Page images

THIS distinguished poet, who was so long the victim of critical obloquy, and whose talents have finally, although so late, obtained so signal a triumph, was born at Cockermouth, in Cumberland, on the 7th of April, 1770. At the age of eight he was sent to Hawkeshead school, in Lancashire, where he distinguished himself by proficiency in classical learning, and devotedness to the study of poetry, in which last department his juvenile attempts gave indication of that future eminence he attained. From Hawkeshead, Wordsworth removed to the University of Cambridge, in 1787. While a student, he made a tour on foot through part of France, Savoy, Switzerland, and Italy, during which he wrote the greater part of his Descriptive Sketches in Verse. He was in Paris during the commencement of the French Revolution, and lodged in the same house with Brissot; but the atrocities of the Reign of Terror obliged him to take a hasty leave of the French capital. After several years of travelling, during which he stored his mind with images of the beautiful and sublime from the works of nature, and profound knowledge of human character from the societies with which he mingled, he settled in 1797 near Nether Stowey, in Somersetshire, where he arranged the fruits of his observations, and commenced those immortal strains which were afterwards to acquire such popularity. It was here, also, while he occasionally visited the village inn, that he remarked, among the society that visited there, a young man who entered into the political topics of the day, and defended the cause of ultra liberalism with an eloquence and force of argument that have been seldom equalled. This interesting person was no other than Coleridge, and Wordsworth, who had listened in silence and with delight, was not long in securing the acquaintanceship of so congenial a character. In 1798, Wordsworth made a tour through part of Germany, where he joined his friend Coleridge, and, on his return, took up his abode at Grasmere, a small village in Westmoreland, from which place he afterwards removed to his present picturesque residence at Rydal. Here the venerable patriarch, who has outlived so many of his illustrious and talented contempo. raries, enjoys the homage and love with which his writings have inspired the present generation, and exercises himself in occasional productions that evince the still healthy vigour of his mind, and untiring power of imagination. As he is not only theoretically, but practically a philosopher, his desires have been always moderate, and his habits of life simple and elegant, for which his small patrimonial estate, combined with the office which he holds under government, are more than sufficient. Thus, free from ambition and care, and in the midst of affectionate and admiring friends, the Bard of Rydal has grown old, amidst an uninterrupted flow of tranquil happiness seldom accorded to those who live and labour for poetical fame.

When Wordsworth commenced his labours, nothing could be more superior to the perverted taste of the day than his method of coming before the public as an author. The noisy thunder and lightning of sentiment, and the stiltedness of style, by which the many had been captivated, were rejected by him with marked contempt and it might be, that he erred too much in the opposite extreme, by a severity that rejected all ornament, and a simplicity that was sometimes puerile. His poetry, therefore, became the game of the critics; and even some of his gifted brethren, from whom a more generous conduct might have been expected, united in the general sneer. This was especially the case with Lord Byron, who discharged the most reckless ribaldry upon a bard whom he yet condescended to imitate. But Wordsworth's heart was full, and it would have poured forth its inspirations even had there been not an ear to listen, or single voice to applaud. The flowers, the trees, the streams, the winds, of which he sang, were his auditory, and with these he was content. "He has dwelt," writes Hazlitt, "among pastoral scenes, till each object has become connected with a thousand feelings, a link in the chain of thought, a fibre of his own heart. There is no image so insignificant that it has not in some mood or other found the way into his heart: no sound that does not awaken the memory of other years."

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]


That far-off tinkling's drowsy cheer,
Mix'd with a faint yet grating sound
In a moment lost and found,
The wain announces-by whose side,
Along the banks of Rydal Mere,
He paces on, a trusty guide,-
Listen! you can scarcely hear!
Hither he his course is bending;-
Now he leaves the lower ground,
And up the craggy hill ascending
Many a stop and stay he makes,
Many a breathing fit he takes ;-
Steep the way and wearisome,
Yet all the while his whip is dumb!

Here is no danger,-none at all!
Beyond his wish is he secure;
But pass a mile-and then for trial,-
Then for the pride of self-denial;
If he resist that tempting door,

Which with such friendly voice will call;

If he resist those casement panes,

And that bright gleam which thence will fall
Upon his leaders' bells and manes,
Inviting him with cheerful lure;
For still, though all be dark elsewhere,
Some shining notice will be there,
Of open house and ready fare.

The place to Benjamin full well
Is known, and by as strong a spell
As used to be that sign of love

And hope the "Olive-bough and Dove!”
He knows it to his cost, good man!

Who does not know the famous "Swan?"
Uncouth although the object be,

An image of perplexity;

Yet not the less it is our boast,
For it was painted by the host;
His own conceit the figure plann'd,
"Twas colour'd all by his own hand;
And that frail child of thirsty clay,
Of whom I sing this rustic lay,
Could tell with self-dissatisfaction
Quaint stories of the bird's attraction!

[blocks in formation]

I met a little cottage girl:

She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That cluster'd round her head.

She had a rustic woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
-Her beauty made me glad.

"Sisters and brotners, little maid,
How many may you be?"

"How many? seven in all," she said,
And wondering look'd at me.

"And where are they? I

pray you tell.”
She answer'd, "Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

"Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the churchyard cottage, I

Dwell near them with my mother."

"You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,

Yet ye are seven!-I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be."


Then did the little maid reply,
Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the churchyard tree."

"You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five."

"Their graves are green, they may be seen," The little maid replied,

"Twelve steps or more from my mother's door, And they are side by side.

"My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;

And there upon the ground I sit-
I sit and sing to them.

"And often after sun-set, sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

"The first that died was little Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,

Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

"So in the churchyard she was laid;
And when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we play'd,
My brother John and I.

"And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side."

"How many are you, then," said I,
"If they two are in heaven?"
The little maiden did reply,

"O master! we are seven."

"But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!"
'Twas throwing words away: for still
The little maid would have her will,
And said, "Nay, we are seven!"


I met Louisa in the shade;
And having seen that lovely maid,
Why should I fear to say

That she is ruddy, fleet, and strong;
And down the rocks can leap along,
Like rivulets in May?

And she hath smiles to earth unknown;
Smiles, that with motion of their own
Do spread, and sink, and rise;
That come and go with endless play,
And ever as they pass away,
Are hidden in her eyes.

She loves her fire, her cottage-home;
Yet o'er the moorland will she roam
In weather rough and bleak;

And, when against the wind she strains,
O might I kiss the mountain rains

That sparkle on her cheek!

Take all that's mine "beneath the moon,"
If I with her but half a noon

May sit beneath the walls

Of some old cave, or mossy nook,

When up she winds along the brook

To hunt the waterfalls.

« PreviousContinue »