1822
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Desultory Stanzas upon receiving the preceding Sheets from the Press.

Memorials of a Tour on the Continent 1820. By William Wordsworth.

William Wordsworth


Ten Spenserians, a retrospect and promise to return. It is interesting to note the reappearance of the poet's republican sentiments in response to Switzerland: "Our pride misleads, our timid likings kill. | — Long may these homely Works devised of old, | These simple Efforts of Helvetian skill, | Aid, with congenial influence, to uphold | The State, — the Country's destiny to mould." One might compare Richard Polwhele's pre-Byronic Spenserians in "A Swiss Scene" (1796).

Monthly Repository: "Several of the 'Desultory Stanzas,' on sending his 'little book' into the world, are magnificent — a concentration of sublime thoughts and feelings crowded by busy memory into a moment of inspiration" 17 (June 1822) 365.

Blackwood's Magazine: "One of our greatest poets has been one of our greatest travellers, perhaps too much so, for Byron has often forgotten, and often misremembered, his native country. But Wordsworth takes with him his household gods — his Lares and Penates, into other climes; and he never long loses from his vision the mountains, and the temples, and the cottages of his own beloved England" 12 (August 1822) 187.

Francis Jeffrey: "The great characteristic of these works is a sort of emphatic inanity — a singular barrenness and feebleness of thought, disguised under a sententious and assuming manner and a style beyond example verbose and obscure. Most of the little pieces of which they are composed begin with the promise of some striking image or deep reflection; but end, almost invariably, in disappointment — having, most commonly, no perceptible meaning at all — or one incredibly puerile and poor — and exemplifying nothing but the very worthless art of saying ordinary things in an unintelligible way — and hiding no meaning in a kind of stern and pompous wordiness. In one sense of the word, indeed, the book before us is highly poetical; it professes to give Memorials of a Tour; and it is all in verse — excepting about eight pages of notes, which could not well have been put in that shape. The Title-page, also, is in prose, and the Table of Contents: But the Dedication is a Sonnet, signed W. Wordsworth — dated January 1822 — and beginning, 'Dear Fellow-Travellers;' — it presents nothing further that is worthy of notice" Edinburgh Review 37 (1822) 450.

Blackwood's Magazine published an affectionate burlesque of this poem in the number for June 1822, pp. 752-53.



Is then the final page before me spread,
Nor further outlet left to mind or heart?
Presumptuous Book! too forward to be read—
How can I give thee licence to depart?
One tribute more; — unbidden feelings start
Forth from their coverts — slighted objects rise—
My Spirit is the scene of such wild art
As on Parnassus rules, when lightning flies,
Visibly leading on the thunder's harmonies.

All that I saw returns upon my view,
All that I heard comes back upon my ear,
All that I felt this moment doth renew;
And where the foot with no unmanly fear
Recoil'd — and wings alone could travel — there
I move at ease; and meet contending themes
That press upon me, crossing the career
Of recollections vivid as the dreams
Of midnight, — cities — plains — forests — and mighty streams!

Where mortal never breathed I dare to sit
Among the interior Alps, gigantic crew,
Who triumphed o'er diluvian power! — and yet
What are they but a wreck and residue,
Whose only business is to perish? — true
To which sad course, these wrinkled Sons of Time
Labour their proper greatness to subdue;
Speaking of death alone, beneath a clime
Where life and rapture flow in plenitude sublime.

Fancy hath flung for me an airy bridge
Across the long deep Valley, furious Rhone!
Arch that here rests upon the granite ridge
Of Monte Rosa — there, on frailer stone
Of secondary birth — the Jung-frau's cone;
And, from that arch down-looking on the Vale
The aspect I behold of every zone;
A sea of foliage tossing with the gale,
Blithe Autumn's purple crown, and Winter's icy mail!

Far as ST. MAURICE, from yon eastern FORKS,
Down the main avenue my sight can range:
And all its branchy vales, and all that lurks
Within them, church, and town, and hut, and grange,
For my enjoyment meet in vision strange;
Snows — torrents; — to the region's utmost bound,
Life, Death, in amicable interchange—
But list! the avalanche — heart-striking sound!
Tumult by prompt repose and awful silence crown'd!

Is not the Chamois suited to his place?
The Eagle worthy of her ancestry?
—Let Empires fall; but ne'er shall Ye disgrace
Your noble birthright, Ye that occupy
Your Council-seats beneath the open sky,
On Sarnen's Mount, there judge of fit and right,
In simple democratic majesty;
Soft breezes fanning your rough brows — the might
And purity of nature spread before your sight!

From this appropriate Court, renown'd LUCERNE
Leads me to pace her honoured Bridge — that cheers
The Patriot's heart with Pictures rude and stern,
An uncouth Chronicle of glorious years.
Like portraiture, from loftier source, endears
That work of kindred frame, which spans the Lake
Just at the point of issue, where it fears
The form and motion of a Stream to take;
Where it begins to stir, Yet voiceless as a Snake.

Volumes of sound, from the Cathedral roll'd,
This long-roofed Vista penetrate — but see,
One after one, its Tablets, that unfold
The whole design of Scripture history;
From the first tasting of the fatal Tree,
Till the bright Star appeared in eastern skies,
Announcing, ONE was born Mankind to free;
His acts, his wrongs, his final sacrifice;
Lessons for every heart, a Bible for all eyes.

Our pride misleads, our timid likings kill.
—Long may these homely Works devised of old,
These simple Efforts of Helvetian skill,
Aid, with congenial influence, to uphold
The State, — the Country's destiny to mould;
Turning, for them who pass, the common dust
Of servile opportunity to gold;
Filling the soul with sentiments august—
The beautiful, the brave, the holy, and the just!

And those surrounding Mountains — but no more;
Time creepeth softly as the liquid flood;
Life slips from underneath us, like the floor
Of that wide rainbow-arch whereon we stood,
Earth stretched below, Heaven in our neighbourhood.
Go forth, my little Book! pursue thy way;
Go forth, and please the gentle and the good;
Nor be a whisper stifled, if it say
That treasures, yet untouched, may grace some future Lay.

[pp. 95-100]