Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 32

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Chapter XXXII: The Tower of Babel

  A glorious people vibrated again
    The lightning of the nations; Liberty
  From heart to heart, from tower to tower, o'er France,
    Scattering contagious fire into the sky,
  Gleamed. My soul spurned the chains of its dismay;
    And in the rapid plumes of song
    Clothed itself sublime and strong.

Sublime and strong? Alas! not so. An outcast, heartless, faithless, and embittered, I went forth from my prison.—But yet Louis Philippe had fallen! And as I whirled back to Babylon and want, discontent and discord, my heart was light, my breath came thick and fierce.—The incubus of France had fallen! and from land to land, like the Beacon-fire which leaped from peak to peak proclaiming Troy's downfall, passed on the glare of burning idols, the crash of falling anarchies. Was I mad, sinful? Both—and yet neither. Was I mad and sinful, if on my return to my old haunts, amid the grasp of loving hands and the caresses of those who called me in their honest flattery a martyr and a hero—what things, as Carlyle says, men will fall down and worship in their extreme need!—was I mad and sinful, if daring hopes arose, and desperate words were spoken, and wild eyes read in wild eyes the thoughts they dare not utter? "Liberty has risen from the dead, and we too will be free!"

Yes, mad and sinful; therefore are we as we are. Yet God has forgiven us—perhaps so have those men whose forgiveness is alone worth having.

Liberty? And is that word a dream, a lie, the watchword only of rebellious fiends, as bigots say even now? Our forefathers spoke not so—

  The shadow of her coming fell
  On Saxon Alfred's olive-tinctured brow.

Had not freedom, progressive, expanding, descending, been the glory and the strength of England? Were Magna Charta and the Habeas Corpus Act, Hampden's resistance to ship-money, and the calm, righteous might of 1688—were they all futilities and fallacies? Ever downwards, for seven hundred years, welling from the heaven-watered mountain peaks of wisdom, had spread the stream of liberty. The nobles had gained their charter from John; the middle classes from William of Orange: was not the time at hand, when from a queen, more gentle, charitable, upright, spotless, than had ever sat on the throne of England, the working masses in their turn should gain their Charter?

If it was given, the gift was hers: if it was demanded to the uttermost, the demand would be made, not on her, but on those into whose hands her power had passed, the avowed representatives neither of the Crown nor of the people, but of the very commercial class which was devouring us.

Such was our dream. Insane and wicked were the passions which accompanied it; insane and wicked were the means we chose; and God in his mercy to us, rather than to Mammon, triumphant in his iniquity, fattening his heart even now for a spiritual day of slaughter more fearful than any physical slaughter which we in our folly had prepared for him—God frustrated them.

We confess our sins. Shall the Chartist alone be excluded from the promise, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness"?

And yet, were there no excuses for us? I do not say for myself—and yet three years of prison might be some excuse for a soured and harshened spirit—but I will not avail myself of the excuse; for there were men, stancher Chartists than ever I had been—men who had suffered not only imprisonment, but loss of health and loss of fortune; men whose influence with the workmen was far wider than my own, and whose temptations were therefore all the greater, who manfully and righteously kept themselves aloof from all those frantic schemes, and now reap their reward, in being acknowledged as the true leaders of the artizans, while the mere preachers of sedition are scattered to the winds.