Capel Lofft

Ernest: The Rule Of Right - Book IV

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BOOK IV.
So did that youth choose Duty before Love:
And so determination drove away
The doubts that held him with ungainly check
Wavering--for the will, manhood's life-stream,
Runs in its working channel swiftly forth,
Or else being stagnant, straightway is corrupt
To births unwholesome and dank noisomeness:
New fangling the one healthy life it was
Into a thousand most brain-sickly shapes,
That live, but in such hideous kind, as death
Were welcome to outdo them--
Awhile that lone
Stripling, as a stranded ship, lay buffeted
By fierce conflicting waves, helpless to do,
And dreeing all the more. But as that ship
Thro' lustiness and manhood of the crew,
Sudden, by a strong effort hard, 'gainst hope,
Uprising from her sunken bed bears up,
Stemming the surging breakers, boldly ahead,
And overrides each billow, like war-steeds,
Snorting and foaming: while the winds must miss
Her wreck, but fill her sails and swell her pride
With power triumphant--thus it fared with him,
As in his wilful mood he started up
And went his way. "There is my goal--must on
To reach it--leaving all, e'en Love itself,
For conscience's sake."
Happy the man who knows
The holy comfort of a righteous will--
To be for once, and oh! if once for all
Godly and true: to strike as angels do
Straight to their aim, and embassy of good:
And feel the while an angel's spirit and wings
Speeding our way: leaving far down below
The mazes of this world, for the clear path
That conscience rules, and keeps it steadily
Without all fear, by Faith upholding her,
But wherefore talk to worldlings of such bliss
As but God's children know? or show him pearls
Whose soul wallows in mire--grovelling there
For all that it believes--swine-like belief--
And such is natural man. Sure he who erst
(As poets tell, fabling, but truthfully,)
Stole fire from heaven to animate our clay
Was but a scanty thief; who, having spent
His daring on that danger, lacked at last
The wit and will undazzled to behold
And readily to grasp the prize he'd won;
But fled, dispurposed by preposterous fear,
Leaving his work undone; and bringing down
But some sad ashes where true fire was dead,
And only a scant lingering lukewarmth
O'erlived to be our soul. Else had that fire
Been but itself, true to its godly source,
How holy then were man? Surpassing all
That his hope now aspires to or heart feels,
Far as the sun that glorifies our heaven
Excels the marshborn foggy meteor.
But truly whoso first devised that tale
Told it not for a memory of things done,
But for a hope of what remains to do:
That so regret of an old dream might stir
A new desire to compass the thing dreamt:
Hinting to Nature what she needeth most,
Not what she hath: that man, so stirred, might rise
Godward, all selfish lost in that sublime,
And get the spirit he lacks; by exercise
Of heavenly visions high contemplative,
Such as draw down, communing to and fro,
The holy flame to his soul; the flame that erst
Prophets, and patriots now; else a dark death
Foredoomed them: for themselves and all their hopes,
And the commonwealth of man.
But why such waste
Of wholesome words? sooner shall this dull earth
Which, as born thence, our being doth partake,
Stay its unresting and most eager whirl
To listen the high spheral harmony;
Than man, in moil and hurry of this life
Give wisdom, between whiles, hearing and heed,
Tho' but to read her writ and show her seal;
His stamp from whom she came. No, each man treads
The track his fathers trod ages bygone;
Till deep and deeper to a rutway worn
Downward--so deep--they see but the dull mounds
Cramping them in: there ever at the heels
Of their foregoers, driven by the lash
Of law, in clogs and shackles of world-wont,
They plod their weary life, hopeless, since here
Drudgery is endless. Nor once think to hold
Council--and well consider the true chart
That wisdom, from her height viewing awide
Sets forth--man's will to wisen, and so speed
His work--but thereto needs the reasoning soul
And man is mainly brutish--needs withal
For that same soul the mood it seldom owns--
Such fearless stirring fiery forwardness
As shall enforce its visionary right
To a reality--Hermann had both.
But in such wise as hitherto would burn
Only within the temple of his mind--
A light to teach his hearers; not to blaze
Beacon-like, earnestly, for warlike work,
Upstir and outbreak: haply, for he found
No field; or else he deemed this drivelling time
Hopeless, and waited the high driving tide:
Or, if the hour already were at hand
Yet must some other dourer and doughtier
Fulfil that mighty project--what was he
To undertake it? Thrusting himself through
The bold presumptuous throng. "Come, follow me,
I am your leader:" how put others by
Born to the craft, of wilier, likelier skill,
Seize this world's steerage--this huge hulk that drifts
Helplessly, aimlessly, with wind or tide;
Fling overboard its shamming selfish state
Pilots, who mindful only of their pelf,
In straits and shallows keep it craftily
Pretending hidden danger on each side--
Then boldly hands to work--and the ship's head
Amain, forthright o'er ocean, freely in full
Sail, while the baffled breakers foam behind
In shallow rage.
But he,--since old world wont
Had tangled our State-threads so crazily,
Behoved a stronger hand to wield the sword,
Must cut the knot. This and the ruinous wreck
That seemed to lower from the enterprise
On his own home and hers, his fellows too,
And followers, his whole country and its hope--
Rivetted his denial--as right sure
That such a project, how true-aimed soe'er,
Like a child's silly cannon, must portend
Danger to the fool that fired it, not the foe.
Thence he sped onward, in more cheerful mood
From that determination, all the while
Chaunting his hopes and fears, fancies and thoughts
In under tone--for such his walk's lone wont,
Conning them so, to leave the Evil One
No room. And now his calmness imaged back
The landscape's ripening richness, as a shawl
Persian or Ind, in soft reposing show
Outspread--with smile for smile he thanked his God
That he could feel the season's graciousness
Darkened of late by his soul's cloudiness,
Feel, and requite it with adoring Love.
And now the air breathed on him genially
From his birth-home: he pass'd the village thro',
Straggling and far between; broken with wood,
Orchard and garden, meadows, lanes, oatfields,
Plenteous, nor pleasant less--and door by door
He uttered to the inmates his heart's grace,
Prized none the less for its small cost--such dew
Tho' slight, is yet refreshful; so good-will
Returns to the giver; and in endless chain,
Coming and going friendliness revolves--
Blest interchange! without it the world's wealth
Were but a beggar--this the old dame felt
Basking in the sun beside her spinning-wheel,
Intent on work, nor yet so wholly intent
As not to greet him coming with blithe looks
And bless him leaving: the old shepherd, too,
Who best loves serious talk; and she who most
Needs it, the saucy maid, pretty but pert:
Secure yet how unsafe. All had their turn
Of kindly word or smile--so on he pass'd,
Gladdening with the sunshine of his heart
The radiance of that sweet scene: until,
Tho' lingering as loath to shorten it,
He reached his Father's house. Him he found there
'Scaped from his scholars' impish noisomeness;
Taking his solace in the sunny ground
He tilled with his own hands: and tilled it so,
That scarce could a born spadesman of them all
Better his work. Faith, if he only wrought
Those urchin minds withal so winsomely,
They pass'd all praise. It seemed some kindly sprite
Had taken there his turn as gardener
For show of thoro' work. The rounded beds
Were swelling to their birth. The stately flowers
Rose daintily, as ladies of the soil,
Clean from the level mould. The gravel'd path
Showed like a golden stream, bright glistening
Through grassy slopes. The earth smelt summer-like;
The hedges in their shapeliness of trim
Were smoothed from their wild growth, with off-set green
Against the glittering sun. Thro' the whole space
The soul of summer shed its influence
And not a weed was there, foully to mar
The sweet society of herbs and flowers.
Hermann stood gazing not unwishfully
And inly thus he said--"Old man, thou'rt blest
Both in thy toil and the reward of it;
And I, in thy example, were blest too,
Did but the sire descend unto the son,
As like should beget like--but oh, harsh Fate,
And harsher Love!" So, as he thought, he paced
Evermore on, self-wrapt in thoughtfulness,
Till, at his sound of step, the old man turned
Hastily, and with like haste, thus began.
My Son--welcome once more--give me thy hand--
My own is all toil-stiffened; yet I feel
Its stiffness soften in this pressure of thine:
Truly--a glad grasp--for my boys, an hour
Earlier I gave them riddance--better so.
My wandering spirit, I could but feel it such,
Were ill for teacher's task--but prithee, why--
Why art thus late? Ah, well--no odds of that.
Look up boy--a clear blue--and not a cloud--
Would it were so with me: but 'tis the mind
Makes its own--ah! you know Milton's wise words.
And I--but 'tis a darksome tale, unfit
For sunshine. Come then--yonder bench by the brook,
With fir-gloom high o'erarched, deep in its death
Stillness, be it our seat--there receive thou
The overflowings of my troublous heart
Into thy own--for much would I fain say--
Much that unsaid were better for us both--
If so undone.
Hermann 'tis such a tale,
As the echo frightens me at every word.
Confounding with the fear of what is said
All that remains to say: not a man else--
Not e'en in death--shall be my trust-fellow
Of what I whisper thee: but thou'rt my son,
And in that title--well, title or no--
Listen; for I must tell thee.
Thou hast marked--
For to thy searching eye not even hearts
Are hidden--thou beholdest th' inward man
Through show and seemliness--that these late days
I've been--witness me what--cross as spleen's self.
Fickle and spiteful as the winds in March.
Some fit--some oncome--be it what it may--
Unearthly quite. The Devil himself in man's
Shape--and that man her father whom thou lov'st:
E'en so--e'en Hess. 'Tis he hath crazed my brain--
Haunted my dreams--and by some hellish sleight
Bewitched me, heart and soul, unto his will:
Nay, never fear, for thus I fling him off--
And stamp him down--his head beneath my heel--
The old serpent, for he tempted me--how think ye?
With what fiend-wiles? whither to follow him?
Why to o'erthrow State-rule, law, ownership
Itself, beneath mob-sway. Such his game is.
And on that game to let his hell-hounds loose,
The rabble that he holds in slip: shall scour
Earth like a whirlwind, rob, slay, burn, leave nought
But reeking havock. Look, boy--look around
How beautiful in plenty is the earth,
And how she doth give freely all she hath,
All this full summer flush. And shall her sons
For the one token of their thankfulness
Mar her free grace with war, and brother kill
Brother on his mother's bosom?
My dear son,
Others may marvel at this, if wildest rage
In these dog-days be wonder--others may--
But I myself who've thought the thing--the deed--
And sworn an oath to do it--I, alas!
Can only wonder at my sinful self;
Which, thus, I throw sheer off--loathing its thought
Like pested rags--'twas only yesternight,
Starting from sleep in sudden consciousness.
I seared this finger in the burning lamp
To try, whether or no I were a fiend,
Fire-proof--such as my dreams--ah, dreadful! yet why
Haunt thee with fancies: hear then the sad truth.
'Tis a short tale--he came, I know not whence,
A stranger, with but scant welcome from me;
Until, so wilily he wrought on me,
That formal greetings grew to fellowship;
And that to friendship often did we meet;
Such meetings as, not seldom, o'erlived night
Into the following day; and the ember heap
Died a cold death while yet our talk was warm--
First of slight gossip--neighbourly surmise--
Tillage and crops and haps--manifold fleet
Images, mirror'd in his lively mind
From outward show and surface of man's life.
Then books--soul--matter. There would I have stay'd,
In that safe stay I knew and loved the best,
But he would not. Next was Church, State, and Law
Searched with unfriendly eyes, till--having tried
His ground, and sounded me and mine--so far
As shallowness sounds depth--having found where
My patriot warmth was eagerest, and most
Careless of caution--thence he 'gan lay siege
With most deliberate craft, day after day,
Against my constancy and wiser mind.
Plying all sleight of reason--hope or fear--
As best might help his turn: stirring my bile
By presentation of the parson's tithe,
Beggaring my scant fare: puffing my pride,
Praising my learned proof: stuffing me full
Of perilous conceits; until my mind,
Like to some fireworker's accursed shell,
Crammed with all havock, waited but a spark
To burst amain in spiteful recklessness,
And wrack all round it.
But the screw wrought slow
That wrung me up thus to the topmost round:
No spring, but many steps. So, like a dram,
I sipped my danger: at first loathing it;
But, after while, needing the poignant fiend,
Whom bosom'd once, we hardly banish him:
Such a regretful thirst he leaves behind,
Unquenchable--with ever zestier stir
Hankering his recall. Thou know'st me well,
My words, my thoughts, all my behaviour,
For years bygone--so thou'rt aware that he
Spoke ever, to my mind, truest and best,
Who spoke the level folk-right uppermost,
And priestcraft lowest--high church down--low up.
How, when our parson, most ungospel-like,
Would grasp his flock, not with a helping hand,
To guide them, but to bleed and strip them bare,
Then did I give my counsel, hand, and means
To the revolters, and stood there foreright,
Braving all chance might come: and such a din--
Ah, yes--the peal I rang startled them all,
And frightened him--this thou canst vouch--and hast
This pledge, that all I've done, aye and forborne,
'Twas the main welfare prompted me--that ground
Here failing, why, I'm free--so, for my faith,
Be the past a token for the time to come.
Now, look, my son, how Heaven o'errules man's craft
To trick itself. He lured me ever on,
Giving the promised glory all to me.
My little means--puffing them mightily,
For his main end--what I could do myself,
And how draw others on. Sure, if I would,
To be the foremost man of all--the head
To the huge body of our enterprise:
And, truly, had he holden that first aim,
Then had he hit the mark: and the old thrall
Wherein this land now dotes so drowsily,
Were but a dream: then had dead things sloughed off,
And a new life come on--a quickening
Dawn, on the ashy dulness of that night,
Bright as a beacon blaze: to be caught up,
And sped around, till e'en the starry sky
Had marvelled at earth's brightness. True--most true--
I only, of all men, bore in my brain
The seeds of human hope and happiness:
Sure in that soil to flourish and bear fruit;
Aye, and as sure, elsewhere, in the slight sand
Of other souls, to give but shallow growth,
Withering away--but this truth, howsoe'er
Wholesome, stirs bitterly other men's bile,
Those most, whom most behoves to welcome it:
Therefore they love it not.
Yes, boy, that man
Whom it was Heaven's own will that I should lead,
And he but follow me--that clown--that Hess.
What think you? Why, when late I claimed my due,
What did he, but half chiding half scoffingly
Open strange eyes, and lend a wondering ear
To upright Truth--liking full well my work,
So 'twere mere task-work to his Lordship slaved,
But never to acknowledge me his head,
And hardly e'en his helpmate. Why, that dolt
Were best befitting, over the rear rank,
To drive the hindlings on--a lout--as raw
Compacted as the clay that fouls my feet
To tread on it--nice difference he knows none--
Laughs at book-lore--and he forsooth must be--
Will deign no less--our leader; must rule all,
And some would yield it him. Well, let who list,
Only not I--sooner shall yonder stream
Run in yon ditch, than I follow his lead,
Save for his downfall--and what, thinkest thou,
Doth he first purpose? why, to beggar us,
To make us outlaws--stripping off the old
Protection, whence this garden, orchard, field,
Requite my toil: for the mob's sake, and cheap
Outlandish bread, which if they got, they'd so
Glut, with such grace, as swine o'er their mast-fall
And acorns--now being dear, they know its worth:
And better so--much better careful dearth
Than thankless riotous plenty--then for his crown,
His fool's cap, our new temple--man's main hope--
On the old rotten rubbish he would build
On it, nay with it: clothe his mannikin
In the offcast Christian cloak--in Gospel faith--
That cloak so threadbare worn, that every eye
But the blear dotard, sees through its flimsiness,
Clear as the light: lasting but from disuse,
Like an old scutcheon; falling to dust
When handled. What! cram down our throats the stuff
They've loathed so long, and bid us thrive by it?
Nay, rather to the Gipsies for my faith--
To the relic bones for worship. Heaven save"--
"O yes, my Father, Heaven save us both,"
So Hermann broke upon his words, "from such
Utterance--for its feverish wild heat
Doth but the more chill me with shuddering fear
For the issue--too outrageous are thy words--
Their reckless wind blows death--whelming downright
Where it should waft along. Nay, breathe not aught
Of our religion save religiously,
For all the evil thou can'st say of it
Doth but enhance its holiness the more,
Being, in truth, but black detraction
Flung on a field of snow--showing what's fair,
More lovely 'gainst the foulness of its foil.
Father, I owe thee much--my life--tho' that
Is little, if unworthily it lives,
And thus I would requite thee: Come and share
This godly comfort with me if thou wilt.
Cherish this Faith, wear it and walk in it
As a white robe that beggars all things else,
Even the highest-plumed kingship and pride
Below an offcast rag.
But if thou'rt slaved
Out of thy loyalty unto our Lord
Into a harsher bondage, hard to bear,
And hardest to shake off--an iron yoke
'Stead of the Grace should guide thee: if such thou art,
But oh! Heaven grant thee--grant us both alike--
To be far other--then I ask of thee
What thou art nothing harmed to allow, but I
Happy to hold it--leave me then at least,
This faith which is indeed my soul of life,
And take away whate'er thy bounty gives
To eke my scanty means: for all else lost
Enhances the pearl left. Behoves us not,
Father and son, to wrangle with fierce words,
Therefore whate'er within I'm stirred to say,
I set the seal of silence on my lips;
And oh--do thou the like--to other ears,
As to mine own.--Forgive me, oh God, that I
Contend not 'gainst my sire on thy behalf;
And thou, much more, my sire, forgive me again,
If I forsake not God and God's own Truth
To follow thy stray will. Thou knowest me now--
Would I could know thee too, not as thou speak'st,
But as my will would have thee--so wert thou
Renewed in happiness; and I, how blest,
Sharing my Faith with thee!"
"Well, as thou wilt;
'Twere all as hopeful to go teach the wind
That bloweth where it listeth, as thus strive
To free the soul from its self fantasies
By Truth. Whoe'er makes Faith his idol, fools
His reason--go then--go drink hellebore,
And purge the bile that so beclogs thy brain--
So dims thine eyes. Clear thy own mist away,
And then thou wilt be early all enough
To show others the Truth--so much for thee.
Now, for myself--my purpose is fast staked--
I leave yon crafty madman and his crew,
As I've good cause: first, for his wiliness
Taking from me the sceptre of leadership--
And tendering me then a staff, a flail--
To handle in its stead--such a dull thing,
As sure the biggest bumpkin would wield best.
The clownish weapon of one who hath no head
To unthrall his horny hands from drudgery.
But this were little--then he would foresay
Our free Philosophy and reasons rule,
And patch the old priestcraft up--make man a child.
Aye, worse--a drivelling crone--last, to sum all,
The curse of treachery is on his cause,
Blighting it, root and branch. Truly, my son,
I were the offcast e'en of castaways,
Could I hold troth with him.
No, my best aim
Thus far gone forth with them is further on:
Redeeming by new righteousness my wrong,
Thro' use of what were sin being employed
'Gainst other men, but godliness 'gainst him,
Like a marsh meteor, to bewray them first,
Then leave them floundering. Beshrew their hearts,
But they shall feel me for their sharpest foe,
From late their fastest friend. Oh, could I wring
Into my tongue the hate that's in my heart,
Each word were poison. Yet, I tell thee again--
Once did I wish them well, and my heart glowed
With thought of the upshot--then I whisper'd thee
Some hopeful words, and thou did'st answer me
In chilling wise--thou did'st abhor it then,
And now much more--if thou'rt my son indeed,
And not undutiful to the warm blood
That did beget thee: or say--heart thou'st none
To feel my wrongs--yet 'tis not mine alone--
But thine no less. They love thee well--that man,
And his fair daughter--so thou readest them--
And thou lov'st too--so loving and so lost--
Fool'd and flung by; seethed in thy own soft milk,
Thro' the fond lure that they hold forth to thee,
Their maiden's beauty--but that lure is spread,
(For look ye, their kind unreserving will
Would see two men made happy rather'n one)
To other lusts than thine--nay, start not so,
Better look thro' the truth with earnest eyes,
Tho' it do blast thy sight. Mark them, I say,
Mark them: and that young Linsingen, mark him.
Needs no more said--be not blind wilfully--
'Tis but to ope thy eyes--then what thou see'st,
If it fall short one hair of what I've said,
Forswear me for thy father, write me down
A liar; and the love I forfeited
Bestow on them."
He ended so his speech;
For Nature failed him; and his faculties
Were strained beyond their strength. Motionless there
He sate in mere exhaustion, until tears
Came to refresh the fever of his soul
Parched up by passion. His much wondering son
Had watched him thro' the maze of his discourse,
And saw the glittering snake fiery and bright,
And swollen to the full with venomous pride,
Unfold his deep-coiled wily tortuousness,
Development most hateful: eager he was
To break the treacherous curse threading that speech
Ere it had spent itself. Yet he forbore,
As having still, even in his despair,
A little ray of hope that the end might be
Better than the outset gave him warranty;
And then those tears, as falling down a face
Long wont for him to wear the smile of love,
Quite overcame him. He sprang up, and grasped
That wither'd hand so warmly, as brought back
The blood to the cold veins whence it had ebbed
As if to flow no more. Remorse of a sight
So piteous had choked up all reproach,
And turned his tide to childhood.
"My own dear
Father, how much better doth lowliness
And such a sorrow as thou showest now
Become thy years and their ripe wisdom mild,
Than what thy lips late spoke--unlike thyself:
Whirling out reason as the hurricane
Blasts a torchlight away. Much I do joy
That such a spirit is gone forth from thee,
And oh! if once for all! That thou dost turn
From the steep ruin of this enterprise
I blame thee not--but thy new zeal might give
A worthier proof than so to brand those men
Whom late thy own sworn faith partook with them.
Sir, in plain utterance, that is not well.
Nay, rather, parting, tell them thy whole mind:
Thy truth--their hopeless danger--such kind phrase
As haply may yet draw them after thee:
That mischief may be curbed by thy rebuke,
E'en at its moment gather'd for the spring,
And live for likelier aims; but thus--to shape
Their drift to ruinous downfall, from the end
Whereto ye now stand plighted, each and all:
What is it, but to wind their trust of thee
E'en as a halter round about their necks,
Forswearing faith, twisting the true friends' knot
Into the hangman's? Such a thought, if thine
It were, 'twould choke me but to utter it:
And being done--but why discourse of it,
As of a thing that hath substance and shape
To bear surmise--'tis a mere monster--and so
It should be strangled in its utterance
Without or name or note: for thy fellows' fault
'Tis only that too hotly they urge on
What urged aright were then most righteous.
Therefore soft words winning o'er wilfulness
Is the fit way to slack their eagerness
Not the sharp axe. What tho' they be misled,
Men use not to knock error on the head,
Should rather breathe thro' it Truth's kindly soul
Unto salvation. Father, I know well
Thy inmost mind is ever unto good,
Yet hath it something now, some wronging mote
Within--that thou should'st rid forthwith--will else
Harass thy vision sore and spitefully
To view all things awry. 'Tis written, Wrath
Worketh not righteousness: forgive me then
If thus perchance, I show my love to thee
In, seemingly, unloving wise--nor hence
Misdeem me, to fall short of what I should
In thy behalf of duty and reverence,
Because I tender thus my counsel unasked
Against thy bent of will. No--'tis but Truth
Prompts me to this sour office, Truth alone,
Thankless--nay, rather if hurtless, thankful so.
For when the iron is so raging hot,
He who would quench it with the cooling stream,
Let him beware--'tis danger. All I've said,
It's sum is short: hold thyself at the rate
That others deem thee, who best know thy worth.
So shalt thou shame all slander: and whate'er
Having well poised the weights, for and against,
Thou shalt herein determine were best done,
Believe me thy true son: will ne'er hold back
While thy behest cries, "Forward:" daring the height
Of the highest undertaking; so much more
As the more danger shall frown forth from it.

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