James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

April 5

The Lost Leader

By Robert Browning (1812–1889)

  • Wordsworth had always been a Whig in politics until he was appointed Laureate on April 5, 1843, which necessitated a change of views. Browning has denied that he had Wordsworth in mind when writing “The Lost Leader,” but the idea that it was intended for the Laureate still prevails.

  • JUST for a handful of silver he left us,

    Just for a ribbon to stick in his coat—

    Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,

    Lost all the others she lets us devote,

    They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,

    So much was their’s who so little allowed:

    How all our copper had gone for his service!

    Rags—were they purple, his heart had been proud!

    We that had loved him so, followed him, honored him,

    Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,

    Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,

    Made him our pattern to live and to die!

    Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us,

    Burns, Shelley, were with us,—they watch from their graves!

    He alone breaks from the van and the freemen,

    He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!

    We shall march prospering,—not thro’ his presence,

    Songs may inspirit us,—not from his lyre;

    Deeds will be done,—while he boasts his quiescence,

    Still bidding crouch whom the rest bade aspire:

    Blot out his name, then,—record one lost soul more,

    One task more declined, one more footpath untrod,

    One more triumph for devils, and sorrow for angels,

    One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!

    Life’s night begins: let him never come back to us!

    There would be doubt, hesitation and pain,

    Forced praise on our part—the glimmer of twilight,

    Never glad confident morning again!

    Best fight on well, for we taught him,—strike gallantly,

    Aim at our heart ere we pierce through his own;

    Then let him receive the new knowledge and wait us,

    Pardoned in Heaven, the first by the throne!