A stamp is heard overhead.
Sordello is alone—face to face with his memory, with his conscience, and, as we presently find out, with the greatest temptation he has ever known. The moon is slowly rising; and just so the light of truth is overflowing his past life, and laying bare its every recess. He sees no fault in this past, except the want of a uniform purpose in which its various moods could have coalesced, the all-embracing sense of existence been translated into fact; but he unconsciously confesses its selfishness, in deciding that this purpose should have been outside him—a remote and uplifting, though sympathetic influence, such as the moon is to the sea. Smaller lives than his have attained a higher completeness, because they have worked for an ideal: because they have had their moon.
“Where then is his moon? What the love, the fear, the motive, in short, that could match the strength, could sway the full tide, of a nature like his?” He doubts its existence. And if, after all, he has been destined to be a law to himself, must he not in some sense apply this relative standard to the rest of life; and may not the outward motive be at all times the embodiment of an inner want or law, which only the stronger nature can realize as such? He has found his purpose. That purpose is the people. “But the people is himself. The desire to help it comes from within. Will he fulfil this the better for regarding its suffering part as an outward motive, as something alien to himself, and for which Self must be forsaken?” In plain words: would he not serve it as well by serving his own interests as by forsaking them?
This sophistry is so patent that it startles even him; but it is only silenced to reassert itself in another form. “The Guelph rule would doubtless be the best. But what can he do to promote it? Attest his belief by refusing the Emperor’s badge? That would be something in the end. But meanwhile, how many sympathies to be broken, how many aversions defied, before the one ideal can be made to prevail. Is not the proceeding too arbitrary? Would it be justified by the result? The question is only one of ideas. If the men who supported each opposite cause were wholly good or bad, his course would be clear. But such divisions do not exist. All men are composite. All nature is a blending of good and evil, in which the one is often but a different form of the other. Evil is in fact indispensable; for it is not only the ground of sympathy, but the active principle of life. Joy means the triumph over obstruction. The suspended effort is death, so far as it goes. Obstruction and effort must begin again and again. The sphere grows larger. It can never be more complete (more satisfying to those who are imprisoned within it). The only gain of existence is to be extracted from its hindrances, by each individual and for himself.” The last plea for self-sacrifice is thus removed.