Local Attachment. Book the Fifth.

The Influence of Local Attachment with respect to Home, a Poem in Seven Books.

Rev. Richard Polwhele

The fifth book treats the hold of childhood places over the adult mind, and Polwhele's illustrations begin to verge on those of Wordsworth's Prelude. The Bolingbroke passage alludes to the opening lines of Pope's Essay on Man.

Analysis of Book V: "1. Let us now consider the difference of our attachment to a place according to the DISTANCE of time which hath elapsed, since that place was first our home; confining ourselves, however, to the view of the home of OUR INFANCY, and of the home of more ADVANCED LIFE. 2. First — the mind always thinks the past better than the present, by a natural self-deception. Any retrospect on the past, then, is in some measure agreeable. But the more distant the retrospect, the more pleasant, because distant images are less seen, and in proportion as they are less discerned the more readily can the mind carry on that self-deception, to which it is prone. The home of our earlier years is, therefore, the most pleasant. — Secondly — the images of childhood are really more pleasing in contemplation, than those of the advanced stages of life. Such images are health of body and of mind, innocence, vacancy from care, pastimes keenly relished, friendship unalarmed by suspicion, gay hopes that elevate the spirits amidst a thousand novelties. Reviewing ourselves as children, we are struck by the idea that we are still the same person, and with this consciousness of our identity connect the flattering expectation of enjoyments in reserve for us congenial with those of our infancy. With such a retrospect, assisted by local objects, many persons of ingenuous minds, though in elevated stations, were delighted; particularly John Duke of Buckingham, Vespasian, and Mary Queen of Scots. With much less pleasure do we look back on the time past at a place where, in after-life, we may have fixed our residence. This is proved by that example of Lord Bolingbroke, who, though he ridiculed the Local Attachment in general, and asserted that the place of our election, was just as interesting as the place of our birth, yet was known to prefer to every other spot his own paternal seat, where he resided during the latter part of his life. 3. It is to the home, than, of early life, that we should retreat from present cares, to steal a glance of future felicity" (1798) 1:viii.

My muse unveiling the delightful source,
The power of friendship for some spot of earth;
Observe of such a sympathy the force,
Far other midst the soil that marks our birth,
Than where, in aftertime, we rear the hearth,
Tho' the fair domicile Devonia warm:
Yet, if or Darien's drafts or Tay's wild firth
That foster'd opening life, attract the swarm
Of fluttering hopes, be ours to paint this mightier charm.

First, airy fancy, (ever prone to sport
At distance) from the present moment flies,
Bids memory to remoter time resort,
And clothes it with her own illusive dyes.
Nor vainly would she spread the soft disguise,
Where watchful reason would detect the cheat,
O'er recent incidents that clearly rise:
But, when the ideal forms far off retreat,
She weaves the tragic spell and triumphs in deceit.

Lo, as three distances the landscape crown
With their peculiar hues; the foreground bears
Beneath the eye its vivid green or brown,
The second its more sober olive wears;
But the third distance its faint azure rears,
Or paler purple stealing from the gaze.
Here every object too distinct appears:
Yet, there, amid the soft aerial haze
Fancy may freely range, and her own phantoms raise.

'Tis thus in time: and o'er the varied past
If fancy, with excursive rapture, stray,
The middle distance she deserts in haste,
And roves where many an image melts away.
Lo, then, our infancy's unfolding day
We rather prize than periods less remote,
And in the softest perspective survey;
Bidding imaginary pleasures float
Around our earlier home, or hall, or lowly cote.

Yet are there charms that truth herself approves
In the first happy home, which gives us back
Beneath the covert of o'erarching groves,
Of the sweet prime of life the lovely track:
For rosy-featur'd health, that mourns no lack
Of balmy sleep, was wont to wander there;
And innocence, that never knew the rack
Of conscience, thither would in smiles repair,
With mounting spirits light and vacancy from care;

And the dear forms of vanisht joy, that charm'd
Amidst our frolic sports the exulting heart;
And many an ardent friendship unalarm'd
By cold neglect, or fear of treacherous art;
And confidence whose looks the soul impart;
And elevated hope alert and gay;
While, as at every step new objects start
More brilliant than the blush of orient May,
The little stranger laughs and trips his faery way.—

Musing on such a home, we oft recall
Our childish sports — there urge the circle's flight,
The marble shoot, or strike the flying ball,
Or with young transport rear the buoyant kite;
Or by a tale of some wild prank excite
To mirth, the votaries of the drowsy god,
Painting the goblin that one stilly night
Up the long staircase with strange clattering trod,
When fled, amidst the alarm, Grimalkin, walnut-shod!

Pondering on such a home, our schoolboy friends
With expectations flusht anew, we meet;
Where, as the wood its ancient umbrage lends,
Perhaps, our fellow-truants fond to greet,
We seem to run, once more, with nimble feet,
Climb the broad beech, and rob the stock-dove's nest!—
But ah! (for bitter mingles still with sweet!)
We shrink amid the closer boughs, distrest
By threats below, that quick our tingling ears arrest.—

Yet, doth the child's distress to pity speak?
Say, doth compassion deem his lot severe,
As the drop trickles down the schoolboy's cheek?
'Tis but a transient drop — a moment's tear—
But a soft April moisture glistening here,
Where cold reflexion never cast a shade!
By hope amus'd, he lives without a fear
Of ills, that may his future peace invade,
And views the coming hours with sky-born tints array'd.

In such domestic shades embosom'd deep,
If sickness fire the rapid pulse, and pale
Prey on the sunken cheek, and banish sleep;
We catch the spirit of the ambrosial gale,
Where, bath'd amid the blisses of the dale,
Young blooming health her frolic offspring led
Or, if a pang the conscious heart assail,
There, fluttering peace reclaims her vision fled,
And anguish traces tears, "forgot as soon as shed."

There, if the friend that, round our bosom twin'd,
We rated of the boons of heaven most dear,
Who, seeming of the same congenial mind,
Had shar'd our confidence full many a year—
If such a friend shou'd yet prove insincere;
Quick to a pure asylum we retreat,
And from the haunts of childish converse hear
Echoes of joy, and wooe the root-wove seat,
Green banks, or cowslip mead, where hearts in union beat.

Thus, with a fond recurrence to the past,
We feel the "soul upon itself return;"
And, as of many a view the untimely blade
With keen emotions of regret we mourn,
The saws of philosophic science spurn,
But give the local passion all its scope;
And, anxious every sorrow to inurn,
Mid yews antique or up the shrubby slope
Pursue, where first we met, the fair deceiver hope!

Yes! from our cares escap'd, with hoar arcade
Or oak deep-hollow'd by time's cankering tooth,
We hold sweet converse, and trace out the shade
Where blithe to pleasure, ere suspecting ruth,
We smil'd, or caught the sacred words of truth
As on a parent's lips we fondly hung;
And note the trifles that amus'd our youth,
And ponder on the blazon'd hall, that rung
To social mirth when deeds of hardihood were sung.

'Twas thus the ingenuous duke, not fashion-proof,
Who raz'd his ancient gallery; yet, full soon,
Prop'd, in idea, the dim-pillar'd roof
He lov'd; and, heedless of his proud saloon,
Still saw in fancy to the wandering moon
The dark-stol'd portraits their long shadows bend;
And priz'd those feelings, as no vulgar boon,
Which to a crumbling column wont to lend
The social air that speaks an old familiar friend.

And, nestled in their natal groves serene,
Have purpled princes own'd a secret charm
Which all the splendor of the imperial scene
Would idly boast. With youthful ardor warm,
Vespasian triumph'd in his Sabine farm,
Nor chang'd, as fashion urg'd, its veteran hue:
Nor could thy power, austerer wisdom! arm
With ice his feeling breast to nature true,
Doating on friendly traits that from a child he drew.

And Scotia's lovely queen, dissolv'd in tears,
Mus'd, a fond mourner, o'er receding France:
'Twas the sweet nursery of her infant years,
The gay, the courtly region of romance!
"Farewell (she cried) ye landscapes that entrance
My youthful bosom — farewell, happy shore!
What tho' to mount a throne be mine, perchance
My days of bright serenity are o'er!
Ah! happy land, farewell! to meet these eyes no more."

Not thus he feels, who in his afterhome,
Whether his residence by choice or fate,
Bids memory amid local objects roam
To mark a period of posterior date:
Tho' here, his garden-grove, or lawn relate
The varied story of no vapid sort;
Yet, not so highly doth affection rate
A retrospect for fancy's eye too short,
Where with the glowing heart pale cares but ill comport.

Here Amoret, in virgin beauty bright,
Resign'd her blooming honors to his arms;
Here first, perhaps, his children saw the light,
And chas'd his troubles by their simple charms,
Yet lo! solicitudes, in busier swarms
Hum round, and gather o'er his darkening seat;
And fear with thoughts of fate his soul alarms;
When sick'ned fancy flies far off, to meet
A more congenial home, a less disturb'd retreat.

Lo, St. John, in the pride of wisdom clad,
Laughs at the local love, an empty name;
Scorns the craz'd wretch who wooes his kindred shade,
And deems to lucid sense each place the same.
Yet, tho' he smother up the instinctive flame,
So "nobly pensive" in "the Egerian grot,"
Or to his poet's tickled ear declaim;
Could affectation soothe his sterner lot,
When heaven from every wish remov'd his natal spot?

No! tho' a "St. John's philosophic breast"
Might leave, amid a crowd "of meaner things,"
This fond desire on vulgar hearts imprest,
To weak Vespasian, or such whining kings;
Yet did it smart from exile's secret stings,
And late in life, attracted by each trace
That to a long-lov'd scene remembrance brings,
Flew with impatience to his native place,
There pleas'd, of various life to close the fainting race!

Since, then, the home that own'd our earlier life
Accords with spotless innocence and peace,
Let us, retreating from a world of strife,
Amid the silent pause, the soul release
From sore anxieties that oft increase
With growing years by wealth or power beguil'd,
And, as a moment all our troubles cease,
Copy, in those pure haunts where pleasure smil'd,
A type of future bliss, the features of the child.

[(1798) 1:49-59]