Ernest Jones: Poems (3)
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BELDAGON CHURCH


1. THE WALK TO CHURCH.


LOUD the lofty belfry rung,
Wide the massy portal swung—
For Beldagon's Cathedral-fane
A proud Assembly sought again.

High the fields are waving;
Orchard fruit is blest—
Summer's merry saving
For Winter's happy rest.
O'er the clover lea
The blossom-loving bee,
Neglectful of her Maker
Tho' 'tis Sunday-morn;
Little Sabbath-breaker:
Winds her humming horn,
Where lilybell and rose
No door denying close—
Asking neither price nor pay,
Wooing what may pass that way,
To be their sweets' partaker.

Bell and book unheeding,
The quiet kine are feeding,
The birds are on the wing,
The pebbled runnels ring,
The rivers still are flowing,
The graceful corn is growing,
The frolic wind is blowing—
And yet, the world caressing,
Unwrinkled by a frown,
The blue sky sends a blessing
On all creation down.


In Beldagon's cathedral-fane,
From tesselled floor to gilded vane
Hangs that deep, sepulchral gloom
That turns a church into a tomb.
Ghastly statues, paly-white,
Half elude the startled sight;
Brazen gratings, dim with years,
Chide away affection's tears;
Marble mourners coldly weep!
Graves are for a pavement spread;
A stifling air is overhead:
'Tis not the home of those who sleep,
It is a prison for the dead!

The organ wailed, the echoes rung,
And thick the painted shadows clung
Around the pane where, richly wrought,
Rival Saints and Dragons fought,
And hovering cherubs smiling eyed
The contemplated fratricide.


Clustering columns, tall and light,
Arose a terror to the sight,
For on them weighed the roof as tho'
'Twould crush the crowd that knelt below.
With rose, and boss, and arabesque,
Escutcheon quaint, and head grotesque,
Where Sculpture's lewd luxuriance wrought
Distraction to the praying thought,
It caught the dull ascending strain,
And hurled it back to earth again.

Thick along the pavement close
Stately pews in rival rows,
With cushioned seat of velvet sheen
And panelled oak, and silken screen,—
But ere you pass yon portal, stay!
The bells have yet a space to chime—
Then let them toll their sullen rhyme,
And come away awhile with me
To harvest-field and clover lea;
Sit by Nature's side, and pray,
And join her service for the day:
Every whispering leaf's a preacher,
Every daisy is a teacher,
Writing on the unsullied sod
Revelation straight from God.
Then, while yon solemn belfry swings,
List how Earth her matin sings,
And how the early morning rises
Step by step, with glad surprises:
We shall return in time to hear
How Saints adore and sinners fear.

_____________

2. THE RITUAL OF NATURE.


Mistily, dreamily, steals a faint glimmer—
Hill-tops grow lighter, tho' stars become dimmer;

First, a streak of grey;
Then a line of green;
Then a sea of roses
With golden isles between.

All along the dawnlit prairies
Stand the flowers, like tip-toe fairies

Waiting for the early dew:
        Listening
        Glistening
    As the morning

        Walks their airy muster thro',
All the newborn blossoms christening
        With a sacrament of dew.
        And from them, a flower with wings,
Their angel that watched thro' the night,
        The beautiful butterfly springs
                To the light.

          See! a shadow moves,
          Down the mountain furled:
          It is a thin grey shadow—
          Yet it moves the world.
For hist ye! list ye! what is gliding,
        Where the trail is newly laid?
          In the herbage hiding,
          Thro' the bushes sliding,
        With the moving shadow?
          Crowds of timid things,
          Paws, and feet, and wings,
All thro' the boughs and bushy glade,
        And o'er the clover-meadow.


There they pass
Thro' the grass,
And the shaken
Drops awaken
Lines of light
On their flight;
And there
The hare,
With head erect
And ears bent over,
Peers around
Above the clover,
From the mound
The mole has made
To detect
An ambuscade.

And gaze aloft, where riven
Thro' the parted heaven,

    Cleaves a snowy stream,
Between its cloudy shores
A towering eagle soars
    To bathe in the first sunbeam,
And comes back to the mountains dun,
To tell them he has seen the sun.


Then the skies grow bold,
Fast the day mounts high,
Forth, in cloudless glory;
Bursts the flashing fire!
And where the warm rays quiver,
On pool, and rill, and river,
    Whirling, twirling,
    Upward curling
Vapoury columns music rife,
    Meeting-parting,
    Backward darting,
Swarms the merry insect life.

    Lone, the chanticleer
    Crew reveillee long;
    'Tis now his turn to hear
    The world awake to song.

    The flower that sings,
    As the sunlight clings
On the petal with finger of gold;
    And the forest—that harp of a million strings
And æolian melodies old!

    While the voice of the springs
    In the mountain rings
The great keynote of the main,
    And the light cloud flings
    From its shadowy wings,
The laugh of the dancing rain.

    Then the birds all pause
    On the blossoming shaws,
As the drop on the branch they hear;
    And the thunder, that awes—
    Like a giant's applause,
The song it was given to cheer.

    But the lark carols high
    In the light of the sky,
Where the portals of paradise glow;
    The angels allure him so far to fly,
For envy of man below.

    And the musical wail
    Of the nightingale
Confesses a heavenly birth;
    The last of the seraphim, haunting the vale
For love of a daughter of earth.

    And the labourer's lay
    Is enlivening day,
And the shepherd boy answering wild;
    And the young at their play
    In the new-mown hay,
And the mother's sweet song to her child;

    As if nature, intent
    To surpass all she lent
In the breath of the rose and the coo of the dove,
    To crown the great hymn of the universe sent
            HUMAN LOVE.


While wanton luxury's saintly child
Sleeps off the night's debauches wild,
When fields are dew and skies are balm,
Thus Nature sings her morning psalm.

And a spirit glides before me
    Pointing all the moral true:
Oh, my God, how I adore thee
    When I walk the wonders thro',
Learning Spring's romantic story,
Or the Summer s tale of glory,
Or the Autumn's legend hoary,
    Old as earth, yet ever new.

Nor is it sadder, when the Winter
    Lays his hand, tho' wet and cold,
    On bough and blossom, grass and mould,
Saying, in his breathings deep—
Mortal, rest:—and Nature, sleep;
But unto nought that liveth, weep!

And where we trace.
Still Murder's pace,
Or louder war's unmasked disgrace,
Behold, throughout creation wide,
In man the only fratricide—
And, haply 'twas the hand of man
First the bloody work began;
The leavings of his red repast
First to the startled tiger cast—
Who, having felt the craving dim,
Turned his hungry tooth on him.

But, ever, the loving hand of Heaven
Heals the wound that man has given;
Reptile, bird, and beast of prey
From half the world are swept away—
Those who took the taint, decay.
And, ever, the stream of Truth is flowing;
And, ever, the seed of, Peace is growing;
And, ever, a voice is stealing,
The gospel of Love revealing;
Flower and mountain, wave and wind
Say—God is good; and God is kind;
He frowns at fear, and grief, and care,
And man's worst blasphemy, despair.
For joy is praise, and peace is prayer,
And Heaven is near, and Earth is bright,
And God is Love, and Life, and Light.

Now the wind is slow subsiding;
On the boughs the birds are hiding;
The herds are standing by the stream:
The motes are pausing on the beam;
As tho' they heard the noontide say,
With hushing glory, "Let us pray."
And, hark! the booming bells give o'er;
Then back to Beldagen once more.


3.—THE SERVICE.


In the churchyard's elmen shade
Glittering chariots stand arrayed;
The coachmen on the boxes nod;
The horses paw the sacred sod;
And round the porch are laughing loud
The lounging lacqueys' liveried crowd.
But now, behold, we are within,
Safe from sunshire and from sin.

Silks have rustled, fans have fluttered
Sneers and compliments been uttered;
And many found, as find they ought,
In church the object that they sought;
Business finds a turn in trade;
Praise, its victim; wit, its butt;
New acquaintance have been made;
Old acquaintances been cut.

Shivering on the naked floor,
By the cold denying door,
And where the drafty windows soar
The dust encumbered galleries o'er,
Stand the hundreds of the poor.
Those, at least, who still can wear
A coat that is not worn too bare,
For rags are never suffered there.

Now the congregation's seated
And the church is growing heated
With a heavy, perfumed air
Of scents, and salts, and vinegar.
The morning prayers are ending ;
The psalmody's ascending;
The great men, lowly bending,
Turn their gilded leaves about,
Most ostentatiously devout.

Then, like the flutter of a full pit
    When a favourite passage comes,
As the Bishop mounts the pulpit
    Sink the whispers, coughs, and hums;
And, here and there, a scattered sinner
    Rising in the House of God,
                          Shows he
                          Knows the
                              Rosy,
                              Cosy,
                              Dosy,
                              Prosy,
Bishop with a smile and nod.

The Prelate bows his cushioned knee;
Oh, the Prelate's fat to see;
Fat, the priests who minister,
Fat, each roaring chorister,
Prebendary, Deacon, Lector,
Chapter, Chanter, Vicar, Rector,
Curate, Chaplain, Dean, and Pastor,
Verger, Sexton, Clerk, Schoolmaster.
From mitre tall, to gold-laced hat,
Fat's the place—and all are fat.

The Bishop rises from his, knee,
And thus begins his homily;—


THE BISHOP OF BELDAGON'S SERMON.


Sink and tremble, wretched sinners; the
      Almighty Lord has hurled
His curse for everlasting on a lost and guilty
      world!
Upon the ground beneath your feet; upon the
      sky above your head;
Upon the womb that brings you forth; upon the
      toil that gives you bread!
On all that lives, and breathes, and moves, in
      earth, and air, and wave;
On all that feels, and dreams, and thinks; on
      cradle, house, and grave.
For Adam murdered innocence,—and since the
      world became its hearse,
Throughout the living sphere extending breeds
      and spreads the dreadful curse.
The seasons thro' Creation bear our globe
      continually,
To shew its shame to every star that frowns
      from the recoiling sky;
And savage comets come and gaze, and fly in
      horror from the sight,
To tell it through unfathomed distance to each
      undiscovered light.
Sin, its ghastly wound inflicting, damns us to
      eternal pain—
And from the heart of human nature flows an
      everbleeding vein.
You may blame your institutions, blame your
      masters, rulers, kings:
This is idle: 'tis the curse eternal, festering as it
      clings.
Change them—sweep them to destruction, as the
      billow sweeps the shore;
Misery, pain, and death—the curse—the curse
      will rankle but the more.
If it were not thus, in nature you would surely
      witness joy—
Gaze around you, and behold the never-ceasing
      curse destroy:
Flower and leaf, and blade and blossom
      languish is a slow decay;
Fish on fish, and bird on bird, and beast on beast,
      unceasing prey.
Take the smallest drop of water—see, with
      microscopic view,
Thousand creatures raven, slaughter, mangle,
      cripple, maim, pursue.
Breathe the air—where million beings in
      unending conflict dwell,
Every tiny bosom raging with the raging fires of
      Hell!
And the CURSE ETERNAL gives them weapons
      kindred to their hearts:
Claw, and tusk, and venomed fang, and web, and
      coil, and poisoned darts.
Nature is one scene of murder, misery, malice,
      pain, and sin;
And earth and air, and fire and water grudge the
      little peace you win;
Blight and mildew, hail and tempest, draught and
      flood your harvests spoil,
Disputing inch by inch the conquests of your
      heart-subduing toil.

Then turn thee to the world of thought, and leave
      material earth behind:—
Claim the promise of the spirit, taste the triumph
      of the mind;—
Fly to friendship's pleasing solace: bitter 
      pleasure! solace vain!
Tremble with a double danger—suffer with a
      double pain!
Nay! your very love brings anguish to the loved
      one you adore,
And the more you seek a blessing, you inflict a
      curse the more!
Thus in all your best affections the recoiling bane
      is rife:
Fear, and Agony, and Danger, usher Infancy to
      Life.
Father! o'er the cradle bending, close the
      curtain, bar the door,
Watch that helpless little sleeper:—but the curse
      came there before!
Eye has seen not, ear has heard not, when the
      dreadful work begins:
In the heart the seed of death, and in the blood
      the drop of sins.
Those tiny limbs so delicate, that winning smile
      of seeming joy,
Foul diseases shall invade, hereditary vice destroy.
Time shall heal not, Age shall fly not from the
      footsteps that pursue:
As the frame is growing larger, pain and sin grow
      larger too:
For the body's but a rack, and Life, relentless
      torturer! flings
O'er the nerves her ruthless hands, and pulls the
      agonising strings.
See the meaner outworks taken; know the
      sapping foe's advance;
Fight him with a weaker weapon; face him with
      a dimmer glance;
Feel the living members rotting; bid the hopeless
      struggle cease;
Closer fold your funeral weeds, and, if you can—
      depart in peace.

Nay! Beside these certain scourges, dreader evils
      rise as well:
Plague, and war, and famine sweep their countless
      victims down to Hell!
All for special sins commissioned, as the Almighty
      rod was held
Over Europe's insurrections when its savages
      rebelled.
Ha!   How they rotted!   How they perished!
Myriads stricken, day by day!
Rebels yielded—men submitted—and the wrath
      was turned away.
Brethren! profit by the lesson! see the hand that's
      stretching down
To shield the woolsack, counter, ledger, altar,
      mitre, sabre, crown!
Then be patient in Affliction! envy not the rich
      and great!
" A contrite and a broken heart" alone shall
      enter at the gate.
You may think the rich are happy, but you little
      know the cost:
By the gain of earthly treasures are eternal
      treasures lost.
For this life is short and fleeting, and they choose
      a poorer share;
Let them revel—let them triumph : they shall
      suffer doubly there.
Your afflictions are your blessings; by disaster
      you are tried;
Those are happiest who are saddest, if the searching
      test they bide.
Tears are gladder far than smiles; disease is
      healthier far than health;
Rags are warmer far than ermine; want is richer
      far than wealth;
Hunger feeds you more than plenty; strife is
      peace and peace is strife;
Loss is gain and gain is loss; life is death and
      death is life.

Check the proud, repining spirit; bare the back
      and kiss the rod:
Humbled, crushed, and broken-hearted, is the
      state that pleases God.
Listen not to idle schemers pointing to Utopian
      goals:
Yours is more than work enough to save your
      miserable souls.
Dream not of amelioration;—future ages still
      shall nurse
In their breast the antient serpent, the irrevocable
      curse.
'Tis writ, "I came to bring a sword." 'Tis writ,
      "The poor shall never cease."
'Tis blasphemy to talk of plenty, heresy to think
      of peace !
By nature you are all corrupt, and doomed, and
      damned, and lost in sin:
Each natural thought, each natural wish, is searching
      Satan's lure within!
And, to crown the gloomy prospect, should a
      single hope aspire,
Hangs o'er all the Day of Judgment with its
      world destroying fire!


The Bishop bows with reverence bland,
And leans his head upon his hand;
Then up the aisles and arches dim
Peals the deep resounding hymn:


THE BISHOP OF BELDAGON'S HYMN :


The heart's a black pollution;
    Pest is in the breath;
Each limb's a dark conspirator,
    Compassing our death;

The mind's a moral ulcer;
    The veins with venom roll;
And life is one great treason
    Of sense against the soul.

A subtle fiend is lurking
    In land, and air, and wave;
The very ground beneath you
    Is but an open grave;

For Earth's a brittle casing
    O'er the raging fires of Hell,
Breaking in at every footstep
    Since our father Adam fell:

In every bird that carols,
    In every flower that blows,
In every fruit that ripens
    Behold your secret foes.

In every hour and moment,
    In every pulse that flies,
In every breath and accent
    The flames of hell arise.

Throughout the night, the Devil
    Sits whispering at your ear:
Your dreams are all his prompting,
    Your prayers are all his fear.

Let tears bedew your pillow,
    And tremble as you sleep;
Arise next morn in sorrow,
    And work, and watch, and weep.

For every word you utter,
    For every deed you do,
Hellfire for everlasting
    May rack you through and through.

All science, song, and music,
    And poetry, and art,
Are Satan's foul devices
    To snare the sinner's heart.

In books there lurks a danger
    That's hardly understood;
The best are scarcely harmless,
    And none of them are good.

Religion takes for granted;
    Faith never murmurs "why?"
To think, is to be tempted;
    To reason, is to die!

Behold a mask in friendship,
    The Tempter's face to hide;
A pagod in Affection;
    And Hell on every side.

The blood of Christ, atoning,
    Might wash your sin away;
But, that you've won salvation,
    No mortal tongue can say.

For, when you've done your utmost,
    Small glimpse of hope is there:
Then, sinner! on thy deathbed,
    Sink, tremble, and despair!

_______


The Bishop now indulges in
    A spiritual fiction,
And from the hand that holds a curse
    He pours a benediction.

The blessing's o'er—the rites are done,—
    The organ wails its last,
And from the Church of Beldagon
    The crowd are flitting fast.


[Return to Index]

_______________________

THE PAINTER OF FLORENCE.


THERE'S a mansion old 'mid the hills of the west,
So old, that men know not by whom it was built;
But its pinnacles grey thro' the forest hoar
Have glimmered a thousand years and more;
And many a tale of sorrow and guilt
Would blanch the cheek,
If its its stones could speak
The secrets locked in its silent breast.
Its lords have been great in the olden day;
But the pride of their strength has been broken
        away:
They moulder unknown in their native land,
And their home has long past to a stranger-hand.

_____________


A cunning lawyer, who could feed
Present want with future need,
Had drawn the youth of their latest heir
In the viewless mesh of his subtle snare.
The careless boy he led astray
With the lure of lust and the thirst of play;
With low companions bade him sit,
Who spoke debauch, and called it wit;
His passions fanned—employed his purse,
Took all he had, and gave—their curse.
Then, when he' d run his fortune thro',
He sought in debt a fortune new,
And, gambling high and drinking hard,
Threw down his acres, card by card.
The lawyer watched his victim bleed,
Secure in obit, bond, and deed:
At first with humble means began
The quick, obliging business-man;
But carefully picked up each stray feather
Till he was fledged for winter-weather,
Then massed his sordid gains together
And lent to him from whom, 'tis said,
He once had begged his daily bread;
Steadily opened pore by pore,
With a lulling lure and a winning word
Like the flapping wing of the vampire-bird,
And sucked—and sucked, till he bled no more:
Then changed his tone in a single hour;
He felt, and he let him feel his power,
Nor one poor drop of gold would fetch
To slake the thirst of the perishing wretch;
But when he found he had sucked him dry,
He turned his back and let him die.

_____________


Then rose the lawyer from his chair;
Ordered his barouche and pair;
Drove down and ransacked every store;
Sealed every chest; locked every door;
Counted all things o'er and o'er:
Acres, forests, manors, all—
From the family-portraits that clung to the wall,
To the old oak-chest in the servants' hall.

But, since it ever forms his way
The frank and generous role to play,
He takes a condescending tone,
And kindly offers the widow lone
A few small rooms, for a passing day,
In the palace so lately all her own:
But takes very good care that she cannot stay;
And tells the servants, old and grey,
He'll soothe their life's unhoused decay:
But carefully drives them all away,
And bids behind them, evermore,
His own lean spaniels close the door.

Now Devilson reaches his heart's desire.
And takes his place as a country squire
But since his origin all can trace,
Affects a pride in his origin base;
And since all in this land you may buy and sell,
Is determined to buy a good name as well:
He buys much, when he offers a five-pound reward
To the slave who'll starve longest and labour
      most hard;
He buys more, when he bids a whole parish be fed
On an annual banquet at two pence the head;
His character's rising by rapid degrees,
Till he pays a young saint at a chapel of ease,—
When the bargain's completed as soon as began,
And he's stamped a respectable, popular man.

He's soon made Justice, and Sheriff in time;
And high, and still higher, determined to climb,
Looks around for an anchor to steady his life,
And from a poor peer buys a termagant wife.

The Lady Malice is tall and thin;
Her skin is of a dusky tan,
With black hairs dotting her pointed chin;
She's like a long, lean, lanky man.
Her virtue's positively fierce;
Her sharp eyes every weakness pierce,
Sure some inherent vice to find
In every phase of human kind.
The simplest wood, the meekest mien,
She speckles with her venomed spleen,
Construing to some thought obscene;
Shred by shred, and bit by bit,
With lewd delight dissecting it;
Till sin's worst school is found to be
Near her polluting purity.
But oh! beware how you approach her!
No thorn so mangles an encroacher!
She'll lure you on, with easy seeming,
To drop some hint of doubtful meaning,
Then turn, as hot as fire, to shew
Her virtue's white and cold as snow;
And, dragging you forth in a storm of laughter,
Hurl the full weight of her chastity after.
Such, no line is overdone,
Is Lady Malice Devilson.

Devilson's thickset, short, and red;
Nine-tenths of the man are his paunch and head;
His hair is tufty, dense, and dark;
His small eyes flash with a cold gray spark,
Whose fitful glimmer will oft reveal
When a flinty thought strikes on his heart of steel.
He's sensual lips and a bold hook-nose;
And he makes himself felt wherever he goes;
He's stern to the rich, and he's hard to the poor;
But he's many a little, low amour;
And their cost is small—for he culls them all
From the Workhouse-yard and the Servants' Hall.
So Devilson lives with his titled bride;
And the saintliest pity him more than chide;—
For they feel the full force of his married bliss!
Oh! the peerage are more than avenged in this;
Since, if he once ruined an absentee race,
She tortures him endlessly, face to face.

Chance lately made me spend a day
Beneath their roof:—'twill well repay,
Thro' those old cloistered walks to stray,
And float on Time's still waves away
Down History's dim romantic coast;
For the marks of many tides are there;
And all is great, and grand, and fair—
Except my hostess, and my host.

'Twas after dinner:—Thro' the room
The lamps diffused a golden gloom;
From the side-board gleamed the plate;
The fire glared sullen in the grate;
Dark hung the draperies' crimson fold
Amid the oak framed pictures old;
Bronzen forms of antique Greece
Grouped the massy mantle-piece;
The crystal glimmered on the board,
And glowed the tropic's luscious hoard;
While fruit and flower, with mimic stain,
Blushed on the fairy porcelain.

The wind howled wintry thro' the park,
And, breaking on the far-off trees,
Swung their leafless branches stark,
Like wreck upon autumnal seas;
And, now and then, a gust of rain
Swept, pattering, o'er the window-pane,
And then its distant sugh was heard
As the storm alternate stirred
And sobbed itself to rest again
Beside the fireplace tête-à-tête
My host and I communing sate;
The conversation ebbed to naught—
He sank in sleep, and I in thought;
And then you would have smiled to see
His red face settling gradually
In his white stock's ample fold,
Like a sun in night fogs cold.
He struggled oft—and took a sip—
And pushed a word across his lip:
Vain courtesy!—he gave a snore—
Sank back resigned—and all was o'er.

Then to the panels roved my eye,
In search of better company,
And asked those paintings, nobly wrought,
To tell me their creator's thought;
Then those pictures dim and grey
Led my fancy far away.
Steel-clad knights, and bodiced dames
Leaning thro' their stately frames,
With their cold, eternal gaze
From the depth of other days.

That stern, time-clouded race between
A shape of life and light is seen;
Cherub-lips and angel-eyes—
A paradise of smiles and sighs.
But why that tone
Of sorrow thrown
O'er features made fer joy alone?—

She was a child, and he was a child;
What was ever too young or too old for love?
But she was rich, and he was poor;
What was ever too high or too bold for love?
And their love with their growth unconsciously
    grew,
Till her kinsmen saw what themselves scarce
    knew.
They were parted from that hour;
He perished soon in a stranger land;
They gave her no line from his faithful hand,
And forced her to walk with the young and gay,
As slowly, slowly, she died away.
But love has faith tho' hate has power:
That was the balm of the folding flower.

And oft, in midnight's mystic gloom,
Her lover comes from his foreign tomb,
And prays the God of day and night
To send one beam of kind moonlight
On the pictured wall of that hallowed room:
Then breathes a sigh, so sad and deep,
The household hear it in their sleep,
And flits back lonely to his doom.

Slowly I turned from the face divine
Of that buried rose of a ruined line,
To where a canvass lured my eye
From the narrow room and the clouded sky,
Away and away, to Italy!
With its crested ripples sparkling;
And its watery furrows darkling;
And its white sail like a swallow
Darting over the hollow;
And its sun intensely bright;
And its sea intensely blue ;
And its crowds of lazy nations,
With nothing an earth to do;
And its old cyclopean ruins,—
Dust of empires dead,—
Footprints of the giants,
In which the pigmies tread;
And its white domed cities lying
With the faintest veil of haze,
Like a dream of boyhood visioned
By the light of other days.
And its olive-leaf scarce trembling,
And its sky so pure and still;
Not a frown from earth to zenith,
Save one small cloud on the hill.
The olive-leaf scarce trembling—
The cloud so small and fair;
Just enough to say—the spirit
Of a storm is watching there!
Thro' the forest's leafy masses
You might see how the current ran,
As a thought in whispers passes
Thro' the myriad tribes of man;
And the cloud, like Jupiter's eagle
Looking down on his old Rome,
Perched waiting on his mountain
Till the thunderday shall come.—
A Laurel in the foreground,
Lone and withering,
For ever stands expectant
Of its unreturning spring;
And a painter lies beneath it,
With his brush and palette near,
Catching Truth's white inspiration,
Like light in a prism clear,
And throwing it back in Fancy's
Rich-tinted atmosphere.

An army's homeward march
Crowds up yon glorious arch,
While, towering in victorious might,
Centring all the picture's light,
The veteran Leaders wait
The elders of the state:
For down the far-seen road
A joyous throng have flowed;
Some, on wings of hope and fear,
In search of the loved and near,
Have flown on in advance:
Their eyes despairing cast
Thro' the thick ranks mounting fast,
Seeing none
Till they see the one,
And fly to rest
On his faithful breast:
Weeks in palsying terror sped,
Nights of agony, days of dread,
Racking hours that weigh like years,
Thousand thoughts, and hopes, and fears,
All summed in a single moment,
And told in a single glance.

And, thro' that living surge,
The battle's wrecks emerge:
Slowly their comrades bear them
To the graves the loved prepare them,
But they join the triumph they gave
To the city they died to save!
And, where that solemn line draws near,
Silent sinks the exulting cheer,
And inward drops the chidden tear:
The ground shall drink it never;
It shall lie on the heart for ever;
And all around they keep
A reverend silence deep,
For they think it sin to weep.

And as I wondered still
At the painter's matchless skill,
That work of buried genius,
With its mingled light and shade,
And its beauty's silent magic,
This tale of old conveyed.

________________

At Florence in the dark ages,
When Florence alone was bright,
(She has left on her marble pages
Her testament of light:)

At Florence in the dark ages,
When Florence alone was free,
(She rose, in the pride of her sages,
Like the sun on a troubled sea;)

While yet as an ark she drifted
On the Earth's barbarion flood,
And the wreck of the Arts uplifted
From the deluge of human blood;

Where many a feat of glory
And deed of worth were done,
From the links of her broken story
I've saved to the world this one:

_____________________


Round Florence the tempests are clouding;
The mountains a deluge have hurled;
For the tyrants of nations are crowding
To blot that fair light from the world.

Like vultures that sweep from the passes
To come to the feast of the dead,
In black, heavy, motionless masses
Their mighty battalions are spread.

'Tis eve: and the soldiers of Florence
To meet them are marching amain:
The foe stand like Ocean Awaiting
The streamlet that glides o'er this plain.

Then the blood of the best and the bravest
Had poured like the rain on the sod,—
But the spirit of night stood between them,
Proclaiming the truce of their God.

It touches the heart of the tyrant—
It gives him the tine to repent,—
The morn on the mountain has risen!
The hour of salvation is spent!

The multitudes break into motion,
The trumpets are stirring the flood:—
An islet surrounded by ocean,
The ranks of the citizens stood.

But the vanguard is Valour and Glory;
The phalanx is Freedom and Right;
The leaders are Honour and Duty:
Are they soldiers to fail in the fight?

Then, hail to thee ! Florence the fearless
And, hail to thee ! Florence the fair!
Ere the mist from the mountain has faded,
What a triumph of arms shall be there!

___________________


The day that in heaven is burning,
Is the brightest a hero may know—
For it lights back the soldier returning
To the home he has saved from the foe.

'Tis the day that a recompense renders
For service past recompense great—
And proud to its gallant defenders,
Thus speak the elect of the state:

"The hearts that now greet thee, shall moulder
"The breath that now hails thee, shall fleet;
"Leaf by leaf, from thy garland, the laurel
"Shall mix with the dust at thy feet.

"But poesy, painting and sculpture
"Survive with imperishing charms—
"Then glory to glory!—a triumph
"Of art to the triumph of arms.

"Three years for the task shall be granted,
"And great be the victor's reward;
"Praises, and riches, and honour
"To painter, and sculptor, and bard."

Then loudly cheered the applauding throng,
And thrilled each child of art and song:
But 'mid the crowd was one, whose soul
Had long sighed vainly for a goal;
Men counted him a dreamer;—dreams
Are but the light of clearer skies,
Too dazzling for our naked eyes;
And when we catch their flashing beams,
We turn aside, and call them dreams!
Oh! trust me!—every truth that yet
In greatness rose and sorrow set,
That time to ripening glory nurst,
Was called an idle dream at first:

And so he passed thro' want and ill,
And lived neglected and unknown:
Courage he lacked not—neither skill—
But that fixed impulse of the will,
That guides to fame and guides alone.
And opportunity ne'er smiled
Without which, genius' royal child
Is but a king without a throne.

And sad, in deed, his youth had been.
Had love not wound its flowers between,
And helped him life's harsh griefs to bear,
By grafting then on a gentler care.
Shall art's own votaries live unloving?
Docile to an impulse true,
He, who thinks the beautiful,
Shall feel it too.

And thus the poor young artist loved
And wooed a loving maid:
Her father was an artisan
Who plied a steady trade,
And bowed before no mortal man,
For he lived by what he made;
Altho' his labour's price began
To shrink as his strength decayed.

He Sought not riches, rank, or fame:
But too much he himself had borne
In hunger, positive pain, and scorn,
To let his daughter feel the same;
And he had said that very morn,
When timidly the suitor came—
"To the ranks of the brave in the marches go!
"And carve a fortune from the foe!
"Or let me see thee at the loom
"When the shuttle rings in the merry room!
"Do anything!—but hang no more
"Like an idle soul at my daughter's door.
"Go! and God speed! and make thy way!
"Return in happier hour and say:
"'I strove the strife, and I won the day.'
"And take my child! and my blessing as well,
"But now—till then, or for ever—farewell!"

He heard the words with reverence due;
He owned them wise, and felt them true:
But his arm's too weak to grasp the blade;
Nor can he stoop to a plodding trade:
Why blame him?—we're what God has made.
And he turned him, sick in heart and will
That fortune and he had been matched so ill.

'Twas then he heard the state's decree,
Like the trumpet that sounds to a victory:
He starts from the spot, an altered man
For the goal's revealed and the race began!

Then ardours new illume his eyes,
And visions proud come thronging fast;
In dreams he sees his labour rise;
In dreams he grasps his labour's prize;
Alas! in dreams time's treasure flies,
And the first short year has past.

He trembles at the new-year chime,
And tries to grasp its fleeting prime:
In feverish haste
An outline's traced,—
Each new-born fancy seems sublime:
He rushes burning in the air,
To vent the expanding ardour there:
But doubt comes on and brings despair,
And all that morning-promise fair
Has left the cancelled canvass bare
Ere evenings shadows climb.
As swift the rapid sketches rise,
As swift the glowing triumph dies,
As light and shade alternate hies
O'er skies of April-time.
And moments come, when cold dismay
Had bade for aye—the labour stay:
But the thought of his love like a golden chain,
Drew him back, ever back, to his task again.

And, as they pass, each Sabbath day,
By the spot where he waits on the churchward way,
Colder and colder the father grew:
The maiden smiled on a love so true,—
But her tears were many, her smiles were few.
And weeks roll on, and mouths flit o'er,
And still the mighty work's to do:
While fever, eating to the core,
Shines his transparent pulses thro',
And paints insidious, streak by streak,
With death's romance his flushing cheek.

'Twas on an eve of autumn pale
That first he felt his strength to fail.
The sun o'er Spain had shone its last;
The leaves around were falling fast;
The western clouds were turning grey;
And Earth and Heaven seemed to say:
"Passing away!   Passing away!"

A wild conviction smote his mind:
And if unbidden sorrows blind,
One moment, eyes that still descry
In life so much that's worth a sigh,
The weaker mood remained not long,
And left him strangely calm and strong.

The second year has flown away,
And shorter grows the wintry day:
But ever-toiling, unremitting,
At his task the painter's sitting;
Undisturbed by hope or fear;
Steady, conscious, calm, and clear;
For angels warn him every night,
To labour while 'tis still life-light.
And is it Death, whose solemn hand,
Fettering fancy's rebel-band,
And lifting up his spirit high,
Has touched it with sublimity?
Oh! say not so! the young are strong,
And bravely speeds the work along,
And Love's soft thrill, and fame's proud feeling
Possess a wondrous power of healing.
And weeks roll on,—and months flit o'er;
The work is speeding more and more;
And rivals who, with smiling eye
Had watched the lost time hurrying by,
Now croak their raven prophecy
And sneering of his progress ask:
But pain and grief their magic trying,
Hope and fame his heart inspiring,
Love its godlike power supplying,
Sit by the canvass untiring:
They deepen the shade, and they heighten the light,
They force on the work with invincible might;
They toil thro' the day, and they think thro' the night:
Are they workmen to fail at the task?

Then, hail to thee!   Florence the great!
And, hail to thee!   Florence the fair!
Ere the last sheaf of autumn is gathered,
What a triumph of Art shall be there:

____________________


The bells in Florence are ringing all;
    The third year has come to its close;
The Elders have met in the judgment-hall,
And swelling the sound of their festival,
    Thro' the city the multitude flows,

Within his narrow chamber high
    The student waits the fated hour:
'Tis long since, 'neath a freer sky,
    He felt the sun, or braved the shower,
Toil kept him there—and now 'twas o'er,
He had the heart and strength no more.

From the casement might be seen,
The o'erhanging houses breach between,
A distant span of country green:
And, on that strip of earth and sky,
Unswerving hung his lightless eye;
And as the hours, slow-wandering by,
With heavy stroke returning came,
They shook thro' his thin and tremulous frame
As autumn blasts, with boisterous call,
May shake the leaf that is near its fall.
Their iron tongues seemed all to say:
"Hie thee away!   Hie thee away!
"Thou has landed thy treasure secure from the wave;
"Thyself, thou bold swimmer! thou shalt not save."

But ere the morning's midward hour
Had brought the sun round the eastern hill
To touch the pale, unopened flower
That drooped upon his window sill,
A gentle hand tapped on his chamber door—
And a soft voice called:—tis the voice of Lenore!
Spirit of Light! before passing the grave!
Angel of Life! art thou come to save?
She knew the hours were hard to bear,
That the heart will fail and the spirit break
When life, and more than life's at stake—
And had won on her father to bring her there:
But he sat him down,
With a silent frown,
Half angered to deem he had been so weak.

The painter's face with a smile is bright
As he reads his hope in the maiden's eyes;
But her cheek turns pale as the lustre dies,
Till it hangs on his lip like the mournful light
On a wreck that may Sink ere the proud sunrise.
And his fancy was busy again within
To think how much better his work might have been,
With a light brought there, and a shade thrown here,
'Twas well that he had not the canvass near,
For the painters, then, were Despair and Fear.

But hark! a sound on the silence steals!
'Tis a shout—a silent in the distance peals!
It gathers—it deepens—it rolls this way!—
Lenora!—Haste to the casement say!—
"'Tis finished!—but—who has won the day;'"

Near and more near
Is the loud acclaim:
You could almost hear
The victorious name:
"They come! by the beat
"Of their flooding feet!
"Now!—now—they are reaching the end of the street!"

The maiden's heart is fluttering wild—
And even the father arose from his seat
And stood by his child,
But incredulous smiled:
"There's a way to the left. They will turn to the square."
"No! onward!—right onward!—they pause not there!
"And the senators pass
"Thro' the multitude's mass!
"Scarce three doors off—they come!—they come!"
The maiden has sunk from the window-side:—
'Tis past a fear!—'tis past a doubt!
There's a stir within—there's a rush without—
They mount the stair—the door flies wide—
Oh! joy to the lover! and joy to the bride!
The eldest of the train advances:
In his hand the garland glances;
Gold—precious—glittering to the sight;
Pledge of hopes that are still more bright,
For love is wreathed in its leaves of light!

They call him:—is their voice unheard?
He rose not—as in duty bound;
He bowed not—as they gathered round;
They placed the garland on his head:—
He gave no thanks—he spoke no word—
But slowly sunk like a drooping flower
Beneath the weight of too full a shower:
        The Painter of Florence was dead!

To the altar high they bore him;
And they bring his labour o'er him,
That in one short triumph's breath
Gave immortality and death.

The curious crowd soon melt away;
But evening dusk and morning grey
Behold one constant votary there:
Does she come for praise? does she stay for prayer?
Alas! she joins not the choral strain,
And the rosary hangs by her side in vain.

Long years passed by, and thro' them all
The painting hung on the old church wall.
Long years!—but few of their sum had flown
When the maiden sunk 'neath the cold churchstone.

And when Florence had fallen and bowed the knee
To the golden pride of the Medici,
Then princes and bishops and cardinals tore
From her temples and trophies their coveted store;
And hung on the wall
Of their selfish hall,
What was meant for the eyes and the hearts of all.
Thus past the picture from hand to hand,
Till it wandered away to a cloudy land,
And I found it lost in the barren-gloom
Of a country gentleman's dining-room.

Then me—thought that the form 'neath the withered
        tree
From its blighted laurel appealed to me;
And that I could read in its earnest eyes
The spirit of thoughts like these arises:

____________________


The earth may take the body,
    Consuming what it gave:
But God said to the spirit—
    "Thou shalt not see the grave!"

Upon his canvass pages,
    The painter throws his heart:
Yet England's barbarous nobles
    Have buried living art.

Far scattered in dull mansions,
    With none to see and taste,
Its crystal springs lie hidden
    In Mammon's golden waste.

If Poets write for nations,
    Free as shines the sun,
The Painter and the Sculptor
    Have never wrought for one.

As well might Byron's Harold,
    In one dark folio kept,
In one man's sordid chamber
    Thro' endless years have slept.

The treasures on your panels,
    And down your galleries spread,
Are heartless robberies practised
    On the living and the dead.

Is it for this, that on one work
    My soul's whole energy I cast?
Thought! ardour! feeling! hope! and joy!
    And gave my life at last!

Go! stranger! rouse the sons of thought!
    Go! tell them far and near!
And take me! take me to the world!
    Or make the world come here!


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_______________________

BONNIVARD.


To Chillon's donjon damp and deep,
    Where wild waves mount eternal guard,
Freedom's vigil long to keep,
    They dragged our faithful Bonnivard.

Within their rocky fortress held,
    They thought to crush that captive lone!
That captive left their rock, unquelled,
    Altho' his foot had worn the stone.

They hoped his gallant heart to slay,
    And o'er it bound their chain accurst.
'Twas not his gallant heart gave way—
    It was the chain that broke the first.

O'er Chillon's donjon damp and deep,
    Where wild waves mount eternal guard,
Oblivion's ivied fingers creep,—
    But all the world loves Bonnivard.

July, 1848


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_______________________

A PRISONER'S NIGHT-THOUGHT.


My life is but a toil of many woes,
    And keen excitement, wearing to the core;
And fervently I hope an hour's repose,
    My duty done, and all my warfare o'er.

Loud shouts have beaten on my tingling brain;
    Lone prisons thrilled the fevered thread of life;
The trophies perish—but the wrecks remain!
    And burning scars survive the dizzy strife.

Oh! 'tis a dreadful war, for one to wage,
    Against deep-rooted prejudice and power;
Crush, in one life, the seeds of many an age,
    And blast black centuries in a single hour!

Who dares it, throws his life into the scale,
    Redemption's voluntary sacrifice:
His hope—to be a martyr, should he fail,
    Or, at the best, to conquer—as he dies!

August, 1848.


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_______________________

HOPE.


Gate!—that never wholly closes,
            Opening yet so oft in vain!
Garden! full of thorny roses!
            Roses fall—and thorns remain.

Wayward lamp! with flickering lustre
            Shining far or shining near;
Seldom words of truth revealing—
            Ever shewing words of cheer.

Promise-breaker! yet unfailing!
            Faithless flatterer! comrade true!
Only friend, when traitor proven,
            Whom we always trust anew.

Courtier strange! whom Triumph frighteth!
            Flying far from Pleasure's eye!
Who by sorrow's side alighteth
            When all else are passing by.

Syren-singer! ever chanting
            Ditties new to burdens old
Precious stone! the sages sought for,
            Turning everything to gold!

True Philosopher! imparting
            Comfort rich to spirits pained:
Chider of proud triumph's madness,
            Pointing to the unattained!

Timid Warrior! Doubt, arising,
            Scares thee with the slightest breath:
Matchless chief! who, Fear despising,
            Tramples on the dart of Death!

O'er the grave, past Time's pursuing,
            For thy flashing glory streams!
Too unswerving—too resplendent
            For a child of idle dreams!

Still, Life's fitful vigil keeping,
            Feed the flame, and trim the light!
Hope's the lamp I'll take for sleeping
            When I wish the world good-night!

October, 1849.


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_______________________

PRISON BARS.


Ye scowling prison bars
    That compass me about,
I'll forge ye into armour
    To face the world without.

Bold Aspiration's furnace
    Shall fuse ye with its heat,
And stern Resolve shall fashion
    With steady iron beat.

Experience' solid anvil
    The burning mass shall hold;
And Patience' bony fingers
    Each groove exactly mould.

Then with my modern armour
    Above my ancient scars,
I'll march upon my foemen
    And strike with prison bars.

November, 1848


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_______________________

THE POET'S PARALLEL.


        Down the hillside tripping brightly,
        O'er the pebbles tinkling lightly,
'Mid the meadows rippling merrily, the mountain-
                current goes;
        By the broken rocks careering,
        Thro' the desert persevering,
Flowing onward ever, ever singing as it flows.

        But oh ! the darksome caves,
        That swallow up the waves!
Oh! the shadow-haunted forest, and the sandy
                shallows wide!
        Oh! the hollow-reeded fen,
        Like the stagnant minds of men,
A desert for the silver foot of mountain-cradled tide!

        And oh! the withered leaves
        From the falling forest eaves,
Pressing on its forehead, like the signet of decay;
        And the cold cloud's troubling tear
        On its crystal waters clear,
Like a haunting sorrow running down the future
                of its way.

        Oh! the quick, precipitous riot
        That breaks upon its quiet,
When lingering, by some shady bank, in dream-
                engendering rest!
        Oh! the Stormy wind that mars
        The image of the stars,
When they nestle, heavenly lovers' on their
                earthly wooer's breast!

        But the wild flowers love thy side;
        And the birds sing o'er thy tide;
And the shy deer from the highlands confidingly
                descends; 
        And to thee, the sun of care,
        With a blessing and a prayer,
From life's great wilderness in a thirsting spirit
                wends.

        And the fairies never seen,
        Come tripping o'er the green,
To gaze into thy mirror, the live-long summer
                night;
        And the glory of the skies,
        That the blind Earth idly eyes,
Fills the pulses of thy being with the fullness of
                its light.

February, 1849.


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_______________________

PRISON FANCIES.

Composed when confined to a solitary cell, on bread
and water, without books or writing materials, May 1849


Troublesome fancies beset me
        Sometimes as I sit in my cell,
That comrades and friends may forget me,
        And foes may remember too well.

That plans which I thought well digested
        May prove to be bubbles of air;
And hopes when they come to be tested,
        May turn to the seed of despair.

But tho' I may doubt all beside me,
        And anchor and cable my part,
Whatever—whatever betide me,
        Forbid me to doubt my own heart!

For sickness may wreck a brave spirit,
        And time wear the brain to a shade;
And dastardly age disinherit
        Creations that manhood has made.

But, God! let me ne'er cease to cherish
        The truths I so fondly have held!
Far sooner, at once let me perish,
        Ere firmness and courage are quelled.

Tho' my head in the dust may be lying,
        And bad men exult o'er my fall,
I shall smile at them—smile at them, dying,
        The Right is the Right, after all!


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_______________________

THE MARINER'S COMPASS.


A mariner I, on a stormy sea
    By a wondrous compass Steering
My path 'mid the rocks and the shoals must be,
    And the windy waves careering.

But oft, when wisely I'd pilot thro'
    Where the opposite eddies whelm,
My Arm grows weak, and the ship, untrue,
    Refuses to answer the helm.

And oft, when heav'n is calm and bright,
    A strong current, driving below,
Forces, reluctant, my barque so slight, 
    To glide where the many go!

And, often, my lamp dies out in the dark,
    As I sleep on the easy swell;
Till I fail to distinguish the signs that mark
    The poles of Heaven and Hell!

'Tis thence, in the perilous time I seek
    A Pilot my guide to be,
O'er a sea so rude—for a ship so weak,
    To the port of Eternity.

I sought him afar—but I sought him in vain
    While I fathomed East, South, North, and West;
For he guides from the throne of a right-thinking
          brain,
    The rudder, that beats in the breast.

May 10, 1849.


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_______________________

THE STEED AND THE RIDER.


In the morning's light advancing,
    Forward bounds a gallant steed,
Deck'd with Beauty's goodly housing,
    Shod with Youth, Health, Strength, and
            Speed.

Who will mount the fearless courser?
    Who can ride him to the goal—
With the spur of Emulation,
    And the check of Self-control,

Perseverance' solid saddle,
    Prudence' trusty bridle-rein,
Enterprise' elastic stirrup,
    And Experience' curb of pain?

Who will mount the gallant courser?
    Who can ride him to the goal—
Thro' the paths of life uneven,
    To the temple of the soul?

But be wary!—ah, be wary!
    Long the road, the time unknown
And, at morn, the rein is wanting
    And, at eve, the spur is flown.

And, ere noon arrives, the rider
    Oft so far has gone astray
That, when evening's twilight deepens,
    He has not recall'd the way.

Then be cautious at the starting,
    Tho' the path be smooth and clear;
For the time—the time of spurring—
    Is when home and night are near.

May 11, 1849.


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_______________________

THE LAST LIGHT.


Ah! the sun—the sun is setting,
    And the rocks are rimm'd with gold;
Darker yet the shades are getting,
    In the whispering pine-wood old!

And the fairy-light is fleeting
    From the white sand on the shore;
And the weary ebb is beating
    Faint retreat with muffled roar.

Up the wreck the waves are leaping—
    Tiny, mocking, impish crew!
Children base! their revel keeping
    O'er the foe their father slew.

And the foul things, darkly winging,
    Dart from forth the hidden cleft;
And, of all the day was bringing,
    But the morrow's hope is left.

Yet the spirit knows no fearing,
    Tho' its day of joy has been;
Light without is disappearing;
    Kindle up, thou light within!

June 7, 1849.


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_______________________

THE LANGUAGES.


Greek's a harp we love to hear;
Latin is a trumpet clear;
Spanish like an organ swells;
Italian rings its bridal bells;
France, with many a frolic mien,
Times her sprightly violin;
Loud the German rolls his drum,
When Russia's clashing cymbals come—
But Britain's sons may well rejoice,
For English is the human voice!
These, with eastern basses far,
Form the world's great orchestra.

June 8, 1849.


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_______________________

WHERE?


                        Where is Love?
            Oh! rather, name the spot
                        Where Love is not
                        Below, above,
In calm and storm, in wild, and city mart —
Wherever beats a human heart,
                        There is Love!
    Even where Hate's red woof is seen
    Love weaves a golden thread between.
    In the battle's bleeding mass?
    He lurks beneath the wet cuirass.
    Breathed with the earliest breath,
    He dies not, even in death,
                In the grave?
                The ring, he gave—
                The lock of hair—
                Love—is there!
    No heart so wither'd, lost, and old,
    Nothing so dull, and dead, find cold,
    But Love compels in his boundless fold.

He floats on the waves as they lean to the light
Of the unseen moon in the darkest night ;
He dwells in the bud of the wet, green leaf,
He lurks in the seed of the long-dried sheaf!
    Source of boundless misery,
    Joy were joyless without thee!
He climbs into heaven, he dives into hell;
He sits on the thrones where the angels dwell;
He walks through the haunts of the seals that 
    fell:
For what can madden the tortured mind
Like a glimpse of the heaven it left behind?

June 15, 1849.


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[Home] [Up] [Biographical] [The Battle-Day] [Woman's Wrongs] [Poetry Reviews] [The Cabinet] [Letters, &c.] [Marx on Chartism] [On Democracy] [Democracy Vindicated] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk