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poet's native hills could supply ; and which, by the
perpetual references made to it either in the way of
illustration or for variety and pleasurable descrip-
tion's sake, is brought before us as we read. We
breathe in the fresh air, as we do while reading
Walton's Complete Angler ; only the country about
us is as much bolder than Walton's, as the thoughts
and speculations, which form the matter of the poem.


exceed the trifling pastime and low-pitched conver-
sation of his humble fishermen. We give the
description of the " two huge peaks," which from
some other vale peered into that in which the
Solitary is entertaining the poet and his companion.
*' Those," says their host,

-if here you dwelt, would be

Your prized companions, &c. — p. 84.

To a mind constituted like that of Mr. Wordsworth,
the stream, the torrent, and the stirring leaf — seem
not merely to suggest associations of deity, but to be
a kind of speaking communication with it. He
walks through common forests, as through some
Dodona or enchanted wood ; and every casual bird
that flits upon the boughs, like that miraculous one'
in Tasso, but in language more piercing than any
articulate sounds, reveals to him far higher love-lays.
In his poetry nothing in nature is dead. Motion is
synonymous with life. " Beside yon spring," says
the Wanderer, speaking of a deserted well, from
which, in former times, a poor woman, who died
heart-broken, had been used to dispense refreshment
to the thirsty traveller,

beside yon spring I stood, &c. — p. 27.

To such a mind, we say — call it strength or weakness

' With parti-coloured plumes, and purple bill,
A wondrous bird among the rest there flew,
That in plain speech sung love-lays loud and shrill ;
Her leden was like human language true ;
So much she talk'd, and with such wit and skill,
That strange it seemed how much good she knew.

Fairfax's translation.

232 Wordsworth's excursion.

— if weakness, assuredly a fortunate one — the visible
and audible things of creation present, not dim sym-
bols, or curious emblems, which they have done at all
times to those who have been gifted with the poetical
faculty ; but revelations and quick insights into the
life within us, the pledge of immortality : —

the whispering air

Sends inspiration from her shadowy heights.
And blind recesses of the cavern'd rocks ;
The little rills, and waters numberless.
Inaudible by daylight.

" I have seen," the poet says, and the illustration
is a happy one :

1 have seen

A curious child, applying to his ear

The convolutions of a smooth-lipp'd shell, &c. — p. 191.

Sometimes this harmony is imaged to us by an
echo; and in one instance, it is with such trans-
cendent beauty set forth by a shadow and its
corresponding substance, that it would be a sin to
cheat our readers at once of so happy an illustration
of the poet's system, and so fair a proof of his
descriptive powers.

Thus having reach'd a bridge that over-arch'd, &c. — p. 407

Combinations, it is confessed, " like those reflected
in that quiet pool," cannot be lasting : it is enough for
the purpose of the poet, if they are felt. They are at
least his system ; and his readers, if they reject them
for their creed, may receive them merely as poetry.
In him, faith, in friendly alliance and conjunction
with the religion of his country, appears to have grown
up, fostered by meditation and lonely communications


with Nature — an internal principle of lofty conscious,
ness, which stamps upon his opinions and sentiments
(we were almost going to say) the character of an
expanded and generous Quakerism.

From- such a creed we should expect unusual
results : and, when applied to the purposes of consola-
tion, more touching considerations than from the
mouth of common teachers. The finest speculation
of this sort perhaps in the poem before us, is the
notion of the thoughts which may sustain the spirit,
while they crush the frame of the sufferer, who from
loss of objects of love by death, is commonly supposed
to pine away under a broken heart.

If there be, whose tender frames have droop' J, &c. — p. 148.

With the same modifying and incorporating power,
he tells us, —

Within the soul a faculty abides, etc. — p. 188.

This is high poetry ; though (as we have ventured
to lay the basis of the author's sentiments in a sort
of liberal Quakerism) from some parts of it, others
may, with more plausibility, object to the appearance
of a kind of natural Methodism : we could have wished
therefore that the tale of Margaret had been postponed,
till the reader had been strengthened by some previous
acquaintance with the author's theory, and not placed
in the front of the poem, with a kind of ominous
aspect, beautifully tender as it is. It is a tale of a
cottage, and its female tenant, gradually decaying
together, while she expected the return of one whom
poverty and not unkindness had driven from her arms.
We trust ourselves only with the conclusion —

nine tedious years

From their first separation, nine long years, &c. — p. 146.


The fourth book, entitled " Despondency Corrected,"
we consider as the most valuable portion of the poem.
For moral grandeur ; for wide scope of thought and a
long train of lofty imagery ; for tender personal
appeals ; and a versification which we feel we ought
to notice, but feel it also so involved in the poetry,
that we can hardly mention it as a distinct excellence;
it stands without competition among our didactic and
descriptive verse. The general tendency of the
argument (which we might almost affirm to be the
leading moral of the poem) is to abate the pride of the
calculating understanding, and to reinstate the itnagi-
nation and the affections in those seats from which
modern philosophy has laboured but too successfully
to expel them.

** Life's autumn past," says the grey-haired

1 stand on winter's verge, &c. — p. i68.

In the same spirit, those illusions of the imaginative
faculty to which the peasantry in solitary districts are
peculiarly subject, are represented as the kindly
ministers o{ conscience :

with whose ser\'ice charged

They come and go, appear and disappear ;
Diverting evil purposes, remorse
Awakening, chastening an intemperate grief.
Or pride of heart abating.

Reverting to the more distant ages of the world, the
operation of that same faculty in producing the several
fictions of Chaldean, Persian, and Grecian idolatry, is
described with such seductive power, that the Solitary,
in good earnest, seems alarmed at the tendency of his
own argument. Notwithstanding his fears, however,


there is one thought so uncommonly fine, relative to
the spirituality which lay hid beneath the gross
material forms of Greek worship, in metal or stone,
that we cannot resist the allurement of transcribing

Triumphant o'er this pompous show, &c. — p. 174.

In discourse like this the first day passes away.
The second (for this almost dramatic poem takes up
the action of two summer days) is varied by the intro-
duction of the village priest ; to whom the Wanderer
resigns the office of chief speaker, which had been
yielded to his age and experience on the first. The
conference is begun at the gate of the churchyard ;
and after some natural speculations concerning
death and immortality — and the custom of funereal
and sepulchral observances, as deduced from a
feeling of immortality — certain doubts are proposed
respecting the quantity of moral worth existing in
the world, and in that mountainous district in par-
ticular. In the resolution of these doubts, the priest
enters upon a most affecting and singular strain of
narration, derived from the graves around him. Point-
ing to hillock after hillock, he gives short histories of
their tenants, disclosing their humble virtues, and
touching with tender hand upon their frailties.

Nothing can be conceived finer than the manner


of introducing these tales. With heaven above his
head, and the mouldering turf at his feet — standing
betwixt life and death — he seems to maintain that
spiritual relation which he bore to his living flock, in
its undiminished strength, even with their ashes; and
to be in his proper cure, or diocese, among the dead.
We might extract powerful instances of pathos from


these tales — the story of Ellen in particular — but their
force is in combination, and in the circumstances
under which they are introduced. The traditionary
anecdote of the Jacobite and Hanoverian, as less liable
to suffer by transplanting, and as affording an instance
of that finer species of humour, that thoughtful play-
fulness in which the author more nearly perhaps than
in any other quality resembles Cowper, we shall lay at
least a part of it before our readers. It is the story of
a whig who, having wasted a large estate in election
contests, retired " beneath a borrowed name " to a
small town among these northern mountains, when a
Caledonian laird, a follower of the house of Stuart,
who had fled his country after the overthrow at
Culloden, returning with the return of lenient times,
had also fixed his residence.

Here, then, they met,

Those doughty champions ; flaming Jacobite, &c. — p. 270-73.

The causes which have prevented the poetry of Mr.
Wordsworth from attaining its full share of popularity
are to be found in the boldness and originality of his
genius. The times are past when a poet could
securely follow the direction of his own mind into
whatever tracts it might lead, A writer, who would
be popular, must timidly coast the shore of prescribed
sentiment and sympathy. He must have just as
much more of the imaginative faculty than his readers,
as will serve to keep their apprehensions from stag-
nating, but not so much as to alarm their jealousy.
He must not think or feel too deeply.

If he has had the fortune to be bred in the midst of
the most magnificent objects of creation, he must not
have given away his heart to them ; or if he have, he


must conceal his love, or not carry his expressions of
it beyond that point of rapture, which the occasional
tourist thinks it not overstepping decorum to betray,
or the limit which that gentlemanly spy upon Nature,
the picturesque traveller, has vouchsafed to counte-
nance. He must do this, or be content to be thought
an enthusiast.

If from living among simple mountaineers, from a
daily intercourse with them, not upon the footing of
a patron, but in the character of an equal, he has
detected, or imagines that he has detected, through
the cloudy medium of their unlettered discourse,
thoughts and apprehensions not vulgar; traits of
patience and constancy, love unwearied, and heroic
endurance, not unfit (as he may judge) to be made
the subject of verse, he will be deemed a man of per-
verted genius by the philanthropist who, conceiving
of the peasantry of his country only as objects of a
pecuniary sympathy, starts at finding them elevated
to a level of humanity with himself, having their own
loves, enmities, cravings, aspirations, &c., as much
beyond his faculty to believe, as his beneficence to

If from a familiar observation of the ways of
children, and much more from a retrospect of his own
mind when a child, he has gathered more reverential
notions of that state than fall to the lot of ordinary
observers, and, escaping from the dissonant wranglings
of men, has tuned his lyre, though but for occasional
harmonies, to the milder utterance of that soft age, —
his verses shall be censured as infantile by critics
who confound poetry " having children for its subject"
with poetry that is " childish," and who, having them-
selves perhaps never been children, never having


possessed the tenderness and docility of that age,
know not what the soul of a child is — how apprehen-
sive ! how imaginative ! how religious !

We have touched upon some of the causes which
we conceive to have been unfriendly to the author's
former poems. We think they do not apply in the
same force to the one before us. There is in it more
of uniform elevation, a wider scope of subject, less of
manner, and it contains none of those starts and im-
perfect shapings which in some of this author's
smaller pieces offended the weak, and gave scandal to
the perverse. It must indeed be approached with
seriousness. It has in it much of that quality which
" draws the devout, deterring the profane." Those
who hate the Paradise Lost will not love this poem.
The steps of the great master are discernible in it ;
not in direct imitation or injurious parody, but in the
following of the spirit, in free homage and generous

One objection it is impossible not to foresee. It
will be asked, why put such eloquent discourse in the
mouth of a pedlar ? It inight be answered that Mr.
Wordsworth's plan required a character in humble
life to be the organ of his philosophy. It was in
harmony with the system and scenery of his poem.
We read Piers Plowman's Creed, and the lowness oi
the teacher seems to add a simple dignity to the
doctrine. Besides, the poet has bestowed an unusual
share of education upon him. Is it too much to
suppose that the author, at some early period of his
life, may himself have known such a person, a man
endowed with sentiments above his situation, another
Burns; and that the dignified strains which he has
attributed to the Wanderer may be no more than


recollections of his conversation, heightened only by
the amplification natural to poetry, or the lustre
which imagination flings back upon the objects and
companions of our youth? After all, if there should
be found readers v^illing to admire the poem, vi^ho yet
feel scandalized at a name, we would advise them,
wherever it occurs, to substitut-e silently the word
Palmer, or Pilgrim, or any less offensive designation,
which shall connect the notion of sobriety in heart
and manners with the experience and privileges which
a wayfaring life confers.


It has happened not seldom that one work of some
author has so transcendently surpassed in execution
the rest of his compositions, that the world has
agreed to pass a sentence of dismissal upon the latter,
and to consign them to total neglect and oblivion.
It has done wisely in this not to suffer the contem-
plation of excellences of a lower standard to abate or
stand in the way of the pleasure it has agreed to
receive from the Master Piece.

Again it has happened, that from no inferior merit
of execution in the rest, but from superior good for-
tune in the choice of its subject, some single work


shall have been suffered to eclipse, and cast into the
shade, the deserts of its less fortunate brethren.
This has been done with more or less injustice in
the case of the popular allegory of Bunyan, in which
the beautiful and scriptural image of a Pilgrim or
wayfarer, (we are all such upon earth,) addressing
itself intelligibly and feelingly to the bosoms of all,
has silenced, and made almost to be forgotten, the
more awful and scarcely less tender beauties of the
" Holy War made by Shaddai upon Diabolus," of
the same Author; a Romance less happy in its sub-
ject, but surely well worthy of a secondary immor-

But in no instance has this excluding partiality
been exerted with more unfairness than agamst what
may be termed the Secondary Novels or Romances
of Defoe.

While all ages and descriptions of people hang de-
lighted over the " Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,"
and shall continue to do so, we trust, while the world
lasts, how few comparatively will bear to be told that
there exist other Fictitious Narratives by the same
writer, — four of them at least of no inferior interest,
except what results from a less felicitous choice of
situation. " Roxana," «' Singleton," " Moll Flanders,"
" Colonel Jack," are all genuine offspring of the
same father. They bear the veritable impress of
Defoe. An unpractised Midwife that would not
swear to the nose, lip, forehead, and eye of every
one of them ! They are, in their way, as full of in-
cident, and some of them every bit as romantic ; only
they want the Uninhabited Island, and the charm
that has bewitched the world, of the striking solitary


But are there no solitudes out of the cave and the
desert ? Or cannot the heart in the midst of crowds
feel frightfully alone ? Singleton on the world of
waters, prowling about with pirates less merciful than
the creatures of any howling wilderness, — is he not
alone, with the faces of men about him, but without
a guide that can conduct him through the mists of
educational and habitual ignorance, or a fellow-heart
that can interpret to him the new-born yearnings and
aspirations of an unpractised penitence ? Or when
the Boy Colonel Jack, in the loneliness of the heart,
(the worst solitude,) goes to hide his ill-purchased
treasure in the hollow tree by night, and miraculously
loses, and miraculously finds it again, — whom hath
he there to sympathise with him ? or of what sort
are his associates ?

The Narrative manner of Defoe has a naturalness
about it beyond that of any other Novel or Romance
writer. His Fictions have all the air of true stories.
It is impossible to believe, while you are reading
them, that a real person is not narrating to you every-
where nothing but what really happened to himself.
To this the extreme homel'mess of their style mainly
contributes. We use the word in its best and
heartiest sense, — that which comes home to the
reader. The Narrators everywhere are chosen from
low life, or have had their origin in it. Therefore
they tell their own tales, (Mr. Coleridge has anti-
cipated us in this remark,) as persons in their degree
are observed to do, with infinite repetition, and an
over-acted exactness, lest the hearer should not have
minded, or have forgotten, some things that had been
told before. Hence the emphatic sentences marked
in the good old (but deserted) Italic type ; and hence



too the frequent interposition of the reminding old
colloquial parenthesis, " I say," " mind," and the like,
when the Story Teller repeats what, to a practised
reader, might appear to have been sufficiently insisted
upon before. Which made an ingenious critic ob-
serve, that his Works in this kind were excellent read-
ing for the kitchen. And in truth the Heroes and
Heroines of Defoe can never again hope to be popular
with a much higher class of readers than that of the
Servant Maid or the Sailor. Crusoe keeps its rank
only by tough prescription. Singleton, the Pirate ;
Colonel Jack, the Thief; Moll Flanders, both Thief
and Harlot; Roxana, Harlot and something worse, —
would be startling ingredients in the bill of fare of
modern literary delicacies. But, then, what Pirates,
what Thieves, and what Harlots, is the Thief, the
Harlot, and the Pirate of Defoe? We would not
hesitate to say, that in no other Work of Fiction,
where the lives of such Characters are described, is
guilt and delinquency made less seductive, or the
suffering made more closely to follow the commission,
or the penitence more earnest or more bleeding, or
the intervening flashes of religious visitation upon
the rude and uninstructed soul more meltingly and
fearfully painted. They in this come near to the
tenderness of Bunyan ; while the livelier pictures and
incidents in them, as in Hogarth or in Fielding, tend
to diminish that fastidiousness to the concerns
and pursuits of common life which an unrestrained
passion for the ideal and the sentimental is in
danger of producing.

C. L.


The Reynolds Gallery has, upon the whole, disap-
pointed me. Some of the portraits are interesting.
They are faces of characters whom we (middle-aged
gentlemen) were born a little too late to remember,
but about whom we have heard our fathers tell stories
till we almost fancy to have seen them. There is a
charm in the portrait of a Rodney or a Keppel, which
even a picture of Nelson must want for me. I should
turn away after a slight inspection from the best like-
ness that could be made of Mrs. Anne Clarke ; but
Kitty Fisher is a considerable personage. Then the
dresses of some of the women so exactly remind us
of modes which we can just recall ; of the forms
under which the venerable relationship of aunt or
mother first presented themselves to our young eyes;
the aprons, the coifs, the lappets, the hoods. Mercy
on us ! what a load of head-ornaments seem to have
conspired to bury a pretty face in the picture of Mrs.
Long, yet could not ! Beauty must have some
" charmed life " to have been able to surmount the
conspiracy of fashion in those days to destroy it.

The portraits which least pleased me were those of
boys, as infant Bacchuses, Jupiters, &c. But the
artist is not to be blamed for the disguise. No doubt
the parents wished to see their children deified in

R 2



their lifetime. It was but putting a thunderbolt
(instead of a squib) into young master's hands ; and
a whey-faced chit was transformed into the infant
ruler of Olympus, — him who was afterward to shake
heaven and earth with his black brow. Another good
boy pleased his grandmamma with saying his prayers
so well, and the blameless dotage of the good old
woman imagined in him an adequate representative
of the infancy of the awful Prophet Samuel. But
the great historictd compositions, where the artist was
at liberty to paint from Jiis own idea, — the Beaufort
and the Ugolino : why, then, I must confess, pleading
the liberty of table-talk for my presumption, that they
have not left any very elevating impressions on my
mind. Pardon a ludicrous comparison. I know,
madam, you admiie them both; but placed opposite
to each other as they are at the gallery, as if to set
the one work in competition with the other, they did
remind me of the famous contention for the prize of
deformity, mentioned in the 173rd number of the
" Spectator." The one stares, and the other grins ;
but is there common dignity in their countenances?
Does any thing of the history of their life gone by
peep through the ruins of the mind in the face, like
the unconquerable grandeur that surmounts the dis-
tortions of the Laocoon ? The figures which stand
by the bed of Beaufort are indeed happy representa-
tions of the plain unmannered old nobility of the
English historical plays of Shakspeare ; but, for any
thing else, give me leave to recommend those maca-

After leaving the Reynolds Gallery, (where, upon
the whole, I received a good deal of pleasure,) and
feeling that I had quite had my fill of painlingSj I



Stumbled upon a picture in Piccadilly, (No. 22, I
think,) which purports to be a portrait of Francis the
First by Leonardo da Vinci. Heavens, what a dif-
ference ! It is but a portrait, as most of those I had
been seeing ; but, placed by them, it would kill them,
swallow them up as Moses's rod the other rods.*
Where did these old painters get their models ? I
see no such figures, not in my dreams, as this Francis,
in the character, or rather with the attributes, of John
the Baptist. A more than martial majesty in the
brow and upon the eyelid ; an arm muscular, beauti-
fully formed ; the long, graceful, massy fingers com-
pressing, yet so as not to hurt, a lamb more lovely,
more sweetly shrinking, than we can conceive that
milk-white one which followed Una ; the picture
altogether looking as if it were eternal, — combining
the truth of flesh with a promise of permanence like

Leonardo, from the one or two specimens we have
of him in England, must have been a stupendous
genius. I scarce can think he has had his full fame,
— he who could paint that wonderful personification
of the Logos, or third person of the Trinity, grasping
a globe, late in the possession of Mr. Troward, of
Pall Mall, where the hand was, by the boldest license,
twice as big as the truth of drawing warranted ; yet
the effect, to every one that saw it, by some magic of
genius was confessed to be not monstrous, but jnira-

Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) → online text (page 16 of 29)