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The Fall of Robespierre, Edited by Daniel E. White

Wordsworth, from The Prelude (1805), Book 10, lines 466-566.

    O friend, few happier moments have been mine
Through my whole life than that when first I heard
That this foul tribe of Moloch was o'erthrown,
And their chief regent levelled with the dust.
The day was one which haply may deserve
A separate chronicle. Having gone abroad
From a small village where I tarried then,
To the same far-secluded privacy
I was returning. Over the smooth sands
Of Leven's ample aestuary lay
My journey, and beneath a genial sun,
With distant prospect among gleams of sky
And clouds, and intermingled mountain-tops,
In one inseparable glory clad–
Creatures of one ethereal substance, met
In consistory, like a diadem
Or crown of burning seraphs, as they sit
In the empyrean. Underneath this show
Lay, as I knew, the nest of pastoral vales
Among whose happy fields I had grown up
From childhood. On the fulgent spectacle,
Which neither changed, nor stirred, nor passed away,
I gazed, and with a fancy more alive
On this account–that I had chanced to find
That morning, ranging through the churchyard graves
Of Cartmell's rural town, the place in which
An honored teacher of my youth was laid.
While we were schoolboys he had died among us,
And was born hither, as I knew, to rest
With his own family. A plain stone, inscribed
With name, date, office, pointed out the spot,
To which a slip of verses was subjoined–
By his desire, as afterwards I learned–
A fragment from the Elegy of Gray.
A week, or little less, before his death
He had said to me, 'My head will soon lie low';
And when I saw the turf that covered him,
After the lapse of full eight years, those words,
With sound of voice, and countenance of the man,
Came back upon me, so that some few tears
Fell from me in my own despite. And now,
Thus travelling smoothly o'er the level sands,
I thought with pleasure of the verses graven
Upon his tombstone, saying to myself,
'He loved the poets, and if now alive
Would have loved me, as one not destitute
Of promise, nor belying the kind hope
Which he had formed when I at his command
Began to spin, at first, my toilsome songs.'
 
    Without me and within as I advanced
All that I saw, or felt, or communed with,
Was gentleness and peace. Upon a small
And rocky island near, a fragment stood–
Itself like a sea rock–of what had been
A Romish chapel, where in ancient times
Masses were said at the hour which suited those
Who crossed the sands with ebb of morning tide.
Not far from this still ruin all the plain
Was spotted with a variegated crowd
Of coaches, wains, and travellers, horse and foot,
Wading, beneath the conduct of their guide,
In loose procession through the shallow stream
Of inland water; the great sea meanwhile
Was at safe distance, far retired. I paused,
Unwilling to proceed, the scene appeared
So gay and cheerful–when a traveller
Chancing to pass, I carelessly inquired
If any news were stirring, he replied
In the familiar language of the day
That, Robespierre was dead. Nor was a doubt,
On further question, left within my mind
But that the tidings were substantial truth–
That he and his supporters all were fallen.
 
    Great was my glee of spirit, great my joy
In vengeance, and eternal justice, thus
Made manifest. 'Come now, ye golden times',
Said I, forth-breathing on those open sands
A hymn of triumph, 'as the morning comes
Out of the bosom of the night, come ye.
Thus far our trust is verified: behold,
They who with clumsy desperation brought
Rivers of blood, and preached that nothing else
Could cleanse the Augean stable, by the might
Of their own helper have been swept away.
Their madness is declared and visible;
Elsewhere will safety now be sought, and earth
March firmly towards righteousness and peace.'
Then schemes I framed more calmly, when and how
The madding factions might be tranquillized,
And–though through hardships manifold and long–
The mighty renovation would proceed.
Thus, interrupted by uneasy bursts
Of exultation, I pursued my way
Along that very shore which I had skimmed
In former times, when, spurring from the Vale
Of Nightshade, and St. Mary's mouldering fane,
And the stone abbot, after circuit made
In wantonness of heart, a joyous crew
Of schoolboys, hastening to their distant home,
Along the margin of the moonlight sea,
We beat with thundering hoofs the level sand.

 
 
 
 
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Published @ RC

March 2008