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LONDON QUARTERLY REVIEW.
FOR DECEMBER, 1841.
ART. I.-The Sonnets of William Words-minute and verbal criticism, which is, more worth. Collected in One Volume. Lon- often than it is generally supposed to be, the don 12mo. 1838.
only criticism that is of much value.
Of the many styles in which this poet has In our 104th Number we ventured upon the written, those of the Sonnets and of the Extask of considering Mr. Wordsworth's poetry cursion may be regarded as the farthest at large : but such a subject cannot be treat- apart; the Excursion being the most remarked as it ought to be within such limits, and able of his writings for breadth of style, the we are glad of the opportunity afforded by Sonnets for compactness. In a long philosothe publication of the Sonnets' in a separate phical poem which must necessarily tax the volume to endeavour to do more justice to a powers of attention, a current and almost part than we found it possible to do to the colloquial manner was best fitted to keep the whole. Not that justice can be done to a reader at ease, and a continued terseness of part of Mr. Wordsworth's or of any great diction and condensation of thought, though writer's works without having reference to apparently abridging his labours, in reality the whole. Every portion of such a writer's would have cost him more than it saved him. works has a value beyond its intrinsic worth, That the whole should be flowingly connect: as being part and lot of a great mind, and ed, so as to be turne in upon thie' nind with having correlations with every other part ; the weight of one stream, was more for the and whether it be from the unity of spirit interests of the subject than that pointed and which is commonly found to pervade the striking passages should diten occur. It was works of a great writer, whatever may be his also perhaps expedient that the substance of variety of manner, or whether it be that what was to be said in the Excursion should there is nothing he has written but must tell be supported by its own solidity and truth, us something of his mind (for even his com- and that it should be recommended by the monplace remarks will tell us that upon oc- natural eloquence of a fervid mind delivercasion he was willing to be commonplace), it sing itself of what is strongly felt, rather than is certainly the attribute of such writers to by any frequency of fanciful embellishgive the coherency of one interest to every- ment, or, as regards the rhythm, by any thing that proceeds from them: and far be it marked and salient melodies. These things from us to treat Mr. Wordsworth’s Sonnets were not to be excluded, but they were otherwise than as parcel of that great body to come as they might happen to present of doctrine and moral sentiment which con- themselves to a mind somewhat pre-occupied stitutes Mr. Wordsworth's mind extant in his they were to be merely occasional and inworks. But, by considering the Sonnets cidental. The Sonnets, on the contrary, ad. principally, and the other poems only in re- dress the reader, each claiming to be consilation to them, we shall be enabled to keep dered for itself and by itself; and though, as our remarks within compass, and yet to allow we have said, not altogether irrespectively of ourselves in some instances to enter upon its kindred with other works the issue of the VOL. LXIX.
same mind, yet mainly as a substantive Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom.
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence to me,
, was to abounding in Mr. Wordsworth's works, which take a different structure—was to be inspis- we have heard some persons complain that sated, as it were, and form itself into crystals they cannot understand, having read them in the Sonnets. The critic of these Sonnets meets on the erotic effusion of any glowing gentleman who
probably as rapidly as they would read any threshold of his task two which, being on the writes verses. Let us take more time than subject of this form of poetry, he is naturally such readers have to spare and more space called upon to notice first. The former of than is permitted to a sonnet
, and it will not them is that picture-gallery in fourteen lines, be difficult to evolve the doctrine. We which, though probably familiar to our read- should say, then, that the leading doctrine ers, cannot but be quoted here :
suggested by this sonnet is, that no enlarge“Scorn not the Sonnet: Critic ! you have frown
ment of a man's liberty of action can take ed,
place without a correspondingaggravation of Mindless of its just honours: with this key his moral responsibility, and that there must Shakspeare unlocked his heart; the melody needs be some souls which “ feel the weight of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch's of too much liberty,'—such, that is, whose wound;
liberty of action is disproportionate to their A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound; With it Camoens soothed an exile's grief;
strength of judgment or of self-control, and The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle-leaf
must therefore either oppress their conscience, Amid the cypress with which Dante crowned or vex them with the perplexities of an unHis visionary brow: a glow-worm lamp
determined choice or the consequences of an It cheered mild Spenser, called from Faery-land ungoverned will. Many, indeed, are they To struggle through dark ways; and when a who feel in one way or another this' weight damp
of too much liberty. The youth who is free
which is a burthen. The heiress who is How much of literaryi history is called up free to choose amongst many suitors, finds in the mind by these few wavid touches, and the difficulty of selection insuperable, and how much of biography and criticism is con- though perhaps any one of them might have tained in thiem!. Yet in this sonnet conden- been better than no husband, she lives and sation occasions ria obscurity-historical allu- dies unmarried. The child who knows that sion, sentiment, imagery, exquisite music, obedience will not be enforced upon him, distinctive portraiture—all find a place and yet finds no peace for his soul ; and the man who nothing is crowded. And as a fit introduc. is too absolutely his own master, will find tion to the other sonnet upon sonnets, which that he has got a troublesome servant. deals with some abstruser thoughts, we may 'Heaven bless thee from a tutor, and discipline beg those who complain of obscurity in Mr. come not near thee!' was a deep imprecaWordsworth's writings to bear in mind the tion, though put into the mouth of the comclearness of his language when the subject mon railer Thersites.* For Shakspeare is merely narrative or picturesque, and to ask would often speak his deepest truths in his themselves whether, when any difficulty oc- lightest moods. And by another and a curs, it may not be owing to the subject- graver poetical moralist, Obedience has been matter rather than to the treatment.
personified in the groom of the chambers
who puts the Red-Cross Knight to bed when "Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room ; he is tired :And hermits are contented with their cells; And students with their pensive citadels:
* Troilus and Cressida, Act ii. Scene 3,
• Then called she a groom that forth him led Wordsworth’s other works, which have a Into a goodly lodge, and 'gan despoil
bearing upon the same doctrine. Of puissant arms, and laid in easy bed :
In the ode entitled “The Pass of Kirkstone' His name was meek OBEDIENCE rightfully |(which we wish it were our business to quote ared.' Fairy Queen, i. x. 17. at length), the poet having by a toilsome as
cent and somewhat against his inclination Assuming then that only so much liberty as reached that Pass, describes the scene which can be steadily guided and readily subjected presents itself
, and addresses the road by which to the law of conscience will conduce to our he had gained the summit of the mountain: ease—no other liberty in truth than the 'service which is perfect freedom'—the second
· Aspiring road ! that lov'st to hide conclusion which we draw from the sonnet
Thy daring in a vapoury bourn,
Not seldom may the hour return is, that in parting with any excess of liberty When thou shalt be my guide; beyond this quantum, our contentment is And I (as often we find cause, best secured when this is done spontaneous
When life is at a weary pause, ly, and we are ourselves the choosers of the And we have panted up the hill yoke to which we will submit:
Of duty with reluctant will)
Be thankful, even tho' tired and faint, * In truth, the prison, unto which we doom
For the rich bounties of constraint; Ourselves, no prison is'
Whence oft invigorating transports flow,
That choice lack'd courage to bestow! For to have felt the weight of too much liberty is one assurance that we shall be content- have had in view the difficult question, wheth
In other poems Mr. Wordsworth seems to ed with restraint, and when the choice of the
er there may not be some individuals, to species and quantum of restraint has been our own, we should be accusing ourselves if whom, by a rare purity of moral constitution, we should quarrel with it. This is the case for the government of a life led under the in
Nature herself may afford a restraint adequate of the nun, the hermit, and the student. Auence of natural objects and a natural pieBut thirdly, there is noticed the case of those
ty:who have never felt the weight of too much liberty, and who have been spared the per * Three years she grew in sun and shower; plexities of choice by a necessity of circum Then Nature said, “ A lovelier flower stances born with them and rendering the re. On earth was never sown; straint which it imposes easy because habi This child I to myself will take; tual —
She shall be mine, and I will make
A lady of my own. · Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom.'
Myself will to my darling be
Both law and impulse: and with me And this restraint by habit and necessity The girl, in rock and plain, comes nearest in contentment to—fourthly, In earth and heaven, in glade and bower, restraint by instinct,—that of the bees Shall feel an overseeing power, which
To kindle or restrain.” · Murmur by the hour in foxglove bells.'
In the ode to Duty again, he speakes in the
same sense as in the sonnetSuch, then, are the views of moral restraint
• Me this unchartered freedom tires, indicated in this poem; and the drift of it is
I feel the weight of chance desires.' to bring this species of restraint into a comparison mutually illustrative with the restraint But the spirit of a moral liberty as growing imposed by the laws of the sonnet upon an out of the spirit of duty or tempered by it, is exuberant and discursive imagination. As in truth, the subject of the whole of this ode, of the moral will, so of the intellect: as in and we request the reader to refresh his rememlife, so in art. The law to which the son- brance of it in connection with the Sonnet last netteer submits himself, substitutes the re- quoted. straint of a mechanical limitation for restraint There are other passages in Mr. Wordsby effort of the judgment; and the 'steed of worth's works more or less bearing upon the the pen,' to borrow from a Prussian meta- subject; but we have quoted enough to exemphor, is enclosed, and cannot 'get loose upon plify the manner in which we would recomthe plain of prolixity. The fence is, to amend that the doctrinal class of Mr. Wordscertain extent, a substitute for the bridle. worth's sonnets should be studied-by the
We must not quit the subject of this sonnet light, that is, of his works at large and of the without adverting to some passages in Mr.'moral views which pervade them.
* Is Mr. Wordsworth, then,' it may be asked, which worldly pursuits are set aside. But so prone to repeat himself ? We answer
, we advert to it chiefly for the sake of plaundoubtedly he is; and we will venture to cing the view expressed in the last two lines, add that self-repetition is almost invariably in opposition to a belief almost universal in incident to men of genius, and constitutes a the zenith of Lord Byron's reputation, and great element of their power. The difference still somewhat prevalent, that a melancholy between such men and others is not only in the temperament is favourable to poetic genius; importance of the truths which occur to them, a belief from which the practical consequence but in the impression which a truth makes. followed that in our time, as in the days of A great truth coming into the mind of a great Prince Arthurman lives with him from that time forth, mixes itself with his thoughts in all moods of his Young gentlemen would be as sad as night
Only for wantonness.' mind, reproduces itself in many combinations, passes from him in sundry shapes, and, accor. We do not deny that a poetical mind will ding as his own mind is multiform and cogni- have its melancholy moods and seasons, and zant of many varieties of mind and mood in we would even admit that a pensive melanothers, this truth proceeding from it thus re- choly, as an occasional mood, may be more peatedly and variously, finds access to one frequent with such a mind than with others. reader in the shape of a passage in an ethical In these very sonnets of Mr. Wordsworth's, poem, to another in that of a sonnet-to one there is a strain of melancholy feeling to be in a form in which he can comprehend it in met with in many a page: but Mr. Words, its entire scope and extent, to another, or to worth's melancholy is not that of a languid the same in another mood, in a form in which self-occupied recluse; it is a melancholy he can remember and quote it. The same which alternates with the spirit of enjoyment truth may have entered a thousand minds be- and carries with it the spirit of consolation, fore, but the ordinary mind grew tired of it and is penetrating and rational,-'a melanand dismissed it, whilst to the other its value choly compounded of many simples and the as a truth is more than its novelty as a thought, sundry contemplation of his travels.' We and gives it an eternal freshness. It has been speak of Mr. Wordsworth therefore, as well our good fortune to have listened to the con- as with him, when we say that a mind which versation of most of the great writers of the is strong and elastic in its general texture, is present age, and we have observed that they as propitious to the highest order of poetic all repeated themselves more than other men, genius as to any other agency which is to be and that this did in no respect detract from powerful over mankind. The reveries of a the interest of their discourse, but rather en- fantastic sadness or of a gloomy seclusion can hanced it, as what recurred often was what we yield but a meagre product in poetry, as most wished to dwell upon.
compared with the meditations of a mind The sonnet at page 48 is an exhortation to which is not only contemplative but vigorous temperance in grief, on the ground that the and buoyant, and above all, active in its sogifts of genius are impaired by excess in it:cial sympathies. For the highest poetry
must be founded in knowledge and wisdom, "From the dark chambers of dejection freed, and informed by a spirit which, though clear Spurning the unprofitable yoke of care,
and pure, is conversant with the ways of Rise, Gillies, rise: the gales of youth shall bear Thy genius forward like a winged steed.
men, observant of their passions and transacThough bold Bellerophon (so Jove decreed tions, and interested in all that concerns In wrath) fell headlong from the fields of air,
them. It is true that nothing can be more Yet a rich guerdon waits on minds that dare, unpoetical than a strong and vivacious spirit If aught be in them of immortal seed,
which is also hard and selfish ; and true also And reason govern that audacious flight
that this may be the more common combinaWhich heavenward they direct.—Then droop |tion : but it is the un-common combination
not thou, Erroneously renewing a sad vow
of great susceptibility and tenderness with In the low dell 'mid Roslin's faded grove:
not less of strength and vivacity, which makes A cheerful life is what the Muses love,
the truly poetical temperament. And with A soaring spirit is their prime delight.'--p. 48. regard to sympathy for suffering, though it is
often supposed to belong more peculiarly to To a mind of high intellectual aspirations, those who suffer in themselves, yet we are to there is perhaps no earthly motive for con- distinguish between the occasional sufferings quering a sorrow so likely to be effective as of a strong spirit bending, but not broken, and that which is here suggested; for though the absolute subjection of the mind to sufferearthly, it is not worldly ; on the contrary, it ing as a permanent state. In the former case harmonizes with a state of the feelings in the recollection of past sufferings is keen