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Memoir of William Wordsworth, Esq.
bridge; whose acute and eradîte Letters on the Greek definitive article, in confirmation of the late Granville Sharpe's rule, procured him the patronage of the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently deceased, to whom he was indebted for the highly valuable preferments he now so deservedly enjoys.
The brothers were educated at the same school, and though their pursuits have since been dissi
Tus tranquillity of a life devoted to letters, and the seclusion which is esteemed most favourable to the inspirations of the Muse, afford few materials for the pen of the biographer. The poverty which pervades this interesting department of English literature has long been a subject of deep and just regret to all who appreciate the learning and genius of former days. It is true that endea vours have been made in many instances to supply the deficiency, and to redeem the cha-milar, yet from much congeniality of taste, they racters, habits, and feelings of those who have graced the literary annals of our own times from the obscurity which veils those of their illustrious predecessors: yet it frequently occurs that -either from the retiring nature of pre-eminent talent, or the delicacy of private friendship-the authentic information which is only to be derived from primary sources is not sufficiently copious to gratify the scarcely illegitimate curiosity of the public, respecting those from whose labours they have derived instruction and delight.
were remarkable for their affectionate attachment to each other. The classical attainments of our poet are described to have been superior to his young contemporaries; and his English compositions both in verse and prose were distinguished at a very early age, as possessing the germs of those high talents which were hereafter to confer such celebrity on their possessor: his chief amusement even at that period consisted in the study of our best poets, and in the recitation of their most splendid passages.
The contracted limits within which our Memoir Having profited largely by his studies at Hawkesof the distinguished Poet who is the subject of it head, Mr Wordsworth removed to the University is comprised, has strongly forced this observation of Cambridge in 1787, where he was matriculated upon us. In the present instance, however, our a student of St John's. Here he remained a suffitask is abridged by a circumstance fortunately cient length of time to attain his Bachelor's devery favourable to the reader, namely, that Mr gree, without aspiring, it would appear, to higher Wordsworth's writings are in their very nature academical honours. While yet a student, he and essence a species of auto-biography, and pre- made a pedestrian excursion through part of sent the reader with a perfect and most interest-France, Savoy, Switzerland, and Italy, accompaing exposition of the feelings under which they nied by a college friend. On this tour he comwere composed. Added to which the introduc-posed the greater part of those delightful lines tory notices, or essays, prefixed to his poems, at subsequently published under the title of various times as they were published (all of which scriptive Sketches in Verse, which, as also an will be found in the succeeding pages) are unusu- Epistle in verse addressed to a young Lady from ally copious, and afford such ample explanations the Lakes in the North of England, was given to of the literary opinions of the author, that any the world in 1793; being, we believe, the first of additional remarks-(information is out of the Mr Wordsworth's productions formally submitted question)-of ours would be a work of idle super- to the ordeal of public criticism. erogation.
In a short time after his return from the conOur Author is descended from a family of tinent, Mr Wordsworth quitted the University, high respectability in Cumberland, where he was and, indulging his taste for contemplating the born, at Cockermouth, on the 7th April, 1770. beauties of nature, to which he had been from At the age of eight years he was sent to Hawkes- early childhood enthusiastically attached, visited head School in Lancashire, one of the best semi- most parts of the country where the character of naries in the north of England. It was founded the scenery promised to gratify his prevailing and endowed in the reign of Elizabeth, by the passion, of which England and Scotland exhibit venerable Sandys, Archbishop of York. Two of its a rich and almost unequalled variety. « Thou, living ornaments are Mr Wordsworth the subject Nature, art my goddess, is a sentence which of this Memoir, and his brother, Dr Christopher would indeed befit the lips of Mr Wordsworth; Wordsworth, formerly Chaplain to the House of for never did a more fervent worshipper kneel Commons, Rector of Lambeth and Dean of Bocking, before her altar, or celebrate her mysteries with and at present master of Trinity College, Cam-an idolatry at once so glowing and so profound.
With what power he expresses this feeling, which breathes through every page of his writings, the following passage, taken almost at random, will
O then what soul was his, when on the tops
Rise and bathe the world in light! He look'd-
many respects similar to his own, and who then resided in the neighbouring village. In this remote part of the kingdom they lived in almost entire seclusion, exploring the adjacent country by day, and by night arranging the plans of future literary works. This apparently unobjectionable mode of life was not, however, from the critical and perilous nature of the times, free from inconvenience. The violence of the French
In gladness and deep joy. The clouds were touch'd, Revolution had by this period subsided, but its
And in their silent faces did he read
Unutterable love. Sound needed none,
Nor voice of joy; his spirit drank
influence had extended itself to the obscurest nook of the British isles, and even the retired neighbourhood in which our young philosophers had taken up their abode had not escaped its contagion. At the little inn of the village, which was occasionally visited by Mr Wordsworth and his
It is difficult for those who are acquainted-friend, politics were the general topic of converand who is not?-with the writings of Lord Byron, to read the above magnificent lines without being struck with the almost startling resemblance borne to them by a passage in a poem of the noble Lord's, who, it is evident, from many other parts of his works, had studied our Poet with advantage. Far be it from us to endeavour to depreciate the genius of Byron, or to tear one leaf from the laurels that shadow his immortal name. Yet that he should have pursued with unrelenting satire' a poet by whose labours he did not scruple to profit, and that largely, is surely one of those unaccountable and wayward inconsistencies which seem scarcely reconcileable with that erect and lofty moral deportment which, in the blindness of erring humanity, we would fain assign as the concomitant of high intellectual superiority.
sation. In these discussions, Mr Coleridge, whose previous conduct at Bristol had attracted the notice of Government (being at that time a zealous reformist), took an active and vehement part. Mr Wordsworth was generally on these occasions a silent listener; but it will not surprise those who are acquainted with the eloquence and powers of argument which distinguish Mr Coleridge, to learn that his discourse, in such a place and in such society, must have produced an extraordinary impression; his opinions being, as we have hinted, liberal in the utmost possible sense of the word. This circumstance, taken in conjunction with the evident superiority of the habits and manners of our two literary companions, their solitary walks and their unusually retired manner of living, created a strong distrust among their uncongenial occasional associates; in But to return to our subject.-Mr Wordsworth fine, our two poets became first objects of curiosity, was at Paris during a considerable time before, and at length of suspicion. All their proceedings and at the commencement of the French Revolu- were guardedly watched, in their walks they tion. He was acquainted with many of the lead- were now cautiously followed at a distance, and, ers of the revolutionary party, and lodged in the directed by the sagacity of the lawyer of the vilsame mansion with Brissot. He was driven from lage, a complete system of espionage was estathe capital by the tremendous horrors of the blished over them. These absurd suspicions, of Reign of Terror. On his return to England, our course, were removed in a little time, and the author again resumed his pedestrian excursions, innocent objects of the alarm were only acquaintand afterwards resided for some time in Dorset-ed with the dangerous opinions which had been shire, without, however, relaxing in his favourite formed of them, long after their termination. pursuit.
It was in this retreat that the " Lyrical Ballads » At length, it would appear that, weary of wanwere commenced. They were intended,» says dering, Mr Wordsworth became, in the year 1797, Mr Coleridge, « as an experiment whether subjects a resident at Alfoxden, an ancient Mansion in a which from their nature rejected the usual ornahighly picturesque dell about two miles from ments and extra-colloquial style of poems in Nether Stowey, in the northern part of Somer-general, might not be so managed in the lansetshire; where he formed an intimacy with Mr Coleridge, whose pursuits and habits were in
We are informed upon good authority, that so little interest has Mr Wordsworth himself felt on the subject of his Lordship's satire, that to this day he has never perused « English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.>>
Mr Coleridge has always considered himself—justly, no doubt-the principal cause of this unseemly and ridiculous vigilance. He attributes it to his having, during a long and abstruse conversation (we presume, with Mr Wordsworth), on scholastic and other topics, pronounced several times. with extraordinary emphasis, the name of Spinoza.
quage of ordinary life as to produce the pleasureable interest which it is the peculiar business of poetry to impart. »
Mr Wordsworth in private life is described, by all who have the honour of his intimacy, as amiable in the highest degree, and as discharging every duty in the various relations of society with affectionate tenderness and scrupulous fidelity. To his regular and temperate course of life it may probably be attributed that, during a space of nearly sixty years, Mr Wordsworth has never experienced a day's illness. It is not to be understood, however, that our author is so much attached to his own native vales and mountains as not to feel and appreciate the natural beauties of other countries. That he has done so is indeed known to all who are acquainted with him only through the medium of his writings; nor is he so much of a recluse as not to have felt a warm interest in the moral and political condition and prospects of all Europe: he is not an indifferent spectator of events which affect the glory of his own nation, or the happiness of the whole civilized world. But here we may refer the reader
In the year 1798, MrWordsworth, accompanied by his sister Dorothea, made a tour through part of Germany, where he joined Mr Coleridge.' How long the travellers remained abroad we are not informed, but in 1800, we find Mr Wordsworth settled at Grasmere, a small village in | Westmorland, from whence he removed to his | present elegant residence at Rydal. In 1803 he inarried Miss Mary Hutchinson, the daughter of a merchant at Penrith, a young lady of highly respectable family and exemplary character; two sons and a daughter are the living produce of this union. The picturesque beauties in the neighbourhood of Rydal prove more attractive to Mr Wordsworth than the charms of the metropolis (to which, however he pays an annual visit), or the pleasures of artificial society; and here, his leisure devoted to poetry and contemplation, in the enjoyment of an extensive circle of acquaint- to the succeeding pages, which are his best bioance, comprising the most distinguished charac-| graphy. Mr Wordsworth's prose writings are ters in the kingdom for rank, literature, or science, in the bosom of a happy domestic circle, he spends most of his time. In point of fortune, Mr Wordsworth enjoys an elegant sufficiency," arising from a patrimonial estate, and the emoluments of a situation under the Government, for which, we understand, he was indebted to the personal friendship of the Earl of Lonsdale.
not numerous; the most remarkable is a large pamphlet published in 1809, now rarely to be met with, under the following remarkable title : Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal to each other, and to the common enemy at this crisis, and specifically as affected by the Convention of Cintra; the whole brought to the test of those principles by which Mr Wordsworth in his person is above the alone the independence and freedom of Nations middle size, with, says the author of the « Spirit can be preserved or recovered.» In this perof the Age, marked features, and a some- formance Ministers were blamed for not assisting what stately air. He reminds one of some the Spaniards in their struggle against the then of Holbein's heads, grave, saturnine, with a Imperial Ruler of France, with sufficient zeal; slight indication of sly humour, kept under and urged to do that which they afterwards did, by the manners of the age, or by the preten- to pour all their military strength into the heart sions of the person. He has a peculiar sweet- of Spain. This political essay is powerfully writness in his smile, and great depth and manli- ten, and it is scarcely fanciful to suppose, that it ness and a rugged harmony in the tones of his might have been one of the causes of the change voice. His manner of reading his own poetry is in the proceedings of Government, which ultiparticularly imposing, and in his favourite pas- mately led to so glorious and happy a termination sages his eye beams with preternatural lustre, for all Europe. While on this subject, we may and the meaning labours slowly up from his add, that by no writer have the opinions and the swelling bosom. No one who has seen him at literature, we might almost say, the political litethese moments, could go away with an impres-rature of his day, been more coloured and influsion that he was a man of no mark or likeli-enced, not only by his writings, which, however, hood..>
Thirty years after this date, that is, during the present year, Mr. Wordsworth and Mr Coleridge have again visited Germany together. In the autumn of 1820, our author also, with Mrs Wordsworth and a friend, made a long pedestrian tour in Switzerland,
are sufficient, in our opinion, for a proof of what we affirm; but also by his conversation, which is always open to an extensive acquaintance. From these rich sources many original and philosophical observations have been derived, and presented from various channels to the public, *The best likeness of him is a bust executed by Chan-who were little aware to whom the credit of their trey for Sir George Beaumont, one of Mr Wordsworth's dearest friends. His portrait was also introduced into Mr Haydon's picture of Christ's entry into Jerusalem.
invention should be given.
The following analysis of Mr Wordsworth's
genius, with which we shall conclude, is extracted from the work we have quoted above; it is in Mr Hazlitt's most felicitous style.
Prevented by native pride and indolence from climbing the ascent of learning or greatness, taught by political opinions to say to the vain pomp and glory of the world, ‘I hate ye,' seeing the path of classical and artificial poetry blocked up by the cumbrous ornaments of style and turgid common-places, so that nothing more could be achieved in that direction but by the most ridiculous bombast or the tamest servility; he has turned back, partly from the bias of his mind, partly perhaps from a judicious policyhas struck into the sequestered vale of humble life, sought out the muse among sheep-cots and hamlets and the peasant's mountain-haunts, has discarded all the tinsel pageantry of verse, and endeavoured (not in vain) to aggrandize the trivial, and add the charm of novelty to the familiar. No one has shown the same imagination in raising trifles into importance; no one has displayed the same pathos in treating of the simplest feelings of the heart. Reserved, yet haughtyhaving no unruly or violent passions (or those passions having been early suppressed), Mr Wordsworth has passed his life in solitary musing, or in daily converse with the face of Nature. He exemplifies in an eminent degree the power of association; for his poetry has no other source or character. He has dwelt among pastoral scenes, till each object has become connected with a thousand feelings, a link in the chain of thought, a fibre of his own heart. Every one is by habit and familiarity strongly attached to the place of his birth, or to objects that recall the most pleasing and eventful circumstances of his life. But to the author of the Lyrical Ballads nature is a kind of home; and he may be said to take a personal interest in the universe. There is no image so insignificant that it has not in some mood or other found the way into his heart: no sound that does not awaken the memory of other years.
To him the meanest flower that blows can give
an old acquaintance; the cuckoo haunts him with sounds of early youth not to be expressed; a linnet's nest startles him with boyish delight; an old withered thorn is weighed down with a heap of recollections; a grey cloak, seen on some wild moor, torn by the wind or drenched in the rain, afterwards becomes an object of imagination to him: even the lichens on the rock have a life and being in his thoughts. He has described all these objects in a way and with an intensity of feeling that no one else had done before him, and has given a new view or aspect of nature. He is in this sense the most original poet now living, and the one whose writings could the least be spared: for they have no substitute elsewhere. The vulgar do not read them; the learned, who see all things through books, do not understand them: the great despise, the fashionable may ridicule them; but the author has created himself an interest in the heart of the retired and lonely student of nature, which can never die. Persons of this class will still continue to feel what he has felt; he has expressed what they might in vain wish to express, except with glistening eye and faltering tongue! There is a lofty philosophic tone, a thoughtful humanity, infused into his pastoral vein. Remote from the passions and events of the great world, he has communicated interest and dignity to the primal movements of the heart of man, and engrafted his own conscious reflections on the casual thoughts of hinds and shepherds. Nursed amidst the grandeur of mountain scenery, he has stooped to have a nearer view of the daisy under his feet, or plucked a branch of white-thorn from the spray; but, in describing it, his mind seems imbued with | the majesty and solemnity of the objects around him. The tall rock lifts its head in the erectness of his spirit; the cataract roars in the sound of his verse; and in its dim and mysterious meaning, the mists seem to gather in the hollows of Helvellyn, and the forked Skiddaw hovers in the distance. There is little mention of mountainous scenery in Mr Wordsworth's poetry; but by internal evidence one might be almost sure that it was written in a mountainous country, from its bareness, its simplicity, its loftiness, and its
The daisy looks up to him with sparkling eye as depth..