Imágenes de páginas
[blocks in formation]



ON the 7th April 1770, WILLIAM WORDSWORTH was born at Cockermouth in Cumberland. As he did not, like Byron, awake one morning and find himself famous, but worked his way, by slow degrees, to a distinguished position in the British Parnassus, so his ultimate greatness was not foreshadowed by an extraordinary childhood. Nothing, indeed, is known of it but what he himself has left on record, viz., that he was a child of a stiff, moody, and violent temper, so much so as on one occasion, when staying at Penrith, to have gone up to a garret, in a fit of rage, for the purpose of killing himself with a foil. His courage failed, like that of many others, both boys and men, in like circumstances; and had not Wordsworth been peculiarly given to internal retrospection, for the purpose of minutely tracing the development of his own mind, this incident might have been forgotten, and certainly would not have been recorded.

At nine years of age Wordsworth was sent to Hawkshead grammar school, then a flourishing seminary in Lancashire. The boys who did not belong to the immediate neighbourhood were boarded with the dames of the place,-as certain old women who let lodg. ings were called,-an arrangement preferable on many accounts to the modern one, which crowds a multitude of boys under one roof. In school-barracks there is no training for the affections, whereas at the humble fireside of the village dame there is much; and every arrangement, which brings the various classes of society into such relations as give rise to kindly personal feelings, is a bond of union not to be lightly cast away in an age, when the estrangement of classes is becoming a palpable danger. Wordsworth makes kindly mention of the dame with whom he lived, and of the room where he

This is

"Had lain awake on summer nights to watch

The moon in splendour couched among the leaves
Of a tall ash, that near our cottage stood."

fine picture, but its significance is derived from the futuro: for, when the inan undertakes to draw the boy, he usually

antedates his development,-1t being almost as difficult to realize one's former self as to realize another self altogether.

At the age of fourteen Wordsworth became an orphan. His mother had died of consumption at Penrith, her native town, in the year before he was sent to school at Hawkshead; and his father, who never fairly rallied from his grief at her loss, was taken away six years afterwards. How little precocious was Wordsworth's genius, appears from the fact that, whereas the constant endeavour of his subsequent poetical activity was to reproduce his own experience, neither of these events awaked the hitherto dor mant muse within him. His first verses, indeed, were a schooltask on the Summer Vacation of 1785. It is remarkable, how ever, that, besides those on the prescribed subject, he handed in other verses on the Return to School; and that versification became from this time forward a regular habit, all the adventures which excited him, and all the scenes which pleased him, being described in song. The long, steady flight of his muse agreed well with the unromantic circumstances of his first ascension into the poetic heaven: great resources, with little impulsiveness, but with a steady will, were characteristic of Wordsworth's literary career throughout.

This early period was, for another reason, quite an epoch in his poetical history. He says that it dawned upon him about this time, that an infinite variety of natural appearances had been left unnoticed by all poets; and he resolved to supply the deficiency. Hence the minute, sometimes topographically minute, description of natural scenery, and the detailed analysis of past mental states. with which his poetry abounds.

On the death of Wordsworth's father, Sir James Lowther's estate, for which he had been law-agent, was indebted to the family in £5000; but the claim was not acknowledged, and a lawsuit was undertaken to enforce it. This law-suit dragged its slow length along till 1802, when the new Earl of Lonsdale acknowledged the claim, and satisfied it by paying £8000 to the Wordsworths. In 1787, however, fifteen years before this seasonab.e supply came to the family, Wordsworth had been sent to St John's Cambridge, of which his maternal uncle, Dr Cookson, had been Fellow. During his under graduateship there, Dr Chevalier, the master, died; and, according to custom, the pall was strewed with elegiac verses, tributes of respect and affection from the students to his memory. Wordsworth, however, made no such contribution; and when Dr Cookson, who hoped that he would have dis tinguished himself on this occasion, asked him the reason, he answered that he had never known the deceased, having merely seen him now and then in the college garden. A proud spirit, conscious already of its high vocation, might have thus refused to bewail an event which had not even ruffled the surface of its own sympathies, and a moody-tempered youth, such as Wordsworth describes himself to have been as a child, might have given such an answer merely by way of evasion; but the real explanation of his refusing a contribution to the funeral wreath of Dr Chevalier probably lies in the fact, that he was already, on general grounds out of harmony with the college system. The era of the Frencb Revolution was dawning at this time; and it must be remembered

that that was the outburst of a fermentation which had long been going on in the minds of men, and these not Frenchmen only. The English universities, just because they impose so much of the past upon the present, and glory in doing so, were of all places the most likely to become the scene of occasional premonitory explosions and Wordsworth's college-life, though it never broke out into open rebellion, was yet on the whole a smothered revolt. The amount of conventionalism intertwined with any system is usually in proportion to its antiquity, just as the quantity of dead bark on a tree is in proportion to its age; for as each returning year clothes the vegetable trunk with a new rind, so does each returning cycle of human development call for a new outward expression of the inward life. Were the generations of men independent of each other, each would cast off the outward expression of its predecessor, even as the serpent casts its skin. But dependence is the law; and the destiny of each generation, as of each individual, is to preserve a part of what is old, and to initiate a part of what is new. Ancient institutions, however, like the English univerEities, are naturally tenacious of the old, and suspicious of the new; and, on the other hand, young men are disposed to couple "old" with "abuses," and "new" with " improvements." At a time, then, when the modern age was on the eve of asserting, on so grand a scale, its right to an outward expression of its own, it is no won der that a truth-loving youth like Wordsworth, whose whole career afterwards was a crusade against conventionalism in poetry, should have sulked at conventionalism in the studies and form of English university life. To take but one instance, which Wordsworth has himself adduced, when the students were hunted into attendance on the daily service in the college chapel, while their pastors and masters regularly neglected it, what wonder if the more clear-headed and honest-hearted among the former came to regard it as a sham, and their superiors as impostors! It was merely because the contemplative element prevailed over the active in Wordsworth's constitution that, instead of breaking out into open rebellion, he only muttered his protest; and, when he withheld the customary lament from Dr Chevalier's bier, it was in strict conscientiousness as a dissenter from the conventionalism of the place.

How little Wordsworth did actually sympathize with English university life while he was in it, appears from the almost total silence of his muse during his residence at Cambridge, the only verses, which he is known to have written there, being those entitled "Written while Sailing in a Boat at Evening." The sail in question is understood to have been on the Cam. Nor does what he wrote elsewhere during the academic period, the "Evening Walk" for example, seem to have been suggested, or in any way whatever affected by academic scenes. It is remarkable, too, as showing his comparative indifference to college studies and college honours, that the vacation, immediately preceding his examination for the B.A. degree, was devoted to a Continental ramble, in company with Robert Jones, a fellow collegian from Wales. This was a pedestrian excursion, and so extensive that it seems wonderful how the £20 a-piece, with which they set out, phould have sufficed. Landing at Calais, they trudged on by

Lyons to Switzerland and the Alps; then, purchasing a boat at Basle, they floated down to Cologne, and returned, as they had gone, by Calais.

After taking his degree in 1791, Wordsworth visited London and then North Wales, being attracted to the latter by the resi dence of his friend Jones in the vale of Clwydd. He who feels himself out of harmony with surrounding things, naturally seeks for relief in change of place; and Wordsworth, whom his friends were tugging in one direction, whilst himself was tending in another, now resolved upon returning to the Continent; not, however, this time to make a tour there, but for the purpose of residing in France. He set out in the autumn of 1791: Paris, Orleans, and Blois were successively his head-quarters; and, being entirely cut off from communication with the English in the provincial towns last-mentioned, he became thoroughly master of the French language. His residence on the banks of the Loire is also remarkable on account of the "Descriptive Sketches," most of which were composed there. He returned to England in the close of 1792.

Such was the state of France during the thirteen months of Wordsworth's residence there, that it was impossible for all his energies to be engaged by lingual studies and poetic musings. In 1792 the royal authority was suspended by the Legislative Assembly, and a Republic proclaimed by the National Convention. Of both measures Wordsworth was an enthusiastic approver. In the uprising of the French people against things as they were, he saw a repetition, on a gigantic scale, of his own private struggle against an oppressive conventionalism; and he firmly believed that the national heavings were but the throes of political and social regeneration. His friends wished him to prepare for episcopal orders; but he had returned to England with a stone from the ruins of the Bastille in his pocket, and the tide of his sympathies ran anywhere but in the accustomed channels prescribed by old institutions like the Church of England.

In 1793 Wordsworth ventured into print by publishing the "Evening Walk," addressed to his sister, and shortly after it the "Descriptive Sketches." In both these productions the conscientious working out of his poetical system clearly appears. He considered that the conventionalism reigning in poetry, regarding both the matter and the manner of treatment, was fatal to real power and truth; and that the function of the poet was not to make poetry, but to show men the poetry which God has made in all creation. Accordingly, he would not allow any subject whatever to be rejected as in itself unpoetical; and, in respect to diction, he almost restricted himself to the every day language of men. He came at length to see that these principles are not of unlimited application;-as indeed what principles are?-and he even expunged in later years some passages which his taste, sophisticated by his theory, had allowed him to write. What, for instance, could be more bald than the following from the "Highland Boy ?"

"A household tub, like one of those

Which women use to wash their clothes,
This carried the blind boy."

« AnteriorContinuar »