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Like credit to ourselves where less was due, And thought that other notions were as sound, Yea, could not but be right, because we saw That foolish men opposed them.
To a strain More animated I might here give way, And tell, since juvenile errors are my theme, What in those days, thro' Britain, was performed To turn all judgments out of their right course; But this is passion over-near ourselves,
Reality too close and too intense,
And intermixed with something, in my mind,
Of scorn and condemnation personal,
That would profane the sanctity of verse.
Our Shepherds, this say merely, at that time
Acted, or seemed at least to act, like men
Thirsting to make the guardian crook of law
A tool of murder; they who ruled the State,
Though with such awful proof before their eyes
That he who would sow death reaps death, or
And can reap nothing better, child-like longed
To imitate, not wise enough to avoid;
Or left (by mere timidity betrayed)
The plain straight road, for one no better chosen Than if their wish had been to undermine Justice, and make an end of Liberty.
But from these bitter truths I must return To my own history. It hath been told
That I was led to take an eager part
In arguments of civil polity,
Abruptly, and indeed before my time:
I had approached, like other youths, the shield
Of human nature from the golden side,
And would have fought, even to the death, to attest
The quality of the metal which I saw.
What there is best in individual man,
Of wise in passion, and sublime in power,
Benevolent in small societies
And great in large ones, I had oft revolved,
Felt deeply, but not thoroughly understood
By reason: nay, far from it; they were yet,
As cause was given me afterwards to learn,
Not proof against the injuries of the day;
Lodged only at the sanctuary's door,
Not safe within its bosom. Thus prepared,
And with such general insight into evil,
And of the bounds which sever it from good,
As books and common intercourse with life
Must needs have given, to the inexperienced
When the world travels in a beaten road,
Guide faithful as is needed, I began
To meditate with ardor on the rule
And management of nations; what it is
And ought to be; and strove to learn how far
Their power or weakness, wealth or poverty,
Their happiness or misery, depends
Upon their laws, and fashion of the State.
* O pleasant exercise of hope and joy! For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood Upon our side, us who were strong in love! Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven! O times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights
When most intent on making of herself
A prime enchantress, to assist the work,
Which then was going forward in her name!
Not favored spots alone, but the whole Earth,
The beauty wore of promise, that which sets
(As at some moments might not be unfelt
Among the bowers of Paradise itself)
The budding rose above the rose full blown.
What temper at the prospect did not wake
To happiness unthought of? The inert
Were roused, and lively natures rapt away!
They who had fed their childhood upon dreams,
The playfellows of fancy, who had made
All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength
Their ministers, who in lordly wise had stirred
Among the grandest objects of the sense,
And dealt with whatsoever they found there
As if they had within some lurking right
To wield it;
they, too, who of gentle mood
Had watched all gentle motions, and to these Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more mild,
And in the region of their peaceful selves ;-
Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty
Did both find helpers to their hearts' desire,
And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish,-
Were called upon to exercise their skill,
Not in Utopia,-subterranean fields, -
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where !
But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us, the place where, in the end,
We find our happiness, or not at all!
Why should I not confess that Earth was then, To me, what an inheritance new-fallen Seems, when the first time visited, to one Who thither comes to find in it his home? He walks about and looks upon the spot With cordial transport, moulds it and remoulds, And is half pleased with things that are amiss, 'T will be such joy to see them disappear.
An active partisan, I thus convoked
From every object pleasant circumstance
To suit my ends; I moved among mankind
With genial feeling still predominant;
When erring, erring on the better part,
And in the kinder spirit; placable,
Indulgent, as not uninformed that men
See as they have been taught, Antiquity
Gives rights to error; and aware, no less,
That throwing off oppression must be work
As well of License as of Liberty;
And above all, for this was more than all,
Not caring if the wind did now and then
Blow keen upon an eminence that gave
Prospect so large into futurity;
In brief, a child of Nature, as at first,
Diffusing only those affections wider
That from the cradle had grown up with me,
And losing, in no other way than light
Is lost in light, the weak in the more strong.
In the main outline, such it might be said Was my condition, till with open war Britain opposed the liberties of France. This threw me first out of the pale of love; Soured and corrupted, upwards to the source, My sentiments; was not, as hitherto, A swallowing up of lesser things in great, But change of them into their contraries; And thus a way was opened for mistakes And false conclusions, in degree as gross, In kind more dangerous. What had been a pride Was now a shame; my likings and my loves Ran in new channels, leaving old ones dry; And hence a blow that, in maturer age, Would but have touched the judgment, struck more deep