid temples, served by sapient priests, and choirs        460
          Of virgins crowned with roses. Not in vain
          Those temples, where they in their ruins yet
          Survive for inspiration, shall attract
          Thy solitary steps: and on the brink
          Thou wilt recline of pastoral Arethuse;
          Or, if that fountain be in truth no more,
          Then, near some other spring--which, by the name
          Thou gratulatest, willingly deceived--
          I see thee linger a glad votary,
          And not a captive pining for his home.                     470


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