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THE EXCURSION

BOOK SECOND

THE SOLITARY

          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;                     10
          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           20
          From his long journeyings and eventful life,
          Than this obscure Itinerant had skill
          To gather, ranging 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,
          Looked on this guide with reverential love?                 30
          Each with the other pleased, we now pursued
          Our journey, under favourable skies.
          Turn wheresoe'er we would, he was a light
          Unfailing: not a hamlet could we pass,
          Rarely a house, that 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 inspire;
          And in the silence of his face I read                       40
          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;                    50
          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.
          Smiles of good-will from faces that he knew
          Greeted us all day long; we took our seats
          By many a cottage-hearth, where he received
          The welcome of an Inmate from afar,                         60
          And I at once forgot, I was a Stranger.
          --Nor was he loth to enter ragged huts,
          Huts where his charity was blest; 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,               70
          And finding in herself 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.               80

            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, with earnest voice,
          As if the thought were but a moment old,
          Claimed absolute dominion for the day.
          We started--and he led me toward the hills,                 90
          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              100
          From earth the dust of morning, slow to rise;
          And they, if blest with health and hearts at ease,
          Shall lack not their enjoyment:--but how faint
          Compared with ours! 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.              110

            Mount slowly, sun! that we may journey long,
          By this dark hill protected from thy beams!
          Such is the summer pilgrim's frequent wish;
          But quickly from among our morning thoughts
          'Twas chased away: for, toward 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, and flags uprising, yield
          Prompt answer; they proclaim the annual Wake,              120
          Which the bright season favours.--Tabor and pipe
          In purpose join to hasten or 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             130
          Half-veiled in vapoury cloud, the silver steam
          Of dews fast melting on their leafy boughs
          By the strong sunbeams smitten. Like a mast
          Of gold, the Maypole shines; as if the rays
          Of morning, aided by exhaling dew,
          With gladsome influence could re-animate
          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              140
          To linger I would here 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 shall 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                     150
          To flow when purposes are lightly changed?
          A length of journey yet remains untraced:
          Let us proceed." Then, pointing with his staff
          Raised toward 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 recompense, I hope, for this day's toil,
          From sight of One who lives secluded there,
          Lonesome and lost: of whom, and whose past life,           160
          (Not to forestall 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,
          Bears, on the humblest ground of social life,
          Blossoms of piety and innocence.
          Such grateful promises his youth displayed:                170
          And, having shown in study forward zeal,
          He to the Ministry was duly called;
          And straight, incited by a curious mind
          Filled with vague hopes, 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, yet by native power
          And force of native inclination made
          An intellectual ruler in the haunts                        180
          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.                     190

            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 free their love,
          How full their joy! '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!              200
          The Mother followed:--miserably bare
          The one Survivor stood; he wept, he prayed
          For his dismissal, day and night, compelled
          To hold communion with the grave, and face
          With pain 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.
                                               But now,              210
          To the wide world's astonishment, appeared
          A glorious opening, the unlooked-for dawn,
          That promised everlasting joy to France!
          Her 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                 220
          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 (such power hath freedom) bound,
          For one hostility, in friendly league,
          Ethereal natures and the worst of slaves;
          Was served by rival advocates that came                    230
          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 her 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.                   240
          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 them 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                  250
          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,
          That, in the light of false philosophy,                    260
          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                            270
          Of spurious notions--worn as open signs
          Of prejudice subdued--still he retained,
          'Mid much 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:                     280
          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, through love and fear of Him           290
          Before whose sight the troubles of this world
          Are vain, as billows in a tossing sea.

            The glory of the times fading away--
          The splendour, which had given a festal air
          To self-importance, hallowed it, and veiled
          From his own sight--this gone, he forfeited
          All joy in human nature; was consumed,
          And vexed, and chafed, by levity and scorn,
          And fruitless indignation; galled by pride;
          Made desperate by contempt of men who throve               300
          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!
          Tormented thus, after a wandering course
          Of discontent, and inwardly opprest
          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,                 310
          Steeped in a self-indulging spleen, that wants not
          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
          That served my Fellow-traveller to beguile
          The way, while we advanced up that wide vale.
          Diverging now (as if his quest had been
          Some secret of the mountains, cavern, fall                 320
          Of water, or some lofty eminence,
          Renowned for splendid prospect far and wide)
          We scaled, without a track to ease our steps,
          A steep ascent; and reached a dreary plain,
          With a tumultuous waste of huge hill tops
          Before us; savage region! which I paced
          Dispirited: 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                   330
          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,                    340
          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                   350
          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 that life requires.
          --In rugged arms how softly does it lie,
          How tenderly protected! Far and near
          We have an image of the pristine earth,                    360
          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 nowhere; 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 kindred thoughts intent I lay               370
          In silence musing by my Comrade's side,
          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 upon the hut,
          But seeing no one: meanwhile from below
          The strain continued, spiritual as before;
          And now distinctly could I recognise                       380
          These words:--"Shall in the grave thy love be known,
          In death thy faithfulness?"--"God rest his soul!'
          Said the old man, 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;               390
          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                     400
          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, behind the heathy top
          Of that off-sloping outlet, disappeared,
          I, more impatient in my downward course,
          Had landed upon easy ground; and there
          Stood waiting for my Comrade. When behold                  410
          An object that enticed my steps aside!
          A narrow, winding, entry opened out
          Into a platform--that lay, sheepfold-wise,
          Enclosed between an upright 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 penthouse, framed
          By thrusting two rude staves into the wall
          And overlaying them with mountain sods;
          To weather-fend a little turf-built seat                   420
          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 skill had thronged the floor with 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, entering, round him threw a careless glance,          430
          Impatient to pass 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. "His it must be!"
          Exclaimed the Wanderer, "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                440
          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,
          Pleasing and pleased, he shared their simple sports,       450
          Or sate companionless; and here the book,
          Left and forgotten in his careless way,
          Must by the cottage-children have 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 surprise, 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:                460
          'Tis strange, I grant; and stranger still had been
          To see the Man who owned it, 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 yours,
          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            470
          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,                          480
          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               490
          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 a 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 his deportment, mien, and dress,
          That it could be no other; a pale face,
          A meagre person, tall, and in a garb                       500
          Not rustic--dull and faded like himself!
          He saw us not, though distant but few steps;
          For he was busy, dealing, from a store
          Upon a broad leaf carried, choicest strings
          Of red 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;                510
          His body is at rest, his soul in heaven."

            More might have followed--but my honoured Friend
          Broke in upon the Speaker with a frank
          And cordial greeting.--Vivid was the light
          That flashed and sparkled from the other's eyes;
          He was all fire: no shadow on his brow
          Remained, nor sign of sickness on his face.
          Hands joined he with his Visitant,--a grasp,
          An eager grasp; and many moments' space--
          When the first glow of pleasure was no more,               520
          And, of the sad appearance which at once
          Had vanished, much was come and coming back--
          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 narrow world
          A day of sorrow. I have here a charge"--
          And, speaking thus, he patted tenderly
          The sun-burnt forehead of the weeping child--              530
          "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 wherefore;--but the boy today,                540
          Perhaps is shedding orphan's tears; you also
          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                  550
          And customs of our rural ancestry
          Are gone, or stealing from us; this, I hope,
          Will last for ever. Oft on my way have I
          Stood still, though but a casual passenger,
          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, towards its home,
          Its final home on earth. What traveller--who--             560
          (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         570
          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,             580
          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 open 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!--                590
          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!              600
          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 desert 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                610
          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               620
          A few days earlier; then would you have seen
          What stuff the Dwellers in a solitude,
          That seems by Nature hollowed out to be
          The seat and 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,                     630
          And that respect and deference which a soul
          May fairly claim, by niggard age enriched
          In what she most doth value, love of God
          And his frail creature Man;--but ye shall hear.
          I talk--and ye are standing in the sun
          Without refreshment!"
                                 Quickly had he spoken,
          And, with light steps still quicker than his words,
          Led toward the Cottage. Homely was the spot;
          And, to my feeling, ere we reached the door,
          Had almost a forbidding nakedness;                         640
          Less fair, I grant, even painfully less fair,
          Than it appeared when from the beetling rock
          We had looked down upon it. All within,
          As left by the departed company,
          Was silent; save the solitary clock
          That on mine ear ticked with a mournful 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,                   650
          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            660
          Had we about 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. Mechanic tools
          Lay intermixed with scraps of paper, some
          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.            670
          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 store
          Of dainties,--oaten bread, curd, cheese, and cream;
          And cakes of butter curiously embossed,
          Butter that had imbibed from meadow-flowers
          A golden hue, delicate as their own                        680
          Faintly reflected in a lingering stream.
          Nor lacked, for more delight on that warm day,
          Our table, small parade of garden fruits,
          And whortle-berries from the mountain side.
          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,                   690
          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," exclaimed our host, "if here
          It were your lot to dwell, would soon become
          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                700
          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 tone; a harmony,                            710
          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,                         720
          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----"
                                        A fall of voice,
          Regretted like the nightingale's last note,
          Had scarcely closed this high-wrought strain of rapture
          Ere with inviting smile the Wanderer said:
          "Now for the tale with which you threatened us!"
          "In truth the threat escaped me unawares:                  730
          Should the tale tire you, let this challenge stand
          For my excuse. Dissevered from mankind,
          As to your eyes and thoughts we must have seemed
          When ye looked down upon us from the crag,
          Islanders 'mid a stormy mountain sea,
          We are not so;--perpetually we touch
          Upon the vulgar ordinances of the world;
          And he, whom this our cottage hath to-day
          Relinquished, lived dependent for his bread
          Upon the laws of public charity.                           740
          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.                  750
          Calm did he sit under 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;                    760
          Mild, inoffensive, ready in 'his' way,
          And helpful to his utmost power: and there
          Our housewife knew full well what she possessed!
          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                   770
          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!                     780
          It is most serious: persevering 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 moorland turf
          For winter fuel--to his noontide meal
          Returned not, and now, haply, on the heights
          Lay at the mercy of this raging storm.                     790
          '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.                800

            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 and 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:                 810
          Till, chancing on that lofty ridge to pass
          A heap of ruin--almost without walls
          And wholly without roof (the bleached remains
          Of a small chapel, where, in ancient time,
          The peasants of these lonely valleys used
          To meet for worship on that central height)--
          We there espied the object of our search,
          Lying full three parts buried among tufts
          Of heath-plant, under and above him strewn,
          To baffle, as he might, the watery storm:                  820
          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 homeward the shepherds moved
          Through the dull mist, I following--when a step,
          A single step, that freed me from the skirts               830
          Of the blind vapour, opened to my view
          Glory beyond all glory ever seen
          By waking sense or by the dreaming soul!
          The appearance, instantaneously disclosed,
          Was of a mighty city--boldly say
          A wilderness of building, sinking far
          And self-withdrawn into a boundless depth,
          Far sinking into splendour--without end!
          Fabric it seemed of diamond and of gold,
          With alabaster domes, and silver spires,                   840
          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                      850
          Their station under a cerulean sky.
          Oh, '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, enwrapped.                     860
          Right in the midst, where interspace appeared
          Of open court, an object like a throne
          Under 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.
          This little Vale, a dwelling-place of Man,                 870
          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,                             880
          And I descended.
                            Having reached the house,
          I found its rescued inmate safely lodged,
          And in serene possession of himself,
          Beside a fire whose genial warmth seemed met
          By a faint shining from the heart, a gleam,
          Of comfort, spread over his pallid face.
          Great show 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.              890
          But, though he seemed at first to have received
          No harm, and uncomplaining as before
          Went through his usual tasks, a silent change
          Soon showed 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,                  900
          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.


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