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and fallen back in indignation on the eternal principles of national independence and justice. And, again, he would have cried shame on the casuistry of diplomatists used to dull and confuse the natural conscience of the people of England. Yes; no one can doubt that if the Wordsworth of the years between 1802 and 181o had been now alive, he would have appealed not to the armies, the money, or the knowledge of this country, but to the soul in it, by which alone, he said, a nation lives. It is to that, in every one of these Sonnets, that he speaks. What does the soul of England say when it sees a people, made desperate by cruelties, struggling bravely to be free, held down by the throat by England?
The answer is here, but a word of introduction is necessary. England's war against France, of which Wordsworth so bitterly disapproved in 1793, became a different thing in his eyes when France, faithless to liberty, changed, under Buonaparte, her war of selfdefence for a war of conquest. In 1793 he stood against England, but when France tried to crush the national independence of Switzerland, Venice, and the rest of the States of Europe; when she became in her turn the oppressor, Wordsworth, changing his position but not his principles, stood for England, because England was at war with the enemy of freedom. And when the last opprobrium was complete, and the Pope crowned the Emperor, and France like a dog returned to its vomit, his whole heart went back to his country as the one defender of national independence and liberty.
In 1802, when these Sonnets begin, Buonaparte was made Consul for life. How deeply Wordsworth was affected by this frustration of the hopes and joy of 1790, when “the antiquated earth beat like the heart of man,” will be read in the second, third, and fourth Sonnets of this book. With what tenderness, love, and hope he looked on England, now the champion of freedom, will be read in the first. It is not only patriotism which is there; it is patriotism suffused with the joy of one who sees in his country the helper of the human race; a joy of which we are, in this illfortuned, misdirected day, deprived. 4-"
I cannot but think that this tenderness for England —commingled with some natural fears, such vague fears as belong to love, that she might be led in the great struggle to yield even one point to any Power opposed to freedom—induced him to write that magnificent Sonnet on the fate of Venice, who had preceded England as mistress of the seas. And, in truth, if at the bidding or the pushing of autocratic States, or for fear of their power, or for any reason of political expediency, our fleets are to be used to crush the free choice by an oppressed people of its own rulers, England's greatness will become, like that of Venice, a shade that passes away. If her isolation in Europe means that she stands alone against despotism, in behalf of every effort for national freedom—in that isolation is her true power. It is by that she dominates the conscience of the world and the spiritual life of humanity. To lose that great traditional position is to lose her soul—and “what shall it profit a nation if it
gain the whole world and lose its soul!” It is her boast now that she is not isolated. She acts hand in hand with Russia, Germany, and the rest who fear these military despotisms; and she acts for the sake of the vilest of tyrants, or apparently for his sake. Her union, her concert with these Powers opposed to freedom is her shame and her folly. Her isolation at this moment should be her pride and would be her wisest policy. Nor is the noble Sonnet to Toussaint, in which Wordsworth's genius soars like an eagle, less applicable to the present time. Greece may be imprisoned, blockaded, beaten down by the Powers, shattered in war by Turkey—yet even so let her take comfort—
Thou hast left behind
The Sonnet on the Subjugation of Switzerland, though composed in 1807, properly belongs to 1802, and is inserted by Wordsworth under the Sonnets of that year. It is perhaps the most high-hearted and imaginative cry ever addressed to Liberty. It ought to abide now in the hearts of all men who love freedom. And, indeed, Greece and Crete might justly claim it for their own. “The mountains look on Marathon, and Marathon looks on the sea.” In the hearing of the mountains Thermopylae was fought. The waves of the sea applauded the battle of Salamis.
Liberty never heard more clearly her two voices,
And Ocean bellow from his rocky shore,
Thus Wordsworth appeals to the soul of England >
for “by the soul only are nations great and free.” He believed in the invisible powers which animated England—honour, freedom, justice and pity, heroic obedience to duty, sacrifice for those ideal causes on which human progress rests. This was his great consolation when, landing in England in 1802, he watched from a valley near Dover the peaceful homes of his land, and saw the coast of France in “frightful neighbourhood.” “What power,” he cried, “lies there, to tread our freedom down?” Power of armies, of wealth, he answered, is, by itself, of no avail against a nation faithful to the greater powers of the soul ; and the five great Sonnets xiii.-xvii., which recall England from show and wealth to plain living and high thinking, to the grandeur of simple nature, to the homely beauty of the good old cause ; which speak of the heroic life of Milton; of the true wealth of virtue, freedom, power; of the great men among us
who knew how genuine glory was put on, how rightfully a nation shone in splendour, and how deeply flowed the flood of British freedom, with pomp of waters, unwithstood; which sing of those who, still worthy of England, speak the tongue of Shakespeare and hold the faith and morals of Milton, and who must be free, or die; which finally record his fears for England and his shame for having feared for her —are Sonnets, each a splendid monument, perennius aere, whose verses tell how then he felt, and how he would speak to England now were 1802 changed into 1897.
The Sonnets of 1803 strike the same note, but the undertone which is added to them is—that all these high passions of the soul of a nation cannot breathe or live except in the air of a national independence, in that air which Crete is struggling to create for herself. And full of that thought he turns in wrath on those who prevent a people from breathing that inspiring atmosphere. The men, he thinks, however highly placed, who hamper or crush a folk striving for their liberty are criminals. They violate the first law of human progress. Their success in so great a wickedness, like the success of Napoleon, would lead the world to doubt the providence of God Himself. England has done wrong, he thinks, but nothing so wrong as France. It is pitiful, but earth's best hopes rest in her alone. Let her awake, let her think that virtue and the faculties within are vital; that riches are akin
To fear, to change, to cowardice and death.