ously altered. I suffer in the chest; I renew their faith in the ultimate coinci havé wakefulness and a dry cough. Idence of “truth and poetry.” have got much thinner, my face is pale as Wordsworth cannot be made popular death. The doctor says that my blood But one thing more might be done to give is impoverished, calls my sickness an fair play to his “elective affinities," and anæmia, and orders Gastein. My steward to remove the increasing difficulties of swears that without me he will not know understanding him, which time bring how to settle with the peasants. Faith! with it; his poems might be re-arranged let them settle with themselves.

in chronological order, and each of them But what mean certain sounds, perfect- might be accompanied with an explanaly distinct and clear, as from a harmonica, tion of the circumstances of its composi that I hear whenever one speaks before tion. Wordsworth is a poet, whose me of the death of anybody?. They be- poetry gathers closely about his life, and come stronger and stronger, louder and cannot in many cases be fully appreciated louder. And why this doleful shiver at except by those who carry in their minds the sole thought of annihilation ?

some picture of the occasions when it was produced. From this point of view the present arrangement of the poems is altogether misleading and artificial - de

pending mainly on some psychologica From Fraser's Magazine.

view of the relations of the different fac WORDSWORTH.

ulties, fancy, imagination, the affections It is to be hoped that the well-chosen etc., - a view which is not very distinct selection of Wordsworth's poems which and which, at best, is foreign to the real has been edited by Mr. Arnold may do interest of poetry. Nor would Mr. Ar something to extend the knowledge of his nold's arrangement of the poems as bal characteristic excellences. Wordsworth's lad, lyric, elegiac, etc., be much of an poetry, indeed, can never become popu- improvement as applied to the whole of jar. It is like a pure fountain of living the poems - however fitting it may be for water, hidden away from the trodden paths a selection. The reader of poetry does of literature. To those who seek in po- not want illustrations either of abstract etry only the idealized echo of common psychology or of the philosophy of art passions, it must always appear cold and the only thing he need care for — beyond tasteless. It courts us with none of the the individual poems themselves — is the usual subsidiary charms and illusions of connection they have as different expres verse ; and it requires, at first, something sions of the same poetic spirit. And this like a moral effort ere we can put our- in the case of Wordsworth at least selves into the temper for enjoying it; he must care for, if he would fully under “We must love it, ere to us it will seem stand their meaning. Any one who will worthy of our love.” It requires us, in a take the trouble to read the poems in the sense, to become as little children, to di- order in which they are mentioned in the vest ourselves of all artificial associations “ Life of Wordsworth," and with the exand secondary interests, of all that hides planations there given, will •at once feel the essentials of humanity, and to enter a this. Wordsworth's biographer truly region where everything is estimated at says, that “the poems, to be studied the price which it has for the simplest and profitably, should be read chronologi most universal human affections. On cally;” and Professor Knight, in his the other hand, to those who can bear the interesting volume on “ The English Lake shock of this reversal of the usual stand- District as Interpreted in the Poems of ards of judgment, and can overcome the Wordsworth” (preface, p. 21), has urged first recoil of the “natural man” from the the necessity of an edition such as we outward sternness and plainness of have described. We hope that, before Wordsworth, and the feeling of incon- long Professor Knight, or gruity, or even absurdity, which is occa- equally competent, if such can be found, sionally produced by his insensibility or may be induced to undertake the labor of indifference to ordinary associations, his such an edition. In that case, all that is poetry will be a source of that highest possible will have been done to remove poetič pleasure which accompanies a outward hindrances to the appreciation of deeper sense of the harmony of the world, Wordsworth, and it may safely be left to and the soul of man. It will be a kind of time, to raise to his proper place a poet religious retreat from the jarring and in- whose fame depends so little upon temconsistency of things, in which they can Iporary or accidental attractions, and so

some one

[ocr errors]

much opon the deepest and most perma- " If the time should ever come, when what nent sources of human emotion.

is called science, thus familiarized to If thou, indeed, derive thy light from heaven,

man, should be ready to put on a form of Then, to the measure of that leaven-born light, divine spirit to aid the transfiguration."

flesh and blood, the poet will lend his Shine, poet, in thy place, and be content !

Wordsworth thus makes poetry the counWordsworth was a poet who took his terpart and coadjutor of philosophy, in so vocation in earnest. He rejected as in- far as it is the business of philosophy, by sincere “poetic diction ”the old invoca- a last synthesis, to bring the manifold tions of the Muse; but no poet ever had truths of science into unity with each a deeper sense of being a “dedicated other, and with the mind of man. spirit;” a vates sacer, whose inspiration There are many critics at the present did not come from himself. He was for day who tell us that such a view of the bimself prophet as well as poet, one whose office of the poet is altogether erroneous, vocation was not merely to please men, and that poetry has nothing to do with but to teach them with what they should the teaching of truth, or with truth in any be pleased. “Every great poet," he says, shape. Some go so far as to say, that “is a teacher. I wish to be considered what we have to regard in a poet is not either as a teacher, or as nothing." what he has said, but simply how he has When the critics of his day reminded him said it. It is probably by way of protest that the end of verse is to produce pleas- against such a uoctrine, that Mr. Arnold ure, he answered that an original poet has allowed himself to say that “poetry has to create the taste by which he can be is essentially a criticism of life;" which enjoyed. Of genius in the fine arts the it is, in the same sense in which there is only'infallible sign is the widening of the “a moral shut in the blossom of a rose," sphere of human sensibility;” “Genius is or in which a good man may be said to be the introduction of a new element into the a living criticism upon a bad one. For it intellectual universe.” And he met the cannot be denied that, in poetry, the form neglect and ridicule, with which for many is the first thing. Its function is pure years his poetry was treated, with an un- expression for its own sake, and the conshaken faith that it was founded upon the sideration of what is expressed must be truth of nature, and that it could not but secondary. The Muses would undoubtfind or make its audience. Nor did this edly prefer a good bacchanalian song to conviction relate only to forın of expres- Zachary Boyd's metrical version of the sion, but also to the content or matter Bible. Yet, after all, we cannot reckon it expressed; indeed the one could not be a great poetic advancement to write the separated from the other. Wordsworth best possible drinking-song. Perfect, or believed that he had a fresh and hitherto relatively perfect, expression being given, unexpressed view of man and his relations we must ask what is expressed, and we to the world to communicate, although he cannot give the name of sacred poet to recognized that it is not the function of the “idle singer of an empty day," but ibe poet to deal with truth directly, but only to him who can express the deepest only as it can find sensuous expression in and widest interests of human life; nay, beauty, and be made part of the emotional only to him who is in sympathy with the bie of man.

The man of science seeks progressive movement of mankind, and truth as a remote and unknown benefac- who can reveal to us new sources of 107, he cherishes it and loves it in his thought and feeling that have not before solitude : the poet, singing a song in which been touched. The only poetry that, in all human beings join with hini, rejoices the long run, “humanity will not willingly in the presence of truth as our visible let die,” is that which contains not mere friend and hourly companion. Poetry is variations on the old themes, but “things the breath and finer spirit of all knowl. unattempted yet in prose or rhyme. edge: it is the impassioned expression Now Wordsworth can stand this test as which is on the countenance of all sci- well as any poet who ever lived. There eace.” Wherever, in fact, science ceases is no poet who is more distinctly unique to be a merely external thing; wherever and of his own kind, no poet the annihii:s isolated truths are brought together in lation of whose works would more obvirelation to humanity, and are thus made ously deprive us of a definite and original part of our immediate consciousness of vein of thought and sentiment. And ourselves, they become, in Wordsworth's there is no poet, below the great masterviex, capable of poetic treatment. “ Po- lights of poetry, Homer, Shakespeare, ety is the first and last of all knowledge.” | Dante, and Goethe, whose work is só

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

independent of theirs. Out of Goethe markable that a tone of majesty so often one might carve the materials for most of prevails in his best passages; for majesty the modern poets of the second rank; is of all tones that in which an elemen but neither out of Goethe nor any one of artificiality or false sentiment mos else could one carve the materials for easily betrays itself. The reason seems Wordsworth. And when Wordsworth is to be that Wordsworth always writes (as at his best, he stands quite on the level he tells us the poet should always write of the very highest.

“ with his eye on the object.” Unfortu After saying so much, we are bound to nately it is sometimes the eye of the mer add that Wordsworth is often not at his observer which isolates the object ob best — that there is a defect in his utter served from all others, not always the eye ance which distinctly separates him from of the poet which finds the whole in ev the greatest poets, and which at times ery part, and, so to speak, dissolves th depresses him below even the second immediate perception of separate facts ir rank. His inspiration is lacking in con- the unity of one animating idea. Henc tinuity, and he is apparently unable to the conscientious exactness and faithfu distinguish when he is inspired and when ness which kills everything like rhetoric he is not. He feeds us at one time with sometimes also checks and kills the move angel's food, with “star-fire and imnior- ment of poetic imagination. Thus t tal tears," and at another time with the take an example from the first passag homeliest bread and butter of moral com- that presents itself - in the beginning o monplace. Such poems as “The Star- the dedication to the “Sonnets on th gazers,' or the sonnet written "near River Duddon" we find the followin Dover,” show the abruptness with which verse: – he falls and rises, from prose to poetry, from poetry to prose. Sometimes we are

The minstrels played their Christmas tune tempted to think that he struck off a few

To-night beneath my cottage eaves : lines in the first heat of vision, and after

While, smitten by a lofty moon,

The circling laurels, thick with leaves, wards coolly filled in the rest when the

Gave back a rich and dazzling sheen vision had departed. Such shocks of That overpowered their natural green. transition we do not often meet with even in second-rate poets; for, when poetic In the last line the resolute exactness inspiration fails, they generally have rhe- Wordsworth is no doubt seen, but th torical resources to help them over the very carefulness with which he describe difficulty. But Wordsworth is almost the appearance before him seems to tak entirely free from rhetoric: he has no us away from the "synthetic mood ” callida junctura to disguise the union of poetry, in which the living spirit of th the products of pure imagination with whole must overpower and subordinat less valuable materials. His poetry is the distinct appreciation of the detail sometimes like a geological stratum, Yet again – for the defects of genius ar which has been partially transformed by strangely bound up with its qualities fire, but in which unchanged masses of this prosaic exactness has for its counte sand and pebbles are embedded. The part what we may call a poetic exactnes baldest matter of fact, and the barest of mind; a simple and direct grasp of th moral commonplace, are, throughout “The truth which gives to Wordsworth’s trea Excursion” and “The Prelude," put ment of the most subtle and evanesce side by side with “ thoughts that breathe of spiritual influences, something of t? and words that burn." But even this precision of a scientific definition. E defect of Wordsworth seems to have a writes with his eye always on the objec counterbalancing advantage. Just be- and he describes what he sees “in world cause he makes no artificial effort to raise to which the heaven of heavens is a veil himself above the level of prose, but with the same firmness of touch which i only lets himself be raised by the swell- uses in dealing with “some simpler ma ing' tide of inspiration, there is a genu- ter of to-day:' ineness, an authentic stamp of poetic The confusion just indicated betwe insight on his best work which cannot be two kinds of truth

- the truth of poet mistaken. One proof of this is that, imagination, and the truth of simple obse however often repeated, his utterances vation – seems to underlie Wordsworth never seem to become hackneyed. There æsthetic heresy – that poetry is not d is nothing unreal or rhetorical in them to tinct in kind from prose, and that“ the la spoil; and gold, when it is quite pure, guage of real life,'' as he calls it, when pu will not rust. And this is the more re- fed from degrading or conventional e

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

ments, is at once adapted for poetic uses. Before them shone a glorious world, Wordsworth's determination to get rid of Fresh as a banner bright unfurled the meaningless “poetic diction," then in

To music suddenly. fashion, and to seek the poetic in the nat

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, ral, makes him forget the immense dis

But to be young was very heaven. inction between the utterance which is un end in itself and the utterance which To such spirits the Revolution in its sa means to an end. As philosophers first dawn appeared to promise the absohave said that the “real is the rational,” lute liberation of man from the yoke of 50 a poet may be allowed to declare that custom and tradition, and to put the highbe "real is the poetic;” but this must est social good within his immediate not be understood to mean that the world, grasp. They felt as men awaking from a as it is to mere common sense and the charmed sleep, and the evils of the past ordinary understanding, is in itself poetic, were in their eyes like the creations of a but only that there is nothing in the world troubled dream, which the daylight must which cannot become poetic, if it is seen forever banish. It seemed to them for sub specie aternitatis, under the “light the time that the hindrances to human that never was on land or sea.” But happiness were merely external, and that though Wordsworth sees that the conse, with the removal of a few corrupt institucration and the poet's dream are needful tions the social ideal could be at once ere the world can be what it is to the realized. “ Nature” was that sound kerimaginative insight of the poet ; yet often, nel

, that basis of truth and goodness in both in practice and theory, he encour- humanity, which would be reached at once ages the idea that there is no vital distinc- by simply removing a few husks and tion between the prosaic and the poetic excrescences which had overlaid and conview of the world, and therefore between cealed it. the modes of language in which each has Of those who felt the contagion of the to be expressed.

enthusiasm of hope which prevailed in We cannot, however, fully appreciate France in the dawn of the Revolution, no the strength and the weakness of Words- one was more deeply influenced by it than worth, without looking beyond these for- Wordsworth, for it appealed to thoughts mal considerations, and asking what are and feelings which had been growing the main ideas by which he is guided and strong in him through all his earlier eduinspired, or, in other words, what is the cation among the Cumberland hills. It content of his poetry. Wordsworth would made him conscious of himself and of probably have been willing to accept it his vocation. Wordsworth, indeed, was as a fair description of his

work that he never, so far as we know, a worshipper of had brought poetry back to nature. But Rousseau.*. Indeed he never was one this only suggests another question — who learned much directly from books; obat did Wordsworth mean by nature ? | his reluctance to reading was at all times The generation to which he spoke was great, and in later years grew into posione to which the lesson “Return to na- tive aversion. But he was singularly

was preached by many voices, and responsive to the influences of outward with many shades of meaning. Indeed it nature, and also, at least during his youth might be said without much exaggeration and early manhood, he was deeply moved : that the whole labor of that generation, by the spirit of the times in which he + speculative and practical, was an effort to lived. As he paints himself in “The Pre

discover the true interpretation of that lude,” we see that the one strong power - old maxim of the moralists. The bound that moulded his early life was the dear s less hope of the regeneration of man, of native region;" and he refers but doubtthe liberation of his "nature” from the fully and coldly to any other teacher.

powers that oppressed it, and prevented Thé simple, almost rustic freedom of the - its manifestation, which was expressed in life which he then lived in the hills of

diferent ways by Rousseau and by the Cumberland took so strong a hold upon : Encyclopædíst, found an echo in all civil- him that he never cared for any other.

ized countries. And almost every youth He had Rosuseau's distaste for what wbo afterwards showed anything of the seemed to him the luxurious and artificial

power of genius was swept away by the life of cities. Det enthusiasm of humanity that at.

tended the first stages of the French • He quotes Rousseau only once, I think, in the Revolution.

Epistle to the Bishop of Llandaff."


66 The

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The services of artificial life, the remarkable pamphlet which he wrote And manners finely wrought, the delicate race against the Convention of Cintra, he de Of colors lurking, gleaming, up and down, nounced that convention as showing or Through that state arras woven with silk and the part of the English generals an utter gold,

disregard of the moral forces arrayec ... I neither knew nor cared for.

against Napoleon. And in his fine son Every high and pure feeling in him was, nets: “On National Liberty and Inde as he tells us, associated with the life of pendence” he expresses his convictior shepherds.

that these forces are everything. Love had he found in huts where poor men lie, power of armies is a visible thing, formal

and circumscribed in time and space,' His daily teachers had been woods and rills, The silence that is in the starry sky,

and it cannot conquer the “subtle ele The sleep that is among the lonely hills. ment,” the irrepressible force of national

life, which “rises like water." The only effect of his stay at the Uni

Winds blow and waters roll, versity of Cambridge seems to have been to drive him back upon himself, and to

Strength to the brave, and power and deity,

Yet in themselves are nothing. make him feel that he was not for that hour, nor for that place.” In “ The Pre- Wordsworth's political changes have lude” his almost comic apologies for his been the subject of considerable comneglect of the studies of the university ment. And it is true that in the someare mingled with doubts whether it would what narrow conservatism of his age we have been for his advantage to have at, almost lose sight of the young enthusiast tended to them. And before the natural who rejoiced in the name of republican. term of college life was reached he had His later hostility to France he could, defied the censure of his friends, and indeed, justify by saying that the same escaped with a chosen companion for a principles_which' led' him to sympathize long walking-tour in France, Italy, and with the French when they were defendSwitzerland, which supplied the subject ing their liberties, made him turn against for his earliest published poem, the “ De them when they became the enemies of scriptive Sketches."

But the joy of national liberty in other countries. Yet France, then in the first enthusiasm of this alone will scarcely carry us over the liberty, took hold upon him, and he re- gulf that separates the disciple of Rousturned to that country to watch for more seau, who wrote the “ Epistle to the than a year the course of the Revolution Bishop of Llandaff” and the “ Descrip

- of which, indeed, he was in some dan- tive Sketches,” from the panegyrist of ger of becoming a victim if he had not Laud and Charles the First, who wrote been recalled to England by his friends. the “Sonnets on Ecclesiastical History.' The deep despondency, and almost ae- The truth is, that Wordsworth's antago spair, into which he was thrown by the nism to the abstractions of revolutionary events of the Reign of Terror, and still theory carried him ultimately, as it carried more by England's declaration of war many at that time, dangerously near to against the French republic, are pictured the opposite extreme. Besides, we mus in his autobiographical poem, and also not expect too much of any human life in_his_ account of “the Solitary,” in and the flow of Wordsworth's inspiration “The Excursion.” Living in the Isle of began about the year 1816 to give place Wight, he tells us how his heart sank to the inevitable ebb. The struggle was within him as he listened every evening over, and a repose, which was partly the to the cannon of the English feet; he repose of age, stole upon his mind even confesses that he rejoiced in every With a few notable exceptions, the prod defeat or disaster of the English armies, ucts of his genius after this period ar and that he only became reconciled to the the imperfect echoes of the old music war with France when France seemed to or, as in the case of the “Sonnets op become a weapon of the ambition of Na- Ecclesiastical History," they are a kind poleon. After the French attack upon of poetical exercises, which are rather Switzerland, however, bis sympathies burden than an addition to his earlie changed, and even began to run with works. It would be one of the advan vehemence in another direction. France tages of a chronological arrangement o was now to him the great oppressor of the poems that it would separate thi the world ; and in some of his noblest feebler “aftermath ” from the first ric verse he greeted every appearance of harvest of the muse. national resistance to the conqueror. In Leaving out of account this tribute t

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »