William Wordsworth

The Prelude, Book 9

Residence In France

EVEN as a river,--partly (it might seem) Yielding to old remembrances, and swayed In part by fear to shape a way direct, That would engulph him soon in the ravenous sea-- Turns, and will measure back his course, far back, Seeking the very regions which he crossed In his first outset; so have we, my Friend! Turned and returned with intricate delay. Or as a traveller, who has gained the brow Of some aerial Down, while there he halts For breathing-time, is tempted to review The region left behind him; and, if aught Deserving notice have escaped regard, Or been regarded with too careless eye, Strives, from that height, with one and yet one more Last look, to make the best amends he may: So have we lingered. Now we start afresh With courage, and new hope risen on our toil. Fair greetings to this shapeless eagerness, Whene'er it comes! needful in work so long, Thrice needful to the argument which now Awaits us! Oh, how much unlike the past! Free as a colt at pasture on the hill, I ranged at large, through London's wide domain, Month after month. Obscurely did I live, Not seeking frequent intercourse with men, By literature, or elegance, or rank, Distinguished. Scarcely was a year thus spent Ere I forsook the crowded solitude, With less regret for its luxurious pomp, And all the nicely-guarded shows of art, Than for the humble book-stalls in the streets, Exposed to eye and hand where'er I turned. France lured me forth; the realm that I had crossed So lately, journeying toward the snow-clad Alps. But now, relinquishing the scrip and staff, And all enjoyment which the summer sun Sheds round the steps of those who meet the day With motion constant as his own, I went Prepared to sojourn in a pleasant town, Washed by the current of the stately Loire. Through Paris lay my readiest course, and there Sojourning a few days, I visited In haste, each spot of old or recent fame, The latter chiefly, from the field of Mars Down to the suburbs of St. Antony, And from Mont Martre southward to the Dome Of Genevieve. In both her clamorous Halls, The National Synod and the Jacobins, I saw the Revolutionary Power Toss like a ship at anchor, rocked by storms; The Arcades I traversed, in the Palace huge Of Orleans; coasted round and round the line Of Tavern, Brothel, Gaming-house, and Shop, Great rendezvous of worst and best, the walk Of all who had a purpose, or had not; I stared and listened, with a stranger's ears, To Hawkers and Haranguers, hubbub wild! And hissing Factionists with ardent eyes, In knots, or pairs, or single. Not a look Hope takes, or Doubt or Fear is forced to wear, But seemed there present; and I scanned them all, Watched every gesture uncontrollable, Of anger, and vexation, and despite, All side by side, and struggling face to face, With gaiety and dissolute idleness. Where silent zephyrs sported with the dust Of the Bastille, I sate in the open sun, And from the rubbish gathered up a stone, And pocketed the relic, in the guise Of an enthusiast; yet, in honest truth, I looked for something that I could not find, Affecting more emotion than I felt; For 'tis most certain, that these various sights, However potent their first shock, with me Appeared to recompense the traveller's pains Less than the painted Magdalene of Le Brun, A beauty exquisitely wrought, with hair Dishevelled, gleaming eyes, and rueful cheek Pale and bedropped with overflowing tears. But hence to my more permanent abode I hasten; there, by novelties in speech, Domestic manners, customs, gestures, looks, And all the attire of ordinary life, Attention was engrossed; and, thus amused, I stood 'mid those concussions, unconcerned, Tranquil almost, and careless as a flower Glassed in a green-house, or a parlour shrub That spreads its leaves in unmolested peace, While every bush and tree, the country through, Is shaking to the roots: indifference this Which may seem strange: but I was unprepared With needful knowledge, had abruptly passed Into a theatre, whose stage was filled And busy with an action far advanced. Like others, I had skimmed, and sometimes read With care, the master pamphlets of the day; Nor wanted such half-insight as grew wild Upon that meagre soil, helped out by talk And public news; but having never seen A chronicle that might suffice to show Whence the main organs of the public power Had sprung, their transmigrations, when and how Accomplished, giving thus unto events A form and body; all things were to me Loose and disjointed, and the affections left Without a vital interest. At that time, Moreover, the first storm was overblown, And the strong hand of outward violence Locked up in quiet. For myself, I fear Now, in connection with so great a theme, To speak (as I must be compelled to do) Of one so unimportant; night by night Did I frequent the formal haunts of men, Whom, in the city, privilege of birth Sequestered from the rest, societies Polished in arts, and in punctilio versed; Whence, and from deeper causes, all discourse Of good and evil of the time was shunned With scrupulous care; but these restrictions soon Proved tedious, and I gradually withdrew Into a noisier world, and thus ere long Became a patriot; and my heart was all Given to the people, and my love was theirs. A band of military Officers, Then stationed in the city, were the chief Of my associates: some of these wore swords That had been seasoned in the wars, and all Were men well-born; the chivalry of France. In age and temper differing, they had yet One spirit ruling in each heart; alike (Save only one, hereafter to be named) Were bent upon undoing what was done: This was their rest and only hope; therewith No fear had they of bad becoming worse, For worst to them was come; nor would have stirred, Or deemed it worth a moment's thought to stir, In anything, save only as the act Looked thitherward. One, reckoning by years, Was in the prime of manhood, and erewhile He had sate lord in many tender hearts; Though heedless of such honours now, and changed: His temper was quite mastered by the times, And they had blighted him, had eaten away The beauty of his person, doing wrong Alike to body and to mind: his port, Which once had been erect and open, now Was stooping and contracted, and a face, Endowed by Nature with her fairest gifts Of symmetry and light and bloom, expressed, As much as any that was ever seen, A ravage out of season, made by thoughts Unhealthy and vexatious. With the hour, That from the press of Paris duly brought Its freight of public news, the fever came, A punctual visitant, to shake this man, Disarmed his voice and fanned his yellow cheek Into a thousand colours; while he read, Or mused, his sword was haunted by his touch Continually, like an uneasy place In his own body. 'Twas in truth an hour Of universal ferment; mildest men Were agitated, and commotions, strife Of passion and opinion, filled the walls Of peaceful houses with unquiet sounds. The soil of common life was, at that time, Too hot to tread upon. Oft said I then, And not then only, "What a mockery this Of history, the past and that to come! Now do I feel how all men are deceived, Reading of nations and their works, in faith, Faith given to vanity and emptiness; Oh! laughter for the page that would reflect To future times the face of what now is!" The land all swarmed with passion, like a plain Devoured by locusts,--Carra, Gorsas,--add A hundred other names, forgotten now, Nor to be heard of more; yet, they were powers, Like earthquakes, shocks repeated day by day, And felt through every nook of town and field. Such was the state of things. Meanwhile the chief Of my associates stood prepared for flight To augment the band of emigrants in arms Upon the borders of the Rhine, and leagued With foreign foes mustered for instant war. This was their undisguised intent, and they Were waiting with the whole of their desires The moment to depart. An Englishman, Born in a land whose very name appeared To license some unruliness of mind; A stranger, with youth's further privilege, And the indulgence that a half-learnt speech Wins from the courteous; I, who had been else Shunned and not tolerated, freely lived With these defenders of the Crown, and talked, And heard their notions; nor did they disdain The wish to bring me over to their cause. But though untaught by thinking or by books To reason well of polity or law, And nice distinctions, then on every tongue, Of natural rights and civil; and to acts Of nations and their passing interests, (If with unworldly ends and aims compared) Almost indifferent, even the historian's tale Prizing but little otherwise than I prized Tales of the poets, as it made the heart Beat high, and filled the fancy with fair forms, Old heroes and their sufferings and their deeds; Yet in the regal sceptre, and the pomp Of orders and degrees, I nothing found Then, or had ever, even in crudest youth, That dazzled me, but rather what I mourned And ill could brook, beholding that the best Ruled not, and feeling that they ought to rule. For, born in a poor district, and which yet Retaineth more of ancient homeliness, Than any other nook of English ground, It was my fortune scarcely to have seen, Through the whole tenor of my school-day time, The face of one, who, whether boy or man, Was vested with attention or respect Through claims of wealth or blood; nor was it least Of many benefits, in later years Derived from academic institutes And rules, that they held something up to view Of a Republic, where all stood thus far Upon equal ground; that we were brothers all In honour, as in one community, Scholars and gentlemen; where, furthermore, Distinction open lay to all that came, And wealth and titles were in less esteem Than talents, worth, and prosperous industry, Add unto this, subservience from the first To presences of God's mysterious power Made manifest in Nature's sovereignty, And fellowship with venerable books, To sanction the proud workings of the soul, And mountain liberty. It could not be But that one tutored thus should look with awe Upon the faculties of man, receive Gladly the highest promises, and hail, As best, the government of equal rights And individual worth. And hence, O Friend! If at the first great outbreak I rejoiced Less than might well befit my youth, the cause In part lay here, that unto me the events Seemed nothing out of nature's certain course, A gift that was come rather late than soon. No wonder, then, if advocates like these, Inflamed by passion, blind with prejudice, And stung with injury, at this riper day, Were impotent to make my hopes put on The shape of theirs, my understanding bend In honour to their honour: zeal, which yet Had slumbered, now in opposition burst Forth like a Polar summer: every word They uttered was a dart, by counter-winds Blown back upon themselves; their reason seemed Confusion-stricken by a higher power Than human understanding, their discourse Maimed, spiritless; and, in their weakness strong, I triumphed. Meantime, day by day, the roads Were crowded with the bravest youth of France, And all the promptest of her spirits, linked In gallant soldiership, and posting on To meet the war upon her frontier bounds. Yet at this very moment do tears start Into mine eyes: I do not say I weep-- I wept not then,--but tears have dimmed my sight, In memory of the farewells of that time, Domestic severings, female fortitude At dearest separation, patriot love And self-devotion, and terrestrial hope, Encouraged with a martyr's confidence; Even files of strangers merely seen but once, And for a moment, men from far with sound Of music, martial tunes, and banners spread, Entering the city, here and there a face, Or person, singled out among the rest, Yet still a stranger and beloved as such; Even by these passing spectacles my heart Was oftentimes uplifted, and they seemed Arguments sent from Heaven to prove the cause Good, pure, which no one could stand up against, Who was not lost, abandoned, selfish, proud, Mean, miserable, wilfully depraved, Hater perverse of equity and truth. Among that band of Officers was one, Already hinted at, of other mould-- A patriot, thence rejected by the rest, And with an oriental loathing spurned, As of a different caste. A meeker man Than this lived never, nor a more benign, Meek though enthusiastic. Injuries Made 'him' more gracious, and his nature then Did breathe its sweetness out most sensibly, As aromatic flowers on Alpine turf, When foot hath crushed them. He through the events Of that great change wandered in perfect faith, As through a book, an old romance, or tale Of Fairy, or some dream of actions wrought Behind the summer clouds. By birth he ranked With the most noble, but unto the poor Among mankind he was in service bound, As by some tie invisible, oaths professed To a religious order. Man he loved As man; and, to the mean and the obscure, And all the homely in their homely works, Transferred a courtesy which had no air Of condescension; but did rather seem A passion and a gallantry, like that Which he, a soldier, in his idler day Had paid to woman: somewhat vain he was, Or seemed so, yet it was not vanity, But fondness, and a kind of radiant joy Diffused around him, while he was intent On works of love or freedom, or revolved Complacently the progress of a cause, Whereof he was a part: yet this was meek And placid, and took nothing from the man That was delightful. Oft in solitude With him did I discourse about the end Of civil government, and its wisest forms; Of ancient loyalty, and chartered rights, Custom and habit, novelty and change; Of self-respect, and virtue in the few For patrimonial honour set apart, And ignorance in the labouring multitude. For he, to all intolerance indisposed, Balanced these contemplations in his mind; And I, who at that time was scarcely dipped Into the turmoil, bore a sounder judgment Than later days allowed; carried about me, With less alloy to its integrity, The experience of past ages, as, through help Of books and common life, it makes sure way To youthful minds, by objects over near Not pressed upon, nor dazzled or misled By struggling with the crowd for present ends. But though not deaf, nor obstinate to find Error without excuse upon the side Of them who strove against us, more delight We took, and let this freely be confessed, In painting to ourselves the miseries Of royal courts, and that voluptuous life Unfeeling, where the man who is of soul The meanest thrives the most; where dignity, True personal dignity, abideth not; A light, a cruel, and vain world cut off From the natural inlets of just sentiment, From lowly sympathy and chastening truth; Where good and evil interchange their names, And thirst for bloody spoils abroad is paired With vice at home. We added dearest themes-- Man and his noble nature, as it is The gift which God has placed within his power, His blind desires and steady faculties Capable of clear truth, the one to break Bondage, the other to build liberty On firm foundations, making social life, Through knowledge spreading and imperishable, As just in regulation, and as pure As individual in the wise and good. We summoned up the honourable deeds Of ancient Story, thought of each bright spot, That would be found in all recorded time, Of truth preserved and error passed away; Of single spirits that catch the flame from Heaven, And how the multitudes of men will feed And fan each other; thought of sects, how keen They are to put the appropriate nature on, Triumphant over every obstacle Of custom, language, country, love, or hate, And what they do and suffer for their creed; How far they travel, and how long endure; How quickly mighty Nations have been formed, From least beginnings; how, together locked By new opinions, scattered tribes have made One body, spreading wide as clouds in heaven. To aspirations then of our own minds Did we appeal; and, finally, beheld A living confirmation of the whole Before us, in a people from the depth Of shameful imbecility uprisen, Fresh as the morning star. Elate we looked Upon their virtues; saw, in rudest men, Self-sacrifice the firmest; generous love, And continence of mind, and sense of right, Uppermost in the midst of fiercest strife. Oh, sweet it is, in academic groves, Or such retirement, Friend! as we have known In the green dales beside our Rotha's stream, Greta, or Derwent, or some nameless rill, To ruminate, with interchange of talk, On rational liberty, and hope in man, Justice and peace. But far more sweet such toil-- Toil, say I, for it leads to thoughts abstruse-- If nature then be standing on the brink Of some great trial, and we hear the voice Of one devoted,--one whom circumstance Hath called upon to embody his deep sense In action, give it outwardly a shape, And that of benediction, to the world. Then doubt is not, and truth is more than truth,-- A hope it is, and a desire; a creed Of zeal, by an authority Divine Sanctioned, of danger, difficulty, or death. Such conversation, under Attic shades, Did Dion hold with Plato; ripened thus For a Deliverer's glorious task,--and such He, on that ministry already bound, Held with Eudemus and Timonides, Surrounded by adventurers in arms, When those two vessels with their daring freight, For the Sicilian Tyrant's overthrow, Sailed from Zacynthus,--philosophic war, Led by Philosophers. With harder fate, Though like ambition, such was he, O Friend! Of whom I speak. So Beaupuis (let the name Stand near the worthiest of Antiquity) Fashioned his life; and many a long discourse, With like persuasion honoured, we maintained: He, on his part, accoutred for the worst, He perished fighting, in supreme command, Upon the borders of the unhappy Loire, For liberty, against deluded men, His fellow-countrymen; and yet most blessed In this, that he the fate of later times Lived not to see, nor what we now behold, Who have as ardent hearts as he had then. Along that very Loire, with festal mirth Resounding at all hours, and innocent yet Of civil slaughter, was our frequent walk; Or in wide forests of continuous shade, Lofty and over-arched, with open space Beneath the trees, clear footing many a mile-- A solemn region. Oft amid those haunts, From earnest dialogues I slipped in thought, And let remembrance steal to other times, When, o'er those interwoven roots, moss-clad, And smooth as marble or a waveless sea, Some Hermit, from his cell forth-strayed, might pace In sylvan meditation undisturbed; As on the pavement of a Gothic church Walks a lone Monk, when service hath expired, In peace and silence. But if e'er was heard,-- Heard, though unseen,--a devious traveller, Retiring or approaching from afar With speed and echoes loud of trampling hoofs From the hard floor reverberated, then It was Angelica thundering through the woods Upon her palfrey, or that gentle maid Erminia, fugitive as fair as she. Sometimes methought I saw a pair of knights Joust underneath the trees, that as in storm Rocked high above their heads; anon, the din Of boisterous merriment, and music's roar, In sudden proclamation, burst from haunt Of Satyrs in some viewless glade, with dance Rejoicing o'er a female in the midst, A mortal beauty, their unhappy thrall. The width of those huge forests, unto me A novel scene, did often in this way Master my fancy while I wandered on With that revered companion. And sometimes-- When to a convent in a meadow green, By a brook-side, we came, a roofless pile, And not by reverential touch of Time Dismantled, but by violence abrupt-- In spite of those heart-bracing colloquies, In spite of real fervour, and of that Less genuine and wrought up within myself-- I could not but bewail a wrong so harsh, And for the Matin-bell to sound no more Grieved, and the twilight taper, and the cross High on the topmost pinnacle, a sign (How welcome to the weary traveller's eyes!) Of hospitality and peaceful rest. And when the partner of those varied walks Pointed upon occasion to the site Of Romorentin, home of ancient kings, To the imperial edifice of Blois, Or to that rural castle, name now slipped From my remembrance, where a lady lodged, By the first Francis wooed, and bound to him In chains of mutual passion, from the tower, As a tradition of the country tells, Practised to commune with her royal knight By cressets and love-beacons, intercourse 'Twixt her high-seated residence and his Far off at Chambord on the plain beneath; Even here, though less than with the peaceful house Religious, 'mid those frequent monuments Of Kings, their vices and their better deeds, Imagination, potent to inflame At times with virtuous wrath and noble scorn, Did also often mitigate the force Of civic prejudice, the bigotry, So call it, of a youthful patriot's mind; And on these spots with many gleams I looked Of chivalrous delight. Yet not the less, Hatred of absolute rule, where will of one Is law for all, and of that barren pride In them who, by immunities unjust, Between the sovereign and the people stand, His helper and not theirs, laid stronger hold Daily upon me, mixed with pity too And love; for where hope is, there love will be For the abject multitude, And when we chanced One day to meet a hunger-bitten girl, Who crept along fitting her languid gait Unto a heifer's motion, by a cord Tied to her arm, and picking thus from the lane Its sustenance, while the girl with pallid hands Was busy knitting in a heartless mood Of solitude, and at the sight my friend In agitation said, "'Tis against 'that' That we are fighting," I with him believed That a benignant spirit was abroad Which might not be withstood, that poverty Abject as this would in a little time Be found no more, that we should see the earth Unthwarted in her wish to recompense The meek, the lowly, patient child of toil, All institutes for ever blotted out That legalised exclusion, empty pomp Abolished, sensual state and cruel power Whether by edict of the one or few; And finally, as sum and crown of all, Should see the people having a strong hand In framing their own laws; whence better days To all mankind. But, these things set apart, Was not this single confidence enough To animate the mind that ever turned A thought to human welfare? That henceforth Captivity by mandate without law Should cease; and open accusation lead To sentence in the hearing of the world, And open punishment, if not the air Be free to breathe in, and the heart of man Dread nothing. From this height I shall not stoop To humbler matter that detained us oft In thought or conversation, public acts, And public persons, and emotions wrought Within the breast, as ever-varying winds Of record or report swept over us; But I might here, instead, repeat a tale, Told by my Patriot friend, of sad events, That prove to what low depth had struck the roots, How widely spread the boughs, of that old tree Which, as a deadly mischief, and a foul And black dishonour, France was weary of. Oh, happy time of youthful lovers, (thus The story might begin,) oh, balmy time, In which a love-knot, on a lady's brow, Is fairer than the fairest star in Heaven! So might--and with that prelude 'did' begin The record; and, in faithful verse, was given The doleful sequel. But our little bark On a strong river boldly hath been launched; And from the driving current should we turn To loiter wilfully within a creek, Howe'er attractive, Fellow voyager! Would'st thou not chide? Yet deem not my pains lost: For Vaudracour and Julia (so were named The ill-fated pair) in that plain tale will draw Tears from the hearts of others, when their own Shall beat no more. Thou, also, there may'st read, At leisure, how the enamoured youth was driven, By public power abased, to fatal crime, Nature's rebellion against monstrous law; How, between heart and heart, oppression thrust Her mandates, severing whom true love had joined, Harassing both; until he sank and pressed The couch his fate had made for him; supine, Save when the stings of viperous remorse, Trying their strength, enforced him to start up, Aghast and prayerless. Into a deep wood He fled, to shun the haunts of human kind; There dwelt, weakened in spirit more and more; Nor could the voice of Freedom, which through France Full speedily resounded, public hope, Or personal memory of his own worst wrongs, Rouse him; but, hidden in those gloomy shades, His days he wasted,--an imbecile mind.

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