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insures, than forbids, a numerous audience.

Why, then, should Wordsworth tell us, that he " was
well aware" that his poems, by those who should dislike
them, would be read with more than common dislike?
Why did he not " venture to hope" that he should gene-
rally please?

I answer, because he had a lurking consciousness that
he had not fulfilled the terms of his own covenant, the con-
ditions imposed by his own theory. lie had always sung.

232 Wilson's miscellaneous avritings.

" Familiar matter of to-day,
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again,"

in simple and natural language, he might have been secure
of imparting more than common pleasure to all who had
hearts to feel or minds to think. As it is, he has frequently
failed in his object by not faithfully adhering to the best
parts of his theory ; and, by embodying the worst parts
of it, he has rendered himself liable to the charge of gla-
ring inconsistency. These two points I purpose to make
clear by quotations from his own works.

First, he has not adhered to the best parts of his theory.
That " a selection of the real language of men, in a state
of vivid sensation," may produce a most happy effect,
when transferred to the poet's page, I have beibre proved
by a reference to Shakspeare's frequent practice in his
most impassioned dialogues. — But, 1st, The language of
Wordsworth's characters scarcely ever w the real language
of men ; and, 2d, When it is so, cannot be called a fortu-
nate selection of human speech. 1st, Notwithstanding our
author's inveighing so bitterly against poetic diction, it is
actually by a mixture of poetic diction with humble phrase-
ology, and by the use of what are called poetic licenses,
conjointly with common modes of expression, that he has
produced a patched and piebald dialect, infinitely more
monstrous than either " the gaudy and inane phraseology"
of which he complains in one place, or " the triviality and
meanness, both of thought and language," which elsewhere
he acknowledges to be " more dishonourable to the writer's
own character, than false refinement or arbitrary innova-

They who solely use poetic diction, on the one hand,
and they who confine themselves to trivial language, on
the other, shall each produce a work which, at least, is all
of a piece — it may be, indeed, all of tinsel, or all of can-
vass — but is not this preferable to embroidery upon pack-
thread ? There is in Wordsworth a natural grandiloquence
of style always struggling through the I'alse restraints
which he has imposed upon himself. Even a wagon must


be dignified with the epithet of " stately;" and, in a soli-
loquy of mild Benjamin, the vvagonner, we t^nd —

" My jolly team, he finds that ye
Will work for nobody but me !
Good proof of this the country gain'd
One day, when ye were vex'd and strain'd —
r^ntrusted to another's care,
And forced unworthy stripes to hear.
Here was it — on this rugged spot,
Which now, contented with our lot,
We climb — that, pitcously abused,
Ye plunged in anger, and confused:
As chance would have it, passing by,
I saw you in your jeopardy :
A word from me was like a charm —
The ranks were taken loilh one mind ;
And your huge burthen, safe from harm,
Moved like a vessel in the wind .'"

The words which are printed in italics are as much poetic
diction, though of a diflerent kind, as that of the lines of
Gray, which Wordsworth stigmatized as such, without one
of its advantages. — "Good proof of this," with the article
omitted, is a poetic license ; and the whole speech, as pro-
ceeding from the mouth of a wagonner, is a tissue of in-
congruity. Again, in the Idiot Boy, Betty, conjecturing
the probable fate of her stray darling, thus expresses her-

" Or him that wicked pony's carried
To the dark cave, the goblin's hall;
Or in the castle, he's pursuing.
Among the ghosts, his own undoing ;
Or playing with the waterfall."

Thus also she apostrophizes the absent pony —

" Oh dear, dear pony, my sweet joy,
Oh carry back my idiot boy,

And we will ne'er overload thee more !"

And thus she bewails her own sad case —

" Oh cruel ! I'm almost three-score,
Such night as this was ne'er before .'"

234 Wilson's jiiscellaneous writings.

Here are poetical contractions, and that very modern vice
of diction, the omission of the article before a noun, in con-
junction with what might be the lack-a-daisical exclama-
tions of an old Irish woman. Peter Bell, storming at an
ass, which will not get up, says —

" You little mulish dog,
I'll fling your carcass, like a log.
Head- foremost down the river !"

Here the words are so evidently arranged for the sake of
rhyme, as to destroy all feeling of reality, and as a ver-
sion of "Get up, you obstinate brute, or I'll chuck you
into the water," they have this great fault, namely, that
they are not coarse enough for nature, or pleasing enough
for art. They are neither fish, fowl, flesh, nor good red
herring. If this be the real language of human beings in
a state of vivid sensation, or in any state of sensation, the
poet must have conversed with a singular race of mortals.
There is, to my mind, a want of skill in the writer, who
thus, even while using common language, fails to work in
the reader's mind a conviction that such words were really
uttered under such circumstances. Little imbued as the
foregoing extracts are with that imaginative spirit, which
ought to beautify the most revolting themes of a true poet,
they yet are farther from real life than the most fanciful
expressions which Shakspeare puts into the mouths of his
characters. By the assimilating power of his mighty
mind, that wondrous dramatist subdues all his materials to
his own purposes. He scatters the gems of imagination,
the treasures of philosophy, from the mouths of clowns
and buffoons. His characters have all an individual stamp
upon them : their words seem appropriate to themselves,
and flow with ease from nature's living fountain — yet the
poet speaks in all. Although we never met with beings
who so speak, yet we feel convinced that such beings could
not have spoken otherwise. Wordsworth uses more of the
real language of men, and produces a less real effect.
Surely there is want of skill or power in this. I must
observe, to prevent misapprehension, that I should not do
Wordsworth the injustice to name him in the same page
with Shakspeare, did not Wordsworth's admirers claim


for him a niche beside that matchless bard — and did not
Wordsworth himself seem to provoke a comparison which
had best have slumbered. After remarking, " of the human
and dramatic imagination, the works of Shakspearc are
an inexhaustible source," Wordsworth says, " And if,
bearing in mind the many poets distinguished by this
prime quality, whose names I omit to mention, yet, justi-
fied by a recollection of the insults which the ignorant, the
incapable, and the presumptuous have heaped upon these
and my other writings, I may be permitted to anticipate
the judgment of posterity upon myself; I shall declare
(censurable, I grant, if the notoriety of the fact above
stated docs not justify me) that I have given, in those un-
favourable times, evidence of exertion of this faculty, upon
its worthiest objects, the external universe, the moi'al and
religious sentiments of man, his natural affections, and
his acquired passions, which have the same ennobling ten-
dency as the productions of men, in this kind, worthy to
be held in undying remembrance" (See Preface to vol. i.)

It may be doubted whether the ill-conduct of others can
justify weakness in oneself, or whether the assertion of one
man, and that man the party nearest concerned, is at all
better than the assertion of another; but, at any rate, I hope
that, however " ignorant, incapable, and presumptuous,"
I may be esteemed, /am justified in having instituted a
sort of parallel between Shakspeare and Wordsworth.

Not only when lie speaks in character, but in his own
person also, when he relates or describes, Wordsworth
professes to use '■'■ tlirougliout, as "far as is possible, a
selection of language really used by men." I could quote
boundlessly from his works, to prove that neither in
relating nor describing has Wordsworth attained his ob-
ject ; but, as in a multitude of quotations, there is weari-
ness, I will confine myself to two or three extracts. First,
take, as a general specimen, an adventure with some

" Twelve hours, twelve bounteous hours, are gone, while I
Have been a traveller under open sky,
Much witnessing- of change and cheer,
Yet, as I letl, T tind tJicni here !

[Unheard-of circumstance !]

236 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

The weary sun betook iiimself to rest —
Then issued vesper from tlie fulgent west,
Outsliining, like a visible God,
The glorious path in which he trode.
And now, ascending, after one dark hour,
And one night's diminution of her power,
Behold the mighty moon ! This way
She looks as if at them ! ! — but they
Regard not her ! ! ! Oh better wrong and strife
(By nature transient) than such torpid life !
The silent heavens have goings-on :
The stars have tasks — but these have none!
Yet, witness all that stirs in heaven and earth!
In scorn I speak not ; they are what their birth
And breeding suffers them to be;
Wild outcasts of society !"

" O lame and impotent conclusion !" Surely the man
who criticises the following stanza from Cowper's Alex-
ander Selkirk,

" Religion ! whut treasure untold,
Resides in that heavenly word !
More precious than silver and gold,
Or all that this earth can afibrd !"

in the following severe terms — " These four lines are
poorly expressed ; some critics would call the language
prosaic; the fact is, it would be bad prose, so bad, that it
is scarcely worse in metre !" — Surely that critic, when
he turns poet, should give us something a little better
expressed than the last ibur lines of the foregoing extract
— I dare say that, all the time, these said gipsies had their
goings-on as well as the stars. They might, during the
" twelve bounteous hours," have had a little walk as well
as the poet, and had time to rob his own hen-roost and be
back again, and be so busy mending the pot and kettle,
as to have no time to look at the moon. Hear a piece of
description :

" She had a tall man's height, or more;
No bonnet screen'd her from the heat;
A long drab-colour'd cloak she wore,
A mantle reaching to her feet;
What other dress she had I could not know,

[How could he ?]

Only she wore a cap that was as white as snow."


On reading this one may truly say,

" A needless Alexandrine ends the song',
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along."

In the last line, the words " tliat ivas''' are plainly redun-
dant, and are used to complete the measure. To " Itave
a tall man's height" is surely out of all common parlance
— and " No bonnet screened her from the heat" — may
not indeed be poetry, but — certainly is not ordinary prose.
Listen again to the poet's mode of relation —

" And Betty from the lane has fetch'd

Her pony, that is mild and good.

Whether he be in joy, or pain.

Feeding at will along- the lane.

Or bringing fagots from the wood."

Or hearken, when the poet speaks in his own person —

" I to the Muses have been bound
These fourteen years, by strong- indentures:
Oh, gentle Muses, let me tell
But half of what to him befell —

He surely met with strange adventures,
O, gentle Muses! is this kind?

Why will ye thus my suit repel ]

Why of your further aid bereave me?

And can ye thus unfriended leave me,
Ye Muses, whom I love so well ]"

The Muses certainly seem neither to have smiled upon
this importunate invocation, nor to have dictated it ; and
yet, can we say that this is the real language of men —
more especially of men " in low and rustic life ?" But it
may be answered, that Wordsworth only professes to use
" the real language of men, as far as is 'possible^'' I
answer, " what man has done, man may do ; and some of
our pathetic ballads demonstrate that it is possible to make
use of the most real and simple language tlirouglioiit a
composition, and with the happiest efiect. Witness the
touching ballad of Auld Robin Gray.

" He hadna been ganc but a year and a day.
When my faitbcr broke his aru), and our cow was stolen
away ;

238 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

j\Iy milher she fell sick, and my Jamie at the sea,
And auld Robin Gray came courtin' to me.

" My faither uro-cd me sair, my mither didna speak,
But siie looked in my face til! my heart was like to break ;
So 1 gicd him my hand, though my heart was at the sea,
And auld Robin Gray is gudeman to me."

Here there is not a iconl that is unusual either in itself or
in the application of it; a,nd the result is a general har-
mony and keejnng in the composition. But Wordsworth,
in exemplifying his theory, is too frequently neither simple
nor majestic. He misses the grace of simplicity, and at
the same time loses the advantages of a loftier diction.
Who can prefer these lines on a sky-lark,

" Up with me, up with me into the clouds !
For thy song, lark, is strong ;
Up with me, up with me into the clouds,

Singing, singing.
With all the heavens about thee ringing,"

to the following, by Gray, on the same subject,

" But chief the sky-lark pours on high
Her trembling, thrilling ecstasy.
And, lessening from the dazzled sight,
Melts into air and liquid light."

These last may, indeed, chiefly consist of that diction
which Wordsworth brands by the epithet "poetic;" but,
at any rate, they have the grace of congruity. Now,
Wordsworth's lines are too eccentric to be natural — too
much like the old nursery ditty of " Here we go up, up,
up," to be sublime.

Wordsworth may well say, " If my conclusions are
admitted, and carried as far as they must be carried — if
admitted at all — our judgments concerning the works of
the greatest poets, both ancient and modern, will be far
different from what they are at present, both when we
praise and when we censure ; but it may be doubted
whether (as he affirms) our " moral feelings, influencing,
and influenced by these judgments, will be corrected and

At any rate, our tastes will hardly be corrected and

woRDSwoiiTir. 239

purified, for, if we judge by the theory and its cfTccts, we
must bring in a verdict of " guihy" against Milton, on an
indictment of having used poetic diction; and we must
place the author of the " Lyrical Ballads" infinitely above
that mighty " orb of song."

In the second place, where Wordsworth has made use
of the real language of men, he has not been fortunate in
the selection. His language of low life is not, as he tells
us it is, " purified from what appears to be its real defects,
from all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust."
He does not, according to his profession, " by a selection
made with true taste and feeling," entirely separate the
composition from the vulgarity and meanness of ordinary
life." Will he affirm that such expressions as these,

" Let Betty Foy,
With girth and stirrup, fiddle, fuddle" —

" Oh, me ! it is a merry meeting," —

" And Betty's in a sad quandary,"

are not "rational causes of dislike or disgust?" Will
he maintain that such " selections" of language as the
following, —

" If thou art mad, my pretty lad,
Then I must be for ever sad;"

" Oh, mercy ! to myselfl cried.
If Lucy siionld be dead !"

" Oh, misery, oh, misery !
Oh, wo is me, oh, misery !"

are "made with true taste and feeling," or that they
"entirely separate the composition from the vulgarity and
meanness of ordinary life?" Let it be observed, more-
over, that in all the above extracts, the poet speaks in his
own person, and cannot — as I at least should hope — |)Iead
in excuse for vulgarity of diction, that he has adapted the
words to the character from whose mouth they proceed.

Amongst other causes of pleasure, when words are me-
trically arranged, Wordsworth mentions a " manly style,"
and yet descends to such babyisms as

240 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

" That way, look, my infant, lo !
What a pretty baby-show !"

•' 'Tis a pretty baby-treat,
Nor, 1 deem, for me, unmeet."

" Pull the primrose, sister Anne,
Pull as man}^ as you can !"

"Eyes of some men travel far
For the finding- of a star ;
Up and down the heavens they go,
Men that keep a mighty rout !
Pm as great as they, I trow.
Since the day 1 found thee out.
Little flower ! — PU make a stir,
Like a great astronomer."

But, it may be urged, that the poems from which these ex-
tracts are made, have "« loorthy iwrpose.'''' It may be so.
All I allege is, thatof whatever " importance" their "subject"
maybe, " their style" is not "manly" — their selection of lan-
guaire is not " made with true taste and feeling." The mind
of him who reads them may (as I contend) be " sound and
vigorous," and " in a liedlihfnl state of association," (as
Wordsworth calls it,) and yet fail to be " enlightened," or
" ameliorated," by reason of the " rationaV disgust, which,
in its days of manhood, it feels to the pap which was the
nutriment of its infancy. It hath put away childish things ;
it no longer speaks as a child, understands as a child, or
thinks as a child. Why, then, in poems which are so far
from being written professedly for children, that they are
rather illustrations of a complicated theory addressed to
the mature intellect, should the poet make use of language
which, in the outset, carries with it childish associations?
Wordsworth indeed, confesses that he is apprehensive that
his language " may frequently suffer from arbitrary con-
nexions of feelings and ideas with particular words and
phrases;" and he has " no doubt, that in some instances,
feelings, even of the ludicrous, may be given to his readers,
by expressions which appeared to him tender and pathetic."
— " That no man can altogctJier protect himself" from the
effects of these associations, I allow ; but that he may pro-


tect himself from them more than Wordsworth has done,
I must believe.

The very measure of such verses as these —

" The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing ;
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter ;"


" Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill,"

brings the nursery before us, and almost prevents us from
observing that the tkoiigJits are really pleasing, and sug-
gested by a personal observation of nature. Is not this
rather like a daring of the very danger which he depre-
cates ? 1 am far from calling Wordsworth a childish
writer ; but it must be owned that he sometimes writes

Having attempted to show that, in many instances,
Wordsworth has not fulfilled the conditions of his own
theory,! proceed to point out in what manner, by fulfilling
them, he has been betrayed into absurdities.

The very root of W'ordsworth's most offensive pecu-
liarities seems to be the principle, into which, at the begin-
ning of my observations, I promised to institute an inquiry
at some future time. It is this, " that the feeling deve-
loped in his poems gives importance to the action and situa-
tion, and not the action and situation to the feeling." I
proposed to consider whether this part of his theory were
not likely to produce originality of a vicious kind, and
whether there should not be a mutual proportion between
the subject and the passion connected with it.

As we shall best judge of this principle when viewed in
connexion with its results, let us examine in what manner
it has operated on Wordsworth's poetry, and whether it
have there produced originality of a good or a bad kind.

I shall endeavour to prove, that by carrying this prin-
ciple into effect, Wordsworth has been betrayed into two

VOL. I. 21

242 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

faults, which branch off into ahnost opposite ramifications,
but which unite at last in producing one common result —

The first is, that trusting to the importance of the feel-
ing, which he purposes to illustrate, he does not scruple to
consort it with weak and beggarly elements, which either
degrade it or render it ridiculous, by the overpowering
force of association.

The second is, that, investing the feeling with an import-
ance which the action and situation do not warrant, he
uses language and employs ilhistrations, as much above
the occasion, as the language he sometimes uses is below
it ; and thus produces in his poems as strange a mixture
of homeliness and magnificence, as the brick floor and
mirrored walls of a French bedroom.

Or, in more concise terms, he has, in the first case,
derived low subjects from lofiy feelings ; in the second, he
has deduced lofty feelings from low subjects.

I will, in the first place, attempt to render the first error

In ]iursuance of his principal object, which is (the poet
tells us) " further and above all, to make his incidents and
situation (chosen from common life) interesting, by tracing
in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws
of our nature, chiefly as far as regards the manner in
which we associate ideas in a slate of excitement," (let me
take breath !) or, (as he says in another place,) " speaking
in language more appropriate, to follow the fluxes and
refluxes of the mind, when agitated by the great and
simple affections of our nature," Wordsworth, amongst
other poems, wrote the Idiot Boy, wherein he " traces the
maternal passion through many of its more subtle wind-
ings." It is really curious to contrast the pompous an-
nouncement of the poet's intentions, with the poverty of
their execution. " Low ivords contending with his lofty
will, till his mortality predominates." Here are high-
sounding and philosophical sentences, incomprehensible
enough to make the greatest fool I ever knew in my life
exclaim, — " How delightfid that is ! — It is so metaphj^si-
cal !" Any one would naturally imagine that the " fluxes
and refluxes of the mind, when agitated by the great and


simple affections of our nature," — " the maternal passion
traced througli many of its more subtle windings," must
be illustrated by a poem, great in its scheme, simple in its
execution, affecting in its incidents, ^^'e turn to the poem
in question with raised expectations, when we experience
the shock of a shower-bath in the perusal of a story, (very
simple^ in one sense of the word,) all about an old woman,
one Betty Foy, whose neighbour, Susan Gale, " old Susan,
she who dwells alone," is taken ill. Betty Foy, instead of
going for the doctor herself, wisely sends her idiot boy
Johnny on horseback on that errand, although (as she might
have anticipated, had she possessed a grain of sense) she is
obliged at last to leave Susan (her reluctance to do which
caused her to send Johnny,) and to walk in propria per-
sond to the town, roaming the livelong night in quest of
her idiotic darling. After a little attempt to keep the
reader in suspense as to Johnny's fate, the poet cannot find
in his heart to be too pathetic ; he therefore soon discovers
Johnny quietly sitting on the pony, " who is mild and
good," and comforts Betty's heart with so enchanting a

" She pats the pony, where or when
She knows not — happy Betty Foy !

The little pony glad may be,

But he is milder far than she,
You hardly can perceive /us joy."

That is, the fluxes and the refluxes of the pony's feelings
(apparently the wisest animal of the party) were less vio-
lent than those of Betty. Indeed hers seem to have
gushed forth with great vehemence ; for, when she first
beholds Johnny,

" She darts as with a torrent's force,
She almost has o'erturn'd the horse."

But that nothing may be wanting to a happy denoue-
ment, old Susan Gale gets up, and finds that her com-
plaint was wholly nervous, and produced by the want of
something better to think of. She then posts to the wood,
and finds her friends —

244 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

" Oh me ! it is a merry meeting,
As ever was in Christendom."

They all go honfie ; and the reader's heart, which had
been so painfully agitated, is cheered by the following fa-
cetious conclusion :

" And thus to Betty's question he

Made answer like a traveller bold :
{His very tvords I give to you.)
' The cocks did crow tu-whoo — tu-whoo,

And the sun did shine so cold !'

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