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DURING the month of December, 1820, I accompanied a much. beloved and honoured Friend in a walk through different parts of his estate, with a view to fix upon the site of a new Church which he intended to erect. It was one of the most beautiful mornings of a mild season, —our feelings were in harmony with the cherishing influences of the scene; and such being our purpose, we were naturally led to look back upon past events with wonder and gratitude, and on the future with hope. Not long afterwards, some of the Sonnets which will be found towards the close of this series were produced as a private memorial of that morning's occupation.
The Catholic Question, which was agitated in Parliament about that time, kept my thoughts in the same course ; and it struck me that certain points in the Ecclesiastical History of our Country might advantageously be presented to view in verse. Accordingly, I took up the subject, and what I now offer to the reader was the result.
When this work was far advanced, I was agreeably surprised to find that my friend, Mr. Southey, had been engaged with similar views in writing a concise History of the Church in England. If our Productions, thus unintentionally coinciding, shall be found to illustrate each other, it will prove a high gratification to me, which I am sure my friend will participate.
W. WORDSWORTH RYDAL MOUNT,
January 24, 1822. For the convenience of passing from one point of the subject to another without shocks of abruptness, this work has taken the shape of a series of Sonnets : but the Reader, it is to be hoped, will find that the pictures are often so closely connected as to have jointly the effect of passages of a poem in a form of stanza to which there is no objection but one that bears upon the Poet only--its difficulty.
• Did Holy Paul,' &c. Stillingfleet adduces many arguments in support of this opiniin, but they are unconvincing. The latter part of this Sonnet refers to a favourite notion of Roman Catholic writers, that Joseph of Arimathea and his companions brought Christianity into Britain, and built a rude church at Glastonbury ; alluded to hereafter, in a passage upon the dissolution of monasteries.
Page 6. That Hill, whose flowery platform,' &c. This hill at St. Alban's must have been an object of great interest to the imagination of the venerable Bede, who thus describes it, with a delicate feeling, delightful to meet with in that rude age, traces of which are frequent in his works :- Variis herbarum toribus depictus imò usquequaque vestitus, in quo nihil repentè arduum, nihil præceps, nihil abruptum, quem lateribus longè latèque deductum in modum æquoris natura complanat, dignum videlicet eum pro insità sibi specie venustatis jam olim reddens, qui beati martyris cruore dicaretur.'
' By men yet scarcely conscious of a care
For other monuments than those of Earth ;' The last six lines of this Sonnet are chiefly from the prose of Daniel ; and here I will state (though to the Readers whom this Poem will chiefly interest it is unnecessary) that my obligations to other prose writers are frequent, -obligations which, even if I had
not a pleasure in courting, it would have been presumptuous to shun, in treating an historical subject. I must, however, particularise Fuller, to whom I am indebted in the Sonnet upon Wicliffe and in other instances. And upon the acquittal of the Seven Bishops I have done little more than versify a lively description of that event in the MS. Memoirs of the first Lord Lonsdale.
Page 9. Sonnet XII. "Ethelforth reached the convent of Bangor, he perceived the Monks, twelve hundred in number, offering prayers for the success of their countrymen : 'if they are praying against us,' he exclaimed, 'they are fighting against us;' and he ordered them to be first attacked : they were destroyed; and, appalled by their fate, the courage of Brocmail wavered, and he fled from the field in dismay. Thus abandoned by their leader, his army soon gave way, and Ethelforth obtained a decisive conquest. Ancient Bangor itself soon fell into his hands, and was demolished ; the noble monastery was lerelled to the ground ; its library, which is mentioned as a large one, the collection of ages, the repository of the most precious monuments of the ancient Britons, was consumed; half ruined walls, gates, and rubbish were all that remained of the magnificent edifice.'-See Turner's valuable history of the Anglo-Saxons.
Taliesin was present at the battle which preceded this desolation,
The account Bede gives of this remarkable event, suggests a most striking warning against National and Religious prejudices.
Page 11. Sonnet xv. The person of Paulinus is thus described by Bede, from the memory of an eye-witness :-'Longæ staturæ, paululum incurvus, nigro capillo, facie macilenta, naso adunco, pertenui, venerabilis simul et terribilis aspectu.'
• Man's life is like a Sparrow,' See the original of this speech in Bede. — The Conversion of Edwin, as related by him, is highly interesting and the breaking up of this Council accompanied with an event so striking and characteristic, that I am tempted to give it at length in a translation. Who, exclaimed the King, when the Council was ended, shall first desecrate the altars and the temples ? I, answered the
Chief Priest ; for who more fit than myself, through the wisdom which the true God hath given me, to destroy, for the good example of others, what in foolishness I worshipped ? Immediately, casting away vain superstition, he besought the King to grant him what the laws did not allow to a priest, arms and a courser (equum emissarium); which mounting, and furnished with a sword and lance he proceeded to destroy the Idols. The crowd, seeing this, thought him mad—he, however, halted not, but, approaching, he profaned the temple, casting against it the lance which he had held in his hand, and, exulting in acknowledgment of the worship of the true God, he ordered his companions to pull down the temple, with all its enclosures. The place is shown where those idols formerly stood, not far from York, at the source of the river Derwent, and is at this day called Gormund Gaham, ubi pontifex ille, inspirante Deo vero, polluit ac destruxit eas, quas ipse sacra. verat aras.' The last expression is a pleasing proof that the venerable monk of Wearmouth was familiar with the poetry of Virgil.
such the inviting voice Heard near fresh streams ;' The early propagators of Christianity were accustomed to preach near rivers, for the convenience of baptism.
Page 14. Sonnet xix. Having spoken of the zeal, disinterestedness, and temperance of the clergy of those times, Bede thus proceeds :
-Unde et in magna erat veneratione tempore illo religionis habitus, ita ut ubicunque clericus aliquis, aut monachus adveniret, gaudenter ab omnibus tanquam Dei famulus exciperetur. Etiam si in itinere pergens inveniretur, accurrebant, et flexâ cervice, vel manu signari, vel ore illius se benedici, gaudebant. Verbis quoque horum exhortatoriis diligenter auditum præbebant.' Lib. iii. cap. 26.
Page 17. "The people work like congregated bees. See, in Turner's History, vol. iii. p. 528, the account of the erection of Ramsey Monastery. Penances were removable by the performance of acts of charity and benevolence.
pain narrows not his cares.' Through the whole of his life, Alfred was subject to grievous maladies.
Page 21, 'Woe to the Crown that doth the Cowl obey!' The violent measures carried on under the influence of Dunstan, for strengthening the Benedictine Order, were a leading cause of the second series of Danish invasions.--See Turner.
Page 29. *Here Man more purely lives,' &c. 'Bonum est nos hic esse, quia homo vivit purius, cadit rarius, surgit velocius, incedit cautius, quiescit securius, moritur felicius, purgatur citius, præmiatur copiosius.'—Bernard. This sentence, says Dr. Whitaker, 'is usually inscribed in some conspicuous part of the Cistertian houses.'
Page 37. • Whom Obloquy pursues with hideous bark :' The list of foul names bestowed upon those poor creatures is long and curious ;-and, as is, alas ! too natural, most of the opprobrious appellations are drawn from circumstances into which they were forced by their persecutors, who even consolidated their miseries into one reproachful term, calling them Patarenians, or Paturins, from pati, to suffer.
Dwellers with wolves, she names them, for the pine
Lead unmolested lives, and die of age.'