Page images

Their music liveth ever, and 'tis just
That thou, good Joachim, so high thy skill,
Rank (as thou shalt upon the heavenly hill)
Laurel'd with them, for thy ennobling trust
Remember'd when thy loving hand is still
And every ear that heard thee stopt with dust.

I 2


How fares it, friend, since I by Fate annoy'd
Left the old home in need of livelier play.
For body and mind? How fare, this many a day,
The stubborn thews and ageless heart of Floyd?
If not too well with country sport employ'd,
Visit my flock, the breezy hill that they
Choose for their fold; and see, for thence you may,
From rising walls all roofless yet and void,

The lovely city, thronging tower and spire,
The mind of the wide landscape, dreaming deep,
Grey-silvery in the vale; a shrine where keep
Memorial hopes their pale celestial fire:
Like man's immortal conscience of desire,
The spirit that watcheth in me ev'n in my sleep.






Je donnerais pour revivre à vingt ans
L'or de Rothschild, la gloire de Voltaire.
I like that Béranger in his printems,
Voltaire and Rothschild: what three graces there
Foot it together! But of old Voltaire,
I'd ask what Béranger found so sublime
In that man's glory to adorn his rhyme.
Was it mere fame?


Nay for as wide a fame

Was won by the gold-garnering millionaire,
Who in the poet's verse might read his name
And what is that? when so much froth and scum
Float down the stream of Time (as Bacon saith),
What is that for deliverance from the death?
Could any sober man be proud to hold

A lease of common talk, or die consoled
For thinking that on lips of fools to come
He'll live with Pontius Pilate and Tom Thumb?
That were more like eternal punishment,

The true fool's Paradise by all consent.
Béranger thought to set a crown on merit.


Man's merit! and to crown it in Voltaire ?

The modest eye, the gentle, fearless heart,

The mouth of peace and truth, the angelic spirit! Why Arouet was soufflé with the leaven,

Of which the little flock was bid beware:
His very ambition was to play a part;
Indifferent whether he did wrong or right,
So he won credit; eager to deny
A lie that failed, by adding lie to lie;
Repaying evil unto seven-times-seven;
A fount of slander, flattery and spite;
Vain, irritable; true but to his face
Of mockery and mischievous grimace,
A monkey of the schools, the saints' despair!


Yet for his voice half Europe stood at pause
To hear, and when he spoke rang with applause.


Granted he was a wonder of his kind.
There is a devilish mockery in things
Which only a born devil can enjoy.
True banter is of melancholy mind,

Akin to madness; thus must Shakespeare toy
With Hamlet's reason, ere his fine art dare
Push his relentless humour to the quick;
And so his mortal thrusts pierce not the skin.

But for the superficial bickerings

That poison life and never seem to prick,
The reasonable educated grin,

Truly no wag is equal to Voltaire ;

His never-dying ripple, wide and light,
Has nigh the force of Nature: to compare,
"Tis like the ocean when the sky is bright,
And the cold north-wind tickles with surprise

The briny levels of the infinite sea.

-Shall we conclude his merit was his wit,
His magic art and versatility?


And think of those foredoom'd in Dante's pit,
Who, sunk at bottom of the loathly slough,
Made the black mud up-bubble with their sighs;
And all because they were unkind to Mirth,
And went with smoky heart and gloomy brow
The while they lived upon the pleasant earth
In the sweet air that rallies to the sun,

And ne'er so much as smiled or gave God thanks:
Surely a sparkle of the Frenchman's fun
Had rescued all their souls.


I think I see
The Deity who in this Heaven abides,
Le bon Dieu, holding both his aching sides,
With radiant face of Pan, ruddy and hairy:
Give him his famous whistles and goat-shanks,
And then present him to Alighieri.


Nay, 'twixt the Frenchman and the Florentine
I ask no truce, grave Dante weaving well
His dark-eyed thought into a song divine,
Drawing high poetry from heaven and hell-
And him who lightly mockt at all in turn.


It follow'd from his mundane thought of art
That he contemn'd religion: his concern
Was comfort, taste, and wit: he had no heart
For man's attempt to build and beautify
His home in Nature; so he set all by
That wisdom had evolved with purpose kind;

Stamped it as folly, or as fraud attacked;
Never discerning how his callow zest
Was impiously defiling his own nest;
Whereas the least philosophy may find
The truths are the ideas; the sole fact
Is the long story of man's growing mind.


Upon your thistle now I see my fig-
Béranger thought of Voltaire as a seer,
A latter-day John Baptist in a wig;
A herald of that furious gospel-storm

Of words and blood, that made the nations fear;
When sickening France adulterously sinn'd
With Virtue, and went mad conceiving wind.
He ranks him with those captains of reform,
Luther and Calvin; who, whate'er they taught,
Led folk from superstition to free thought.


They did. But whence or whither led Voltaire ?
The steward with fifty talents given in charge,
Who spent them on himself, and liv'd at large;
His only virtue that he did not hide

The pounds, but squander'd them to serve his pride;
His praise that, cunning in his generation,
He of the heavenly treasure did not spare

To win himself an earthly habitation.


Deny him not this laurel, nor to France

The apostolate of modern tolerance:
Their Theseus he, who slew the Minotaur,

The Dragon Persecution, in which war

He tipp'd the shafts that made the devil bleed;

« PreviousContinue »