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Title: Wordsworth
Author: Myers, F. W. H. (Frederic William Henry)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Wordsworth" ***

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WORDSWORTH

BY F. W. H. MYERS


  "From worlds not quickened by the sun
  A portion of the gift is won;
  An intermingling of Heaven's pomp is spread
  On ground which British shepherds tread."



CONTENTS.

CHAPTER I.
  BIRTH AND EDUCATION--CAMBRIDGE

CHAPTER II.
  RESIDENCE IN LONDON AND IN FRANCE

CHAPTER III.
  MISS WORDSWORTH--"LYRICAL BALLADS"--SETTLEMENT AT
  GRASMERE

CHAPTER IV.
  THE ENGLISH LAKES

CHAPTER V.
  MARRIAGE--SOCIETY--HIGHLAND TOUR

CHAPTER VI.
  SIR GEORGE BEAUMONT--DEATH OF JOHN WORDSWORTH

CHAPTER VII
  "HAPPY WARRIOR" AND PATRIOTIC POEMS

CHAPTER VIII
  CHILDREN--LIFE AT RYDAL MOUNT--"THE EXCURSION"

CHAPTER IX
  POETIC DICTION--"LAODAMIA"--"EVENING ODE"

CHAPTER X
  NATURAL RELIGION

CHAPTER XI
  ITALIAN TOUR--"ECCLESIASTICAL SONNETS"--POETICAL VIEWS--
       LAUREATESHIP

CHAPTER XII
  LETTERS ON THE KENDAL AND WINDERMERE RAILWAY--CONCLUSION



CHAPTER I.


BIRTH AND EDUCATION--CAMBRIDGE.

I cannot, perhaps, more fitly begin this short biography than with
some words in which its subject has expressed his own feelings as to
the spirit in which such a task should be approached. "Silence,"
says Wordsworth, "is a privilege of the grave, a right of the
departed: let him, therefore, who infringes that right by speaking
publicly of, for, or against, those who cannot speak for themselves,
take heed that he opens not his mouth without a sufficient sanction.
Only to philosophy enlightened by the affections does it belong
justly to estimate the claims of the deceased on the one hand, and
of the present age and future generations on the other, and to
strike a balance between them. Such philosophy runs a risk of
becoming extinct among us, if the coarse intrusions into the recesses,
the gross breaches upon the sanctities, of domestic life, to which we
have lately been more and more accustomed, are to be regarded as
indications of a vigorous state of public feeling. The wise and good
respect, as one of the noblest characteristics of Englishmen, that
jealousy of familiar approach which, while it contributes to the
maintenance of private dignity, is one of the most efficacious
guardians of rational public freedom."

In accordance with these views the poet entrusted to his nephew, the
late Bishop of Lincoln, the task of composing memoirs of his life,
in the just confidence that nothing would by such hands be given to
the world which was inconsistent with the dignity either of the
living or of the dead. From those memoirs the facts contained in the
present work have been for the most part drawn. It has, however,
been my fortune, through hereditary friendships, to have access to
many manuscript letters and much oral tradition bearing upon the
poet's private life;[1] and some details and some passages of
letters hitherto unpublished, will appear in these pages. It would
seem, however, that there is but little of public interest, in
Wordsworth's life which has not already been given to the world, and
I have shrunk from narrating such minor personal incidents as he
would himself have thought it needless to dwell upon. I have
endeavoured, in short, to write as though the Subject of this
biography were himself its Auditor, listening, indeed, from some
region where all of truth is discerned, and nothing but truth desired,
but checking by his venerable presence, any such revelation as
public advantage does not call for, and private delicacy would
condemn.

As regards the critical remarks which these pages contain. I have
only to say that I have carefully consulted such notices of the poet
as his personal friends have left us[1], and also, I believe,
nearly every criticism of importance which has appeared on his works.
I find with pleasure that a considerable agreement of opinion exists,--
though less among professed poets or critics, than among men of
eminence in other departments of thought or action whose attention
has been directed to Wordsworth's poems. And although I have felt it
right to express in each case my own views with exactness, I have
been able to feel that I am not obtruding on the reader any merely
fanciful estimate in which better accredited judges would refuse to
concur.

[Footnote 1: I take this opportunity of thanking Mr. William
Wordsworth, the son (now deceased), and Mr. William Wordsworth, the
grandson, of the poet, for help most valuable in enabling me to give
a true impression of the poet's personality.]

Without further preface I now begin my story of Wordsworth's life,
in words which he himself dictated to his intended biographer.
"I was born," he said, "at Cockermouth, in Cumberland, on April 7th,
1770, the second son of John Wordsworth, attorney-at-law--as
lawyers of this class were then called--and law-agent to Sir James
Lowther, afterwards Earl of Lonsdale. My mother was Anne, only
daughter of William Cookson, mercer, of Penrith, and of Dorothy,
born Crackanthorp, of the ancient family of that name, who from the
times of Edward the Third had lived in Newbiggen Hall, Westmoreland.
My grandfather was the first of the name of Wordsworth who came into
Westmoreland, where he purchased the small estate of Sockbridge. He
was descended from a family who had been settled at Peniston, in
Yorkshire, near the sources of the Don, probably before the Norman
Conquest. Their names appear on different occasions in all the
transactions, personal and public, connected with that parish; and I
possess, through the kindness of Colonel Beaumont, an almery, made in
1525, at the expense of a William Wordsworth, as is expressed in a
Latin inscription carved upon it, which carries the pedigree of the
family back four generations from himself. The time of my infancy
and early boyhood was passed, partly at Cockermouth, and partly with
my mother's parents at Penrith, where my mother, in the year 1778,
died of a decline, brought on by a cold, in consequence of being put,
at a friend's house in London, in what used to be called 'a best
bedroom.' My father never recovered his usual cheerfulness of mind
after this loss, and died when I was in my fourteenth year, a
schoolboy, just returned from Hawkshead, whither I had been sent with
my elder brother Richard, in my ninth year."

"I remember my mother only in some few situations, one of which was
her pinning a nosegay to my breast, when I was going to say the
catechism in the church, as was customary before Easter. An intimate
friend of hers told me that she once said to her, that the only one
of her five children about whose future life she was anxious was
William; and he, she said, would be remarkable, either for good or
for evil. The cause of this was, that I was of a stiff, moody, and
violent temper; so much so that I remember going once into the
attics of my grandfather's house at Penrith, upon some indignity
having been put upon me, with an intention of destroying myself with
one of the foils, which I knew was kept there. I took the foil in
hand, but my heart failed. Upon another occasion, while I was at my
grandfather's house at Penrith, along with my eldest brother, Richard,
we were whipping tops together in the large drawing-room, on which
the carpet was only laid down upon particular occasions. The walls
were hung round with family pictures, and I said to my brother,
'Dare you strike your whip through that old lady's petticoat?' He
replied, 'No, I won't.' 'Then', said I, 'here goes!' and I struck my
lash through her hooped petticoat; for which, no doubt, though I have
forgotten it, I was properly punished. But, possibly from some want
of judgment in punishments inflicted, I had become perverse and
obstinate in defying chastisement, and rather proud of it than
otherwise."

"Of my earliest days at school I have little to say, but that they
were very happy ones, chiefly because I was left at liberty then,
and in the vacations, to read whatever books I liked. For example, I
read all Fielding's works, _Don Quixote, Gil Bias_, and any part of
Swift that I liked--_Gulliver's Travels_, and the _Tale of the Tub_,
being both much to my taste. It may be, perhaps, as well to mention,
that the first verses which I wrote were a task imposed by my master;
the subject, _The Summer Vacation_; and of my own accord I added
others upon _Return to School_. There was nothing remarkable in
either poem; but I was called upon, among other scholars, to write
verses upon the completion of the second centenary from the
foundation of the school in 1585 by Archbishop Sandys. These verses
were much admired--far more than they deserved, for they were but a
tame imitation of Pope's versification, and a little in his style."

But it was not from exercises of this kind that Wordsworth's
school-days drew their inspiration. No years of his life, perhaps,
were richer in strong impressions; but they were impressions derived
neither from books nor from companions, but from the majesty and
loveliness of the scenes around him;--from Nature, his life-long
mistress, loved with the first heats of youth. To her influence we
shall again recur; it will be most convenient first to trace
Wordsworth's progress through the curriculum of ordinary education.

It was due to the liberality of Wordsworth's two uncles, Richard
Wordsworth and Christopher Crackanthorp (under whose care he and his
brothers were placed at there father's death, in 1783), that his
education was prolonged beyond his school-days. For Sir James
Lowther, afterwards Lord Lonsdale,--whose agent Wordsworth's father,
Mr. John Wordsworth, was--becoming aware that his agent had about
5000£ at the bank, and wishing, partly on political grounds, to
make his power over him absolute, had forcibly borrowed this sum of
him, and then refused to repay it. After Mr. John Wordsworth's death
much of the remaining fortune which he left behind him was wasted in
efforts to compel Lord Lonsdale to refund this sum; out it was never
recovered till his death in 1801, when his successor repaid 8500£
to the Wordsworths, being a full acquittal, with interest, of
the original debt. The fortunes of the Wordsworth family were,
therefore, at a low ebb in 1787, and much credit is due to the
uncles who discerned the talents of William and Christopher, and
bestowed a Cambridge education on the future Poet Laureate, and the
future Master of Trinity.

In October, 1787, then, Wordsworth went up as an undergraduate to St.
John's College, Cambridge. The first court of this College, in the
south-western corner of which were Wordsworth's rooms, is divided
only by a narrow lane from the Chapel of Trinity College, and his
first memories are of the Trinity clock, telling the hours "twice
over, with a male and female voice", of the pealing organ, and of
the prospect when

  From my pillow looking forth, by light
  Of moon or favouring stars I could behold
  The antechapel, where the statue stood
  Of Newton with his prism and silent face.
  The marble index of a mind for ever
  Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.

For the most part the recollections which Wordsworth brought away
from Cambridge are such as had already found expression more than
once in English literature; for it has been the fortune of that
ancient University to receive in her bosom most of that long line of
poets who form the peculiar glory of our English speech. Spenser,
Ben Jonson, and Marlowe; Dryden, Cowley, and Waller; Milton, George
Herbert, and Gray--to mention only the most familiar names--had owed
allegiance to that mother who received Wordsworth now, and Coleridge
and Byron immediately after him. "Not obvious, not obtrusive, she;"
but yet her sober dignity has often seemed no unworthy setting for
minds, like Wordsworth's, meditative without languor, and energies
advancing without shock or storm. Never, perhaps, has the spirit of
Cambridge been more truly caught than in Milton's _Penseroso_; for
this poem obviously reflects the seat of learning which the poet had
lately left, just as the _Allegro_ depicts the cheerful rusticity of
the Buckinghamshire village which was his now home. And thus the
_Penseroso_ was understood by Gray, who, in his _Installation Ode_,
introduces Milton among the bards and sages who lean from heaven,

  To bless the place where, on their opening soul,
  First the genuine ardour stole.

"'Twas Milton struck the deep-toned shell," and invoked with the old
affection the scenes which witnessed his best and early years:

  Ye brown o'er-arching groves,
  That contemplation loves,
  Where willowy Camus lingers with delight!
  Oft at the blush of dawn

  I trod your level lawn.
  Oft wooed the gleam of Cynthia silver-bright
  In cloisters dim, far from the haunts of Folly,
  With Freedom by my side, and soft-eyed Melancholy.

And Wordsworth also "on the dry smooth-shaven green" paced on
solitary evenings "to the far-off curfew's sound," beneath those
groves of forest-trees among which "Philomel still deigns a song"
and the spirit of contemplation lingers still; whether the silent
avenues stand in the summer twilight filled with fragrance of the
lime, or the long rows of chestnut engirdle the autumn river-lawns
with walls of golden glow, or the tall elms cluster in garden or
_Wilderness_ into towering citadels of green. Beneath one
exquisite ash-tree, wreathed with ivy, and hung in autumn with
yellow tassels from every spray, Wordsworth used to linger long
"Scarcely Spenser's self," he tells us,

  Could have more tranquil visions in his youth,
  Or could more bright appearances create
  Of human forms with superhuman powers,
  Than I beheld loitering on calm clear nights
  Alone, beneath this fairy work of earth.

And there was another element in Wordsworth's life at Cambridge more
peculiarly his own--that exultation which a boy born among the
mountains may feel when he perceives that the delight in the
external world which the mountains have taught him has not perished
by uprooting, nor waned for want of nourishment in field or fen; that
even here, where nature is unadorned, and scenery, as it were,
reduced to its elements,--where the prospect is but the plain
surface of the earth, stretched wide beneath an open heaven,--even
here he can still feel the early glow, can take delight in that
broad and tranquil greenness, and in the august procession of the day.

  As if awakened, summoned, roused, constrained,
  I looked for universal things; perused
  The common countenance of earth and sky--
  Earth, nowhere unembellished by some trace
  Of that first Paradise whence man was driven;
  And sky, whose beauty and bounty are expressed
  By the proud name she bears--the name of Heaven.

Nor is it only in these open-air scenes that Wordsworth has added to
the long tradition a memory of his own. The "storied windows richly
dight," which have passed into a proverb in Milton's song, cast in
King's College Chapel the same "soft chequerings" upon their
framework of stone while Wordsworth watched through the pauses of
the anthem the winter afternoon's departing glow:

  Martyr, or King, or sainted Eremite,
  Whoe'er ye be that thus, yourselves unseen,
  Imbue your prison-bars with solemn sheen,
  Shine on, until ye fade with coming Night.

From those shadowy seats whence Milton had heard "the pealing organ
blow to the full-voiced choir below," Wordsworth too gazed upon--

  That branching roof
  Self-poised, and scooped into ten thousand cells
  Where light and shade repose, where music dwells
  Lingering, and wandering on as both to die--
  Like thoughts whose very sweetness yieldeth proof
  That they were born for immortality.

Thus much, and more, there was of ennobling and unchangeable in the
very aspect and structure of that ancient University, by which
Wordsworth's mind was bent towards a kindred greatness. But of
active moral and intellectual life there was at that time little to
be found within her walls. The floodtide of her new life had not yet
set in: she was still slumbering, as she had slumbered long, content
to add to her majesty by the mere lapse of generations, and
increment of her ancestral calm. Even had the intellectual life of
the place been more stirring, it is doubtful how far Wordsworth
would have been welcomed, or deserved, to be welcomed, by
authorities or students. He began residence at seventeen, and his
northern nature was late to flower. There seems, in fact, to have
been even less of visible promise about him than we should have
expected; but rather something untamed and insubordinate, something
heady and self-confident; an independence that seemed only rusticity,
and an indolent ignorance which assumed too readily the tones of
scorn. He was as yet a creature of the lakes and mountains, and love
for Nature was only slowly leading him to love and reverence for man.
Nay, such attraction as he had hitherto felt for the human race had
been interwoven with her influence in a way so strange that to many
minds it will seem a childish fancy not worth recounting. The
objects of his boyish idealization had been Cumbrian shepherds--a
race whose personality seems to melt into Nature's--who are united
as intimately with moor and mountain as the petrel with the sea.

  A rambling schoolboy, thus
  I felt his presence in his own domain
  As of a lord and master--or a power,
  Or genius, under Nature, under God;
  Presiding; and severest solitude
  Had more commanding looks when he was there.
  When up the lonely brooks on rainy days
  Angling I went, or trod the trackless hills
  By mists bewildered, suddenly mine eyes
  Have glanced upon him distant a few steps,
  In size a giant, stalking through thick fog,
  His sheep like Greenland bears; or, as he stepped
  Beyond the boundary line of some hill-shadow,
  His form hath flashed upon me, glorified
  By the deep radiance of the setting sun;
  Or him have I descried in distant sky,
  A solitary object and sublime,
  Above all height! Like an aërial cross
  Stationed alone upon a spiry rock
  Of the Chartreuse, for worship. Thus was man
  Ennobled outwardly before my sight;
  And thus my heart was early introduced
  To an unconscious love and reverence
  Of human nature; hence the human form
  To me became an index of delight,
  Of grace and honour, power and worthiness.

"This sanctity of Nature given to man,"--this interfusion of human
interest with the sublimity of moor and hill,--formed a typical
introduction to the manner in which Wordsworth regarded mankind to
the end,--depicting him as set, as it were, amid impersonal
influences, which make his passion and struggle but a little thing;
as when painters give but a strip of their canvas to the fields and
cities of men, and overhang the narrowed landscape with the space
and serenity of heaven.

To this distant perception of man--of man "purified, removed, and to
a distance that was fit"--was added, in his first summer vacation, a
somewhat closer interest in the small joys and sorrows of the
villagers of Hawkshead,--a new sympathy for the old Dame in whose
house the poet still lodged, for "the quiet woodman in the woods,"
and even for the "frank-hearted maids of rocky Cumberland," with
whom he now delighted to spend an occasional evening in dancing and
country mirth. And since the events in this poet's life are for the
most part inward and unseen, and depend upon some stock and
coincidence between the operations of his spirit and the cosmorama
of the external world, he has recorded with especial emphasis a
certain sunrise which met him as he walked homewards from one of
these scenes of rustic gaiety,--a sunrise which may be said to have
begun that poetic career which a sunset was to close:

  Ah! Need I say, dear Friend! That to the brim
  My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows
  Were then made for me; bond unknown to me
  Was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly,
  A dedicated Spirit.

His second long vacation brought him a further gain in human
affections. His sister, of whom he had seen little for some years,
was with him once more at Penrith, and with her another maiden,

  By her exulting outside look of youth
  And placid under-countenance, first endeared;

whose presence now laid the foundation of a love which was to be
renewed and perfected when his need for it was full, and was to be
his support and solace to his life's end. His third long vacation he
spent in a walking tour in Switzerland. Of this, now the commonest
relaxation of studious youth, he speaks as of an "unprecedented
course," indicating "a hardy slight of college studies and their set
rewards." And it seems, indeed, probable that Wordsworth and his
friend Jones were actually the first undergraduates who ever spent
their summer in this way. The pages of the _Prelude_ which narrate
this excursion, and especially the description of the crossing of
the Simplon,--

  The immeasurable height
  Of woods decaying, never to be decayed,--

form one of the most impressive parts of that singular
autobiographical poem, which, at first sight so tedious and insipid,
seems to gather force and meaning with each fresh perusal. These
pages, which carry up to the verge of manhood the story of
Wordsworth's career, contain, perhaps, as strong and simple a
picture as we shall anywhere find of hardy English youth,--its proud
self-sufficingness and careless independence of all human things.
Excitement, and thought, and joy, seem to come at once at its bidding;
and the chequered and struggling existence of adult men seems
something which it need never enter, and hardly deigns to comprehend.

Wordsworth and his friend encountered on this tour many a stirring
symbol of the expectancy that was running through the nations of
Europe. They landed at Calais "on the very eve of that great federal
day" when the Trees of Liberty were planted all over France. They
met on their return

  The Brabant armies on the fret
  For battle in the cause of liberty.

But the exulting pulse that ran through the poet's veins could
hardly yet pause to sympathize deeply even with what in the world's
life appealed most directly to ardent youth.

  A stripling, scarcely of the household then
  Of social life, I looked upon these things
  As from a distance; heard, and saw, and felt--
  Was touched, but with no intimate concern.
  I seemed to move along them as a bird
  Moves through the air--or as a fish pursues
  Its sport, or feeds in its proper element.
  I wanted not that joy, I did not need
  Such help. The ever-living universe,
  Turn where I might, was opening out its glories;
  And the independent spirit of pure youth
  Called forth at every season new delights,
  Spread round my steps like sunshine o'er green fields.



CHAPTER II.


RESIDENCE IN LONDON AND IN FRANCE.

Wordsworth took his B.A. degree in January, 1791, and quitted
Cambridge with no fixed intentions as to his future career.
"He did not feel himself," he said long afterwards, "good enough for
the Church; he felt that his mind was not properly disciplined for
that holy office, and that the struggle between his conscience and
his impulses would have made life a torture. He also shrank from the
law. He had studied military history with great interest, and the
strategy of war; and he always fancied that he had talents for
command; and he at one time thought of a military life; but then he
was without connexions, and he felt if he were ordered to the West
Indies his talents would not save him from the yellow fever, and he
gave that up." He therefore repaired to London, and lived there for
a time on a small allowance and with no definite aim. His relations
with the great city were of a very slight and external kind. He had
few acquaintances, and spent his time mainly in rambling about the
streets. His descriptions of this phase of his life have little
interest. There is some flatness in an enumeration of the
nationalities observable in a London crowd, concluding thus:--

  Malays, Lascars, the Tartar, the Chinese,
  And Negro Ladies in white muslin gowns.

But Wordsworth's limitations were inseparably connected with his
strength. And just as the flat scenery of Cambridgeshire had only
served to intensify his love for such elements of beauty and
grandeur as still were present in sky and fen, even so the
bewilderment of London taught him to recognize with an intenser joy
such fragments of things rustic, such aspects of things eternal, as
were to be found amidst that rush and roar. To the frailer spirit of
Hartley Coleridge the weight of London might seem a load impossible
to shake off. "And what hath Nature," he plaintively asked,--

  And what hath Nature but the blank void sky
  And the thronged river toiling to the main?

But Wordsworth saw more than this. He became, as one may say, the
poet not of London considered as London, but of London considered as
a part of the country. Like his own _Farmer of Tilsbury Vale_--

  In the throng of the Town like a Stranger is he,
  Like one whose own Country's far over the sea;
  And Nature, while through the great city be hies,
  Full ten times a day takes his heart by surprise.

Among the poems describing these sudden shocks of vision and memory
none is more exquisite than the _Reverie of Poor Susan_:

  At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears,
  Hangs a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years;
  Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
  In the silence of morning the song of the Bird.

  'Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
  A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
  Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
  And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

The picture is one of those which come home to many a country heart
with one of those sudden "revulsions into the natural" which
philosophers assert to be the essence of human joy. But noblest and
hest known of all these poems is the _Sonnet on Westminster Bridge_,
"Earth hath not anything to show more fair;" in which nature has
reasserted her dominion over the works of all the multitude of men;
and in the early clearness the poet beholds the great City--as
Sterling imagined it on his dying-bed--"not as full of noise and
dust and confusion, but as something silent, grand and everlasting."
And even in later life, when Wordsworth was often in London, and was
welcome in any society, he never lost this external manner of
regarding it. He was always of the same mind as the group of
listeners in his _Power of Music_:

  Now, Coaches and Chariots! Roar on like a stream!
  Here are twenty Souls happy as souls in a dream:
  They are deaf to your murmurs, they care not for you,
  Nor what ye are flying, nor what ye pursue!

He never made the attempt,--vulgarized by so many a "fashionable
novelist," and in which no poet has succeeded yet,--to disentangle
from that turmoil its elements of romance and of greatness; to enter
that realm of emotion where Nature's aspects become the scarcely
noted accessory of vicissitudes that transcend her own; to trace the
passion or the anguish which whirl along some lurid vista toward a
sun that sets in storm, or gaze across silent squares by summer
moonlight amid a smell of dust and flowers.

But although Wordsworth passed thus through London unmodified and
indifferent, the current of things was sweeping him on to mingle in
a fiercer tumult,--to be caught in the tides of a more violent and
feverish life. In November 1791 he landed in France, meaning to pass
the winter at Orleans and learn French. Up to this date the French
Revolution had impressed him in a rather unusual manner,--namely, as
being a matter of course. The explanation of this view is a somewhat
singular one. Wordsworth's was an old family, and his connexions
were some of them wealthy and well placed in the world; but the
chances of his education had been such, that he could scarcely
realize to himself any other than a democratic type of society.
Scarcely once, he tells us, in his school days had he seen boy or
man who claimed respect on the score of wealth and blood; and the
manly atmosphere of Cambridge preserved even in her lowest days a
society

            Where all stood thus far
  Upon equal ground; that we were brothers all
  In honour, as in one community,
  Scholars and gentlemen;

while the teachings of nature and the dignity of Cumbrian peasant
life had confirmed his high opinion of the essential worth of man.
The upheaval of the French people, therefore, and the downfall of
privilege, seemed to him no portent for good or evil, but rather the
tardy return of a society to its stable equilibrium. He passed
through revolutionized Paris with satisfaction and sympathy, but
with little active emotion, and proceeded first to Orleans, and then
to Blois, between which places he spent nearly a year. At Orleans he
became intimately acquainted with the nobly-born but republican
general Beaupuis, an inspiring example of all in the Revolution that
was self-devoted and chivalrous and had compassion on the wretched
poor. In conversation with him Wordsworth learnt with what new force
the well-worn adages of the moralist fall from the lips of one who
is called upon to put them at once in action, and to stake life
itself on the verity of his maxims of honour. The poet's heart
burned within him as he listened. He could not indeed help mourning
sometimes at the sight of a dismantled chapel, or peopling in
imagination the forest-glades in which they sat with the chivalry of
a bygone day. But he became increasingly absorbed in his friend's
ardour, and the Revolution--_mulier formosa superne_--seemed to him
big with all the hopes of man.

He returned to Paris in October 1792,--a month after the massacres
of September; and he has described his agitation and dismay at
the sight of such world-wide destinies swayed by the hands of
such men. In a passage which curiously illustrates that reasoned
self-confidence and deliberate boldness which for the most part he
showed only in the peaceful incidents of a literary career, he has
told us how he was on the point of putting himself forward as a
leader of the Girondist party, in the conviction that his
singleheartedness of aim would make him, in spite of foreign birth
and imperfect speech, a point round which the confused instincts of
the multitude might not impossibly rally.

Such a course of action,--which, whatever its other results, would
undoubtedly have conducted him to the guillotine with his political
friends in May 1793,--was rendered impossible by a somewhat
undignified hindrance. Wordsworth, while in his own eyes "a patriot
of the world," was in the eyes of others a young man of twenty-two,
travelling on a small allowance, and running his head into
unnecessary dangers. His funds were stopped, and he reluctantly
returned to England at the close of 1792.

And now to Wordsworth, as to many other English patriots, there came,
on a great scale, that form of sorrow which in private life is one
of the most agonizing of all--when two beloved beings, each of them
erring greatly, become involved in bitter hate. The new-born Republic
flung down to Europe as her battle-gage the head of a king. England,
in an hour of horror that was almost panic, accepted the defiance,
and war was declared between the two countries early in 1793.
"No shock," says Wordsworth,

  Given to my moral nature had I known
  Down to that very moment; neither lapse
  Nor turn of sentiment that might be named
  A revolution, save at this one time;

and the sound of the evening gun-fire at Portsmouth seemed at once
the embodiment and the premonition of England's guilt and woe.

Yet his distracted spirit could find no comfort in the thought of
France. For in France the worst came to the worst; and everything
vanished of liberty except the crimes committed in her name.

  Most melancholy at that time, O Friend!
  Were my day-thoughts, my nights were miserable.
  Through months, through years, long after the last beat
  Of those atrocities, the hour of sleep
  To me came rarely charged with natural gifts--
  Such ghastly visions had I of despair,
  And tyranny, and implements of death;...
  And levity in dungeons, where the dust
  Was laid with tears. Then suddenly the scene
  Changed, and the unbroken dream entangled me
  In long orations, which I strove to plead
  Before unjust tribunals,--with a voice
  Labouring, a brain confounded, and a sense,
  Death-like, of treacherous desertion, felt
  In the last place of refuge--my own soul.

These years of perplexity and disappointment, following on a season
of overstrained and violent hopes, were the sharpest trial through
which Wordsworth ever passed. The course of affairs in France, indeed,
was such as seemed by an irony of fate to drive the noblest and
firmest hearts into the worst aberrations. For first of all in that
Revolution, Reason had appeared as it were in visible shape, and
hand in hand with Pity and Virtue; then, as the welfare of the
oppressed peasantry began to be lost sight of amid the brawls of the
factions of Paris, all that was attractive and enthusiastic in the
great movement seemed to disappear, but yet Reason might still be
thought to find a closer realization here than among scenes more
serene and fair; and, lastly, Reason set in blood and tyranny and
there was no more hope from France. But those who, like Wordsworth,
had been taught by that great convulsion to disdain the fetters of
sentiment and tradition and to look on Reason as supreme were not
willing to relinquish their belief because violence had conquered
her in one more battle. Rather they clung with the greater tenacity,--
"adhered," in Wordsworth's words,

  More firmly to old tenets, and to prove
  Their temper, strained them more;

cast off more decisively than ever the influences of tradition, and
in their Utopian visions even wished to see the perfected race
severed in its perfection from the memories of humanity, and from
kinship with the struggling past.

Through a mood of this kind Wordsworth had to travel now. And his
nature, formed for pervading attachments and steady memories,
suffered grievously from the privation of much which even the
coldest and calmest temper cannot forego without detriment and pain.
For it is not with impunity that men commit themselves to the sole
guidance of either of the two great elements of their being. The
penalties of trusting to the emotions alone are notorious; and every
day affords some instance of a character that has degenerated into a
bundle of impulses, of a will that has become caprice. But the
consequences of making Reason our tyrant instead of our king are
almost equally disastrous.  There is so little which Reason,
divested of all emotional or instinctive supports, is able to prove
to our satisfaction that a sceptical aridity is likely to take
possession of the soul. It was thus with Wordsworth; he was driven
to a perpetual questioning of all beliefs and analysis of all motives,--

    Till, demanding formal proof,
  And seeking it in everything, I lost
  All feeling of conviction; and, in fine,
  Sick, wearied out with contrarieties,
  Yielded up moral questions in despair.

In this mood all those great generalized conceptions which are the
food of our love, our reverence, our religion, dissolve away; and
Wordsworth tells us that at this time

           Even the visible universe
  Fell under the dominion of a taste
  Less spiritual, with microscopic view
  Was scanned, as I had scanned the moral world.

He looked on the operations of nature "in disconnection dull and
spiritless;" he could no longer apprehend her unity nor feel her
charm. He retained indeed his craving for natural beauty, but in an
uneasy and fastidious mood,--

                       Giving way
  To a comparison of scene with scene,
  Bent overmuch on superficial things,
  Pampering myself with meagre novelties
  Of colour and proportion; to the moods
  Of time and season, to the moral power,
  The affections, and the spirit of the place,
  Insensible.

Such cold fits are common to all religions: they haunt the artist,
the philanthropist, the philosopher, the saint. Often they are due
to some strain of egoism or ambition which has intermixed itself
with the impersonal desire; sometimes, as in Wordsworth's case, to
the persistent tension of a mind which has been bent too ardently
towards an ideal scarce possible to man. And in this case, when the
objects of a man's habitual admiration are true and noble, they will
ever be found to suggest some antidote to the fatigues of their
pursuit. We shall see as we proceed how a deepening insight into the
lives of the peasantry around him,--the happiness and virtue of
simple Cumbrian homes,--restored to the poet a serener confidence in
human nature, amid all the shame and downfall of such hopes in France.
And that still profounder loss of delight in Nature herself,--that
viewing of all things "in disconnection dull and spiritless," which,
as it has been well said, is the truest definition of Atheism,
inasmuch as a unity in the universe is the first element in our
conception of God,--this dark pathway also was not without its
outlet into the day. For the God in Nature is not only a God of
Beauty, but a God of Law; his unity can be apprehended in power as
well as in glory; and Wordsworth's mind, "sinking inward upon itself
from thought to thought," found rest for the time in that austere
religion,--Hebrew at once and scientific, common to a Newton and a
Job,--which is fostered by the prolonged contemplation of the mere
Order of the sum of things.

                       Not in vain
  I had been taught to reverence a Power
  That is the visible quality and shape
  And image of right reason.

Not, indeed, in vain! For he felt now that there is no side of truth,
however remote from human interests, no aspect of the universe,
however awful and impersonal, which may not have power at some
season to guide and support the spirit of man. When Goodness is
obscured, when Beauty wearies, there are some souls which still can
cling and grapple to the conception of eternal Law.

Of such stem consolations the poet speaks as having restored him in
his hour of need. But he gratefully acknowledges also another solace
of a gentler kind. It was about this time (1795) that Wordsworth was
blessed with the permanent companionship of his sister, to whom he
was tenderly attached, but whom, since childhood, he had seen only
at long intervals. Miss Wordsworth, after her father's death, had
lived mainly with her maternal grandfather, Mr. Cookson, at Penrith,
occasionally at Halifax with other relations, or at Forncott with
her uncle Dr.  Cookson, Canon of Windsor. She was now able to join
her favourite brother: and in this gifted woman Wordsworth found a
gentler and sunnier likeness of himself; he found a love which never
wearied, and a sympathy fervid without blindness, whose suggestions
lay so directly in his mind's natural course that they seemed to
spring from the same individuality, and to form at once a portion of
his inmost being. The opening of this new era of domestic happiness
demands a separate chapter.



CHAPTER III.


MISS WORDSWORTH--LYRICAL BALLADS--SETTLEMENT AT GRASMERE.

From among many letters of Miss Wordsworth's to a beloved friend,
(Miss Jane Pollard, afterwards Mrs.  Marshall, of Hallsteads), which
have been kindly placed at my disposal, I may without impropriety
quote a few passages which illustrate the character and the
affection of brother and sister alike. And first, in a letter
(Forncett, February 1792), comparing her brothers Christopher and
William, she says: "Christopher is steady and sincere in his
attachments. William has both these virtues in an eminent degree,
and a sort of violence of affection, if I may so term it, which
demonstrates itself every moment of the day, when the objects of his
affection are present with him, in a thousand almost imperceptible
attentions to their wishes, in a sort of restless watchfulness which
I know not how to describe, a tenderness that never sleeps, and at
the same time such a delicacy of manner as I have observed in few men."
And again (Forncett, June 1793), she writes to the same friend:
"I have strolled into a neighbouring meadow, where I am enjoying the
melody of birds, and the busy sounds of a fine summer's evening. But
oh! How imperfect is my pleasure whilst I am alone! Why are you not
seated with me? And my dear William, why is he not here also? I
could almost fancy that I see you both near me. I hear _you_ point
out a spot, where if we could erect a little cottage and call it our
own we should be the happiest of human beings. I see my brother
fired with the idea of leading his sister to such a retreat. Our
parlour is in a moment furnished, our garden is adorned by magic;
the roses and honeysuckles spring at our command; the wood behind
the house lifts its head, and furnishes us with a winter's shelter
and a summer's noonday shade. My dear friend, I trust that ere long
you will be without the aid of imagination, the companion of my walks,
and my dear William may be of our party.... He is now going upon a
tour in the west of England, with a gentleman who was formerly a
schoolfellow,--a man of fortune, who is to bear all the expenses of
the journey, and only requests the favour of William's company. He
is perfectly at liberty to quit this companion as soon as anything
more advantageous offers. But it is enough to say that I am likely
to have the happiness of introducing you to my beloved brother. You
must forgive me for talking so much of him; my affection hurries me
on, and makes me forget that you cannot be so much interested in the
subject as I am. You do not know him; you do not know how amiable he
is. Perhaps you reply, 'But I know how blinded you are.' Well, my
dearest. I plead guilty at once; I _must_ be blind; he cannot be so
pleasing as my fondness makes him. I am willing to allow that half
the virtues with which I fancy him endowed are the creation of my
love; but surely I may be excused! He was never tired of comforting
his sister; he never left her in anger; he always met her with joy;
he preferred her society to every other pleasure;--or rather, when
we were so happy as to be within each other's reach, he had no
pleasure when we were compelled to be divided. Do not then expect
too much from this brother of whom I have delighted so to talk to you.
In the first place, you must be with him more than once before he
will be perfectly easy in conversation. In the second place, his
person is not in his favour--at least I should think not; but I soon
ceased to discover this--nay, I almost thought that the opinion
which I had formed was erroneous. He is, however, certainly rather
plain; though otherwise has an extremely thoughtful countenance, but
when he speaks it is often lighted up by a smile which I think very
pleasing. But enough, he is my brother; why should I describe him? I
shall be launching again into panegyric."

The brother's language to his sister is equally affectionate.
"How much do I wish," he writes in 1793, "that each emotion of
pleasure or pain that visits your heart should excite a similar
pleasure or a similar pain within me, by that sympathy which will
almost identify us when we have stolen to our little cottage.... I
will write to my uncle, and tell him that I cannot think of going
anywhere before I have been with you. Whatever answer he gives me, I
certainly will make a point of once more mingling my transports with
yours. Alas! My dear sister, how soon must this happiness expire;
yet there are moments worth ages."

And again: in the same year he writes, "Oh, my dear, dear sister!
With what transport shall I again meet you! With what rapture shall
I again wear out the day in your sight!... I see you in a moment
running, or rather flying, to my arms."

Wordsworth was in all things fortunate, but in nothing more
fortunate than in this, that so unique a companion should have been
ready to devote herself to him with an affection wholly free from
egotism or jealousy, an affection that yearned only to satisfy his
subtlest needs, and to transfuse all that was best in herself into
his larger being. And indeed that fortunate admixture or influence,
whencesoever derived, which raised the race of Wordsworth to poetic
fame, was almost more dominant and conspicuous in Dorothy Wordsworth
than in the poet himself. "The shooting lights of her wild eyes"
reflected to the full the strain of imaginative emotion which was
mingled in the poet's nature with that spirit of steadfast and
conservative virtue which has already given to the family a Master of
Trinity, two Bishops, and other divines and scholars of weight and
consideration. In the poet himself the conservative and
ecclesiastical tendencies of his character became more and more
apparent as advancing years stiffened the movements of the mind. In
his sister the ardent element was less restrained; it showed itself
in a most innocent direction, but it brought with it a heavy
punishment. Her passion for nature and her affection for her brother
led her into mountain rambles which were beyond her strength, and
her last years were spent in a condition of physical and mental decay.

But at the time of which we are now speaking there was, perhaps, no
one in the world who could have been to the poet such a companion as
his sister became. She had not, of course, his grasp of mind or his
poetic power; but her sensitiveness to nature was quite as keen as
his, and her disposition resembled his "with sunshine added to
daylight."

  Birds in the bower, and lambs in the green field,
  Could they have known her, would have loved; methought
  Her very presence such a sweetness breathed,
  That flowers, and trees, and even the silent hills,
  And everything she looked on, should have had
  An intimation how she bore herself
  Towards them, and to all creatures.

Her journal of a tour in Scotland, and her description of a week on
Ullswater, affixed to Wordsworth's _Guide to the Lakes_,--diaries
not written for publication but merely to communicate her own
delight to intimate friends at a distance,--are surely indescribably
attractive in their naive and tender feeling, combined with a
delicacy of insight into natural beauty which was almost a new thing
in the history of the world. If we compare, for instance, any of her
descriptions of the Lakes with Southey's, we see the difference
between mere literary skill, which can now be rivalled in many
quarters, and that sympathetic intuition which comes of love alone.
Even if we compare her with Gray, whose short notice of Cumberland
bears on every page the stamp of a true poet, we are struck by the
way in which Miss Wordsworth's tenderness for all living things
gives character and pathos to her landscapes, and evokes from the
wildest solitude some note that thrills the heart.

  She gave me eyes, she gave me ears,
  And humble cares, and delicate fears;
  A heart the fountain of sweet tears;
  And love, and thought, and joy.

The cottage life in her brother's company which we have seen Miss
Wordsworth picturing to herself with girlish ardour, was destined to
be realized no long time afterwards, thanks to the unlooked-for
outcome of another friendship. If the poet's sister was his first
admirer, Kaisley Calvert may fairly claim the second place. Calvert
was the son of the steward of the Duke of Norfolk, who possessed
large estates in Cumberland. He attached himself to Wordsworth, and
in 1793 and 1794 the friends were much together. Calvert was then
attacked by consumption, and Wordsworth, nursed him with patient care.
It was found at his death that he had left his friend a legacy of 900£.
"The act," says Wordsworth, "was done entirely from a confidence on
his part that I had powers and attainments--which might be of use to
mankind. Upon the interest of the 900£--400£ being laid out in
annuity--with 200£ deducted from the principal, and 100£ a
legacy to my sister, and 100£ more which the _Lyrical Ballads_ have
brought me, my sister and I contrived to live seven years, nearly
eight."

Trusting in this small capital, and with nothing to look to in the
future except the uncertain prospect of the payment of Lord
Lonsdale's debt to the family, Wordsworth settled with his sister at
Racedown, near Crewkerne, in Dorsetshire, in the autumn of 1795, the
choice of this locality being apparently determined by the offer of a
cottage on easy terms. Here, in the first home which he had possessed,
Wordsworth's steady devotion to poetry began. He had already,
in 1792 [2], published two little poems, the _Evening Walk_: and
_Descriptive Sketches_, which Miss Wordsworth, (to whom the _Evening
Walk_ was addressed) criticises with candour--in a letter to the same
friend (Forncett, February 1792):--

[Footnote 2: The _Memoirs_ say in 1793, but the following
MS. letter of 1792 speaks of them as already published.]

"The scenes which he describes have been viewed with a poet's eye,
and are portrayed with a poet's pencil; and the poems contain, many
passages exquisitely beautiful; but they also contain many faults,
the chief of which are obscurity and a too frequent use of some
particular expressions and uncommon words; for instance, _moveless_,
which he applies in a sense, if not new, at least different from, its
ordinary one. By 'moveless,' when applied to the swan, he means that
sort of motion which is smooth without agitation; it is a very
beautiful epithet, but ought to have been cautiously used. The word
_viewless_ also is introduced far too often. I regret exceedingly
that he did not submit the works to the inspection of some friend
before their publication, and he also joins with me in this regret."

These poems show a careful and minute observation of nature, but
their versification--still reminding us of the imitators of Pope--
has little originality or charm. They attracted the admiration of
Coleridge, but had no further success.

At Racedown Wordsworth finished _Guilt and Sorrow_, a poem gloomy in
tone and written mainly in his period of depression and unrest,--and
wrote a tragedy called _The Borderers_, of which only a few lines
show any promise of future excellence. He then wrote _The Ruined
Cottage_, now incorporated in the Fist Book of the _Excursion_. This
poem, on a subject thoroughly suited to his powers, was his first
work of merit; and Coleridge, who visited the quiet household in June
1797, pronounces this poem "superior, I hesitate not to aver, to
anything in our language which in any way resembles it." In July
1797 the Wordsworths removed to Alfoxden, a large house in
Somersetshire, near Netherstowey, where Coleridge was at that time
living. Here Wordsworth added to his income by taking as pupil a
young boy, the hero of the trifling poem _Anecdote for Fathers_, a
son of Mr. Basil Montagu; and here he composed many of his smaller
pieces. He has described the origin of the _Ancient Mariner_ and the
_Lyrical Ballads_ in a well-known passage, part of which I must
here repeat:--

"In the autumn of 1797, Mr. Coleridge, my sister, and myself started
from Alfoxden pretty late in the afternoon, with a view to visit
Linton, and the Valley of Stones near to it; and as our united funds
were very small, we agreed to defray the expense of the tour by
writing a poem, to be sent to the _New Monthly Magazine_. In the
course of this walk was planned the poem of the _Ancient Mariner_,
founded on a dream, as Mr.  Coleridge said, of his friend Mr.
Cruikshank. Much the greatest part of the story was Mr. Coleridge's
invention; but certain parts I suggested; for example, some crime
was to be committed which was to bring upon the Old Navigator, as
Coleridge afterwards delighted to call him, the spectral persecution,
as a consequence of that crime and his own wanderings. I had been
reading in Shelvocke's _Voyages_, a day or two before, that, while
doubling Cape Horn they frequently saw albatrosses in that latitude,
the largest sort of sea-fowl, some extending their wings twelve or
thirteen feet, 'Suppose,' said I, 'you represent him as having
killed one of these birds on entering the South Sea, and that the
tutelary spirits of these regions take upon them to avenge the crime.
The incident was thought fit for the purpose, and adopted accordingly.
I also suggested the navigation of the ship by the dead man, but do
not recollect that I had anything more to do with the scheme of the
poem. We began the composition together, on that to me memorable
evening, I furnished two or three lines at the beginning of the poem,
in particular--"

  And listened like a three years' child;
  The Mariner had his will.

"As we endeavoured to proceed conjointly our respective manners
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. The _Ancient Mariner_ grew
and grew, till it became too important for our first object, which
was limited to our expectation of five pounds; and we began to think
of a volume, which was to consist, as Mr. Coleridge has told the
world, of poems chiefly on supernatural subjects, taken from common
life, but looked at, as much as might be, through an imaginative
medium."

The volume of _Lyrical Ballads_, whose first beginnings have here
been traced, was published in the autumn of 1798, by Mr. Cottle, at
Bristol. This volume contained several poems--which have been justly
blamed for triviality,--as _The Thorn, Goody Blake, The Idiot Boy_;
several in which, as in _Simon Lee_, triviality is mingled with much
real pathos; and some, as _Expostulation and Reply_ and _The Tables
Turned_, which are of the very essence of Wordsworth's nature. It is
hardly too much to say, that if these two last-named poems--to the
careless eye so slight and trifling--were all that had remained from
Wordsworth's hand, they would have "spoken to the comprehending" of
a new individuality, as distinct and unmistakeable in its way as
that which Sappho has left engraven on the world for ever in words
even fewer than these. And the volume ended with a poem, which
Wordsworth composed in 1798, in one day, during a tour with his
sister to Tintern and Chepstow. The _Lines written above Tintern
Abbey_ have become, as it were, the _locus classicus_ or consecrated
formulary of the Wordsworthian faith. They say in brief what it is
the work of the poet's biographer to say in detail.

As soon as this volume was published Wordsworth and his sister
sailed for Hamburg, in the hope that their imperfect acquaintance
with the German language might be improved by the heroic remedy of a
winter at Goslar. But at Goslar they do not seem to have made any
acquaintances, and their self-improvement consisted mainly in
reading German books to themselves. The four months spent at Goslar,
however, were the very bloom of Wordsworth's poetic career. Through
none of his poems has the peculiar loveliness of English scenery and
English girlhood shone more delicately than through those which came
to him as he paced the frozen gardens of that desolate city. Here it
was that he wrote _Lucy Gray_, and _Ruth_, and _Nutting_, and the
_Poet's Epitaph_, and other poems known now to most men as
possessing in its full fragrance his especial charm. And here it was
that the memory of some emotion prompted the lines on _Lucy_. Of the
history of that emotion he has told us nothing; I forbear, therefore,
to inquire concerning it, or even to speculate. That it was to the
poet's honour I do not doubt; but who ever learned such secrets
rightly? Or who should wish to learn? It is best to leave the
sanctuary of all hearts inviolate, and to respect the reserve not
only of the living but of the dead. Of these poems, almost alone,
Wordsworth in his autobiographical notes has said nothing whatever.
One of them he suppressed for years, and printed only in a later
volume. One can, indeed, well imagine that there may be poems which
a man may be willing to give to the world only in the hope that their
pathos will be, as it were, protected by its own intensity, and that
those who are worthiest to comprehend will he least disposed to
discuss them.

The autobiographical notes on his own works above alluded to were
dictated by the poet to his friend Miss  Isabella Fenwick, at her
urgent request, in 1843, and preserve many interesting particulars
as to the circumstances under which each poem was composed. They are
to be found printed entire among Wordsworth's prose works, and I
shall therefore cite them only occasionally. Of _Lucy Gray_, for
instance, he says,--"It was founded on a circumstance told me by my
sister, of a little girl who, not far from Halifax, in Yorkshire,
was bewildered in a snowstorm. Her footsteps were tracked by her
parents to the middle of the lock of a canal, and no other vestige
of her, backward or forward, could be traced. The body, however, was
found in the canal. The way in which the incident was treated, and
the spiritualizing of the character, might furnish hints for
contrasting the imaginative influences which I have endeavoured to
throw over common life, with Crabbe's matter-of-fact style of
handling subjects of the same kind."

And of the _Lines written in Germany_, 1798-9,--

"A bitter winter it was when these verses were composed by the side
of my sister, in our lodgings, at a draper's house, in the romantic
imperial town of Goslar, on the edge of the Hartz forest. So severe
was the cold of this winter, that when we passed out of the parlour
warmed by the stove our cheeks were struck by the air as by cold iron.
I slept in a room over a passage that was not ceiled. The people of
the house used to say, rather unfeelingly, that they expected I
should be frozen to death some night; but with the protection of a
pelisse lined with fur, and a dog's-skin bonnet, such as was worn by
the peasants, I walked daily on the ramparts or on a sort of public
ground or garden, in which was a pond. Here I had no companion but a
kingfisher, a beautiful creature that used to glance by me. I
consequently became much attached to it. During these walks I
composed _The Poet's Epitaph_."

Seldom has there been a more impressive instance of the contrast,
familiar to biographers, between the apparent insignificance and the
real importance of their hero in undistinguished youth. To any one
considering Wordsworth as he then was,--a rough and somewhat
stubborn young man, who, in nearly thirty years of life, had seemed
alternately to idle without grace and to study without advantage,--
it might well have seemed incredible that he could have anything new
or valuable to communicate to mankind. Where had been his experience?
Or where was the indication of that wealth of sensuous emotion which
in such a nature as Keats' seems almost to dispense with experience
and to give novelty by giving vividness to such passions as are
known to all? If Wordsworth were to impress mankind it must be, one
might have thought, by travelling out of himself altogether--by
revealing some such energy of imagination as can create a world of
romance and adventure in the shyest heart. But this was not so to be.
Already Wordsworth's minor poems had dealt almost entirely with his
own feelings, and with the objects actually before his eyes; and it
was at Goslar that he planned, and on the day of his quitting Goslar
that he began, a much longer poem, whose subject was to be still
more intimately personal, being the development of his own mind. This
poem, dedicated to Coleridge, and written in the form of a
confidence bestowed on an intimate friend, was finished in 1805, but
was not published till after the poet's death. Mrs. Wordsworth then
named it _The Prelude_, indicating thus the relation which it bears
to the _Excursion_--or rather, to the projected poem of the _Recluse_,
of which the _Excursion_ was to form only the Second out of three
Divisions. One Book of the First Division of the _Recluse_ was
written, but is yet unpublished; the Third Division was never even
begun, and "the materials," we are told, "of which it would have
been formed have been incorporated, for the most part, in the
author's other publications." Nor need this change of plan be
regretted: didactic poems admit easily of mutilation; and all that
can be called plot in this series of works is contained in the
_Prelude_, in which we see Wordsworth arriving at those convictions
which in the _Excursion_ he pauses to expound.

It would be too much to say that Wordsworth has been wholly
successful in the attempt--for such the _Prelude_ virtually is--to
write an epic poem on his own education. Such a poem must almost
necessarily appear tedious and egoistic, and Wordsworth's manner has
not tact enough to prevent these defects from being felt to the full.
On the contrary, in his constant desire frugally to extract, as it
were, its full teaching from the minutest event which has befallen
him, he supplements the self-complacency of the autobiographer with
the conscientious exactness of the moralist, and is apt to insist on
trifles such as lodge in the corners of every man's memory, as if
they were unique lessons vouchsafed to himself alone.

Yet it follows from this very temper of mind that there is scarcely
any autobiography which we can read with such implicit confidence as
the _Prelude_. In the case of this, as of so many of Wordsworth's
productions, our first dissatisfaction at the form which the poem
assumes yields to a recognition of its fitness to express precisely
what the poet intends. Nor are there many men who, in recounting the
story of their own lives, could combine a candour so absolute with
so much of dignity--who could treat their personal history so
impartially as a means of conveying lessons of general truth--or who,
while chronicling such small things, could remain so great. The
_Prelude_ is a book of good augury for human nature. We feel in
reading it as if the stock of mankind were sound. The soul seems
going on from strength to strength by the mere development of her
inborn power. And the scene with which the poem at once opens and
concludes--the return to the Lake country as to a permanent and
satisfying home--places the poet at last amid his true surroundings,
and leaves us to contemplate him as completed by a harmony without
him, which he of all men most needed to evoke the harmony within.



CHAPTER IV.


THE ENGLISH LAKES.

The lakes and mountains of Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancashire,
are singularly fitted to supply such elements of moral sustenance as
Nature's aspects can afford to man. There are, indeed, many mountain
regions of greater awfulness; but prospects of ice and terror should
be a rare stimulant rather than an habitual food; and the physical
difficulties inseparable from immense elevations depress the
inhabitant and preoccupy the traveller. There are many lakes under a
more lustrous sky; but the healthy activities of life demand a scene
brilliant without languor, and a beauty which can refresh and satisfy
rather than lull or overpower. Without advancing any untenable claim
to British pre-eminence in the matter of scenery, we may, perhaps,
follow on both these points the judgment which Wordsworth has
expressed in his _Guide to the Lakes_, a work which condenses the
results of many years of intimate observation.

"Our tracts of wood and water," he says, "are almost diminutive in
comparison (with Switzerland); therefore, as far as sublimity is
dependent upon absolute bulk and height, and atmospherical
influences in connexion with these, it is obvious that there can be
no rivalship. But a short residence among the British mountains will
furnish abundant proof, that, after a certain point of elevation, viz.,
that which allows of compact and fleecy clouds settling upon, or
sweeping over, the summits, the sense of sublimity depends more upon
form and relation of objects to each other than upon their actual
magnitude; and that an elevation of 3000 feet is sufficient to call
forth in a most impressive degree the creative, and magnifying, and
softening powers of the atmosphere."

And again, as to climate; "The rain," he says, "here comes down
heartily, and is frequently succeeded by clear bright weather, when
every brook is vocal, and every torrent sonorous; brooks and
torrents which are never muddy even in the heaviest floods. Days of
unsettled weather, with partial showers, are very frequent; but the
showers, darkening or brightening as they fly from hill to hill, are
not less grateful to the eye than finely interwoven passages of gay
and sad music are touching to the ear. Vapours exhaling from the
lakes and meadows after sunrise in a hot season, or in moist weather
brooding upon the heights, or descending towards the valleys with
inaudible motion, give a visionary character to everything around
them; and are in themselves so beautiful as to dispose us to enter
into the feelings of those simple nations (such as the Laplanders of
this day) by whom they are taken for guardian deities of the
mountains; or to sympathize with others who have fancied these
delicate apparitions to be the spirits of their departed ancestors.
Akin to these are fleecy clouds resting upon the hill-tops; they are
not easily managed in picture, with their accompaniments of blue sky,
but how glorious are they in nature! How pregnant with imagination
for the poet! And the height of the Cumbrian mountains is sufficient
to exhibit daily and hourly instances of those mysterious attachments.
Such clouds, cleaving to their stations, or lifting up suddenly
their glittering heads from behind rocky barriers, or hurrying out
of sight with speed of the sharpest edge, will often tempt an
inhabitant to congratulate himself on belonging to a country of mists
and clouds and storms, and make him think of the blank sky of Egypt,
and of the cerulean vacancy of Italy, as an unanimated and even a
sad spectacle."

The consciousness of a preceding turmoil brings home to us best the
sense of perfect peace; and a climate accustomed to storm-cloud and
tempest can melt sometimes into "a day as still as heaven" with a
benignant tranquillity which calmer regions can scarcely know. Such
a day Wordsworth has described in language of such delicate truth
and beauty as only a long and intimate love can inspire:

"It has been said that in human life there are moments worth ages.
In a more subdued tone of sympathy may we affirm, that in the
climate of England there are, for the lover of Nature, days which
are worth whole months, I might say, even years. One of these
favoured days sometimes occurs in springtime, when that soft air is
breathing over the blossoms and new-born verdure which inspired
Buchanan with his beautiful Ode to the First of May; the air which,
in the luxuriance of his fancy, he likens to that of the golden age,--
to that which gives motion to the funereal cypresses on the banks of
Lethe; to the air which is to salute beatified spirits when
expiatory fires shall have consumed the earth with all her
habitations. But it is in autumn that days of such affecting
influence most frequently intervene. The atmosphere seems refined,
and the sky rendered more crystalline, as the vivifying heat of the
year abates; the lights and shadows are more delicate; the colouring
is richer and more finely harmonized; and, in this season of
stillness, the ear being unoccupied, or only gently excited, the
sense of vision becomes more susceptible of its appropriate
enjoyments. A resident in a country like this which we are treating
of will agree with me that the presence of a lake is indispensable to
exhibit in perfection the beauty of one of these days; and he must
have experienced, while looking on the unruffled waters, that the
imagination by their aid is carried into recesses of feeling
otherwise impenetrable. The reason of this is, that the heavens are
not only brought down into the bosom of the earth, but that the
earth is mainly looked at, and thought of, through the medium of a
purer element. The happiest time is when the equinoctial gales are
departed; but their fury may probably be called to mind by the sight
of a few shattered boughs, whose leaves do not differ in colour from
the faded foliage of the stately oaks from which these relics of the
storm depend: all else speaks of tranquillity; not a breath of air,
no restlessness of insects, and not a moving object perceptible--
except the clouds gliding in the depths of the lake, or the
traveller passing along, an inverted image, whose motion seems
governed by the quiet of a time to which its archetype, the living
person, is perhaps insensible; or it may happen that the figure of
one of the larger birds, a raven or a heron, is crossing silently
among the reflected clouds, while the voice of the real bird, from
the element aloft, gently awakens in the spectator the recollection
of appetites and instincts, pursuits and occupations, that deform
and agitate the world, yet have no power to prevent nature from
putting on an aspect capable of satisfying the most intense cravings
for the tranquil, the lovely, and the perfect, to which man, the
noblest of her creatures, is subject."

The scene described here is one as exquisite in detail as majestic
in general effect. And it is characteristic of the region to which
Wordsworth's love was given that there is no corner of it without a
meaning and a charm; that the open record of its immemorial past
tells us at every turn that all agencies have conspired for
loveliness and ruin itself has been benign. A passage of Wordsworth's
describing the character of the lake-shores illustrates this fact
with loving minuteness.

  "Sublimity is the result of nature's first great dealings with
  the superficies of the Earth; but the general tendency of her
  subsequent operations is towards the production of beauty, by
  a multiplicity of symmetrical parts uniting in a consistent
  whole. This is everywhere exemplified along the margins of
  these lakes. Masses of rock, that have been precipitated from
  the heights into the area of waters, lie in some places like
  stranded ships, or have acquired the compact structure of jutting
  piers, or project in little peninsulas crested with native wood.
  The smallest rivulet, one whose silent influx is scarcely
  noticeable in a season of dry weather, so faint is the dimple made
  by it on the surface of the smooth lake, will be found to have
  been not useless in shaping, by its deposits of gravel and soil
  in time of flood, a curve that would not otherwise have existed.
  But the more powerful brooks, encroaching upon the level of the
  lake, have, in course of time, given birth to ample promontories
  of sweeping outline, that contrast boldly with the longitudinal
  base of the steeps on the opposite shore; while their flat or
  gently-sloping surfaces never fail to introduce, into the midst of
  desolation and barrenness, the elements of fertility, even where
  the habitations of men may not have been raised."

With this we may contrast, as a companion picture, the poet's
description of the tarns, or lonely bodies of water, which lie here
and there among the hills:

  "They are difficult of access and naked; yet some of them
  are, in their permanent forms, very grand, and there are accidents
  of things which would make the meanest of them interesting.
  At all events, one of these pools is an acceptable sight to
  the mountain wanderer, not merely as an incident that diversifies
  the prospect, but as forming in his mind a centre or conspicuous
  point to which objects, otherwise disconnected or insubordinated,
  may be referred. Some few have a varied outline,
  with bold heath-clad promontories; and as they mostly lie at the
  foot of a steep precipice, the water, where the sun is not shining
  upon it, appears black and sullen, and round the margin huge
  stones and masses of rock are scattered, some defying conjecture
  as to the means by which they came thither, and others
  obviously fallen from on high, the contribution of ages! A not
  unpleasing sadness is induced by this perplexity, and these
  images of decay; while the prospect of a body of pure water,
  unattended with groves and other cheerful rural images by
  which fresh water is usually accompanied, and unable to give
  furtherance to the meagre vegetation around it, excites a sense
  of some repulsive power strongly put forth, and thus deepens
  the melancholy natural to such scenes."

To those who love to deduce the character of a population from the
character of their race and surroundings the peasantry of Cumberland
and Westmoreland form an attractive theme. Drawn in great part from
the strong Scandinavian stock, they dwell in a land solemn and
beautiful as Norway itself, but without Norway's rigour and penury,
and with still lakes and happy rivers instead of Norway's inarming
melancholy sea. They are a mountain folk; but their mountains are no
precipices of insuperable snow, such as keep the dwellers in some
Swiss hamlet shut in ignorance and stagnating into idiocy. These
barriers divide only to concentrate, and environ only to endear;
their guardianship is but enough to give an added unity to each
group of kindred homes. And thus it is that the Cumbrian dalesmen
have afforded perhaps as near a realization as human fates have yet
allowed of the rural society which statesmen desire for their
country's greatness. They have given an example of substantial
comfort strenuously won; of home affections intensified by
independent strength; of isolation without ignorance, and of a
shrewd simplicity; of an hereditary virtue which needs no support
from fanaticism, and to which honour is more than law.

The school of political economists, moreover, who urge the advantage
of a peasant proprietary--of small independent holdings,--as at once
drawing from the land the fullest produce and rearing upon it the
most vigorous and provident population,--this school, as is well
known, finds in the _statesmen_ of Cumberland one of its favourite
examples. In the days of border-wars, when the first object was to
secure the existence of as many armed men as possible, in readiness
to repel the Scot, the abbeys and great proprietors in the north
readily granted small estates on military tenure, which tenure, when
personal service in the field was no longer needed, became in most
cases an absolute ownership. The attachment of these _statesmen_ to
their hereditary estates, the heroic efforts which they would make
to avoid parting with them, formed an impressive phenomenon in the
little world--a world at once of equality and of conservatism--which
was the scene of Wordsworth's childish years, and which remained his
manhood's ideal.

The growth of large fortunes in England, and the increased
competition for land, has swallowed up many of these small
independent holdings in the extensive properties of wealthy men. And
at the same time the spread of education, and the improved poor-laws
and other legislation, by raising the condition of other parts of
England, have tended to obliterate the contrast which was so marked
in Wordsworth's day. How marked that contrast was, a comparison of
Crabbe's poems with Wordsworth's will sufficiently indicate. Both
are true painters; but while in the one we see poverty as something
gross and degrading, and the _Tales of the Village_ stand out from a
background of pauperism and crime; in the other picture poverty
means nothing worse than privation, and the poet in the presence of
the most tragic outcast of fortune could still

  Have laughed himself to scorn, to find
  In that decrepit man so firm a mind.[3]

[Footnote 3: The previous page ends midsentence, within an ordinary
paragraph, sentence finished by this verse (probably an excerpt from
a poem).]

Nay, even when a state far below the _Leech-Gatherer's_ has been
reached, and mind and body alike are in their last decay, the life
of the _Old Cumberland Beggar_, at one remove from nothingness, has
yet a dignity and a usefulness of its own. His fading days are
passed in no sad asylum of vicious or gloomy age, but amid
neighbourly kindnesses, and in the sanity of the open air; and a life
that is reduced to its barest elements has yet a hold on the
liberality of nature and the affections of human hearts.

So long as the inhabitants of a region thus solitary and beautiful
have neither many arts nor many wishes, save such as the Nature
which they know has suggested, and their own handiwork can satisfy,
so long are their presence and habitations likely to be in harmony
with the scenes around them. Nay, man's presence is almost always
needed to draw out the full meaning of Nature, to illustrate her
bounty by his glad well-being and to hint by his contrivances of
precaution at her might and terror. Wordsworth's description of the
cottages of Cumberland depicts this unconscious adaptation of man's
abode to his surroundings, with an eye which may be called at
pleasure that of painter or of poet.

  "The dwelling-houses, and contiguous outhouses, are in many
  instances of the colour of the native rock out of which they have
  been built; but frequently the dwelling--or Fire-house, as it is
  ordinarily called--has been distinguished from the barn or byre
  by roughcast and whitewash, which, as the inhabitants are not
  hasty in renewing it, in a few years acquires by the influence of
  weather a tint at once sober and variegated. As these houses
  have been, from father to son, inhabited by persons engaged in
  the same occupations, yet necessarily with changes in their
  circumstances, they have received without incongruity additions
  and accommodations adapted to the needs of each successive
  occupant, who, being for the most part proprietor,
  was at liberty to follow his own fancy, so that these humble
  dwellings remind the contemplative spectator of a production of
  Nature, and may (using a strong expression) rather be said to
  have grown than to have been erected--to have risen, by an
  instinct of their own, out of the native rock--so little is there
  in them of formality, such is their wildness and beauty."

  "These dwellings, mostly built, as has been said, of rough unhewn
  stone, are roofed with slates, which were rudely taken
  from the quarry before the present art of splitting them was
  understood, and are therefore rough and uneven in their surface,
  so that both the coverings and sides of the houses have furnished
  places of rest for the seeds of lichens, mosses, ferns and flowers.
  Hence buildings, which in their very form call to mind the
  processes of Nature, do thus, clothed in part with a vegetable garb,
  appear to be received into the bosom of the living principle of
  things, as it acts and exists among the woods and fields, and
  by their colour and their shape affectingly direct the thoughts
  to that tranquil course of nature and simplicity along which the
  humble-minded inhabitants have through so many generations
  been led. Add the little garden with its shed for bee-hives, its
  small bed of potherbs, and its borders and patches of flowers for
  Sunday posies, with sometimes a choice few too much prized to
  be plucked; an orchard of proportioned size; a cheesepress, often
  supported by some tree near the door; a cluster of embowering
  sycamores for summer shade, with a tall fir through which the
  winds sing when other trees are leafless; the little rill or
  household spout murmuring in all seasons,--combine these
  incidents and images together, and you have the representative
  idea of a mountain cottage in this country--so beautifully
  formed in itself, and so richly adorned by the hand of Nature."

These brief descriptions may suffice to indicate the general
character of a district which in Wordsworth's early days had a
distinctive unity which he was the first fully to appreciate, which
was at its best during his long lifetime, and which has already
begun to disappear. The mountains had waited long for a full
adoration, an intelligent worship. At last "they were enough beloved."
And if now the changes wrought around them recall too often the
poet's warning, how

         All that now delights thee, from the day
  On which it should be touched, shall melt, and melt away,--

yet they have gained something which cannot be taken from them. Not
mines, nor railways, nor monster excursions, nor reservoirs, nor
Manchester herself, "toute entière à sa proie attachée," can deprive
lake and hill of Wordsworth's memory, and the love which once they
knew.

Wordsworth's life was from the very first so ordered as to give him
the most complete and intimate knowledge both of district and people.
There was scarcely a mile of ground in the Lake country over which
he had not wandered; scarcely a prospect which was not linked with
his life by some tie of memory. Born at Cockermouth, on the
outskirts of the district, his mind was gradually led on to its
beauty; and his first recollections were of Derwent's grassy holms
and rocky falls, with Skiddaw, "bronzed with deepest radiance,"
towering in the eastern sky. Sent to school at Hawkshead at eight
years old, Wordsworth's scene was transferred to the other extremity
of the lake district. It was in this quaint old town, on the banks
of Esthwaite Water, that the "fair seed-time of his soul" was passed;
it was here that his boyish delight in exercise and adventure grew,
and melted in its turn into a more impersonal yearning, a deeper
absorption into the beauty and the wonder of the world. And even the
records of his boyish amusements come to us each on a background of
Nature's majesty and calm. Setting springs for woodcock on the
grassy moors at night, at nine years old, he feels himself "a
trouble to the peace" that dwells among the moon and stars overhead;
and when he has appropriated a woodcock caught by somebody else,
"sounds of undistinguishable motion" embody the viewless pursuit of
Nemesis among the solitary hills. In the perilous search for the
raven's nest, as he hangs on the face of the naked crags of Yewdale,
he feels for the first time that sense of detachment from external
things which a position of strange unreality will often force on the
mind.

                            Oh, at that time
  When on the perilous ridge I hung alone,
  With what strange utterance did the loud dry wind
  Blow through my ear! The sky seemed not a sky
  Of earth--and with what motion moved the clouds!

The innocent rapine of _nutting_ taught him to feel that there is a
spirit in the woods--a presence which too rude a touch of ours will
desecrate and destroy.

The neighbouring lakes of Coniston, Esthwaite, Windermere, have left
similar traces of the gradual upbuilding of his spirit. It was on a
promontory on Coniston that the sun's last rays, gilding the eastern
hills above which he had first appeared, suggested the boy's first
impulse of spontaneous poetry, in the resolve that, wherever life
should lead him, his last thoughts should fall on the scenes where
his childhood was passing now. It was on Esthwaite that the
"huge peak" of Wetherlam, following him (as it seemed) as he rowed
across the starlit water, suggested the dim conception of "unknown
modes of being," and a life that is not ours. It was round Esthwaite
that the boy used to wander with a friend at early dawn, rejoicing
in the charm of words in tuneful order, and repeating together their
favourite verses, till "sounds of exultation echoed through the
groves." It was on Esthwaite that the band of skaters "hissed along
the polished ice in games confederate," from which Wordsworth would
sometimes withdraw himself and pause suddenly in full career, to
feel in that dizzy silence the mystery of a rolling world.

A passage, less frequently quoted, in describing a boating excursion
on Windermere illustrates the effect of some small point of human
interest in concentrating and realising the diffused emotion which
radiates from a scene of beauty:

                    But, ere nightfall,
  When in our pinnace we returned at leisure
  Over the shadowy lake, and to the beach
  Of some small island steered our course with one,
  The minstrel of the troop, and left him there,
  And rowed off gently, while he blew his flute
  Alone upon the rock--oh, then the calm
  And dead still water lay upon my mind
  Even with a weight of pleasure, and the sky,
  Never before so beautiful, sank down
  Into my heart, and held me like a dream!

The passage which describes the schoolboy's call to the owls--the
lines of which Coleridge said that he should have exclaimed
"Wordsworth!" if he had met them running wild in the deserts of
Arabia,--paint a somewhat similar rush of feeling with a still
deeper charm. The "gentle shock of mild surprise" which in the
pauses of the birds' jocund din _carries far into his heart the
sound of mountain torrents_--the very mingling of the grotesque and
the majestic--brings home the contrast between our transitory
energies and the mystery around us which returns ever the same to
the moments when we pause and are at peace.

It is round the two small lakes of Grasmere and Rydal that the
memories of Wordsworth are most thickly clustered. On one or other
of these lakes he lived for fifty years,--the first half of the
present century; and there is not in all that region a hillside walk
or winding valley which has not heard him murmuring out his verses
as they slowly rose from his heart. The cottage at Townend, Grasmere,
where he first settled, is now surrounded by the out-buildings of a
busy hotel; and the noisy stream of traffic, and the sight of the
many villas which spot the valley, give a new pathos to the sonnet
in which Wordsworth deplores the alteration which even his own
residence might make in the simplicity of the lonely scene.

  Well may'st thou halt, and gaze with brightening eye!
  The lovely Cottage in the guardian nook
  Hath stirred thee deeply; with its own dear brook,
  Its own small pasture, almost its own sky!
  But covet not the Abode: forbear to sigh,
  As many do, repining while they look;
  Intruders--who would tear from Nature's book
  This precious leaf with harsh impiety.
  Think what the home must be if it were thine,
  Even thine, though few thy wants! Roof, window, door,
  The very flowers are sacred to the Poor,
  The roses to the porch which they entwine:
  Yea, all that now enchants thee, from the day
  On which it should be touched, would melt, and melt away.

The _Poems on the Naming of Places_ belong for the most part to this
neighbourhood. _Emma's Dell_ on Easdale Beck, _Point Rash-Judgment_
on the eastern shore of Grasmere, _Mary's Pool_ in Rydal Park,
_William's Peak_ on Stone Arthur, _Joanna's Rock_ on the banks of
Rotha, and _John's Grove_ near White Moss Common, have been
identified by the loving search of those to whom every memorial of
that simple-hearted family group has still a charm.

It is on Greenhead Ghyll--"upon the forest-side in Grasmere Vale"--
that the poet has laid the scene of _Michael_, the poem which paints
with such detailed fidelity both the inner and the outward life of a
typical Westmoreland "statesman." And the upper road from Grasmere
to Rydal, superseded now by the road along the lake side, and left
as a winding footpath among rock and fern, was one of his most
habitual haunts. Of another such haunt his friend Lady Richardson
says, "The _Prelude_ was chiefly composed in a green mountain terrace,
on the Easdale side of Helm Crag, known by the name of Under Lancrigg,
a place which he used to say he knew by heart. The ladies sat at
their work on the hill-side, while he walked to and fro on the
smooth green mountain turf, humming out his verses to himself, and
then repeating them to his sympathising and ready scribes, to be
noted down on the spot, and transcribed at home."

The neighbourhood of the poet's later home at Rydal Mount is equally
full of associations. Two of the _Evening Voluntaries_ were composed
by the side of Rydal Mere. The _Wild Duck's Nest_ was on one of the
Rydal islands. It was on the fells of Loughrigg that the poet's
fancy loved to plant an imperial castle. And _Wansfell's_ green
slope still answers with many a change of glow and shadow to the
radiance of the sinking sun.

Hawkshead and Rydal, then, may be considered as the poet's principal
centres, and the scenery in their neighbourhood has received his
most frequent attention. The Duddon, a seldom-visited stream on the
south-west border of the Lake-district, has been traced by him from
source to outfall in a series of sonnets. Langdale, and Little
Langdale with Blea Tarn lying in it, form the principal scene of the
discourses in the _Excursion_. The more distant lakes and mountains
were often visited and are often alluded to. The scene of _The
Brothers_, for example, is laid in Ennerdale; and the index of the
minor poems will supply other instances. But it is chiefly round two
lines of road leading from Grasmere that Wordsworth's associations
cluster,--the route over Dunmailraise, which led him to Keswick, to
Coleridge and Southey at Greta Hall, and to other friends in that
neighbourhood; and the route over Kirkstone, which led him to
Ullswater, and the friendly houses of Patterdale, Hallsteads, and
Lowther Castle. The first of these two routes was that over which
the _Waggoner_ plied; it skirts the lovely shore of Thirlmere,--a
lonely sheet of water, of exquisite irregularity of outline, and
fringed with delicate verdure, which the Corporation of Manchester
has lately bought to embank it into a reservoir. _Dedecorum pretiosus
emptor_! This lake was a favourite haunt of Wordsworth's; and upon a
rock on its margin, where he and Coleridge, coming from Keswick and
Grasmere, would often meet, the two poets, with the other members of
Wordsworth's loving household group, inscribed the initial letters
of their names. To the "monumental power" of this Rock of Names
Wordsworth appeals, in lines written when the happy company who
engraved them had already been severed by distance and death;

                   O thought of pain,
  That would impair it or profane!
  And fail not Thou, loved Rock, to keep
  Thy charge when we are laid asleep.

The rock may still be seen, but is to be submerged in the new
reservoir. In the vale of Keswick itself, Applethwaite, Skiddaw, St.
Herbert's Island, Lodore, are commemorated in sonnets or inscriptions.
And the Borrowdale yew-trees have inspired some of the poet's
noblest lines,--lines breathing all the strange forlornness of
Glaramara's solitude, and the withering vault of shade.

The route from Rydal to Ullswater is still more thickly studded with
poetic allusions. The _Pass of Kirkstone_ is the theme of a
characteristic ode; Grisdale Tarn and Helvellyn recur again and again;
and Aira Force was one of the spots which the poet best loved to
describe, as well as to visit. It was on the shores of Further
Gowbarrow that the _Daffodils_ danced beneath the trees. These
references might be much further multiplied; and the loving
diligence of disciples has set before us "the Lake-district as
interpreted by Wordsworth" through a multitude of details. But
enough has been said to show how completely the poet had absorbed the
influences of his dwelling-place; how unique a representative he had
become of the lovely district of his birth; how he had made it
subject to him by comprehending it, and his own by love.

He visited other countries and described other scenes. Scotland,
Wales, Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, have all a place in his
works. His familiarity with other scenery helped him, doubtless, to
a better appreciation of the lake country than he could have gained
had he never left it. And, on the other hand, like Caesar in Gaul, or
Wellington in the Peninsula, it was because he had so complete a
grasp of this chosen base of operations that he was able to come, to
see, and to make his own, so swiftly and unfailingly elsewhere.
Happy are those whose deep-rooted memories cling like his about some
stable home! Whose notion of the world around them has expanded from
some prospect of happy tranquillity, instead of being drawn at
random from the confusing city's roar! Happier still if that early
picture be of one of those rare scenes which have inspired poets and
prophets with the retrospective day-dream of a patriarchal, or a
golden, age; of some plot of ground like the Ithaca of Odysseus,
[Greek: traechsi all agathae koyrotrophos], "rough, but a nurse of
_men_;" of some life like that which a poet of kindred spirit to
Wordsworth's saw half in vision, half in reality, among the
husbandmen of the Italian hills:--

  Peace, peace is theirs, and life no fraud that knows,
  Wealth as they will, and when they will, repose;
  On many a hill the happy homesteads stand,
  The living lakes through many a vale expand:
  Cool glens are there, and shadowy caves divine,
  Deep sleep, and far-off voices of the kine;--
  From moor to moor the exulting wild deer stray;--
  The strenuous youth are strong and sound as they;
  One reverence still the untainted race inspires,
  God their first thought, and after God their sires;--
  These last discerned Astraea's flying hem,
  And Virtue's latest footsteps walked with them.



CHAPTER V.


MARRIAGE--SOCIETY--HIGHLAND TOUR.

With Wordsworth's settlement at Townend, Grasmere, in the closing
days of the last century, the external events of his life may be
said to come to an end. Even his marriage to Miss Mary Hutchinson,
of Penrith, on October 4, 1802, was not so much an importation into
his existence of new emotion, as a development and intensification of
feelings which had long been there. This marriage was the crowning
stroke of Wordsworth's felicity--the poetic recompense for his
steady advocacy of all simple and noble things. When he wished to
illustrate the true dignity and delicacy of rustic lives he was
always accustomed to refer to the Cumbrian folk. And now it seemed
that Cumberland requited him for his praises with her choicest boon;
found for him in the country town of Penrith, and from the small and
obscure circle of his connexions and acquaintance,--nay, from the
same dame's school in which he was taught to read,--a wife such as
neither rank nor young beauty nor glowing genius enabled his brother
bards to win.

Mrs. Wordsworth's poetic appreciativeness, manifest to all who knew
her, is attested by the poet's assertion that two of the best lines
in the poem of _The Daffodils_--

  They flash, upon that inward eye
  Which is the bliss of solitude,--

were of her composition. And in all other matters, from the highest
to the lowest, she was to him a true helpmate, a companion "dearer
far than life and light are dear," and able "in his steep march to
uphold him to the end." Devoted to her husband, she nevertheless
welcomed not only without jealousy but with delight the household
companionship through life of the sister who formed so large an
element in his being. Admiring the poet's genius to the full, and
following the workings of his mind with a sympathy that never tired,
she nevertheless was able to discern, and with unobtrusive care to
hide or avert, those errors of manner into which retirement and
sell-absorption will betray even the gentlest spirit. It speaks,
perhaps, equally well for Wordsworth's character that this tendency
to a lengthy insistence, in general conversation, on his own
feelings and ideas is the worst charge that can he brought against
him; and for Mrs. Wordsworth's, that her simple and rustic
upbringing had gifted her with a manner so gracious and a tact so
ready that in her presence all things could not but go well.

The life which the young couple led was one of primitive simplicity.
In some respects it was even less luxurious than that of the
peasants around them. They drank water, and ate the simplest fare.
Miss Wordsworth had long rendered existence possible for her brother
on the narrowest of means by her unselfish energy and skill in
household management; and "plain living and high thinking" were
equally congenial to the new inmate of the frugal home. Wordsworth
gardened; and all together, or oftenest the poet and his sister,
wandered almost daily over the neighbouring hills. If arrow means
did not prevent them from offering a generous welcome to their few
friends, especially Coleridge and his family, who repeatedly stayed
for months under Wordsworth's roof. Miss Wordsworth's unpublished
letters breathe the very spirit of hospitality in their naive
details of the little sacrifices gladly made for the sake of the
presence of these honoured guests. But for the most part their life
was solitary and uneventful. Books they had few; neighbours almost
none; and Miss Wordsworth's diary of these early years describes a
life seldom paralleled in its intimate dependence on external nature.
I take, almost at random, her account of a single day. "November 24,
1801. Read Chaucer. We walked by Gell's cottage. As we were going
along we were stopped at once, at the distance, perhaps, of fifty
yards from our favourite birch-tree; it was yielding to the gust of
wind, with all its tender twigs; the sun shone upon it, and it
glanced in the wind like a flying sunshiny shower. It was a tree in
shape, with stem and branches; but it was like a spirit of water.
After our return William read Spenser to us, and then walked to
John's Grove. Went to meet W." And from an unpublished letter of
Miss Wordsworth's, of about the same period (September 10, 1800), I
extract her description of the new home. "We are daily more delighted
with Grasmere and its neighbourhood. Our walks are perpetually varied,
and we are more fond of the mountains as our acquaintance with them
increases. We have a boat upon the lake, and a small orchard and
smaller garden, which, as it is the work of our own hands, we regard
with pride and partiality. Our cottage is quite large enough for us,
though very small; and we have made it neat and comfortable within
doors; and it looks very nice on the outside; for though the roses
and honeysuckles which we have planted against it are only of this
year's growth, yet it is covered all over with green leaves and
scarlet flowers; for we have trained scarlet beans upon threads,
which are not only exceedingly beautiful but very useful, as their
produce is immense. We have made a lodging-room of the parlour below
stairs, which has a stone floor, therefore we have covered it all
over with matting. We sit in a room above stairs, and we have one
lodging-room with two single beds, a sort of lumber-room, and a
small low unceiled room, which I have papered with newspapers, and
in which we have put a small bed. Our servant is an old woman of
sixty years of age, whom we took partly out of charity. She was very
ignorant, very foolish, and very difficult to teach. But the
goodness of her disposition, and the great convenience we should
find if my perseverance was successful, induced me to go on."

The sonnets entitled _Personal Talk_ give a vivid picture of the
blessings of such seclusion. There are many minds which will echo
the exclamation with which the poet dismisses his visitors and their
gossip:

  Better than such discourse doth silence long,
  Long barren silence, square with my desire;
  To sit without emotion, hope, or aim,
  In the loved presence of my cottage fire,
  And listen to the flapping of the flame,
  Or kettle whispering its faint undersong.

Many will look with envy on a life which has thus decisively cut
itself loose from the world; which is secure from the influx of
those preoccupations, at once distracting and nugatory, which deaden
the mind to all other stimulus, and split the river of life into
channels so minute that it loses itself in the sand.

  Hence have I genial seasons; hence have I
  Smooth passions, smooth discourse, and joyous thought.

Left to herself, the mind can expatiate in those kingdoms of the
spirit bequeathed to us by past generations and distant men, which
to the idle are but a garden of idleness, but to those who choose it
become a true possession and an ever widening home. Among those
"nobler loves and nobler cares" there is excitement without reaction,
there is an unwearied and impersonal joy--a joy which can only be
held cheap because it is so abundant, and can only disappoint us
through our own incapacity to contain it. These delights of study
and of solitude Wordsworth enjoyed to the full. In no other poet,
perhaps, have the poet's heightened sensibilities been productive of
a pleasure so unmixed with pain. The wind of his emotions blew right
abaft; he "swam smoothly in the stream of his nature, and lived but
one man."

The blessing of meditative and lonely hours must of course be
purchased by corresponding limitations. Wordsworth's conception of
human character retained to the end an extreme simplicity. Many of
life's most impressive phenomena were hid from his eyes. He never
encountered any of those rare figures whose aspect seems to justify
all traditions of pomp and pre-eminence when they appear amid
stately scenes as with a natural sovereignty. He neither achieved
nor underwent any of those experiences which can make all high
romance seem a part of memory, and bestow as it were a password and
introduction into the very innermost of human fates. On the other
hand, he almost wholly escaped those sufferings which exceptional
natures must needs derive from too close a contact with this
commonplace world. It was not his lot--as it has been the lot of so
many poets--to move amongst mankind at once as an intimate and a
stranger; to travel from disillusionment to disillusionment and from
regret to regret; to construct around him a world of ideal beings,
who crumble into dust at his touch; to hope from them, what they can
neither understand nor accomplish, to lavish on them what they can
never repay. Such pain, indeed, may become a discipline; and the
close contact with many lives may teach to the poetic nature lessons
of courage, of self-suppression, of resolute goodwill, and may
transform into an added dignity the tumult of emotions which might
else have run riot in his heart. Yet it is less often from moods of
self-control than from moods of self-abandonment that the fount of
poetry springs; and herein it was that Wordsworth's especial
felicity lay--that there was no one feeling in him which the world
had either repressed or tainted; that he had no joy which might not
be the harmless joy of all; and that therefore it was when he was
most unreservedly himself that he was most profoundly human. All
that was needful for him was to strike down into the deep of his
heart. Or, using his own words, we may compare his tranquil
existence to

      A crystal river,
  Diaphanous because it travels slowly,

and in which poetic thoughts rose unimpeded to the surface, like
bubbles through the pellucid stream.

The first hint of many of his briefer poems is to be found in his
sister's diary:

  "April 15. 1802. When we were in the woods below Gowbarrow
  Park we saw a few _daffodils_ close to the water side.
  As we went along there were more, and yet more; and at last,
  under the boughs of the trees, we saw there was a long belt of
  them along the shore. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They
  grew among the mossy stones about them; some rested their
  heads on the stones as on a pillow; the rest tossed, and reeled,
  and danced, and seemed as if they verily danced with the wind,
  they looked so gay and glancing."

  "July 30, 1802. Left London between five and six o'clock
  of the morning, outside the Dover coach. A beautiful morning.
  The city, St. Paul's, with the river, a multitude of little boats,
  made a beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge;
  the houses not overhung by their clouds of smoke, were spread
  out endlessly; yet the sun shone so brightly, with such a
  pure light, that there was something like the purity of one
  of Nature's own grand spectacles. Arrived at Calais at four
  in the morning of July 31st. Delightful walks in the evenings,
  seeing far off in the west the coast of England like a
  cloud, crested with Dover Castle, the evening star, and the
  glory of the sky. The reflections in the water were more
  beautiful than the sky itself; purple waves brighter than
  precious stones for ever melting away upon the sands."


How simple are the elements of these delights! There is nothing here,
except fraternal affection, a sunrise, a sunset, a flock of bright
wild flowers; and yet the sonnets on _Westminster Bridge_ and
_Calais Sands_, and the stanzas on the _Daffodils_, have taken
their place among the permanent records of the profoundest human joy.

Another tour,--this time through Scotland,--undertaken in August 1803,
inspired Wordsworth with several of his best pieces. Miss
Wordsworth's diary of this tour has been lately published, and
should be familiar to all lovers of Nature. The sister's journal is
indeed the best introduction to the brother's poems. It has not--it
cannot have--their dignity and beauty; but it exemplifies the same
method of regarding Nature, the same self-identification with her
subtler aspects and entrance into her profounder charm. It is
interesting to notice how the same impression strikes both minds at
once. From the sister's it is quickly reflected in words of
exquisite delicacy and simplicity; in the brother's it germinates,
and reappears, it may be months or years afterwards, as the nucleus
of a mass of thought and feeling which has grown round it in his
musing soul. The travellers' encounter with two Highland girls on
the shore of Loch Lomond is a good instance of this, "One of the
girls," writes Miss Wordsworth, "was exceedingly beautiful; and the
figures of both of them, in grey plaids falling to their feet, their
faces only being uncovered, excited our attention before we spoke to
them; but they answered us so sweetly that we were quite delighted,
at the same time that they stared at us with an innocent look of
wonder. I think I never heard the English language sound more
sweetly than from the mouth of the elder of these girls, while she
stood at the gate answering our inquiries, her face flushed with the
rain; her pronunciation was clear and distinct, without difficulty,
yet slow, as if like a foreign speech."

  A face with gladness overspread!
  Soft smiles, by human kindness bred!
  And seemliness complete, that sways
  Thy courtesies, about thee plays;
  With no restraint, but such as springs
  From quick and eager visitings
  Of thoughts that lie beyond the reach
  Of thy few words of English speech:
  A bondage sweetly brooked, a strife
  That gives thy gestures grace and life!
  So have I, not unmoved in mind,
  Seen birds of tempest-loving kind
  Thus beating up against the wind.

The travellers saw more of this girl, and Miss Wordsworth's opinion
was confirmed. But to Wordsworth his glimpse of her became a
veritable romance. He commemorated it in his poem of _The Highland
Girl_, soon after his return from Scotland; he narrated it once more
in his poem of _The Three Cottage Girls_, written nearly twenty
years afterwards; and "the sort of prophecy," he says in 1843,
"with which the verses conclude, has, through God's goodness, been
realized; and now, approaching the close of my seventy-third year, I
have a most vivid remembrance of her, and the beautiful objects with
which she was surrounded." Nay, more; he has elsewhere informed us,
with some naïveté, that the first few lines of his exquisite poem to
his wife, _She was a phantom of delight_, were originally composed
as a description of this Highland maid, who would seem almost to
have formed for him ever afterwards a kind of type and image of
loveliness.

That such a meeting as this should have formed so long-remembered an
incident in the poet's life will appear, perhaps, equally ridiculous
to the philosopher and to the man of the world. The one would have
given less, the other would have demanded more. And yet the quest of
beauty, like the quest of truth, reaps its surest reward when it is
disinterested as well as keen; and the true lover of human-kind will
often draw his most exquisite moments from what to most men seems
but the shadow of a joy. Especially, as in this case, his heart will
be prodigal of the impulses of that protecting tenderness which it
is the blessing of early girlhood to draw forth unwittingly, and to
enjoy unknown,--affections which lead to no declaration, and desire
no return; which are the spontaneous effluence of the very Spirit of
Love in man; and which play and hover around winning innocence like
the coruscations round the head of the unconscious Iulus, a soft and
unconsuming flame.

It was well, perhaps, that Wordsworth's romance should come to him
in this remote and fleeting fashion. For to the Priest of Nature it
was fitting that all things else should be harmonious, indeed, but
accessory; that joy should not be so keen, nor sorrow no desolating,
nor love itself so wildly strong, as to prevent him from going out
upon the mountains with a heart at peace, and receiving "in a wise
passiveness" the voices of earth and heaven.



CHAPTER VI.


SIR GEORGE BEAUMONT--DEATH OF JOHN WORDSWORTH.

The year 1803 saw the beginning of a friendship which formed a
valuable element in Wordsworth's life. Sir George Beaumont, of
Coleorton Hall, Leicestershire, a descendant of the dramatist, and
representative of a family long distinguished for talent and culture,
was staying with Coleridge at Greta Hall, Keswick, when, hearing of
Coleridge's affection for Wordsworth, he was struck with the wish to
bring Wordsworth also to Keswick, and bought and presented to him a
beautiful piece of land at Applethwaite, under Skiddaw, in the hope
that he might be induced to settle there. Coleridge was soon
afterwards obliged to leave England in search of health, and the plan
fell through. A characteristic letter of Wordsworth's records his
feelings on the occasion. "Dear Sir George," he writes, "if any
person were to be informed of the particulars of your kindness to me,
if it were described to him in all its delicacy and nobleness, and
he should afterwards be told that I suffered eight weeks to elapse
without writing to you one word of thanks or acknowledgment, he
would deem it a thing absolutely _impossible_. It is nevertheless
true."

"Owing to a set of painful and uneasy sensations which I have, more
or less, at all times about my chest. I deferred writing to you,
being at first made still more uncomfortable by travelling, and
loathing to do violence to myself in what ought to be an act of pure
pleasure and enjoyment, viz., the expression of my deep sense of your
goodness. This feeling was indeed so strong in me, as to make me
look upon the act of writing to you as a thing not to be done but in
my best, my purest, and my happiest moments. Many of these I had,
but then I had not my pen, ink, and paper before me, my conveniences,
'my appliances and means to boot;' all which, the moment that I
thought of them, seemed to disturb and impair the sanctity of my
pleasure, I contented myself with thinking over my complacent
feelings, and breathing forth solitary gratulations and thanksgivings,
which I did in many a sweet and many a wild place, during my late
tour."

The friendship of which this act of delicate generosity was the
beginning was maintained till Sir George Beaumont's death in 1827,
and formed for many years Wordsworth's closest link with the world
of art and culture. Sir George was himself a painter as well as a
connoisseur, and his landscapes are not without indications of the
strong feeling for nature which he undoubtedly possessed. Wordsworth,
who had seen very few pictures, but was a penetrating critic of
those which he knew, discerned this vein of true feeling in his
friend's work, and has idealized a small landscape which Sir George
had given him, in a sonnet which reproduces the sense of happy pause
and voluntary fixation with which the mind throws itself into some
scene where Art has given

  To one brief moment caught from fleeting time
  The appropriate calm of blest eternity.

There was another pursuit in which Sir George Beaumont was much
interested, and in which painter and poet were well fitted to unite.
The landscape-gardener, as Wordsworth says, should "work in the
spirit of Nature, with an invisible hand of art." And he shows how
any real success can only be achieved when the designer is willing
to incorporate himself with the scenery around him; to postpone to
its indications the promptings of his own pride or caprice; to
interpret Nature to herself by completing touches; to correct her
with deference, and as it were to caress her without importunity.
And rising to that aspect of the question which connects it with
human society, he is strenuous in condemnation of that taste, not so
much for solitude as for isolation, which can tolerate no
neighbourhood, and finds its only enjoyment in the sense of monopoly.

  "Laying out grounds, as it is called, may be considered as a
  liberal art, in some sort like poetry and painting; its object
  ought to be to move the affections under the control of good
  sense; and surely the affections of those who have the deepest
  perception of the beauty of Nature,--who have the most valuable
  feelings, that is the most permanent, the most independent, the
  most ennobling, connected with Nature and human life. No
  liberal art aims merely at the gratification of an individual or a
  class; the painter or poet is degraded in proportion as he does
  so. The true servants of the arts pay homage to the human
  kind as impersonated in unwarped and enlightened minds.
  If this be so when we are merely putting together words or
  colours, how much more ought the feeling to prevail when
  we are in the midst of the realities of things; of the beauty
  and harmony, of the joy and happiness, of loving creatures;
  of men and children, of birds and beasts, of hills and streams,
  and trees and flowers; with the changes of night and day, evening
  and morning, summer and winter; and all their unwearied
  actions and energies, as benign in the spirit that animates them
  as they are beautiful and grand in that form of clothing which
  is given to them for the delight of our senses! What then
  shall we say of many great mansions, with their unqualified
  expulsion of human creatures from their neighbourhood,
  happy or not; houses which do what is fabled of the upas
  tree--breathe out death and desolation! For my part, strip
  my neighbourhood of human beings, and I should think it
  one of the greatest privations I could undergo. You have
  all the poverty of solitude, nothing of its elevation."

This passage is from a letter of Wordsworth's to Sir George Beaumont,
who was engaged at the time in rebuilding and laying out Coleorton.
The poet himself planned and superintended some of these improvements,
and wrote for various points of interest in the grounds inscriptions
which form dignified examples of that kind of composition.

Nor was Sir George Beaumont the only friend whom the poet's
taste assisted in the choice of a site or the disposition of
pleasure-grounds. More than one seat in the Lake-country--among them
one home of preeminent beauty--have owed to Wordsworth no small part
of their ordered charm. In this way, too, the poet is with us still;
his presence has a strange reality as we look on some majestic
prospect of interwinding lake and mountain which his design has made
more beautifully visible to the children's children of those he loved;
as we stand, perhaps, in some shadowed garden-ground where his will
has had its way,--has framed Helvellyn's far-off summit in an arch
of tossing green, and embayed in towering forest-trees the long
lawns of a silent Valley,--fit haunt for lofty aspiration and for
brooding calm.

But of all woodland ways which Wordsworth's skill designed or his
feet frequented, not one was dearer to him, (if I may pass thus by a
gentle transition to another of the strong affections of his life),
than a narrow path through a firwood near his cottage, which
"was known to the poet's household by the name of John's Grove." For
in the year 1800 his brother, John Wordsworth, a few years younger
than himself, and captain of an East Indiaman, had spent eight
months in the poet's cottage at Grasmere. The two brothers had seen
little of each other since childhood, and the poet had now the
delight of discovering in the sailor a character congenial to his own,
and an appreciation of poetry--and of the _Lyrical Ballads_
especially--which was intense and delicate in an unusual degree. In
both brothers, too, there was the same love of nature; and after
John's departure, the poet pleased himself with imagining the
visions of Grasmere which beguiled the watches of many a night at sea,
or with tracing the pathway which the sailor's instinct had planned
and trodden amid trees so thickly planted as to baffle a less
practised skill. John Wordsworth, on the other hand, looked forward
to Grasmere as the final goal of his wanderings, and intended to use
his own savings to set the poet free from worldly cares.

Two more voyages the sailor made with such hopes as these, and amid
a frequent interchange of books and letters with his brother at home.
Then, in February 1805, he set sail from Portsmouth, in command of
the "Abergavenny" East Indiaman, bound for India and China. Through
the incompetence of the pilot who was taking her out of the Channel,
the ship struck on the Shambles off the Bill of Portland, on February
5, 1805. "She struck," says Wordsworth, "at 5 p.m. Guns were fired
immediately, and were continued to be fired. She was gotten off the
rock at half-past seven, but had taken in so much water, in spite of
constant pumping, as to be water-logged. They had, however, hope
that she might still be run upon Weymouth sands, and with this view
continued pumping and baling till eleven, when she went down.... A
few minutes before the ship went down my brother was seen talking to
the first mate, with apparent cheerfulness; and he was standing on
the hen-coop, which is the point from which he could overlook the
whole ship, the moment she went down--dying, as he had lived, in the
very place and point where his duty stationed him."

"For myself," he continues elsewhere, "I feel that there is
something cut out of my life which cannot be restored. I never
thought of him but with hope and delight. We looked forward to the
time, not distant, as we thought, when he would settle near us--when
the task of his life would be over, and he would have nothing to do
but reap his reward. By that time I hoped also that the chief part
of my labours would be executed, and that I should be able to show
him that he had not placed a false confidence in me. I never wrote a
line without a thought of giving him pleasure; my writings, printed
and manuscript, were his delight, and one of the chief solaces of
his long voyages. But let me stop. I will not be cast down: were it
only for his sake I will not be dejected. I have much yet to do, and
pray God to give me strength and power: his part of the agreement
between us is brought to an end, mine continues; and I hope when I
shall be able to think of him with a calmer mind, that the
remembrance of him dead will even animate me more than the joy which
I had in him living."

In these and the following reflections there is nothing of novelty;
yet there is an interest in the spectacle of this strong and simple
mind confronted with the universal problems, and taking refuge in
the thoughts which have satisfied, or scarcely satisfied, so many
generations of mourning men.

"A thousand times have I asked myself, as your tender sympathy led
me to do, 'Why was he taken away?' and I have answered the question
as you have done. In fact there is no other answer which can satisfy,
and lay the mind at rest. Why have we a choice, and a will, and a
notion of justice and injustice, enabling us to be moral agents? Why
have we sympathies that make the best of us so afraid of inflicting
pain and sorrow, which yet we see dealt about so lavishly by the
Supreme Governor? Why should our notions of right towards each other,
and to all sentient beings within our influence, differ so widely
from what appears to be His notion and rule, _if every thing were to
end here_? Would it not be blasphemy to say that, upon the
supposition of the thinking principle being _destroyed by death_,
however inferior we may be to the great Cause and Ruler of things we
have _more of love_ in our nature than He has? The thought is
monstrous; and yet how to get rid of it, except upon the supposition
of _another_ and a _better world_, I do not see."

From this calamity, as from all the lessons of life, Wordsworth drew
all the benefit which it was empowered to bring. "A deep distress
hath humanized my soul,"--what lover of poetry does not know the
pathetic lines in which he bears witness to the teaching of sorrow?
Other griefs, too, he had--the loss of two children in 1812; his
sister's chronic illness, beginning in 1832; his daughter's death in
1847. All these he felt to the full; and yet, until his daughter's
death, which was more than his failing energies could bear, these
bereavements were but the thinly-scattered clouds "in a great sea of
blue"--seasons of mourning here and there among years which never
lost their hold on peace; which knew no shame and no remorse, no
desolation and no fear; whose days were never long with weariness,
nor their nights broken at the touch of woe. Even when we speak of
his tribulations, it is his happiness which rises in our minds.

And inasmuch as this felicity is the great fact of Wordsworth's life--
since his history is for the most part but the history of a halycon
calm--we find ourselves forced upon the question whether such a life
is to be held desirable or no. Happiness with honour was the ideal
of Solon; is it also ours? To the modern spirit,--to the Christian,
in whose ears counsels of perfection have left "a presence that is
not to be put by," this question, at which a Greek would have smiled,
is of no such easy solution.

To us, perhaps, in computing the fortune of any one whom we hold dear,
it may seem more needful to inquire not whether he has had enough of
joy, but whether he has had enough of sorrow; whether the blows of
circumstance have wholly shaped his character from the rock; whether
his soul has taken lustre and purity in the refiner's fire. Nor is
it only (as some might say) for violent and faulty natures that
sorrow is the best. It is true that by sorrow only can the
headstrong and presumptuous spirit be shamed into gentleness and
solemnized into humility. But sorrow is used also by the Power above
as in cases where we men would have shrunk in horror from so rough a
touch. Natures that were already of a heroic unselfishness, of a
childlike purity, have been raised ere now by anguish upon anguish,
woe after woe, to a height of holiness which we may believe that they
could have reached by no other road. Why should it not be so I since
there is no limit to the soul's possible elevation, why should her
purifying trials have any assignable end? She is of a metal which
can grow for ever brighter in the fiercening flame. And if, then, we
would still pronounce the true Beatitudes not on the rejoicing, the
satisfied, the highly-honoured, but after an ancient and sterner
pattern, what account are we to give of Wordsworth's long years of
blissful calm?

In the first place, we may say that his happiness was as wholly free
from vulgar or transitory elements as a man's can be. It lay in a
life which most men would have found austere and blank indeed; a
life from which not Croesus only, but Solon would have turned in
scorn, a life of poverty and retirement, of long apparent failure,
and honour that came tardily at the close; it was a happiness
nourished on no sacrifice of other men, on no eager appropriation of
the goods of earth, but springing from, a single eye and a loving
spirit, and wrought from those primary emotions which are the
innocent birthright of all. And if it be answered that however truly
philosophic, however sacredly pure, his happiness may have been, yet
its wisdom and its holiness were without an effort, and, that it is
effort which makes the philosopher and the saint: then we must use
in answer his own Platonic scheme of things, to express a thought
which we can but dimly apprehend; and we must say that though
progress be inevitably linked in our minds with struggle, yet
neither do we conceive of struggle as without a pause; there must be
prospect-places in the long ascent of souls; and the whole of this
earthly life--this one existence, standing we know not where among
the myriad that have been for us or shall be--may not be too much to
occupy with one of those outlooks of vision and of prophecy, when

    In a season of calm weather
  Though inland far we be,
  Our souls have sight of that immortal sea,
  Which brought us hither;
  Can in a moment travel thither.
  And see the children sport upon the shore.
  And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.



CHAPTER VII.


"HAPPY WARRIOR," AND PATRIOTIC POEMS.

The year 1805, which bereft Wordsworth of a beloved brother, brought
with it also another death, which was felt by the whole English
nation like a private calamity. The emotion which Wordsworth felt at
the news of Trafalgar,--the way in which he managed to intertwine
the memories of Nelson and of his own brother in his heart,--may
remind us fitly at this point of our story of the distress and
perplexity of nations which for so many years surrounded the quiet
Grasmere home, and of the strong responsive emotion with which the
poet met each shock of European fates.

When England first took up arms against the French revolution,
Wordsworth's feeling, as we have seen, had been one of unmixed
sorrow and shame. Bloody and terrible as the revolution had become,
it was still in some sort representative of human freedom; at any
rate it might still seem to contain possibilities of progress such
as the retrograde despotisms with which England allied herself could
never know. But the conditions of the contest changed before long.
France had not the wisdom, the courage, the constancy to play to the
end the part for which she had seemed chosen among the nations. It
was her conduct towards Switzerland which decisively altered
Wordsworth's view. He saw her valiant spirit of self-defence
corrupted into lust of glory; her eagerness for the abolition of
unjust privilege turned into a contentment with equality of
degradation under a despot's heel. "One man, of men the meanest
too,"--for such the First Consul must needs appear to the moralist's
eye,--was

  Raised up to sway the world--to do, undo;
  With mighty nations for his underlings.

And history herself seemed vulgarized by the repetition of her
ancient tales of war and overthrow on a scale of such apparent
magnitude, but with no glamour of distance to hide the baseness of
the agencies by which the destinies of Europe were shaped anew. This
was an occasion that tried the hearts of men; it was not easy to
remain through all those years at once undazzled and untempted, and
never in the blackest hour to despair of human virtue.

In his tract on _The Convention of Cintra_, 1808, Wordsworth has
given the fullest expression to this undaunted temper:--

  "Oppression, its own blind and predestined enemy, has poured
  this of blessedness upon Spain--that the enormity of the outrages
  of which she has been the victim has created an object of love
  and of hatred, of apprehensions and of wishes, adequate (if
  that be possible) to the utmost demands of the human spirit.
  The heart that serves in this cause, if it languish, must
  languish from its own constitutional weakness, and not through
  want of nourishment from without. But it is a belief propagated
  in books, and which passes currently among talking
  men as part of their familiar wisdom, that the hearts of the
  many _are_ constitutionally weak, that they _do_ languish, and
  are slow to answer to the requisitions of things. I entreat
  those who are in this delusion to look behind them and
  about them for the evidence of experience. Now this, rightly
  understood, not only gives no support to any such belief,
  but proves that the truth is in direct opposition to it. The
  history of all ages--tumults after tumults, wars foreign or
  civil, with short or with no breathing-places from generation to
  generation; the senseless weaving and interweaving of factions,
  vanishing, and reviving, and piercing each other like the
  Northern Lights; public commotions, and those in the breast
  of the individual; the long calenture to which the Lover is subject;
  the blast, like the blast of the desert, which sweeps perennially
  through a frightful solitude of its own making in the
  mind of the Gamester; the slowly quickening, but ever quickening,
  descent of appetite down which the Miser is propelled; the
  agony and cleaving oppression of grief; the ghost-like hauntings
  of shame; the incubus of revenge; the life-distemper of ambition ...
  these demonstrate incontestably that the passions of
  men, (I mean the soul of sensibility in the heart of man), in all
  quarrels, in all contests, in all quests, in all delights, in all
  employments which are either sought by men or thrust upon
  them, do immeasurably transcend their objects. The true
  sorrow of humanity consists in this--not that the mind of
  man fails, but that the cause and demands of action and of
  life so rarely correspond with the dignity and intensity of
  human desires; and hence, that which is slow to languish is too
  easily turned aside and abused. But, with the remembrance of
  what has been done, and in the face of the interminable evils
  which are threatened, a Spaniard can never have cause to complain
  of this while a follower of the tyrant remains in arms
  upon the Peninsula."

It was passages such as this, perhaps, which led Canning to declare
that Wordsworth's pamphlet was the finest piece of political
eloquence which had appeared since Burke. And yet if we compare it
with Burke, or with the great Greek exemplar of all those who would
give speech the cogency of act,--we see at once the causes of its
practical failure. In Demosthenes the thoughts and principles are
often as lofty as any patriot can express; but their loftiness, in
his speech, as in the very truth of things, seemed but to add to
their immediate reality. They were beaten and inwoven into the facts
of the hour; action seemed to turn, on them as on its only possible
pivot; it was as though Virtue and Freedom hung armed in heaven
above the assembly, and in the visible likeness of immortal
ancestors beckoned upon an urgent way. Wordsworth's mood of mind, on
the other hand, as he has depicted it in two sonnets written at the
same time as his tract, explains why it was that that appeal was
rather a solemn protest than an effective exhortation. In the first
sonnet he describes the surroundings of his task,--the dark wood and
rocky cave, "the hollow vale which foaming torrents fill with
omnipresent murmur:"--

  Here mighty Nature! In this school sublime
  I weigh the hopes and fears of suffering Spain;
  For her consult the auguries of time,
  And through the human heart explore my way,
  And look and listen, gathering whence I may
  Triumph, and thoughts no bondage can restrain.

And then he proceeds to conjecture what effect his tract will produce:--

  I dropped my pen, and listened to the wind,
    That sang of trees uptorn and vessels tost;
    A midnight harmony, and wholly lost
  To the general sense of men, by chains confined
  Of business, care, or pleasure,--or resigned
    To timely sleep. Thought I, the impassioned strain
    Which without aid of numbers I sustain
  Like acceptation from the world will find.

This deliberate and lonely emotion was fitter to inspire grave
poetry than a pamphlet appealing to an immediate crisis. And the
sonnets dedicated _To Liberty_ (1802-16) are the outcome of many
moods like these.

It is little to say of these sonnets that they are the most
permanent record in our literature of the Napoleonic war. For that
distinction they have few competitors. Two magnificent songs of
Campbell's, an ode of Coleridge's, a few spirited stanzas of Byron's--
strangely enough there is little besides these that lives in the
national memory, till we come to the ode which summed up the long
contest a generation later, when its great captain passed away. But
these _Sonnets to Liberty_ are worthy of comparison with the noblest
passages of patriotic verse or prose which all our history has
inspired--the passages where Shakespeare brings his rays to focus on
"this earth, this realm, this England,"--or where the dread of
national dishonour has kindled Chatham to an iron glow,--or where
Milton rises from the polemic into the prophet, and Burke from the
partisan into the philosopher. The armoury of Wordsworth, indeed,
was not forged with the same fire as that of these "invincible
knights of old." He had not swayed senates, nor directed policies,
nor gathered into one ardent bosom all the spirit of a heroic age.
But he had deeply felt what it is that makes the greatness of nations;
in that extremity no man was more staunch than he; no man more
unwaveringly disdained unrighteous empire, or kept the might of
moral forces more steadfastly in view. Not Stein could place a
manlier reliance on "a few strong instincts and a few plain rules;"
not Fichte could invoke more convincingly the "great allies" which
work with "Man's unconquerable mind."

Here and there, indeed, throughout these sonnets are scattered
strokes of high poetic admiration or scorn which could hardly be
overmatched in AEschylus. Such is the indignant correction--

     Call not the royal Swede unfortunate,
     Who never did to Fortune bend the knee!

or the stern touch which closes a description of Flamininus'
proclamation at the Isthmian games, according liberty to Greece,--

     A gift of that which is not to be given
     By all the blended powers of Earth and Heaven!

Space forbids me to dwell in detail on these noble poems,--on the
well-known sonnets to Venice, to Milton, &c.; on the generous
tributes to the heroes of the contest,--Schill, Hoffer, Toussaint,
Palafox; or on the series which contrast the instinctive greatness
of the Spanish people at bay, with Napoleon's lying promises and
inhuman pride. But if Napoleon's career afforded to Wordsworth a
poetic example, impressive as that of Xerxes to the Greeks, of
lawless and intoxicated power, there was need of some contrasted
figure more notable than Hoffer or Palafox from which to draw the
lessons which great contests can teach of unselfish valour. Was
there then any man, by land or sea, who might serve as the poet's
type of the ideal hero? To an Englishman, at least, this question
carries its own reply. For by a singular destiny England, with a
thousand years of noble history behind her, has chosen for her
best-loved, for her national hero, not an Arminius from the age of
legend, not a Henri Quatro from the age of chivalry, but a man whom
men still living have seen and known. For indeed England and all the
world as to this man were of one accord; and when in victory, on his
ship _Victory_, Nelson passed away, the thrill which shook mankind
was of a nature such as perhaps was never felt at any other death,--
so unanimous was the feeling of friends and foes that earth had lost
her crowning example of impassioned self-devotedness and of heroic
honour.

And yet it might have seemed that between Nelson's nature and
Wordsworth's there was little in common. The obvious limitations of
the great Admiral's culture and character were likely to be strongly
felt by the philosophic poet. And a serious crime, of which Nelson
was commonly, though, as now appears, erroneously, [4] supposed to be
guilty, was sure to be judged by Wordsworth with great severity.

[Footnote 4: The researches of Sir Nicholas Nicolas, (_Letters and
Despatches of Lord Nelson_, vol. vii. Appendix), have placed Lord
Nelson's connexion with Lady Hamilton in an unexpected light.]

Wordsworth was, in fact, hampered by some such feelings of
disapproval. He even tells us, with that naive affectionateness
which often makes us smile, that he has had recourse to the
character of his own brother John for the qualities in which the
great Admiral appeared to him to have been deficient. But on these
hesitations it would be unjust to dwell. I mention them only to bring
out the fact that between these two men, so different in outward
fates,--between "the adored, the incomparable Nelson" and the homely
poet, "retired as noontide dew,"--there was a moral likeness so
profound that the ideal of the recluse was realized in the public
life of the hero, and, on the other hand, the hero himself is only
seen as completely heroic when his impetuous life stands out for us
from the solemn background of the poet's calm. And surely these two
natures taken together make the perfect Englishman. Nor is there any
portrait fitter than that of _The Happy Warrior_ to go forth to all
lands as representing the English character at its height--a figure
not ill-matching with "Plutarch's men."

For indeed this short poem is in itself a manual of greatness; there
is a Roman majesty in its simple and weighty speech. And what eulogy
was ever nobler than that passage where, without definite allusion
or quoted name, the poet depicts, as it were, the very summit of
glory in the well-remembered aspect of the Admiral in his last and
greatest hour?

  Whose powers shed round him. In the common strife,
  Or mild concerns of ordinary life.
  A constant influence, a peculiar grace:
  But who, if he be called upon to face
  Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined
  Great issues, good or bad for human kind,
  _Is happy as a Lover, and attired
  With sudden brightness, like a Man inspired_.

Or again, where the hidden thought of Nelson's womanly tenderness,
of his constant craving for the green earth and home affections in
the midst of storm and war, melts the stern verses into a sudden
change of tone:--

  He who, though thus endued as with a sense
  And faculty for storm and turbulence.
  _Is yet a Soul whose master-bias leans
  To homefelt pleasures and to gentle scenes_;
  Sweet images! Which, wheresoe'er he be,
  Are at his heart; and such fidelity
  It is his darling passion to approve;--
  More brave for this, that he hath much to love.

Compare with this the end of the _Song at Brougham Castle_, where,
at the words "alas! The fervent harper did not know--" the strain
changes from the very spirit of chivalry to the gentleness of
Nature's calm. Nothing can be more characteristic of Wordsworth than
contrasts like this. They teach us to remember that his accustomed
mildness is the fruit of no indolent or sentimental peace; and that,
on the other hand, when his counsels are sternest, and "his voice is
still for war," this is no voice of hardness or of vainglory, but
the reluctant resolution of a heart which fain would yield itself to
other energies, and have no message but of love.

There is one more point in which the character of Nelson has fallen
in with one of the lessons which Wordsworth is never tired of
enforcing, the lesson that virtue grows by the strenuousness of its
exercise, that it gains strength as it wrestles with pain and
difficulty, and converts the shocks of circumstance into an energy
of its proper glow. The Happy Warrior is one,

     Who, doomed to go in company with Pain,
     And Fear, and Bloodshed, miserable train!
     Turns his necessity to glorious gain;
     In face of these doth exercise a power
     Which is our human nature's highest dower;
     Controls them and subdues, transmutes, bereaves
     Of their bad influence, and their good receives;
     By objects which might force the soul to abate
     Her feeling, rendered more compassionate;--

and so further, in words which recall the womanly tenderness, the
almost exaggerated feeling for others' pain, which showed itself
memorably in face of the blazing _Orient_, and in the harbour at
Teneriffe, and in the cockpit at Trafalgar.

In such lessons as these,--such lessons as _The Happy Warrior_ or
the Patriotic Sonnets teach,--there is, of course, little that is
absolutely novel. We were already aware that the ideal hero should
be as gentle as he is brave, that he should act always from the
highest motives, nor greatly care for any reward save the
consciousness of having done his duty. We were aware that the true
strength of a nation is moral and not material; that dominion which
rests on mere military force is destined quickly to decay, that the
tyrant, however admired and prosperous, is in reality despicable,
and miserable, and alone; that the true man should face death itself
rather than parley with dishonour. These truths are _admitted_ in
all ages; yet it is scarcely stretching language to say that they
are _known_ to but few men. Or at least, though in a great nation
there be many who will act on them instinctively, and approve them
by a self-surrendering faith, there are few who can so put them
forth in speech as to bring them home with a fresh conviction and an
added glow; who can sum up, like AEschylus, the contrast between
Hellenic freedom and barbarian despotism in "one trump's peal that
set all Greeks aflame;" can thrill, like Virgil, a world-wide empire
with the recital of the august simplicities of early Rome.

To those who would know these things with a vital knowledge--a
conviction which would remain unshaken were the whole world in arms
for wrong--it is before all things necessary to strengthen the inner
monitions by the companionship of these noble souls. And If a poet,
by strong concentration of thought, by striving in all things along
the upward way, can leave us in a few pages as it were a summary of
patriotism, a manual of national honour, he surely has his place
among his country's benefactors not only by that kind of courtesy
which the nation extends to men of letters of whom her masses take
little heed, but with a title as assured as any warrior or statesman,
and with no less direct a claim.



CHAPTER VIII.


CHILDREN--LIFE AT RYDAL MOUNT--"THE EXCURSION."

It may be well at this point to return to the quiet chronicle of the
poet's life at Grasmere; where his cottage was becoming too small
for an increasing family. His eldest son, John, was born in 1803;
his eldest daughter, Dorothy or Dora, in 1804. Then came Thomas, born
1806; and Catherine, born 1808; and the list is ended by William,
born 1810, and now (1880) the only survivor. In the spring of 1808
Wordsworth left Townend for Allan Bank,--a more roomy, but an
uncomfortable house, at the north end of Grasmere. From thence he
removed for a time, in 1811, to the Parsonage at Grasmere.

Wordsworth was the most affectionate of fathers, and allusions to
his children occur frequently in his poetry. Dora--who was the
delight of his later years--has been described at length in _The
Triad_. Shorter and simpler, but more completely successful, is the
picture of Catherine in the little poem which begins "Loving she is,
and tractable, though wild," with its homely simile for childhood--
its own existence sufficient to fill it with gladness:

      As a faggot sparkles on the hearth
  Not less if unattended and alone
  Than when both young and old sit gathered round
  And take delight in its activity.

The next notice of this beloved child is in the sonnet, "Surprised
by joy, impatient as the wind," written when she had already been
removed from his side. She died in 1812, and was closely followed by
her brother Thomas. Wordsworth's grief for these children was
profound, violent, and lasting, to an extent which those who imagine
him as not only calm but passionless might have some difficulty in
believing. "Referring once," says his friend Mr. Aubrey de Vere,
"to two young children of his who had died about _forty years_
previously, he described the details of their illnesses with an
exactness and an impetuosity of troubled excitement, such as might
have been expected if the bereavement had taken place but a few
weeks before. The lapse of time seemed to have left the sorrow
submerged indeed, but still in all its first freshness. Yet I
afterwards heard that at the time of the illness, at least in the
case of one of the two children, it was impossible to rouse his
attention to the danger. He chanced to be then under the immediate
spell of one of those fits of poetic inspiration which descended on
him like a cloud. Till the cloud had drifted, he could see nothing
beyond."

This anecdote illustrates the fact, which to those who knew
Wordsworth well was sufficiently obvious, that the characteristic
calm of his writings was the result of no coldness of temperament
but of a deliberate philosophy. The pregnant force of his language
in dealing with those dearest to him--his wife, his sister, his
brother--is proof enough of this. The frequent allusions in his
correspondence to the physical exhaustion brought on by the act of
poetical composition indicate a frame which, though made robust by
exercise and temperance, was by nature excitable rather than strong.
And even in the direction in which we should least have expected it,
there is reason to believe that there were capacities of feeling in
him which never broke from his control. "Had I been a writer of
love-poetry," he is reported to have said, "it would have been
natural to me to write it with a degree of warmth which could hardly
have been approved by my principles, and which might have been
undesirable for the reader."

Wordsworth's paternal feelings, at any rate, were, as has been said,
exceptionally strong; and the impossibility of remaining in a house
filled with sorrowful memories rendered him doubly anxious to obtain
a permanent home. "The house which I have for some time occupied," he
writes to Lord Lonsdale, in January 1813, "is the Parsonage of
Grasmere. It stands close by the churchyard, and I have found it
absolutely necessary that we should quit a place which, by recalling
to our minds at every moment the losses we have sustained in the
course of the last year, would grievously retard our progress
towards that tranquillity which it is our duty to aim at." It
happened that Rydal Mount became vacant at this moment, and in the
spring of 1813 the Wordsworths migrated to this their favourite and
last abode.

Rydal Mount has probably been oftener described than any other
English poet's home since Shakespeare; and few homes, certainly,
have been moulded into such close accordance with their inmates'
nature. The house, which has been altered since Wordsworth's day,
stands looking southward, on the rocky side of Nab Scar, above Rydal
Lake. The garden was described by Bishop Wordsworth immediately
after his uncle's death, while every terrace-walk and flowering
alley spoke of the poet's loving care. He tells of the "tall ash-tree,
in which a thrush has sung, for hours together, during many years;"
of the "laburnum in which the osier cage of the doves was hung;" of
the stone steps "in the interstices of which grow the yellow
flowering poppy, and the wild geranium or Poor Robin,"--

                                 Gay
  With his red stalks upon a sunny day.

And then of the terraces--one levelled for Miss Fenwick's use, and
welcome to himself in aged years; and one ascending, and leading to
the "far terrace" on the mountain's side, where the poet was wont to
murmur his verses as they came. Within the house were disposed his
simple treasures: the ancestral almery, on which the names of unknown
Wordsworths may be deciphered still; Sir George Beaumont's pictures
of "The White Doe of Rylstone" and "The Thorn," and the cuckoo clock
which brought vernal thoughts to cheer the sleepless bed of age, and
which sounded its noonday summons when his spirit fled.

Wordsworth's worldly fortunes, as if by some benignant guardianship
of Providence, were at all times proportioned to his successive needs.
About the date of his removal to Rydal (in March 1813) he was
appointed, through Lord Lonsdale's interest, to the distributorship
of stamps for the county of Westmoreland, to which office the same
post for Cumberland was afterwards added. He held this post till
August 1842, when he resigned it without a retiring pension, and it
was conferred on his second son. He was allowed to reside at Rydal,
which was counted as a suburb of Ambleside: and as the duties of the
place were light, and mainly performed by a most competent and
devoted clerk, there was no drawback to the advantage of an increase
of income which released him from anxiety as to the future. A more
lucrative office--the collectorship of Whitehaven--was subsequently
offered to him; but he declined it, "nor would exchange his Sabine
valley for riches and a load of care."

Though Wordsworth's life at Rydal was a retired one, it was not
that of a recluse. As years went on he became more and more
recognized as a centre of spiritual strength and illumination, and
was sought not only by those who were already his neighbours, but by
some who became so mainly for his sake. Southey at Keswick was a
valued friend, though Wordsworth did not greatly esteem him as a poet.
De Quincey, originally attracted to the district by admiration for
Wordsworth, remained there for many years, and poured forth a
criticism strangely compounded of the utterances of the
hero-worshipper and the _valet-de-chambre_. Professor Wilson, of the
_Noctes Ambrosianae_, never showed, perhaps, to so much advantage
as when he walked by the side of the master whose greatness he was
one of the first to detect. Dr. Arnold of Rugby made the
neighbouring home at Fox How a focus of warm affections and of
intellectual life. And Hartley Coleridge, whose fairy childhood had
inspired one of Wordsworth's happiest pieces, continued to lead
among the dales of Westmoreland a life which showed how much of
genius and goodness a single weakness can nullify.

Other friends there were, too, less known to fame, but of
exceptional powers of appreciation and sympathy. The names of
Mrs. Fletcher and her daughters, Lady Richardson and Mrs. Davy,
should not be omitted in any record of the poet's life at Rydal. And
many humbler neighbours may be recognized in the characters of the
_Excursion_ and other poems. _The Wanderer_, indeed, is a picture
of Wordsworth himself--"an idea," as he says, "of what I fancied my
own character might have become in his circumstances." But the
_Solitary_ was suggested by a broken man who took refuge in
Grasmere from the world in which he had found no peace; and the
characters described as lying in the churchyard among the mountains
are almost all of them portraits. The clergyman and his family
described in Book VII were among the poet's principal associates in
the vale of Grasmere. "There was much talent in the family," says
Wordsworth in the memoranda dictated to Miss Fenwick; "and the
eldest son was distinguished for poetical talent, of which a
specimen is given in my Notes to the _Sonnets on the Duddon_. Once
when, in our cottage at Townend, I was talking with him about poetry,
in the course of our conversation I presumed to find fault with the
versification of Pope, of whom he was an enthusiastic admirer. He
defended him with a warmth that indicated much irritation;
nevertheless I could not abandon my point, and said, 'In compass and
variety of sound your own versification surpasses his.' Never shall
I forget the change in his countenance and tone of voice. The storm
was laid in a moment; he no longer disputed my judgment; and I
passed immediately in his mind, no doubt, for as great a critic as
ever lived."

It was with personages simple and unromantic as these that
Wordsworth filled the canvas of his longest poem. Judged by ordinary
standards the _Excursion_ appears an epic without action, and with
two heroes, the Pastor and the Wanderer, whose characters are
identical. Its form is cumbrous in the extreme, and large tracts of
it have little claim to the name of poetry. Wordsworth compares the
_Excursion_ to a temple of which his smaller poems form subsidiary
shrines; but the reader will more often liken the small poems to gems,
and the _Excursion_ to the rock from which they were extracted. The
long poem contains, indeed, magnificent passages, but as a whole it
is a diffused description of scenery which the poet has elsewhere
caught in brighter glimpses; a diffused statement of hopes and
beliefs which have crystallized more exquisitely elsewhere round
moments of inspiring emotion. The _Excursion_, in short, has the
drawbacks of a didactic poem as compared with lyrical poems; but,
judged as a didactic poem, it has the advantage of containing
teaching of true and permanent value.

I shall not attempt to deduce a settled scheme of philosophy from
these discourses among the mountains. I would urge only that as a
guide to conduct Wordsworth's precepts are not in themselves either
unintelligible or visionary. For whereas some moralists would have us
amend nature, and others bid us follow her, there is apt to be
something impracticable in the first maxim, and something vague in
the second. Asceticism, quietism, enthusiasm, ecstasy--all systems
which imply an unnatural repression or an unnatural excitation of
our faculties--are ill-suited for the mass of mankind. And on the
other hand, if we are told to follow nature, to develope our
original character, we are too often in doubt as to which of our
conflicting instincts to follow, what part of our complex nature to
accept as our regulating self. But Wordsworth, while impressing on
us conformity to nature as the rule of life, suggests a test of such
conformity which can be practically applied. "The child is father of
the man,"--in the words which stand as introduction to his poetical
works, and Wordsworth holds that the instincts and pleasures of a
healthy childhood sufficiently indicate the lines on which our
maturer character should be formed. The joy which began in the mere
sense of existence should be maintained by hopeful faith; the
simplicity which began in inexperience should be recovered by
meditation; the love which originated in the family circle should
expand itself over the race of men. And the calming and elevating
influence of Nature--which to Wordsworth's memory seemed the
inseparable concomitant of childish years--should be constantly
invoked throughout life to keep the heart fresh and the eyes open to
the mysteries discernible through her radiant veil. In a word, the
family affections, if duly fostered, the influences of Nature, if
duly sought, with some knowledge of the best books, are material
enough to "build up our moral being" and to outweigh the less
deep-seated impulses which prompt to wrong-doing.

If, then, surrounding influences make so decisive a difference in
man's moral lot, what are we to say of those who never have the
chance of receiving those influences aright; who are reared, with
little parental supervision, in smoky cities, and spend their lives
in confined and monotonous labour? One of the most impressive
passages in the _Excursion_ is an indignant complaint of the
injustice thus done to the factory child. Wordsworth was no
fanatical opponent of manufacturing industry. He had intimate
friends among manufacturers; and in one of his letters he speaks of
promising himself much pleasure from witnessing the increased regard
for the welfare of factory hands of which one of these friends had
set the example. But he never lost sight of the fact that the life
of the mill-hand is an anomaly--is a life not in the order of nature,
and which requires to be justified by manifest necessity and by
continuous care. The question to what extent we may acquiesce in the
continuance of a low order of human beings, existing for our
enjoyment rather than for their own, may be answered with
plausibility in very different tones; from the Communist who cannot
rest content in the inferiority of any one man's position to any
other's, to the philosopher who holds that mankind has made the most
eminent progress when a few chosen individuals have been supported
in easy brilliancy by a population of serfs or slaves. Wordsworth's
answer to this question is at once conservative and philanthropic.
He holds to the distinction of classes, and thus admits a difference
in the fulness and value of human lots. But he will not consent to
any social arrangement which implies a necessary _moral_ inferiority
in any section of the body politic; and he esteems it the
statesman's first duty to provide that all citizens shall be placed
under conditions of life which, however humble, shall not be
unfavourable to virtue.

His views on national education, which at first sight appear so
inconsistent, depend on the same conception of national welfare.
Wordsworth was one of the earliest and most emphatic proclaimers of
the duty of the State in this respect. The lines in which he insists
that every child ought to be taught to read are, indeed, often quoted
as an example of the moralizing baldness of much of his blank verse.
But, on the other hand, when a great impulse was given to education
(1820-30) by Bell and Lancaster, by the introduction of what was
called the "Madras system" of tuition by pupil-teachers, and the
spread of infant schools, Wordsworth was found unexpectedly in the
opposite camp. Considering as he did all mental requirements as
entirely subsidiary to moral progress, and in themselves of very
little value, he objected to a system which, instead of confining
itself to reading--that indispensable channel of moral nutriment--
aimed at communicating knowledge as varied and advanced as time and
funds would allow. He objected to the dissociation of school and
home life--to that relegation of domestic interests and duties to
the background, which large and highly-organized schools, and
teachers much above the home level, must necessarily involve. And
yet more strongly, and, as it may still seem to many minds, with
convincing reason, he objected to an eleemosynary system, which
"precludes the poor mother from the strongest motive human nature
can be actuated by for industry, for forethought, and self-denial."
"The Spartan," he said, "and other ancient communities, might
disregard domestic ties, because they had the substitution of country,
which we cannot have. Our course is to supplant domestic attachments,
without the possibility of substituting others more capacious. What
can grow out of it but selfishness?" The half-century which has
elapsed since Wordsworth wrote these words has evidently altered the
state of the question. It has impressed on us the paramount necessity
of national education, for reasons political and social too well
known to repeat. But it may be feared that it has also shifted the
incidence of Wordsworth's arguments in a more sinister manner, by
vastly increasing the number of those homes where domestic influence
of the kind which the poet saw around him at Rydal is altogether
wanting and school is the best avenue even to moral well-being.
"Heaven and hell," he writes in 1808, "are scarcely more different
from each other than Sheffield and Manchester, &c., differ from the
plains and valleys of Surrey, Essex, Cumberland, or Westmoreland."
It is to be feared, indeed, that even "the plains and valleys of
Surrey and Essex" contain many cottages whose spiritual and sanitary
conditions fall far short of the poet's ideal. But it is of course
in the great and growing centres of population that the dangers
which he dreads have come upon us in their most aggravated form. And
so long as there are in England so many homes to which parental care
and the influences of Nature are alike unknown, no protest in favour
of the paramount importance of these primary agencies in the
formation of character can be regarded as altogether out of date.

With such severe and almost prosaic themes is the greater part of
the _Excursion_ occupied. Yet the poem is far from being composed
throughout in a prosaic spirit. "Of its bones is coral made;" its
arguments and theories have lain long in Wordsworth's mind, and have
accreted to themselves a rich investiture of observation and feeling.
Some of its passages rank among the poet's highest flights. Such is
the passage in Book I describing the boy's rapture at sunrise; and
the picture of a sunset at the close of the same book. Such is the
opening of Book IV; and the passage describing the wild joy of
roaming through a mountain storm; and the metaphor in the same book
which compares the mind's power of transfiguring the obstacles which
beset her, with the glory into which the moon incorporates the
umbrage that would intercept her beams.

It would scarcely be possible at the present day that a work
containing such striking passages, and so much of substance and
elevation--however out of keeping it might be with the ruling taste
of the day--should appear without receiving careful study from many
quarters and warm appreciation in some recognized organs of opinion.
Criticism in Wordsworth's day was both less competent and less
conscientious, and the famous "This will never do" of Jeffrey in the
_Edinburgh Review_ was by no means an extreme specimen of the
general tone in which the work was received. The judgment of the
reviewers influenced popular taste; and the book was as decided a
pecuniary failure as Wordsworth's previous ventures had been.

And here, perhaps, is a fit occasion to speak of that strangely
violent detraction and abuse which formed so large an ingredient in
Wordsworth's life,--or rather, of that which is the only element of
permanent interest in such a matter,--his manner of receiving and
replying to it. No writer, probably, who has afterwards achieved a
reputation at all like Wordsworth's, has been so long represented by
reviewers as purely ridiculous. And in Wordsworth's manner of
acceptance of this fact we may discern all the strength, and
something of the stiffness, of his nature; we may recognize an almost,
but not quite, ideal attitude under the shafts of unmerited obloquy.
For he who thus is arrogantly censured should remember both the
dignity and the frailty of man; he should wholly forgive, and almost
wholly forget; but, nevertheless, should retain such serviceable
hints as almost any criticism, however harsh or reckless, can afford,
and go on his way with no bitter broodings, but yet (to use
Wordsworth's expression in another context) "with a melancholy in
the soul, a sinking inward into ourselves from thought to thought, a
steady remonstrance, and a high resolve."

How far his own self-assertion may becomingly be carried in reply,
is another and a delicate question. There is almost necessarily
something distasteful to us not only in self-praise but even in a
thorough self-appreciation. We desire of the ideal character that
his faculties of admiration should be, as it were, absorbed in an
eager perception of the merits of others,--that a kind of shrinking
delicacy should prevent him from appraising his own achievements
with a similar care. Often, indeed, there is something most winning
in a touch of humorous blindness: "Well, Miss Sophia, and how do
_you_ like the _Lady of the Lake_?"  "Oh, I've not read it; papa
says there's nothing so bad for young people as reading bad poetry."

But there are circumstances under which this graceful absence of
self-consciousness can no longer be maintained. When a man believes
that he has a message to deliver that vitally concerns mankind, and
when that message is received with contempt and apathy, he is
necessarily driven back upon himself; he is forced to consider
whether what he has to say is after all so important, and whether
his mode of saying it be right and adequate. A necessity of this
kind was forced upon both Shelley and Wordsworth. Shelley--the very
type of self-forgetful enthusiasm--was driven at last by the world's
treatment of him into a series of moods sometimes bitter and
sometimes self-distrustful--into a sense of aloofness and detachment
from the mass of men, which the poet who would fain improve and
exalt them should do his utmost not to feel. On Wordsworth's more
stubborn nature the effect produced by many years of detraction was
of a different kind. Naturally introspective, he was driven by abuse
and ridicule into taking stock of himself more frequently and more
laboriously than ever. He formed an estimate of himself and his
writings which was, on the whole, (as will now be generally admitted,)
a just one; and this view he expressed when occasion offered--in
sober language, indeed, but with calm conviction, and with precisely
the same air of speaking from undoubted knowledge as when he
described the beauty of Cumbrian mountains or the virtue of Cumbrian
homes.

"It is impossible," he wrote to Lady Beaumont in 1807,
"that any expectations can be lower than mine concerning the
immediate effect of this little work upon what is called the public.
I do not here take into consideration the envy and malevolence, and
all the bad passions which always stand in the way of a work of any
merit from a living poet; but merely think of the pure, absolute,
honest ignorance in which all worldlings, of every rank and situation,
must be enveloped, with respect to the thoughts, feelings, and
images on which the life of my poems depends. The things which I
have taken, whether from within or without, what have they to do
with routs, dinners, morning calls, hurry from door to door, from
street to street, on foot or in carriage; with Mr. Pitt or Mr. Fox,
Mr. Paul or Sir Francis Burdett, the Westminster election or the
borough of Honiton? In a word--for I cannot stop to make my way
through the harry of images that present themselves to me--what have
they to do with endless talking about things that nobody cares
anything for, except as far as their own vanity is concerned, and
this with persons they care nothing for, but as their vanity or
_selfishness_ is concerned? What have they to do (to say all at
once) with a life without love? In such a life there can be no
thought; for we have no thought (save thoughts of pain), but as far
as we have love and admiration.

"It is an awful truth, that there neither is nor can be any genuine
enjoyment of poetry among nineteen out of twenty of those persons
who live, or wish to live, in the broad light of the world--among
those who either are, or are striving to make themselves, people of
consideration in society. This is a truth, and an awful one; because
to be incapable of a feeling of poetry, in my sense of the word, is
to be without love of human nature and reverence for God.

"Upon this I shall insist elsewhere; at present let me confine
myself to my object, which is to make you, my dear friend, as
easy-hearted as myself with respect to these poems. Trouble not
yourself upon their present reception. Of what moment is that
compared with what I trust is their destiny?--To console the
afflicted; to add sunshine to daylight, by making the happy happier;
to teach the young and the gracious of every age to see, to think,
and feel, and, therefore, to become more actively and securely
virtuous; this is their office, which I trust they will faithfully
perform, long after we (that is, all that is mortal of us,) are
mouldered in our graves."

Such words as these come with dignity from the mouth of a man like
Wordsworth when he has been, as it were, driven to bay,--when he is
consoling an intimate friend, distressed at the torrent of ridicule
which, as she fears, must sweep his self-confidence and his purposes
away. He may be permitted to assure her that "my ears are stone-dead
to this idle buzz, and my flesh as insensible as iron to these petty
stings," and to accompany his assurance with a reasoned statement of
the grounds of his unshaken hopes.

We feel, however, that such an expression of self-reliance on the
part of a great man should be accompanied with some proof that no
conceit or impatience is mixed with his steadfast calm. If he
believes the public to be really unable to appreciate himself, he
must show no surprise when they admire his inferiors; he must
remember that the case would be far worse if they admired no one at
all. Nor must he descend from his own unpopular merits on the plea
that after catching the public attention by what is bad he will
retain it for what is good. If he is so sure that he is in the right
he can afford to wait and let the world come round to him.
Wordsworth's conduct satisfies both these tests. It is, indeed,
curious to observe how much abuse this inoffensive recluse received,
and how absolutely he avoided returning it, Byron, for instance,
must have seemed in his eyes guilty of something far more injurious
to mankind than "a drowsy frowsy poem, called the _Excursion_,"
could possibly appear. But, except in one or two private letters,
Wordsworth has never alluded to Byron at all. Shelley's lampoon--a
singular instance of the random blows of a noble spirit, striking at
what, if better understood, it would eagerly have revered--
Wordsworth seems never to have read. Nor did the violent attacks of
the _Edinburgh_ and the _Quarterly Reviews_ provoke him to any
rejoinder. To "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers"--leagued against
him as their common prey--he opposed a dignified silence; and the
only moral injury which he derived from their assaults lay in that
sense of the absence of trustworthy external criticism which led him
to treat everything which he had once written down as if it were a
special revelation, and to insist with equal earnestness on his most
trifling as on his most important pieces--on _Goody Blake_ and
_The Idiot Boy_ as on _The Cuckoo_ or _The Daffodils_. The sense
of humour is apt to be the first grace which is lost under
persecution; and much of Wordsworth's heaviness and stiff exposition
of commonplaces is to be traced to a feeling, which he could
scarcely avoid, that "all day long he had lifted up his voice to a
perverse and gainsaying generation."

To the pecuniary loss inflicted on him by these adverse criticisms
he was justly sensible. He was far from expecting, or even desiring,
to be widely popular or to make a rapid fortune; but he felt that
the labourer was worthy of his hire, and that the devotion of years
to literature should have been met with some moderate degree of the
usual form of recognition which the world accords to those who work
for it. In 1820 he speaks of "the whole of my returns from the
writing trade not amounting to seven-score pounds," and as late as
1843, when at the height of his fame, he was not ashamed of
confessing the importance which he had always attached to this
particular.

"So sensible am I," he says, "of the deficiencies in all that I write,
and so far does everything that I attempt fall short of what I wish
it to be, that even private publication, if such a term may be
allowed, requires more resolution than I can command. I have written
to give vent to my own mind, and not without hope that, some time or
other, kindred minds might benefit by my labours; but I am inclined
to believe I should never have ventured to send forth any verses of
mine to the world, if it had not been done on the pressure of
personal occasions. Had I been a rich man, my productions, like this
_Epistle_, the _Tragedy of the Borderers_, &c., would most likely
have been confined to manuscript."

An interesting passage from an unpublished letter of Miss Wordsworth's,
on the _White Doe of Rylstone_, confirms this statement:--

  "My brother was very much pleased with your frankness in
  telling us that you did not perfectly like his poem. He wishes
  to know what your feelings were--whether the tale itself did
  not interest you--or whether you could not enter into the
  conception   of Emily's character, or take delight in that visionary
  communion which is supposed to have existed between her and
  the Doe. Do not fear to give him pain. He is far too much
  accustomed to be abused to receive pain from it, (at least as far
  as he himself is concerned.) My reason for asking you these
  questions is, that some of our friends, who are equal admirers of
  the _White Doe_ and of my brother's published poems, think
  that _this_ poem will sell on account of the story; that is, that
  the story will bear up those points which are above the level of the
  public taste; whereas the two last volumes--except by a few
  solitary individuals, who are passionately devoted to my
  brother's works--are abused by wholesale."

  "Now as his sole object in publishing this poem at present
  would be for the sake of the money, he would not publish it if
  he did not think, from the several judgments of his friends,
  that it would be likely to have a sale. He has no pleasure in
  publishing--he even detests it; and if it were not that he is
  _not_  over wealthy, he would leave all his works to be
  published after his death. William himself is sure that the
  _White Doe_ will not sell or be admired, except by a very few,
  at first; and only yields to Mary's entreaties and mine. We are
  determined, however, if we are deceived this time, to let him
  have his own way in future."

These passages must be taken, no doubt, as representing one aspect
only of the poet's impulses in the matter. With his deep conviction
of the world's real, though unrecognized, need of a pure vein of
poetry, we can hardly imagine him as permanently satisfied to defer
his own contribution till after his death. Yet we may certainly
believe that the need of money helped him to overcome much
diffidence as to publication; and we may discern something dignified
in his frank avowal of this when it is taken in connexion with his
scrupulous abstinence from any attempt to win the suffrages of the
multitude by means unworthy of his high vocation. He could never,
indeed, have written poems which could have vied in immediate
popularity with those of Byron or Scott. But the criticisms on the
first edition of the _Lyrical Ballads_ must have shown him that a
slight alteration of method,--nay even the excision of a few pages
in each volume, pages certain to be loudly objected to,--would have
made a marked difference in the sale and its proceeds. From this
point of view, even poems which we may now feel to have been
needlessly puerile and grotesque acquire a certain impressiveness,
when we recognize that the theory which demanded their composition
was one which their author was willing to uphold at the cost of some
years of real physical privation, and of the postponement for a
generation of his legitimate fame.



CHAPTER IX.


POETIC DICTION--"DAODAMIA"--"EVENING ODE."

The _Excursion_ appeared in 1814, and in the course of the next year
Wordsworth republished his minor poems, so arranged as to indicate
the faculty of the mind which he considered to have been predominant
in the composition of each. To most readers this disposition has
always seemed somewhat arbitrary; and it was once suggested to
Wordsworth that a chronological arrangement would be better. The
manner in which Wordsworth met this proposal indicated the limit of
his absorption in himself--his real desire only to dwell on his own
feelings in such a way as might make them useful to others. For he
rejected the plan as too egotistical--as emphasizing the succession
of moods in the poet's mind, rather than the lessons which those
moods could teach. His objection points, at any rate, to a real
danger which any man's simplicity of character incurs by dwelling
too attentively on the changing phases of his own thought. But after
the writer's death the historical spirit will demand that poems,
like other artistic products, should be disposed for the most part
in the order of time.

In a Preface to this edition of 1815, and a Supplementary Essay, he
developed the theory on poetry already set forth in a well-known
preface to the second edition of the _Lyrical Ballads_. Much of the
matter of these essays, received at the time with contemptuous
aversion, is now accepted as truth; and few compositions of equal
length contain so much of vigorous criticism and sound reflection.
It is only when they generalize too confidently that they are in
danger of misleading us; for all expositions of the art and practice
of poetry must necessarily be incomplete. Poetry, like all the arts,
is essentially a "mystery." Its charm depends upon qualities which
we can neither define accurately nor reduce to rule nor create again
at pleasure. Mankind, however, are unwilling to admit this; and they
endeavour from time to time to persuade themselves that they have
discovered the rules which will enable them to produce the desired
effect. And so much of the effect _can_ thus be reproduced, that it
is often possible to believe for a time that the problem has been
solved. Pope, to take the instance which was prominent in
Wordsworth's mind, was, by general admission, a poet. But his
success seemed to depend on imitable peculiarities; and Pope's
imitators were so like Pope that it was hard to draw a line and say
where they ceased to be poets. At last, however, this imitative
school began to prove too much. If all the insipid verses which they
wrote were poetry, what was the use of writing poetry at all? A
reaction succeeded, which asserted that poetry depends on emotion
and not on polish; that it consists precisely in those things which
frigid imitators lack. Cowper, Burns, and Crabbe, (especially in his
_Sir Eustace Grey_), had preceded Wordsworth as leaders of this
reaction. But they had acted half unconsciously, or had even at
times themselves attempted to copy the very style which they were
superseding.

Wordsworth, too, began with a tendency to imitate Pope, but only in
the school exercises which he wrote as a boy. Poetry soon became to
him the expression of his own deep and simple feelings; and then he
rebelled against rhetoric and unreality and found for himself a
director and truer voice, "I have proposed to myself to imitate and,
as far as is possible, to adopt the very language of men.... I have
taken as much pains to avoid what is usually called poetic diction as
others ordinarily take to produce it." And he erected this practice
into a general principle in the following passage:--

"I do not doubt that it may be safely affirmed that there neither is,
nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose
and metrical composition. We are fond of tracing the resemblance
between poetry and painting, and, accordingly, we call them sisters;
but where shall we find bonds of connexion sufficiently strict to
typify the affinity between metrical and prose composition? If it be
affirmed that rhyme and metrical arrangement of themselves
constitute a distinction which overturns what I have been saying on
the strict affinity of metrical language with that of prose, and
paves the way for other artificial distinctions which the mind
voluntarily admits, I answer that the language of such poetry as I
am recommending is, as far as is possible, a selection of the
language really spoken by men; that this selection, wherever it is
made with true taste and feeling, will of itself form a distinction
far greater than would at first be imagined, and will entirely
separate the composition from the vulgarity and meanness of ordinary
life; and if metre be superadded thereto, I believe that a
dissimilitude will be produced altogether sufficient for the
gratification of a rational mind. What other distinction would we
hare? Whence is it to come? And where is it to exist?"

There is a definiteness and simplicity about this description
of poetry which may well make us wonder why this precious thing
(producible, apparently, as easily as Pope's imitators supposed,
although by means different from theirs) is not offered to us by
more persons, and of better quality. And it will not be hard to show
that a good poetical style must possess certain characteristics,
which, although something like them must exist in a good prose style,
are carried in poetry to a pitch so much higher as virtually to need
a specific faculty for their successful production.

To illustrate the inadequacy of Wordsworth's theory to explain the
merits of his own poetry, I select a stanza from one of his simplest
and most characteristic poems--_The Affliction of Margaret_:--

  Perhaps some dungeon hears thee groan,
  Maimed, mangled by inhuman men,
  Or thou upon a Desert thrown
  Inheritest the lion's Den;
  Or hast been summoned to the Deep,
  Thou, thou and all thy mates, to keep
  An incommunicable sleep.

These lines, supposed to be uttered by "a poor widow at Penrith,"
afford a fair illustration of what Wordsworth calls "the language
really spoken by men," with "metre superadded." "What other
distinction from prose," he asks, "would we have?" We may answer
that we would have what he has actually given us, viz., an
appropriate and attractive music, lying both in the rhythm and in the
actual sound of the words used,--a music whose complexity may be
indicated here by drawing out some of its elements in detail, at the
risk of appearing pedantic and technical. We observe, then (_a_),
that the general movement of the lines is unusually slow. They
contain a very large proportion of strong accents and long vowels,
to suit the tone of deep and despairing sorrow. In six places only
out of twenty-eight is the accent weak where it might be expected to
be strong (in the second syllables, namely, of the Iambic foot), and
in each of these cases the omission of a possible accent throws
greater weight on the next succeeding accent--on the accents, that
is to say, contained in the words inhuman, desert, lion, summoned,
deep, and sleep, (_b_) The first four lines contain subtle
alliterations of the letters d, h, m, and th. In this connexion it
should be remembered that when consonants are thus repeated at the
beginning of syllables, those syllables need not be at the beginning
of words; and further, that repetitions scarcely more numerous than
chance alone would have occasioned, may be so placed by the poet as
to produce a strongly-felt effect. If any one doubts the
effectiveness of the unobvious alliterations here insisted on, let
him read (1) "jungle" for "desert," (2) "maybe" for "perhaps,"
(3) "tortured" for "mangled," (4) "blown" for "thrown," and he will
become sensible of the lack of the metrical support which the
existing consonants give one another. The three last lines contain
one or two similar alliterations on which I need not dwell,
(_c_) The words _inheritest_ and _summoned_ are by no means such as
"a poor widow," even at Penrith, would employ; they are used to
intensify the imagined relation which connects the missing man with
(1) the wild beasts who surround him, and (2) the invisible Power
which leads; so that something mysterious and awful is added to his
fate. (_d_) This impression is heightened by the use of the
word _incommunicable_ in an unusual sense, "incapable of being
communicated _with_," instead of "incapable of being communicated;"
while (_e_) the expression "to keep an incommunicable sleep" for
"to lie dead," gives dignity to the occasion by carrying the mind
back along a train of literary associations of which the well-known
[Greek: atermona naegreton upnon] of Moschus may be taken as the type.

We must not, of course, suppose that Wordsworth consciously sought
these alliterations, arranged these accents, resolved to introduce
an unusual word in the last line, or hunted for a classical allusion.
But what the poet's brain does not do consciously it does
unconsciously; a selective action is going on in its recesses
simultaneously with the overt train of thought, and on the degree of
this unconscious suggestiveness the richness and melody of the
poetry will depend.

So rules can secure the attainment of these effects; and the very
same artifices which are delightful when used by one man seem
mechanical and offensive when used by another. Nor is it by any
means always the case that the man who can most delicately
appreciate the melody of the poetry of others will be able to
produce similar melody himself. Nay, even if he can produce it one
year it by no means follows that he will be able to produce it the
next. Of all qualifications for writing poetry this inventive music
is the most arbitrarily distributed, and the most evanescent. But it
is the more important to dwell on its necessity, inasmuch as both
good and bad poets are tempted to ignore it. The good poet prefers
to ascribe his success to higher qualities; to his imagination,
elevation of thought, descriptive faculty. The bad poet can more
easily urge that his thoughts are too advanced for mankind to
appreciate than that his melody is too sweet for their ears to catch.
And when the gift vanishes no poet is willing to confess that it is
gone; so humiliating is it to lose power over mankind by the loss of
something which seems quite independent of intellect or character.
And yet so it is. For some twenty years at most (1798--1818),
Wordsworth possessed this gift of melody. During those years he
wrote works which profoundly influenced mankind. The gift then left
him; he continued as wise and as earnest as ever, but his poems had
no longer any potency, nor his existence much public importance.

Humiliating as such reflections may seem, they are in accordance
with actual experience in all branches of art. The fact is that the
pleasures which art gives us are complex in the extreme. We are
always disposed to dwell on such of their elements as are explicable
and can in some way be traced to moral or intellectual sources. But
they contain also other elements which are inexplicable, non-moral,
and non-intellectual, and which render most of our attempted
explanations of artistic merit so incomplete as to be practically
misleading. Among such incomplete explanations Wordsworth's essays
must certainly be ranked. It would not be safe for any man to
believe that he had produced true poetry because he had fulfilled
the conditions which Wordsworth lays down. But the essays effected
what is perhaps as much as the writer on art can fairly hope to
accomplish. They placed in a striking light that side of the subject
which had been too long ignored; they aided in recalling an art
which had become conventional and fantastic into the normal current
of English thought and speech.

It may be added that both in doctrine and practice Wordsworth
exhibits a progressive reaction from the extreme views with which he
starts towards the common vein of good sense and sound judgment
which may be traced back to Horace, Longinus, and Aristotle. His
first preface is violently polemic. He attacks with reason that
conception of the sublime and beautiful which is represented by
Dryden's picture of "Cortes alone in his nightgown," remarking that
"the mountains seem to nod their drowsy heads." But the only example
of true poetry which he sees fit to adduce in contrast consists in a
stanza from the _Babes in the Wood_. In his preface of 1815 he is
not less severe on false sentiment and false observation. But his
views of the complexity and dignity of poetry have been much
developed, and he is willing now to draw his favourable instances
from Shakespeare, Milton, Virgil, and himself.

His own practice underwent a corresponding change. It is only to
a few poems of his earlier years that the famous parody of the
_Rejected Addresses_ fairly applies.

  My father's walls are made of brick,
  But not so tall and not so thick
    As these; and goodness me!
  My father's beams are made of wood,
  But never, never half so good
    As those that now I see!

Lines something like these might have occurred in _The Thorn_ or
_The Idiot Boy_. Nothing could be more different from the style of
the sonnets, or of the _Ode to Duty_, or of _Laodamia_. And yet both
the simplicity of the earlier and the pomp of the later poems were
almost always noble; nor is the transition from the one style to the
other a perplexing or abnormal thing. For all sincere styles are
congruous to one another, whether they be adorned or no, as all high
natures are congruous to one another, whether in the garb of peasant
or of prince. What is incongruous to both is affectation, vulgarity,
egoism; and while the noble style can be interchangeably childlike
or magnificent, as its theme requires, the ignoble can neither
simplify itself into purity nor deck itself into grandeur.

It need not, therefore, surprise us to find the classical models
becoming more and more dominant in Wordsworth's mind, till the poet
of _Poor Susan_ and _The Cuckoo_ spends months over the attempt to
translate the _Æneid_,--to win the secret of that style which he
placed at the head of all poetic styles, and of those verses which
"wind," as he says, "with the majesty of the Conscript Fathers
entering the Senate-house in solemn procession," and envelope in
their imperial melancholy all the sorrows and the fates of man.

And, indeed, so tranquil and uniform was the life which we are now
retracing, and at the same time so receptive of any noble influence
which opportunity might bring, that a real epoch is marked in
Wordsworth's poetical career by the mere re-reading of some Latin
authors in 1814-16 with a view to preparing his eldest son for the
University. Among the poets whom he thus studied was one in whom he
might seem to discern his own spirit endowed with grander proportions,
and meditating on sadder fates. Among the poets of the battlefield,
of the study, of the boudoir, he encountered the first Priest of
Nature, the first poet in Europe who had deliberately shunned the
life of courts and cities for the mere joy in Nature's presence, for
"sweet Parthenope and the fields beside Vesevus' hill."

There are, indeed, passages in the _Georgics_ so Wordsworthian, as
we now call it, in tone, that it is hard to realize what centuries
separated them from the _Sonnet to Lady Beaumont or from Ruth_. Such,
for instance, is the picture of the Corycian old man, who had made
himself independent of the seasons by his gardening skill, so that
"when gloomy winter was still rending the stones with frost, still
curbing with ice the rivers' onward flow, he even then was plucking
the soft hyacinth's bloom, and chid the tardy summer and delaying
airs of spring." Such, again, is the passage where the poet breaks
from the glories of successful industry into the delight of watching
the great processes which nature accomplishes untutored and alone,
"the joy of gazing on Cytorus waving with boxwood, and on forests of
Narycian pine, on tracts that never felt the harrow, nor knew the
care of man."

Such thoughts as these the Roman and the English poet had in common;--
the heritage of untarnished souls.

  I asked; 'twas whispered; The device
  To each and all might well belong:
  It is the Spirit of Paradise
  That prompts such work, a Spirit strong,
  That gives to all the self-same bent
  Where life is wise and innocent.

It is not only in tenderness but in dignity that the "wise and
innocent" are wont to be at one. Strong in tranquillity, they can
intervene amid great emotions with a master's voice, and project on
the storm of passion the clear light of their unchanging calm. And
thus it was that the study of Virgil, and especially of Virgil's
solemn picture of the Underworld, prompted in Wordsworth's mind the
most majestic of his poems, his one great utterance on heroic love.

He had as yet written little on any such topic as this. At Goslar he
had composed the poems on _Lucy_ to which allusion has already been
made. And after his happy marriage he had painted in one of the best
known of his poems the sweet transitions of wedded love, as it moves
on from the first shock and agitation of the encounter of
predestined souls through all tendernesses of intimate affection
into a pervading permanency and calm.

Scattered, moreover, throughout his poems are several passages in
which the passion is treated with similar force and truth. The poem
which begins "'Tis said that some have died for love" depicts the
enduring poignancy of bereavement with an "iron pathos" that is
almost too strong for art. And something of the same power of
clinging attachment is shown in the sonnet where the poet is stung
with the thought that "even for the least division of an hour" he
has taken pleasure in the life around him, without the accustomed
tacit reference to one who has passed away. There is a brighter
touch of constancy in that other sonnet where, after letting his
fancy play over a glad imaginary past, he turns to his wife, ashamed
that even in so vague a vision he could have shaped for himself a
solitary joy.

  Let _her_ be comprehended in the frame
  Of these Illusions, or they please no more.

In later years the two sonnets on his wife's picture set on that
love the consecration of faithful age; and there are those who can
recall his look as he gazed on the picture and tried to recognize in
that aged face the Beloved who to him was ever young and fair,--a
look as of one dwelling in life-long affections with the
unquestioning single-heartedness of a child.

And here it might have been thought that as his experience ended his
power of description would have ended too. But it was not so. Under
the powerful stimulus of the sixth _Æneid_--allusions to which
pervade _Laodamia_ [5] throughout--with unusual labour, and by a
strenuous effort of the imagination, Wordsworth was enabled to
depict his own love _in excelsis_, to imagine what aspect it might
have worn, if it had been its destiny to deny itself at some heroic
call, and to confront with nobleness an extreme emergency, and to be
victor (as Plato has it) in an Olympian contest of the soul. For,
indeed, the "fervent, not ungovernable, love," which is the ideal
that Protesilaus is sent to teach, is on a great scale the same
affection which we have been considering in domesticity and peace;
it is love considered not as a revolution but as a consummation; as
a self-abandonment not to a laxer but to a sterner law; no longer as
an invasive passion, but as the deliberate habit of the soul. It is
that conception of love which springs into being in the last canto of
Dante's _Purgatory_,--which finds in English chivalry a noble voice,--

  I could not love thee, dear, so much,
  Loved I not honour more.

[Footnote 5: _Laodamia_ should be read (as it is given in
Mr. Matthew Arnold's admirable volume of selections) with the _earlier_
conclusion: the _second_ form is less satisfactory, and the _third_,
with its sermonizing tone, "thus all in vain exhorted and reproved,"
is worst of all.]

For, indeed, (even as Plato says that Beauty is the splendour of
Truth,) so such a Love as this is the splendour of Virtue; it is the
unexpected spark that flashes from self-forgetful soul to soul, it
is man's standing evidence that he "must lose himself to find himself,"
and that only when the veil of his personality has lifted from around
him can he recognize that he is already in heaven.

In a second poem inspired by this revived study of classical
antiquity Wordsworth has traced the career of Dion,--the worthy
pupil of Plato, the philosophic ruler of Syracuse, who allowed
himself to shed blood unjustly, though for the public good, and was
haunted by a spectre symbolical of this fatal error. At last Dion
was assassinated, and the words in which the poet tells his fate seem
to me to breathe the very triumph of philosophy, to paint with a
touch the greatness of a spirit which makes of Death himself a
deliverer, and has its strength in the unseen.

  So were the hopeless troubles, that involved
  The soul of Dion, instantly dissolved.

I can only compare these lines to that famous passage of Sophocles
where the lamentations of the dying Oedipus are interrupted by the
impatient summons of an unseen accompanying god. In both places the
effect is the same; to present to us with striking brevity the
contrast between the visible and the invisible presences that may
stand about a man's last hour; for he may feel with the desolate
Oedipus that "all I am has perished"--he may sink like Dion through
inextricable sadness to a disastrous death, and then in a moment the
transitory shall disappear and the essential shall be made plain,
and from Dioa's upright spirit the perplexities shall vanish away,
and Oedipus, in the welcome of that unknown companionship, shall
find his expiations over and his reward begun.

It is true, no doubt, that when Wordsworth wrote these poems he had
lost something of the young inimitable charm which fills such pieces
as the _Fountain_ or the _Solitary Reaper_. His language is majestic,
but it is no longer magical. And yet we cannot but feel that he has
put into these poems something which he could not have put into the
poems which preceded them; that they bear the impress of a soul
which has added moral effort to poetic inspiration, and is mistress
now of the acquired as well as of the innate virtue. For it is words
like these that are the strength and stay of men; nor can their
accent of lofty earnestness be simulated by the writer's art.
Literary skill may deceive the reader who seeks a literary pleasure
alone; and he to whom these strong consolations are a mere
imaginative luxury may be uncertain or indifferent out of what heart
they come. But those who need them know; spirits that hunger after
righteousness discern their proper food; there is no fear lest they
confound the sentimental and superficial with those weighty
utterances of moral truth which are the most precious legacy that a
man can leave to mankind.

Thus far, then, I must hold that although much of grace had already
vanished there was on the whole a progress and elevation in the mind
of him of whom we treat. But the culminating point is here. After
this--whatever ripening process may have been at work unseen--what
is chiefly visible is the slow stiffening of the imaginative power,
the slow withdrawal of the insight into the soul of things, and a
descent--[Greek: ablaechros mala tsios]--"soft as soft can be,"
to the euthanasy of a death that was like sleep.

The impression produced by Wordsworth's reperusal of Virgil in
1814-16 was a deep and lasting one. In 1829-30 he devoted much time
and labour to a translation of the first three books of the _Æneid_,
and it is interesting to note the gradual modification of his views
as to the true method of rendering poetry.

"I have long been persuaded," he writes to Lord Lonsdale in 1829,
"that Milton formed his blank verse upon the model of the _Georgics_
and the _Æneid_, and I am so much struck with this resemblance, that
I should, have attempted Virgil in blank verse, had I not been
persuaded that no ancient author can with advantage be so rendered.
Their religion, their warfare, their course of action and feeling,
are too remote from modern interest to allow it. We require every
possible help and attraction of sound in our language to smooth the
way for the admission of things so remote from our present concerns.
My own notion of translation is, that it cannot be too literal,
provided these faults be avoided: _baldness_, in which I include all
that takes from dignity; and strangeness, or uncouthness, including
harshness; and lastly, attempts to convey meanings which, as they
cannot be given but by languid circumlocutions, cannot in fact be
said to be given at all....  I feel it, however, to be too probable
that my translation is deficient in ornament, because I must
unavoidably have lost many of Virgil's, and have never without
reluctance attempted a compensation of my own."

The truth of this last self-criticism is very apparent from
the fragments of the translation which were published in the
_Philological Museum_; and Coleridge, to whom the whole manuscript
was submitted, justly complains of finding "page after page without
a single brilliant note;" and adds, "Finally, my conviction is that
you undertake an impossibility, and that there is no medium between a
pure version and one on the avowed principle of _compensation_ in
the widest sense, i.e. manner, genius, total effect; I confine
myself to _Virgil_ when I say this." And it appears that Wordsworth
himself came round to this view, for in reluctantly sending a
specimen of his work to the _Philological Museum_ in 1832, he says,--

  "Having been displeased in modern translations with the
  additions of incongruous matter, I began to translate with a
  resolve to keep clear of that fault by adding nothing; but I
  became convinced that a spirited translation can scarcely be
  accomplished in the English language without admitting a
  principle of compensation."

There is a curious analogy between the experiences of Cowper and
Wordsworth in the way of translation. Wordsworth's translation of
Virgil was prompted by the same kind of reaction against the
reckless laxity of Dryden as that which inspired Cowper against the
distorting artificiality of Pope. In each case the new translator
cared more for his author and took a much higher view of a
translator's duty than his predecessor had done. But in each case
the plain and accurate translation was a failure, while the loose
and ornate one continued to be admired. We need not conclude from
this that the wilful inaccuracy of Pope or Dryden would be any
longer excusable in such a work. But on the other hand we may
certainly feel that nothing is gained by rendering an ancient poet
into verse at all unless that verse be of a quality to give a
pleasure independent of the faithfulness of the translation which it
conveys.

The translations and _Laodamia_ are not the only indications of the
influence which Virgil exercised over Wordsworth. Whether from mere
similarity of feeling, or from more or less conscious recollection,
there are frequent passages in the English which recall the Roman
poet. Who can hear Wordsworth describe how a poet on the island in
Grasmere

  At noon

  Spreads out his limbs, while, yet unshorn, the sheep,
  Panting beneath the burthen of their wool
  Lie round him, even as if they were a part
  Of his own household:--

and not think of the stately tenderness of Virgil's

  Stant et oves circum; nostri nee poenitet illas--

and the flocks of Arcady that gather round in sympathy with the
lovelorn Gallus' woe?

So again the well-known lines--

  Not seldom, clad in radiant vest,
  Deceitfully goes forth the Morn;
    Not seldom Evening in the west
    Sinks smilingly forsworn,--

are almost a translation of Palinurus' remonstrance with "the
treachery of tranquil heaven." And when the poet wishes for any link
which could bind him closer to the Highland maiden who has flitted
across his path as a being of a different world from his own:--

  Thine elder Brother would I be,
  Thy Father, anything to thee!--

we hear the echo of the sadder plaint--

  Atque utinam e vobis unus--

when the Roman statesman longs to be made one with the simple life
of shepherd or husbandman, and to know their undistracted joy.

Still more impressive is the shock of surprise with which we read in
Wordsworth's poem on Ossian the following lines:--

  Musæus, stationed with his lyre
  Supreme among the Elysian quire,
  Is, for the dwellers upon earth,
  Mute as a lark ere morning's birth,

and perceive that he who wrote them has entered--where no
commentator could conduct him--into the solemn pathos of Virgil's
_Musaeum ante omnis_--; where the singer whose very existence upon
earth has become a legend and a mythic name is seen keeping in the
underworld his old pre-eminence, and towering above the blessed dead.

This is a stage in Wordsworth's career on which his biographer is
tempted unduly to linger. For we have reached the Indian summer of
his genius; it can still shine at moments bright as ever, and with
even a new majesty and calm; but we feel, nevertheless, that the
melody is dying from his song; that he is hardening into
self-repetition, into rhetoric, into sermonizing common-place, and
is rigid where he was once profound. The _Thanksgiving Ode_ (1816)
strikes death to the heart. The accustomed patriotic sentiments--the
accustomed virtuous aspirations--these are still there; but the
accent is like that of a ghost who calls to us in hollow mimicry of a
voice that once we loved.

And yet Wordsworth's poetic life was not to close without a great
symbolical spectacle, a solemn farewell. Sunset among the Cumbrian
hills, often of remarkable beauty, once or twice, perhaps, in a
score of years, reaches a pitch of illusion and magnificence which
indeed seems nothing less than the commingling of earth and heaven.
Such a sight--seen from Rydal Mount in 1818--afforded once more the
needed stimulus, and evoked that "_Evening Ode, composed on an
evening of extraordinary splendour and beauty_," which is the last
considerable production of Wordsworth's genius. In this ode we
recognize the peculiar gift of reproducing with magical simplicity
as it were the inmost virtue of natural phenomena.

  No sound is uttered, but a deep
  And solemn harmony pervades
  The hollow vale from steep to steep,
  And penetrates the glades.
  Far distant images draw nigh,
  Called forth by wondrous potency
  Of beamy radiance, that imbues
  Whate'er it strikes, with gem-like hues!
  In vision exquisitely clear
  Herds range along the mountain side;
  And glistening antlers are descried,
  And gilded flocks appear.

Once more the poet brings home to us that sense of belonging at once
to two worlds, which gives to human life so much of mysterious
solemnity.

  Wings at my shoulder seem to play;
  But, rooted here, I stand and gaze
  On those bright steps that heavenward raise
  Their practicable way.

And the poem ends--with a deep personal pathos--in an allusion,
repeated from the _Ode on Immortality_, to the light which "lay
about him in his infancy,"--the light

  Full early lost, and fruitlessly deplored;
  Which at this moment, on my waking sight
  Appears to shine, by miracle restored!
  My soul, though yet confined to earth,
  Rejoices in a second birth;
  --'Tis past, the visionary splendour fades;
  And night approaches with her shades.

For those to whom the mission of Wordsworth appears before all
things as a religious one there is something solemn in the spectacle
of the seer standing at the close of his own apocalypse, with the
consciousness that the stiffening brain would never permit him to
drink again that overflowing sense of glory and revelation; never,
till he should drink it new in the kingdom of God. He lived, in fact,
through another generation of men, but the vision came to him no more.

  Or if some vestige of those gleams
  Survived, 'twas only in his dreams.

We look on a man's life for the most part as forming in itself a
completed drama. We love to see the interest maintained to the close,
the pathos deepened at the departing hour. To die on the same day is
the prayer of lovers, to vanish at Trafalgar is the ideal of heroic
souls. And yet--so wide and various are the issues of life--there is
a solemnity as profound in a quite different lot. For if we are
moving among eternal emotions we should have time to bear witness
that they are eternal. Even Love left desolate may feel with a proud
triumph that it could never have rooted itself so immutably amid the
joys of a visible return as it can do through the constancies of
bereavement, and the lifelong memory which is a lifelong hope. And
Vision, Revelation, Ecstasy,--it is not only while these are
kindling our way that we should speak of them to men, but rather
when they have passed from us and left us only their record in our
souls, whose permanence confirms the fiery finger which wrote it
long ago. For as the Greeks would end the first drama of a trilogy
with a hush of concentration, and with declining notes of calm, so
to us the narrowing receptivity and persistent steadfastness of age
suggest not only decay but expectancy, and not death so much as sleep;
or seem, as it were, the beginning of operations which are not
measured by our hurrying time, nor tested by any achievement to be
accomplished here.



CHAPTER X.


NATURAL RELIGION.

It will have been obvious from the preceding pages, as well as from
the tone of other criticisms on Wordsworth, that his exponents are
not content to treat his poems on Nature simply as graceful
descriptive pieces, but speak of him in terms usually reserved for
the originators of some great religious movement. "The very image of
Wordsworth," says De Quincey, for instance, "as I prefigured it to
my own planet-struck eye, crushed my faculties as before Elijah or St.
Paul." How was it that poems so simple in outward form that the
reviewers of the day classed them with the _Song of Sixpence_, or at
best with the _Babes in the Wood_, could affect a critic like De
Quincey,--I do not say with admiration, but with this exceptional
sense of revelation and awe?

The explanation of this anomaly lies, as is well known, in something
new and individual in the way in which Wordsworth regarded Nature;
something more or less discernible in most of his works, and
redeeming even some of the slightest of them from insignificance,
while conferring on the more serious and sustained pieces an
importance of a different order from that which attaches to even the
most brilliant productions of his contemporaries. To define with
exactness, however, what was this new element imported by our poet
into man's view of Nature is far from easy, and requires some brief
consideration of the attitude in this respect of his predecessors.

There is so much in the external world which is terrible or
unfriendly to man, that the first impression made on him by Nature
as a whole, even in temperate climates, is usually that of awfulness;
his admiration being reserved for the fragments of her which he has
utilized for his own purposes, or adorned with his own handiwork.
When Homer tells us of a place

  Where even a god might gaze, and stand apart,
  And feel a wondering rapture at the heart,

it is of no prospect of sea or mountain that he is speaking, but of
a garden where everything is planted in rows, and there is a
never-ending succession of pears and figs. These gentler aspects of
Nature will have their minor deities to represent them; but the men,
of whatever race they be, whose minds are most absorbed in the
problems of man's position and destiny will tend for the most part
to some sterner and more overwhelming conception of the sum of things.
"Lord, what is man that Thou art mindful of him?" is the cry of
Hebrew piety as well as of modern science; and the "majestas cognita
rerum,"--the recognized majesty of the universe--teaches Lucretius
only the indifference of gods and the misery of men.

But in a well-known passage, in which Lucretius is honoured as he
deserves, we find nevertheless a different view hinted, with an
impressiveness which it had hardly acquired till then. We find
Virgil implying that scientific knowledge of Nature may not be the
only way of arriving at the truth about her; that her loveliness is
also a revelation, and that the soul which is in unison with her is
justified by its own peace. This is the very substance of _The
Poet's Epitaph_ also; of the poem in which Wordsworth at the
beginning of his career describes himself as he continued till its
close,--the poet who "murmurs near the running brooks a music
sweeter than their own,"--who scorns the man of science "who would
peep and botanize upon his mother's grave."

  The outward shows of sky and earth,
  Of hill and valley, he has viewed;
  And impulses of deeper birth
  Have come to him in solitude.

  In common things that round us lie
  Some random truths he can impart,--
  The harvest of a quiet eye
  That broods and sleeps on his own heart.

  But he is weak, both man and boy,
  Hath been an idler in the land;
  Contented if he might enjoy
  The things which others understand.

Like much else in the literature of imperial Rome, the passage in
the second _Georgic_ to which I have referred is in its essence more
modern than the Middle Ages. Mediaeval Christianity involved a
divorce from the nature around us, as well as from the nature within.
With the rise of the modern spirit delight in the external world
returns; and from Chaucer downwards through the whole course of
English poetry are scattered indications of a mood which draws from
visible things an intuition of things not seen. When Wither, in
words which Wordsworth has fondly quoted, says of his muse,--

  By the murmur of a spring,
  Or the least bough's rustelling;
  By a daisy whose leaves spread,
  Shut when Titan goes to bed;
  Or a shady bush or tree,--
  She could more infuse in me
  Than all Nature's beauties can
  In some other wiser man,--

he felt already, as Wordsworth after him, that Nature is no mere
collection of phenomena, but infuses into her least approaches some
sense of her mysterious whole.

Passages like this, however, must not he too closely pressed. The
mystic element in English literature has run for the most part into
other channels; and when, after Pope's reign of artificiality and
convention, attention was redirected to the phenomena of Nature by
Collins, Beattie, Thomson, Crabbe, Cowper, Burns, and Scott, it was
in a spirit of admiring observation rather than of an intimate
worship. Sometimes, as for the most part in Thomson, we have mere
picturesqueness,--a reproduction of Nature for the mere pleasure of
reproducing her,--a kind of stock-taking of her habitual effects. Or
sometimes, as in Burns, we have a glowing spirit which looks on
Nature with a side glance, and uses her as an accessory to the
expression of human love and woe. Cowper sometimes contemplated her
as a whole, but only as affording a proof of the wisdom and goodness
of a personal Creator.

To express what is characteristic in Wordsworth we must recur to a
more generalized conception of the relations between the natural and
the spiritual worlds. We must say with Plato--the lawgiver of all
subsequent idealists--that the unknown realities around us, which
the philosopher apprehends by the contemplation of abstract truth,
become in various ways obscurely perceptible to men under the
influence of a "divine madness,"--of an enthusiasm which is in fact
inspiration. And further, giving, as he so often does, a
half-fanciful expression to a substance of deep meaning,--Plato
distinguishes four kinds of this enthusiasm. There is the prophet's
glow of revelation; and the prevailing prayer which averts the wrath
of heaven; and that philosophy which enters, so to say, unawares
into the poet through his art, and into the lover through his love.
Each of these stimuli may so exalt the inward faculties as to make a
man [Greek: entheos kyi ekphron],--"bereft of reason but filled
with divinity,"--percipient of an intelligence other and larger than
his own. To this list Wordsworth has made an important addition. He
has shown by his example and writings that the contemplation of
Nature may become a stimulus as inspiring as these; may enable us
"to see into the life of things"--as far, perhaps, as beatific
vision or prophetic rapture can attain. Assertions so impalpable as
these must justify themselves by subjective evidence. He who claims
to give a message must satisfy us that he has himself received it;
and, inasmuch as transcendent things are in themselves inexpressible,
he must convey to us in hints and figures the conviction which we
need. Prayer may bring the spiritual world near to us; but when the
eyes of the kneeling Dominic seem to say "To son venuto a questo,"
their look must persuade us that the life of worship has indeed
attained the reward of vision. Art, too, may be inspired; but the
artist, in whatever field he works, must have "such a mastery of his
mystery" that the fabric of his imagination stands visible in its
own light before our eyes,--

      Seeing it is built
  Of music; therefore never built at all,
  And, therefore, built for ever.

Love may open heaven; but when the lover would invite us "thither,
where are the eyes of Beatrice," he must make us feel that his
individual passion is indeed part and parcel of that love "which
moves the sun and the other stars."

And so also with Wordsworth. Unless the words which describe the
intense and sympathetic gaze with which he contemplates Nature
convince us of the reality of "the light which never was on sea or
land,"--of the "Presence which disturbs him with the joy of elevated
thoughts,"--of the authentic vision of those hours

                When the light of sense
  Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed
  The invisible world;--

unless his tone awakes a responsive conviction in ourselves, there
is no argument by which he can prove to us that he is offering a new
insight to mankind. Yet, on the other hand, it need not be
unreasonable to see in his message something more than a mere
individual fancy. It seems, at least, to be closely correlated with
those other messages of which we have spoken,--those other cases
where some original element of our nature is capable of being
regarded as an inlet of mystic truth. For in each of these complex
aspects of religion we see, perhaps, the modification of a primeval
instinct. There is a point of view from which Revelation seems to be
but transfigured Sorcery, and Love transfigured Appetite, and
Philosophy man's ordered Wonder, and Prayer his softening Fear. And
similarly in the natural religion of Wordsworth we may discern the
modified outcome of other human impulses hardly less universal--of
those instincts which led our forefathers to people earth and air
with deities, or to vivify the whole universe with a single soul. In
this view the achievement of Wordsworth was of a kind which most of
the moral leaders of the race have in some way or other performed.
It was that he turned a theology back again into a religion: that he
revived in a higher and purer form those primitive elements of
reverence for Nature's powers which had diffused themselves into
speculation, or crystallized into mythology; that for a system of
beliefs about Nature, which paganism had allowed to become grotesque,--
of rites which had become unmeaning,--he substituted an admiration
for Nature so constant, an understanding of her so subtle, a
sympathy so profound, that they became a veritable worship. Such
worship, I repeat, is not what we commonly imply either by paganism
or by pantheism. For in pagan countries, though the gods may have
originally represented natural forces, yet the conception of them
soon becomes anthropomorphic, and they are reverenced as
transcendent _men_; and, on the other hand, pantheism is generally
characterized by an indifference to things in the concrete, to
Nature in detail; so that the Whole, or Universe, with which the
Stoics (for instance) sought to be in harmony, was approached not by
contemplating external objects, but rather by ignoring them.

Yet here I would be understood to speak only in the most general
manner. So congruous in all ages are the aspirations and the hopes
of men that it would be rash indeed to attempt to assign the moment
when any spiritual truth rises for the first time on human
consciousness. But thus much, I think, may be fairly said, that the
maxims of Wordsworth's form of natural religion were uttered before
Wordsworth only in the sense in which the maxims of Christianity
were uttered before Christ. To compare small things with great--or
rather, to compare great things with things vastly greater--the
essential spirit of the _Lines near Tintern Abbey_ was for practical
purposes as new to mankind as the essential spirit of the _Sermon on
the Mount_. Not the isolated expression of moral ideas, but their
fusion into a whole in one memorable personality, is that which
connects them for ever with a single name. Therefore it is that
Wordsworth is venerated; because to so many men--indifferent, it may
be, to literary or poetical effects, as such--he has shown by the
subtle intensity of his own emotion how the contemplation of Nature
can be made a revealing agency, like Love or Prayer,--an opening, if
indeed there be any opening, into the transcendent world.

The prophet with such a message as this will, of course, appeal for
the most part to the experience of exceptional moments--those
moments when "we see into the life of things;" when the face of
Nature sends to us "gleams like the flashing of a shield;"--hours
such as those of the Solitary, who, gazing on the lovely distant
scene,

                 Would gaze till it became
  Far lovelier, and his heart could not sustain
  The beauty, still more beauteous.

But the idealist, of whatever school, is seldom content to base his
appeal to us upon these scattered intuitions alone. There is a whole
epoch of our existence whose memories, differing, indeed, immensely
in vividness and importance in the minds of different men, are yet
sufficiently common to all men to form a favourite basis for
philosophical argument. "The child is father of the man;" and
through the recollection and observation of early childhood we may
hope to trace our ancestry--in heaven above or on the earth beneath--
in its most significant manifestation.

It is to the workings of the mind of the child that the philosopher
appeals who wishes to prove that knowledge is recollection, and that
our recognition of geometrical truths--so prompt as to appear
instinctive--depends on our having been actually familiar with them
in an earlier world. The Christian mystic invokes with equal
confidence his own memories of a state which seemed as yet to know
no sin:--

  Happy those early days, when I
  Shined in my angel infancy!
  Before I understood this place
  Appointed for my second race,
  Or taught my soul to fancy aught
  But a white, celestial thought;
  When yet I had not walked above
  A mile or two from my first Love,
  And looking back at that short space
  Could see a glimpse of His bright face;
  When on some gilded cloud or flower
  My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
  And in those weaker glories spy
  Some shadows of eternity;
  Before I taught my tongue to wound
  My conscience with a sinful sound,
  Or had the black art to dispense
  A several sin to every sense,
  But felt through all this fleshly dress
  Bright shoots of everlastingness.

And Wordsworth, whose recollections were exceptionally vivid, and
whose introspection was exceptionally penetrating, has drawn from
his own childish memories philosophical lessons which are hard to
disentangle in a logical statement, but which will roughly admit of
being classed under two heads. For firstly, he has shown an unusual
delicacy of analysis in eliciting the "firstborn affinities that fit
our new existence to existing things;"--in tracing the first impact
of impressions which are destined to give the mind its earliest ply,
or even, in unreflecting natures, to determine the permanent modes of
thought. And, secondly, from the halo of pure and vivid emotions
with which our childish years are surrounded, and the close
connexion of this emotion with external nature, which it glorifies
and transforms, he infers that the soul has enjoyed elsewhere an
existence superior to that of earth, but an existence of which
external nature retains for a time the power of reminding her.

The first of these lines of thought may be illustrated by a passage
in the _Prelude_, in which the boy's mind is represented as passing
through precisely the train of emotion which we may imagine to be at
the root of the theology of many barbarous peoples. He is rowing at
night alone on Esthwaite Lake, his eyes fixed upon a ridge of crags,
above which nothing is visible:--

  I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
  And as I rose upon the stroke my boat
  Went heaving through the water like a swan;--
  When, from behind that craggy steep till then
  The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
  As if with voluntary power instinct
  Upreared its head. I struck and struck again;
  And, growing still in stature, the grim shape
  Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
  For so it seemed, with purpose of its own,
  And measured motion like a living thing,
  Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
  And through the silent water stole my way
  Back to the covert of the willow-tree;
  There in her mooring-place I left my bark,
  And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
  And serious mood. But after I had seen
  That spectacle, for many days, my brain
  Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
  Of unknown modes of being; o'er my thoughts
  There hung a darkness--call it solitude,
  Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
  Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
  Of sea, or sky, no colours of green fields;
  But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
  Like living men, moved slowly thro' the mind
  By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

In the controversy as to the origin of the worship of inanimate
objects, or of the powers of Nature, this passage might fairly be
cited as an example of the manner in which those objects, or those
powers, can impress the mind with that awe which is the foundation
of savage creeds, while yet they are not identified with any human
intelligence, such as the spirits of ancestors or the like, nor even
supposed to operate according to any human, analogy.

Up to this point Wordsworth's reminiscences may seem simply to
illustrate the conclusions which science reaches by other roads. But
he is not content with merely recording and analyzing his childish
impressions; he implies, or even asserts, that these "fancies from
afar are brought"--that the child's view of the world reveals to him
truths which the man with difficulty retains or recovers. This is
not the usual teaching of science, yet it would be hard to assert
that it is absolutely impossible. The child's instincts may well be
supposed to partake in larger measure of the general instincts of
the race, in smaller measure of the special instincts of his own
country and century, than is the case with the man. Now the feelings
and beliefs of each successive century will probably be, on the whole,
superior to those of any previous century. But this is not
universally true; the teaching of each generation does not thus sum
up the results of the whole past. And thus the child, to whom in a
certain sense the past of humanity is present,--who is living
through the whole life of the race in little, before he lives the
life of his century in large,--may possibly dimly apprehend something
more of truth in certain directions than is visible to the adults
around him.

But, thus qualified, the intuitions of infancy might seem scarcely
worth insisting on. And Wordsworth, as is well known, has followed
Plato in advancing for the child a much bolder claim. The child's
soul, in this view, has existed before it entered the body--has
existed in a world superior to ours, but connected, by the immanence
of the same pervading Spirit, with the material universe before our
eyes. The child begins by feeling this material world strange to him.
But he sees in it, as it were, what he has been accustomed to see;
he discerns in it its kinship with the spiritual world which he
dimly remembers; it is to him "an unsubstantial fairy place"--a scene
at once brighter and more unreal than it will appear in his eyes
when he has become acclimatized to earth. And even when this
freshness of insight has passed away, it occasionally happens that
sights or sounds of unusual beauty or carrying deep associations--a
rainbow, a cuckoo's cry, a sunset of extraordinary splendour--will
renew for a while this sense of vision and nearness to the spiritual
world--a sense which never loses its reality, though with advancing
years its presence grows briefer and more rare.

Such, then, in prosaic statement is the most characteristic message
of Wordsworth. And it is to be noted that though Wordsworth at times
presents it as a coherent theory, yet it is not necessarily of the
nature of a theory, nor need be accepted or rejected as a whole; but
is rather an inlet of illumining emotion in which different minds
can share in the measure of their capacities or their need. There
are some to whom childhood brought no strange vision of brightness,
but who can feel their communion with the Divinity in Nature growing
with the growth of their souls. There are others who might be
unwilling to acknowledge any spiritual or transcendent source for
the elevating joy which the contemplation of Nature can give, but
who feel nevertheless that to that joy Wordsworth has been their
most effective guide. A striking illustration of this fact may be
drawn, from the passage in which John Stuart Mill, a philosopher of
a very different school, has recorded the influence exercised over
him by Wordsworth's poems; read in a season of dejection, when there
seemed to be no real and substantive joy in life, nothing but the
excitement of the struggle with the hardships and injustices of
human fates.

  "What made Wordsworth's poems a medicine for my state of
  mind," he says in his Autobiography, "was that they expressed,
  not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought
  coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They
  seemed to be the very culture of the feelings which I was in
  quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a source of inward
  joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be
  shared in by all human beings, which had no connexion
  with struggle or imperfection, but would be made richer by
  every improvement in the physical or social condition of
  mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the
  perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of
  life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better
  and happier as I came under their influence."

Words like these, proceeding from a mind so different from the
poet's own, form perhaps as satisfactory a testimony to the value of
his work as any writer can obtain. For they imply that Wordsworth
has succeeded in giving his own impress to emotions which may become
common to all; that he has produced a body of thought which is felt
to be both distinctive and coherent, while yet it enlarges the
reader's capacities instead of making demands upon his credence.
Whether there be theories, they shall pass; whether there be systems,
they shall fail; the true epoch-maker in the history of the human
soul is the man who educes from this bewildering universe a new and
elevating joy.

I have alluded above to some of the passages, most of them familiar
enough, in which Wordsworth's sense of the mystic relation between
the world without us and the world within--the correspondence
between the seen and the unseen--is expressed in its most general
terms. But it is evident that such a conviction as this, if it
contain any truth, cannot be barren of consequences on any level of
thought. The communion with Nature which is capable of being at
times sublimed to an incommunicable ecstasy must be capable also of
explaining Nature to us so far as she can be explained; there must
be _axiomata media_ of natural religion; there must be something in
the nature of poetic truths, standing midway between mystic
intuition and delicate observation.

How rich Wordsworth is in these poetic truths--how illumining is the
gaze which he turns on the commonest phenomena--how subtly and
variously he shows us the soul's innate perceptions or inherited
memories as it were co-operating with Nature and "half creating" the
voice with which she speaks--all this can be learnt by attentive
study alone. Only a few scattered samples can be given here; and I
will begin with one on whose significance the poet has himself dwelt.
This is the poem called _The Leech-Gatherer_, afterwards more
formally named _Resolution and Independence_.

"I will explain to you," says Wordsworth, "in prose, my feelings in
writing that poem, I describe myself as having been exalted to the
highest pitch of delight by the joyousness and beauty of Nature; and
then as depressed, even in the midst of those beautiful objects, to
the lowest dejection and despair. A young poet in the midst of the
happiness of Nature is described as overwhelmed by the thoughts of
the miserable reverses which have befallen the happiest of all men,
viz. poets. I think of this till I am so deeply impressed with it,
that I consider the manner in which I am rescued from my dejection
and despair almost as an interposition of Providence. A person
reading the poem with feelings like mine will have been awed and
controlled, expecting something spiritual or supernatural. What is
brought forward? A lonely place, 'a pond, by which an old man
_was_, far from all house or home:' not _stood_, nor _sat_, but
_was_--the figure presented in the most naked simplicity possible.
The feeling of spirituality or supernaturalness is again referred to
as being strong in my mind in this passage. How came he here?
thought I, or what can he be doing? I then describe him, whether ill
or well is not for me to judge with perfect confidence; but this I
_can_ confidently affirm, that though I believe God has given me a
strong imagination, I cannot conceive a figure more impressive than
that of an old man like this, the survivor of a wife and ten children,
travelling alone among the mountains and all lonely places, carrying
with him his own fortitude, and the necessities which an unjust
state of society has laid upon him. You speak of his speech as
tedious. Everything is tedious when one does not read with the
feelings of the author. _The Thorn_ is tedious to hundreds; and so
is _The Idiot Boy_ to hundreds. It is in the character of the old
man to tell his story, which an impatient reader must feel tedious.
But, good heavens! Such a figure, in such a place; a pious,
self-respecting, miserably infirm and pleased old man, telling such
a tale!"

The naive earnestness of this passage suggests to us how constantly
recurrent in Wordsworth's mind were the two trains of ideas which
form the substance of the poem; the interaction, namely, (if so it
may be termed,) of the moods of Nature with the moods of the human
mind; and the dignity and interest of man as man, depicted with no
complex background of social or political life, but set amid the
primary affections and sorrows, and the wild aspects of the external
world.

Among the pictures which Wordsworth has left us of the influence of
Nature on human character, _Peter Bell_ may be taken as marking one
end, and the poems on _Lucy_ the other end of the scale. Peter Bell
lives in the face of Nature untouched alike by her terror and her
charm; Lucy's whole being is moulded by Nature's self; she is
responsive to sun and shadow, to silence and to sound, and melts
almost into an impersonation of a Cumbrian valley's peace. Between
these two extremes how many are the possible shades of feeling! In
_Ruth_, for instance, the point impressed upon us is that Nature's
influence is only salutary so long as she is herself, so to say, in
keeping with man; that when her operations reach that degree of
habitual energy and splendour at which our love for her passes into
fascination and our admiration into bewilderment, then the fierce
and irregular stimulus consorts no longer with the growth of a
temperate virtue.

  The wind, the tempest roaring high,
  The tumult of a tropic sky,
  Might well be dangerous food
  For him, a youth to whom was given
  So much of earth, so much of heaven,
  And such impetuous blood.

And a contrasting touch recalls the healing power of those gentle
and familiar presences which came to Ruth in her stormy madness with
visitations of momentary calm.

  Yet sometimes milder hours she knew,
  Nor wanted sun, nor rain, nor dew,
  Nor pastimes of the May;
  They all were with her in her cell;
  And a wild brook with cheerful knell
  Did o'er the pebbles play.

I will give one other instance of this subtle method of dealing with
the contrasts in Nature. It is from the poem entitled "_Lines left
upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree which stands near the Lake of Esthwaite,
on a desolate part of the Shore, commanding a beautiful Prospect_."
This seat was once the haunt of a lonely, a disappointed, an
embittered man.

  Stranger! These gloomy boughs
  Had charms for him: and here he loved to sit,
  His only visitants a straggling sheep,
  The stone-chat, or the glancing sand-piper;
  And on these barren rocks, with fern and heath
  And juniper and thistle sprinkled o'er,
  Fixing his downcast eye, he many an hour
  A morbid pleasure nourished, tracing here
  An emblem of his own unfruitful life:
  And, lifting up his head, he then would gaze
  On the more distant scene,--how lovely 'tis
  Thou seest,--and he would gaze till it became
  Far lovelier, and his heart could not sustain
  The beauty, still more beauteous! Nor, that time,
  When Nature had subdued him to herself,
  Would he forget those beings, to whose minds,
  Warm from the labours of benevolence,
  The world, and human life, appeared a scene
  Of kindred loveliness; then he would sigh
  With mournful joy, to think that others felt
  What he must never feel; and so, lost Man!
  On visionary views would fancy feed
  Till his eyes streamed with tears.

This is one of the passages which the lover of Wordsworth, quotes,
perhaps, with some apprehension; not knowing how far it carries into
the hearts of others its affecting power; how vividly it calls up
before them that mood of desolate loneliness when the whole vision
of human love and joy hangs like a mirage in the air, and only when
it seems irrecoverably distant seems also intolerably dear. But,
however this particular passage may impress the reader, it is not
hard to illustrate by abundant references the potent originality of
Wordsworth's outlook on the external world.

There was indeed no aspect of Nature, however often depicted, in
which his seeing eye could not discern some unnoted quality; there
was no mood to which nature gave birth in the mind of man from which
his meditation could not disengage some element which threw light on
our inner being. How often has the approach of evening been described!
And how mysterious is its solemnizing power! Yet it was reserved for
Wordsworth in his sonnet "Hail, Twilight, sovereign of one peaceful
hour," to draw out a characteristic of that grey waning light which
half explains to us its sombre and pervading charm. "Day's mutable
distinctions" pass away; all in the landscape that suggests our own
age or our own handiwork is gone; we look on the sight seen by our
remote ancestors, and the visible present is generalized into an
immeasureable past.

The sonnet on the Duddon beginning "What aspect bore the Man who
roved or fled First of his tribe to this dark dell," carries back
the mind along the same track, with the added thought of Nature's
permanent gentleness amid the "hideous usages" of primeval man,--
through all which the stream's voice was innocent, and its flow
benign. "A weight of awe not easy to be borne" fell on the poet, also,
as he looked on the earliest memorials which these remote ancestors
have left us. The _Sonnet on a Stone Circle_ which opens with these
words is conceived in a strain of emotion never more needed than now,--
when Abury itself owes its preservation to the munificence of a
private individual,--when stone-circle or round-tower, camp or dolmen,
are destroyed to save a few shillings, and occupation-roads are
mended with the immemorial altars of an unknown God. "Speak,
Giant-mother! Tell it to the Morn!"--how strongly does the heart
re-echo the solemn invocation which calls on those abiding witnesses
to speak once of what they knew long ago!

The mention of these ancient worships may lead us to ask in what
manner Wordsworth was affected "by the Nature-deities of Greece and
Rome"--impersonations which have preserved through so many ages so
strange a charm. And space must be found here for the characteristic
sonnet in which the baseness and materialism of modern life drives
him back on whatsoever of illumination and reality lay in that young
ideal.

  The world is too much with us; late and soon
  Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
  Little we see in Nature that is ours;
  We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
  The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
  The Winds that will be howling at all hours,
  And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
  For this, for everything we are out of tune;
  It moves us not. Great God! I'd rather be
  A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
  So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
  Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
  Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea:
  Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Wordsworth's own imagination idealized Nature in a different way.
The sonnet "Brook! Whose society the poet seeks" places him among
the men whose Nature-deities have not yet become anthropomorphic--
men to whom "unknown modes of being" may seem more lovely as well as
more awful than the life we know. He would not give to his idealized
brook "human cheeks, channels for tears,--no Naiad shouldst thou be,"--

  It seems the Eternal Soul is clothed in thee
  With purer robes than those of flesh and blood,
  And hath bestowed on thee a better good;
  Unwearied joy, and life without its cares.

And in the _Sonnet on Calais Beach_ the sea is regarded in the same
way, with a sympathy (if I may so say) which needs no help from an
imaginary impersonation, but strikes back to a sense of kinship
which seems antecedent to the origin of man.

  It is a beauteous Evening, calm and free;
  The holy time is quiet as a Nun
  Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
  Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
  The gentleness of heaven is on the Sea:
  Listen! The mighty Being is awake,
  And doth with his eternal motion make
  A sound like thunder--everlastingly.

A comparison, made by Wordsworth himself, of his own method of
observing Nature with Scott's expresses in less mystical language
something of what I am endeavouring to say.

  "He expatiated much to me one day," says Mr. Aubrey de
  Vere, "as we walked among the hills above Grasmere, on the
  mode in which Nature had been described by one of the most
  justly popular of England's modern poets--one for whom he
  preserved a high and affectionate respect. 'He took pains,'
  Wordsworth said; 'he went out with his pencil and note-book,
  and jotted down whatever struck him most--a river rippling
  over the sands, a ruined tower on a rock above it, a promontory,
  and a mountain-ash waving its red berries. He went home and
  wove the whole together into a poetical description.' After a
  pause, Wordsworth resumed, with a flashing eye and impassioned
  voice: 'But Nature does not permit an inventory to be
  made of her charms! He should have left his pencil and notebook
  at home, fixed his eye as he walked with a reverent attention
  on all that surrounded him, and taken all into a heart that
  could understand and enjoy. Then, after several days had
  passed by, he should have interrogated his memory as to the
  scene. He would have discovered that while much of what he
  had admired was preserved to him, much was also most wisely
  obliterated; that which remained--the picture surviving in his
  mind--would have presented the ideal and essential truth of the
  scene, and done so in a large part by discarding much which,
  though in itself striking, was not characteristic. In every scene
  many of the most brilliant details are but accidental; a true eye
  for Nature does not note them, or at least does not dwell on
  them.'"

How many a phrase of Wordsworth's rises in the mind in illustration
of this power! Phrases which embody in a single picture, or a single
image,--it may be the vivid wildness of the flowery coppice, of--

       Flaunting summer, when he throws
  His soul into the briar-rose,--

or the melancholy stillness of the declining year,--

  Where floats
  O'er twilight fields the autumnal gossamer;

or--as in the words which to the sensitive Charles Lamb seemed too
terrible for art--the irresponsive blankness of the universe--

  The broad open eye of the solitary sky--

beneath which mortal hearts must make what merriment they may.

Or take those typical stanzas in _Peter Bell_, which so long were
accounted among Wordsworth's leading absurdities.

  In vain through, every changeful year
  Did Nature lead him as before;
  A primrose by the river's brim
  A yellow primrose was to him,
  And it was nothing more.

  In vain, through water, earth, and air,
  The soul of happy sound was spread,
  When Peter, on some April morn,
  Beneath the broom or budding thorn.
  Made the warm earth his lazy bed.

  At noon, when by the forest's edge
  He lay beneath the branches high,
  The soft blue sky did never melt
  Into his heart,--he never felt
  The witchery of the soft blue sky!

  On a fair prospect some have looked
  And felt, as I have heard them say,
  As if the moving time had been
  A thing as steadfast as the scene
  On which they gazed themselves away.

In all these passages, it will be observed, the emotion is educed
from Nature rather than added to her; she is treated as a mystic
text to be deciphered, rather than as a stimulus to roving
imagination. This latter mood, indeed, Wordsworth feels occasionally,
as in the sonnet where the woodland sights become to him "like a
dream of the whole world;" but it is checked by the recurring sense
that "it is our business to idealize the real, and not to realize
the ideal." Absorbed in admiration of fantastic clouds of sunset, he
feels for a moment ashamed to think that they are unrememberable--

  They are of the sky,
  And from our earthly memory fade away.

But soon he disclaims this regret, and reasserts the paramount
interest of the things that we can grasp and love.

  Grove, isle, with every shape of sky-built dome,
  Though clad In colours beautiful and pure,
  Find in the heart of man no natural home;
  The immortal Mind craves objects that endure:
  These cleave to it; from these it cannot roam,
  Nor they from it: their fellowship is secure.

From this temper of Wordsworth's mind, it follows that there will be
many moods in which we shall not retain him as our companion. Moods
which are rebellious, which beat at the bars of fate; moods of
passion reckless in its vehemence, and assuming the primacy of all
other emotions through the intensity of its delight or pain; moods
of mere imaginative phantasy, when we would fain shape from the
well-worn materials of our thought some fabric at once beautiful and
new; from all such phases of our inward being Wordsworth stands aloof.
His poem on the nightingale and the stockdove illustrates with
half-conscious allegory the contrast between himself and certain
other poets.

  O Nightingale! Thou surely art
  A creature of a fiery heart:--
  These notes of thine--they pierce and pierce;
  Tumultuous harmony and fierce!
  Thou sing'st as if the God of wine
  Had helped thee to a Valentine;
  A song in mockery and despite
  Of shades, and dews, and silent Night;
  And steady bliss, and all the loves
  Now sleeping in their peaceful groves.

  I heard a Stock-dove sing or say
  His homely tale, this very day;
  His voice was buried among trees,
  Yet to be come at by the breeze:
  He did not cease; but cooed--and cooed,
  And somewhat pensively he wooed.
  He sang of love with quiet blending,
  Slow to begin, and never ending;
  Of serious faith and inward glee;
  That was the Song--the Song for me!

"_His voice was buried among trees_," says Wordsworth; "a metaphor
expressing the love of _seclusion_ by which this bird is marked; and
characterizing its note as not partaking of the shrill and the
piercing, and therefore more easily deadened by the intervening shade;
yet a note so peculiar, and withal so pleasing, that the breeze,
gifted with that love of the sound which the poet feels, penetrates
the shade in which it is entombed, and conveys it to the ear of the
listener."

Wordsworth's poetry on the emotional side (as distinguished from its
mystical or its patriotic aspects) could hardly be more exactly
described than in the above sentence. For while there are few poems
of his which could be read to a mixed audience with the certainty of
producing an immediate impression; yet on the other hand all the
best ones gain in an unusual degree by repeated study; and this Is
especially the case with those in which, some touch of tenderness is
enshrined in a scene of beauty, which it seems to interpret while it
is itself exalted by it. Such a poem is _Stepping Westward_, where
the sense of sudden fellowship, and the quaint greeting beneath the
glowing sky, seem to link man's momentary wanderings with the cosmic
spectacles of heaven. Such are the lines where all the wild romance
of Highland scenery, the forlornness of the solitary vales, pours
itself through the lips of the maiden singing at her work, "as if
her song could have no ending,"--

  Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
  And sings a melancholy strain;
  O listen! For the Vale profound
  Is overflowing with the sound.

Such--and with how subtle a difference!--is the _Fragment_ in which
a "Spirit of noonday" wears on his face the silent joy of Nature in
her own recesses, undisturbed by beast, or bird, or man,--

  Nor ever was a cloudless sky
  So steady or so fair.

And such are the poems--_We are Seven, The Pet Lamb_, [6]

[Footnote 6: The _Pet Lamb_ is probably the only poem of
Wordsworth's which can be charged with having done moral injury, and
that to a single individual alone. "Barbara Lewthwaite," says
Wordsworth, in 1843, "was not, in fact, the child whom I had seen and
overheard as engaged in the poem. I chose the name for reasons
implied in the above," (i.e. an account of her remarkable beauty),
"and will here add a caution against the use of names of living
persons. Within a few months after the publication of this poem I
was much, surprised, and more hurt, to find it in a child's
school-book, which, having been compiled by Lindley Murray, had come
into use at Grasmere School, where Barbara was a pupil. And, alas, I
had the mortification of hearing that she was very vain of being
thus distinguished; and in after-life she used to say that she
remembered the incident, and what I said to her upon the occasion."]

_Louisa, The Two April Mornings_--in which the beauty of rustic
children melts, as it were, into Nature herself, and the--

        Blooming girl whose hair was wet
  With points of morning dew

becomes the impersonation of the season's early joy. We may apply,
indeed, to all these girls Wordsworth's description of leverets
playing on a lawn, and call them--

  Separate creatures in their several gifts
  Abounding, but so fashioned that in all
  That Nature prompts them to display, their looks,
  Their starts of motion and their fits of rest,
  An undistinguishable style appears
  And character of gladness, as if Spring
  Lodged in their innocent bosoms, and the spirit
  Of the rejoicing Morning were their own.

My limits forbid me to dwell longer on these points. The passages
which I have been citing have been for the most part selected as
illustrating the novelty and subtlety of Wordsworth's view of Nature.
But it will now be sufficiently clear how continually a strain of
human interest is interwoven with the delight derived from impersonal
things.

  Long have I loved what I behold,
  The night that calms, the day that cheers:
  The common growth of mother earth
  Suffices me--her tears, her mirth,
  Her humblest mirth and tears.

The poet of the _Waggoner_--who, himself a habitual water-drinker,
has so glowingly described the glorification which the prospect of
nature receives in a half-intoxicated brain--may justly claim that
he can enter into all genuine pleasures, even of an order which he
declines for himself. With anything that is false or artificial he
cannot sympathize, nor with such faults as baseness, cruelty, rancour;
which seem contrary to human nature itself; but in dealing with
faults of mere _weakness_ he is far less strait-laced than many less
virtuous men.

He had, in fact, a reverence for human beings as such which enabled
him to face even their frailties without alienation; and there was
something in his own happy exemption from such falls which touched
him into regarding men less fortunate rather with pity than disdain.

  Because the unstained, the clear, the crystalline,
  Have ever in them something of benign.

His comment on Barns's _Tam o' Shanter_ will perhaps surprise some
readers who are accustomed to think of him only in his didactic
attitude.

"It is the privilege of poetic genius, he says, to catch, under
certain restrictions of which perhaps at the time of its being
exerted it is but dimly conscious, a spirit of pleasure wherever it
can be found, in the walks of nature, and in the business of men.
The poet, trusting to primary instincts, luxuriates among the
felicities of love and wine, and is enraptured while he describes
the fairer aspects of war, nor does he shrink from the company of
the passion of love though immoderate--from convivial pleasures
though intemperate--nor from the presence of war, though savage, and
recognized as the handmaid of desolation. Frequently and admirably
has Burns given way to these impulses of nature, both with
references to himself and in describing the condition of others. Who,
but some impenetrable dunce or narrow-minded puritan in works of art,
ever read without delight the picture which he has drawn of the
convivial exaltation of the rustic adventurer Tam o' Shanter? The
poet fears not to tell the reader in the outset that his hero was a
desperate and sottish drunkard, whose excesses were as frequent as
his opportunities. This reprobate sits down to his cups while the
storm is roaring, and heaven and earth are in confusion; the night
is driven on by song and tumultuous noise, laughter and jest thicken
as the beverage improves upon the palate--conjugal fidelity archly
bends to the service of general benevolence--selfishness is not
absent, but wearing the mask of social cordiality; and while these
various elements of humanity are blended into one proud and happy
composition of elated spirits, the anger of the tempest without
doors only heightens and sets off the enjoyment within. I pity him
who cannot perceive that in all this, though there was no moral
purpose, there is a moral effect."

  Kings may be blest, but Tarn was glorious,
  O'er a' the ills of life victorious.

"What a lesson do these words convey of charitable indulgence for
the vicious habits of the principal actor in the scene, and of those
who resemble him! Men who to the rigidly virtuous are objects almost
of loathing, and whom therefore they cannot serve! The poet,
penetrating the unsightly and disgusting surfaces of things, has
unveiled with exquisite skill the finer ties of imagination and
feeling, that often bind these beings to practices productive of so
much unhappiness to themselves, and to those whom it is their duty
to cherish; and, as far as he puts the reader into possession of
this intelligent sympathy, he qualifies him for exercising a
salutary influence over the minds of those who are thus deplorably
enslaved."

The reverence for man as man, the sympathy for him in his primary
relations and his essential being, of which these comments on
_Tam o' Shanter_ form so remarkable an example, is a habit of
thought too ingrained in all Wordsworth's works to call for specific
illustration. The figures of _Michael_, of _Matthew_, of the
_Brothers_, of the hero of the _Excursion_, and even of the _Idiot Boy_,
suggest themselves at once in this connexion. But it should be noted
in each case how free is the poet's view from any idealization of
the poorer classes as such, from the ascription of imaginary merits
to an unknown populace which forms the staple of so much
revolutionary eloquence. These poems, while they form the most
convincing rebuke to the exclusive pride of the rich and great, are
also a stern and strenuous incentive to the obscure and lowly. They
are pictures of the poor man's life as it is,--pictures as free as
Crabbe's from the illusion of sentiment,--but in which the delight
of mere observation (which in Crabbe predominates) is subordinated
to an intense sympathy with all such capacities of nobleness and
tenderness as are called out by the stress and pressure of penury or
woe. They form for the folk of northern England (as the works of
Burns and Scott for the Scottish folk) a gallery of figures that are
modelled, as it were, both from without and from within; by one with
experience so personal as to keep every sentence vividly accurate,
and yet with an insight which could draw from that simple life
lessons to itself unknown. We may almost venture to generalize our
statement further, and to assert that no writer since Shakespeare
has left us so true a picture of the British nation. In Milton,
indeed, we have the characteristic English spirit at a whiter glow;
but it is the spirit of the scholar only, or of the ruler, not of the
peasant, the woman, or the child, Wordsworth gives us that spirit as
it is diffused among shepherds and husbandmen,--as it exists in
obscurity and at peace. And they who know what makes the strength of
nations need wish nothing better than that the temper which he saw
and honoured among the Cumbrian dales should be the temper of all
England, now and for ever.

Our discussion of Wordsworth's form of Natural Religion has led us
back by no forced transition to the simple life which he described
and shared. I return to the story of his later years,--if that be
called a story which derives no interest from incident or passion,
and dwells only on the slow broodings of a meditative soul.



CHAPTER XI


ITALIAN TOUR--ECCLESIASTICAL SONNETS--POLITICAL VIEWS--LAUREATESHIP.

Wordsworth was fond of travelling, and indulged this taste whenever
he could afford it. Comparing himself and Southey, he says in 1843:
"My lamented friend Southey used to say that had he been a Papist,
the course of life which in all probability would have been his
was that of a Benedictine monk, in a convent furnished with
an inexhaustible library. _Books_ were, in fact, his passion;
and _wandering_, I can with truth affirm, was mine; but this
propensity in me was happily counteracted by inability from want of
fortune to fulfil my wishes." We find him, however, frequently able
to contrive a change of scene. His Swiss tour in 1790, his residence
in France in 1791-2, his residence in Germany, 1798-9, have been
already touched on. Then came a short visit to France in August 1802,
which produced the sonnets on Westminster Bridge and Calais Beach.
The tour in Scotland which was so fertile in poetry took place in
1803. A second tour in Scotland, in 1814, produced the _Brownie's
Cell_ and a few other pieces. And in July, 1820, he set out with his
wife and sister and two or three other friends for a tour through
Switzerland and Italy.

This tour produced a good deal of poetry; and here and there are
touches which recall the old inspiration. Such is the comparison of
the clouds about the Engelberg to hovering angels; and such the
description of the eclipse falling upon the population of statues
which throng the pinnacles of Milan Cathedral. But for the most part
the poems relating to this tour have an artificial look; the
sentiments in the vale of Chamouni seem to have been laboriously
summoned for the occasion; and the poet's admiration for the Italian
maid and the Helvetian girl is a mere shadow of the old feeling for
the Highland girl, to whom, in fact, he seems obliged to recur in
order to give reality to his new emotion.

To conclude the subject of Wordsworth's travels, I will mention here
that in 1823 he made a tour in Holland, and in 1824 in North Wales,
where his sonnet to the torrent at the Devil's Bridge recalls the
Swiss scenery seen in his youth with vigour and dignity. In 1828 he
made another excursion in Belgium with Coleridge, and in 1829 he
visited Ireland with his friend Mr. Marshall. Neither of these tours
was productive. In 1831 he paid a visit with his daughter to Sir
Walter Scott at Abbotsford, before his departure to seek health in
Italy. Scott received them cordially, and had strength to take them
to the Yarrow. "Of that excursion," says Wordsworth, "the verses
_Yarrow Revisited_ are a memorial. On our return in the afternoon
we had to cross the Tweed, directly opposite Abbotsford. A rich, but
sad light, of rather a purple than a golden hue, was spread over the
Eildon hills at that moment; and, thinking it probable that it might
be the last time Sir Walter would cross the stream (the Tweed), I was
not a little moved, and expressed some of my feelings in the sonnet
beginning, _A trouble not of clouds nor weeping rain_. At noon on
Thursday we left Abbotsford, and on the morning of that day Sir
Walter and I had a serious conversation, _tête-à-tête_, when he
spoke with gratitude of the happy life which, upon the whole, he had
led. He had written in my daughter's album, before he came into the
breakfast-room that morning, a few stanzas addressed to her; and,
while putting the book into her hand, in his own study, standing by
his desk, he said to her, in my presence, 'I should not have done
anything of this kind but for your father's sake; they are probably
the last verses I shall ever write.' They show how much his mind was
impaired: not by the strain of thought, but by the execution, some
of the lines being imperfect, and one stanza wanting corresponding
rhymes. One letter, the initial S., had been omitted in the spelling
of his own name."

There was another tour in Scotland in 1833, which produced _Memorials_
of little poetic value. And in 1837 he made a long tour in Italy
with Mr. Crabb Robinson. But the poems which record this tour
indicate a mind scarcely any longer susceptible to any vivid stimulus
except from accustomed objects and ideas. The _Musings near
Aquapendente_ are musings on Scott and Helvellyn; the _Pine Tree of
Monte Mario_ is interesting because--Sir George Beaumont has saved
it from destruction; the _Cuckoo at Laverna_ brings all childhood
back into his heart. "I remember perfectly well," says Crabb Robinson,
"that I heard the cuckoo at Laverna twice before he heard it; and
that it absolutely fretted him that my ear was first favoured; and
that he exclaimed with delight, 'I hear it! I hear it!'" This was
his last foreign tour; nor, indeed, are these tours very noticeable
except as showing that he was not blindly wedded to his own lake
scenery; that his admiration could face comparisons, and keep the
same vividness when he was fresh from other orders of beauty.

The productions of these later years took for the most part a
didactic rather than a descriptive form. In the volume entitled
_Poems chiefly of Early and Later Years_, published in 1842, were
many hortatory or ecclesiastical pieces of inferior merit, and among
them various additions to the _Ecclesiastical Sketches_, a series of
sonnets begun in 1821, but which he continued to enlarge, spending
on them much of the energies of his later years. And although it is
only in a few instances--as in the description of King's College,
Cambridge--that these sonnets possess force or charm enough to rank
them high as poetry, yet they assume a certain value when we consider
not so much their own adequacy as the greater inadequacy of all
rival attempts in the same direction.

The Episcopalian Churchman, in this country or in the United States,
will certainly nowhere find presented to him in poetical form so
dignified and comprehensive a record of the struggles and the glories,
of the vicissitudes and the edification, of the great body to which
he belongs. Next to the Anglican liturgy--though next at an immense
interval--these sonnets may take rank as the authentic exposition of
her historic being--an exposition delivered with something of her
own unadorned dignity, and in her moderate and tranquil tone.

I would not, however, seem to claim too much. The religion which
these later poems of Wordsworth's embody is rather the stately
tradition of a great Church than the pangs and aspirations of a holy
soul. There is little in them--whether for good or evil--of the
stuff of which a Paul, a Francis, a Dominic are made. That fervent
emotion--akin to the passion of love rather than to intellectual or
moral conviction--finds voice through singers of a very different
tone. It is fed by an inward anguish, and felicity which, to those
who have not felt them, seem as causeless as a lover's moods; by
wrestlings not with flesh and blood; by nights of despairing
self-abasement; by ecstasies of an incommunicable peace. How great
the gulf between Wordsworth and George Herbert!--Herbert "offering
at heaven, growing and groaning thither,"--and Wordsworth, for whom
the gentle regret of the lines,--

  Me this unchartered freedom tires,
  I feel the weight of chance desires,--

forms his most characteristic expression of the self-judgment of the
solitary soul.

Wordsworth accomplished one reconciliation of great importance to
mankind. He showed, as plainly in his way as Socrates had shown it
long ago, with what readiness a profoundly original conception of
the scheme of things will shape itself into the mould of an
established and venerable faith. He united the religion of the
philosopher with the religion of the churchman; one rarer thing he
could not do; he could not unite the religion of the philosopher
with the religion of the saint. It is, indeed, evident that the most
inspiring feeling which breathes through Wordsworth's ecclesiastical
pieces is not of a doctrinal, not even of a spiritual kind. The
ecclesiastical as well as the political sentiments of his later
years are prompted mainly by the admiring love with which he
regarded the structure of English society--seen as that society was
by him in its simplest and most poetic aspect. This concrete
attachment to the scenes about him had always formed an important
element in his character. Ideal politics, whether in Church or State,
had never occupied his mind, which sought rather to find its
informing principles embodied in the England of his own day. The
sonnet _On a Parsonage in Oxfordshire_ well illustrates the loving
minuteness with which he draws out the beauty and fitness of the
established scheme of things,--the power of English country life to
satisfy so many moods of feeling.

The country-seat of the English squire or nobleman has become--may
we not say?--one of the world's chosen types of a happy and a
stately home. And Wordsworth, especially in his poems which deal
with Coleorton, has shown how deeply he felt the sway of such a
home's hereditary majesty, its secure and tranquillizing charm. Yet
there are moods when the heart which deeply feels the inequality of
human lots turns towards a humbler ideal. There are moments when the
broad park, the halls and towers, seem no longer the fitting frame
of human greatness, but rather an isolating solitude, an unfeeling
triumph over the poor.

In such a mood of mind it will not always satisfy us to dwell, as
Wordsworth has so often done, on the virtue and happiness that
gather round a cottage hearth,--which we must, after all, judge by a
somewhat less exacting standard. We turn rather to the "refined
rusticity" of an English Parsonage home.

  Where holy ground begins, unhallowed ends,
  Is marked by no distinguishable line;
  The turf unites, the pathways intertwine,--

and the clergyman's abode has but so much of dignity as befits the
minister of the Church which is the hamlet's centre; enough to
suggest the old Athenian boast of beauty without extravagance, and
study without effeminacy; enough to show that dwellings where not
this life but another is the prevailing thought and care, yet need
not lack the graces of culture, nor the loves of home.

The sonnet on _Seathwaite Chapel_, and the life of Robert Walker,
the incumbent of Seathwaite, which is given at length in the notes
to the sonnets on the Duddon, afford a still more characteristic
instance of the clerical ideal towards which Wordsworth naturally
turned. In Robert Walker he had a Cumbrian statesman turned into a
practical saint; and he describes him with a gusto in which his
laboured sonnets on _Laud_ or on _Dissensions_ are wholly deficient.

It was in social and political matters that the consequences of this
idealizing view of the facts around him in Cumberland were most
apparent. Take education, for example. Wordsworth, as has been
already stated, was one of the earliest and most impressive
assertors of the national duty of teaching every English child to
read. He insists on this with a prosaic earnestness which places
several pages of the _Excursion_ among what may be called the
standing bugbears which his poems offer to the inexperienced reader.
And yet as soon as, through the exertions of Bell and Lancaster,
there seems to be some chance of really educating the poor, Dr. Bell,
whom Coleridge fondly imagines as surrounded in heaven by multitudes
of grateful angels, is to Wordsworth a name of horror. The
mistresses trained on his system are called "Dr. Bell's sour-looking
teachers in petticoats." And the instruction received in these
new-fangled schools is compared to "the training that fits a boxer
for victory in the ring." The reason of this apparent inconsistency
is not far to seek. Wordsworth's eyes were fixed on the village life
around him. Observation of that life impressed on him the imperative
necessity of instruction in reading. But it was from a moral, rather
than an intellectual point of view that he regarded it as needful,
and, this opening into the world of ideas once secured, he held that
the cultivation of the home affections and home duties was all that
was needed beyond. And thus the Westmoreland dame, "in her summer
seat in the garden, and in winter by the fireside," was elevated
into the unexpected position of the ideal instructress of youth.

Conservatism of this kind could provoke nothing but a sympathetic
smile. The case was different when the same conservative--even
retrograde--tendency showed itself on subjects on which
party-feeling ran high. A great part of the meditative energy of
Wordsworth's later years was absorbed by questions towards whose
solution he contributed no new element, and which filled him with
disproportionate fears. And some injustice has been done to his
memory by those who have not fully realized the predisposing causes
which were at work,--the timidity of age, and the deep-rooted
attachment to the England which he knew.

I speak of age, perhaps, somewhat prematurely, as the poet's
gradually growing conservatism culminated in his opposition to the
Catholic Relief Bill, before he was sixty years old. But there is
nothing to wonder at in the fact that the mind of a man of brooding
and solitary habits should show traces of advancing age earlier than
is the case with statesmen or men of the world, who are obliged to
keep themselves constantly alive to the ideas of the generation that
is rising around them. A deadness to new impressions, an
unwillingness to make intellectual efforts in fresh directions, a
tendency to travel the same mental pathways over and over again, and
to wear the ruts of prejudice deeper at every step; such traces of
age as these undoubtedly manifested themselves in the way in which
the poet confronted the great series of changes--Catholic
Emancipation, Reform Bill, New Poor Law, on which England entered
about the year 1829. "My sixty-second year," Wordsworth writes, in
1832, "will soon be completed; and though I have been favoured thus
far in health and strength beyond most men of my age, yet I feel its
effects upon my spirits; they sink under a pressure of apprehension
to which, at an earlier period of my life, they would probably have
been superior." To this it must be added, that the increasing
weakness of the poet's eyes seriously limited his means of
information. He had never read much contemporary literature, and he
read less than ever now. He had no fresh or comprehensive knowledge
of the general condition of the country, and he really believed in
the prognostication which was uttered by many also who did _not_
believe in it, that with the Reform Bill the England which he knew
and loved would practically disappear. But there was nothing in him
of the angry polemic, nothing of the calumnious partisan. One of the
houses where Mr. Wordsworth was most intimate and most welcome was
that of a reforming member of parliament, who was also a manufacturer,
thus belonging to the two classes for which the poet had the
greatest abhorrence. But the intimacy was never for a moment shaken,
and indeed in that house Mr. Wordsworth expounded the ruinous
tendency of Reform and manufactures with even unusual copiousness,
on account of the admiring affection with which he felt himself
surrounded. The tone in which he spoke was never such as could give
pain or excite antagonism; and--if I may be pardoned for descending
to a detail which well illustrates my position--the only rejoinder
which these diatribes provoked was that the poet on his arrival was
sometimes decoyed into uttering them to the younger members of the
family, whose time was of less value, so as to set his mind free to
return to those topics of more permanent interest where his
conversation kept to the last all that tenderness, nobility, wisdom,
which in that family, as in many others familiar with the celebrated
persons of that day, won for him a regard and a reverence such as
was accorded to no other man.

To those, indeed, who realized how deeply he felt these changes,--
how profoundly his notion of national happiness was bound up with a
lovely and vanishing ideal,--the prominent reflection was that the
hopes and principles which maintained through all an underlying hope
and trust in the future must have been potent indeed. It was no easy
optimism which prompted the lines written in 1837--one of his latest
utterances--in which he speaks to himself with strong self-judgment
and resolute hope. On reading them one shrinks from dwelling longer
upon an old man's weakness and a brave man's fears.

  If this great world of joy and pain
    Revolve in one sure track;
  If Freedom, set, revive again,
    And Virtue, flown, come back,--

  Woe to the purblind crew who fill
    The heart with each day's care,
  Nor learn, from past and future, skill
    To bear and to forbear.

The poet had also during these years more of private sorrow than his
tranquil life had for a long time experienced. In 1832 his sister
had a most serious illness, which kept her for many months in a
state of great prostration, and left her, when the physical symptoms
abated, with her intellect painfully impaired, and her bright nature
permanently overclouded. Coleridge, too, was nearing his end.
"He and my beloved sister," writes Wordsworth, in 1832, "are the two
beings to whom my intellect is most indebted, and they are now
proceeding, as it were, _pari passu_, along the path of sickness, I
will not say towards the grave, but I trust towards a blessed
immortality."

In July, 1834, "every mortal power of Coleridge was frozen at its
marvellous source," And although the early intimacy had scarcely
been maintained,--though the "comfortless and hidden well" had, for
a time at least, replaced the "living murmuring fount of love" which
used to spring beside Wordsworth's door,--yet the loss was one which
the surviving poet deeply felt. Coleridge was the only contemporary
man of letters with whom Wordsworth's connexion had been really close;
and when Wordsworth is spoken of as one of a group of poets
exemplifying in various ways the influence of the Revolution, it is
not always remembered how very little he had to do with the other
famous men of his time. Scott and Southey were valued friends, but
he thought little of Scott's poetry, and less of Southey's. Byron
and Shelley he seems scarcely to have read; and he failed altogether
to appreciate Keats. But to Coleridge his mind constantly reverted;
he called him "the most wonderful man he had ever known," and he
kept him as the ideal auditor of his own poems, long after Coleridge
had listened to the _Prelude_,--

  A song divine of high and passionate thoughts
  To their own music chanted.

In 1836, moreover, died one for whom Coleridge, as well as Wordsworth,
had felt a very high respect and regard--Sarah Hutchinson, Mrs.
Wordsworth's sister, and long the inmate of Wordsworth's household.
This most valued friend had been another instance of the singular
good fortune which attended Wordsworth in his domestic connexions;
and when she was laid in Grasmere churchyard, the stone above her
tomb expressed the wish of the poet and his wife that, even as her
remains were laid beside their dead children's, so their own bodies
also might be laid by hers.

And now, while the inner circle of friends and relations began, to
pass away, the outer circle of admirers was rapidly spreading.
Between the years 1830 and 1840 Wordsworth passed from the apostle
of a clique into the most illustrious man of letters in England. The
rapidity of this change was not due to any remarkable accident, nor
to the appearance of any new work of genius. It was merely an
extreme instance of what must always occur where an author, running
counter to the fashion of his age, has to create his own public in
defiance of the established critical powers. The disciples whom he
draws round him are for the most part young; the established
authorities are for the most part old; so that by the time that the
original poet is about sixty years old, most of his admirers will be
about forty, and most of his critics will be dead. His admirers now
become his accredited critics; his works are widely introduced to the
public; and if they are really good his reputation is secure. In
Wordsworth's case the detractors had been unusually persistent, and
the reaction, when it came, was therefore unusually violent; it was
even somewhat factitious in its extent; and the poems were forced by
enthusiasts upon a public which was only half ripe for them. After
the poet's death a temporary counter-reaction succeeded, and his
fame is only now finding its permanent level.

Among the indications of growing popularity was the publication of
an American edition of Wordsworth's poems in 1837, by Professor Reed
of Philadelphia, with whom the poet interchanged many letters of
interest. "The acknowledgments," he says in one of these, "which I
receive from the vast continent of America are among the most
grateful that reach me. What a vast field is there open to the
English mind, acting through our noble language! Let us hope that
our authors of true genius will not be unconscious of that thought,
or inattentive to the duty which it imposes upon them, of doing their
utmost to instruct, to purify, and to elevate their readers."

But of all the manifestations of the growing honour in which
Wordsworth was held, none was more marked or welcome than the
honorary degree of D.C.L. conferred on him by the University of
Oxford in the summer of 1839. Keble, as Professor of Poetry,
introduced him in words of admiring reverence, and the enthusiasm of
the audience was such as had never been evoked in that place before,
"except upon the occasions of the visits of the Duke of Wellington."
The collocation was an interesting one. The special claim advanced
for Wordsworth by Keble in his Latin oration was "that he had shed a
celestial light upon the affections, the occupations, the piety of
the poor." And to many men besides the author of the _Christian Year_
it seemed that this striking scene was, as it were, another visible
triumph of the temper of mind which is of the essence of Christianity;
a recognition that one spirit more had become as a little child, and
had entered into the kingdom of heaven.

In October, 1842, another token of public respect was bestowed on
him in the shape of an annuity of 300£ a year from the Civil List
for distinguished literary merit. "I need scarcely add," says Sir
Robert Peel, in making the offer, "that the acceptance by you of
this mark of favour from the Crown, considering the grounds on which
it is proposed, will impose no restraint upon your perfect
independence, and involve no obligation of a personal nature." In
March, 1843, came the death of Southey, and in a few days Wordsworth
received a letter from Earl De la Warr, the Lord Chamberlain,
offering him, in the most courteous terms, the office of Poet
Laureate, which, however, he respectfully declined as imposing duties,
"which, far advanced in life as I am, I cannot venture to undertake."

This letter brought a reply from the Lord Chamberlain, pressing the
office on him again, and a letter from Sir Robert Peel which gave
dignified expression to the national feeling in the matter.
"The offer," he says, "was made to you by the Lord Chamberlain, with
my entire concurrence, not for the purpose of imposing on you any
onerous or disagreeable duties, but in order to pay you that tribute
of respect which is justly due to the first of living poets. The
Queen entirely approved of the nomination, and there is one
unanimous feeling on the part of all who have heard of the proposal
(and it is pretty generally known) that there could not be a question
about the selection. Do not be deterred by the fear of any
obligations which the appointment may be supposed to imply. I will
undertake that you shall have nothing _required_ from you. But as
the Queen can select for this honourable appointment no one whose
claims for respect and honour, on account of eminence as a poet, can
be placed in competition with, yours, I trust you will not longer
hesitate to accept it."

This letter overcame the aged poet's scruples; and he filled with
silent dignity the post of Laureate till after seven years' space a
worthy successor received

  This laurel greener from the brows
  Of him that uttered nothing base.



CHAPTER XII.


LETTERS ON THE KENDAL AND WINDERMERE RAILWAY--CONCLUSION.

Wordsworth's appointment to the Laureateship was significant in more
ways than one. He was so much besides a poet, that his appointment
implied something of a national recognition, not only of his past
poetical achievements, but of the substantial truth of that body of
principles which through many years of neglect and ridicule he had
consistently supported. There was therefore nothing incongruous in
the fact that the only composition of any importance which
Wordsworth produced after he became Laureate was in prose--his two
letters on the projected Kendal and Windermere railway, 1844. No
topic, in fact, could have arisen on which the veteran poet could
more fitly speak with whatever authority his official spokesmanship
of the nation's higher life could give, for it was a topic with
every aspect of which he was familiar; and so far as the extension of
railways through the Lake country was defended on grounds of popular
benefit, (and not merely of commercial advantage), no one, certainly,
had shown himself more capable of estimating at their full value
such benefits as were here proposed.

The results which follow on a large incursion of visitors into the
Lake country may be considered under two heads, as affecting the
residents, or as affecting the visitors themselves. And first as to
the residents. Of the wealthier class of these I say nothing, as it
will perhaps be thought that their inconvenience is outweighed by
the possible profits which the railway may bring to speculators or
contractors. But the effect produced on the poorer residents,--on
the peasantry,--is a serious matter, and the danger which was
distantly foreseen by Wordsworth has since his day assumed grave
proportions. And lest the poet's estimate of the simple virtue which
is thus jeopardized should be suspected of partiality, it may be
allowable to corroborate it by the testimony of an eminent man, not
a native of the district, though a settler therein in later life,
and whose writings, perhaps, have done more than any man's since
Wordsworth to increase the sum of human enjoyment derived both from
Art and from Nature.

"The Border peasantry of Scotland and England," says Mr. Ruskin,[6]
"painted with absolute fidelity by Scott and Wordsworth,--(for
leading types out of this exhaustless portraiture, I may name
Dandie Dinmont, and Michael,) are hitherto a scarcely injured race;
whose strength and virtue yet survive to represent the body and soul
of England, before her days of mechanical decrepitude, and
commercial dishonour. There are men working in my own fields who
might have fought with Henry the Fifth at Agincourt, without being
discerned from among his knights; I can take my tradesmen's word for
a thousand pounds; my garden gate opens on the latch to the public
road, by day and night, without fear of any foot entering but my own;
and my girl-guests may wander by road or moorland, or through every
bosky dell of this wild wood, free as the heather-bees or squirrels.
What effect on the character of such a population will be produced
by the influx of that of the suburbs of our manufacturing towns
there is evidence enough, if the reader cares to ascertain the facts,
in every newspaper on his morning table."

[Footnote 6: _A Protest against the Extension of Railways in the
Lake District_,--Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., 1876.]

There remains the question of how the greatest benefit is to be
secured to visitors to the country, quite apart from the welfare of
its more permanent inhabitants. At first sight this question seems
to present a problem of a well-known order--to find the point of
maximum pleasure to mankind in a case where the intensity of the
pleasure varies inversely as its extension--where each fresh person
who shares it diminishes _pro tanto_ the pleasure of the rest. But,
as Wordsworth has pointed out, this is not in reality the question
here. To the great mass of cheap excursionists the characteristic
scenery of the Lakes is in itself hardly a pleasure at all. The
pleasure, indeed, which they derive from contact with Nature is
great and important, but it is one which could be offered to them,
not only as well but much better, near their own homes.

"It is benignly ordained that green fields, clear blue skies,
running streams of pure water, rich groves and woods, orchards, and
all the ordinary varieties of rural nature should find an easy way
to the affections of all men. But a taste beyond this, however
desirable it may be that every one should possess it, is not to be
implanted at once; it must be gradually developed both in nations
and individuals. Rocks and mountains, torrents and wide-spread waters,
and all those features of nature which go to the composition of such
scenes as this part of England is distinguished for, cannot, in
their finer relations to the human mind, be comprehended, or even
very imperfectly conceived, without processes of culture or
opportunities of observation in some degree habitual. In the eye of
thousands, and tens of thousands, a rich meadow, with fat cattle
grazing upon it, or the sight of what they would call a heavy crop
of corn, is worth all that the Alps and Pyrenees in their utmost
grandeur and beauty could show to them; and it is noticeable what
trifling conventional prepossessions will, in common minds, not only
preclude pleasure from the sight of natural beauty, but will even
turn it into an object of disgust. In the midst of a small
pleasure-ground immediately below my house, rises a detached rock,
equally remarkable for the beauty of its form, the ancient oaks that
grow out of it, and the flowers and shrubs which adorn it. 'What a
nice place would this be,' said a Manchester tradesman, pointing to
the rock, 'if that ugly lump were but out of the way.' Men as little
advanced in the pleasure which such objects give to others, are so
far from being rare that they may be said fairly to represent a
large majority of mankind. This is the fact, and none but the
deceiver and the willingly deceived can be offended by its being
stated."

And, since this is so, the true means of raising the taste of the
masses consists, as Wordsworth proceeds to point out, in giving them,--
not a few hurried glimpses of what is above their comprehension,--
but permanent opportunities of learning at leisure the first great
lessons which Nature has to teach. Since he wrote thus our towns have
spread their blackness wider still, and the provision of parks for
the recreation of our urban population has become a pressing
national need. And here again the very word _recreation_ suggests
another unfitness in the Lake country for these purposes. Solitude
is as characteristic of that region as beauty, and what the mass of
mankind need for their refreshment--most naturally and justly--is
not solitude but society.

  The silence that is in the starry sky,
  The sleep that is among the lonely hills,

is to them merely a drawback, to be overcome by moving about in
large masses, and by congregating in chosen resorts with vehement
hilarity. It would be most unreasonable to wish to curtail to
curtail the social expansion of men whose lives are for the most
part passed in a monotonous round of toil. But is it kinder and wiser,--
from any point of view but the railway shareholder's,--to allure
them into excursion trains by the prestige of a scenery which is to
them (as it was to all classes a century or two ago) at best
indifferent, or to provide them near at hand with their needed space
for rest and play, not separated from their homes by hours of
clamour and crowding, nor broken up by barren precipices, nor
drenched with sweeping storm?

Unquestionably it is the masses whom we have first to consider.
Sooner than that the great mass of the dwellers in towns should be
debarred from the influences of Nature--sooner than that they
should continue for another century to be debarred as now they are--
it might be better that Cumbrian statesmen and shepherds should be
turned into innkeepers and touts, and that every poet, artist,
dreamer, in England should be driven to seek his solitude at the
North Pole. But it is the mere futility of sentiment to pretend that
there need be any real collision of interests here. There is space
enough in England yet for all to enjoy in their several manners, if
those who have the power would leave some unpolluted rivers, and
some unblighted fields, for the health and happiness of the
factory-hand, whose toil is for their fortunes, and whose
degradation is their shame.

Wordsworth, while indicating, with some such reasoning as this, the
true method of promoting the education of the mass of men in natural
joys, was assuredly not likely to forget that in every class, even
the poorest, are found exceptional spirits which some inbred power
has attuned already to the stillness and glory of the hills. In what
way the interests of such men may best be consulted, he has
discussed in the following passage.

  "O nature a' thy shows an' forms
  To feeling pensive hearts hae charms!"

"So exclaimed the Ayrshire ploughman, speaking of ordinary rural
nature under the varying influences of the seasons; and the
sentiment has found an echo in the bosoms of thousands in as humble
a condition as he himself was when he gave vent to it. But then they
_were_ feeling, pensive hearts--men who would be among the first
to lament the facility with which they had approached this region,
by a sacrifice of so much of its quiet and beauty as, from the
intrusion of a railway, would be inseparable. What can, in truth, be
more absurd than that either rich or poor should be spared the
trouble of travelling by the high roads over so short a space,
according to their respective means, if the unavoidable consequence
must be a great disturbance of the retirement, and, in many places,
a destruction of the beauty, of the country which the parties are
come in search of? Would not this be pretty much like the child's
cutting up his drum to learn where the sound came from?"

The truth of these words has become more conspicuous since
Wordsworth's day. The Lake country is now both engirdled and
intersected with railways. The point to which even the poorest of
genuine lovers of the mountains could desire that his facilities of
cheap locomotion should be carried has been not only reached but far
overpassed. If he is not content to dismount from his railway
carriage at Coniston, or Seascale, or Bowness,--at Penrith, or
Troutbeek, or Keswick,--and to move at eight miles an hour in a coach,
or at four miles an hour on foot, while he studies that small
intervening tract of country, of which every mile is a separate gem,--
when, we may ask, _is_ he to dismount? What _is_ he to study? Or is
nothing to be expected from Nature but a series of dissolving views?

It is impossible to feel sanguine as to the future of this
irreplaceable national possession. A real delight in scenery,--
apart from the excitements of sport or mountaineering, for which
Scotland and Switzerland are better suited than Cumberland,--is
still too rare a thing among the wealthier as among the poorer
classes to be able to compete with such a power as the Railway
Interest. And it is little likely now that the Government of England
should act with regard to this district as the Government of the
United States has acted with regard to the Yosemite and Yellowstone
valleys, and guard as a national possession the beauty which will
become rarer and more precious with every generation of men. But it
is in any case desirable that Wordsworth's unanswered train of
reasoning on the subject should be kept in view--that it should be
clearly understood that the one argument for making more railways
through the Lakes is that they may possibly pay; while it is certain
that each railway extension is injurious to the peasantry of the
district, and to all visitors who really care for its scenery, while
conferring no benefit on the crowds who are dragged many miles to
what they do not enjoy, instead of having what they really want
secured to them, as it ought to be, at their own doors.

It is probable that all this will continue to be said in vain.
Railways, and mines, and waterworks will have their way, till injury
has become destruction. The natural sanctuary of England, the nurse
of simple and noble natures, "the last region which Astræa touches
with flying feet," will be sacrificed--it is scarcely possible to
doubt it--to the greed of gain. We must seek our consolation in the
thought that no outrage on Nature is mortal; that the ever-springing
affections of men create for themselves continually some fresh abode,
and inspire some new landscape with a consecrating history, and as
it were with a silent soul. Yet it will be long ere round some other
lakes, upon some other hill, shall cluster memories as pure and high
as those which hover still around Rydal and Grasmere, and on
Helvellyn's windy summit, "and by Glenridding Screes and low
Gleneoign."

With, this last word of protest and warning,--uttered, as it may
seem to the reader, with, unexpected force and conviction from out
of the tranquillity of a serene old age,--Wordsworth's mission is
concluded. The prophecy of his boyhood is fulfilled, and the
"dear native regions" whence his dawning genius rose have been
gilded by the last ray of its declining fire. There remains but the
domestic chronicle of a few more years of mingled sadness and peace.
And I will first cite a characteristic passage from a letter to his
American correspondent, Mr.  Reed, describing his presentation as
Laureate to the Queen:--

"The reception given me by the Queen at her ball was most gracious.
Mrs. Everett, the wife of your Minister, among many others, was a
witness to it, without knowing who I was. It moved her to the
shedding of tears. This effect was in part produced, I suppose, by
American habits of feeling, as pertaining to a republican government.
To see a grey-haired man of seventy-five years of age, kneeling down
in a large assembly to kiss the hand of a young woman, is a sight
for which institutions essentially democratic do not prepare a
spectator of either sex, and must naturally place the opinions upon
which a republic is founded, and the sentiments which support it, in
strong contrast with a government based and upheld as ours is."

In the same letter the poet introduces an ominous allusion to the
state of his daughter's health. Dora, his only daughter who survived
childhood, was the darling of Wordsworth's age. In her wayward
gaiety and bright intelligence there was much to remind him of his
sister's youth; and his clinging nature wound itself round this new
Dora as tenderly as it had ever done round her who was now only the
object of loving compassion and care. In 1841 Dora Wordsworth
married Mr. Quillinan, an ex-officer of the Guards, and a man of
great literary taste and some original power. In 1821 he had settled
for a time in the vale of Rydal, mainly for the sake of Wordsworth's
society; and ever since then he had been an intimate and valued
friend. He had been married before, but his wife died in 1822,
leaving him two daughters, one of whom was named from the murmuring
Rotha, and was god-child of the poet. Shortly after marriage, Dora
Quillinan's health began to fail. In 1845 the Quillinans went to
Oporto in search of health, and returned in 1846, in the trust that
it was regained. But in July 1847 Dora Quillinan died at Rydal,
and left her father to mourn for his few remaining years his
"immeasurable loss."

The depth and duration of Wordsworth's grief in such bereavements as
fell to his lot, was such as to make his friends thankful that his
life had on the whole been guided through ways of so profound a peace.

Greatly, indeed, have they erred, who have imagined him as cold, or
even as by nature tranquil. "What strange workings," writes one from
Rydal Mount when the poet was in his sixty-ninth year,--"what strange
workings are there in his great mind! How fearfully strong are all
his feelings and affections! If his intellect had been less powerful
they must have destroyed him long ago." Such, in fact, was the
impression which he gave to those who knew him best throughout life.
The look of premature age, which De Quincey insists on; the furrowed
and rugged countenance, the brooding intensity of the eye, the
bursts of anger at the report of evil doings, the lonely and violent
roamings over the mountains,--all told of a strong absorption and a
smothered fire. His own description of himself (for such we must
probably hold it to be) in his _Imitation of the Castle of Indolence_,
unexpected as it is by the ordinary reader, carries for those who
knew him the stamp of truth.

  Full many a time, upon a stormy night,
  His voice came to us from the neighbouring height:
  Oft did we see him driving full in view
  At mid-day when the sun was shining bright;
  What ill was on him, what he had to do,
  A mighty wonder bred among our quiet crew.

  Ah! Piteous sight it was to see this Man
  When he came back to us, a withered flower,--
  Or like a sinful creature, pale and wan.
  Down would he sit; and without strength or power
  Look at the common grass from hour to hour:
  And oftentimes, how long I fear to say,
  Where apple-trees in blossom made a bower,
  Retired in that sunshiny shade he lay;
  And, like a naked Indian, slept himself away.
  Great wonder to our gentle tribe it was
  Whenever from our valley he withdrew;
  For happier soul no living creature has
  Than he had, being here the long day through.
  Some thought he was a lover, and did woo:
  Some thought far worse of him, and judged him wrong:
  But Verse was what he had been wedded to;
  And his own mind did like a tempest strong
  Come to him thus, and drove the weary wight along.

An excitement which vents itself in bodily exercise carries its own
sedative with it. And in comparing Wordsworth's nature with that of
other poets whose career has been less placid, we may say that he was
perhaps not less excitable than they, but that it was his constant
endeavour to avoid all excitement, save of the purely poetic kind;
and that the outward circumstances of his life,--his mediocrity of
fortune, happy and early marriage, and absence of striking personal
charm,--made it easy for him to adhere to a method of life which was,
in the truest sense of the term, _stoic_--stoic alike in its
practical abstinences and in its calm and grave ideal. Purely poetic
excitement, however, is hard to maintain at a high point; and the
description quoted above of the voice which came through the stormy
night should be followed by another--by the same candid and
self-picturing hand--which represents the same habits in a quieter
light.

"Nine-tenths of my verses," says the poet in 1843, "have been
murmured out in the open air. One day a stranger, having walked
round the garden and grounds of Rydal Mount, asked of one of the
female servants, who happened to be at the door, permission to see
her master's study. 'This,' said she, leading him forward, 'is my
master's library, where he keeps his books, but his study is out of
doors.' After a long absence from home, it has more than once
happened that some one of my cottage neighbours (not of the
double-coach-house cottages) has said, 'Well, there he is! We are
glad to hear him _booing_ about again.'"

Wordsworth's health, steady and robust for the most part, indicated
the same restrained excitability. While he was well able to resist
fatigue, exposure to weather, &c. there were, in fact, three things
which his peculiar constitution made it difficult for him to do, and
unfortunately those three things were reading, writing, and the
composition of poetry. A frequently recurring inflammation of the
eyes, caught originally from exposure to a cold wind when overheated
by exercise, but always much aggravated by mental excitement,
sometimes prevented his reading for months together. His symptoms
when he attempted to hold the pen are thus described, in a published
letter to Sir George Beaumont (1803):--

"I do not know from what cause it is, but during the last three
years I have never had a pen in my hand for five minutes before my
whole frame becomes a bundle of uneasiness; a perspiration starts
out all over me, and my chest is oppressed in a manner which I
cannot describe." While as to the labour of composition his sister
says (September 1800): "He writes with so much feeling and agitation
that it brings on a sense of pain and internal weakness about his
left side and stomach, which now often makes it impossible for him
to write when he is, in mind and feelings, in such a state that he
could do it without difficulty."

But turning to the brighter side of things--to the joys rather than
the pains of the sensitive body and spirit--we find, in Wordsworth's
later years much of happiness 011 which to dwell. The memories which
his name recalls are for the most part of thoughtful kindnesses, of
simple-hearted joy in feeling himself at last appreciated, of tender
sympathy with the young. Sometimes it is a recollection of some
London drawing-room, where youth and beauty surrounded the rugged
old man with an eager admiration which fell on no unwilling heart.
Sometimes it is a story of some assemblage of young and old, rich
and poor, from all the neighbouring houses and cottages, at Rydal
Mount, to keep the aged poet's birthday with a simple feast and
rustic play. Sometimes it is a report of some fireside gathering at
Lancrigg or Foxhow, where the old man grew eloquent as he talked of
Burns and Coleridge, of Homer and Virgil, of the true aim of poetry
and the true happiness of man. Or we are told of some last excursion
to well-loved scenes; of holly-trees planted by the poet's hands to
simulate nature's decoration on the craggy hill.

Such are the memories of those who best remember him. To those who
were young children while his last years went by he seemed a kind of
mystical embodiment of the lakes and mountains round him--a presence
without which they would not be what they were. And now he is gone,
and their untouched and early charm is going too.

  Heu, tua nobis
  Pæne simul tecum solatia rapta, Menalea!

Rydal Mount, of which he had at one time feared to be deprived, was
his to the end. He still paced the terrace-walks--but now the flat
terrace oftener than the sloping one--whence the eye travels to lake
and mountain across a tossing gulf of green. The doves that so long
had been wont to answer with murmurs of their own to his "half-formed
melodies" still hung in the trees above his pathway; and many who
saw him there must have thought of the lines in which, his favourite
poet congratulates himself that he has not been exiled from his home.

  Calm as thy sacred streams thy years shall flow;
  Groves which thy youth has known thine age shall know;
  Here, as of old, Hyblæan bees shall twine
  Their mazy murmur into dreams of thine,--
  Still from the hedge's willow-bloom shall come
  Through summer silences a slumberous hum,--
  Still from the crag shall lingering winds prolong
  The half-heard cadence of the woodman's song,--
  While evermore the doves, thy love and care,
  Fill the tall elms with sighing in the air.

Yet words like these fail to give the solemnity of his last years,--
the sense of grave retrospection, of humble self-judgment, of
hopeful looking to the end. "It is indeed a deep satisfaction," he
writes near the close of life, "to hope and believe that my poetry
will be while it lasts, a help to the cause of virtue and truth,
especially among the young. As for myself, it seems now of little
moment how long I may be remembered. When a man pushes off in his
little boat into the great seas of Infinity and Eternity, it surely
signifies little how long he is kept in sight by watchers from the
shore."

And again, to an intimate friend, "Worldly-minded I am not; on the
contrary, my wish to benefit those within my humble sphere
strengthens seemingly in exact proportion to my inability to realize
those wishes. What I lament most is that the spirituality of my
nature does not expand and rise the nearer I approach the grave, as
yours does, and as it fares with my beloved partner."

The aged poet might feel the loss of some vividness of emotion, but
his thoughts dwelt more and more constantly on the unseen world. One
of the images which recurs oftenest to his friends is that of the
old man as he would stand against the window of the dining-room at
Rydal Mount and read the Psalms and Lessons for the day; of the tall
bowed figure and the silvery hair; of the deep voice which always
faltered when among the prayers he came to the words which give
thanks for those "who have departed this life in Thy faith and fear."

There is no need to prolong the narration. As healthy infancy is the
same for all, so the old age of all good men brings philosopher and
peasant once more together, to meet with the same thoughts the
inevitable hour. Whatever the well-fought fight may have been, rest
is the same for all.

  Retirement then might hourly look
    Upon a soothing scene;
  Age steal to his allotted nook
    Contented and serene;
  With heart as calm as lakes that sleep,
    In frosty moonlight glistening,
  Or mountain torrents, where they creep
  Along a channel smooth and deep,
    To their own far-off murmurs listening.

What touch has given to these lines their impress of an unfathomable
peace? For there speaks from them a tranquillity which seems to
overcome our souls; which makes us feel in the midst of toil and
passion that we are disquieting ourselves in vain; that we are
travelling to a region where these things shall not be; that
"so shall immoderate fear leave us, and inordinate love shall die."

Wordsworth's last days were absolutely tranquil. A cold caught on a
Sunday afternoon walk brought on a pleurisy. He lay for some weeks
in a state of passive weakness; and at last Mrs. Wordsworth said to
him, "William, you are going to Dora." "He made no reply at the time,
and the words seem to have passed unheeded; indeed, it was not
certain that they had been even heard. More than twenty-four hours
afterwards one of his nieces came into his room, and was drawing
aside the curtain of his chamber, and then, as if awakening from a
quiet sleep, he said, 'Is that Dora?'"

On Tuesday, April 23, 1850, as his favourite cuckoo-clock struck the
hour of noon, his spirit passed away. His body was buried, as he had
wished, in Grasmere churchyard. Around him the dalesmen of Grasmere
lie beneath the shade of sycamore and yew; and Rotha's murmur mourns
the pausing of that "music sweeter than her own." And surely of him,
if of any one, we may think as of a man who was so in accord with
Nature, so at one with the very soul of things, that there can be no
Mansion of the Universe which shall not be to him a home, no
Governor who will not accept him among His servants, and satisfy him
with love and peace.





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