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these great and good men, and assign them, as the phrase goes, their place in literature, I would not try if, I could, and I could not if I would. Such attempts seem to me to be generally more pretentious than solid. Enough will have been done, if, by pointing to some of the sources of delight I found in them, others may be induced to study them and find the same.
A hope was expressed that all the four Essays, distinct though they are in subject, might yet be found pervaded by a unity of thought and purpose. Of the reviewers who have noticed the Essays - and all whom I have read have done so very kindly-- some have perceived no such unity, others have not failed to find it. One reviewer has so well described this thread of connection, that I cannot do better than give his words :
“ His subjects — Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keble, and the Moving Force of the Moral Life all, and not slightly, connected. All four subjects may be said to be concerned with the relation of the divine life to that of man: Wordsworth as the prophet of Nature, as the poet who interpreted the relations between the elemental powers of creation and the moral life of man; Coleridge as the thinker, who tried to find, and partially found, a philosophy of the supersensual life ; Keble as the singer, who applied both these great worlds of thought so far as they fitted into the limitations of his own
system ; and, finally, the subject of Mr. Shairp's last essay — the great moving force which helps man to become what he perceives that he ought to be -- is one almost inevitably suggested by the lives of the three men who, from their different points of view, had all been chiefly concerned to discover new links between the life above and the life beneath."
The reviewer in the sequel expresses a doubt whether I have enough insisted on “the affinity of Wordsworth's poetry for the great elemental forces both of nature and of humanity" - "the power which the poet displays of giving a strange elemental vastness to the dominant thread of character in either the human or the natural subject on which he happens to be dwelling, so that his poem yields up not a particular man or a particular place, so much as the same element which, while belonging to either, stretches away into the infinite."
Likely enough I have not dwelt on this with sufficient emphasis, though I certainly have always felt it. But where there is so much room for thought, it is not easy in a short essay to bring out every aspect of the truth with the prominence it deserves. I am therefore grateful to the reviewer for supplying in some measure my deficiency.
The same writer then goes on to object to my defense of Wordsworth against being a merely
“subjective” poet, as it is called —- one who draws no pictures of human character different from his
Here again, though at the risk of quoting too largely, I must give the reviewer's own words. “If the terrible word subjective' means that poetry so described takes no note of external life and nature, it has, of course, no application to Wordsworth. But if it means that the individual imagination of the poet so overbalances the external features of his object that the point of departure seems in the end to have dwindled into insignificance in comparison with the grandeur of the forces which it has called up before him, we should differ with Mr. Shairp. Wordsworth takes a scene or character, and getting it under the magnifying-glass of his meditative genius, he follows out the most striking train of associations it suggests to him, till he describes, not his subject, but what his subject might have been, if these special influences had swept through it as pure and unalloyed as they swept over the heart of the poet who muses thereon.”
With much in this account of the matter I should not disagree. To one part of it only I demur. However great the flood of meditative light which Wordsworth pours around the object he describes, the object itself and its external features are not lost or obliterated before it. No doubt when he describes a man, he shows us much more in him and his character than the man was aware of in himself. He paints from the side of the soul rather than that of the body, but the meditative associations called up are universal and catholic, not individual or fanciful
And however powerful these are, the external features given remain and agree with the meditations that rise out of them. They answer each to the other. A painter could from Wordsworth's description paint the Cumberland Beggar, Michael, Peter Bell, and each would be a clear individual portrait, differing from the others not only in surroundings, but in every feature, and in the whole expression of countenance. The subjectivity, in short, which I denied to Wordsworth's characters, was that which belongs to so many of Byron's —- his Giaour, Corsair, Lara, Alp the Renegade, which are each so many pieces of himself, shadows of his own personality, colored by his own peculiar temperament and destiny. Any painter who tried to render these, vary their outward form and drapery as he might, would still paint but one expression -- the same misanthropic scowl would sit on every brow. It was the absence of this kind of subjectivity this projecting of his own mere individuality into his human characters that I claimed for Wordsworth. Probably enough, this may have been done too unconditionally; the limits of his power of representation may not have been carefully enough defined. What I meant was, that within certain limits he truly renders other characters than his own; that his meditations about them do not so far hide their distinctive features but that you would know them if you met them on the highway.
Further to enter into these matters, and to define the limits of Wordsworth's power in this direction for limits very definite it has would require more than a Preface. His characters are meditative representations, not dramatic exhibitions of men. For these last no poet ever had
The four Essays have all been carefully revised, and here and there retouched. In re-reading the Essay on Coleridge, I feel that in what I said but scant justice has been done to his poetry. But to reopen this subject would be to rewrite the essay.
That I have made too little of his poetry may have arisen from this, that my chief intention at the time I wrote was to bring out the contents and tendency of Coleridge's philosophic speculations.
The Essay on Keble has received larger additions than any of the others. Indeed, it would have been easy to have added much more, for hardly a year passes but brings to light something which gives new meaning to the character of Keble and 66 The Christian Year.” But if much enlarged, what was meant as an essay would have become a book.
ST. ANDREW's, December 7, 1871.