페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

"The good God will bless you, madame. If He hears the prayers of such as I, He must bless you."

I got away,—I hate to be seen crying,— and then I went back to the shop where I had left Jemima getting an outfit for Th6r6sine. I had learned a lesson of

humility that day—I who have laid down the law to dear, short, stout, true-hearted Jemima all my life.

If we live till next year, we mean to go back to St. Roque, and see how Theresine fares at the H6tel Dieu.

Katharine S. Macquoid.

Macmillan's Magazine.

MADRIGAL.

O Dove, that dost bewail thy love

As I do mine,
Would that my woe could find the facile flow

Thou hast for thine!

Ii.

In every wood I hear thy voice

In loud lament,
While I am fain to send the sounds of pain

To banishment.

in.

Yet I divine thy heart and mine

Know the same grief,
But thine has utterance, while silent tears

Are my relief.

IV.

Let us divide our burdens, then,—

Mourn thou for me,
And I, who am too proud to moan aloud,

Will weep for thee!

Alice Horton.

Blackwood's Magazine.

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH.

No character could possibly be more unlike that of the gentle, timid, sorrowful, and lonely Cowper, than is the austere and dignified form—lonely, too, but after a different kind—which comes next after him, by natural descent and development, in the splendid roll of English poets. And it is not in our power to point out any moment of contact or apparent influence of one upon the other. Wordsworth, so far as we are aware, never even speaks of his predecessor—never acknowledges either admiration of or help from him. -Yet it is safe to say, that without Cowper Wordsworth could scarcely have been. The leap from Twickenham to

Grasmere direct is too great for human faculties. Cowper had not created a new school or style, but he had acted upon the very air of England as some subtile natural influence of which we know nothing—as the warm ripple of some GulfStream, the chill breath of some wandering iceberg, acts upon the atmosphere we breathe. Probably the young poets whose fame began with the new-bom century were not even aware that the brightened and more bracing mental air, the higher firmament, the clearer sky, meant Cowper, or meant anything but the evermysterious, ever-simple course of nature. Yet it is our conviction that "The Task"

had so far affected all the possibilities of composition in England, that already "The Excursion" had become likely, if not inevitable. The laws of natural progress and inheritance had come into operation, independent of any consciousness on the part of the inheritor. Wordsworth was affected as a child is affected by the character of his father whom he has never seen, nor even had any mental intercourse with, as between soul and soul. He received his gift darkling, warm from the hands which had held it, without knowing, or apparently much caring, whose hands these were.

But these were the hands which had taken up again the old heritage of English poetry—the mantle of Milton, if not his power. Cowper had lifted those singing-garments, which his generation pronounced to be out of fashion, from the grave of the old poets almost unawares, and with the old fashion had returned to old nature—nature ever young and ever fresh —as the source of his inspiration. He had done it without knowing what he did, timidly, apologetically, never sure that the fresh landscape and sweet natural scenes he loved might not be quite inferior to the moral subjects which he ought to have been treating while his truant soul went off, in spite of himself, to the grateful woods and dewy fields. He was doubtful; but his successor was more than certain—he was dogmatically confident, that nature was not only a lawful teacher, but the supreme and only guide. Cowper made the needful beginning, the thousand deprecating apologies to outraged art and an unprepared public. Wordsworth placed himself on a serene and patient throne, above both art and public, and waited without doubt till they should come to his feet who would never bow to them. Thus, as in almost all intellectual revolutions, the first step was made in uncertainty and doubt; the second, with confidence and daring. Cowper laid the foundations of the structure, another came and built on it, scarce knowing, not caring, what was beneath. The work of the one rose naturally out of the other, greater than the other, of higher range and infinitely superior power ; but yet, as Scripture has it, not to be made perfect without the other, any more than the writers of the full revelation could be perfected without the. prophets who had prophesied

New Series.—Vol. XIV., No. 5.

in darkness, not knowing, but by snatches, what the real importance and significance of their burden was.

It may be said, however, here, that the absence of all consciousness on Wordsworth's part of the work of his immediate predecessor may be much explained by the fact that Wordsworth himself was little moved or influenced at any time by books. He is perhaps a unique example of mental character in this respect. Himself possessed of the highest literary genius, he was indifferent to literature. This, of course, is not to say that he was unmoved by existing poetry; on the contrary, he confesses to being "by strong entrancement overcome,"

*' When I have held a volume in my hand, Poor earthly casket of immortal verse, Shaksreare or Milton, laborers divine!"

But such entrancement does not seem to have been much more than the inevitable homage which is forced from every man who permits himself to come into contact with the great singers of the world. Wordsworth did not seek such contact, nor require it. He was indifferent to books; they were not even his constant companions, much less his masters. His mind was formed and moulded by other influences. He developed alone, like a tree fed by the dews of heaven, and strengthened by its sunshine, unaware of either pedigree or husbandry. He was without father or mother in his own consciousness, like that mysterious priest in the darkness of the patriarchal ages to whom the father of the faithful himself did homage. But no man can stand thus apart, except in his own consciousness. The laws of descent and inheritance are nowhere more stamped than in the line of genius, where every man receives something from the past to be handed on to the future; becoming in himself at once the heir of all the glorious ages and the father of our kings to be.

The early career of Wordsworth is one of curious independence and apparent separation from the ordinary influences that affect mental growth. He seems, like Cowper, to have lost both his parents at a very early age; his mother when he was but eight, and his father when he was in his fourteenth year. He was born in 1770 at Cockermouth, of an old and respectable family, with all the advantages

36

and disadvantages of " good connections," —abundance of friends to advise and find fault, but none apparently with absolute authority over him, or sufficiently interested in him to afford him a permanent home. In the partial autobiography contained in "The Prelude," his school, and the "gray haired dame" with whom he lived there, bulk much more largely than any kindred household. Hawkshead, a kind of humble Eton, would indeed seem to have afforded a most fit training to this son of the mountains. It is—for we presume it still exists, and that no marauding commissioners or school board have yet laid irreverent hands upon the poet's cradle—a foundation of the sixteenth century, planted in a village in the vale of Esthwaite, in the heart of the lake district, surrounded by mountain-peaks, and possessing a little lake of its own. The boys boarded in the cottages about in Spartan simplicity, and such freedom as only the English school-boy knows. They learned little so far as lessons go, but trained themselves under nature's stern but kindly rule to bear cold and heat and fatigue, and to do and dare under pressure of all the inducements held out to them by the crags and lakes and wild fells around them. Of this primitive existence Wordsworth gives us a fine and animated picture. He shows himself to us, a boy full of the courage and restlessness of his age, taking his share in all that came. He was one of those who "hung above the raven's nest by knots of grass and half-inch fissures in the slippery rock "— he rode "in uncouth race" with his companions, and held his place among them when summer came, and

"Our fortune was on bright half-holidays
To sweep along the plain of Windermere
With rival oars."

The reader will recollect the beautiful description of skating which occurs in the same poem, and in .which one seems to Cesl the sharp cutting of the frosty air— the orange sunset dying away, the blue darkness full of stars, and the lively glimmer of the cottage-windows, "visible for many a mile," which invited, but in vain, the joyous boys to the fireside and supper which awaited them. In all these sports the poet seems to have taken his full share. "We were a noisy crew," he says, with the half-smile, half-sigh, of a man re

calling the brightest period of his life. But beside this bright, natural picture runs one more delicate and as true. It is, perhaps, too much to take the descriptions in "The Prelude "—a mature man's reflective view of his own childhood, and all the influences which formed it—as an actual picture of the far less conscious processes which were going on in the mind of the boy. Yet there is a certain etherial perfume of poetic childhood in the narrative which proves its authenticity. The boy lifts the cottage-latch,

*' Ere one smoke-wreath had risen From human dwelling, or the vernal thrush Was audible;"

and betakes himself to "some jutting eminence" overlooking the half-visible lake, to watch the dawn stealing over the vale. He wanders through the woods at night, and feels himself " a trouble to the peace that dwelt among them." He turns back with trembling oars "when the great shadow of a distant peak" obtrudes itself between him and the stars, feeling "a dim and undetermined sense of unknown modes of being." Thus he moves a twofold creature, attended even in the noisiest of sports bythat visionary self, which ponders and dreams. The world breathes mysterious about him—the veil of its marvels keeps ever trembling as if about to rise. The strange confusion of wonder and joy which possesses the brain of a gifted child, the elation which has no cause, the incomprehensible inspiration which tingles through him, the sense of novelty and mystery, of sadness and delight, which broods over everything, sweet, penetrating, and indefinite, has never been so delicately nor so fully painted as in "The Prelude." Such a child goes about the world wrapped in a delicious mist of tender wonderment and gladness, something that is sweeter and more subtile than music murmuring in his ears—the very silence round him rustling as widi wings of the unseen—the tiniest flowers claiming kindred, blooming as it were for him alone. Everything is a surprise to him, and yet everything is familiar. He has no words to express the exquisite consciousness of existence, the mysterious and awful, and sometimes oppressive, sense of his own individuality—his union with, yet absolute separation from, the dumb, dim, incomprehensible, beautiful universe which surrounds him. Thus Wordsworth felt, unknowing what it meant, the world a wonder round him, and himself the greatest wonder of all. This mixture of infinite, vague, visionary sensibility, and the riotous, unthinking existence of a school-boy, is the great charm of " The Prelude"—a poem which probably never will be popular, but which, in many ways, stands alone in literature. The poet's biographer gives, with perhaps a wise judgment, nothing but the facts of his early life—its real history he is allowed to tell himself.

Cambridge does not seem to have had the same genial effect upon him. Here he came under a new kind of influence, and one to which he was much less susceptible. The world of books and of men, of historic traditions and conventional ways, awaited him at the university, and the peculiar constitution of his mind made him impatient of their sway. He was indifferent to books; and he was not very susceptible to personal influence, except when the mind which wielded it was in perfect sympathy with his own. When we add to this, that all his impulses were democratic and republican, that he was little inclined to yield to authority, and all his life long despised and detested everything that he considered conventional, it is not difficult to perceive how it was that his college career was neither delightful to himself nor very satisfactory to his friends. His first vacation carried him back to Hawkshead, a forlorn refuge for the lad who had no natural home to receive him, but yet a kindly and tender one. With exuberant youthful pleasure he returned to the familiar place, to the care of " my old dame, so kind and motherly," and to the boyish friends and occupations he had left; and there is no finer passage in the poem than his description of this return, his mingled pride and shame in his own changed appearance, and the thoughtfulness with which he lay down in the accustomed bed,—

"That lowly bed whence I had heard the wind Roar, and the rain beat hard; where I so oft Had lain awake on summer nights to watch The moon in splendor crouched among the leaves

Of a tall ash, that near our cottage stood,— Had watched her with fixed eyes, while to and fro

In the dark summit of the waving tree,

She rocked with every impulse of the breeze."

Here it probably was, though he does not give any positive information on the subject, that Wordsworth learned as a young man to know the "Matthew" who has been made to live forever in three of his most perfect poems. They were not written till years after, but the mere hint of Matthew's existence in this vale, which is not referred to anywhere except in the poems bearing his name, adds to the interest with which we think of Esthwaite. He, it is clear, must have impressed his character on Wordsworth as no one else ever did; for there is no such sympathetic and tender personal portrait in all the poet's works. The more elaborate pictures of " The Excursion " are as gloomy sketches in sepia, in comparison with the bright yet touching color and freshness of this wonderful miniature. The man, all human and wayward, stands before us visibly, with the smile on his face and the deep sadness in his heart;—his mirthfulness, his social humor, his unspoken depths of sorrow and wistful loneliness— the profound imaginative poetry of mind that lies below his quips and jests—are all lighted up in one or two suggestive glimpses, which make him to us as a friend we have known. To our own mind, there are none of Wordsworth's short poems which surpass, and few that equal, those entitled "The Fountain" and "The Two April Mornings." Curiously enough —a fact which adds to the touching character of the poems—they were written in the chill depths of a German winter, in the lonely little Saxon university town where the poet passed some months of the years 1798 and 1799. His heart must have been sick for home, and dwelling—oh, how tenderly !—upon the dear old vale, with its lake and its white cottages, when Matthew's fun and sadness, his heart at once light and heavy, came so vividly to the young wanderer's poetic mind.

Wordsworth was not, he allows, even a creditable student, and he does not seem to have made a pretence of any anxiety to please his friends, so far as his studies went. He was penniless; and his best hope was to do, what many a virtuous youth has done—to work his way to a fellowship, and from that to a living—delivering thus his relations and himself from the burden of his poverty. But Wordsworth did not do this. Had he not been a great poet in embryo, he would have been indeed a very reprehensible young man, when he set out with twenty pounds in his pocket, escaping from all cares and discussions, to France, in his last college vacation; but as the result has so long justified his undutifulness, the severest critic can find nothing to say. It was in July, 1790, on the eve of the day when the unfortunate Ixmis XVI., with his winding-sheet already high on his breast, took the oath of fidelity to the new constitution, that Wordsworth and his travelling companion set foot first in France. The country was half-mad with joy and self-congratulation. Old things —such old things as oppression and tyranny and injustice, the Bastille, and those terrible seignorial rights which had eaten like a canker into the very heart of the nation—were passing away, and everything was about to become new. Wordsworth threw himself into the joy of the awakened nation with all his heart; it affected him to the very depths of his. being, if not in the way of absolute sympathy, at least of interest, as the grandest exhibition of human enlightenment and progress towards the perfect then known. So greatly indeed was he moved by it, that after returning to Cambridge to take his degree, and wandering about for seven months in an objectless way, the excitement of the struggle going on across the Channel once more attracted him so, that he rushed back again to France, leaving the prospects and necessities of his life to settle themselves. He alleges that this second journey was in order to learn French ; but it is very apparent that it was the whirl and rush of the revolutionary stream which had sucked him in.

This forms the one chapter in his life which is like nothing before it nor after— the one strange youthful fever, of intensest importance to himself at the moment, but entirely episodical, and without effect upon his life. It is curious indeed that, drawn into the immediate circle of this great convulsion as he was—made to feel, as it were, the tremor that ran through all the mighty limbs of the nation—he should have been able to drop back again into his homely English groove, so little altered by the contrast. At the same time there are few historical studies more affecting and instructive than the account given in "The Prelude" of this extraordinary chap

ter in the world's history and in this young man's life. It brings die old well-known picture of the French Revolution, so often painted and in such different colors, before us in yet one new and original way. Wordsworth had thrown himself, with something as near passion as was possible to him, into that new Gospel of brotherhood and freedom which turned so many young heads and filled so many hearts with hope. Not for himself only, but as the type of his generation, he sets before us the new revolution, which roused it into passionate excitement, hope, and delight. The Golden Age was coming back, to elevate and change this commonplace world. Genius, goodness, merit, the higher qualities of mind and heart were to be henceforward the titles of rank, the keys of power, the only real distinctions; and, as a natural consequence, oppression, misery, poverty, crime, and every evil thing, were to disappear from the face of a renovated earth. "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very Heaven ! Oh times, In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways Of custom, law, and statute took at once The attraction of a country in romance! When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights. When most intent on making of herself A prime enchantress, to assist the work . Which then was going forward in her name.

What temper at the prospect did not wake
To happiness unthought of? The inert
Were roused, and lively natures rapt away I
They who had fed their childhood upon dreams,
The play-fellows of fancy, who had made
All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength
Their ministers. . . .

They, too, who of gentle mood
Had watched all-gentle motions, and to these
Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more
mild,

And in the region of their peaceful selves;—
Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty
Did both find helpers to their heart's desire,
And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish,—
Were called upon to exercise their skill,
Not in Utopia—subterranean fields,—
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!
But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us—the place where, in the end,
We find our happiness, or not at all I"

Our space does not allow us to follow in detail the remarkable sketch he gives of his own position and thoughts in the midst of revolutionary France. His musing attitude, even in' the fervor of his sympathy, is very characteristic. He picks up a stone from the dust of the Bastille as a relic, yet confesses that

« 이전계속 »