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HOW BURNS PRODUCED HIS SONGS

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Burns as an uneducated poet. This idea has made shipwreck of many a promising poet, or at least of many a youth capable of becoming a pleasing versifier, for they get the idea that it is derogatory to poetic genius to take intellectual labor over their verses. They are under the idea that Burns produced songs without considering whether they were good or bad. We

may be sure that no amount of genius will produce perfect art, unless the man of genius will bestow intellectual labor on it. A perfect poem, such as many of Burns's lyric gems are, can no more be written without labor than can a statue be carved out of stone.

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CHAPTER XII

WORDSWORTH

CONNECTION WITH PREVIOUS POETRY-SKETCH OF LIFE-LYRICA!

BALLADS

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From the phrases that are generally used about nineteenth-century poetry, one would expect to be conscious of a great and sudden change in passing into it out of the poetry of the eighteenth century. Were the new poets not inspired with the spirit of the French Revolution ? Did they not rise in their might, glowing with a noble spirit of independence, and fling the poetic traditions of their fathers to the winds? Pope with his mechanical couplets, his passion for epigrammatic condensation, his fear of going beyond classical example, was sitting on poetry like a nightmare when the French Revolution broke out; and the English Muse, fired by this great modern example of insubordination, would bear him no longer, cast off her old Man of the Mountain, and roamed greatly, daring wherever Fancy or Imagination tempted, with all the fearless ardor of newfound liberty. Such is the language in which the new movement is often spoken of, and if we accept it literally, we should expect to find somewhere between the old poetry and the new a sudden discontinuous break; we should expect, as we followed the history of our literature, to encounter all of a sudden the signs of a great and complete transformation such as might be made on the face of nature by an earthquake or a deluge. But no such catastrophic spectacle is presented to the historic eye. A great change took place, but it was an easy, gradual transition, a quiet evolution

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GRADUAL REVOLUTION IN TASTE FOR POETRY

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of new things, not a fierce upheaval and sweeping away of old things as worthless rubbish, and a triumphant reconstruction upon entirely new lines. We must not ignore the fact that there was a change because we can. not put our finger upon the exact moment when the change occurred; but it is equally unhistoric to be misled by the character of the tremendous political event of the time into ascribing a similar character to the grand new season of poetry that opened with the nineteenth century.

The hold of the Queen Anne style on literature, as we have seen, relaxed gradually; the sentiments that it embodied gradually palled from custom on the class for whom Pope wrote ; longings for new excitements gradually made themselves felt; and gradually also the class whose taste had dominated Queen Anne literature lost their supremacy in the world of art. The prosemen of the last sixty years of the century were, as I have already indicated, the chief literary agents of the transformation that gradually evolved itself, year by year, ten years by ten years, now moving quickly, now moving slowly. The novelists and the romancers educated the taste of the public for new subjects and for a new style ; for subjects of more various human interest, and a style less condensed and elaborate, more free and discursive. Pope's readers had little taste for romantic marvels or for domestic pathos ; the romancers and the novelists accustomed the public to such imaginative food, and so prepared the way for Scott and Wordsworth. Even the Byronic spirit had its prototype in prose.

Wordsworth’s preface to his "Lyrical Ballads ” in 1798 is a great landmark in the history of poetry, because it woke people up to a consciousness of the change that had taken place, and compelled critics to define their position in the face of that change. This preface, and the volume with which it is connected, we must consider at length ; but in the first place let us look at Wordsworth's

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early life, and at the poems written by him before the

Lyrical Ballads.” In these early poems we shall see how gradual was his transition from the poetic style of his predecessors, notwithstanding the revolutionary note of his famous preface.

To some of Wordsworth's admirers it might appear a sort of sacrilege to try and trace the growth of his poetic style, because he has himself in the “Prelude" written his poetic autobiography. “The Growth of a Poet's Mind” is the sub-title of this wonderful

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in which flashes of poetic rapture are so strangely mixed with prosy moralizings and pragmatic dogmas about education, Seeing that the poet has given the history of his own mind, it is to his worshippers as final as the Koran to a good Mohammedan ; and any presumptuous attempt to add to it might be treated by them as the books in the Alexandria Library were treated by the Caliph Omar. They might say: If your essay contains any thing not to be found in the “Prelude,” it is wrong ; if it contains what is already to be found there, it is superfluous. But it is possible to go beyond the revelation of the “Prelude” without contradicting it or merely bringing to light what is useless and superfluous. It is the growth of his mind, of his feelings, of his impassioned love for Nature, that is there recorded ; not the growth of his poetic art, of his aims and methods as an artist, and these are interesting to us if we wish to see him in his right relations with his predecessors. His early poems furnish more valuable clues for this enquiry than the “Prelude,” which is rather an imaginative interpretation of his youth than a literal record. And we have other clues besides in his singularly matter-of-fact prose notes on the circumstances in which he composed his early poems.

The chief incidents in Wordsworth's early life were taken down from his own dictation. He was the son of one of Sir James Lowther's land-agents, whose head

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WORDSWORTH'S EARLY LIFE

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quarters were at Cockermouth, and of the daughter of a mercer in Penrith. His early boyhood till the age of nine was spent partly at Cockermouth and partly at Penrith, both beautifully situated little towns in Cumberland. From nine to seventeen he was at a boardingschool in Hawkshead, another romantically situated little town in the north of Lancashire. His mother died when he was seven years old, and his father when he was thirteen ; but his uncle, in whose guardianship he was left, although Lord Lonsdale had borrowed all his father's money and refused to pay it back,—the repayment not being made till the old lord's death many years afterward,-- his uncle kept both him and his brother at school, and sent them both to Cambridge, the poet entering in 1787, his seventeenth year. Wordsworth took his degree in 1791, travelled for some time in France and Italy, lived for a few years in London, thought of the Church as a profession, thought of journalism as a profession, but finally decided to retire to his native valleys and live on his small inheritance, devoting his days to "plain living and high thinking." He was nearly thirty when he took this determination, and he persevered in it to the end of his days in 1850, with the addition to his means of plain living of a Commissionership of Stamps in 1813, and a pension of three hundred pounds in 1842.

Such is the bare outline of Wordsworth's life. What were the ruling circumstances that co-operated with inborn genius to make him the poet that he was ? Read the “Prelude” and you will find that his own answer is simply Nature-the mountains and the mists, and the leaping sounding cataracts of the valleys where he lived in youth. This is how he describes his feelings in his school-days at Hawkshead :

“I would walk alone
Under the quiet stars, and at that time
Have felt whate'er there is of power in sound

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