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"Hooked far something that I could not find,
He is bewildered by his own tranquillity, which he compares to that of a plant "glassed in a greenhouse,"
"That spreads its leaves m unmolested While every bush and tree the country Is shaking to its roots."
And strangely amid the blaze and camage of the time conies his record of his long walks and talks with his friend Beaupuis, the patriot soldier who afterwards
"Perished fighting in supreme command. Upon the borders of the unhappy Loire."
When the march of events quickens, we find him again in Paris, not so tranquil, but yet musing and pondering as he wanders about looking for traces of the September massacre which had happened just a month before, and gazing upon the scene of that terrible tragedy
"As doth a man
His heart is troubled; he cannot understand the meaning of this bloody interpolation in the tale of freedom. His imagination yields to the terror that broods in the air. When he reaches the high and lonely chamber under the roof where his lodging is, he watches all night trying to read by intervals, unable to sleep, thinking he hears a voice cry to the whole city, "Sleep no more!" and feeling that the place, "all hushed and silent as it was," had become
"Unfit for the repose of night, Defenceless as a wood where tigers roam."
Yet notwithstanding this impression of pain and doubt, his conviction of the justice and inevitable success of the cause was unwavering. "From all doubt," he says,
"Or trepidation of the end of things.
So profound was this faith, that when he returned home and found England excited by discussions about the slave-trade, he dismissed the subject with a certain contempt, feeling that if France and the cause of freedom in her prospered, all other questions were settled in this one, and every wrong must be redressed. There is nothing in the poet's life so strange as this plunge of his disciplined
and law-loving nature into the wild dream of the Revolution. The anguish it caused him, as the dream gradually dissipated and hope died away, is but lightly touched; but he tells with sorrowful vehemence of his dismay and despair when he found his own country joining in the alliance against patriot France and the cause of freedom, which had survived the Terror and all its excesses—
Given to my i
He cries with sharp pain. He can say no prayer for success to the arms of England, nor thanksgiving for her victories. This is the strange light under which his contemporary eyes regarded the action of England, at a moment upon which we now look back with so much pride. Wordsworth looks on and sees the expedition fitted out, the fleets ready to sail, with tears of indignant passion in his eyes. "Oh pity and shame?" he cries. To him this intervention so potential as it turned out to be—so splendidly different, as many people think it, from anything England could or would do now—was an act which tore away
*' By violence at one decisive rent
From the best youth in England their dear pride
Their joy in England."
Thus strongly does Time change the aspect of affairs, and blind one generation to the hopes and passions of another.
It may be said that this stormy and terrible chapter in Wordsworth's life was but the natural outbreak of revolutionary feeling so common in human experience, an episode which, while full of youth's wildest vagaries, is quite consistent with the equally natural conservatism of maturer years. We think, however, that the effect it produced on the poet's mind and genius gives it a more important character. There is something in the peculiar tone of his philosophy throughout all his afterlife which tells of a great shock undergone, and an immense mental effort made, to justify those ways of God to man which are at once the stumbling-block and the strong-hold of all thinking souls. Personal loss would not have driven his disciplined and self-controlled nature into bitter and painful encounter with this great problem as it does some minds ; but the vast question of a nation's well-being, and the still more poignant misery of beholding what seemed to him the holiest and highest of causes lost in excess and crime, was such an argument as might well have moved the calmest. He could not accept it without an effort to account for it, and harmonize this extraordinary undercurrent of discord which seemed to have broken into the majestic chorus of the universe by will of the devil, not by will of God. And accordingly he tells us with lofty sadness how, in the downfall of his hopes, he was not without that consolation and "creed of reconcilement" which the old prophets had when they were called by their duty to denounce punishment and vengeance, or to see their threats fulfilled. This is the conclusion he comes to while yet his heart is wrung and all his nerves tingling :—
"Then was the truth received into my heart
Thus from this great shock and mental tempest came the melancholy yet lofty philosophy which runs through all Wordsworth's works—his constant endeavor to prove, if we may use such words, the reasonableness of sorrow in the theory of human existence—the necessity for it, and the grandeur of its use, which justified its employment. "Honor, which could not else have been." This is putting the argument in a much stronger way than that sickening suggestion that "everything is for the best," with which the commonplace comforters of this world do their little possible to aggravate grief. The reader will find how persistently Wordsworth holds by this thread of belief through all his works. He makes it a principle even that sorrow past becomes lovely, "not sorrow, but delight;" and that there is misery
"That is not pain To hear of, for the glory that redounds Therefrom to humankind, and what we are."
This is his constant theme. He will allow no grief to be dwelt upon for itself—no pang to be suffered without some compensation. "The purposes of wisdom ask no more," is his verdict after the first tears have been shed, and the first sharp pang of pity has gone through the heart.
His "Wanderer" turns away "and walks along the road in happiness," when he. sees how calmly nature has composed the ruin and disarray of Margaret's deserted cottage. Anguish and despair, however bitter, must pass away, and good remains, or ought to remain, in their place. This is the imperative doctrine which he preaches, perhaps all the more earnestly because it is difficult for the mind to hold by it through all the miseries of the world. It was the doctrine with which, in the face of the gigantic calamities of France, he had endeavored to comfort his own sore and bitterly disappointed heart.
After he returned to England—" unwillingly," he says—he lived what he himself calls an "undomestic wanderer's life" for some two years. His friends wished him to enter the Church, which he was now of fit age to do ; and he himself^ anxious by any means to escape that necessity, made some attempts to gain admittance into the feverish field of journalism. But it is clear that his desultory and self-governed youth had not qualified him for the regular work and restraint which any profession would have demanded; and both these dangers were speedily staved off by the death of Raisley Calvert, a young friend with whom he had been travelling, whom he attended through his last illness, and who left to him the sum of ^900. This was no great fortune, it is true, but to Wordsworth, who had nothing, it meant independence, and almost salvation. "This bequest," he wrote some years later to Sir George Beaumont, "was from a young man *ith whom, though I call him .friend, I had had but little connection; and the act was done entirely from a confidence on his part that I had powers and attainments which might be of use to.mankind." This opened at once a new life to the poet; the troublous and uncertain existence of his early years came to an end, and with grateful gladness Wordsworth settled down, as so few people are able to do, to carry out his own theory of life, and shape his career as he pleased. Even at this early period, a pervading consciousness that he was not as other men are, and that it was fit and becoming that extraordinary means should be taken by Providence and his friends to fit him for his mission, is evident in all he says. Thus he celebrates the memory of his young benefactor with a
sense that poor Calvert's life has been well expended in this final effort, and that be has acquired by it a title to immortality. "This care was thine," he says,
"That I, if frugal and severe, might stray
It was at this point, all its early disturbances and convulsions being over, ;hat the poet's life, as we have learned to know it—the serene sober existence, "plain living and high thinking," which he afterwards made into an ideal life among the Westmoreland hills—began. The choice was a strange one to be made by a young man, just twenty-four, who up to this time had shown a love for wandering and adventure, and who had just come through a crisis of intense political excitement. To such a one, the observer would naturally conclude, active life, society, the applause of his fellows, and intercourse with them, would have been the first things sought; but such was not the decision of Wordsworth. His head was full of the highest theories of life and poetry, and he was already his own judge and standard, holding lightly the opinions of others. There is a certain mist of ardor and friendliness "in youth which conceals the harsher features of character; but already it is apparent that Wordsworth considered most things primarily as educating influences for himself, and means of perfecting his individual being. For this, in a great degree, the French Revolution had been; and for this—with all tenderness, with all grateful affection acknowledged, but still for this—poor Calvert died. What could men do for the man whom already God had so marked out for special care and training? The world was profoundly interested in everything that could be done to increase his powers and develop them, but the world was incapable of helping much in that great work. Nature, his nurse and instructress of old, and the silence and quiet in which alone great seeds of thought can germinate, and great projects ripen—these were the aids which he needed most.
And here, too, another personage comes into the tale. The brothers of Words
worth were all by this time afloat on the world; one in business as a solicitor in London, one at sea in that noble East India Company's service, which then opened a career to sailors; and one entering upon that highly successful career of fellowships and prosperities which ended in the mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge. The only other member of the family, Dorothy, the sole sister, had been brought up in the home of an uncle. Her character was a peculiar one. She was impetuous, impulsive, and irregular—the kind of creature who flourishes best in the indulgent atmosphere of a natural home. She had been separated from her brother since their childhood, and now at the first moment when their reunion was possible, seems to have rushed to him with all the impetuosity of her nature. Without taking his sister into consideration, no just estimate can be formed of Wordsworth. He was, as it were, henceforward the spokesman to the world of two souls. It was not that she visibly or consciously aided and stimulated him, but that she was him—a second pair of eyes to see, a second and more delicate intuition to discern, a second heart to enter into all that came before their mutual observation. This union was so close, that in many instances it becomes difficult to discern which is the brother and which the sister. She was part not only of his life, but of his imagination. He saw by her, felt through her; at her touch the strings of the instrument began to thrill, the great melodies awoke. Her journals are Wordsworth in prose, just as his poems are Dorothy in verse. The one soul kindled at the other. The brother and sister met with all the enthusiasm of youthful affection, strengthened and concentrated by their long separation, and the delightful sense that here at last was the possibility of making for themselves a home. He had the income arising from his ^900; she had ^100, a legacy which some kind soul had left her; —and with this, in their innocent frugality and courage, they faced the world like a new pair of babes in the wood. Their aspirations in one way were infinite, but in another, modest as any cottager's. Daily bread sufficed them, and the pleasure to be derived from nature, who is cheap, and gives herself lavishly without thought or hope of reward. The house in which they settled would seem to ha\e been the first rural cottage which struck their fancy. It was not even in their native district, which had so many attractions to them both, but in the tamer scenery of Dorsetshire, if anything can be called tame which is near the sea. "The place was very retired, with little or no society, and a post only once a week." It was called Racedown Lodge, near Crewkerne. "I think Racedown is the place dearest to my recollections upon the whole surface of the island," Miss Wordsworth wrote at a later period, with fond enthusiasm. "It was the first home I had." Here the two young poets—for such they were, though one was voiceless —lived and mused, and observed everything that passed around them. They took long walks on the breezy downs, and gazed with brilliant young eyes which noted every ripple and change of color over the sea. They gardened, no doubt, full of novel delight in the space of ground which, for the moment, they called their own, and read with industry—"if reading can ever deserve the name of industry," Wordsworth says, with his perennial indifference to books. Their own youthful vigor and freshness of feeling, and unbounded hope, no doubt, kept them from any oppressive sense of the monotony of their existence; and so completely sympathetic and congenial were the pair, that their own society seems to have sufficed them for two long years, during which there is no record of their career. In this period Wordsworth wrote his one drama, "The Borderers," a performance scarcely worthy of him, which did not see the light for fifty years, and which even now, we believe, is known to the great majority of his readers only by name. And up to this time we are not aware that he had done anything which could, by any but the most extraordinary insight, be considered as affording promise of the splendid future before him. He had published a volume of "Descriptive Sketches of Lake and Alpine Scenery," not much above the average of university composition, a few years before; but it would have required the eye of a true seer—one possessed with the gift of divination—to discern the author of " The Excursion" in those smooth and softlyflowing lines.
Such a seer, however, there was, enlightened by the kindred gift of genius, as well as by that ardent youthful enthu_
siasm which so often makes a right gress, though on perfectly fallacious grounds. The name of this first critic who knew how to appreciate Wordsworth, and foresaw his future glory, was Samuel Taylor Coleridge. "Seldom, if ever," he had said some time before, after reading the "Descriptive Sketches," "was the emergence of an original poetic genius above the literary horizon more evidently announced." We are not told how the two poets were brought to personal knowledge of each other; but in the summer of 1797, Coleridge appeared at Racedown, and their friendship seems to have at once become most warm and close. They plunged into sudden acquaintance, sudden love. There is something very whimsical in Miss Wordsworth's record of the first evening they spent together. "The first thing," she says, "that was read after he came, was William's new poem, the 'Ruined Cottage'" (afterwards embodied in the first book of "The Excursion"), "with which he was much delighted; and after tea he repeated to us two acts and a half of his tragedy 'Osorio.' The next evening William read his tragedy, 'The Borderers.'" This was an appalling commencement; but notwithstanding the. temptation to smile over such a portentous way of occupying the placid nothingness of an evening "after tea," there is something in the sublime mutual confidence of the two poets, their intense youthful gravity, and superiority to all that is ridiculous in the situation, and their absorption in the grand pursuit which was opening before them, which turns the reader's smile into sympathy. Great as their fame is now, and much as they have accomplished, no doubt there glimmered before them, in the golden mist of these early days, many an impossible feat and triumph greater than any reality. They exhausted themselves in eager theories, exchanging plans and fancies as they walked with their young heads reaching the skies over the combs and uplands. Half spectator, half inspirer, the deep-eyed rapid girl between them heard and saw, and felt and enhanced every passing thought and scheme; and, with an enthusiasm which borders on extravagance, they all worshipped and applauded each other. "He is a wonderful man," writes Miss Wordsworth of Coleridge. "His conversation teems with soul, mind, and spirit." Cole
ridge, on his part, describes "Wordsworth and his exquisite sister" with equal fervor. "I speak with heartfelt sincerity, and I think unblinded judgment, when I tell you that I feel a little man by his side," he writes; and adds of Dorothy, "In every motion her innocent soul outbeams so brightly, that who saw her would say guilt was a thing impossible with her. Her information is various, her eye watchful in observation of nature, and her taste a perfect electrometer."
This rapid, mutual conquest of each other made by the three friends advanced so quickly, that in a month after the beginning of the acquaintance, the Wordsworths removed from Racedown to Somersetshire, to a house called Alfoxden, near Nether-Stowey, in which village Coleridge lived. This house was much larger than their previous one, and the country delighted them by its beauty ; but "one principal inducement was Coleridge's society," says Miss Wordsworth. They remained here for nearly a year, which Wordsworth himself describes as "a very pleasant and productive time of my life." De Quincey gives a curious sketch of the feelings of poor little Mrs. Coleridge (for the poet was already married), who could neither walk nor talk, when the bright apparition of Dorothy Wordsworth, not pretty, like the wedded Sara, but brilliant, hasty, sensitive, and sympathetic, burst upon her—the sharer of all the long rambles, and all the desultory wonderful conversations which were Greek and Hebrew to herself. With these little vexations, however, we have nothing to do; but wonderful were the wanderings by hill and dale, and sweet that summer, "under whose indulgent shade,"—
"Upon smooth Quantock's airy ridge we roved Unchecked, or loitered 'mid her sylvan combs."
The three made all manner of expeditions about the beautiful country, and all day long strayed, as we have said, with their heads in the clouds, weaving these visionary gossamer-webs of poetry, all jewelled and glorious with the dews of their youth, about every bush and brae:
"Thou in bewitching words, with happy heart,
Murmuring of him who, joyous hap, was found,
The communion of spirits even went farther than this. The "Ancient Mariner," for instance, was intended to have been a composition by the hands of both poets, and was destined to pay the expense of one of their little excursions. Wordsworth suggested (he himself tells us) the incident of the albatross, and of the navigation of the ship by the dead sailors, and furnished even an actual line or two to the poem ; but "our respective manners," he says, "proved so widely different, that it would have been quite presumptuous in me to do anything but separate from an undertaking upon which I could only have been a clog." This idea, however, of mutual publication, was the origin of the "Lyrical Ballads," which received so strange a reception from the world. The "Ancient Mariner" grew out of its first slight design into the great and wonderful poem it is ; and the little excursion among the Quantock Hills gave rise to the boldr est new essay in literature that had been heard of for a hundred years.
The "Lyrical Ballads" were published in September, 1798. The volume consisted of Coleridge's great poem, and of many of Wordsworth's, which are as fine as anything he ever wrote. Among them are the exquisite "Anecdote for Fathers" —most clumsy of titles, and most lovely of verses; the "Lines written in Early Spring ;" "We are Seven ;" and the beautiful "Tintem Abbey." The volume containing all these and many more was published by Mr. Cottle, the friend of Coleridge, in Bristol, who gave Wordsworth thirty pounds for his share in it. The book, however, sold so poorly, having been assailed by almost every critic who noticed it, that when Cottle, a short time after, sold his copyrights to Longman in London, he found this was considered absolutely of no value, and restored it to its authors. This was, as we have already said, the volume which contained Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner," a poem which was certainly not open to the charges of puerility and commonplace which were made against his brother poet. It was by Wordsworth, however, that the book was to stand or fall. Unfortunately there was in its very plan a certain polemical ten