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more or less bodily derangement. Nevertheless, I am at the close of my seventy-third year, in what may be called excellent health; so that intellectual labour is not necessarily unfavourable to longevity. But perhaps I ought here to add that mine has been generally carried on out of doors.
Let me here say a few words of this poem in the way of criticism. The subject being taken from feudal times has led to its being compared to some of Walter Scott's poems that belong to the same age and state of society. The comparison is inconsiderate. Sir Walter pursued the customary and very natural course of conducting an action, presenting various turns of fortune, to some outstanding point on which the mind might rest as a termination or catastrophe. The course I have attempted to pursue is entirely different. Everything that is attempted by the principal personages in "The White Doe" fails, so far as its object is external and substantial. So far as it is moral and spiritual it succeeds. The heroine of the poem knows that her duty is not to interfere with the current of events, either to forward or delay them, but
The shock, and finally secure
O'er pain and grief a triumph pure.
This she does in obedience to her brother's injunction, as most suitable to a mind and character that, under previous trials, has been proved to accord with his. She achieves this not without aid from the communication with the inferior Creature, which often leads her thoughts to revolve upon the past with a tender and humanising influence that exalts rather than depresses her. The anticipated heatification, if I may so say, of her mind, and the apotheosis of the companion of her solitude, are the points at which the Poem aims, and constitute its legitimate catastrophe, far too spiritual a one for instant or widely-spread sympathy, but not, therefore, the less fitted to make a deep and permanent impression upon that class of minds who think and feel more independently, than the many do, of the surfaces of things and interests transitory, because belonging more to the outward and social forms of life than to its internal spirit. How insignificant a thing, for example, does personal prowess appear compared with the fortitude of patience and heroic martyrdom; in other words, with struggles for the sake of principle, in preference to victory gloried in for its own sake.]
DURING the Summer of 1807, I visited, for the first time, the beautiful country that surrounds Bolton Priory, in Yorkshire; and the Poem of the WHITE DOE, founded upon a Tradition connected with that place, was composed at the close of the same year.
IN trellised shed with clustering roses gay,*
The gentle Una, of celestial birth,1
To seek her Knight went wandering o'er the earth.
Ah, then, Beloved! pleasing was the smart,
And the tear precious in compassion shed
For Her, who, pierced by sorrow's thrilling dart, Did meekly bear the pang unmerited;
Meek as that emblem of her lowly heart
The milk-white Lamb which in a line she led,
And faithful, loyal in her innocence,
Like the brave Lion slain in her defence.
Notes could we hear as of a faery shell
Till in the bosom of our rustic Cell,
We by a lamentable change were taught
That "bliss with mortal Man may not abide :"
The gentle Una, born of heavenly birth,
* In the orchard at Town-end Cottage, Grasmere.-ED.
For us the stream of fiction ceased to flow,
Fair fruit of pleasure and serene content
It soothed us-it beguiled us-then, to hear
All that she suffered for her dear Lord's sake.
Then, too, this Song of mine once more could please,
Even to the inferior Kinds; whom forest-trees
This tragic Story cheered us; for it speaks
which conscience seeks,
Needful when o'er wide realms the tempest breaks,
Hence, not for them unfitted who would bless
A happy hour with holier happiness.
He serves the Muses erringly and ill,
Yet in this moral Strain a power may live,
As it hath yielded to thy tender heart.
RYDAL MOUNT, WESTMORELAND,
"Action is transitory—a step, a blow,
We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed:
Yet through that darkness (infinite though it seem
By which the soul—with patient steps of thought
Even to the fountain-head of peace divine." *
*The above extract, which follows the Dedication of the Poem to Mrs Wordsworth, is taken from his youthful tragedy of The Borderers. (See Vol. I. p. 167.) In the prefatory note to The Borderers-first published in 1842-Wordsworth says he would not have made use of these lines in The White Doe, if he could have foreseen the time when he would be induced to publish the tragedy.
In a note to the edition of 1836, he says,
"Action is transitory.'
"They that deny a God destroy Man's nobility: for certainly Man is of kinn to the Beast by his Body; and if he be not of kinn to God by his spirit, he is a base ignoble Creature. It destroys likewise Magnanimity, and the raising of humane Nature; for take an example of a Dogg, and mark what a generosity and courage he will put on, when he finds himself maintained by a Man, who to him is instead of a God, or Melior Natura. Which courage is manifestly such, as that Creature without that confidence of a better Nature than his own could never attain. So Man, when he resteth and assureth himself upon Divine protection and favour, gathereth a force and faith which human Nature in itself could not obtain." LORD BACON.
FROM Bolton's old monastic tower *
This and the five lines that follow were either read or recited by me, more than thirty years since, to the late Mr Hazlitt, who quoted some expressions in them (imperfectly remembered) in a work of his, published several years ago."
In the quarto edition of 1815 the following lines precede the extract from Lord Bacon; and in the edition of 1820, they succeed it.
"Weak is the will of Man, his judgment blind;
'Tis hers to pluck the amaranthine Flower
Of Faith, and round the Sufferer's temples bind
Wreaths that endure affliction's heaviest shower,
And do not shrink from sorrow's keenest wind.-ED.
"It is to be regretted that at the present day Bolton Abbey wants this ornament: but the Poem, according to the imagination of the Poet, is composed in Queen Elizabeth's time. 'Formerly,' says Dr Whitaker, 'over the Transept was a tower. This is proved not only from the mention of bells at the Dissolution, when they could have had no other place, but from the pointed roof of the Choir, which must have terminated westward, in some building of superior height to the ridge."" W. W., 1815.