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Terlege, cognosces animum sine viribus alas
PREFACE TO JOAN OF ARC.
Early in July, 1793, I happened to fall in conversation, at Oxford, with an old schoolfellow upon the story of Joan of Arc, and it then struck me as being singularly well adapted for a poem. The long vacation commenced immediately afterwards. As soon as I reached home I formed the outline of a plan, and wrote about three hundred lines. The remainder of the month was passed in travelling, and I was too much engaged with new scenes and circumstances to proceed, even in thought, with what had been broken off. In August I went to visit my old schoolfellow, Mr. Grosvenor Bedford, who, at that time, resided with his parents at Brixton Causeway, about four miles on the Surrey side of the metropolis. There, the day after completing my nineteenth year, I resumed the undertaking, and there, in six weeks from that day, finished what I called an Epic Poem in twelve books.
My progress would not have been so rapid had it not been for the opportunity of retirement which I enjoyed there, and the encouragement that I received. In those days London had not extended in that direction farther than Kennington, beyond which place the scene changed suddenly, and there was an air and appearance of country which might now be sought in vain at a far greater distance from town. There was nothing indeed to remind one that London was so near, except the smoke which overhung it. Mr. Bedford's residence was situated upon the edge of a common, on which shady lanes opened leading to the neighbouring villages (for such they were then) of Camberwell, Dulwich, and Clapham, and to Norwood. The view in front was bounded by the Surrey hills. Its size and structure showed it to be one of those good houses built in the early part of the last century by persons who, having realized a respectable fortune in trade, were wise enough to be contented with it, and retire to pass the evening of their lives in the enjoyment of leisure and tranquillity. Tranquil indeed the place was, for the neighbourhood did not extend beyond half a dozen families, and the London style and habits of visiting had not obtained among them. Uncle Toby himself might have enjoyed his rood and a half of ground there, and not have had it known. A fore-court separated the house from the foot-path and
the road in front; behind, there was a large and wellstocked garden, with other spacious premises, in which utility and ornament were in some degree combined. At the extremity of the garden, and under the shade of four lofty linden trees, was a summer-house looking on an ornamented grassplot, and fitted up as a conveniently habitable room. That summer-house was allotted to me, and there my mornings were passed at the desk. Whether it exists now or not I am ignorant.
The property has long since passed into other hands. The common is inclosed and divided by rectangular hedges and palings; rows of brick houses have supplanted the shade of oaks and elms; the brows of the Surrey hills bear a parapet of modern villas, and the face of the whole district is changed.
I was not a little proud of my performance. Young poets are, or at least used to be, as ambitious of producing an epic poem, as stage-stricken youths of figuring in Romeo or Hamlet. It had been the earliest of my day-dreams. I had begun many such ; but this was the first which had been completed, and I was too young and too ardent to perceive or suspect that the execution was as crude as the design. In the course of the autumn I transcribed it fairly from the first draught, making no other alterations or corrections of any kind than such as