The Prelude: Or, Growth of a Poet’s Mind; an Autobiographical Poem (1850). Book VII

The Prelude was originally begun in 1798–99; a complete draft in thirteen books was finished in 1805, but it was remodelled several times, before being published posthumously in 1850 (with an additional fourteenth book), with its present title suggested by Mary Wordsworth.

This document contains the whole of Book Seven, in the manuscript version which Wordsworth completed in 1805. There are many small textual variations, and a few major differences, from the first printed version, published in 1850.

[Addressed to S. T. Coleridge.]

Residence in London

Five years are vanished since I first poured out
(Saluted by that animating breeze
Which met me issuing from the City’s walls)
A glad preamble to this Verse: I sang
Aloud, in dythyrambic fervour, deep
But short-lived uproar, like a torrent sent
Out of the bowels of a bursting cloud
Down Scafell, or Blencathra’s rugged sides,
A waterspout from heaven. But ’twas not long
Ere the interrupted stream broke forth once more,
And flowed awhile in strength, then stopped for years;
Not heard again until a little space
Before last primrose-time. Belovèd Friend!
The assurances then given unto myself,
Which did beguile me of some heavy thoughts
At thy departure to a foreign land,
Have failed; for slowly doth this work advance.
Through the whole summer have I been at rest,
Partly from voluntary holiday,
And part through outward indolence. But I heard,
After the hour of sunset yester-even,
Sitting within doors betwixt light and dark,
A voice that stirred me. ’Twas a little band,
A choir of redbreasts gathered somewhere near
My threshold,—minstrels from the distant woods
And dells, sent in by Winter to bespeak
For the old man a welcome, to announce,
With preparation artful and benign,
Top of the Page Yea the most gentle music of the year,
That their rough Lord had left the surly North
And hath begun his journey. A delight,
At this unthought of greeting, unawares
Smote me, a sweetness of the coming time,
And listening, I half whispered, ‘We will be
Ye heartsome Choristers, ye and I will be
Brethren, and in the hearing of bleak winds
Will chaunt together.’ And, thereafter, walking
By later twilight on the hills, I saw
A glow-worm from beneath a dusky shade
Or canopy of the yet unwithered fern,
Clear-shining, like a hermit’s taper seen
Through a thick forest. Silence touched me here
No less than sound had done before; the child
Of Summer, lingering, shining by itself,
The voiceless worm on the unfrequented hills,
Seemed sent on the same errand with the choir
Of Winter that had warbled at my door,
And the whole year seemed tenderness and love.

The last night’s genial feeling overflowed
Upon this morning, and my favourite grove,
Now tossing its dark boughs in sun and wind
Spreads through me a commotion like its own,
Something that fits me for the Poet’s task,
Which we will now resume with chearful hope,
Nor checked by aught of tamer argument
That lies before us, needful to be told.

Returned from that excursion, soon I bade
Farewell for ever to the private bowers
Of gownèd students, quitted these, no more
To enter them, and pitched my vagrant tent,
A casual dweller and at large, among
Top of the PageThe unfenced regions of society.

Yet undetermined to what plan of life
I should adhere, and seeming thence to have
A little space of intermediate time
Loose and at full command, to London first
I turned, if not in calmness, nevertheless
In no disturbance of excessive hope,
At ease from all ambition personal,
Frugal as there was need, and though self-willed,
Yet temperate and reserved, and wholly free
From dangerous passions. ’Twas at least two years
Before this season when I first beheld
That mighty place, a transient visitant:
And now it pleased me my abode to fix
Single in the wide waste, to have a house
It was enough (what matter for a home?)
That owned me; living chearfully abroad,
With fancy on the stir from day to day,
And all my young affections out of doors.

There was a time when whatsoe’er is feigned
Of airy palaces, and gardens built
By Genii of romance, or hath in grave
Authentic history been set forth of Rome,
Alcairo, Babylon, or Persepolis;
Or given upon report by pilgrim friars
Of golden cities ten months’ journey deep
Among Tartarian wilds—fell short, far short,
Of that which I in simpleness believed
And thought of London—held me by a chain
Less strong of wonder, and obscure delight.
I know not that herein I shot beyond
The common mark of childhood; but I well
Remember that among our flock of boys
Was One, a cripple from his birth, whom chance
Summoned from school to London, fortunate
And envied traveller! And when he returned,
After short absence, and I first set eyes
Upon his person, verily, though strange
The thing may seem, I was not wholly free
From disappointment to behold the same
Appearance, the same body, not to find
Some change, some beams of glory brought away
From that new region. Much I questioned him;
And every word he uttered, on my ears
Fell flatter than a cagèd parrot’s note,
That answers unexpectedly awry,
And mocks the prompter’s listening. Marvellous things
My fancy had shaped forth, of sights and shows,
Processions, equipages, Lords and Dukes,
The King, and the King’s Palace, and not last
Or least, Heaven bless him! the renowned Lord Mayor:
Dreams hardly less intense than those which wrought
A change of purpose in young Whittington,
When he in friendlessness, a drooping boy,
Sate on a stone, and heard the bells speak out
Articulate music. Above all, one thought
Baffled my understanding, how men lived
Even next-door neighbours, as we say, yet still
Strangers, and knowing not each other’s names.Top of the Page

Oh wond’rous power of words, how sweet they are
According to the meaning which they bring!
Vauxhall and Ranelagh, I then had heard
Of your green groves, and wilderness of lamps,
Your gorgeous ladies, fairy cataracts,
And pageant fireworks; nor must we forget
Those other wonders different in kind,
Though scarcely less illustrious in degree,
The River proudly bridged, the giddy top
And Whispering Gallery of St. Paul’s, the Tombs
Of Westminster, the Giants of Guildhall;
Bedlam, and the two maniacs at its gates,
Streets without end, and churches numberless,
Statues, with flowery gardens in vast squares,
The Monument, and armoury of the Tower.
These fond imaginations of themselves
Had long before given way in season due,
Leaving a throng of others in their stead;
And now I looked upon the real scene;
Familiarly perused it day by day
With keen and lively pleasure even there
Where disappointment was the strongest, pleased
Through courteous self-submission, as a tax
Paid to the object by prescriptive right,
A thing that ought to be. Shall I give way,
Copying the impression of the memory,
Though things unremembered idly do half seem
The work of fancy, shall I, as the mood
Inclines me, here describe, for pastime’s sake
Some portion of that motley imagery,
A vivid pleasure of my youth, and now
Among the lonely places that I love
A frequent day-dream for my riper mind?
—And first the look and aspect of the place,
The broad highway appearance, as it strikes
On strangers of all ages; the quick dance
Of colours, lights and forms; the Babel din;
The endless stream of men, and moving things,
From hour to hour the illimitable walk
Still among streets with clouds and sky above,
The wealth, the bustle and the eagerness,
The glittering chariots with their pampered steeds,
Stalls, barrows, porters; midway in the street
The scavenger, who begs with hat in hand,
The labouring hackney coaches, the rash speed
Of coaches travelling far, whirled on with horn
Loud blowing, and the sturdy drayman’s team,
Ascending from some alley of the Thames
And striking right across the crowded Strand
Till the fore horse veer round with punctual skill:
Here there and everywhere a weary throng,
The comers and the goers face to face,
Face after face; the string of dazzling wares,
Shop after shop, with symbols, blazoned names,
And all the tradesman’s honours overhead:
Here, fronts of houses, like a title-page
With letters huge inscribed from top to toe;
Stationed above the door, like guardian saints,
There, allegoric shapes, female or male,
Or physiognomies of real men,
Land-warriors, kings, or admirals of the sea,
Boyle, Shakespeare, Newton, or the attractive head
Of some Scotch doctor, famous in his day.Top of the Page

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

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

Now homeward through the thickening hubbub, where
See, among less distinguishable shapes,
The Italian, with his frame of images
Upon his head; with basket at his waist
The Jew; the stately and slow-moving Turk,
With freight of slippers piled beneath his arm!

Briefly, we find, if tired of random sights
And haply to that search our thoughts should turn,
Among the crowd, conspicuous less or more,
As we proceed, all specimens of man
Through all the colours which the sun bestows,
And every character of form and face:
The Swede, the Russian; from the genial south,
The Frenchman and the Spaniard; from remote
America, the Hunter-Indian; Moors,
Malays, Lascars, the Tartar and Chinese,
And Negro Ladies in white muslin gowns.

At leisure let us view, from day to day,
As they present themselves, the spectacles
Within doors, troops of wild beasts, birds and beasts
Of every nature, from all climes convened;
And, next to these, those mimic sights that ape
The absolute presence of reality,
Expressing, as in mirror, sea and land,
And what earth is, and what she has to show;
I do not here allude to subtlest craft,
By means refined attaining purest ends,
But imitations, fondly made in plain
Confession of man’s weakness and his loves.
Whether the Painter, fashioning a work
To Nature’s circumambient scenery,
And with his greedy pencil taking in
A whole horizon on all sides, with power,
Like that of angels or commissioned spirits,
Plant us upon some lofty pinnacle,
Or in a ship on waters, with a world
Of life, and life-like mockery, to east,
To west, beneath, behind us, and before;
Or more mechanic artist represent
By scale exact, in model, wood or clay,
From shading colours also borrowing help,
Some miniature of famous spots and things,—
Domestic or the boast of foreign realms;
The Firth of Forth, and Edinburgh throned
On crags, fit empress of that mountain land;
St. Peter’s Church; or, more aspiring aim,
In microscopic vision, Rome itself;
Or, else perhaps, some rural haunt,—the Falls
Of Tivoli; and high upon that steep,
The Temple of the Sibyl! every tree
Through all the landscape, tuft, stone, scratch minute,
And every cottage, lurking in the rocks—
All that the traveller sees when he is there.Top of the Page

Add to these exhibitions, mute and still,
Others of wider scope, where living men,
Music, and shifting pantomimic scenes,
Together joined their multifarious aid
To heighten the allurement. Need I fear
To mention by its name, as in degree
Lowest of these and humblest in attempt,
Though richly graced with honours of its own,
Half-rural Sadler’s Wells? Though at that time
Intolerant, as is the way of youth
Unless itself be pleased, I more than once
Here took my seat, and, maugre frequent fits
Of irksomeness, with ample recompense
Saw singers, rope-dancers, giants and dwarfs,
Clowns, conjurors, posture-masters, harlequins,
Amid the uproar of the rabblement,
Perform their feats. Nor was it mean delight
To watch crude Nature work in untaught minds;
To note the laws and progress of belief;
Though obstinate on this way, yet on that
How willingly we travel, and how far!
To have, for instance, brought upon the scene
The champion Jack the Giant-killer: Lo!
He dons his coat of darkness; on the stage
Walks, and achieves his wonders, from the eyes
Of living mortal safe as is the moon
‘Hid in her vacant interlunar cave’.
Delusion bold! and faith must needs be coy;
How is it wrought? His garb is black, the word
‘Invisible’ flames forth upon his chest.

Nor was it unamusing here to view
Those samples as of ancient comedy
And Thespian times, dramas of living men,
And recent things yet warm with life; a sea-fight,
Shipwreck, or some domestic incident
The fame of which is scattered through the land;
Such as the daring brotherhood of late
Set forth, too holy theme for such a place,
And doubtless treated with irreverence
Albeit with their very best of skill,
I mean, O distant Friend! a story drawn
From our own ground,—the Maid of Buttermere,—
And how the spoiler came, ‘a bold bad Man’
To God unfaithful, children, wife, and home,
And wooed the artless daughter of the hills,
And wedded her, in cruel mockery
Of love and marriage bonds. O Friend! I speak
With tender recollection of that time
When first we saw the maiden, then a name
By us unheard of; in her cottage inn
Were welcomed, and attended on by her,
Both stricken with one feeling of delight,
An admiration of her modest mien
And carriage, marked by unexampled grace.
Not unfamiliarly we since that time
Have seen her,—her discretion have observed,
Her just opinions, female modesty,
Her patience, and retiredness of mind
Unsoiled by commendation, and the excess
Of public notice. This memorial verse
Comes from the Poet’s heart, and is her due.
For we were nursed, as almost might be said,
On the same mountains; children at one time
Must haply often on the self-same day
Have from our several dwellings gone abroad
To gather daffodils on Coker’s Stream.Top of the Page

These last words uttered, to my argument
I was returning, when, with sundry forms
Mingled, that in the way which I must tread
Before me stand, thy image rose again,
Mary of Buttermere! She lives in peace
Upon the ground where she was born and reared;
Without contamination does she live
In quietness, without anxiety:
Beside the mountain chapel sleeps in earth
Her new-born infant, fearless as a lamb
That thither comes, from some unsheltered place,
To rest beneath the little rock-like pile
When storms are blowing. Happy are they both—
Mother and Child!—These feelings, in themselves
Trite, do yet scarcely seem so when I think
Of those ingenuous moments of our youth
Ere yet by use we have learnt to slight the crimes
And sorrows of the world. Those days are now
My theme; and, mid the numerous scenes which they
Have left behind them, foremost I am crossed
Here by remembrance of two figures, one
A rosy babe, who, for a twelvemonth’s space
Perhaps, had been of age to deal about
Articulate prattle—child as beautiful
As ever sate upon a mother’s knee;
The other was the parent of that babe;
But on the mother’s cheek the tints were false,
A painted bloom. ’Twas at a theatre
That I beheld this pair; the Boy had been
The pride and pleasure of all lookers-on
In whatsoever place; but seemed in this
A sort of alien scattered from the clouds.
Of lusty vigour, more than infantine,
He was in limbs, in face a cottage rose
Just three parts blown—a cottage child—but ne’er
Saw I, by Cottage or elsewhere, a Babe
By Nature’s gifts so honoured. Upon a board
Whence an attendant of the theatre
Served out refreshments, had this child been placed,
And there he sate, environed with a ring
Of chance spectators, chiefly dissolute men
And shameless women; treated and caressed,
Ate, drank, and with the fruit and glasses played,
While oaths, indecent speech, and ribaldry
Were rife about him as are songs of birds
In spring-time after showers. The mother, too,
Was present! but of her I know no more
Than hath been said, and scarcely at this time
Do I remember her. But I behold
The lovely Boy as I beheld him then,
Among the wretched and the falsely gay,
Like one of those who walked with hair unsinged
Amid the fiery furnace. He hath since
Appeared to me oft times as if embalmed
By Nature; through some special privilege,
Stopped at the growth he had; destined to live,
To be, to have been, come and go, a child
And nothing more, no partner in the years
That bear us forward to distress and guilt,
Pain and abasement, beauty in such excess
Adorned him in that miserable place.
So have I thought of him a thousand times,
And seldom otherwise. But he perhaps,
Mary! may now have lived till he could look
With envy on thy nameless babe that sleeps,
Beside the mountain chapel, undisturbed.

It was but little more than three short years
Before the season which I speak of now
When first, a traveller from our pastoral hills,
Southward two hundred miles I had advanced,
And for the first time in my life did hear
The voice of woman utter blasphemy—
Saw Woman as she is to open shame
Abandoned, and the pride of public vice.
Full surely from the bottom of my heart
I shuddered; but the pain was almost lost,
Absorbed and buried in the immensity
Of the effect: a barrier seemed at once
Thrown in, that from humanity divorced
The human form, splitting the race of man
In twain, yet leaving the same outward shape.
Distress of mind ensued upon this sight
And ardent meditation. Afterwards
A milder sadness on such spectacles
Attended; thought, commiseration, grief
For the individual, and the overthrow
Of her soul’s beauty; farther at that time
Than this I was but seldom led; in truth
The sorrow of the passion stopped me here.

I quit this painful theme; enough is said
To show what thoughts must often have been mine
At theatres, which then were my delight,
A yearning made more strong by obstacles
Which slender funds imposed. Life then was new,
The senses easily pleased; the lustres, lights,
The carving and the gilding, paint and glare,
And all the mean upholstery of the place,
Wanted not animation in my sight:
Far less the living figures on the stage,
Solemn or gay: whether some beauteous dame
Advanced in radiance through a deep recess
Of thick entangled forest, like the moon
Opening the clouds; or sovereign king, announced
With flourishing trumpets, came in full-blown state
Of the world’s greatness, winding round with train
Of courtiers, banners, and a length of guards;
Or captive led in abject weeds, and jingling
His slender manacles; or romping girl
Bounced, leapt, and pawed the air; or mumbling sire,
A scare-crow pattern of old age, patched up
Of all the tatters of infirmity
All loosely put together, hobbled in,
Stumping upon a cane, with which he smites,
From time to time, the solid boards, and makes them
Prate somewhat loudly of the whereabout
Of one so overloaded with his years.
But what of this! the laugh, the grin, grimace,
And all the antics and buffoonery,
The least of them not lost, were all received
With charitable pleasure. Through the night,
Between the show, and many-headed mass
Of the spectators, and each little nook
That had its fray or brawl, how eagerly,
And with what flashes, as it were, the mind
Turned this way, that way! sportive and alert
And watchful, as a kitten when at play,
While winds are blowing round her, among grass
And rustling leaves. Enchanting age and sweet!
Romantic almost, looked at through a space,
How small, of intervening years! For then,
Though surely no mean progress had been made
In meditations holy and sublime,
Yet something of a girlish child-like gloss
Of novelty survived for scenes like these;
Pleasure that had been handed down from times
When, at a country-playhouse, having caught,
In summer, through the fractured wall, a glimpse
Of daylight, at the thought of where I was
I gladdened more than if I had beheld
Before me some bright cavern of romance,
Or than we do, when on our beds we lie
At night, in warmth, when rains are beating hard.Top of the Page

The matter that detains me now will seem,
To many, neither dignified enough
Nor arduous; and is, doubtless, in itself
Humble and low; yet not to be despised
By those who have observed the curious props
By which the perishable hours of life
Rest on each other, and the world of thought
Exists and is sustained. More lofty themes,
Such as at least do wear a prouder face,
Might here be spoken of; but when I think
Of these, I feel the imaginative power
Languish within me; even then it slept,
When, wrought upon by tragic sufferings,
The heart was full; amid my sobs and tears
It slept, even in the season of my youth.
For though I was most passionately moved
And yielded to the changes of the scene
With most obsequious feeling, yet all this
Passed not beyond the suburbs of the mind;
If aught there were of real grandeur here
’Twas only then when gross realities,
The incarnation of the Spirits that moved
Amid the Poet’s beauteous world, called forth,
With that distinctness which a contrast gives
Or opposition, made me recognize
As by a glimpse, the things which I had shaped,
And yet not shaped, had seen, and scarcely seen,
Had felt, and thought of in my solitude.

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

These are grave follies: other public shows
The capital city teems with, of a kind
More light, and where but in the holy church?
There have I seen a comely bachelor,
Fresh from a toilette of two hours, ascend
The pulpit, with seraphic glance look up,
And, in a tone elaborately low
Beginning, lead his voice through many a maze,
A minuet course, and, winding up his mouth,
From time to time into an orifice
Most delicate, a lurking eyelet, small
And only not invisible, again
Open it out, diffusing thence a smile
Of rapt irradiation exquisite.
Meanwhile the Evangelists, Isaiah, Job,
Moses, and he who penned the other day
The Death of Abel, Shakespeare, Doctor Young,
And Ossian, (doubt not, ’tis the naked truth)
Summoned from streamy Morven—each and all
Must in their turn lend ornament and flowers
To entwine the crook of eloquence with which
This pretty shepherd, pride of all the plains,
Leads up and down his captivated flock.

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

But foolishness, and madness in parade,
Though most at home in this their dear domain,
Are scattered everywhere, no rarities,
Even to the rudest novice of the Schools.
O Friend! one feeling was there which belonged
To this great city, by exclusive right;
How often in the overflowing streets,
Have I gone forward with the crowd, and said
Unto myself, ‘The face of every one
That passes by me is a mystery!’
Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed
By thoughts of what and whither, when and how,
Until the shapes before my eyes became
A second-sight procession, such as glides
Over still mountains, or appears in dreams;
And all the ballast of familiar life,
The present, and the past; hope, fear; all stays,
All laws of acting, thinking, speaking man
Went from me, neither knowing me, nor known.
And once, far-travelled in such mood, beyond
The reach of common indications, lost
Amid the moving pageant, ’twas my chance
Abruptly to be smitten with the view
Of a blind Beggar, who, with upright face,
Stood propped against a wall, upon his chest
Wearing a written paper, to explain
The story of the man, and who he was.
My mind did at this spectacle turn round
As with the might of waters, and it seemed
To me that in this label was a type,
Or emblem, of the utmost that we know,
Both of ourselves and of the universe;
And, on the shape of the unmoving man,
His fixèd face and sightless eyes, I looked
As if admonished from another world.Top of the Page

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

Oh, blank confusion! and a type not false
Of what the mighty City is itself
To all except a straggler here and there,
To the whole swarm of its inhabitants;
An undistinguishable world to men,
The slaves unrespited of low pursuits,
Living amid the same perpetual flow
Of trivial objects, melted and reduced
To one identity, by differences
That have no law, no meaning, and no end—
Oppression, under which even highest minds
Must labour, whence the strongest are not free.
But though the picture weary out the eye,
By nature an unmanageable sight,
It is not wholly so to him who looks
In steadiness, who hath among least things
An under-sense of greatest; sees the parts
As parts, but with a feeling of the whole.
This, of all acquisitions first, awaits
On sundry and most widely different modes
Of education; nor with least delight
On that through which I passed. Attention comes,
And comprehensiveness and memory,
From early converse with the works of God
Among all regions; chiefly where appear
Most obviously simplicity and power.
By influence habitual to the mind
The mountain’s outline and its steady form
Gives a pure grandeur, and its presence shapes
The measure and the prospect of the soul
To majesty. Such virtue have the forms
Perennial of the ancient hills; nor less
The changeful language of their countenances
Gives movement to the thoughts, and multitude,
With order and relation. This, if still,
As hitherto, with freedom I may speak,
And the same perfect openness of mind,
Not violating any just restraint,
As I would hope, of real modesty,—
This did I feel in that vast receptacle.
The Spirit of Nature was upon me here;
The Soul of beauty and enduring Life
Was present as a habit, and diffused,
Through meagre lines and colours, and the press
Of self-destroying, transitory things,
Top of the PageComposure and ennobling Harmony.

Last modified, 16-Jan-2002 .
This site is maintained by Anthony Mandal.