The Excursion/Book 2
BOOK THE SECOND.
In days of yore how fortunately fared
The Minstrel! wandering on from Hall to Hall,
Baronial Court or Royal; cheered with gifts
Munificent, and love, and Ladies' praise;
Now meeting on his road an armed Knight,
Now resting with a Pilgrim by the side
Of a clear brook;—beneath an Abbey's roof
One evening sumptuously lodged; the next
Humbly, in a religious Hospital;
Or with some merry Outlaws of the wood;
Or haply shrouded in a Hermit's cell.
Him, sleeping or awake, the Robber spared;
He walked—protected from the sword of war
By virtue of that sacred Instrument
His Harp, suspended at the Traveller's side;
His dear Companion wheresoe'er he went
Opening from Land to Land an easy way
By melody, and by the charm of verse.
Yet not the noblest of that honoured Race
Drew happier, loftier, more empassioned thoughts
From his long journeyings and eventful life,
Than this obscure Itinerant (an obscure,
But a high-souled and tender-hearted Man)
Had skill to draw from many a ramble, far
And wide protracted, through the tamer ground
Of these our unimaginative days;
Both while he trod the earth in humblest guise
Accoutred with his burthen and his staff;
And now, when free to move with lighter pace.
What wonder, then, if I, whose favourite School
Hath been the fields, the roads, and rural lanes,
And pathways winding on from farm to farm,
Looked on this Guide with reverential love?
Each with the other pleased, we now pursued
Our journey—beneath favourable skies.
Turn wheresoe'er we would, he was a light
Unfailing: not a Hamlet could we pass,
Rarely a House, which did not yield to him
Remembrances; or from his tongue call forth
Some way-beguiling tale. Nor less regard
Accompanied those strains of apt discourse,
Which Nature's various objects might supply:
And in the silence of his face I read
His overflowing spirit. Birds and beasts,
And the mute fish that glances in the stream,
And harmless reptile coiling in the sun,
And gorgeous insect hovering in the air,
The fowl domestic, and the household dog,
In his capacious mind—he loved them all:
Their rights acknowledging he felt for all.
Oft was occasion given me to perceive
How the calm pleasures of the pasturing Herd
To happy contemplation soothed his walk
Along the field, and in the shady grove;
How the poor Brute's condition, forced to run
Its course of suffering in the public road,
Sad contrast! all too often smote his heart
With unavailing pity. Rich in love
And sweet humanity, he was, himself,
To the degree that he desired, beloved.
—Greetings and smiles we met with all day long
From faces that he knew; we took our seats
By many a cottage hearth, where he received
The welcome of an Inmate come from far.
—Nor was he loth to enter ragged Huts,
Wherein his charity was blessed; his voice
Heard as the voice of an experienced Friend.
And, sometimes, where the Poor Man held dispute
With his own mind, unable to subdue
Impatience, through inaptness to perceive
General distress in his particular lot;
Or cherishing resentment, or in vain
Struggling against it, with a soul perplexed,
And finding in itself no steady power
To draw the line of comfort that divides
Calamity, the chastisement of heaven,
From the injustice of our brother men;
To Him appeal was made as to a judge;
Who, with an understanding heart, allayed
The perturbation; listened to the plea;
Resolved the dubious point; and sentence gave
So grounded, so applied, that it was heard
With softened spirit,—even when it condemned.
Such intercourse I witnessed, while we roved
Now as his choice directed, now as mine;
Or both, with equal readiness of will,
Our course submitting to the changeful breeze
Of accident. But when the rising sun
Had three times called us to renew our walk,
My Fellow Traveller said with earnest voice,
As if the thought were but a moment old,
That I must yield myself without reserve
To his disposal. Glad was I of this:
We started—and he led towards the hills;
Up through an ample vale, with higher hills
Before us, mountains stern and desolate;
But in the majesty of distance now
Set off, and to our ken appearing fair
Of aspect, with aerial softness clad,
And beautified with morning's purple beams.
The Wealthy, the Luxurious, by the stress
Of business roused, or pleasure, ere their time,
May roll in chariots, or provoke the hoofs
Of the fleet coursers they bestride, to raise
From earth the dust of morning, slow to rise;
And They, if blessed with health and hearts at ease,
Shall lack not their enjoyment:—but how faint
Compared with our's! who, pacing side by side,
Could with an eye of leisure look on all
That we beheld; and lend the listening sense
To every grateful sound of earth and air,
Pausing at will; our spirits braced, our thoughts
Pleasant as roses in the thickets blown,
And pure as dew bathing their crimson leaves.
Mount slowly Sun! and may our journey lie
Awhile within the shadow of this hill,
This friendly hill, a shelter from thy beams!
Such is the summer Pilgrim's frequent wish;
And as that wish, with prevalence of thanks
For present good o'er fear of future ill,
Stole in among the morning's blither thoughts,
'Twas chased away: for, tow'rds the western side
Of the broad Vale, casting a casual glance,
We saw a throng of People;—wherefore met?
Blithe notes of music, suddenly let loose
On the thrilled ear, did to the question yield
Prompt answer: they proclaim the annual Wake,
Which the bright season favours.—Tabor and Pipe
In purpose join to hasten and reprove
The laggard Rustic; and repay with boons
Of merriment a party-coloured Knot,
Already formed upon the Village green.
—Beyond the limits of the shadow cast
By the broad hill, glistened upon our sight
That gay Assemblage. Round them and above,
Glitter, with dark recesses interposed,
Casement, and cottage-roof, and stems of trees
Half-veiled in vapoury cloud, the silver steam
Of dews fast melting on their leafy boughs
By the strong sun-beams smitten. Like a mast
Of gold, the Maypole shines; as if the rays
Of morning, aided by exhaling dew,
With gladsome influence could reanimate
The faded garlands dangling from its sides.
Said I, "the music and the sprightly scene
Invite us; shall we quit our road and join
These festive matins?"—He replied, "Not loth
Here would I linger, and with you partake,
Not one hour merely, but till evening's close,
The simple pastimes of the day and place.
By the fleet Racers, ere the Sun be set,
The turf of yon large pasture will be skimmed:
There, too, the lusty Wrestlers will contend:—
But know we not that he, who intermits
The appointed task and duties of the day,
Untunes full oft the pleasures of the day;
Checking the finer spirits that refuse
To flow, when purposes are lightly changed?
We must proceed—a length of journey yet
Remains untraced." Then, pointing with his staff
Towards those craggy summits, his intent
He thus imparted.
"In a spot that lies
Among yon mountain fastnesses concealed,
You will receive, before the hour of noon,
Good recompence, I hope, for this day's toil—
From sight of One who lives secluded there,
Lonesome and lost: of whom, and whose past life,
(Not to forestal such knowledge as may be
More faithfully collected from himself,)
This brief communication shall suffice.
Though now sojourning there, he, like myself,
Sprang from a stock of lowly parentage
Among the wilds of Scotland; in a tract
Where many a sheltered and well-tended plant,
Upon the humblest ground of social life,
Doth at this day, I trust, the blossoms bear
Of piety and simple innocence.
Such grateful promises his youth displayed:
And, as he shewed in study forward zeal,
All helps were sought, all measures strained, that He,
By due scholastic discipline prepared,
Might to the Ministry be called: which done,
Partly through lack of better hopes—and part
Perhaps incited by a curious mind,
In early life he undertook the charge
Of Chaplain to a Military Troop
Cheered by the Highland Bagpipe, as they marched
In plaided vest,—his Fellow-countrymen.
This Office filling, and, by native power
And force of native inclination, made
An intellectual Ruler in the haunts
Of social vanity—he walked the World,
Gay, and affecting graceful gaiety;
Lax, buoyant—less a Pastor with his Flock
Than a Soldier among Soldiers—lived and roamed
Where Fortune led:—and Fortune, who oft proves
The careless wanderer's Friend, to him made known
A blooming Lady—a conspicuous Flower,
Admired for beauty, for her sweetness praised;
Whom he had sensibility to love,
Ambition to attempt, and skill to win.
For this fair Bride, most rich in gifts of mind.
Nor sparingly endowed with worldly wealth,
His Office he relinquished; and retired
From the world's notice to a rural Home.
Youth's season yet with him was scarcely past,
And she was in youth's prime. How full their joy,
How free their love! nor did their love decay;
Nor joy abate, till, pitiable doom!
In the short course of one undreaded year
Death blasted all.—Death suddenly o'erthrew
Two lovely Children—all that they possessed!
The Mother followed:—miserably bare
The one Survivor stood; he wept, he prayed
For his dismissal; day and night, compelled
By pain to turn his thoughts towards the grave,
And face the regions of Eternity.
An uncomplaining apathy displaced
This anguish; and, indifferent to delight,
To aim and purpose, he consumed his days,
To private interest dead, and public care.
So lived he; so he might have died.
To the wide world's astonishment, appeared
The glorious opening, the unlooked-for dawn,
That promised everlasting joy to France!
That sudden light had power to pierce the gloom
In which his Spirit, friendless upon earth,
In separation dwelt, and solitude.
The voice of social transport reached even him!
He broke from his contracted bounds, repaired
To the great City, an Emporium then
Of golden expectations, and receiving
Freights every day from a new world of hope.
Thither his popular talents he transferred;
And from the Pulpit zealously maintained
The cause of Christ and civil liberty,
As one; and moving to one glorious end.
Intoxicating service! I might say
A happy service; for he was sincere
As vanity and fondness for applause,
And new and shapeless wishes, would allow.
That righteous Cause of freedom did, we know,
Combine, for one hostility, as friends,
Etherial Natures and the worst of Slaves;
Was served by rival Advocates that came
From regions opposite as heaven and hell.
One courage seemed to animate them all:
And, from the dazzling conquests daily gained
By their united efforts, there arose
A proud and most presumptuous confidence
In the transcendent wisdom of the age,
And its discernment; not alone in rights,
And in the origin and bounds of power,
Social and temporal; but in laws divine,
Deduced by reason, or to faith revealed.
An overweening trust was raised; and fear
Cast out,—alike of person and of thing.
Plague from this union spread, whose subtle bane
The strongest did not easily escape;
And He, what wonder! took a mortal taint.
How shall I trace the change, how bear to tell
That he broke faith with those whom he had laid
In earth's dark chambers, with a Christian's hope!
An infidel contempt of holy writ
Stole by degrees upon his mind; and hence
Life, like that Roman Janus, double-faced;
Vilest hypocrisy, the laughing, gay
Hypocrisy, not leagued with fear, but pride.
Smooth words he had to wheedle simple souls;
But, for disciples of the inner school,
Old freedom was old servitude, and they
The wisest, whose opinions stooped the least
To known restraints: and who most boldly drew
Hopeful prognostications from a creed,
Which, in the light of false philosophy,
Spread like a halo round a misty moon,
Widening its circle as the storms advance.
His sacred function was at length renounced;
And every day and every place enjoyed
The unshackled Layman's natural liberty;
Speech, manners, morals, all without disguise.
I do not wish to wrong him;—though the course
Of private life licentiously displayed
Unhallowed actions—planted like a crown
Upon the insolent aspiring brow
Of spurious notions—worn as open signs
Of prejudice subdued—he still retained,
'Mid such abasement, what he had received
From nature—an intense and glowing mind.
Wherefore, when humbled Liberty grew weak
And mortal sickness on her face appeared,
He coloured objects to his own desire
As with a Lover's passion. Yet his moods
Of pain were keen as those of better men,
Nay keener—as his fortitude was less.
And he continued, when worse days were come,
To deal about his sparkling eloquence,
Struggling against the strange reverse with zeal
That showed like happiness; but, in despite
Of all this outside bravery, within,
He neither felt encouragement nor hope.
For moral dignity, and strength of mind,
Were wanting; and simplicity of Life;
And reverence for himself; and, last and best,
Confiding thoughts, and love and fear of Him
Before whose sight the troubles of this world
Are vain as billows in a tossing sea.
The glory of the times fading away,
The splendor, which had given a festal air
To self-importance, hallowed it, and veiled
From his own sight,—this gone, therewith he lost
All joy in human nature; was consumed,
And vexed, and chased, by levity and scorn,
And fruitless indignation; galled by pride;
Made desperate by contempt of Men who throve
Before his sight in power or fame, and won,
Without desert, what he desired; weak men,
Too weak even for his envy or his hate!
—And thus beset, and finding in himself
Nor pleasure nor tranquillity, at last,
After a wandering course of discontent
In foreign Lands, and inwardly oppressed
With malady—in part, I fear, provoked
By weariness of life, he fixed his Home,
Or, rather say, sate down by very chance,
Among these rugged hills; where now he dwells,
And wastes the sad remainder of his hours
In self-indulging spleen, that doth not want
Its own voluptuousness;—on this resolved,
With this content, that he will live and die
Forgotten,—at safe distance from a "world
Not moving to his mind."
These serious words
Closed the preparatory notices
With which my Fellow-traveller had beguiled
The way, while we advanced up that wide Vale.
Now, suddenly diverging, he began
To climb upon its western side a Ridge
Pathless and smooth, a long and steep ascent;
As if the object of his quest had been
Some secret of the Mountains, Cavern, Fall
Of water—or some boastful Eminence,
Renowned for splendid prospect far and wide.
We clomb without a track to guide our steps;
And, on the summit, reached a heathy plain,
With a tumultuous waste of huge hill tops
Before us; savage region! and I walked
In weariness: when, all at once, behold!
Beneath our feet, a little lowly Vale,
A lowly Vale, and yet uplifted high
Among the mountains; even as if the spot
Had been, from eldest time by wish of theirs,
So placed,—to be shut out from all the world!
Urn-like it was in shape, deep as an Urn;
With rocks encompassed, save that to the South
Was one small opening, where a heath-clad ridge
Supplied a boundary less abrupt and close.
A quiet treeless nook, with two green fields,
A liquid pool that glittered in the sun,
And one bare Dwelling; one Abode, no more!
It seemed the home of poverty and toil
Though not of want: the little fields, made green
By husbandry of many thrifty years,
Paid cheerful tribute to the moorland House.
—There crows the Cock, single in his domain:
The small birds find in spring no thicket there
To shroud them; only from the neighbouring Vales
The Cuckoo straggling up to the hill tops
Shouteth faint tidings of some gladder place.
Ah! what a sweet Recess, thought I, is here!
Instantly throwing down my limbs at ease
Upon a bed of heath;—full many a spot
Of hidden beauty have I chanced to espy
Among the mountains; never one like this;
So lonesome, and so perfectly secure:
Not melancholy—no, for it is green,
And bright, and fertile, furnished in itself
With the few needful things which life requires.
—In rugged arms how soft it seems to lie,
How tenderly protected! Far and near
We have an image of the pristine earth,
The planet in its nakedness; were this
Man's only dwelling, sole appointed seat,
First, last, and single in the breathing world,
It could not be more quiet: peace is here
Or no where; days unruffled by the gale
Of public news or private; years that pass
Forgetfully; uncalled upon to pay
The common penalties of mortal life.
Sickness, or accident, or grief, or pain
On these and other kindred thoughts intent,
In silence by my Comrade's side I lay,
He also silent: when from out the heart
Of that profound Abyss a solemn Voice,
Or several Voices in one solemn sound,
Was heard—ascending: mournful, deep, and slow
The cadence, as of Psalms—a funeral dirge!
We listened, looking down towards the Hut,
But seeing no One: meanwhile from below
The strain continued, spiritual as before;
And now distinctly could I recognize
These words;—"Shall in the Grave thy love be known,
In Death thy faithfulness?"—"God rest his Soul,"
The Wanderer cried, abruptly breaking silence,
"He is departed, and finds peace at last!"
This scarcely spoken, and those holy strains
Not ceasing, forth appeared in view a band
Of rustic Persons, from behind the hut
Bearing a Coffin in the midst, with which
They shaped their course along the sloping side
Of that small Valley; singing as they moved;
A sober company and few, the Men
Bare-headed, and all decently attired!
Some steps when they had thus advanced, the dirge
Ended; and, from the stillness that ensued
Recovering, to my Friend I said, "You spake,
Methought, with apprehension that these rites
Are paid to Him upon whose shy retreat
This day we purposed to intrude."—"I did so.
But let us hence, that we may learn the truth:
Perhaps it is not he but some One else
For whom this pious service is performed;
Some other Tenant of the Solitude."
So, to a steep and difficult descent
Trusting ourselves, we wound from crag to crag,
Where passage could be won; and, as the last
Of the mute train, upon the heathy top
Of that off-sloping Outlet, disappeared,
I, more impatient in the course I took,
Had landed upon easy ground; and there
Stood waiting for my Comrade. When behold
An object that enticed my steps aside!
It was an Entry, narrow as a door;
A passage whose brief windings opened out
Into a platform; that lay, sheepfold-wise,
Enclosed between a single mass of rock
And one old moss-grown wall;—a cool Recess,
And fanciful! For, where the rock and wall
Met in an angle, hung a tiny roof,
Or penthouse, which most quaintly had been framed
By thrusting two rude sticks into the wall
And overlaying them with mountain sods;
To weather-fend a little turf-built seat
Whereon a full-grown man might rest, nor dread
The burning sunshine, or a transient shower;
But the whole plainly wrought by Children's hands!
Whose simple skill had thronged the grassy floor
With work of frame less solid, a proud show
Of baby-houses, curiously arranged;
Nor wanting ornament of walks between,
With mimic trees inserted in the turf,
And gardens interposed. Pleased with the sight
I could not choose but beckon to my Guide,
Who, having entered, carelessly looked round,
And now would have passed on; when I exclaimed,
"Lo! what is here?" and, stooping down, drew forth
A Book, that, in the midst of stones and moss
And wreck of party-coloured earthen-ware,
Aptly disposed, had lent its help to raise
One of those petty structures. "Gracious Heaven!"
The Wanderer cried, "it cannot but be his,
And he is gone!" The Book, which in my hand
Had opened of itself, (for it was swoln
With searching damp, and seemingly had lain
To the injurious elements exposed
From week to week,) I found to be a work
In the French Tongue, a Novel of Voltaire,
His famous Optimist. "Unhappy Man!"
Exclaimed my Friend; "here then has been to him
Retreat within retreat, a sheltering-place
Within how deep a shelter! He had fits,
Even to the last, of genuine tenderness,
And loved the haunts of Children; here no doubt
He sometimes played with them; and here hath sate
Far oftener by himself. This Book, I guess,
Hath been forgotten in his careless way;
Left here when he was occupied in mind;
And by the Cottage Children has been found.
Heaven bless them, and their inconsiderate work;
To what odd purpose have the Darlings turned
This sad memorial of their hapless Friend!"
"Me, said I, most doth it surprize, to find
Such Book in such a place!" "A Book it is,"
He answered, "to the Person suited well,
Though little suited to surrounding things;
Nor, with the knowledge which my mind possessed,
Could I behold it undisturbed: 'tis strange,
I grant, and stranger still had been to see
The Man, who was its Owner, dwelling here,
With one poor Shepherd, far from all the world!
Now, if our errand hath been thrown away
As from these intimations I forebode,
Grieved shall I be—less for my sake than your's;
And least of all for Him who is no more."
By this the Book was in the Old Man's hand;
And he continued, glancing on the leaves
An eye of scorn. "The Lover," said he, "doomed
To love when hope hath failed him—whom no depth
Of privacy is deep enough to hide,
Hath yet his bracelet or his lock of hair,
And that is joy to him. When change of times
Hath summoned Kings to scaffolds, do but give
The faithful Servant, who must hide his head
Henceforth in whatsoever nook he may,
A kerchief sprinkled with his Master's blood,
And he too hath his comforter. How poor,
Beyond all poverty how destitute,
Must that Man have been left, who, hither driven,
Flying or seeking, could yet bring with him
No dearer relique, and no better stay,
Than this dull product of a Scoffer's pen,
Impure conceits discharging from a heart
Hardened by impious pride!—I did not fear
To tax you with this journey;"—mildly said
My venerable Friend, as forth we stepped
Into the presence of the cheerful light—
"For I have knowledge that you do not shrink
From moving spectacles;— but let us on."
So speaking, on he went, and at the word
I followed, till he made a sudden stand:
For full in view, approaching through the gate
That opened from the enclosure of green fields
Into the rough uncultivated ground,
Behold the Man whom he had fancied dead!
I knew, from the appearance and the dress,
That it could be no other; a pale face,
A tall and meagre person, in a garb
Not rustic, dull and faded like himself!
He saw us not, though distant but few steps;
For he was busy, dealing, from a store
Which on a leaf he carried in his hand,
Strings of ripe currants; gift by which he strove,
With intermixture of endearing words,
To soothe a Child, who walked beside him, weeping
As if disconsolate.—"They to the Grave
Are bearing him, my little One," he said,
"To the dark pit; but he will feel no pain;
His body is at rest, his soul in Heaven."
Glad was my Comrade now, though he at first,
I doubt not, had been more surprized than glad.
But now, recovered from the shock and calm,
He soberly advanced; and to the Man
Gave cheerful greeting.—Vivid was the light
Which flashed at this from out the Other's eyes;
He was all fire: the sickness from his face
Passed like a fancy that is swept away;
Hands joined he with his Visitant,—a grasp,
An eager grasp; and, many moments' space,
When the first glow of pleasure was no more,
And much of what had vanished was returned,
An amicable smile retained the life
Which it had unexpectedly received,
Upon his hollow cheek. "How kind," he said,
"Nor could your coming have been better timed;
For this, you see, is in our little world
A day of sorrow. I have here a charge"—
And, speaking thus, he patted tenderly
The sun-burnt forehead of the weeping Child—
"A little Mourner whom it is my task
To comfort;—but how came Ye?—if yon track
(Which doth at once befriend us and betray)
Conducted hither your most welcome feet
Ye could not miss the Funeral Train—they yet
Have scarcely disappeared." "This blooming Child,"
Said the Old Man, "is of an age to weep
At any grave or solemn spectacle,
Inly distressed, or overpowered with awe,
He knows not why;—but he, perchance, this day,
Is shedding Orphan's tears; and you yourself
Must have sustained a loss."—"The hand of Death,"
He answered, "has been here; but could not well
Have fallen more lightly, if it had not fallen
Upon myself"—The Other left these words
Unnoticed, thus continuing.—
"From yon Crag,
Down whose steep sides we dropped into the Vale,
We heard the hymn they sang—a solemn sound
Heard anywhere, but in a place like this
'Tis more than human! Many precious rites
And customs of our rural ancestry
Are gone, or stealing from us; this, I hope,
Will last for ever. Often have I stopped
When on my way, I could not chuse but stop,
So much I felt the awfulness of Life,
In that one moment when the Corse is lifted
In silence, with a hush of decency,
Then from the threshold moves with song of peace,
And confidential yearnings, to its home,
Its final home in earth. What Traveller—who—
(How far soe'er a Stranger) does not own
The bond of brotherhood, when he sees them go,
A mute Procession, on the houseless road,
Or passing by some single tenement
Or clustered dwellings, where again they raise
The monitory voice? But most of all
It touches, it confirms, and elevates,
Then, when the Body, soon to be consigned
Ashes to ashes, dust bequeathed to dust,
Is raised from the church-aisle, and forward borne
Upon the shoulders of the next in love,
The nearest in affection or in blood;
Yea by the very Mourners who had knelt
Beside the Coffin, resting on its lid
In silent grief their unuplifted heads,
And heard meanwhile the Psalmist's mournful plaint,
And that most awful scripture which declares
We shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed!
—Have I not seen?—Ye likewise may have seen
Son, Husband, Brothers—Brothers side by side,
And Son and Father also side by side,
Rise from that posture:—and in concert move,
On the green turf following the vested Priest,
Four dear Supporters of one senseless Weight,
From which they do not shrink, and under which
They faint not, but advance towards the grave
Step after step—together, with their firm
Unhidden faces; he that suffers most
He outwardly, and inwardly perhaps,
The most serene, with most undaunted eye!
Oh! blest are they who live and die like these,
Loved with such love, and with such sorrow mourned!"
"That poor Man taken hence to day," replied
The Solitary, with a faint sarcastic smile
Which did not please me, "must be deemed, I fear,
Of the unblest; for he will surely sink
Into his mother earth without such pomp
Of grief, depart without occasion given
By him for such array of fortitude.
Full seventy winters hath he lived, and mark!
This simple Child will mourn his one short hour,
And I shall miss him; scanty tribute! yet,
This wanting, he would leave the sight of men,
If love were his sole claim upon their care,
Like a ripe date which in the falls
Without a hand to gather it." At this
I interposed, though loth to speak, and said,
"Can it be thus among so small a band
As ye must needs be here? in such a place
I would not willingly, methinks, lose sight
Of a departing cloud."—"Twas not for love"—
Answered the sick man with a careless voice—
"That I came hither; neither have I found
Among Associates who have power of speech,
Nor in such other converse as is here,
Temptation so prevailing as to change
That mood, or undermine my first resolve."—
Then, speaking in like careless sort, he said
To my benign Companion,—"Pity 'tis
That fortune did not guide you to this house
A few days earlier; then would you have seen
What stuff the Dwellers in this Solitude,
(That seems by Nature framed to be the seat
And very bosom of pure innocence)
Are made of; an ungracious matter this!
Which for truth's sake, yet in remembrance too
Of past discussions with this zealous Friend
And Advocate of humble life, I now
Will force upon his notice; undeterred
By the example of his own pure course,
And that respect and deference which a soul
May fairly claim, by niggard age enriched
In what it values most—the love of God
And his frail creature Man;—but ye shall hear.
I talk—and ye are standing in the sun
Saying this he led
Towards the Cottage;—homely was the spot;
And, to my feeling, ere we reached the door,
Had almost a forbidding nakedness;
Less fair, I grant, even painfully less fair,
Than it appeared when from the Valley's brink
We had looked down upon it. All within,
As left by that departed company,
Was silent; and the solitary clock
Ticked, as I thought, with melancholy sound.—
Following our Guide we clomb the cottage stairs
And reached a small apartment dark and low,
Which was no sooner entered than our Host
Said gaily, "This is my domain, my cell,
My hermitage, my cabin, what you will.—
I love it better than a snail his house.
But now Ye shall be feasted with our best."
So, with more ardour than an unripe girl
Left one day mistress of her mother's stores,
He went about his hospitable task.
My eyes were busy, and my thoughts no less,
And pleased I looked upon my grey-haired Friend
As if to thank him; he returned that look,
Cheered plainly, and yet serious. What a wreck
We had around us! scattered was the floor,
And, in like sort, chair, window-seat, and shelf,
With books, maps, fossils, withered plants and flowers,
And tufts of mountain moss; and here and there
Lay, intermixed with these, mechanic tools,
And scraps of paper,—some I could perceive
Scribbled with verse: a broken angling-rod
And shattered telescope, together linked
By cobwebs, stood within a dusty nook;
And instruments of music, some half-made,
Some in disgrace, hung dangling from the walls.
—But speedily the promise was fulfilled,
A feast before us, and a courteous Host
Inviting us in glee to sit and eat.
A napkin, white as foam of that rough brook
By which it had been bleached, o'erspread the board;
And was itself half-covered with a load
Of dainties,—oaten bread, curds, cheese, and cream,
And cakes of butter curiously embossed,
Butter that had imbibed a golden tinge,
A hue like that of yellow meadow flowers
Reflected faintly in a silent pool.
Nor lacked, for more delight on that warm day,
Our Table, small parade of garden fruits,
And whortle-berries from the mountain-sides.
The Child, who long ere this had stilled his sobs,
Was now a help to his late Comforter,
And moved a willing Page, as he was bid,
Ministering to our need.
In genial mood
While at our pastoral banquet thus we sate
Fronting the window of that little Cell,
I could not ever and anon forbear
To glance an upward look on two huge Peaks,
That from some other Vale peered into this.
"Those lusty Twins on which your eyes are cast,"
Exclaimed our Host, "if here you dwelt, would be
Your prized Companions.—Many are the notes
Which in his tuneful course the wind draws forth
From rocks, woods, caverns, heaths, and dashing shores;
And well those lofty Brethren bear their part
In the wild concert—chiefly when the storm
Rides high; then all the upper air they fill
With roaring sound, that ceases not to flow,
Like smoke, along the level of the blast
In mighty current; theirs, too, is the song
Of stream and headlong flood that seldom fails;
And, in the grim and breathless hour of noon,
Methinks that I have heard them echo back
The thunder's greeting:—nor have Nature's laws
Left them ungifted with a power to yield
Music of finer frame; a harmony,
So do I call it, though it be the hand
Of silence, though there be no voice;—the clouds,
The mist, the shadows, light of golden suns,
Motions of moonlight, all come thither—touch,
And have an answer—thither come, and shape
A language not unwelcome to sick hearts
And idle spirits:—there the sun himself
At the calm close of summer's longest day
Rests his substantial Orb;—between those heights
And on the top of either pinnacle,
More keenly than elsewhere in night's blue vault,
Sparkle the Stars as of their station proud.
Thoughts are not busier in the mind of man
Than the mute Agents stirring there:—alone
Here do I sit and watch.—"
With brightening face
The Wanderer heard him speaking thus, and said,
"Now for the Tale with which you threatened us!"
"In truth the threat escaped me unawares
And was forgotten. Let this challenge stand
For my excuse, if what I shall relate
Tire your attention.—Outcast and cut off
As we seem here, and must have seemed to you
When ye looked down upon us from the crag,
Islanders of a stormy Mountain sea,
We are not so;—perpetually we touch
Upon the vulgar ordinance of the world,
And he, whom this our Cottage hath to-day
Relinquished, was dependant for his bread
Upon the laws of public charity.
The Housewife, tempted by such slender gains
As might from that occasion be distilled,
Opened, as she before had done for me,
Her doors to admit this homeless Pensioner;
The portion gave of coarse but wholesome fare
Which appetite required—a blind dull nook
Such as she had—the kennel of his rest!
This, in itself not ill, would yet have been
Ill borne in earlier life; but his was now
The still contentedness of seventy years.
Calm did he sit beneath the wide-spread tree
Of his old age; and yet less calm and meek,
Winningly meek or venerably calm,
Than slow and torpid; paying in this wise
A penalty, if penalty it were,
For spendthrift feats, excesses of his prime.
I loved the Old Man, for I pitied him!
A task it was, I own, to hold discourse
With One so slow in gathering up his thoughts,
But he was a cheap pleasure to my eyes;
Mild, inoffensive, ready in his way,
And useful to his utmost power: and there
Our Housewife knew full well what she possess'd!
He was her Vassal of all labour, tilled
Her garden, from the pasture fetched her Kine;
And, one among the orderly array
Of Hay-makers, beneath the burning sun
Maintained his place ; or heedfully pursued
His course, on errands bound, to other vales,
Leading sometimes an inexperienced Child
Too young for any profitable task.
So moved he like a Shadow that performed
Substantial service. Mark me now, and learn
For what reward! The Moon her monthly round
Hath not completed since our Dame, the Queen
Of this one cottage and this lonely dale,
Into my little sanctuary rushed,
Voice to a rueful treble humanized,
And features in deplorable dismay.—
I treat the matter lightly, but alas!
It is most serious: from mid-noon the rain
Had fallen in torrents; all the mountain tops
Were hidden, and black vapours coursed their sides;
This had I seen and saw; but, till she spake,
Was wholly ignorant that my ancient Friend,
Who at her bidding, early and alone,
Had clomb aloft to delve the mountain turf
For winter fuel, to his noontide meal
Came not, and now perchance upon the Heights
Lay at the mercy of this raging storm.
"Inhuman!"—said I, "was an Old Man's life
Not worth the trouble of a thought?—alas!
This notice comes too late." With joy I saw
Her Husband enter—from a distant Vale.
We sallied forth together; found the tools
Which the neglected Veteran had dropped,
But through all quarters looked for him in vain.
We shouted—but no answer! Darkness fell
Without remission of the blast or shower,
And fears for our own safety drove us home.
I, who weep little, did, I will confess,
The moment I was seated here alone,
Honour my little Cell with some few tears
Which anger or resentment could not dry.
All night the storm endured; and, soon as help
Had been collected from the neighbouring Vale,
With morning we renewed our quest: the wind
Was fallen, the rain abated, but the hills
Lay shrouded in impenetrable mist;
And long and hopelessly we sought in vain.
Till, chancing by yon lofty ridge to pass
A heap of ruin, almost without walls
And wholly without roof (in ancient time
It was a Chapel, a small Edifice
In which the Peasants of these lonely Dells
For worship met upon that central height)—
Chancing to pass this wreck of stones, we there
Espied at last the Object of our search,
Couched in a nook, and seemingly alive.
It would have moved you, had you seen the guise
In which he occupied his chosen bed,
Lying full three parts buried among tufts
Of heath-plant, under and above him strewn,
To baffle, as he might, the watery storm:
And there we found him breathing peaceably,
Snug as a Child that hides itself in sport
Mid a green hay-cock in a sunny field.
We spake—he made reply, but would not stir
At our entreaty; less from want of power
Than apprehension and bewildering thoughts.
So was he lifted gently from the ground,
And with their freight the Shepherds homeward moved
Through the dull mist, I following—when a step,
A single step, that freed me from the skirts
Of the blind vapour, opened to my view
Glory beyond all glory ever seen
By waking sense or by the dreaming soul!
—Though I am conscious that no power of words
Can body forth, no hues of speech can paint
That gorgeous spectacle—too bright and fair
Even for remembrance; yet the attempt may give
Collateral interest to this homely Tale.
The Appearance, instantaneously disclosed,
Was of a mighty City—boldly say
A wilderness of building, sinking far
And self-withdrawn into a wondrous depth,
Far sinking into splendor—without end!
Fabric it seemed of diamond and of gold,
With alabaster domes, and silver spires;
And blazing terrace upon terrace high
Uplifted; here, serene pavilions bright,
In avenues disposed; there, towers begirt
With battlements that on their restless fronts
Bore stars—illumination of all gems!
By earthly nature had the effect been wrought
Upon the dark materials of the storm
Now pacified; on them, and on the coves
And mountain-steeps and summits, whereunto
The vapours had receded, taking there
Their station under a cerulean sky.
O, 'twas an unimaginable sight!
Clouds, mists, streams, watery rocks and emerald turf,
Clouds of all tincture, rocks and sapphire sky,
Confused, commingled, mutually inflamed,
Molten together, and composing thus,
Each lost in each, that marvellous array
Of temple, palace, citadel, and huge
Fantastic pomp of structure without name,
In fleecy folds voluminous, enwrapp'd.
Right in the midst, where interspace appeared
Of open court, an object like a throne
Beneath a shining canopy of state
Stood fixed; and fixed resemblances were seen
To implements of ordinary use,
But vast in size, in substance glorified;
Such as by Hebrew Prophets were beheld
In vision—forms uncouth of mightiest power,
For admiration and mysterious awe
Below me was the earth; this little Vale
Lay low beneath my feet; 'twas visible—
I saw not, but I felt that it was there.
That which I saw was the revealed abode
Of Spirits in beatitude: my heart
Swelled in my breast.—"I have been dead," I cried,
"And now I live! Oh! wherefore do I live?"
And with that pang I prayed to be no more!—
—But I forget our Charge, as utterly
I then forgot him:—there I stood and gazed;
The apparition faded not away,
And I descended.—Having reached the House
I found its rescued Inmate safely lodged,
And in serene possession of himself,
Beside a genial fire; that seemed to spread
A gleam of comfort o'er his pallid face.
Great shew of joy the Housewife made, and truly
Was glad to find her conscience set at ease;
And not less glad, for sake of her good name,
That the poor Sufferer had escaped with life.
But, though he seemed at first to have received
No harm, and uncomplaining as before
Went through his usual tasks, a silent change
Soon shewed itself; he lingered three short weeks;
And from the Cottage hath been borne to-day
So ends my dolorous Tale, and glad I am
That it is ended." At these words he turned—
And, with blithe air of open fellowship,
Brought from the Cupboard wine and stouter cheer,
Like one who would be merry. Seeing this
My grey-haired Friend said courteously—"Nay, nay,
You have regaled us as a Hermit ought;
Now let us forth into the sun!"—Our Host
Rose, though reluctantly, and forth we went.
END OF THE SECOND BOOK.