Book 3: Residence at Cambridge

It was a dreary morning when the chaise
Rolled over the flat plains of Huntingdon,
And, through the open windows, first I saw
The long-backed chapel of King's College rear
His pinnacles above the dusky groves.

Soon afterwards, we espied upon the road
A student clothed in gown and tasselled cap;
He passed — nor was I master of my eyes
Till he was left a hundred yards behind.
The place, as we approached, seemed more and more
To have an eddy's force, and sucked us in
More eagerly at every step we took.
Onward we drove beneath the Castle; down
By Magdalene Bridge we went and crossed the Cam;
And at the Hoop we landed, famous Inn.

My spirit was up, my thoughts were full of hope;
Some friends I had, acquaintances who there
Seemed friends, poor simple schoolboys, now hung round
With honour and importance: in a world
Of welcome faces up and down I roved;
Questions, directions, counsel and advice
Flowed in upon me, from all sides; fresh day
Of pride and pleasure! to myself I seemed
A man of business and expense, and went
From shop to shop about my own affairs,
To Tutors or to Tailors, as befell,
From street to street with loose and careless heart.

I was the Dreamer, they the Dream; I roamed
Delighted through the motley spectacle;
Gowns grave, or gaudy, doctors, students, streets,
Lamps, gateways, flocks of churches, courts and towers:
Strange transformation for a mountain youth,
A northern villager.
As if by word
Of magic or some Fairy's power, at once
Behold me rich in moneys, and attired
In splendid clothes, with hose of silk, and hair
Glittering like rimy trees, when frost is keen.
My lordly dressing-gown, I pass it by,
With other signs of manhood which supplied
The lack of beard. — The weeks went roundly on,
With invitations, suppers, wine and fruit,
Smooth housekeeping within, and all without
Liberal, and suiting gentleman's array.

The Evangelist St John my patron was:
Three gloomy courts are his, and in the first
Was my abiding-place, a nook obscure;
Right underneath, the College kitchens made
A humming sound, less tuneable than bees,
But hardly less industrious; with shrill notes
Of sharp command and scolding intermixed.
Near me was Trinity's loquacious clock,
Who never let the quarters, night or day,
Slip by him unproclaimed, and told the hours
Twice over with a male and female voice.
Her pealing organ was my neighbour too;
And from my bedroom, I in moonlight nights
Could see, right opposite, a few yards off,
The antechapel, where the statue stood
Of Newton with his prism and silent face.

Of College labours, of the Lecturer's room
All studded round, as thick as chairs could stand,
With loyal students faithful to their books,
Half-and-half idlers, hardy recusants,
And honest dunces — of important days,
Examinations, when the man was weighed
As in the balance! of excessive hopes,
Tremblings withal and commendable fears,
Small jealousies, and triumphs good or bad,
I make short mention; things they were which then
I did not love, nor do I love them now.
Such glory was but little sought by me,
And little won. But it is right to say
That even so early, from the first crude days
Of settling time in this my new abode,
Not seldom I had melancholy thoughts,
From personal and family regards,
Wishing to hope without a hope, some fears
About my future worldly maintenance,
And, more than all, a strangeness in my mind,
A feeling that I was not for that hour,
Nor for that place. But wherefore be cast down?
Why should I grieve? I was a chosen son.
For hither I had come with holy powers
And faculties, whether to work or feel:
To apprehend all passions and all moods
Which time and place and season do impress
Upon the visible universe, and work
Like changes there by force of my own mind.
I was a Freeman; in the purest sense
Was free, and to majestic ends was strong.
I do not speak of learning, moral truth,
Or understanding; 'twas enough for me
To know that I was otherwise endowed.
When the first glitter of the show was passed,
And the first dazzle of the taper light,
As if with a rebound my mind returned
Into its former self. Oft did I leave
My comrades, and the crowd, buildings and groves,
And walked along the fields, the level fields,
With heaven's blue concave reared above my head;
And now it was that, from such change entire
And this first absence from those shapes sublime
Wherewith I had been conversant, my mind
Seemed busier in itself than heretofore.
At least I more directly recognized
My powers and habits: let me dare to speak
A higher language, say that now I felt
The strength and consolation which were mine.
As if awakened, summoned, roused, constrained,
I looked for universal things; perused
The common countenance of earth and heaven;
And turning the mind in upon itself
Pored, watched, expected, listened, spread my thoughts
And spread them with a wider creeping; felt
Incumbences more awful, visitings
Of the Upholder, of the tranquil soul,
Which underneath all passion lives secure
A steadfast life. But peace! it is enough
To notice that I was ascending now
To such community with highest truth.

A track pursuing, not untrod before,
From deep analogies by thought supplied
Or consciousnesses not to be subdued,
To every natural form, rock, fruit or flower,
Even the loose stones that cover the highway,
I gave a moral life: I saw them feel,
Or linked them to some feeling: the great mass
Lay bedded in a quickening soul, and all
That I beheld respired with inward meaning.
Thus much for the one Presence, and the Life
Of the great whole; suffice it here to add
That whatsoe'er of Terror or of Love
Or Beauty, Nature's daily face put on
From transitory passion, unto this
I was as wakeful, even, as waters are
To the sky's motion: in a kindred sense
Of passion, was obedient as a lute
That waits upon the touches of the wind.
So was it with me in my solitude;
So often among multitudes of men.
Unknown, unthought of, yet I was most rich —
I had a world about me — 'twas my own;
I made it, for it only lived to me,
And to the God who looked into my mind.
Such sympathies would sometimes show themselves
By outward gestures and by visible looks:
Some called it madness — such indeed it was,
If child-like fruitfulness in passing joy,
If steady moods of thoughtfulness matured
To inspiration, sort with such a name:
If prophecy be madness; if things viewed
By poets of old time, and higher up
By the first men, earth's first inhabitants,
May in these tutored days no more be seen
With undisordered sight. But leaving this,
It was no madness, for I had an eye
Which in my strongest workings evermore
Was looking for the shades of difference
As they lie hid in all exterior forms,
Near or remote, minute or vast, an eye
Which from a stone, a tree, a withered leaf,
To the broad ocean and the azure heavens,
Spangled with kindred multitudes of stars,
Could find no surface where its power might sleep;
Which spake perpetual logic to my soul,
And by an unrelenting agency
Did bind my feelings even as in a chain.

And here, O Friend! have I retraced my life
Up to an eminence, and told a tale
Of matters which not falsely I may call
The glory of my youth Of genius, power,
Creation and divinity itself
I have been speaking, for my theme has been
What passed within me. Not of outward things
Done visibly for other minds, words, signs,
Symbols or actions, but of my own heart
Have I been speaking, and my youthful mind.
O Heavens! how awful is the might of souls,
And what they do within themselves while yet
The yoke of earth is new to them, the world
Nothing but a wild field where they were sown.
This is, in truth, heroic argument,
And genuine prowess, which I wished to touch
With hand however weak, but in the main
It lies far hidden from the reach of words.
Points have we all of us within our souls
Where all stand single; this I feel, and make
Breathings for incommunicable powers;
Yet each man is a memory to himself,
And, therefore, now that I must quit this theme,
I am not heartless, for there's not a man
That lives who hath not had his god-like hours,
And knows not what majestic sway we have
As natural beings in the strength of Nature.

Enough: for now into a populous plain
We must descend. A Traveller I am,
And all my tale is of myself; even so,
So be it, if the pure in heart delight
To follow me, and thou, O honoured Friend!
Who in my thoughts art ever at my side,
Uphold, as heretofore, my fainting steps.

It hath been told already, how my sight
Was dazzled by the novel show, and how,
Ere long, I did into myself return.
So did it seem, and so, in truth, it was
Yet this was but short lived: thereafter came
Observance less devout. I had made a change
In climate, and my nature's outward coat
Changed also slowly and insensibly.
To the deep quiet and majestic thoughts
Of loneliness succeeded empty noise
And superficial pastimes; now and then
Forced labour, and more frequently forced hopes;
And, worse than all, a treasonable growth
Of indecisive judgements, that impaired
And shook the mind's simplicity. — And yet
This was a gladsome time. Could I behold —
Who, less insensible than sodden clay
On a sea-river's bed at ebb of tide,
Could have beheld — with undelighted heart,
So many happy youths, so wide and fair
A congregation in its budding-time
Of health, and hope, and beauty, all at once
So many divers samples of the growth
Of life's sweet season — could have seen unmoved
That miscellaneous garland of wild flowers
Upon the matron temples of a place
So famous through the world? To me, at least,
It was a goodly prospect: for, through youth,
Though I had been trained up to stand unpropped,
And independent musings pleased me so
That spells seemed on me when I was alone,
Yet could I only cleave to solitude
In lonesome places; if a throng was near
That way I leaned by nature; for my heart
Was social, and loved idleness and joy.

Not seeking those who might participate
My deeper pleasures (nay, I had not once,
Though not unused to mutter lonesome songs,
Even with myself divided such delight,
Or looked that way for aught that might be clothed
In human language), easily I passed
From the remembrances of better things,
And slipped into the weekday works of youth,
Unburdened, unalarmed, and unprofaned.
Caverns there were within my mind which sun
Could never penetrate, yet did there not
Want store of leafy arbours where the light
Might enter in at will. Companionships,
Friendships, acquaintances, were welcome all.
We sauntered, played, we rioted, we talked
Unprofitable talk at morning hours;
Drifted about along the streets and walks,
Read lazily in lazy books, went forth
To gallop through the country in blind zeal
Of senseless horsemanship, or on the breast
Of Cam sailed boisterously, and let the stars
Come out, perhaps without one quiet thought.

Such was the tenor of the opening act
In this new life. Imagination slept,
And yet not utterly. I could not print
Ground where the grass had yielded to the steps
Of generations of illustrious men,
Unmoved. I could not always lightly pass
Through the same gateways, sleep where they had slept,
Wake where they waked, range that enclosure old,
That garden of great intellects, undisturbed.
Place also by the side of this dark sense
Of nobler feeling, that those spiritual men,
Even the great Newton's own ethereal self,
Seemed humbled in these precincts, thence to be
The more beloved; invested here with tasks
Of life's plain business, as a daily garb;
Dictators at the plough, a change that left
All genuine admiration unimpaired.

Beside the pleasant Mills of Trompington
I laughed with Chaucer; in the hawthorn shade
Heard him, while birds were warbling, tell his tales
Of amorous passion. And that gentle Bard,
Chosen by the Muses for their Page of State —
Sweet Spenser, moving through his clouded heaven
With the moon's beauty and the moon's soft pace,
I called him Brother, Englishman, and Friend!
Yea, our blind Poet, who, in his later day,
Stood almost single; uttering odious truth —
Darkness before, and danger's voice behind,
Soul awful — if the earth hath ever lodged
An awful soul — I seemed to see him here
Familiarly, and in his scholar's dress
Bounding before me, yet a stripling youth —
A boy, no better, with his rosy cheeks
Angelical, keen eye, courageous look,
And conscious step of purity and pride.
Among the band of my compeers was one
My class-fellow at school, whose chance it was
To lodge in the apartments which had been,
Time out of mind, honoured by Milton's name;
The very shell reputed of the abode
Which he had tenanted. O temperate Bard!
One afternoon, the first time I set foot
In this thy innocent nest and oratory,
Seated with others in a festive ring
Of common-place convention, I to thee
Poured out libations, to thy memory drank,
Within my private thoughts, till my brain reeled
Never so clouded by the fumes of wine
Before that hour, or since. Thence forth I ran
From that assembly; through a length of streets,
Ran, ostrich-like, to reach our chapel door
In not a desperate or opprobrious time,
Albeit long after the importunate bell
Had stopped, with wearisome Cassandra voice
No longer haunting the dark winter night.
Call back, O Friend! a moment to thy mind,
The place itself and fashion of the rites.
Upshouldering in a dislocated lump,
With shallow ostentatious carelessness,
My surplice, gloried in, and yet despised,
I clove in pride through the inferior throng
Of the plain Burghers, who in audience stood
On the last skirts of their permitted ground,
Beneath the pealing organ. Empty thoughts!
I am ashamed of them: and that great Bard,
And thou, O Friend! who in thy ample mind
Hast stationed me for reverence and love,
Ye will forgive the weakness of that hour,
In some of its unworthy vanities,
Brother of many more.
In this mixed sort
The months passed on, remissly, not given up
To wilful alienation from the right,
Or walks of open scandal, but in vague
And loose indifference, easy likings, aims
Of a low pitch — duty and zeal dismissed,
Yet Nature, or a happy course of things
Not doing in their stead the needful work.
The memory languidly revolved, the heart
Reposed in noontide rest, the inner pulse
Of contemplation almost failed to beat.
Rotted as by a charm, my life became
A floating island, an amphibious thing,
Unsound, of spongy texture, yet withal
Not wanting a fair face of water weeds
And pleasant flowers. The thirst of living praise,
A reverence for the glorious Dead, the sight
Of those long vistos, catacombs in which
Perennial minds lie visibly entombed,
Have often stirred the heart of youth, and bred
A fervent love of rigorous discipline. —
Alas! such high commotion touched not me.
No look was in these walls to put to shame
My easy spirits, and discountenance
Their light composure, far less to instil
A calm resolve of mind, firmly addressed
To puissant efforts. Nor was this the blame
Of others but my own; I should, in truth,
As far as doth concern my single self,
Misdeem most widely, lodging it elsewhere:
For I, bred up in Nature's lap, was even
As a spoiled child, and rambling like the wind,
As I had done in daily intercourse
With those delicious rivers, solemn heights,
And mountains; ranging like a fowl of the air,
I was ill-tutored for captivity,
To quit my pleasure, and, from month to month,
Take up a station calmly on the perch
Of sedentary peace. Those lovely forms
Had also left less space within my mind,
Which, wrought upon instinctively, had found
A freshness in those objects of its love,
A winning power, beyond all other power.
Not that I slighted books, — that were to lack
All sense, — but other passions had been mine,
More fervent, making me less prompt, perhaps,
To in-door study than was wise or well,
Or suited to my years. Yet I could shape
The image of a place which, soothed and lulled
As I had been, trained up in paradise
Among sweet garlands and delightful sounds,
Accustomed in my loneliness to walk
With Nature magisterially, yet I,
Methinks, could shape the image of a place
Which with its aspect should have bent me down
To instantaneous service; should at once
Have made me pay to science and to arts
And written lore, acknowledged my liege lord,
A homage frankly offered up, like that
Which I had paid to Nature. Toil and pains
In this recess which I have bodied forth
Should spread from heart to heart; and stately groves,
Majestic edifices, should not want
A corresponding dignity within.
The congregating temper which pervades
Our unripe years, not wasted, should be made
To minister to works of high attempt,
Which the enthusiast would perform with love.
Youth should be awed, possessed, as with a sense
Religious, of what holy joy there is
In knowledge, if it be sincerely sought
For its own sake, in glory and in praise.
If but by labour won, and to endure.
The passing day should learn to put aside
Her trappings here, should strip them off abashed
Before antiquity and steadfast truth
And strong book-mindedness; and over all
Should be a healthy sound simplicity,
A seemly plainness, name it as you will,
Republican or pious.
If these thoughts
Be a gratuitous emblazonry
That does but mock this recreant age, at least
Let Folly and False-seeming, we might say,
Be free to affect whatever formal gait
Of moral or scholastic discipline
Shall raise them highest in their own esteem —
Let them parade among the Schools at will,
But spare the House of God. Was ever known
The witless shepherd who would drive his flock
With serious repetition to a pool
Of which 'tis plain to sight they never taste?
A weight must surely hang on days begun
And ended with worst mockery. Be wise,
Ye Presidents and Deans, and to your bells
Give seasonable rest, for 'tis a sound
Hollow as ever vexed the tranquil air;
And your officious doings bring disgrace
On the plain steeples of our English Church,
Whose worship, 'mid remotest village trees,
Suffers for this. Even Science, too, at hand
In daily sight of such irreverence,
Is smitten thence with an unnatural taint,
Loses her just authority, falls beneath
Collateral suspicion, else unknown.
This obvious truth did not escape me then,
Unthinking as I was, and I confess,
That having in my native hills given loose
To a schoolboy's dreaming, I had raised a pile
Upon the basis of the coming time,
Which now before me melted fast away,
Which could not live, scarcely had life enough
To mock the builder. Oh, what joy it were
To see a sanctuary for our country's youth
With such a spirit in it as might be
Protection for itself, a virgin grove,
Primeval in its purity and depth;
Where, though the shades were filled with cheerfulness,
Nor indigent of songs warbled from crowds
In under-coverts, yet the countenance
Of the whole place should wear a stamp of awe;
A habitation sober and demure
For ruminating creatures; a domain
For quiet things to wander in; a haunt
In which the heron might delight to feed
By the shy rivers, and the pelican
Upon the cypress spire in lonely thought
Might sit and sun himself. — Alas! alas!
In vain for such solemnity we look;
Our eyes are crossed by butterflies, our ears
Hear chattering popinjays; the inner heart
Is trivial, and the impresses without
Are of a gaudy region.
Different sight
Those venerable Doctors saw of old,
When all who dwelt within these famous walls
Led in abstemiousness a studious life;
When, in forlorn and naked chambers cooped
And crowded, o'er their ponderous books they sate
Like caterpillars eating out their way
In silence, or with keen devouring noise
Not to be tracked or fathered. Princes then
At matins froze, and couched at curfew-time,
Trained up through piety and zeal to prize
Spare diet, patient labour, and plain weeds.
O seat of Arts! renowned throughout the world!
Far different service in those homely days
The nurslings of the Muses underwent
From their first childhood: in that glorious time
When Learning, like a stranger come from far,
Sounding through Christian lands her trumpet, roused
The peasant and the king; when boys and youths,
The growth of ragged villages and huts,
Forsook their homes, and, errant in the quest
Of Patron, famous school or friendly nook,
Where, pensioned, they in shelter might sit down,
From town to town and through wide scattered realms
Journeyed with their huge folios in their hands;
And often, starting from some covert place,
Saluted the chance comer on the road,
Crying, " An obolus, a penny give
To a poor scholar!" — when illustrious men,
Lovers of truth, by penury constrained,
Bucer, Erasmus, or Melancthon, read
Before the doors or windows of their cells
By moonshine through mere lack of taper light.

But peace to vain regrets! We see but darkly
Even when we look behind us, and best things
Are not so pure by nature that they needs
Must keep to all, as fondly all believe,
Their highest promise. If the mariner,
When at reluctant distance he hath passed
Some fair enticing island, did but know
What fate might have been his, could he have brought
His bark to land upon the wished-for spot,
Good cause full often would he have to bless
The belt of churlish surf that scared him thence,
Or haste of the inexorable wind.
For me, I grieve not; happy is the man,
Who only misses what I missed, who falls
No lower than I fell.
I did not love,
As hath been noticed heretofore, the guise
Of our scholastic studies; could have wished
The river to have had an ampler range
And freer pace; but this I tax not; far
Far more I grieved to see among the band
Of those who in the field of contest stood
As combatants, passions that did to me
Seem low and mean; from ignorance of mine,
In part, and want of just forbearance, yet
My wiser mind grieves now for what I saw.
Willingly did I part from these, and turn
Out of their track, to travel with the shoal
Of more unthinking natures, easy minds
And pillowy; and not wanting love that makes
The day pass lightly on, when foresight sleeps,
And wisdom and the pledges interchanged
With our own inner being are forgot.

To books, our daily fare prescribed, I turned
With sickly appetite, and when I went,
At other times, in quest of my own food,
I chased not steadily the manly deer,
But laid me down to any casual feast
Of wild wood-honey; or, with truant eyes
Unruly, peeped about for vagrant fruit.
And, as for what pertains to human life,
The deeper passions working round me here,
Whether of envy, jealousy, pride, shame,
Ambition, emulation, fear, or hope,
Or those of dissolute pleasure, were by me
Unshared; and only now and then observed,
So little was their hold upon my being,
As outward things that might administer
To knowledge or instruction. Hushed, meanwhile,
Was the under soul, locked up in such a calm,
That not a leaf of the great nature stirred.

Yet was this deep vacation not given up
To utter waste. Hitherto I had stood
In my own mind remote from human life,
(At least from what we commonly so name,)
Even as a shepherd on a promontory
Who lacking occupation looks far forth
Into the endless sea, and rather makes
Than finds what he beholds. And sure it is,
That this first transit from the smooth delights
And wild outlandish walks of simple youth
To something that resembled an approach
Towards mortal business, to a privileged world
Within a world, a midway residence
With all its intervenient imagery,
Did better suit my visionary mind,
Far better, than to have been bolted forth,
Thrust out abruptly into Fortune's way
Among the conflicts of substantial life;
By a more just gradation did lead on
To higher things; more naturally matured,
For permanent possession, better fruits
Whether of truth or virtue, to ensue.

In playful zest of fancy did we note
(How could we less?) the manners and the ways
Of those who in the livery were arrayed
Of good or evil fame; of those with whom
By frame of Academic discipline
Perforce we were connected, men whose sway
And whose authority of office served
To set our minds on edge, and did no more.
Nor wanted we rich pastime of this kind,
Found everywhere, but chiefly in the ring
Of the grave Elders, men unscoured, grotesque
In character, tricked out like aged trees
Which through the lapse of their infirmity
Give ready place to any random seed
That chooses to be reared upon their trunks.

Here on my view, confronting as it were
Those shepherd swains whom I had lately left,
Did flash a different image of old age;
How different! yet both withal alike,
A book of rudiments for the unpractised sight,
Objects embossed! and which with sedulous care
Nature holds up before the eye of youth
In her great school; with further view, perhaps,
To enter early on her tender scheme
Of teaching comprehension with delight,
And mingling playful with pathetic thoughts.

The surfaces of artificial life
And manners finely spun, the delicate race
Of colours, lurking, gleaming up and down
Through that state arras woven with silk and gold;
This wily interchange of snaky hues,
Willingly and unwillingly revealed,
I had not learned to watch; and at this time
Perhaps, had such been in my daily sight,
I might have been indifferent thereto
As hermits are to tales of distant things.
Hence for these rarities elaborate
Having no relish yet, I was content
With the more homely produce, rudely piled
In this our coarser warehouse. At this day
I smile in many a mountain solitude
At passages and fragments that remain
Of that inferior exhibition, played
By wooden images, a theatre
For wake or fair. And oftentimes do flit
Remembrances before me of old men —
Old humorists, who have been long in their graves,
And having almost in my mind put off
Their human names, have into phantoms passed
Of texture midway betwixt life and books.

I play the loiterer: 'tis enough to note
That here in dwarf proportions were expressed
The limbs of the great world; its goings-on
Collaterally portrayed, as in mock fight,
A tournament of blows, some hardly dealt
Though short of mortal combat; and whate'er
Might of this pageant be supposed to hit
A simple rustic's notice, this way less,
More that way, was not wasted upon me. —
And yet this spectacle may well demand
A more substantial name, no mimic show,
Itself a living part of a live whole,
A creek of the vast sea; for, all degrees
And shapes of spurious fame and short-lived praise
Here sate in state, and fed with daily alms
Retainers won away from solid good;
And here was Labour, his own bond-slave; Hope,
That never set the pains against the prize;
Idleness halting with his weary clog,
And poor misguided Shame, and witless Fear,
And simple Pleasure foraging for Death;
Honour misplaced, and Dignity astray;
Feuds, factions, flatteries, enmity, and guile;
Murmuring submission, and bald government,
(The idol weak as the idolator),
And Decency and Custom starving Truth,
And blind Authority beating with his staff
The child that might have led him; Emptiness
Followed as of good omen, and meek Worth
Left to itself unheard of and unknown.

Of these and other kindred notices
I cannot say what portion is in truth
The naked recollection of that time,
And what may rather have been called to life
By after-meditation. But delight
That, in an easy temper lulled asleep,
Is still with Innocence its own reward,
This surely was not wanting. Carelessly
I gazed, roving as through a cabinet
Or wide museum (thronged with fishes, gems,
Birds, crocodiles, shells) where little can be seen
Well understood, or naturally endeared,
Yet still does every step bring something forth
That quickens, pleases, stings; and here and there
A casual rarity is singled out,
And has its brief perusal, then gives way
To others, all supplanted in their turn.
Meanwhile, amid this gaudy congress, framed
Of things by nature most unneighbourly,
The head turns round and cannot right itself;
And though an aching and a barren sense
Of gay confusion still be uppermost,
With few wise longings and but little love,
Yet something to the memory sticks at last,
Whence profit may be drawn in times to come.

Thus in submissive idleness, my Friend!
The labouring time of autumn, winter, spring,
Nine months! rolled pleasingly away; the tenth
Returned me to my native hills again.
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