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scarcely attempted directly to explain it. He left it to tell its own story in his poetical creations, and in the elaborate pictures of character, his own and others', inserted into his longer works, The Prelude and The Excursion. But he was not a man to change with half a heart. He left behind him for ever all the beliefs and anticipations and illusions which, like spells, had bound him to Jacobin France. He turned away from it in permanent and strong disgust, and settled down into the sturdy English Tory patriot of the beginning of the century.
But this unreserved and absorbing interest in the wonderful ideas and events of the French Revolution, transient as it was, had the effect
upon him which great interruptions of the common course of things and life have on powerful natures. They were a call and * a strain on his intellect and will, first in taking them in, then in judging, sifting, accepting or refusing them, which drew forth to the full all that he had of strength and individual character. But for that, he might have been, and doubtless would have been, the poet of nature, a follower, but with sicher gifts, of Thomson, Akenside, perhaps Cowper. But it was the trial and the struggle which he went through, amid the hopes and overthrows of the French Revolution, which annealed his mind to its highest temper, which gave largeness to his sympathies and reality and power to his ideas.
Every one knows that Wordsworth’s early poetry was received . with a shout of derision, such as, except in the case of Keats, has never attended the first appearance of a great poet. Every one knows, too, thạt in a quarter of a century it was succeeded by a growth of profound and enthusiastic admiration, which, though it has been limited by the rise of new forms of deep and powerful poetry, is still far from being spent or even reduced, though it is expressed with more discrimination than of old, in all who have a right to judge of English poetry.
This was the inevitable result of the characteristic qualities of Wordsworth's genius, though for a time the quarrel between the poet and his critics was aggravated by accidental and temporary circumstances. Wordsworth is destined, if any poet is, to be immortal; but immortality does not necessarily mean popularity. That in Wordsworth which made one class of readers find in him beauty, grandeur, and truth, which they had never found before, will certainly tell on the same class in future years :
• What he has loved,
But mankind is deeply divided in its sympathies and tastes; and for a large portion of it, not merely of those who read, but of those who create and govern opinion, that which Wordsworth loved and aimed at and sought to represent will always be the object, not only of indifference but of genuine dislike. Add to this that Wordsworth's genius, though great, and noble, and lofty, was in a marked way limited, and that in his own exposition and defence of his view of poetry he was curiously and unfortunately one-sided and inadequate, and provokingly stiff and dogmatic. This, of course, only affected an extinct controversy. But the controversy marked at once the power and the bold novelty of Wordsworth's attempt to purify and exalt English poetry. Wordsworth was, and felt himself to be, a discoverer, and like other great discoverers, his victory was in seeing by faith things which were not yet seen, but which were obvious, or soon became so, when once shown. He opened a new world of thought and enjoyment to Englishmen; his work formed an epoch in the intellectual and moral history of the race.
But for that very reason he had, as Coleridge said, like all great artists, to create the taste by which he was to be relished, to teach the art by which he was to be seen and judged. And people were so little prepared for the thorough and systematic way in which he searched out what is deepest or highest or subtlest in human feeling under the homeliest realities, that not being able to understand him they laughed at him. Nor was he altogether without fault in the misconceptions which occasioned so much ridicule and scorn.
How did he win this deep and lasting admiration ? What was it in him which exposed him not merely to the mocks of the scorner but to the dislike of the really able men who condemned him?
That Wordsworth possessed poetical power of the very highest order could be doubted by no one who had read the poem which concluded the first volume of the fiercely attacked Lyrical Ballads, the Lines written above Tintern Abbey. That which places a map high among poets, force and originality of thought, vividness and richness of imagination, command over the instrument of language, in its purity, its beauty, and its majesty, could not be, and was never, denied. But this alone does not explain what is distinctive and characteristic in what called forth so much enthusiasm, and such an outcry of disapprobation.
What was special in Wordsworth was the penetrating power of his perceptions of poetical elements, and his fearless reliance on
the simple forces of expression, in contrast to the more ornate
He had an eye to see these elements, where, I will not say no one had seen or felt them, but where no one appears to have recognised that they had seen or felt them. He saw that the familiar scene of human life,-nature, as affecting human life and feeling, and man, as the fellow creature of nature, but also separate and beyond it in faculties and destiny-had not yet rendered up even to the mightiest of former poets all that they had in them to touch the human heart. And he accepted it as his mission to open the eyes and widen the thoughts of his countrymen, and to teach them to discern in the humblest and most unexpected forms the presence of what was kindred to what they had long recognised as the highest and greatest.
Wordsworth's poetry was not only a powerful but a conscious and systematic appeal to that craving for deep truth and reality which had been gathering way ever since the French Revolution so terribly tore asunder the old veils of conventionality and custom. Truth is a necessary element in all good poetry, and there had been good poetry in the century before Wordsworth. But in Wordsworth the moral judgment and purpose of the man were joined to the poet's instinct and art ; and he did, as the most sacred and natural of duties, what he would anyhow have done from taste and for his pleasure. When that inflexible loyalty to truth which was the prime condition of all his writings--not mere literal truth, but the truth which could only be reached by thought and imagination, when this had been taken in, it was soon seen what an amazing view it opened of the new riches and wonders of the world, a scene of discovery which Wordsworth was far from exhausting. It was a contrast, startling all and baffling many, to the way in wh'ch, since Shakespeare and Milton, poetry had been content to skim the surface of the vast awful tracts of life and nature, dealing with their certainties and riddles, with their beauty and their terror, under the guidance of sentiments put on for the most part like a stage dress, and in language which seemed not to belong to the world which we know. Thomson, Gray, and Burns, Wordsworth’s immediate predecessors, had discovered, but only partially, the extent and significance of the faith which Wordsworth accepted and proclaimed in its length and breadth and height and depth, that Truth, in its infinite but ever self-consistent forms, is the first law of poetry. From his time, the eyes of readers, and the eyes of writers, have been opened ; and whatever judgement they may pass on his own poetry or his theories, they have followed both as critics and as composers, in the path which he opened.
Hence his selection of subjects. He began with nature, as in the Evening Walk, and the Descriptive Sketches. He had early and well learned his lesson of nature-learned to watch and note in her that to which other eyes were blind of expression and novelty in common sights. A habit was formed of indefatigable observation, like that which was the basis of Turner's power. And to a mind thus trained the scenes through which he passed, and among which his lise was spent, furnished never-cloying food. His continental journeys left deep impressions upon him ; these impressions were answered by those of his home. The power of hills was on him’; the music of waters was in his ears ; light and darkness wove their spells for him. Looking to the same end as Turner, and working in the same spirit, he, with Turner, was a discoverer in the open face of nature: working apart from one another, these two mighty · Lords of the eye,' seized and grasped what had always been visible yet never seen, and gave their countrymen capacities of perception and delight hardly yet granted to others. But as his mind grew, Nature, great as was her power, ‘fell back into a second place,' and became important to him chiefly as the stage of man's action, and allied with his ideas, his passions and affections. And Man was interesting to him only in his essential nature, only as man. History had little value for him, except as it revealed character: and character had no interest unless, besides power or splendour, it had in it what appealed to human sympathies or human indulgence. For a Napoleon, with all his magnificence, he had nothing but loathing. Where he found truth, noble and affecting,—not bare literal fact, but reality informed and aglow with the ideas and forms of the imagination, and so raised by it to the power of an object of our spiritual nature,-he recognised no differences of high and low. In the same way as he saw greatness in the ideal histories of Venice and Switzerland, and in the legends of Rome, even if they were fictions, so he saw greatness, the greatness of human affections and of the primary elements of human character, in the fortunes and the sufferings of Michael and the Leech gatherer. He was very bold for his time, and took all consequences, which were severe enough, when he insisted that the whole range of the beautiful, the pathetic, the tragic, the heroic, were to be found in common lowly life, as truly as in the epic and the drama,
or in the grand legends of national history; when he proclaimed that
• Verse may build a princely throne
On humble truth.' He claimed for Lucy Gray, for the 'miserable mother by the Thorn,' for the desolate maniac nursing her infant, the same pity which we give to Lear and Cordelia or to 'the dark sorrows of the line of Thebes. Not in play but in deepest earnest he dwelt on the awfulness, the wonder, the sacredness of childhood : it furnished in his hands the subject, not only of touching ballads, but of one of the most magnificent lyrical poems—the ode on Immortality. He was convinced that if people would but think and be fair with themselves, they would not merely be moved by humble tragedies, like Michael and the Brothers, but would feel that there was as much worthy of a poet's serious art in the agonies of the mother of the Idiot Boy, and the terrors of Peter Bell, as in the 'majestic pains' of Laodamia and Dion. He has summed up his poetical doctrine with all his earnest solemnity in the thirteenth book of the Prelude :
• Here might I pause, and bend in reverence