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William Wordsworth
Complete Poetical Works

ECCLESIASTICAL SONNETS

IN SERIES

1821-22.

My purpose in writing this Series was, as much as possible, to
confine my view to the introduction, progress, and operation of
the Church in England, both previous and subsequent to the
Reformation. The Sonnets were written long before ecclesiastical
history and points of doctrine had excited the interest with which
they have been recently enquired into and discussed. The former
particular is mentioned as an excuse for my having fallen into
error in respect to an incident which had been selected as setting
forth the height to which the power of the Popedom over temporal
sovereignty had attained, and the arrogance with which it was
displayed. I allude to the last Sonnet but one in the first
series, where Pope Alexander the third at Venice is described as
setting his foot on the neck of the Emperor Barbarossa. Though
this is related as a fact in history, I am told it is a mere
legend of no authority. Substitute for it an undeniable truth not
less fitted for my purpose, namely, the penance inflicted by
Gregory the Seventh upon the Emperor Henry the Fourth.

Before I conclude my notice of these Sonnets, let me observe
that the opinion I pronounced in favour of Laud (long before the
Oxford Tract movement) and which had brought censure upon me from
several quarters, is not in the least changed. Omitting here to
examine into his conduct in respect to the persecuting spirit with
which he has been charged, I am persuaded that most of his aims to
restore ritual practices which had been abandoned were good and
wise, whatever errors he might commit in the manner he sometimes
attempted to enforce them. I further believe that, had not he, and
others who shared his opinions and felt as he did, stood up in
opposition to the reformers of that period, it is questionable
whether the Church would ever have recovered its lost ground and
become the blessing it now is, and will, I trust, become in a
still greater degree, both to those of its communion and to those
who unfortunately are separated from it.

PART I

FROM THE INTRODUCTION OF CHRISTIANITY INTO BRITAIN, TO THE
CONSUMMATION OF THE PAPAL DOMINION

"A verse may catch a wandering Soul, that flies
Profounder Tracts, and by a blest surprise
Convert delight into a Sacrifice."

I

INTRODUCTION

I, WHO accompanied with faithful pace
Cerulean Duddon from his cloud-fed spring,
And loved with spirit ruled by his to sing
Of mountain quiet and boon nature's grace;
I, who essayed the nobler Stream to trace
Of Liberty, and smote the plausive string
Till the checked torrent, proudly triumphing,
Won for herself a lasting resting-place;
Now seek upon the heights of Time the source
Of a HOLY RIVER, on whose banks are found
Sweet pastoral flowers, and laurels that have crowned
Full oft the unworthy brow of lawless force;
And, for delight of him who tracks its course,
Immortal amaranth and palms abound.

NOTE

Title: 'Ecclesiastical Sonnets.'

During the month of December 1820, I accompanied a much-beloved
and honoured Friend in a walk through different parts of his
estate, with a view to fix upon the site of a new Church which he
intended to erect. It was one of the most beautiful mornings of a
mild season,--our feelings were in harmony with the cherishing
influences of the scene; and such being our purpose, we were
naturally led to look back upon past events with wonder and
gratitude, and on the future with hope. Not long afterwards, some
of the Sonnets which will be found towards the close of this
series were produced as a private memorial of that morning's
occupation.

The Catholic Question, which was agitated in Parliament about
that time, kept my thoughts in the same course; and it struck me
that certain points in the Ecclesiastical History of our Country
might advantageously be presented to view in verse. Accordingly, I
took up the subject, and what I now offer to the reader was the
result.

When this work was far advanced, I was agreeably surprised to
find that my friend, Mr. Southey, had been engaged with similar
views in writing a concise History of the Church 'in' England. If
our Productions, thus unintentionally coinciding, shall be found
to illustrate each other, it will prove a high gratification to
me, which I am sure my friend will participate.
W. WORDSWORTH.
RYDAL MOUNT, January 24, 1822.

For the convenience of passing from one point of the subject to
another without shocks of abruptness, this work has taken the
shape of a series of Sonnets: but the Reader, it is to be hoped,
will find that the pictures are often so closely connected as to
have jointly the effect of passages of a poem in a form of stanza
to which there is no objection but one that bears upon the Poet
only--its difficulty.