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philosophy ;-while, on the other hand, the pure mind of Montgo mery has given birth to some of the sweetest poetry in the language, richly fraught with the spirit of religion, and breathing the benevolence of a heart at peace with God and man.
During all this period—nay, longer, for his earliest poem bears the date of 1786_has WILLIAM WORDSWORTH been devoted to the art of poetry. Cherishing the same high sentiments as Milton in regard to the dignity of that art; and knowing, as that great bard expressed it," what glorious and magnificent use might be made of poetry, both in divine and human things ;" and feeling in his inmost spirit, that consciousness of power which animates all who are endowed with the highest of intellectual gifts—"the vision and the faculty divine”-he formed at an early period his determination to write something that might live; and, having adopted a theory of his own in regard both to the nature and objects of genuine poetry, he set himself manfully to exhibit the high truths which are the common property of humanity, in all the varied lights of imagination and fancy, yet in the simplest language of ordinary life. With a keen sense of the value of fame justly acquired, he well knew that fame is valueless, unless as the echo of the mind's own conscious self-approval; that the praise of men delights and soothes the spirit only when it confirms, and is responsive to, the voice of conscience within us; that, although in a thousand ways a man may fix the gaze of his fellows upon himself, and obtain by the sacrifice of principle a temporary triumph,—though the huzzas of the populace may be enthusiastic, and the shouts of applause loud and universal,-though his eye may for a time be dazzled by the glare that surrounds him, and his ear stunned by the echoes of a world's tumultuous praise,-it does not reach his heart, it cannot satisfy his spirit, because it is not just in itself; and he feels that he is a deceiver, while he knows that they who praise him are deluded. Knowing all this, Wordsworth chose well the better part, and determined to forego all the pleasure and profit of an immediate reputation, with a certain confidence that in laboring for the cause of truth and religion he should not labor in vain, and that the products of his industry should endure. Men err in supposing-to quote the nervous and elevated language of the philosophic poet himself—" that there is no test of excellence in poetry, but that all men should run after its productions, as if urged by an appetite, or constrained by a spell! The qualities of writing best fitted for eager reception are either such as startle the world into attention by their audacity and extravagance; or they are chiefly of a superficial kind, lying upon the surfaces of manners; or arising out of a selection and arrangement of incidents by which the mind is kept upon the stretch of curiosity, and the fancy amused without the trouble of thought. But in every thing which is to send the soul into herself, to be admonished of her weakness, or to be made conscious of her power ;-wherever life and nature are described as operated upon by the creative virtue of the imagination ;--there the poet must reconcile himself for a season to few and scattered hearers. Grand thoughts, as they are most naturally and most fitly conceived in solitude, so they cannot be brought forth in the midst of plaudits, without some violation of their sanctity."
For many years Wordsworth was far from being a popular poet. Indeed, the man who could discern the beauty and appreciate the high-souled sentiments of his earlier poems, was reduced to the alternative of keeping his opinions to himself, or of sharing with the poet the contempt and abuse of those who were either morally or intellectually incapable of relishing his simple illustrations of natural objects, or his sweet delineations of human feeling as exhibited among the lowly inhabitants of his own hills, among "sheep-cotes, and hamlets, and peasants' mountain haunts.” From the dictator of the world of letters, the terrible Jeffrey-whose frown was destruction to the hopes and aspirations of common men-to the humbler spirits of the Monthly Review, the critics made common cause against the innovator, as Wordsworth was styled ; and every cur felt himself at liberty to echo the growlings of the great mastiff of the north, who thought himself, as others thought him, to have crushed one of the noblest of Wordsworth's productions, by an ex cathedra, “ This will never do!"
It was a glorious spectacle ! On the one hand were arrayed the literary authorities of the land, filled with all the prejudices of a false poetical taste, and all the great names embalmed in the hearts of the people of England; and on the other, the poet, almost alone, yet in the consciousness of his own power smiling upon the contest which his "adventurous song" had called into being; and still, in his retirement, nourishing his soul by communion with nature, with the mighty spirits of the past—(especially with Milton, with whose solitary soul-upliftings, he could deeply sympathize)-and with
and still, with unwavering faith in the holy impulses that urged him, pouring forth, in numerous and various verse, the solemn lessons of his pure philosophy—the self-study of a mighty mind, humbled by a sense of its own weakness, and elevated by a consciousness of its own dignity-and the flood of natural images, which, however insignificant in themselves, received a beauty and a glory from their association with the emotions of a heart which gave its own hues of joy or sadness to every object, thought, and incident. Slowly, but surely was the triumph preparing which now gladdens the heart of the "old man eloquent;" —one by one were his adversaries subdued ; and here and there were voices heard, faint at first and fearful, speaking his praise. But, in the lapse of years, their number grew, and their power; the mists of prejudice were gradually dispelled; the sweet yet powerful tones of the mountain poet awoke a sympathy and an echo in many a heart; and those faint voices swelled into a hymn of praise,—and now the almost universal chorus of homage to the majesty of his genius, and to the constancy of his religious devotion to his noble art, rises from every hill and valley of his native land, and from all pure hearts in her towns and cities; and even on these “strange shores” there are multitudes to be found
whose tastes have been exalted, and whose affections have been refined, by the unequalled strains of the
We to ourselves and to our God are dear!" It gladdens the heart, we say, of the veteran poet in his retirement thus to find the opinions of the world changed in regard to his works,-to find that he has succeeded in creating the taste by which he is now enjoyed-not because he values the homage of men as paid to himself
, but to the pure thoughts which he has uttered, the mighty truths which he has revealed, and the great principles for which he has labored. And although it will be long before the full meaning of Wordsworth's poetry will be appreciated by many readers, yet the time has already come when he has gained more than the "few," though " fit," auditors for whom Milton prayed. Many have been deterred from the study of his writings by the reputation for philosophy which they have always borne ; and, indeed, the constant introduction of his psychological speculations has tended, in no small degree, to alienate the minds of those who desire nothing more in poetry than its first aim,-pleasure ;-while his peculiar notions of poetic diction have prevented many who were wedded to the artificial forms of the art from discovering the richness of his learning, the depth of his thought, and the power of his imagination.
Professor Reed has done a good work in preparing the present fine edition of Wordsworth. Its very appearance is an unerring indication of the change in the public mind to which we have alluded, for twenty years ago no bookseller could have been found willing to undertake such a publication; and its appearance, under the auspices of one holding so high a station and so distinguished for his literary taste, affords the strongest attestation of the excellence of the work itself. We shall refer to this edition in offering a few remarks npon the genius and writings of Wordsworth, in the course of which we shall take occasion to notice, first, a few of the excel. lences and defects of his poems, considered as works of art; and, secondly, the bearing of his writings upon morals and religion.
The poems in the present complete edition are arranged upon the philosophical principles of the author, according to which such a classification may properly be made " either with reference to the powers of mind predominant in the production, or to the mold in which they are cast; or, lastly, to the subjects to which they relate; and for the sake of exhibiting in the work the requisites of a legitimate whole, a beginning, a middle, and an end, the poems are also arranged according to an order of time, commencing with child. hood, and terminating with old age, death, and immortality.”* We have then Poems referring to the period of Childhood, Poems founded on the Affections, Poems of the Fancy, Poems of the Imagination, Poems of Sentiment and Reflection, Poems referring to the period of Old Age, and finally Epitaphs and Elegiac Poems. The smaller pieces in the volume thus distinguished are designed by the author to be regarded under a twofold view, as composing an entire work within themselves, and as adjuncts to the philosophical poem, the Recluse.”+ Of this last only a portion is yet given to the • Preface, p. 10.
world, which, under the name of the “Excursion,” forms the conclusion to this noble collection—the most majestic monument of poetic genius since the days of Milton.
It requires no very attentive study of these poems to perceive that Wordsworth possesses a complete mastery of the English tongue, and that his command of language is perfect. It is almost needless to adduce examples of a characteristic so marked that he who runs may read it; and, indeed, the whole series of his writings is an exhibition of the most accurate adaptation of language to thought, combined with a severe adherence to simplicity, and a determined avoidance of the cant words and phrases of poetic diction. Wordsworth does not need to distort his native tongue-to manufacture words for set purposes—to transpose his sentences in order to hide some deformity, or cover some nakedness; for with him words are indeed stepovra (winged,) and they fly to their places at his bidding; and whether the subject be a picture of rural life, a song of liberty, a simple story of childhood, or a glorious anticipation of immortality, there is the same close fitness of the language employed to the sentiments conveyed-nothing defective, nothing redundant. Take the following stanza for a specimen, and try to alter a single word or syllable:
“ Love had he found in huts where poor men lie,
His daily teachers had been woods and rills,
Feast of Brougham Castle, p. 152.
But this poet's command of language, as well as his power of versification is, perhaps, more completely shown in his sonnets than in his other productions, because of the difficulties necessarily inherent in this species of composition. Dr. Johnson asserts, that the sonnet cannot be domesticated in our language; and, indeed, had those of Milton and Shakspeare been blotted out before his time, there would have been few remaining worthy of preservation. But the sonnets of Wordsworth are, next to those of Milton, the nearest approach to the Italian model; and many of them, to use the lan. guage of a competent critic, the poet Montgomery," have redeemed the English language from the opprobrium of not admitting the legi. timate sonnet in its severest, as well as in its most elegant, construction.” The twelfth of the sonnets, dedicated to liberty, is full of harmony and majesty ; it is the
THOUGHT OF A BRITON ON THE SUBJUGATION OF SWITZERLAND.
“ Two voices are there; one is of the sea,
One of the mountains; each a mighty voice :
For, high-souled maid, what sorrow would it be
Works, p. 213. We cannot forbear also quoting the sonnet, headed " London, 1802,” not only to illustrate still further the fact that we have stated, but also as a splendid tribute to the greatest of bards :
Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour :
Works, p. 213. But we pass on to notice Wordsworth's power of description, as a second distinguishing characteristic of his poetry. Of course this excellence is intimately connected with the last, combining, as it necessarily does, a keen relish for the beauties of nature, an acute perception of the essential features of every picture, and the faculty of presenting them to the reader in the most appropriate and expressive language. The poet has passed his whole life in communion with nature-in company with
“Sun and moon and stars, throughout the year" he has studied every phase of her beauty, until his whole mind is filled
up with images of loveliness,—until nature has become a home to him, and every inmate of that home, from the meanest flower that blows to the mist-crowned summit of Skiddaw, has a life and being in his inmost heart. There is, in consequence, an accuracy a life-likeness, in his descriptions of natural scenery that has never been surpassed. When, for instance, was the first warning of day. light before so delicately discriminated, and so poetically too, as in the following:
“ By this the stars were almost gone,
The moon was setting on the hill,
Idiot Boy, p. 86.
“ all shod with steel, We hissed along the polished ice, in games