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• Here, on our native soil, we breathe once more.
The unity of mind and heart was attained, the choice taken; and now the political poetry could begin.
A few weeks ago, at a conference of the English Association, a bookseller was telling his audience that one of the effects of the war was an increased sale of poetry and especially of the poetry of Wordsworth. There can be no doubt, as indeed he said, that this is partly due to Mr Acland's little book, with its interesting introduction and the excellent historical notes which face the poems on the opposite pages, an arrangement as convenient and pleasant as it is original. But it must also be due to the peculiar nature of Wordsworth's patriotic poetry. It is not too much to say that it reads as if it were written for us to-day. Splendid as are Shakespeare's outbursts in Henry the Fifth’and · King John,' we cannot quite feel that of them. The wars he had to deal with were mere duels of nations in which the interest we take is simply a pride in seeing the victory of our own. Except the fighting itself there is nothing great about them, no cause, no idea, nothing of the universal soul of man. But in this war-far more even than in the great struggle with Napoleon-everything great in life seems to be at stake. And it is natural, it is even inevitable that we should go back for comfort and courage in it to the poet who could not sound the trumpet till he could put his faith and vision into the blast it was to give-the poet who cried, as he looked on the narrow waters that lie between England and France :
Vol. 226.--No. 448.
* Winds blow, and waters roll,
Only, the Nations shall be great and free.' These were not mere phrases in Wordsworth's mouth. He meant every syllable of them. It was the very core of his faith that, if we will let her, Nature strengthens and purifies our soul; and that the only kind of greatness worth having is that of the soul. That is the key to his attitude all through these years; and it is what lifts his message far above its immediate occasion. He has nothing to recant. He never changed his view that the original war against the French Republic was a sin against the light. But, when once France had, as he believed, given her soul away, when she had betrayed the cause of freedom and sold her honour to a despot for a blare of victorious trumpets, he had no doubt at all on which side the spiritual hopes of the world lay. He is never a mere patriot, of the 'my country right or wrong' type; he never blinds his eyes to England's faults, about which his Sonnets use harder words than they ever use about her enemy :
Rapine, avarice, expense,
And pure religion breathing household laws.'
' It is not to be thought of that the flood
Be lost for ever;' and, though Englishmen change swords for ledgers, his faith and love are stronger than his fears :
when I think of thee, and what thou art
It is only because England, and only so far as England, is 'a bulwark of the cause of men,' that he can put his whole self, mind and heart and soul, into the struggle. All through, the appeal of his Sonnets is a spiritual appeal, more than worthy of Milton, whose Sonnets, read to him by his sister in May 1802, were his immediate inspiration. The thing that moved him was what moves the best men to-day-the great issue between a universal despotism, alien, lawless, the mere creature of force, and the liberties of the European nations, whether inherited from the past or to be won from the future. That made the Swiss question, which produced what is perhaps the finest of all the Sonnets, so decisive for him :
Two Voices are there; one is of the sea,
And that is what makes the greatness of his pamphlet on the Convention of Cintra. He saw what so few of the statesmen saw, that this alliance with the peoples of Spain and Portugal had a hope in it, because it had a spiritual value in it, which the subsidising treaties with Continental sovereigns could not have. In his view the
Continental alliances might or might not be prudent expedients; the Spanish war was a thing of a higher order altogether, not an expedient but an act of principle ; something into which faith and hope could throw themselves with a vision of new life. And the result proved that it was he and not the statesmen who were right. So soon as the Allies began to build on the principle of nationality, the end began to be in sight. What defeated Napoleon was not the resolve of the sovereigns to retain their property, but the resolve of England to be England, of Spain to be Spain, of Germany to be Germany, of Russia to be Russia. And it is scarcely too much to say, as Mr Dicey has lately said, in his interesting Introduction to a reprint of Wordsworth's Tract, that the policy of England has been markedly successful so far as it has coincided with the statesmanship of Wordsworth, whom he calls 'the first of English Nationalists,' and not very successful so far as it has followed other lines.
It is following Wordsworth supremely to-day in what is, we may hope, the final struggle, under the guidance, as it has strangely and fortunately happened, of a Foreign Minister who is well-known to be, what Mr Acland calls him in his dedication, 'a life-long lover of Wordsworth.' Our cause is essentially the same. If we are asked what we are fighting for to-day, no doubt it is partly, now as then, for what Pitt defined in one word, 'security.' But, now as then, that is far from being all. If it were all, we should not have the Allies we have; we should not be watched as we are watched by eager eyes of passionate sympathy in all the countries where freedom is loved throughout the world; we should not be conscious, as Wordsworth was and we also may humbly be, of spiritual forces fighting on our side. We believe, as Wordsworth believed, that our enemy's triumph would be the destruction of men's highest hopes for the political future of the world. We go back to Wordsworth because our position is so like his. And, if our position is so like, we must remember that so also are our duties. What did he insist upon through all those awful years when England stood, often without an ally, against the greatest military genius the world has ever seen? First of all on perseverance. We ought not to make peace with France on any account,' he wrote, “till she is humiliated and her
power brought within reasonable bounds.' That is strong language, but the man who called Carnage God's daughter' was no mincer of phrases. He was a poet, and he need not be interpreted as if he were writing a scientific treatise. But he meant, and all that is wisest and strongest in England means to-day, that we ought not to think of resting till our work is done and the liberties of Europe are no longer in danger.
The second thing on which he insisted was hope:
'Hope, the paramount duty that Heaven lays,
'I began with hope,' he said in 1808,' and hope has inwardly accompanied me to the end.' And so in the Tract on Cintra :
*There is a spiritual community binding together the living and the dead; the good, the brave, the wise of all ages. We would not be rejected from this community; and therefore do we hope. We look forward with erect mind, thinking and feeling; it is an obligation of duty; take away the sense of it, and the moral being would die within us' (pp. 187–8). His is no cheap or easy optimism:
'We know the arduous strife, the eternal laws
So his Happy Warrior is
doomed to go in company with Pain, And Fear, and Bloodshed,"
and the people of England, as he sees them, are ready, without fear or flinching, to be
left alone, The last that dare to struggle with the Foe.' And indeed he and his England had a harder task to face in that duty of hope than we have. Instead of standing alone, as they often did, we have more than half Europe
We have seen no mutinies of the Navy, as they saw ; where they saw some of their greatest men