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Wordsworth, and designed by him as an experiment how far a simpler kind of poetry than that in use would afford permanent interest to readers. The humblest subjects, he contended, were fit for poetry, and the language should be that really used by men.' The fine fabric of poetic diction which generations of the tuneful tribe had been laboriously rearing, he proposed to destroy altogether. The language of humble and rustic life, arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings, he considered to be a more permanent and far more philosophical language than that which is frequently substituted for it by poets. The attempt of Wordsworth was either totally neglected or assailed with ridicule. The transition from the refined and sentimental school of verse, with select and polished
diction, to such themes as The Idiot Boy,' and a style of composition disfigured by colloquial plainness, and by the mixture of ludicrous images and associations with passages of tenderness and pathos, was too violent to escape ridicule or insure general success. It was often impossible to tell whether the poet meant to be comic or tender, serious or ludicrous; while the choice of his subjects and illustrations, instead of being regarded as genuine simplicity, had an appearance of silliness or affectation. The faults of his worst ballads were so glaring, that they overpowered, at least for a time, the simple natural beauties, the spirit of gentleness and humanity, with which they were accompanied. It was a first experiment, and it was made without any regard for existing prejudices or feelings, or any
Rydal Lake and Wordsworth's House.
wish to conciliate. The poems, however, were read | elevated character. The influence of Wordsworth by some. Two more volumes were added in 1807; and it was seen that, whatever might be the theory of the poet, he possessed a vein of pure and exalted description and meditation which it was impossible not to feel and admire. The influence of nature upon man was his favourite theme; and though sometimes unintelligible from his idealism, he was also, on other occasions, just and profound. His worship of nature was ennobling and impressive. In real simplicity, however, Wordsworth is inferior to Cowper, Goldsmith, and many others. He has triumphed as a poet, in spite of his own theory. As the circle of his admirers was gradually extending, he continued to supply it with fresh materials of a higher order. In 1814 appeared The Excursion, a philosophical poem in blank verse, by far the noblest production of the author, and containing passages of sentiment, description, and pure eloquence, not excelled by any living poet, while its spirit of enlightened humanity and Christian benevolence-extending over all ranks of sentient and animated being-imparts to the poem a peculiarly sacred and
on the poetry of his age has thus been as beneficial as extensive. He has turned the public taste from pompous inanity to the study of man and nature; he has banished the false and exaggerated style of character and emotion which even the genius of Byron stooped to imitate; and he has enlisted the sensibilities and sympathies of his intellectual brethren in favour of the most expansive and kindly philanthropy. The pleasures and graces of his muse are all simple, pure, and lasting. In working out the plan of his Excursion,' the poet has not, however, escaped from the errors of his early poems. The incongruity or want of keeping in most of Wordsworth's productions is observable in this work. The principal character is a poor Scotch pedlar, who traverses the mountains in company with the poet, and is made to discourse, with clerklike fluency,
Of truth, of grandeur, beauty, love, and hope. It is thus that the poet violates the conventional rules of poetry and the realities of life; for surely it
is inconsistent with truth and probability, that a quiet and tender beauty characteristic of the author. profound moralist and dialectician should be found We subjoin two passages, the first descriptive of a in such a situation. In his travels with the Wan-peasant youth, the hero of his native vale:derer,' the poet is introduced to a 'Solitary,' who lives secluded from the world, after a life of busy adventures and high hope, ending in disappointment and disgust. They all proceed to the house of the pastor, who (in the style of Crabbe's Parish Register) recounts some of the deaths and mutations that had taken place in his sequestered valley; and with a description of a visit made by the three to a neighbouring lake, the poem concludes. The 'Excursion' is an unfinished work, part of a larger poem, The Recluse, having for its principal object the sensations and opinions of a poet living in retirement.' Whether the remainder of the work will ever be given to the world, or completed by the poet, is uncertain. The want of incident would, we fear, be fatal to its success. The narrative part of the 'Excursion' is a mere framework, rude and unskilful, for a series of pictures of mountain scenery and philosophical dissertations, tending to show how the external world is adapted to the mind of man, and good educed out of evil and suffering
Within the soul a faculty abides,
That with interpositions, which would hide
In a still loftier style of moral observation on the changes of life, the gray-haired wanderer' exclaims
So fails, so languishes, grows dim, and dies,
The mountain ash
No eye can overlook, when 'mid a grove
Our unpretending valley. How the quoit
The peasant youth, with others in the vale, roused by the cry to arms, studies the rudiments of war but dies suddenly :
To him, thus snatched away, his comrade paid
And if by chance a stranger, wandering there,
Of instantaneous thunder which announced
A description of deafness in a peasant would seem to be a subject hardly susceptible of poetical ornament; yet, by contrasting it with the surrounding objects the pleasant sounds and stir of nature and by his vein of pensive and graceful reflection, Wordsworth has made this one of his finest pic
The picturesque parts of the 'Excursion' are full of a tures :
Almost at the root
Of that tall pine, the shadow of whose bare
By viewing man in connection with external nature, the poet blends his metaphysics with pictures of life and scenery. To build up and strengthen the powers of the mind, in contrast to the operations of sense, is ever his object. Like Bacon, Wordsworth would rather believe all the fables in the Talmud and Alcoran than that this universal frame is without a mind-or that that mind does not, by its external symbols, speak to the human heart. He lives under the habitual sway' of nature.
To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. The subsequent works of the poet are numerousThe White Doe of Rylstone, a romantic narrative poem, yet coloured with his peculiar genius; Sonnets on the River Duddon; The Waggoner; Peter Bell; Ecclesiastical Sketches; Yarrow Revisited, &c. Having made repeated tours in Scotland and on the continent, the poet diversified his subjects with descriptions of particular scenes, local manners, legends, and associations. The whole of his works have been arranged by their author according to their respective subjects; as Poems referring to the Period of Childhood; Poems founded on the Affections; Poems of the Fancy; Poems of the Imagination, &c. This classification is often arbitrary and capricious; but it is one of the conceits of Wordsworth, that his poems should be read in a certain continuous order, to give full effect to his system. Thus classified and published, the poet's works form six volumes. A seventh has lately (1842) been added, consisting of poems written very early and very late in life (as is stated), and a tragedy which had long lain past the author. The latter is not happy, for Wordsworth has less dramatic power than any other living poet. In the drama, however, both Scott and Byron failed; and Coleridge, with his fine imagination and pictorial expression, was only a shade more successful. The fame of Wordsworth is daily extending. The few ridiculous or puerile pieces which excited so much sarcasm, parody, and derision, have been quietly forgotten, or are considered as mere idiosyncrasies of the poet that provoke a smile, while his higher attributes command admiration, and have
secured a new generation of readers. A tribe of worshippers, in the young poets of the day, have arisen to do him homage, and in some instances have carried the feeling to a sectarian and bigotted excess. Many of his former depreciators have also joined the ranks of his admirers-partly because in his late works he has done himself more justice both in his style and subjects. He is too intellectual, and too little sensuous, to use the phrase of Milton, ever to become generally popular, unless in some of his smaller pieces. His peculiar sensibilities cannot be relished by all. His poetry, however, is of various kinds. Forgetting his own theory as to the proper subjects of poetry, he has ventured on the loftiest themes, and in calm sustained elevation of thought, appropriate imagery, and intense feeling, he often reminds the reader of the sublime strains of Milton. His Laodamia, the Vernal Ode, the Ode to Lycoris and Dion, are pure and richly classic poems in conception and diction. Many of his sonnets have also a chaste and noble simplicity. In these short compositions, his elevation and power as a poet are perhaps more remarkably displayed than in any of his other productions. They possess a winning sweetness or simple grandeur, without the most distant approach to antithesis or straining for effect; while that tendency to prolixity and diffuseness which characterise his longer poems, is repressed by the necessity for brief and rapid thought and concise expression, imposed by the nature of the sonnet. It is no exaggeration to say that Milton alone has surpassed-if even he has surpassed-some of the noble sonnets of Wordsworth dedicated to liberty and inspired by patriotism.
Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour;
The World is Too Much with Us.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1803. Earth has not anything to show more fair: Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty : This city now doth like a garment wear The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
On King's College Chapel, Cambridge.
Of white-robed scholars only, this immense
So deemed the man who fashioned for the sense
His Intimations of Immortality, and Lines on Tintern Abbey, are the finest examples of his rapt imaginative style, blending metaphysical truth with diffuse gorgeous description and metaphor. His simpler effusions are pathetic and tender. He has little strong passion; but in one piece, Vaudracour and Julia, he has painted the passion of love with more warmth than might be anticipated from his abstract idealism
His present mind Was under fascination; he beheld
A vision, and adored the thing he saw. Arabian fiction never filled the world
With half the wonders that were wrought for him.
This is of the style of Ford or Massinger. Living mostly apart from the world, and nursing with solitary complacency his poetical system, and all that could bear upon his works and pursuits as a poet, Wordsworth fell into those errors of taste and that want of discrimination to which we have already alluded. His most puerile ballads and attempts at humour are apparently as much prized by him, and classed with the same nicety and care, as the most majestic of his conceptions, or the most natural and beautiful of his descriptions. The art of condensation is also rarely practised by him. But if the
poet's retirement or peculiar disposition has been a cause of his weakness, it has also been one of the sources of his strength. It left him untouched by the artificial or mechanical tastes of his age; it gave an originality to his conceptions and to the whole colour of his thoughts; and it completely imbued him with that purer antique life and knowledge of the phenomena of nature-the sky, lakes, and mountains of his native district, in all their tints and forms-which he has depicted with such power and enthusiasm. A less complacent poet would have been chilled by the long neglect and ridicule he experienced. His spirit was self-supported, and his genius, at once observant and meditative, was left to shape out its own creations, and extend its sympathies to that world which lay beyond his happy mountain solitude.
I saw her upon nearer view,
A spirit, yet a woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
Though absent long,
Five years have passed; five summers, with the length
For future years. And so I dare to hope,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,