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These lines appeared for the last time in the edition of 1807. Wherever there is poetic beauty inherent in the subject selected, Wordsworth's simple mode of treatment is perfectly successful. Witness his poetical treatment of the poultry-yard in the "Evening Walk," p. 236, introduced by the lines:
"Not undelightful are the simplest charms,
Found by the grassy door of mountain farms."
Yes; but to describe these charms with dignity in a serious poem is a most difficult achievement; and Wordsworth has accomplished it by so vividly representing the details of the actual scene, that his reader forgets the describer, and becomes absorbed in the picture itself. This is not the baldness of the letter, but the charm of Nature.
Archbishop Whately, with that happiness of illustration for which he is remarkable above all contemporary writers, compares the eloquence of some orators to moonlight, which draws attention to itself, and that of others to sunlight, which directs the eyes and thoughts of the beholder, not at all to itself, but to the grand and beautiful scenes which it lights up. The same distinction exists among poets, who are orators too, only that their eloquence is set to the music of verse. Wordsworth expressly aspired to the higher glory of sunlight; for he studied, by truth of representation and simplicity of diction, to paint the living scene just as it is, meaning that it should then speak for itself. For this very reason, however, his claims to rank high were but slowly acknowledged. Bright colouring and magniloquent diction attract the attention of the multitude at once; for a staring daub is always more striking to the vulgar eye than a finely-toned picture, which overdoes neither the forms nor the hues of Nature. Accordingly, the first edition of his "Evening Walk" and "Descriptive Sketches" was long in being exhausted; and minor critics, as daring as fncompetent, pronounced his verses doggrel. Coleridge, however, who was then at Cambridge, formed a very different estimate. Biographia Literaria he says:-" During the last year of my resi dence in Cambridge I became acquainted with Mr Wordsworth's 'Descriptive Sketches;' and seldom or never was the emergence of original poetic genius above the literary horizon more evidently announced." All men of genuine sympathies and profound thought confirmed this verdict; and the circle of Wordsworth's readers gradually widened. Even now, however, he cannot be be reckoned among the popular poets: just because men of the stamp requisite for appreciating his somewhat recondite genius do not, and indeed never can, form the majority.
Conscious that his poems were the result of genuine feeling and hard-won thought, Wordsworth had from the beginning a firm faith that posterity would do justice to them; and his grand affliction in 1793 was not the indifferent reception given by the English public to the "Evening Walk" and the "Descriptive Sketches," but the decapitation of the French King, and the declaration of war by England against France. These events gave a shock to his moral being, the force of which can be estimated only by those who can realize the extravagant expectations of human progress, which the dawn of the French Revolution enkindled in the breasts of the
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 con cerned with a dissenting academy!!!"
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. 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 be lieves 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 a count 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 highly. educated few: the latter comprised the masses. Without insinuating 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 in xorably 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 s cial. 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,
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 reali zation 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, coula 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,
One of Wordsworth's first attempts, after settling at Racedown, to turn his genius to pecuniary account, was completely unsuc cessful. 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 pub lisher, 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