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Frankenstein, Edited by Stuart Curran
STUDY AIDS : IN POPULAR CULTURE

The Lake of Geneva (1832), Book II

Samuel Egerton Brydges

 

Brydges's long meditation on Lake Geneva describes both its natural and its cultural associations, including Rousseau, Mme de Staël, Calvin, Voltaire, Byron, and the Shelleys. He recalls that "Beneath the roof that Diodati's name / Has consecrated to the Muses," Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.


There are who think that under all the forms
Of nature's scenery the mind of man
Is still the same; that mountain, lake, and hill,
And valley, and deep woods, and ocean broad,
No more affect it; and give force no more
And happiness, than the dull vapoury plain,
Ever the same, on which the beams of Heaven
Throw no variety of shapes and colours.
Not so wise theory, not so experience
Instructs us: we are children of the lights
Of the blue sky, and as the spirits move,
And the veins play, the intellect its hues,
And motions takes! Thus poets on thy lake,
O Leman, ought to live:—but yet 'tis rare!

Rousseau, though not in metre, was a poet
In all the essences of his high genius!—
Not so precisely eloquent De Stael!
Tho sometimes in Corinne the Muse's hand
And voice, and imagery, and emotion,
Were hers! But round her cradle forms of life,
And voices, and o'er-labour'd trains of thought,
Too artificial, and the false results
Of a luxurious capital, were ever
Bending her quick and plastic intellect
To wit, miscall'd the proof of force supreme
Of the brain's operations, too much stirr'd
By the collision of base rivalry;—
Where the strife is for conquest,—not for wisdom;
And where acuteness more than grandeur marks
The struggle and the fruit. On Coppet's banks
The Priestess liv'd impatient: her keen eyes
Look'd on the tumbling waters, and the giant
Heights that across them tower'd into the clouds,
Clad with eternal snow; but yet whose tops
Morning and evening shone with rosy beams
O'th' blessed sun! She look'd; but sigh'd for mirrors
Of artificial splendor, and the forms
That social fashion ever dresses up
In whimsical costume, and not the whispers
Or louder noises of the wave-stirr'd breeze;
But the pain'd murmurs of the soft coquette,
Or studied mimickries of tone pretended
Of beau, or statesman, or cramp'd orator,
Where knowledge of an accidental state
Of manners, and of feelings, and ambition,
Was sillily mistaken for sagacity
And wisdom.—Nature with her grandest voices
And most magnificent shapes, and mightiest airs
Of frame-invigorating elements,
Was not to Coppet's Baroness so moving,
As a saloon of Paris fill'd with wits,
Beauties, coquettes, and nobles, and budge authors,
Whose passion in the journals of the day
To figure, prompted to a restless life,
Full of ennui, and labour charlatanic,
And feebleness of body, and regrets
Of conscience for mis-spent abilities!

O strangely various is the human fate,
And human occupation! How wast thou
Employ'd, O learned Beza, on the banks
Of this lov'd lake for a long glorious life
Of intellectual energies, of taste,
Thought, poetry, and forceful sentiment,
And warm, heart-mellowing, and chaste Religion!
Far different from thy master, Calvin's, was
Thine heart: not dry, and hard, and in scholastic
And controversial divinity
Pent up, but with the captivating graces
Of ornamental letters deep imbued,
And joying to the last in the sweet studies
Of thy gay days of youthful efflorescence.—
Poet, and moralist, as elegant
As erudite! when more than eighty years
Had shook thy trembling hand, till scarce a stroke
Distinctly it could make, thou didst again
Freshen with dews these flowers, that in the garden
Of thy young fancy were rear'd up to bloom,
And flourish, and put forth their shining hues,
Spotted with all rich colours, and with scents
Vernal delighting. There they stand in pale
And venerable spells, in those fond haunts,
Where all thy worthies by the painter's skill,
Geneva, live—and all the labour'd fruits
Of their enlighten'd minds survive to teach
Posterity:—and my enthusiast eyes
Have dwelt upon them, and my feeble skill
Has striven to decypher them, and mark,
Compare, and contrast the slow-changing hues
From over-flowing youth to waning age!

As thou wert champion of the Church Reform'd—
So keen were Rome's foul myrmidons against thee;
Then with incessant scandal did they stain
Thy venerable age, and all the levities
Brought of thy boyhood to reproach's aid.—
But thou in conscious rectitude revivedst
Those early blossoms; and they stand recorded
In the best types of thy most learned printers;

And now the misty dawn of light begins
To break upon me! But not yet the hour
Of three has sounded from St. Peter's tower:
Yet short the space that after midnight's calm
Mantle had veil'd the skies, when all but I
Were wrapt in slumbrous rest, the Muse awoke me,
And I to my accustom'd toil applied,
My promis'd task to execute; and now
While I these lines am writing, quick the rays
Of sweet Aurora pierce the vapoury gray
That hastens off, as if affrighted, swifter
Than birds, that in the heavens dart away
From their strong-plum'd destroyers!

O how intense the brilliance and the beauty
Of morning's golden dawn, that over Alpine
Summits I daily see arise, since thirteen
Months have near pass'd, and not e'en once have I
Fail'd from my bed to gaze upon the picture!
But thus our faculties their vigour gain,
And I my daily, nightly, efforts ply
T'approach to spirit! Thought, and words, and images
Thus multiply, and more distinctly come!
And on the verge of that extent of life,
Which is man's common lot, and after sickness
Of more than four much-troubled years, my brain,
If I do not delude myself, has grown
To strength and copiousness, before it knew not.
But 'tis perchance the cheer!—The cheer has come
At last, whose want I languish'd for, and now
Its motions are all energy and hope!
For nature made me timid: and timidity
Sits like a vampire over the mind's efforts.

Coppet, when the Genevan Banker, risen
From counting his dry figures, to the state
Of Minister of mighty France, in times
Which all a politician's wisest powers
And most consummate arts call'd into play,—
Possess'd thee,—little were thy master's habits,
And trains of mind congenial to the fierce
And chivalrous ambitions, that in days
Of feudal splendor did for many ages
Rule thee, as thy proud lords! O gallant Grandson,
Burgundian chief, whose name is yet familiar
Throughout old Jura's heights, and echoes yet
Along Helvetian mountains, whose mail'd warrior
Amid the Gothic wonders of Lausanne's
Rich shrines in proud recumbent figure lies
Sculptur'd in stone, full many a tale have I
To tell of you; but the capricious Muse
Must wait her time.—Wide and remote the current
Of thy impetuous blood impelled thee on
To distant regions, and among the Barons
Of haughty England was thy stock establish'd;
And from thy veins the proud ambitious Beauforts
Sprung, and the saintly Margaret, the mother
Of the seventh Harry, monarch of the Isles
Whose swords, wealth, gallantries, and genius strong,
Have ever held their sway puissant over
The destinies of Europe:—monarch, sage and wily,
And prudent, and to whom, albeit stern
And avaricious, England much of vigour,
And much advance in commerce and the arts
Owes,—of the Tudor dynasty the chief—
A dynasty whose reign was short, but mighty,
And glorious—e'en though thou capricious king,—
A tyrant in tyrannic times; a lover
Of numerous wives, whom soon as sated with,
Of blood regardless, thou didst to the scaffold
With hatred merciless and savage humour
Consign—e'en thou, detested despot, were
Chief of the Line!—For from thee came a princess
Splendid, as most that on the' historic page
Have their reigns blazon'd! Yes, from Coppet's lords
Part of thy blood came in a gallant stream!

O alter'd times! O good and evil mix'd,
That changes have effected! O how different
Was the wild splendor of thy board, De Stael,
When in October's moody evenings, as
The sobbing breeze drove the leaves on the Lake,
And stripp'd the groves of their umbrageous honours,
The gorgeous blaze of lamps the guests attracted,
Of wit and genius, to thy table, spread
With modern luxuries! Then converse bright
Eclips'd the show of the Financier's wealth.—

And here again to thy fond name, O Byron,
I must return! I see thee listening now
To the conflict where at every dart flash forth
Splendors thou canst not reach; and then half angry,
Or envious, half delighted, thou dost shrink
Moody into thyself, and as the blast
By fits comes shrieking, or in deep hoarse roar
Over the beating waters, of thy boat
Think'st, and half risest to enjoy the battle
Of more congenial elements without;—
But then again to thy luxurious seat
Thyself thou reconcilest, and wouldst yet
Hope not eclips'd and vanquish'd to depart!
O pride intolerable, yet with flashes
Of generous submission and humility,
And admiration of corrival powers,
When not insulted, and the victory
Borne with meek placidness, devoid of vain
Arrogant triumph. But thy mind remains
E'en now but half develop'd, firey Bard!

Perchance a poet only well can write
A poet's life, and such the fate which thee,
O Bard of Newsted, has awaited: Moore,
England's Anacreon, has fulfill'd the task;
But now and then it may be thought the strain
Was not congenial;—the profundity
Of the great poet's gloom was of the heart;
His frolic levities were but assum'd!
And sometines his companions seem'd th'effect
Of chance more than of choice. Thus he who perish'd
Upon the shores of Lirici so fatally,
Whelm'd in the waves of the tempesturous Ocean—
Himself also a bard,—but yet a bard
Of mingled stars and clouds!—he touch'd the lyre
Sometimes in happier hour with a light hand,
That drew forth tones most exquisitely sweet;
But then again he labour'd in confusion
Dark, enigmatic, falsely gorgeous, struggling
To grasp at monstrous unmatur'd conceptions,
Unmanag'd, and unmanagable, mystic,
Dangerous, sceptical, and fanciful.

Beneath the roof that Diodati's name
Has consecrated to the Muses, he,
The victim of the stormy billows, pass'd
The autumn, to the noble poet big
With such heart-swelling sorrows!—He whose tales
Of Monks profane, and of hobgoblins dire,
Won a false sensual taste, and a foul fame
Of spurious wit,—a guest was also there;
And she the genius deep of Frankenstein,
And others known perchance, or thirstily
Aspiring to be known,—a motley crew;—
Not one congenial with his noble host!

Above thy banks, O Leman, to a point
Where thy waves gather, at its western bound,
And, issuing in a purple torrent, force
Their passage thro the strait, on whose steep banks
Stands thy fam'd city once the capital
Of the Burgundian realm— now numerous
On thy o'ershadowing heights the fair campaignes
Glitter. Here d'Aubigné the fair abode
Of his last days, the wreck of a long life
Of busy conflicts and adventures bold,
Fix'd;—while his plume as ready as his sword
Told the long tale of many a feat of gallantry,
And many a court intrigue, and many a danger,
In the fierce wars of bigot zeal, which stain'd
The bloody struggles for a pure religion.

O Bourbon, in whose generous character,
The wit, the hero, the sagacious wordling,
The chivalrous adventurer, the lover,
The friend, th'abandon'd to luxurious pleasure,
A many-colour'd web of brilliant hues
Is woven, and whose threads of gloomier tint
Were cut at last too short by the dire dagger
Of an insane assassin, well has d'Aubigné
Recorded the memorials, that still prove
The truth of thy well-merited renown!

Here in his old age were the nuptials gaily
A second time perform'd, and proud Geneva
Received him to the bosom of a House,
It cherished much—from Lucca's warmer skies
Transplanted,—Burlamachi's race, long flourishing—
Extinct at last. But from his veins descended
Of his first issue one, who to the heir
Of his great kingly friend, and to the court
Of brilliant and ambitious France, nor less
To Europe's wide-spread nations, was a star
Of female brilliance, that eclips'd the lights
Of other deep intriguers! Maintenon,
Who does not know thy name; while yet thy character
Remains an half enigma, which Saint-Simon's
Piercing, acute, sincere, but somewhat tedious
Pen, has not yet entirely clear'd from doubt?

Here Rohan's Duke, who fought so long with bravery
The Protestant cause against the force of France,
The remnant of his days, to seek for calm,
And nature's tranquil but majestic scenes,
Appointed, and in thy cathedral walls
His relics, and the funeral memorial,
Defil'd in latter years by hands profane
Of revolutionary rabbles, still
Beneath thy Gothic roofs, displays its broken
Sculpture: but better were the history
Of his field-active days, for prose than verse;
And well has he himself the story given.

Here Bonnet on low Genthod's jutting point
In philosophic studies, natural science,
And expositions of the Power Divine,
His long life of incessant study pass'd.
If reader thou art curious, thou mayst read
In the rich pages of historic Müller
The record of his calm yet busy days,
And virtuous simple life. Here Mallet vers'd
In antiquarian lore, and philosophic
Annals of Europe's politics, his labours
Oft gather'd from the sources far remote
Of other realms, beneath more northern skies
Sometimes applied; tho from his native soil
Distant, too much of his researchful life
Was spent: but not on frozen themes, or rude;
For curious are the sources he evolv'd
Of the bold Runic Muse; and much our Gray,
And much our Percy, of old poetry,
The elegant and learned chronicler,
Drew cups of inspiration from the fount!
But richly-stor'd, and eloquently-gifted,
Sismondi has a brief memorial given
Of the learn'd annalist; and now his fame
Rests undisturb'd. Here Stanhope from the councils
Of Albion's ermin'd robes retir'd to nurse
His scientific passions: here Mahon
In his sire's dry philosophy imbued,
Yet with the passion of an ardent mind,
Drank in republican notions from his cradle,
And in his manhood to his native land
Returning, spent a life of usefulness
In his laborious youth's profound pursuits
Of science practical, and in the plain
Habits by puritanic Calvin nurs'd.
But he was wise and virtuous,—and, exempt
From pride aristocratic, wide secur'd
Love and respect, though sometimes intermingled
With scorn dealt out by brother-peers, who thought
Their ermine soil'd by puritanic manners.

So Pitt, his near alliance, though himself
Of manners plain and simple, and absorb'd
In intellect, yet deem'd: nor would allow
The politics of a minute republic
Well suited to a mighty kingdom's state:
And surely wise and undeniable
Was the great Minister's judgment: for the rule
Of human beings lies upon the heart;
And not in dry deductions from the mechanism
Of reason plied to abstract sciences:—
And the mere reasoner is a man who sees
A distance short—nay shortest, while the lamp
Of bright imagination, that has insight
Of the dark passions working in man's bosom,
And has sagacity and judicious choice,
Alone can lay profound designs, adapted
For government of man's mysterious character.
Thus Burke,— of politicians of his age
The nearest inspiration,— thought: and thus
Immortal Bacon, the bright luminary
Of science!—Thus endow'd have ever been
The mighty statesmen of the world: thus Buckhurst,
Clarendon, Somers, St. John, Pulteney, Carteret,
And Chatham, high and bright above the highest.
Thus Canning, latest dead, and most deplor'd
In days of utmost need;— since which the glory
Of Britain's radiant countenance has paled
Her beams in darkness to the rival eye
Of Europe,—envious then,—triumphant now,
And most insulting! But a little while,
And proudly shall she raise her head again,
And bid defiance to her enemies!

But I am once more wandring,—ever flying
Back to those native soils, which scarcely man
Could ever from his bosom's depths eradicate;
However like a stepmother she acted!

Geneva, cherish'd, lov'd, admir'd Geneva,
I will resume thy tales gain, and bring
Thy worthies back to view! Here the learn'd stock
Of Stephens half a century pursued
Their most enlightened toils, and hence sent forth
The stores of ancient literature, to teach
Reviving taste, and those enlighten'd strains,
Whether in verse or prose, which Greece and Rome
Had once instructed, and adorn'd the world with;
And which for long long centuries inhum'd
In monkish cells unnotic'd, now came forth
By late-discover'd printing's aid, (decipher'd
By erudition never rival'd since,)
To the film-clear'd, and sharp enraptured eye
Of Learning's sons, in types correctly plac'd,
Text clear, and notes and comments, keen, profound,
The fruits of talent, sedulously bent,
And ardent deep research, incessantly
Pursued, and never weary.—Son to son
The erudite and happy zeal descended,
In generations more than I can count:
But in thy pages, classical Maittaire,
The story may be found; and he who reads
And feels no interest, is but a clown
With a clod heart and head of barren wood.

Here Henry thou, of this Stephensian race
The third,—but not the last,—didst carry on
Thy erudite and most wreath-worthy works
In moody humour, thou thyself a wit
Of most capricious hues, sometimes in joy,
But oftner in dark clouds and heart-consuming
Adversity: and sometimes with thy brain
Disorder'd by the troubles, and the restless
Emotions of thine ever-busy spirit!

Then Casaubon, perchance by thine alliance
Prompted, his days of unrelenting study
Gave to pursuits congenial; and his name,
And the ripe fruits of his assiduous culture,
Live as of yesterday. Again my theme
Leads me to native regions: England's Monarch
Attracted by his learned reputation,
Hence drew him, in the splendor of the throne
Of Britain, recompence and patronage
To seek; and thus the son, part-heritor
Of his paternal arts, was plac'd a canon
In Dorovernium's magnificent
Structure, where Becket's archiepiscopal
Blood purples yet the church's sacred stone,
And, neighbouring Ickham, thou, whence last my sickly
Frame I transported hither, didst receive
The learned critic for thy church's pastor!

Hence, Stanley, thou of Greek celebrity,
Perchance thine Æschylusian notes and comments
In part mightst draw, for Casaubon in ties
Of social vicinage might oft enjoy
Thy conversation, where in bonds of union
The travel'd and poetic Sandys, and Digges,
Of fame historic in the civil broils
Of those unhappy days, and many a name,
In registers of learning yet preserv'd,
Liv'd in alliance and kind neighbourhood:
And thy descendants, Meric, yet remain
In Durovernium's walls, and in its province!

Thus ever have thy sympathies and ties
Of blood and friendship, O Geneva, been
With England's children! Nor is Ickham's hamlet,
Its ivied towers, and its rude antique rectory,
And thy rich pastures, Lee, now first connected
With the broad Lake, where mountainous Mont-Blanc
Daily in majesty among the clouds
Smiles, or frowns over the assembled torrents
By Alpine fountains fed, and sends its waters
By the circuitous Arve's impetuous channels
To join the Rhone, that through the narrow gorge
Of Alps and Jura met, in purple stain'd,
Bursts with a fearful roar!—Yet distant countries
Not then, as now, communication held
By beaten tracks, and all the luxuries
Of easy transit, while the missive charge
Of the pen's register'd mirror of the mind
Was slow and interrupted. Nations now
Mingle almost as brothers of the same
Stock, education, habits, morals, feelings!

Voltaire! I hear thy spirit vain reproach me,
That I so long have thy proud name delay'd!
Close to my window lies thine ancient haunt
O'erlooking the blue waters, and the towers
And cluster'd roofs of old Geneva's town,
Once princely and imperial, now to other
Glory political aspiring!—Here
By appellation known, that well befits
The purposes it sought, (for les Delices
'Twas call'd, and still is call'd,) the accomplish'd Bard
His captivating lures to the sour temper
Of puritanic strictness dar'd display.
Here the world by the drama's mirror he
And all th' attractions of Parisian gaiety
Shew'd! till th'insulted government assuming
Its proper force, to Ferney's French domains
Expell'd him! 'Tis a perilous adventure
To draw the portrait of a genius, whom
The world has for a century endeavour'd
With all the force of critical acumen
To paint in his true colours; who e'en now
In popularity thro all the letter'd
Society of nations still augments!
For me against a sense so universal
To lift my voice seems madness.—I have task'd
My taste and judgment o'er and o'er again;—
And yet I think the same!— I am not able
This charm to pierce: in it there is to me
But little merit, and still less attraction.
It is a clear transparent stream of elegance,
With a light bottom. Never does it rise
To eloquence, or energy!—It has
The art of throwing all vain accessaries
Away, and seeming to extract the essence
Of every subject:—it is in sooth a trick,
If I may so express myself, of saying
Trite things, adapted to the apprehension
Of common minds, as if they were discoveries
Of deep and philosophic genius; and
A shrewd appeal to what the populace
Calls common sense;—forever mingled with
That jest and ridicule and irony
And taunt, which are the unresisted masters
Of vulgar intellects. But for the heart,—
The generous feeling,—the emotion grand,—
Never by chance is there a single spark!
His proper motto is—"The world's a jest,
"And all things shew it!"—But the world is not
A jest! and therefore he's no sage or bard!
Yet even in the apprehensions of
The people will a witticism be
The most consummate and resistless argument;
And he who laughs;—and has th' ungenerous talent
To see th' absurd, or make it, holds a rod,
A spear—whose touch is instant victory.
But I would never trust the bosom, which
First sees th'incongruent in presented objects,
Material or ideal!—It betrays
A littleness of mind; a microscopic
Habit of searching with ungenerous labour,
Not for the good, but bad:—for combinations
Invented ill; for failures, which may prove
Man's being, and the Universe, a folly!—
It soothes frail human envy to believe
There is no greatness;—that pretended wisdom,
Virtue, and magnanimity, cannot
The sharp dissecting eye of wit withstand;
And that the greatest sage is he, whose insight
Can shew them all to be unsound delusions.

Thou wast, Voltaire, as I conceive, in midst
Of all thy worldly elevation, ill
At ease in thine own heart;—thy spirit working
To carry thine own points by artifice,
Mistrustful of intrinsic strength or greatness;
Thinking that genius was, in truth, a farce;
And in thine own art drowning all thy comfort;
Seeking the plausible, and not the true;—
Witty, not wise; and deeming grandeur, beauty,
To lie i' the pictur'd image only;—not
In the reality! the passions ever
At work to crush thy rivals by deep artifice
And living only in the vain applause
Of loud capricious multitudes! In thee
There was no genuine love of nature's charms;
Of beauty no idolatry;—no fictions
Of fairy lands; no heavenly visitings
Involuntary of imagination.
But ever the long studied combination
Of forc'd, not forceful, art!—Then daily watchfulness
Of rival power no peace within the bosom
Left, and the rising genius of Rousseau
Was poison thus to thy frail veteran breast.
And thus in secret were the enmities

Of the all-morbid dreamer's fellow-citizens
Nurs'd, and incessant by the insidious darts
Of wit perverted the sad wanderer's step
Prevented from return to the dear spot
Of his inspir'd nativity! But ye,
Who in these two dispute the palm of genius,
First fix precisely that which constitutes
True genius! If, as said, it be th'invention
Of what is grand, or beautiful, or tender,
And simpathises with the native movements
That Heaven into the human breast instils,
Then who will most abide this test? the rhymer
In verse prosaic of dull Ferney's lord,
Or he, the eloquent and passionate
Dreamer of Heloise's melting bosom,
The painter of the storm on Leman's Lake,
The muse-enchanted wood-crownd rocks that hang
Over the bright waves at La Meilleirai:
If it were true, that Ferney's Lord has drawn
Man as he is with more fidelity,
'Tis man alone in his material essence,
Mingled with earth's contaminating grossness.

Genius is better conversant with man's
Feelings and thoughts than with his coarsest actions.
O call not this delusion! Virtue lives
More in the mind and heart than in the body,
And all of grandeur we enjoy, and beauty,
And love, and admiration, not the less
Is genuine, if it only be ideal!—
Without th'associations, which the mind
To matter brings, it is a barren essence.

It may be said that Ferney's Bard is ever
All intellect:—but then it is an intellect
Applied to Man in his most artificial
Condition in society; with manners,
Passions, ambitions, toils, pursuits of pleasure,
Of judgment rules, and estimates of merit,
Conventional,—far more the close result
Of nice observance, than of pure invention:
Not the embodiment of abstract thoughts
In living imagery, but itself abstraction,
Subtle, unsimpathising with the heart,
Calling forth only the keen faculties
Of apprehension, judgment, memory!—

These are miscall'd delusions, which removed,
Then all the charms of life dissolve away!
It is not reason, which the callous give
That sacred name! They stupidly call reason
That which their hands can touch, and eyes can see,
And ears can hear; and they are sceptical
On all which is unseen, unheard, unknown,
Save in the regions of imagination!
So, when the heart at the sublime and fair
In Man's conceptions to high rapture swells,
They call it an irrational delusion!
Thus reason is the damper and extinguisher,
Which not produces fruit, but only blights it.

Far up among the mountain gorges lies
The rude domain of craggy Faucigny.
Its ancient feudal lords were sovereign princes;
And high were their alliances, and rivals
Of the Genevan Counts, and those of Savoy!
Oft on the summits of its crags are perch'd
The fragments of their castellated towers
Among the clouds in most magnificent form;
And in its narrow vallies green is view'd
The loveliness of nature in her softest
And sweetest hues and features. There, St.-Gervais,
I pass'd an autumn month in thy abode,
Since which twelve busy years have pass'd away,
Bringing in their career full many a change
To Europe, and to half the world besides!

Imagination cannot figure scenes
More beautiful, more grand, of rural shapes
And hues more full of ravishment,
Than thine, St.-Gervais, in an autumn day
Of splendor; nor a peasantry in childhood
Of face more lovely, and seemingly more happy!
Beneath th'incessant sound of the cascade,
In foamy torrents of white spray descending
From its precipitous heights, was plac'd th'abode,
For congregated crews of strangers built,
Who come the medical powers to seek of waters
Sulphureous, bursting from its iron rocks!
It is a strange concurrence, from all nations
Deep in this mountainous solitude to meet
The creatures of the busy social world,
Soldiers, and politicians, lawyers, authors,
Churchmen, and men of commerce, fluttering insects
Of buzzing fashion;—most in morning rambles
Seeking by air and exercise, and impulse
Of viewing nature's wonders to beguile
The loneliness and savage imagery,
Which overcomes the feebleness of spirits
Of artificial creatures bred in cities;
A vain enervating and languid course
Of days to seek a false enjoyment in!

Roving along the river's banks, or clambering
The rocky summits by the brushwood twigs,
Or by the circling or meandring paths
Cut thro dwarf woods, hard labouring up the steeps
To hamlets perch'd like eagle eyries high
Among the snowy clouds, where yet the haunts
Of mountain-peasantry at crowded marts
Are found with human commerce babbling loud,
And striking by the sight of wild costume,
Of Alpine loneliness, where half the winter
In snow immur'd they sleep their hours away!
Yet here the busy passions, here the cunning
Of bargain-makers, the pert vanity
Of ogle-eyed coquets, in restless search
Of admiration, the devices subtle
Of craving avarice, and the dull obstinacy
Of boors, from ignorant demand ne'er driven!

But, O how active in these mighty frolics
Of nature is imagination's power!
Here where the ruin'd turret, hanging still
On heights of seeming inaccessibility,
Impels the mind to work upon the hardihood
Of feudal gallantry, yet richly dight
With chivalrous adornments of grand feasts,
The music and the dance, and beauty's eyes
Reigning their influence,"— the heart-rousing tale
Of damsels in distress, by giants held
Imprison'd, and by fell enchanter's wands
Kept in delusion's sense-distracting wiles,
In danger to the pure fidelity,
Sworn to some favour'd lover,—with a store
Of fictions raising up the hair on end,—
Visit thy poet's dreams, and daily musings:—
And here with half-shut eyes he sits, absorb'd
In visions, while the torrents roar, and sparkles
Of upthrown spray awake him now and then;
And from his seat he starts, and recollects
He yet is mingled with the damping intercourse
Of daily life, and groveling characters,
Who lick the dust alone, and crawl the earth;
And soon the bell will sound to summon him
To crowded table of world-judging strangers.

Beneath the scorching sun too oft I rambled
Over thy burning rocks; when fierce disease
Rag'd in my veins, and made my painful footsteps
Trembling and insecure; and thus when winter
Came sharp at Florence over Arno's waves,
Curdled my blood again, and I once more
On the sad couch of sickness doom'd to linger,
Pass'd many a month, while o'er me death his dart
Held. Still I strove the mental flame to nurse,
And with the visions of the moral fable,
And curious rolls of antiquarian lore,
Alternately my agonies I sooth'd:
Nor yet are all the fruits of those fair studies
Utterly faded and forgotten. Willoughby,
Thy fiction, seemingly historic, draws
Sometimes the thoughtful reader's eye, where shines
Raleigh's adventrous spirit, mingled with
Thy softer sufferings, sweet Arabella,
Punish'd for too much royalty of blood!

And thus the genealogic lore work'd out
From many a dry and uninviting source,
Stands in fair types of thy illustrious city,
O Florence, ancient seat of mighty genius,
Of splendid arts and learning from the dust
Of black oblivion to full life recall'd!
Sometimes 'tis good that we should quit the world,
And in earth's most magnificent solitudes
New-plume our wings for contemplation.
But th'intermixture of the odious puppets
Of that world's most delusive stage, our steps
Following, defeats the working of the spell.
Strange mixtures in my mind did that month's residence
Produce;—and not less strange, perchance, upon
The morbid current of my heated veins,
By force of the sulphureous waters, that
The vapoury rocks threw forth. There, Coningsby,
I clos'd thy tragic Tale: a tale neglected
By the hard-hearted reading multitude;
Yet, confident am I, not undeserving
Of sensibility's abundant tears.

These Baths did for a time appease the tumults
Raging within my being's purple streams:
But much I doubt, if they did not repell,
Rather than cure. For never from that year
Has my blood rightly flow'd. And then the troubles
Of mind and heart, without the added pangs
Of a disorder'd body, were sufficient
To overwhelm gigantic strength of spirit!

But Italy, O Italy, in charms
Of Nature most profuse, would I could live
With thee! The Alpine passage to thy realms
Gave me new life by its stupendous grandeur.

And thou, O Florence, smiling then in warmth,
Like spring, though dark November's clouds in other
Climes were collecting o'er the misty sky!

But Winter came at last,—and with a vengeance,
As sharp as in the dreaded North! And now
I sunk once more, and bow'd to kiss the feet
Of Death. In that forever-fam'd abode,
My hours were doom'd to the sick chamber's bounds,
And where adored poetry, and rich painting,
And magic sculpture, reign'd o'er every scene,
And shone on every wall; where history,
And all the mellowest eloquence of learning,
Haunted all sites; and Medicean splendor
Was intertwined with every hallow'd object,
All was a blank to me! For in the tortures
Of my convulsed frame, and use of limbs
Lost, my position was scarce more auspicious,
Than in some dull unconsecrated haunt.

Then once more with the spring the fever'd blood
Seem'd it's sad venomous bitterness to calm,
And now where Virgil's holy relics lie,
And o'er the Neapolitan Bay the summit
Of proud Vesuvius vomits fluid flames,
My destiny convey'd me. Pisa fam'd
In all Italian annals, and of late
To Britons dear for its most noble poet's
Abode, in the hurried tempest-shaken days
Preceding his heroic Grecian death,
I pass'd, and at Livornia's busy port
First cast my eyes on Mediterranean waves.

Thence round Italia's shores, and sea-gem'd isles,
Elba, and Sarde, and many a name in story
Familiar, for eleven long sunburnt days,
We voyag'd—not without full many a peril
Of tempest and of pirates; and with joy
Laugh'd, and were near convuls'd, when that bright Bay
Of glorious beauty and sublimity
Mix'd, to whose shores our frail and crowded bark
Was destin'd, open'd on our dazzled view.
'Twas noon, the end of May:—the radiant sun
Was on the bosom of the mighty waters,
And on the tops of the unnumbered promontories,
Towns, hamlets, castles, villas; and St.-Elmo
Shew'd her magnificent summit. To the harbour,
Crowded with ships of many a distant nation,
Our prow in joy exulting cut its way.

The solar beams now with a flame intolerable
Shot right upon our heads: and still we had
T'endure the torments long of quarantine,
Mid crowded vessels, filth, and stench, and noise,
Lock'd closely side to side,—the suffering
Was scarce endurable;—and then, to crown it,
My passport was irregular,—and I
Was threaten'd with a prison, and had nearly
Incurr'd that order of a despot power.

Now in that beautiful and unrival'd city
Hotels were crowded, and around the beds,
And on the floors where we repos'd, were seen
Scorpions disporting in dire multitudes.
But soon, Chiaia, thy enchanting spot
Receiv'd us, with Vesuvius on our left,
The Bay before us—and upon the rock
Of laurel to the right where Sannazaro
Dwelt, the still worship'd tomb where Virgil sleeps!
There six sweet months of nature's highest brilliance
We whil'd away, though Carbonari troubles
For a short moment clouded our fair joys
With fear and peril, and at last the storm
Blackening, and seemingly about to burst,
Drove us away to Rome. It was an earthly
Paradise, inasmuch as nature's charms
Could make it one—and ill departed from!
For Rome—the heavy air to me o'ercame
All its attractions. Not a day of health
There could I find, and gladly did I seek,
After four months another change of climate.

Then thee, Ferrara, fam'd for Estè's house,
And Tasso's amorous madness, and ye hills
Of Euganean lustre, that the beams
Of eve on Petrarch's holy age reflected;
And Padua, thee; and most of all immortal
Gem of the Adriatic, wave-clad Venice!

And then a roll of names which but to mention
Awakens all the treasures of the mind
Verona, Bergamo, Vicenza, Milan,
Turin and Chambery, and steep Mont Cenis.

And then again we to thy Lake return'd,
O subject of my song, and where an empress
Had late resided, took up our abode.
Intensely here my literary labours
I plied, and clos'd the haunted Tale of Huntley
And Alice Berkeley, and Sir Ambrose Grey,
And shriek-fill'd Hellingsley's spoil-coverd hall:
And here the Tale of Odo's Count went on,
Where innocent and most angelic Bertha
Bore on the scaffold an heroic death.

And now upon the dry and most perplex'd
Question of Wealth of Nations, and the means
Of wise and economic circulation,
I meditated deeply, and thus clear'd
To my own mind's conviction the enigma.

And then the Bibliomania, which had long
Infected my researches, came again
To occupy too many of my hours.
And all the while the torments of affairs
Of wretched business, and the wiles of cunning
Extortion, wickedness, ingratitude,
Audacious insult, inconceivable
Perversion of the laws, meant for protection,
To instruments of wrong and ravenous rapine!
And during all, a heart by nature timid,
Morbid, and rous'd with dangerous emotion
At slightest cause for care, grief, or regret:
And when they touch'd, losing the happy train
Of those ideas to the Muses suited.
But ever in my utmost agonies
I struggled still the trembling pen to guide,
And call'd the frighten'd Muse to calm my breast.

Yet what will not malignity pervert?
This energy of stout resistance, which
May fairly arrogate the name of virtue,
Has oft-times by the cruelty of censure
Been deem'd a reckless disregard of duties!
As if the virtue were in brooding over
Evils we cannot change! as if to smile,
And live in regions of imagination,
When coarse reality is unendurable
Misery, were a crime to be reproach'd!
"But when" it may be said, "your enchanted ears
"Are listening to Elysian waterfalls,
"You will not hearken to the trumpet's call,
"When summon'd back to duty!" It may be,
The Muse's votary is sometimes lost
In this delirium: will he be the less
In the wild depths of unresisted grief?

But now incessant were th'insulting calls
On my most outrag'd spirit! Morns and nights
Scarcely suffic'd for the exhausting tasks,
Necessity and just defence impos'd
On my worn pen. But my afflicted heart,
Ah, far more than my pen, was work'd and worn.

It was an iron winter, most severe
In its extremities of snow and storm.
Right up against the roaring Lake the windows
Of my abode, now far within the city,
Lay. One dark morning in December's depth,
As by the blazing fire on that romance
Most magical above all others of
The great Magician of the North, the Pirate,
My eyes, imagination, heart, intent
I sat, a shriek came down the Lake, the House
Trembled and rock'd, and twice from my shook chair
Was I near tumbled on the floor: the bells
Through all the house rang, and St. Peter's sounded,
And all the church bells thro the town were shaken,
And also gave the signal. 'Twas an earthquake!—
Slight—but appalling! Ah! how often since
Have I on the portentous moment dwelt!
In the same room, and by the self-same fire,
After an interval of an hundred months,
When I had dwelt in many a far abode,
And once for eight and twenty months again
My native soil inhabited, some sudden
Convulsion struck upon my vital strings;
And eight and forty hours I gasp'd for breath.

Then came the sleepless bed again; the appetite
Gone; and the loss of limbs; and eighteen nights
Of dangerous agony, and strange excitement
Of intellect, beyond its natural power;
Bursts of wild brilliance hitherto unknown
To my weak faculties; unintermitted
Toil of the intellect e'en for nineteen
Successive hours; and still the body torn;
Limbs paralis'd, and all the mortal part
Of earthly mould, sick even to death's door!

Thus it appears, as if the soul can work,
In bold defiance of the body's will:—
And sometimes blazes most, when it is nearest
To its departure. Much I've travel'd since
In mind and heart; and in my own conceit
Have far advanc'd. I cannot count the pages
Of various matter I have written and printed
Since that most perilous crisis,—poetry,
And prose-romance, and politics, and memoirs;
And dry antiquities, and moral essays,
On which my busy pen is ever running.
"Accursed scribbler!" cries the wretch, whose false
Concoctions, like th'enchanter's forceful spear,
My plume goes forth to pierce, and open lay
His snares of dread destruction to the sun!
"Scribendi cacoethes! odious passion!
"Be fire to its relentless energies,
"And light upon it quickly, and consume it!"

Not yet thou grand destroyer! O not yet
Will be thy wish accomplish'd! I have slept
At times, 'tis true, amid this morning's task,
As if my strength was failing, and that weakness
And age, not fire and violence, would consume me!
There are, on whose enormous wickedness
When I am call'd to meditate, the' emotion
Exhausts my spirits more than other labour
By day and night continued! My torn nerves
Long tremble and distort, ere they subside
Again, the calm idea to permit!
I am the being but of impulses,
And when my heart cannot direct, and light,
My head is barren, and my hand is weak.
I have no abstract intellect, and cannot
Act by what cold dry reason calls a duty;—
The worse for me! for I am told 'tis this
Which only virtue constitutes! and feeling
And grand emotion, though 'tis on the side
Of virtuous sympathies, and love of beauty,
And admiration of heroic conduct,
Is but an impulse of involuntary
Unconscience-sprung, and therefore valueless, passion!
As for myself, I cannot comment thus
In my severest and most self-condemning
Moments! For impulses, if they are good,
Must spring from virtue's fountains: a bad heart
Can never pour forth pure and blessed waters!
It may produce them mingled: but the taste,
The scent, the penetrating eye, th'effect,
After a moment's pause upon the bosom,
Will the infusion of the ill discover:—
The false bursts, murmurs, flashes, sparkles, dies!

If such are these effusions, if the vapour
Of false emotion swells them, if the thoughts
Come not direct and unsophisticate
From the undrug'd and uninfected bosom,
If the heart's fiat be not on their utterance,
Then sweep them to the pit where they may perish,
And never bubble, murmur, sparkle more!
And may I be obedient to the doom
That I shall then deserve, and hide my head
In just obscurity, and linger out
The little remnant of my days in silence,
And sink into the grave, unwept, unknown!


END OF BOOK II.

About this Page

Original publication date

1818
1831

Published @ RC

May 2009