Imágenes de páginas

friends of liberty throughout Europe. The Republic was to have been a matchless organization in the interests of justice and mercy, and behold it proved a gigantic engine of violence and bloodshed! Curiously, yet naturally enough, instead of being led by this example to set down the intrinsic value of all organizations at a low figure, Wordsworth took refuge in the old; and gradually, yet most completely in the long run, lapsed back into a narrow conservatism, in matters both of church and state. To all the liberal movements, political and social, which in England have marked the era of peace succeeding the great continental wars, he was strongly opposed. He resisted the emancipation of the Catholics, because he conceived it would lead to the civil establishment of Popery in Ireland; and he would not hear of English dissenters being admitted to the ancient universities. He objected even to Bible Societies, because they brought sectaries and churchmen together. The Reform Bill was an abomination to him; and of Mechanics' Institutions he wrote:-" They make discontented spirits, and insubordinate and presumptuous workmen. Such, at least, was the opinion of Watt, one of the most experienced and intelligent of men." His high churchism in particular he seems to have carried to the extreme of vulgar spite; for in a letter. dated May 10, 1830, after noticing Miss Steward's poems, he mentions Mrs Barbauld as a person who, with much higher powers of mind, was spoiled as a poetess by being a dissenter, and concerned with a dissenting academy!!!"

[ocr errors]

This extreme reaction from new-fangled to old-fashioned formulæ, how common soever it be on the disappointment of extravagant hopes in the former, was yet wholly unworthy of Wordsworth's mental powers. It is probably to be accounted for by that same despair of humanity, on which some highly-accomplished persons found their adherence to the Papacy. Believing that, in matters of religion, mankind are to be divided evermore into the dupers and the duped, these persons are content that the majority should continue to be duped in the good old medieval way. In like manner Wordsworth, believing that, in mundane things, man kind are to be divided evermore into the leaders and the led, was content that all the accustomed harness, blinders included, should' remain upon the latter. His premises were right, his conclusion wrong; for it is also true that, in the long run, they who think must govern them who act; and by virtue of this principle, he who believes in Providence sees it to be not only fair but safe to completely emancipate the individual. Wordsworth's heart was not at fault; for he sincerely believed that the people were better off in the hands of the aristocracy than they would be in their own. But it is amazing that such a man, whose whole life was spent in contemplation, should not have risen to the higher truth just enunciated, and to a nobler faith both in man and in God.

His own experience as an author must also be taken into account in considering the phenomenon of his narrow-mindedness in political and social affairs. So far as his poems were concerned, the English public divided itself very markedly into the initiated and the profane. The former were confined to a select and highlyeducated few: the latter comprised the masses. Without insinnating that he was spited at the insensibility of the multitude, it

was yet quite natural that his personal experience in this respect should modify his feelings in all others; and that, while he should desire for his intelligent listeners the continuance of all their privileges, he should withhold power from those who, in regard to himself, were only brutish spectators,

The politician is often a mere incrustation upon the man, giving him a pestilential name sometimes, but not affecting in the least degree his soundness at heart; so that he who inexorably refuses concessions to the unprivileged in the mass, is often warm-hearted and generous towards them individually. The private bounty of such persons is the man's, their public stinginess the politician's; and these opposite manifestations co-exist in seeming independence of each other. In like manner Wordsworth the politician was a mere incrustation upon Wordsworth the poet. Not that the change which his views underwent could not be known from his poems, for the principal of these, being autobiographical, reveal it; and the poet's political istory is precisely that which accounts for opposition of thought between his earlier and later productions, whenever the subject handled is political or social. But under the dismal livery of retrogression, as under the gay one of all-hoping progress. Wordsworth's heart was equally instinct with poetic sympathies; and there never was a time in which his own words were not true of himself:

"Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, its fears;
To me the meanest flower that lives can give
Thoughts, that do often lie too deep for tears."

Much poetical activity has been anticipated in these last paragraphs; and the thread of the narrative must now be resumed. In 1793, when the "Evening Walk" and the "Descriptive Sketches" appeared, Wordsworth was twenty-three years of age and his friends, who reckoned his continental rambles mere loss of time, still urged him to enter the church. That, however, even after the disappointment of his hopes in the French Revolution, he still declined; and it is remarkable, as justifying his firmness in this particular, that, though all his poetry is serious, yet hardly any of it can be called sacred, even of that which he wrote after his High Church views were fairly formed. Like thousands in similar circumstances, Wordsworth saw his life-employment to be in the direction of literature, and found how difficult it is in this department to combine at starting adequate remuneration with congenial work. Being still a republican in principle, and eager to defend his theory from the crimes which had attended its realization across the channel, he projected, in 1794, a monthly miscellany, to be called The Philanthropist: but not even the first number of it ever appeared. On November 7 of the same year he wrote from Keswick to a friend in London, who held a newspaper appointment, inquiring into the probability of himself obtaining something of the same kind. The correspondence which ensued was such as would have taken him up to London, could he have found in his heart to leave the sick-bed of his friend Raisley Calvert, who was dying of consumption. The slow but relentless disease finished its work in the beginning of 1795; and

it then appeared that Raisley Calvert had bequeathed £900 to Wordsworth on public grounds. He believed that Wordsworth was fitted to render important services as a poet to his country and the world, and he hoped that this small legacy would procure for him a few years at least of fruitful leisure. The purpose was exactly fulfilled; for, whereas Wordsworth had been living, since his return to England, with friends in various parts of the country, he now took up house, settling with his only sister at Racedown, Dorsetshire, in the autumn of 1795. This sister was that Dorothy who, after as well as before his marriage, proved to Wordsworth another self, accompanying him in his rambles, writing to his dictation, chronicling the accidents of his life, and even catering for his muse. It is of her he says:

"She gave me eyes, she gave me ears,
And humble cares, and delicate fears;
A heart the fountain of sweet tears,
And love, and thought, and joy."

One of Wordsworth's first attempts, after settling at Racedown, to turn his genius to pecuniary account, was completely unsuccessful. It was a tragedy, called The Borderers, which was rejected at Covent Garden in 1797, though he went to London for the purpose of promoting its reception. It was not published till 1842, nearly fifty years after it was composed.

It was at Racedown, too, in June 1797, that Coleridge, who was then living at Bristol, paid his first visit to Wordsworth. Their acquaintance speedily grew into such mutual esteem, that shortly afterwards, when Coleridge took up his abode at Nether Stowey, Somersetshire, Wordsworth removed to Alfoxden, within three miles of that place. An excursion into Devonshire, which they undertook in company, gave rise to the famous ballad, entitled The Ancient Mariner. Their funds being low, it was thought that they might get £5 for a brief joint composition, and they set gaily to work upon the basis of a story furnished by Coleridge. Wordsworth suggested that the old mariner's imaginary crime should be the killing of the albatross, having been interested in this bird by the recent perusal of a book of voyages. The navigation of the ship by the dead crew was also one of Wordsworth's suggestions, and he contributed a line or two; but his style proved so different from Coleridge's that the attempt at joint composition was abandoned, and Coleridge worked up the story in his own way. The "Ancient Mariner," however, turned out a much longer performance than was originally contemplated; and, as the two poets had not found it possible to work together on the same piece, it was now proposed that they should separately contribute to a collection of pieces, Coleridge undertaking to impart a human interest to supernatural subjects, and Wordsworth undertaking to impart a poetic interest to subjects of ordinary life and nature. This was the origin of the Lyrical Ballads," of which vol. i. was published in the autumn of 1798, the greater number of them having been contributed by Wordsworth. Cottle, the Bristol publisher, gave Wordsworth £30 for his share of the copyright, and seems to have been himself a loser; for the first edition, which was only of 500 copies, went very slowly off his hands, and after

wards, when he transferred his copyrights to Longman, that of the "Lyrical Ballads" was valued at nil. On that account he begged it back, and presented it, out of compliment, to the authors.

Immediately after the publication of the "Lyrical Ballads," the two poets started for Germany. Sailing from Yarmouth to Hamburgh, they met there repeatedly with Klopstock; but they then took different routes, Coleridge proceeding eastward in company with a friend, and Wordsworth with his sister to the old imperial city of Goslar, where they spent the winter. One of Wordsworth's chief objects was to acquire a thorough knowledge of German, which he would have done much more effectually had he been alone; for complete immersion in the foreign element would then have been a necessity. He himself observed that he would have had much wider opportunities of intercourse with the natives, had his companion been a man and not a woman, or had he been alone; as it was, the Goslarites expected entertainment in return, which Wordsworth had not the means of giving.

He returned to England in the spring of 1799, at the close of which year, having spent the interval chiefly with his friends at Sockburn-on-Tees, county Durham, he fixed his residence in a small cottage at Town-end, Grasmere. He seems now to have resolved upon a life of poetical retirement, and in the following year, published vol. 2 of the "Lyrical Ballads." Opinions were still divided as to the merit of his productions; but he was now able to reduce the arithmetical value of adverse criticisms to zero by writing down as many favourable ones against them in a sort of daybook. Here is an extract from the folio of criticisms on "Nutting."

Mr C. W.-Worth its weight in gold.

Mr S.-Can make neither head nor tail of it.

In 1802, as has been mentioned, the outstanding claims of the Wordsworth family on the Earl of Lonsdale's estate, were satisfied; and the poet's share of the proceeds seemed such a buttress to his fortunes, that in the same year he married Mary Hutchinson, his own cousin. They had been at the same dame-school together at Penrith; and nothing but the bereavements so common, though so sad, in family life, ever disturbed their domestic happiness.

Wordsworth's poetical activity must not be measured by his rate of publication; for many of his productions, like the Tragedy already noticed, had a long private history, before they appeared in print. Thus the Prelude, finished in June 1805, had been commenced six years before in a fit of enthusiasm, which came upon him as he passed through the gates of Goslar city on his return to England. It lay forty-five years by him, received his final corrections in 1832, and was left for publication at his decease. The subject is the history of his own mind, and its development is traced from his earliest recollections to the commencement of his residence at Grasmere. The poem belongs to the class called metaphysical; and high though its merit in that kind be, it is neither interesting, nor indeed in many parts intelligible, except to those who, besides possessing an inward life of their own, have acquired some experience in the analysis of mental states. The composition of the Prelude was partly intended as an experiment to

see whether he was capable of a great effort. But a feeble murmur of approbation reached him from the outer world, and he was therefore obliged to seek for support within himself; nor has posterity pronounced him a fool. He has been acquitted of selfconceit, and what might have been so in others, is allowed to have been self knowledge in him.

From 1805 to 1813, there is nothing very notable to record either in the external history or in the poetical activity of Wordsworth. The cottage at Town-end had already in 1805 become too small for his increasing family. For the sake of more room, he spent the winter of 1806-7 at Coleorton, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, in a house belonging to Sir George H. Beaumont, to whom Coleridge had introduced him in 1803; and when he returned to Grasmere in the spring of 1808, it was to a larger house, called Allan Bank. From it he removed to the Parsonage in 1811; and it was not till 1813 that he finally settled at Rydal Mount, the residence, of all others, most closely and generally associated with his memory. All these spots are now sacred to the worshippers of genius; and even the mere tourist is indebted to Wordsworth for the descriptive letterpress, which he furnished in 1810 to a handsome work illustrative of the Lake scenery One of his prose compositions belonging to this period was even more unfortunate than his early volumes of poetry. This was an essay on the Convention of Cintra, in which he complained that the war was not actively enough carried on against France; it was published in 1809, but before it appeared, public interest in the matter had subsided, and, although only 500 copies were thrown off, most of them went to the trunkmakers. His only considerable publication as a Poet during this period was in 1807, when two volumes appeared containing his minor poetical effusions during the seven preceding years.

In 1813, the same year in which Wordsworth removed to Rydal Mount, he was made Distributor of Stamps for Cumberland and Westmoreland, an appointment the duties of which did not interfere with his poetical studies, inasmuch as he could discharge them by deputy, while its emoluments were a prop to his worldly fortunes. In the following year appeared the "Excursion," a continuation of the "Prelude," and of the same metaphysical charac ter. How limited was the number of readers who appreciated it may be inferred from the fact, that the first edition of 500 copies lasted six years, and the second, which was of the same number, and did not appear till 1827, lasted still longer.

In 1827, Wordsworth's friend and patron, Sir G. Beaumont, died, leaving him, by will, an annuity of £100 to defray the expenses of an annual tour. Even prior to this he had often enjoyed the luxury of travel, having visited Scotland in 1803, along with his sister and Coleridge, and again in 1814; the continent, including Belgium, the Rhine, Switzerland, Northern Italy, and France in 1820; and Holland in 1823. Nor were the means placed by Sir G. Beaumont at his disposal left unemployed. In 1837 particu larly he made a most extensive tour, of which Rome was the limit, over France, Italy, and Southern Germany.

It would be hard to say whether, from this period onwards, Wordsworth's trials or honours came thickest upon him. In 1834

« AnteriorContinuar »