Sunday, April 10, 2011

Here for the first few months Herbert lived at large and strayed at will, being somewhat spoilt by his friends.  Lord Wariston carried his wife to town for a month or two leaving him under the nominal care of the parish clergyman, a man meeker than Moses who taught him riding on the meekest of steeds.  As to work he put him through none and the boy fell upon the Ensdon Library shelves with miscellaneous voracity, reading various books desirable and otherwise, swallowing a nameless quantity of English and French verse and fiction.  Being by nature idle and excitable he made himself infinite small diversions out of the days work and was by no means oppressed by the sense of compelled inaction. Well broken in to solitude  and sensitive of all outward things, he found life and pleasure enough in the gardens and woods, the downs and the beach.  Small sights and sounds excited and satisfied him; his mind was as yet more impressible than capacious, his senses more retentive than his thoughts. Water and wind and darkness and light made friends with him; he went among beautiful things without wonder or fear. For months he lived and grew on like an animal or a fruit: and things seemed to deal with him as with one  of these; earth set herself to caress and amuse him; air blew and rain fell and leaves changed to his great delight.  Reading and riding and wandering he felt no want in life.

For places rather than persons he had a violent and blind affection.  Small pools in the pouring stream roofed with noiseless leaves out of the winds way; hot hollows of short grass in the slanting down, shaped like cups for the sun to fill; higher places where the hill-streams began among patches of reeds, extorting from the moist moorland a little life; dry corners of crag whence the light trees had sprung out of the lean soil, shadowing narrow brown nooks and ledges of burnt-up turf slippery with the warm dust of arid lands; all these attracted and retained him; but less  than the lower parts about the sea.

In a few months time he could have gone blindfold over miles of beach.  All the hollows of the cliffs and all the curves of the sand-hills were friendly to his feet.  The long reefs that rang with returning waves and flashed with ebbing ripples; the smooth slopes of coloured rock full of small brilliant lakes that fed and saved from sunburning their anchored fleets of flowers, yellower lilies and redder roses of the sea; the sharp and fine sea mosses, fruitful of grey blossom, fervent with blue and golden bloom, with soft spear heads and blades brighter than fire; the lovely heavy motion of the stronger rock-rooted weeds, with all their weight afloat in languid water, splendid and supine; the broad bands of metallic light girdling the greyer flats and swaying levels of sea without a wave; all the enormous graces and immeasurable beauties that go with its sacred strength; the sharp delicate air about it, like breath from its nostrils and lips of its especial and gracious god; the hard sand inlaid with dry and luminous brine; the shuddering shades of sudden colour woven by the light with the water for  some remote golden mile or two reaching from dusk to dusk under the sun; shot through with faint and fierce lustres that shiver and shift; and over all a fresher and sweeeter heaven than is seen inland by any weather; drew his heart back day after day and satisfied it.  Here among the reefs he ran riot, skirting with light quick feet the edge of the running ripple, laughing with love when the fleeter foam caught them up, skimming the mobile fringe that murmured and fluttered  and fell, gathering up with gladdened ears all the fervent sighs and whispers of the tender water, all delicate sounds of washing and wandering waves, all sweet and suppressed semitones of light music struck out of shingle or sand by the faint extended fingers of foam and tired eager lips of yielding sea that touch the soft mutable limit of their life, to recede in extremity and exhaustion.  At other times he would set his face seaward and feed his eyes for hours on the fruitless floating fields of wan green water, fairer than all spring meadows or summer gardens, till the soul of the sea entered him and filled him with fleshly  pleasure and the pride of life.

                                                                                              swinburne 1866

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