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the Powers at the Congress of Vienna, and the reestablishment of such despotism in the States of Europe as of old he had abhorred and denounced in France. Even in England he had not one shred of sympathy with the emancipation of the Catholics crushed under iniquitous laws, or with the endeavours of the middle classes for a just representation. This hardening into a stony conservatism had begun to be a disease in Wordsworth about 1812. The early and noble impulses which had filled his soul with health and life and universal sympathy with men, and which had inspired his unpremeditated verse, passed away from him. All his public poetry grew cold. Imagination fled away from it, even at last from the verse he dedicated to the human heart. It is true, warmth, life, and imagination lingered long in the verse he wrote about the heart of man, and on subjects beyond the present. But the great emotion of the universal and noble passions which belong to men as citizens of the nation of humanity—this had died, and all his poetry suffered from its death. We can trace the decay which preceded its dissolution even in the later poems of this book; and after the terrible Ode, terrible in failure,”
* I have kept in this book the Thanksgiving Ode, and also those melancholy failures—the Sonnets and Poems of 1813–16 —because Wordsworth afterwards included them in this section of his poems. But the Odes and the Sonnets after 1811 were published separately in 1816, and do not properly belong to the Sonnets which precede them, nor indeed to the Wordsworth who wrote those preceding Sonnets. They close with Sonnet xxxiii. of the Second Part, and, as its verses show, it is the Epilogue of the Series:
“Here pause: the poet claims at least this praise.”
there is a dreary silence in Wordsworth's mind on all the great human questions which engaged the powers of his fiery youth and the fierce principles of his early manhood. But we may be grateful to him that he kept the poems of 1802–1810 intact, that he even collected them under their present title, and that they still speak to us in days when England needs to hear and listen to their voice. There is scarcely one of them which has not some application to the present day; to the position in which England has been placed before Europe and before her own past history; to the struggle of the Cretans against a merciless and intolerable tyranny; to the bold, if despairing remonstrance of Greece, and to the very remarkable conduct of the English Government, which has at last, as I write, ended in producing the war it desired to avoid; and which the despotic Powers, in pretended concert with her, may have desired to create. No attack is here made on the personal motives of those who have ranged the forces of England against the liberty of Crete to choose its own government, and the liberty of Greece to come to the succour of her child. We believe that the ministers who have, we hope for the last time in our history, mixed us up with the despots of Europe, have been actuated by a desire to do their best for their country and for the peace of the world. We do not think that they have any more liking for the Turk than we have ourselves, and we do think that the honour of England is as dear to them as it is to us. But we feel that they have been miserably mistaken in their policy; that they have sacrificed the great principles of justice and freedom to expediency and to fear of war; and that, however the difficulties end, England has been placed before the world in a position unworthy of her present, and untrue to the noble traditions of her people. That will be the verdict of the future. And the greater part of the English people hear from far that verdict now, and feel its justice. Men and women are ashamed as they go to their business, as they walk the roads, as they sit at home. No soldier, no sailor, has fought with any joyousness, any conviction in this quarrel. I wonder what the Highlanders, unaccustomed to be employed in the repression of liberty, thought as they landed in Crete. An English Admiral's duty is obedience to orders, but there are times when obedience is as galling as the lash laid on the back of a slave. The citizens of London, even some of those who most blindly support the party of the Government, have felt they have been misrepresented. Even those who care for nothing but the pursuit of wealth have been made uneasy, like men afflicted with an obscure disease. As to the working men of England, their voice has, with scarcely a single contradiction, repudiated the disgrace of the country. The soul of the nation feels equal shame, indignation, and revolt. However things end— in peace, in the preservation of the Concert of the Powers, in an isolated war between Turkey and Greece, in the liberation of Crete and its union with
It is thus that Wordsworth would have felt were he
now alive and had the spirit he had from the age of twenty to the age of forty, from 1790 to 1810. Proof enough of this is given in the Prelude and in the Sonnets of this book. When, in 1793, England prepared for war with the Republic of France, his spirit was “overcast by dark imaginations, sense of woes to come, sorrow for human kind and pain of heart.” When she declared war against the people of France, battling for their freedom against the Concert of Europe, when she too joined that Concert,
When the proud fleet that bears the red-cross flag
In that unworthy service was prepared
To mingle . . .
Not in my single self alone I found,
But in the minds of all ingenuous youth,
No shock like that had ever before been given to his moral nature; the whole world had turned to wrong; to the bottom of his soul he was ashamed. He even rejoiced when Englishmen were overthrown, driven to shameful flight. And when England asked the nation to offer up public prayer for conquest, he sat in the house of God, tossed by “a conflict of sensations without name,” silent, like an uninvited guest, and hoped for the defeat of his country, nay more,
Fed on the day of vengeance yet to come.
Universal freedom was dearer to him than a patriotism which consecrated oppression. To act with emperors and kings against a people in arms for
their national independence was an intolerable shame, and the shame affected the character of the whole people, as it affects us now.
Oh! much have they to account for; who could tear
In spite of the horrors of the Terror, of the bloody madness of France, in spite of his soul sick with pain of what would hereafter be brought in charge against mankind—he maintained that the cause of France was the cause of all mankind. It was the cause of national independence all over the world.
What would he then have said to England's action now? He would in these days have seen again the Concert of the Powers used against a desperate people battling for independent life, for final escape from a merciless tyranny in whose subject lands through centuries of misery nullus ordo, sempiternus horror inhabitat. He would have watched the fleets of England again threatening ruin and destruction to freedom, and the ministry of England in unnatural union with the despots of the Continent. Sorrow and pain of heart would again have filled his life, when he saw England in this present unhappy time—England, to whom for two centuries at least, the Divine Right of kings and aristocracies to manage the people as they willed had been the worst of lies—now supporting, even claiming that right, against the will of Crete to be free. Again he would have scorned the flimsy excuses of politicians,