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pleased, or, still less, convinced of the possibility of being pleased by such methods; the cause of this state of feeling, so little favourable to a candid hearing of the poet, must be sought in the vanity of self-love; in the sensitive alarm, lest a willingness to be touched or delighted in a new way might imply, that they had been heretofore in the wrong; that by allowing the poet to have succeeded in opening sources of poetic pleasure, of which they were not before aware, they must, at the same time, allow his superiority to themselves. The general herd of readers, who know little of poetry further than that it is verse, and the cultivated critical few, seem, in this instance, to have reasoned alike: in both the feeling of antipathy has been equally alive, and for reasons equally vulgar and unphilosophical.
In drawing up the body of reasons why the poetry of Mr. Wordsworth could not possibly be received as poetry, the censors of the Lyrical Ballads seem to lay a mighty stress on the daringness of the innovation; an innovation as old as the dog of Ulysses, and the deer of Jacques; which consists in awakening sympathy by a few slight strokes of artless incident, and in appealing to the primitive simple feelings of the human heart.
Clarendon and Gibbon were both historians, Chatham and Burke were both orators, Addison and Johnson were both essayists; yet if we except the unity of certain common principles, they have no less a peculiar distinctness of character the one from the other, than Reynolds from Opie, or Gainsborough from Wilson. We have schools of painting; we have styles of literature; we have classes of poetry; or is it in the latter that one mode of excellence can alone be tolerated? such, indeed, would appear to be the canon of criticism which governs the taste of more than half mankind. French pedants have sat down to try Shakspeare by the standard of Aristotle: (with the spirit of whose institutes, indeed, he is far more conformable than is vulgarly thought:*) and have decided, that he is ignorant of tragedy, by a careful examination of the drama of Sophocles. Similar has been the method of judgment put in practice towards the contemporary writers of every age. They are compared with those who preceded them, as the former in their time were approved or condemned, in proportion as they conformed to some arbitrary classic model of the age that was past. At the appearance of a poet who thinks for himself, the critic invariably looks big: a veil of fogs dilates his awful face:' and the hapless intruder stands self-convicted by his physiognomy alone. Such, even in times as old as Horace, + has been the
See the French translation of Schlegel's "Dramatic History," which has been lately imported.
+ Nostra sed impugnat; nos nostraque lividus odit.-Er. i. 2.
lot of original genius; till the sun rises in her strength, and the night-birds hoot and disappear.
With many it has grown into an article of faith, that Pope and Dryden, the good old school,' as we must call them, are synonimous with poetry itself. To Pope, as a didactic essayist in numbers; as a censor of living manners in eloquent and indignant verse; as the inventor or disposer of gay and fanciful heroi-comic machinery; as an adept in the concise, vehement, and glowing language which is suitable to the conflicts of amorous passion, we cannot refuse to him the title of poet; the less so, as we can by no means assent to the capricious canon of the Wartonian school, which, by a metaphysical distinction, excludes satire and morality from the genus of poetry. But Pope is surely the poet of art and study rather than of nature; and his subjects are such as arise out of the retirement of the closet, or the society of cities. The prodigality of diction, imagery, and melody which Dryden, the possessor of a more decided and spontaneous genius, continually pours forth; with little, indeed, that is positively pathetic; but with much of energy of thought, grandeur of emotion, and fertility of imagination; his noble lyrical rhapsodies and facile songs; his splendid allegorical satires; his smooth, and sweet, and romantic tragedies, fascinating with all their faults: the magnificent scenes of his manlier dramas; his " All for Love," and his "Don Sebastian," present claims to the title of poet, still more indisputable than those of Pope. But shall either be compared, in sentiment and description, with Thomson and Beattie? with Cowper, in the power of painting natural images and influencing the moral feelings? It is not necessary to tread in the steps of Pope and Dryden, in order to deserve the name of poet. The attempt to prescribe a straitened and beaten path to the diversified faculties of men will everlastingly be foiled by the calm and lofty self-confidence of irrepressible genius.
The question respecting Mr. Wordsworth properly is not "Does he resemble this or that poet?" but, "Does he attain the purpose which he has proposed to himself; does he affect the passions; does he awaken the moral sentiment; does he bring us acquainted with appearances of nature which we have hitherto heedlessly overlooked, or with experiences and powers in our own minds, of which he had been heretofore unconscious?"
Connected with the same prejudice in favour of a particular master, we discover another cause of the dislike, or disappointment, which some have felt, or affected, with regard to the Lyrical Ballads, in the notion that certain subjects are absolutely interdicted as themes of poetry, and that certain incidents do not furnish enough of story. Several of the minor poems that have a narrative air, describe occurrences perfectly simple; awakening
some recollection of our common nature; marking some retired features of character, or some delicate and fleeting impression of thought, which the imagination, or reflection of the reader is to open out and improve. They may often be characterized as solitary impulses, or fragments of feeling, which are likely to elude cursory observation, to excite the stare of unreflecting readers, and to offend, beyond all hope of pardon, those who regard such small incidents, and familiar moods, and simple elements of thought and emotion, as beneath the dignity of what they call poetry, and as worthy only of being celebrated in nurseryrhymes. One of these pieces records a lover's fancy while riding slowly, just before the setting of the moon, towards the cottage of his mistress:
"When down behind the cottage roof
At once the planet dropp'd,
What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a lover's head!
Oh mercy! to myself I cried,
If Lucy should be dead!'"
Perhaps every mind has, at one time or other, and probably more than once, felt this undefinable and unaccountable suggestion, both sudden and transitory, of a superstitious presentiment of calamity from some such trivial occurrence; yet this it required one nicely conversant with the minutest parts of our mental constitution to observe and to register; and this is the passage on which the most doughty of Mr. Wordsworth's critics has betrayed so sheer an ignorance of the nature of poetry, as to exclaim," and here the story ends!"
But if the finer essence of poetry be wanted, and that deep and thrilling sentiment, which at once wraps the heart in a contagious softness, where shall we find them, if not in the Lyrical Ballads?
"The stars of midnight shall be dear
To her, and she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place,
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Thus Nature spake; the work was done;
She died, and left to me
This heath, this calm and quiet scene;
And never more will be."
We shall notice only one more charge against Mr. Wordsworth: He has not drawn his characters like those of other poets; a presumptuous originality, in which he is, however, supported by the example of Shakspeare; who, we fear, sinned not seldom in forming individuals for himself. Mr. Wordsworth has chosen to represent a village schoolmaster; not, truly, with the obvious every-day manners of the rustic pedagogue's profession, as Goldsmith has drawn him, and drawn him excellently for his purpose, but with the peculiarity of a particular likeness, with a reputation from his younger days of quaint humour, blithe sociality, and a love of harmless merriment; now occasionally saddened, in the sobering latter autumn of his life, by recollections of domestic bereavement, and a growing inclination to indulge fits of melancholy and musing. He has drawn him, in short, with precisely those contradictions to general experience which are for ever occurring in nature; those freaks of disposition, and eccentricities of thinking and acting, which break through the mechanical boundaries and accidental limitations of station and profession, and perpetually mock the previous calculations of ordinary observers. Yet at the bar of these latter superficial inquirers; these spruce, factitious beings, who read human character in the streets of cities, in drawing-rooms, and colleges, will the poet of nature, the profound philosopher of the heart, stand eternally arraigned. But his page will live, when the breath of criticism shall have perished, and the laugh of insult shall have passed away: it will live, because it has a vital principle within it, like that which makes Shakspeare the darling of children and the companion of men; because he that fills this high and genuine function of the poet, "meek Nature's priest," has looked abroad on the immutable forms of beauty and goodness, moulding and influencing the moral man, and spreading through the grandeur of creation the visibility of God; because he has descended into the most private recesses of the mind, and shown to man that depth of intellectual knowledge, the mystery of
We have dwelt thus long on Mr. Wordsworth's former poems, because, as being illustrative of the author's habits of feeling and reflection, they are naturally linked with his meditative work; of which the introductory part is designed to trace the growth of the writer's mind from boyhood up to the state of man.
The Excursion" embraces only the middle portion of the work, which is to be entitled The Recluse, and which will form, when completed, a philosophical poem on Man, Nature, and Society. The third part, like the first, will have for its subject the sensations and opinions of the poet himself, as experienced
and formed in the meditation of rural retirement. The intermediate poem, which is now before us, assumes a dramatic form. It has a sufficiency of narrative to interest all those who suppose that story-telling is its primary object; and what we regard as still more valuable, it abounds with solemn, pious, and elevated views of human nature and of providence, and is infused and illuminated with "the thoughts that breathe," and "the words that burn."
The idea of a ramble among the mountains, in which different characters meet and exchange their ideas, is exceedingly well imagined, for the purpose of giving a form, a connexion, and an interest, to the subjects discussed; which appear to arise unaf fectedly from the circumstances, and are enlivened by reciprocations of argument, of appeal, and reply.
We shall endeavour to exhibit the poetical power of Mr. Wordsworth in that quality which is essentially poetical: that faculty of creative imitation which gives a shape and real existence to the conceptions of the fancy; which brings us intimately acquainted with unknown characters; places us actually in the midst of distant scenes: amidst the wild and beautiful phenomena of Nature in the loneliness and loveliness of her native majesty; and enables us to see and feel as he himself felt and saw.
Pectus inaniter angit,
Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet
Ut magus, et modo me Thebis, modo ponit Athenis.
Our notice is attracted in the opening of the poem to an old man: of whom the poet is in search during a hot summer's noon, and whom he finds stretched on a bench, beside a cottage, now in ruins:
"Supine the wanderer' lay:
His eyes, as if in drowsiness, half-shut,
When it is discovered that this "wanderer" is a travelling pedlar, nothing can be more easy than to turn such a character into ridicule: to talk of Welsh flannels and brass buttons; and to inquire how such a man could possibly have cherished romantic feelings or meditative habits. They, however, who know any thing of the mountainous districts of our island, know that it is not uncommon to meet with men in a humble station of life, superior in mental attainments to what the inhabitants of the cultivated champaign countries of the South would be at all likely to apprehend, or easily to believe. Were this, however, otherwise, the poet, as we have instanced in the case of Mathew, the grey-hair'd man of glee," would have a perfect right to