A Letter To America
This to Hale in the West, from the Dean beneath his Cathedral.
Greeting and health, and many New--year and Christmas blessings;
Also, apologies many, for letting the year pass by me
All unmindful of time, no token of gratitude rendered.
'Twas not ingratitude, 'twas not your war, nor the pressure of head work,
But the trick of making the work of to--day the plan for to--morrow.
Now however I'm fairly afloat, and shall finish my letter.
First, concerning things here: and then about you and your matters.
Off on Candlemas day I started with one companion
Bound for the City Eternal. To you I need not set forth
Those four weeks of pleasure and interest wrought to the highest:
Need not say, how duly we searched the crumbling temples,
How we walked and basked in the glorious wide Campagna,
Treading its carpet of flowers, and breathing its scented breezes:
But I may say, that we also searched the Vatican Codex,
Thanks to a friend at Court, and licence from Antonelli.
Sweetest joys must have an end: our four weeks finished,
I by Cassian way, Bolsena and Acqua--pendente,
Took the road to Siena, and, getting glimpses of Florence,
Skirted the coast to Spezia's glorious bay, and by Genoa
Over the Mont Cenis, and so by railway to Paris.
After that, the summer ran on, with duty and leisure,
Quiet and uneventful: save that a medical congress
Gathered from all the land, in our ancient city assembled;
Voted themselves infallible, cursed the Homoeopathics,
Lectured, and ate and drank, and at the Deanery soiréed,
Went their way to their homes,
Then our holiday came: in Rydal valley we spent it,
Snug in our ``own hired house'' beneath the elbow of Loughrigg.
Oh but to think of the rain that pelted us all that autumn,
Flood, and mizzle, and shower, and shower and flood and mizzle,
Rotha over his banks, and all the waterfalls roaring,
I in Macintosh case, and sometimes Alice and Mary,
Splashing away to the Ambleside Post--office nightly for letters.
If strong waters are bad for the human constitution,
Then are all we four done up and ruined for ever.
Still we drew and walked, and made our hay when the sun shone:
Or at Fox How sometimes at croquet played with the Arnolds,
Or in cars to neighbouring lakes attempted excursions.
So dripped on the weeks: and about the end of October
Homeward sped we again to all our habits and duties.
Since then, day on day and week on week has gathered,
One the same as another, and all o'erflowing with blessings.
Of ourselves sufficient: and now of the public around us.
Full in the midst of all our calm, when we thought us securest,
Came the Angel of Death, and smote our Sovereign's household,
Smote the stay of the throne,--the wise and faithful adviser:
Left our princes fatherless,--left our Queen a widow.
Never in history's day have a people mourned as we did:
All to this hour is black in church, and home, and assembly:
All speak sad and soft, and pray each day for the mourners.
But by this time enough of the tears and sorrows of England.
You too have your cares; America too has her sorrows.
May I but say, that England's heart is stricken to see them?
May I venture near, and tell you we do not hate you?
May but England persuade you how sister feels for sister,
Sister sober and calm, for sister strong and maddened?
First, let me speak of your war; your Confederate--Federal quarrel.
Certainly, we do sit and wonder when we hear you
Talk of rebels and treason, and justify all by quoting
England's example a century since. Strange turning of tables!
Is it, because the eagle is struck with his own black feather?
Strange, that you should appeal to an England that is no longer,
Back to the dark old ages of long--forgotten coercion.
This same England, believe me, if Canada, some fine morning,
Wished to try it alone, would say, ``Good--bye, and welcome;''--
Give them a prince for king, or start them without, no matter.
This same England looks for the day when Australian kingdoms,
Great and glorious and free, shall quit the side of their mother,
Loyally, peacefully parted, firm fast friends for ever.
Why not north and south part thus, and remain thus friendly?
What can you gain by your war? what indeed but bloodshed and taxes?
Take Lord Chatham's words, for you as for us prophetic,
``No, believe me you cannot, you cannot conquer the Southerns.''
Crush them you may, in time: but what will accrue by the process?
Anarchy, wild and hopeless: a desolate land and a bloody:
Ravaged homes, and burning farms, and wasted plantations:
Africa's mild oppressed ones turned into beasts of the forest,--
Animal passions awakened,--their freedom cursed in its dawning.
Tell me not of a holy war: fair Liberty's colours
Strive to float in vain from the spires of New York and Boston:
There is no wind in heaven so false to truth, as to lift them,
So they hang recreant and shamed, and none sail by and believe them.
Where would slavery be, if North and South were to sever?
Say, confined to the South. And would that gain be nothing?
Would not the fugitive slave on Northern soil be a freeman?
Still, one cannot believe that, if North and South were to sever,
Slavery could endure ten years in its present condition.
Then, the South must turn her about and seek connexions,
Stand with an open brow in the gaze of the world's opinion,
Answer for all her deeds, not as once by convenient excuses,
Talking of complications and Washington constitutions,
But stern fact to fact, and truth in its simple meaning.
But to speak still of you:--it seems to us you are maddened,
Till you can't see straight, and totter about in your passion.
Look at the case of the Trent: was ever a thing more simple?
Wilkes's act was condemned by the voice of unanimous Europe:
France that was thirsting for vengeance for Waterloo, (vide your journals,)
First to protest, with ourselves. Yet all is set down to England
Wanting to bully the North, and taking advantage of weakness.
Then, for the arguments used: was ever fallacy plainer?
If I suspect a man of conspiring to do me a mischief,
Have I a right to skulk by the line with a pack of marauders,
Drag him out of the train, and shut him up in a pigsty,
And then claim great praise for not having brought him to justice?
And next what did you mean, in blocking up Charleston harbour?
If the land is your own, and the Southerns are but rebels,
Surely destroying your own is not like a sane man's action:
If it be not your own, why then you're committing an outrage
Unexampled in History's page, and the rules of warfare.
All that is man's is for man: blockade, if you will, their harbours;
But to destroy for all time, is simply the work of a savage,--
Nor must he who thus acts be surprised to find himself branded
Foe to the race of man. All this we see, and wonder;
Wonder, that British blood should ever have flowed so devious
From the straightforward course which it commonly takes in these islands,
Justice and truth deserting, and all the maxims of progress:
Wonder, that you, the first to call yourselves free and enlightened,
Should be the slaves of a brutal mob, bent blindly on vengeance.
But I have spoken enough, and more perhaps than was fitting.
No, we hate you not: we wish you well over your troubles,
Claiming to understand them somewhat better than you do:
All that has happened to you was long ago predicted:
All, but Americans, saw that the North and South must quarrel:
All, that the boasted Union was but a hollow delusion:
May your eyes be opened ere long, to see it as we do!
Well, forgive me, my friend: or if my nonsense have stung you
Past forgiveness, lay it aside, and burn this Epistle:
Go to your little Nelly, and kiss her for me and my daughters:
Reign in your wisdom supreme, and fight, and rail at the British.
But mean while forget not the spell of the old Cathedral:
How you came here to see that Deans and Canons were useful:
Ask your soul, in the hour when popular ciamour is silent,
Whether one use of a Dean may not be, to turn adviser:
Try the ``beati pacifici'' line: pour oil on the waters:
They may tar and feather you: still, you've the satisfaction
You are the true American--they, but swaggering Yankees.
Henry Alford's Other Poems
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