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The high and tender Muses shall accept
With gracious smile, deliberately pleased,
And listening Time reward with sacred praise.
Among the hills of Athol he was born;
Where, on a small hereditary farm,
An unproductive slip of rugged ground,
His Parents, with their numerous offspring, dwelt;
A virtuous household, though exceeding poor.
Pure livers were they all, austere and grave,
And fearing God; the very children taught
Stern self-respect, a reverence for God's word,
And an habitual piety, maintain’d
With strictness scarcely known on English ground.
From his sixth year, the Boy of whom I speak, In Summer, tended cattle on the hills; But, through th' inclement and the perilous days Of long-continuing Winter, he repair'd, Equipp'd with satchel, to a school, that stood Sole building on a mountain's dreary edge, Remote from view of city spire, or sound Of minster clock. From that bleak tenement He, many an evening, to his distant home In solitude returning, saw the hills Grow larger in the darkness; all alone Beheld the stars come out above his head, And travell’d through the wood, with no one near To whom he might confess the things he saw.
So the foundations of his mind were laid. In such communion, not from terror free, While yet a child, and long before his time, Had he perceived the presence and the power Of greatness; and deep feelings had impress'd So vividly great objects that they lay Upon his mind like substances, whose presence Perplex'd the bodily sense. He had received A precious gift; for, as he grew in years, With these impressions would he still compare All his remembrances, thoughts, shapes, and forms; And, being still unsatisfied with aught Of dimmer character, he thence attain'd An active power to fasten images Upon his brain; and on their pictured lines Intensely brooded, even till they acquired The liveliness of dreams. Nor did he fail, While yet a child, with a child's eagerness Incessantly to turn his ear and eye
On all things which the moving seasons brought
To feed such appetite;- nor this alone
Appeased his yearning: in the after-day
Of boyhood, many an hour in caves forlorn,
And 'mid the hollow depths of naked crags
He sate, and even in their fix'd lineaments,
Or from the power of a peculiar eye,
Or by creative feeling overborne,
Or by predominance of thought oppress’d,
Even in their fix'd and steady lineaments
He traced an ebbing and a flowing mind,
Expression ever varying!
He had small need of books; for many a tale
Traditionary, round the mountains hung,
And many a legend, peopling the dark woods,
Nourish'd Imagination in her growth,
And gave the Mind that apprehensive power
By which she is made quick to recognise
The moral properties and scope of things.
But eagerly he read, and read again,
Whate'er the minister's old shelf supplied;
The life and death of martyrs, who sustain'd,
With will inflexible, those fearful pangs
Triumphantly display'd in records left
Of persecution and the Covenant, - times
Whose echo rings through Scotland to this hour!
And there, by lucky hap, had been preserved
A straggling volume, torn and incomplete,
That left half-told the preternatural tale,
Romance of giants, chronicle of fiends,
Profuse in garniture of wooden cuts
Strange and uncouth; dire faces, figures dire,
Sharp-kneed, sharp-elbow'd, and lean-ankled too,
With long and ghostly shanks, - forms which once seen
Could never be forgotten !
In his heart,
Where Fear sate thus a cherish'd visitant,
Was wanting yet the pure delight of love
By sound diffused, or by the breathing air,
Or by the silent looks of happy things,
Or flowing from the universal face
Of earth and sky. But he had felt the power
Of Nature, and already was prepared,
By his intense conceptions, to receive
Deeply the lesson deep of love which he
Whom Nature, by whatever means, has taught
To feel intensely cannot but receive.
Such was the Boy: but for the growing Youth,
What soul was his, when, from the naked top
Of some bold headland, he beheld the Sun
Rise up, and bathe the world in light! He look'd,--
Ocean and earth, the solid frame of earth
And ocean's liquid mass, in gladness lay
Beneath him: far and wide the clouds were touch'd,
And in their silent faces could he read
Unutterable love. Sound needed none,
Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank
The spectacle: sensation, soul, and form,
All melted into him ; they swallow'd up
His animal being; in them did he live,
And by them did he live; they were his life.
In such access of mind, in such high hour
Of visitation from the living God,
Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired.
No thanks he breathed, he proffer'd no request;
Rapt into still communion that transcends
Th' imperfect offices of prayer and praise,
His mind was a thanksgiving to the Power
That made him ; it was blessedness and love!
A Herdsman on the lonely mountain tops, Such intercourse was his, and in this sort Was his existence oftentimes possess'd. 0, then how beautiful, how bright, appear'd The written promise! Early had he learn'd To reverence the volume that displays The mystery, the life which cannot die; But in the mountains did he feel his faith. All things, responsive to the writing, there Breathed immortality, revolving life, And greatness still revolving; infinite: There littleness was not; the least of things Seem'd infinite; and there his spirit shaped Her prospects, nor did he believe,- he saw. What wonder if his being thus became Sublime and comprehensive! Low desires, Low thoughts bad there no place; yet was his heart Lowly; for he was meek in gratitude, Oft as he call'd those ecstasies to mind, And whence they flowd; and from them he acquired Wisdom, which works thro' patience; thence he learn'd In oft-recurring hours of sober thought
To look on Nature with a humble heart,
Self-question’d where it did not understand,
And with a superstitious eye of love.
So pass’d the time; yet to the nearest town
He duly went with what small overplus
His earnings might supply, and brought away
The book that most had tempted his desires
While at the stall he read. Among the hills
He gazed upon that mighty orb of song,
The divine Milton. Lore of different kind,
The annual savings of a toilsome life,
His School-master supplied; books that explain
The purer elements of truth involved
In lines and numbers, and, by charm severe,
(Especially perceived where nature droops
And feeling is suppressed,) preserve the mind
Busy in solitude and poverty.
These occupations oftentimes deceived
The listless hours, while in the hollow vale,
Hollow and green, he lay on the green turf
In pensive idleness. What could he do,
Thus daily thirsting, in that lonesome life,
With blind endeavours? Yet, still uppermost,
Nature was at his heart as if he felt,
Though yet he knew not how, a wasting power
In all things that from her sweet influence
Might tend to wean him. Therefore with her hues,
Her forms, and with the spirit of her forms,
He clothed the nakedness of austere truth.
While yet he linger'd in the rudiments
Of science, and among her simplest laws,
His triangles, — they were the stars of heaven,
The silent stars! Oft did he take delight
To measure th' altitude of some tall crag
That is the eagle's birth-place, or some peak
Familiar with forgotten years, that shows,
Inscribed upon its visionary sides,
The history of many a winter storm,
Or obscure records of the path of fire.
And thus, before his eighteenth year was told,
Accumulated feelings press'd his heart
With still increasing weight; he was o'erpower'd
By Nature; by the turbulence subdued
Of his own mind; by mystery and hope,
And the first virgin passion of a soul
Communing with the glorious universe
Full often wish'd he that the winds might rage
When they were silent: far more fondly now
Than in his earlier season did he love
Tempestuous nights, the conflict and the sounds
That live in darkness. From his intellect
And from the stillness of abstracted thought
He ask'd repose; and, failing oft to win
The peace required, he scann'd the laws of light
Amid the roar of torrents, where they send
From hollow clefts up to the clearer air
A cloud of mist, that smitten by the Sun
Varies its rainbow hues. But vainly thus,
And vainly by all other means, he strove
To mitigate the fever of his heart.
In dreams, in study, and in ardent thought,
Thus was he reared; much wanting to assist
The growth of intellect, yet gaining more,
And every moral feeling of his soul
Strengthen'd and braced, by breathing in content
The keen, the wholesome air of poverty,
And drinking from the well of homely life.
But, from past liberty, and tried restraints,
He now was summon’d to select the course
Of humble industry that promised best
To yield him no unworthy maintenance.
Urged by his Mother, he essay'd to teach
A village-school; but wandering thoughts were then
A misery to him; and the Youth resign'd
A task he was unable to perform.
That stern yet kindly Spirit who constrains
The Savoyard" to quit his native rocks,
The free-born Swiss to leave his narrow vales,
(Spirit attach'd to regions mountainous
Like their own steadfast clouds,) did now impel
His restless mind to look abroad with hope.
An irksome drudgery seems it to plod on,
Through hot and dusty ways, or pelting storm,
A vagrant Merchant under a heavy load
Bent as he moves, and needing frequent rest:
Yet do such travellers find their own delight;
And their hard service, deem'd debasing now,
Gained merited respect in simpler times;
When squire, and priest, and they who round them dwelt
In rustic sequestration - all dependent
Upon the PEDLAR'S toil - supplied their wants,
Or pleased their fancies, with the wares he brought.