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other things he said, " that it was the province of
a great poet to raise people up to his own level,
not to descend to theirs," memorable words, the
more memorable that a literary life of sixty years
was in keeping with them.

It would be instructive to know what were
Wordsworth's studies during his winter in Goslar.
Pe Quincey's statement is mere conjecture. It



380 WORDSWORTH

may be guessed fairly enough that he would seek
an entrance to the German language by the easy
path of the ballad, a course likely to confirm him
in his theories as to the language of poetry. The
Spinozism with which he has been not unjustly
charged was certainly not due to any German in
fluence, for it appears unmistakably in the " Lines
composed at Tintern Abbey " in July, 1798. It
is more likely to have been derived from his talks
with Coleridge in 1797. 1 When Emerson visited
him in 1833, he spoke with loathing of " Wilhelm
Meister," a part of which he had read in Carlyle's
translation apparently. There was some affecta
tion in this, it should seem, for he had read Smol
lett. On the whole, it may be fairly concluded that
the help of Germany in the development of his
genius may be reckoned as very small, though
there is certainly a marked resemblance both in
form and sentiment between some of his earlier
lyrics and those of Goethe. His poem of the
" Thorn," though vastly more imaginative, may
have been suggested by Burger's Pfarrers Tochter
von Taubenhain. The little grave drei Spannen
lang, in its conscientious measurement, certainly
recalls a famous couplet in the English poem.

After spending the winter at Goslar, Words
worth and his sister returned to England in the

1 A very improbable story of Coleridge's in the Biographia
Literaria represents the two friends as having incurred a suspicion
of treasonable dealings with the French enemy by their constant
references to a certain "Spy Nosey." The story at least seems
to show how they pronounced the name, which was exactly in ac
cordance with the usage of the last generation in New England.



WORDSWORTH 381

spring of 1799, and settled at Grasmere in West-
moreland. In 1800, the first edition of the " Lyri
cal Ballads " being exhausted, it was republished
with the addition of another volume, Mr. Long
man paying <100 for the copyright of two editions.
The book passed to a second edition in 1802, and
to a third in 1805. 1 Wordsworth sent a copy of it,
with a manly letter, to Mr. Fox, particularly rec
ommending to his attention the poems " Michael "
and " The Brothers," as displaying the strength
and permanence among a simple and rural popula
tion of those domestic affections which were cer
tain to decay gradually under the influence of
manufactories and poor-houses. Mr. Fox wrote
a civil acknowledgment, saying that his favorites
among the poems were " Harry Gill,"* " We are
Seven," "The Mad Mother," and "The Idiot,"
but that he was prepossessed against the use of
blank-verse for simple subjects. Any political sig
nificance in the poems he was apparently unable to
see. To this second edition Wordsworth prefixed
an argumentative Preface, in which he nailed to
the door of the cathedral of English song the criti
cal theses which he was to maintain against all
comers in his poetry and his life. It was a new
thing for an author to undertake to show the good-

1 Wordsworth found (as other original minds have since done)
a hearing in America sooner than in England. James Humphreys,
a Philadelphia bookseller, was encouraged by a sufficient list of
subscribers to reprint the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads.
The second English edition, however, having been published be
fore he had wholly completed his reprinting, was substantially
followed in the first American, which was published in 1802.



382 WORDSWORTH

ness of his verses by the logic and learning of his
prose ; but Wordsworth carried to the reform of
poetry all that fervor and faith which had lost
their political object, and it is another proof of the
sincerity and greatness of his mind, and of that
heroic simplicity which is their concomitant, that
he could do so calmly what was sure to seem ludi
crous to the greater number of his readers. Fifty
years have since demonstrated that the true judg
ment of one man outweighs any counterpoise of
false judgment, and that the faith of mankind is
guided to a man only by a well-founded faith in
himself. To this Defensio Wordsworth afterward
added a supplement, and the two form a treatise
of permanent value for philosophic statement and
decorous English. Their only ill effect has been,
that they have encouraged many otherwise deserv
ing young men to set a Sibylline value on their
verses in proportion as they were unsalable. The
strength of an argument for self-reliance drawn
from the example of a great man depends wholly
on the greatness of him who uses it ; such argu
ments being like coats of mail, which, though they
serve the strong against arrow-flights and lance-
thrusts, may only suffocate the weak or sink him
the sooner in the waters of oblivion.

An advertisement prefixed to the " Lyrical Bal
lads," as originally published in one volume, warned
the reader that " they were written chiefly with a
view to ascertain how far the language of conver
sation in the middle and lower classes of society
is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure."



WORDSWORTH 383

In his preface to the second edition, in two vol
umes, Wordsworth already found himself forced to
shift his ground a little (perhaps in deference to
the wider view and finer sense of Coleridge), and
now says of the former volume that " it was pub
lished as an experiment which, I hoped, might be
of some use to ascertain how far, by fitting to met
rical arrangement, a selection of the real language
of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of
pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be im
parted which a poet may rationally endeavor to
impart." 1 Here is evidence of a retreat towards a
safer position, though Wordsworth seems to have
remained unconvinced at heart, and for many years
longer clung obstinately to the passages of bald
prose into which his original theory had betrayed
him. In 1815 his opinions had undergone a still
further change, and an assiduous study of the qual
ities of his own mind and of his own poetic method
(the two subjects in which alone he was ever a
thorough scholar) had convinced him that poetry
was in no sense that appeal to the understanding
which is implied by the words " rationally endeavor
to impart." In the preface of that year he says,
" The observations prefixed to that portion of these
volumes which was published many years ago under
the title of ' Lyrical Ballads ' have so little of spe
cial application to the greater part of the present
enlarged and diversified collection, that they could

1 Some of the weightiest passages in this Preface, as it is now
printed, were inserted without notice of date in the edition of
1815.



384 WORDSWORTH

not with propriety stand as an introduction to it."
It is a pity that he could not have become an ear
lier convert to Coleridge's pithy definition, that
" prose was words in their best order, and poetry
the best words in the best order." But idealization
was something that Wordsworth was obliged to
learn painfully. It did not come to him naturally,
as to Spenser and Shelley, and to Coleridge in his
higher moods. Moreover, it was in the too fre
quent choice of subjects incapable of being ideal
ized without a manifest jar between theme and
treatment that Wordsworth's great mistake lay.
For example, in " The Blind Highland Boy " he
had originally the following stanzas :

" Strong is the current, but be mild,
Ye waves, and spare the helpless child !
If ye in anger fret or chafe,
A bee-hive would be ship as safe
As that in which he sails.

" But say, what was it ? Thought of fear!
Well may ye tremble when ye hear !
A household tub like one of those
Which women use to wash their clothes,
This carried the blind boy."

In endeavoring to get rid of the downright vul
garity of phrase in the last stanza, Wordsworth in
vents an impossible tortoise-shell, and thus robs his
story of the reality which alone gave it a living in
terest. Any extemporized raft would have floated
the boy down to immortality. But Wordsworth
never quite learned the distinction between Fact,
which suffocates the Muse, and Truth, which is the
very breath of her nostrils. Study and self -culture



WORDSWORTH 385

did much for him, but they never quite satisfied
him that he was capable of making a mistake. He
yielded silently to friendly remonstrance on cer
tain points, and gave up, for example, the ludi
crous exactness of

" I 've measured it from side to side,
'T is three feet long and two feet wide."

But I doubt if he was ever really convinced, and to
his dying day he could never quite shake off that
habit of over-minute detail which renders the nar
ratives of uncultivated people so tedious, and some
times so distasteful. 1 "Simon Lee," after his
latest revision, still contains verses like these :

"And he is lean and he is sick ;
His body, dwindled and awry,
Bests upon ankles swollen and thick ;
His legs are thin and dry ;

Few months of life he has in store,
As he to you will tell,
For still, the more he works, the more
Do his weak ankles swell,"

which are not only prose, but bad prose, and more
over guilty of the same fault for which Words
worth condemned Dr. Johnson's famous parody on
the ballad-style, that their " matter is contemp
tible." The sonorousness of conviction with which

1 " On my alluding to the line,

' Three feet long and two feet wide,'

and confessing that I dared not read them aloud in company, he
said, 'They ought to be liked.'" (Crabb Robinson, 9th May,
1815.) His ordinary answer to criticisms was that he considered
the power to appreciate the passage criticised as a test of the crit
ic's capacity to judge of poetry at all.



386 WORDSWORTH

Wordsworth sometimes gives utterance to common
places of thought and trivialities of sentiment has
a ludicrous effect on the profane and even on the
faithful in unguarded moments. We are reminded
of a passage in u The Excursion " :

"Lost! I heard

From yon huge breast of rock a solemn bleat,
Sent forth as if it were the mountain'' s voice."

In 1800 the friendship of Wordsworth with
Lamb began, and was thenceforward never inter
rupted. He continued to live at Grasmere, con
scientiously diligent in the composition of poems,
secure of finding the materials of glory within and
around him ; for his genius taught him that inspi
ration is no product of a foreign shore, and that
no adventurer ever found it, though he wandered
as long as Ulysses. Meanwhile the appreciation
of the best minds and the gratitude of the purest
hearts gradually centred more and more towards
him. In 1802 he made a short visit to France, in
company with Miss Wordsworth, and soon after
his return to England was married to Mary Hutch-
inson, on the 4th of October of the same year. Of
the good fortune of this marriage no other proof is
needed than the purity and serenity of his poems,
and its record is to be sought nowhere else.

On the 18th of June, 1803, his first child, John,
was born, and on the 14th of August of the same
year he set out with his sister on a foot journey
into Scotland. Coleridge was their companion
during a part of this excursion, of which Miss
Wordsworth kept a full diary. In Scotland he



WORDSWORTH 387

made the acquaintance of Scott, who recited to him
a part of the " Lay of the Last Minstrel," then in
manuscript. The travellers returned to Grasmere
on the 25th of September. It was during this
year that Wordsworth's intimacy with the excel
lent Sir George Beaumont began. Sir George
was an amateur painter of considerable merit, and
his friendship was undoubtedly of service to Words
worth in making him familiar with the laws of a
sister art and thus contributing to enlarge the sym
pathies of his criticism, the tendency of which was
toward too great exclusiveness. Sir George Beau
mont, dying in 1827, did not forego his regard for
the poet, but contrived to hold his affection in
mortmain by the legacy of an annuity of <100, to
defray the charges of a yearly journey.

In March, 1805, the poet's brother, John, lost
his life by the shipwreck of the Abergavenny East-
Indiaman, of which he was captain. He was a
man of great purity and integrity, and sacrificed
himself to his sense of duty by refusing to leave
the ship till it was impossible to save him. Words
worth was deeply attached to him, and felt such
grief at his death as only solitary natures like his
are capable of, though mitigated by a sense of the
heroism which was the cause of it. The need of
mental activity as affording an outlet to intense
emotion may account for the great productiveness of
this and the following year. He now completed
"The Prelude," wrote "The Wagoner," and in
creased the number of his smaller poems enough to
fill two volumes, which were published in 1807.



888 WORDSWORTH

This collection, which contained some of the
most beautiful of his shorter pieces, and among
others the incomparable Odes to Duty and on Im
mortality, did not reach a second edition till 1815.
The reviewers had another laugh, and rival poets
pillaged while they scoffed, particularly Byron,
among whose verses a bit of Wordsworth showed
as incongruously as a sacred vestment on the back
of some buccaneering plunderer of an abbey. 1
There was a general combination to put him down,
but on the other hand there was a powerful party
in his favor, consisting of William Wordsworth.
He not only continued in good heart himself, but,
reversing the order usual on such occasions, kept
up the spirits of his friends. 2 Meanwhile the

1 Byron, then in his twentieth year, wrote a review of these
volumes, not, on the whole, unfair. Crabb Robinson is reported
as saying that Wordsworth was indignant at the Edinburgh Re
view's attack on Hours of Idleness. " The young man will do
something if he goes on," he said.

2 The Rev. Dr. Wordsworth has encumbered the memory of
his uncle with two volumes of Memoirs, which for confused drea
riness are only matched by the Rev. Mark Noble's History of
the Protectorate House of Cromwell. It is a misfortune that his
materials were not put into the hands of Professor Reed, whose
notes to the American edition are among the most valuable parts
of it, as they certainly are the clearest. The book contains, how
ever, some valuable letters of Wordsworth ; and those relating
to this part of his life should be read by every student of his
works, for the light they throw upon the principles which gov
erned him in the composition of his poems. In a letter to Lady
Beaumont (May 21, 1807) he says, " 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,



WORDSWORTH 389

higher order of minds among his contemporaries
had descried and acknowledged him. They see
their peer over the mist and lower summits be
tween.

" When Plinlimmon hath a cap,
Snowdon wots well of that."

Wordsworth passed the winter of 1806-7 in a
house of Sir George Beaumont's, at Coleorton in
Leicestershire, the cottage at Grasmere having be
come too small for his increased family. On his
return to the Vale of Grasmere he rented the house
at Allan Bank, where he lived three years. Dur
ing this period he appears to have written very
little poetry, for which his biographer assigns as a
primary reason the smokiness of the Allan Bank
chimneys. This will hardly account for the failure
of the summer crop, especially as Wordsworth com
posed chiefly in the open air. It did not prevent
him from writing a pamphlet upon the Convention
of Cintra, which was published too late to attract

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. . . . To conclude, my ears are stone-dead to this idle
buzz [of hostile criticism], and my flesh as insensible as iron to
these petty stings ; and, after what I have said, I am sure yours
will be the same. I doubt not that you will share with me an in
vincible confidence that my writings (and among them these little
poems) will cooperate with the benign tendencies in human nature
and society wherever found ; and that they will in their degree be
efficacious in making men wiser, better, and happier." Here is
an odd reversal of the ordinary relation between an unpopular
poet and his little public of admirers ; it is he who keeps up their
spirits, and supplies them with faith from his own inexhaustible
cistern.



390 WORDSWORTH

much attention, though Lamb says that its effect
upon him was like that which one of Milton's
tracts might have had upon a contemporary. 1 It
was at Allan Bank that Coleridge dictated "The
Friend," and Wordsworth contributed to it two
essays, one in answer to a letter of Mathetes 2
(Professor Wilson), and the other on Epitaphs,
republished in the Notes to "The Excursion."
Here also he wrote his " Description of the Scen
ery of the Lakes." Perhaps a truer explanation
of the comparative silence of Wordsworth's Muse
during these years is to be found in the intense in
terest which he took in current events, whose va
riety, picturesqueness, and historical significance
were enough to absorb all the energies of his imag
ination.

In the spring of 1811 Wordsworth removed to
the Parsonage at Grasmere. Here he remained
two years, and here he had his second intimate ex
perience of sorrow in the loss of two of his children,
Catharine and Thomas, one of whom died 4th June,
and the other 1st December, 1812. 3 Early in 1813

1 " Wordsworth's pamphlet will fail of producing any general
effect, because the sentences are long and involved ; and his
friend De Quincey, who corrected the press, has rendered them
more obscure by an unusual system of punctuation." (Southey
to Scott, 30th July, 1809.) The tract is, as Southey hints, heavy.

2 The first essay in the third volume of the second edition.
8 Wordsworth's children were,

John, born 18th June, 1803, a clergyman.
Dorothy, born 16th August, 1804 ; died 9th July, 1847.
Thomas, born 16th June, 1806 ; died 1st December, 1812.
Catharine, born 6th September, 1808 ; died 4th June, 1812.
William, born 12th May, 1810; succeeded his father as Stamp.
Distributor.



WORDSWORTH 391

be bought Rydal Mount, and, having removed
thither, changed his abode no more during the rest
of his life. In March of this year he was appointed
Distributor of Stamps for the county of Westmore
land, an office whose receipts rendered him inde
pendent, and whose business he was able to do
by deputy, thus leaving him ample leisure for no
bler duties. De Quincey speaks of this appoint
ment as an instance of the remarkable good luck
which waited upon Wordsworth through his whole
life. In our view it is only another iDustration of
that scripture which describes the righteous as
never forsaken. Good luck is the willing hand
maid of upright, energetic character, and conscien
tious observance of duty. Wordsworth owed his
nomination to the friendly exertions of the Ear] of
Lonsdale, who desired to atone as far as might
be for the injustice of the first Earl, and who re
spected the honesty of the man more than he ap
preciated the originality of the poet. 1 The Collec-
torship at Whitehaven (a more lucrative office)
was afterwards offered to Wordsworth, and de
clined. He had enough for independence, and
wished nothing more. Still later, on the death of
the Stamp-Distributor for Cumberland, a part of
that district was annexed to Westmoreland, and

1 Good luck (in the sense of Chance) seems properly to be the
occurrence of Opportunity to one who has neither deserved nor
knows how to use it. In such hands it commonly turns to ill luck.
Moore's Bermudan appointment is an instance of it. Wordsworth
had a sound common-sense and practical conscientiousness, which
enabled him to fill his office as well as Dr. Franklin could have
done. A fitter man could not have been found in Westmoreland.



392 WORDSWORTH

Wordsworth's income was raised to something more
than .1,000 a year.

In 1814 he made his second tour in Scotland,
visiting Yarrow in company with the Ettrick
Shepherd. During this year " The Excursion "
was published, in an edition of five hundred copies,
which supplied the demand for six years. Another
edition of the same number of copies was published
in 1827, and not exhausted till 1834. In 1815
" The White Doe of Rylstone " appeared, and in
1816 " A Letter to a Friend of Burns," in which
Wordsworth gives his opinion upon the limits to
be observed by the biographers of literary men.
It contains many valuable suggestions, but allows
hardly scope enough for personal details, to which
he was constitutionally indifferent. 1 Nearly the
same date may be ascribed to a rhymed translation
of the first three books of the 2Eneid, a specimen of
which was printed in the Cambridge " Philological
Museum " (1832). In 1819 " Peter Bell," written
twenty years before, was published, and, perhaps
in consequence of the ridicule of the reviewers,
found a more rapid sale than any of his previous
volumes. " The Wagoner," printed in the same
year, was less successful. His next publication was
the volume of Sonnets on the river Duddon, with
some miscellaneous poems, 1820. A tour on the
Continent in 1820 furnished the subjects for an
other collection, published in 1822. This was fol
lowed in the same year by the volume of " Eccle-

1 "I am not one who much or oft delight
In personal talk."



WORDSWORTH 393

siastical Sketches." His subsequent publications
were " Yarrow Kevisited," 1835, and the tragedy
of " The Borderers," 1842.

During all these years his fame was increasing
slowly but steadily, and his age gathered to itself
the reverence and the troops of friends which his
poems and the nobly simple life reflected in them
deserved. Public honors followed private appreci
ation. In 1838 the University of Dublin conferred
upon him the degree of D. C. L. In 1839 Oxford
did the same, and the reception of the poet (now in
his seventieth year) at the University was enthu
siastic. In 1842 he resigned his office of Stamp-
Distributor, and Sir Robert Peel had the honor of
putting him upon the civil list for a pension of
.300. In 1843 he was appointed Laureate, with
the express understanding that it was a tribute of
respect, involving no duties except such as might
be self-imposed. His only official production was
an Ode for the installation of Prince Albert as
Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. His
life was prolonged yet seven years, almost, it should
seem, that he might receive that honor which he
had truly conquered for himself by the unflinching
bravery of a literary life of half a century, unpar
alleled for the scorn with which its labors were re
ceived, and the victorious acknowledgment which
at last crowned them. Surviving nearly all his
contemporaries, he had, if ever any man had, a
foretaste of immortality, enjoying in a sort his own
posthumous renown, for the hardy slowness of its
growth gave a safe pledge of its durability. He



394 WORDSWORTH

died on the 23d of April, 1850, the anniversary of
the death of Shakespeare.

We have thus briefly sketched the life of Words
worth, a life uneventful even for a man of let
ters ; a life like that of an oak, of quiet self -devel
opment, throwing out stronger roots toward the
side whence the prevailing storm-blasts blow, and
of tougher fibre in proportion to the rocky nature
of the soil in which it grows. The life and growth
of his mind, and the influences which shaped it, are
to be looked for, even more than is the case with
most poets, in his works, for he deliberately re
corded them there.

Of his personal characteristics little is related.
He was somewhat above the middle height, but,
according to De Quincey, of indifferent figure, the
shoulders being narrow and drooping. His finest
feature was the eye, which was gray and full of
spiritual light. Leigh Hunt says : " I never beheld
eyes that looked so inspired, so supernatural. They
were like fires, half burning, half smouldering,
with a sort of acrid fixture of regard. One might


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