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Sent forth as if it were tlie mountain's voice,
As if the visible mountain made the cry !
Again ] * * * *
It was a lamb left somewhere to itself,
The plaintive spirit of the solitude !"

In this instance, also, I doubt not but that " the effect upon
the soul" (that is, Wordsworth's soul) " was such as he
expressed." I can well believe, that to a poet, amidst the
utter desolation of incumbent mountains, where

" The region all around
Stands silent, empty of all shape of life,''

the bleat of a lamb may be a solemn thing; but as few
persons can hear such a sound under such circumstances —
as fewer still can hear it with a poet's sensibility — it were
wise in the bard to keep the feeling to himself, or, at any
rate, to mention it only in confidence to a few particular
friends. It neither reads nor tells well in a library or
drawing-room — and the Excursion is rather too weighty a
companion for the mountain-tops.

I have frequently heard quoted, as a proof of " that fine
colouring of imagination" which Wordsworth can fling
over the humblest subject, the following passage from the
Wagon ner :

" And the smoke and respiration,
Rising, like an exhalation,
90*



258 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

Blends with t]ic mist — a moving shroud
To form — an undiasolvinrr cloud,
Which, with slant ray, the merry sun
Takes delight to play upon.

[Wliich must be pronounced iqjiin.']

Never surely old Apollo,
He, or other god as old,
Of whom in story we are told,
VViio had a flivourito to follow
Through a battle, o)- elsewhere.
Round the object of his care,
In a time of peril, threw
Veil of such celestial hue;
Interposed so bright a screen
Ilim and his enemies between !"

There is a mixture of poverty and grandeur in the very
diction of these lines (as I have intimated by marking some
mean expressions by Italics) — but let that pass. Of what
is the poet speaking? Would any one divine that he was
describing the breath and steam (surely he has kept clear
of the " real language" of men in this instance) proceeding
from a team of horses? Could any CEdipus surmise, that
" Apollo's favourite" is only a type of " mild Benjamin"
" the VVagonncr" — " his enemies" only a metaphor for
Bcnjamiu's master, angry at his staying too long on the
road,

" Who from Keswick has pricked forth,
Sour and surly as the North 1"

It is easy to call this sublimity. It is equally easy to call
it fustian and bombast. W' hat, indeed, is bombast but a
disproportion between the incident, or idea, and the lan-
guage that conveys the incident or idea? What more
could Wordsworth have said in describing the sun-illu-
minated smoke of a whole army in combat, than he has
said of the perspiring horses? If the humbler the object
is, the nobler is the effort of the imagination in aggran-
dizing it, it is plain, that if he had compared the steam
from a tea-kettle to Apollo's celestial veil, the image would
have been still finer. But, if a due regard to proportion
be essential to produce the pleasure which the mind takes



WORDSWORTH. 250

in her perception of things ; if we turn with disgust from a
cottage with a Grecian portico ; if even nature teach us, by
her own works, that a certain scale is to bo observed (for
she does not place a Mont Blanc amongst the mountains of
Cumberland, or a Skiddavv close to Box Hill) — then we
must allow that Wordsworth is greatly wrong when he
places the low and the lofty in such immediate juxtaposi-
tion. It is very pretty, doubtless, to say, that

"Tlio meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts which do often lie too deep for tears ;"

but there should be differences and shades of degree in our
raptures; a daisy should not impart the same elevation of
feeling as a cloud-canopied mountain, and a man must be
near-sighted indeed who can pore upon the one, while the
other is towering above him. Why has Nature set lorth
such a majestic banquet, if her humbler fare suffices to
nourish the mind to its utmost capacity and vigour?

The same remarks will apply, even more forcibly, to
the following passage also taken from the Wagonner :

" Now, heroes, for the true commotion,
The triumph of your late devotion !
Can aught on earth impede delight
Still mounting to a higher height;
And higher still — a greedy flight !
Can any low-born care pursue her,
Can any mortal clog come to her ?
No notion have they — not a thought
That is from joyless regions brought !
And, while they coast the silent lake,
Their inspiration I partake;
Share their empyreal spirits — yea,
With their enraptured vision, see —
O fancy, what a jubilee !"

Here is a coil about heroes and devotion, and delight, and
exemption from low-born care, and mortal clogs I'or pat-
tens.) Who would not think that some high-minded beings,
having just lifted their thoughts to heaven, were coasting
" the silent lake" in an ecstasy of divine beatitude; while
they beheld with the eye of faith a jubilee of holy joy.



260 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

which could be no other than the Millennium ? But what
is the real state of the matter? A sailor and a wagonner,
half-seas-over, reeling by the side of a lake, behold

"Earth, spangled sky, and lake serene
Involved and restless all;"

or, in other words, "see double," and in a rapture of
maudlin tenderness, shake hands and embrace. This
being the case, it seems rather an awkward confession of
the bard, that he " partakes their inspiration, and shares
their empyreal spirits, (Qu. — imperial spirits 7) and sees,
as they do, " a dancing and a glancing" among the stars.
Indeed, did not the poet's character stand so deservedly
high, there might be something suspicious in his pendiant
for drunkards and thieves. In another poem, he goes into
raptures because a child and his grandmother (as he ex-
presses it) "both go a-stealing together." He mysti-
cally says,

" And yet into whatever sin they may fall,
This child but half knows it, and that not at all."

And (as if any teacher were needed to convince us that
man is a thieving animal) he concludes,

" Old man, whom so oft I with pity have eyed,
I love thee, and love the sweet boy at thy side :
Long yet mayst thou live ! for a teacher we see,
That lifts up the veil of our nature in thee."

But, in the instance before us, the bard takes care to let
us know,

" This sight to me the muse imparts."

Oh, Mr. Wordsworth, how, after such an original and
splendid passage, could you admit the most commonplace
of all commonplaces? you, who profess to avoid poetic
diction as zealously as others cultivate it, to talk of " the
muse," and, more horrible still, " the muse imparts,'''' and
(climax of abomination !) the rhyme in the next line is
"hearts!" I must extract one more passage from the



WORDSWORTH. 261

VVagonner, as aa instance of the peril which lies ia laying
on too vividly a colouring of imagination.

" Right gfladly had the horses stirr'd,
When they the wish'd-for greeting heard,
The whip's loud notice from the door,
That they were free to move once more.
You think these doings

[i. e. Benjamin getting drunk]

must have bred
In them disheartening doubts and dread :
No! not a horse of all the eight,
Although it be a raoonle^s night,
Fears either ibr himself or freight !"

Wonderful ! most wonderful ! most contrary indeed to all
one should have guessed, supposed, or predicted !

AVcll and feelingly may Wordsworth say, that he " for-
bears to speak of an incongruity, which would shock the
intelligent reader, viz. should the poet interweave any
foreign splendour of his own with that which the passion
naturally suggests." Undoubtedly the less said on that
point the better.

Can it be believed that such passages as the above, from
the Wagonner, should be selected by Wordsworth's ad-
mirers as proofs of his imaginative powers 1 I have heard
them recited without one " blank misgiving." The more
strange, the more incongruous are the images and expres-
sions, the more does the true disciple of Wordsworth con-
sider himself bound not only to defend, but to prove them
admirable. He seems to have a lurking suspicion that he
will be pronounced in the wrong, and therefore chooses
the very worst specimens of the poet's manner to prove
that he is in the right. Like a wise general, he defends
the weakest post, and leaves the strongholds to take care
of themselves. Obstinate in error, he will not only say
that black is not black, but prove by logical induction, that
black is white. In the first edition of Peter Bell was a
stanza, since expunged, and thus tacitly condemned by the
author himself — one of many, containing ingenious con.
jecturcs as to the nature of an object which Peter saw one



262 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

night in the water, (a very common and novel-like trick,
by the by, to raise a reader's curiosity.) The stanza was
as follows :

" Is it a party in a parlour

Cramm'd juj>t as tliey on earth were cramm'd.
Some sippinji' puncli, some drinking tea;
But, as you by their faces see,
All silent, and all — damn'dl"

1 asked my Wordsworthian friend if he really and truly
could admire this passage ! "Admire it !" he replied, " I
think it one of the sublimest in the whole compass of Eng-
lish poetry ! How awfully grand is the thrilling contrast
between the common and every-day occupations of the
beings conjectured to be seen, and the hopeless horror of
their countenances, between their mirthful employments,
and their preternatural silence I They are, if we only
look at them with a casual eye, ' some sipping punch,
some drinking tea;' but the poet, by a marvellous and
almost divine stroke of the imagination, makes them 'all
silent and all — damn'd !' " The last word fell with such a
lump upon my ear, that I felt much in the condition of the
unhappy party in the parlour, and replied not — for it was
manifestly useless to argue with such an enthusiastic
adorer. A blind prostration of intellect to their idol, is
indeed the chief characteristic of Wordsworth's proselytes.
The oracle sayeth, " If an author, by any single compo-
sition, has impressed us with respect for his talents, it is
useful to consider this as affording a presumption that, on
other occasions where we have been displeased, he, never-
theless, may not have written ill or absurdly ;" and ac-
cordingly the disciples say, " that Wordsworth has often
written finely cannot be denied. Why not then give him
credit for always knowing what he is about, better than
any of us?" Strange reasoning! in the face of convic-
tion that

" Fallil;lc man
Is still found fallible, however wise!"

and when we know instances, in the first place, of the



WOKDSWORTH. 263

worst authors writing one good thing, and in the next, of
the best authors writing some bad things. Even Milton
nods, and even Leigh lltnit has written one of the nnost
beautiful small poems extant, beginning, " Sleep breathes
at last from out thee, my little patient boy." But the very
essence of Wordsworthianism is the belief that its king can
do no wrong. It is tlic very popery of poetry ; and one
doubt of its Hierarch's infallibility would be fatal to its
empire. Therefore the disciples defend every line, every
word, that Wordsworth has ever written — not as they
would defend any passage in a favourite author, but with
all the hlijul obstinacy of men who adopt a peculiar creed.
I grant that all the absurdities of Wordsworth's partizans
are no more to be charged upon him, than all the old
womanism of Wesley's disciples was (in past times) attri-
butable to their vigorous-minded master, — but S077ie of the
blame must attach, in both instances, to the nature of the
creed and to its propagator. Wordsworth talks much and
feelingly of the outcry raised against him and his poems;
he has suffered more from injudicious praise. He depre-
cates the injustice of his enemies. Let him rather pray to
be delivered from his friends. When they declare that he
is equal to Milton, he should be too wise to believe them.

Thus have I endeavoured to prove, by exposing the evil
tendency of an opposite principle, that, whether in pas-
sages of description, sentiment, or passion, the expression
should be suited to the thought, and the thought to the
expression. A diamond in a setting of wood, or a nut in
a chasing of gold, alike offend that sense of congruity,
which nature has implanted in us. But " words spoken
in due season are" (to use the saying of the wise man)
" as apples of gold in pictures of silver." The meaninor
is the most precious part, but the setting is precious
too. Wordsworth himself says, '< Proportion and con-
gruity, the requisite knowledge being supposed, are sub-
jects upon which taste may be trusted. It is compe-
tent to this office" — neither is this a mean office — for if
(as Shakspeare says) " discretion is the better part of va-
lour," much more is it the better part of genius. Words-
worth, in his enumeration of the powers which constitute
a good poet, places judgment last. " Judgment (he says)



264 wilsok's miscellaneous writings.

to decide how and where, and in what degree, eacli of
these faculties ought to be exorlcd ; so that tlie less shall
not be sacrificed to the greater ; nor the greater, sliglding
the less, arrogate, to its oivn injury, mm-c than its due.^^
I hope that Wordsworth meant to abide by the old saying,
'■^though last net least ;" for I do not remember a single
instance of any poet lacking judgment (according to
Wordsworth's own definition of it,) who has ever been
raised, by the common verdict of mankind, sanctified by
time — the true Vox Populi, which Wordsworth professes
to venerate — to a primordial rank in his art.



Tnus far Wordsworth explains his own theory, of which
the whole substance seems to be the almost self-evident
proposition — that natural thoughts, clothed in simple lan-
guage, (however lowly the subject,) speak at once to the
heart.

But the poet's disciples go beyond their master in ag-
grandizing his principles of composition. They " see in
Wordsworth more than Wordsworth knew." Conscious,
perhaps, that his own exposition (in prose) of his theory can
lay claim to verbal originality alone, and that, moreover,
it half condemns his own practice, they deduce from his
works themselves a far more sublime and mystical creed
— the " Revelation" — sufficient as I have heretofore ob-
served, in the opinion of the elect, to work a moral change
in any erring (but philosophic) individual. The Revela-
tion, as far as I can learn, consists in a divine discovery
by the poet, of the following arcana — namely, a certain
accordance, which imaginative minds perceive when, shut-
ting out the clamour of the world, they listen to Nature's
still small voice, between the external universe, and the
internal microcosm of man ; — a purifying influence exerted
through the medium of visible objects upon the invisible
mental powers; — a sort of anima miindi pervading all
that is; — a sublime harmony between the natural and
moral creation. It is, in short, the quakerism of philoso-



WORDSWORTH. 265

phy, ihe transcendentalism of poetry ; a something be-
tween the abstractedness of Plato, and the unction of
Madame Guion. But let Wordsworth speak for himself:

" My voice proclaims
How exquisitely tlie inilividual mind
(And the progressive powers perhaps no less
Of the whole species) to the external world
Is fitted ; — and how exquisitely too
(Theme this but little heard of among men !)
The external world is fitted to the mind."

Is this new ? Akenside, in his Pleasures of Imagination,
says,

" For as old Momnon's image, long renown'd
By fabling Nilus, to the quivering touch
Of Titan's ray, with each repulsive string
Consenting, sounded through the warbling- air
Unbidden strains; even so did Nature's hand
To certain species of external things
Attune the finer organs of the mind."

But Wordsworth, moreover, insists upon a few items culled
from other quarters. He seems to believe in certain native
and beautiful properties of the human heart; (what the
divines would say to this I know not ;) he thinks that we
are born in a glorious state of wisdom and of " heaven-
born freedom," and that we have nothing to do but to keep
ourselves aloof from the " weight of custom," and to carry
on one smooth unbroken stream of thought from infancy
to age, in order to be very perfect creatures. He greatly
reprobates the fragmental manner in which most persons
confound their identity by running after new objects, or
adopting new opinions at ditferent periods of their lives,
and in consequence breaks out into the following short but
pithy poem :

" IVIy heart leaps up, when I behold
A rainbow in the sky,
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old.
Or let me die !
VOL. I. 23



266 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety."

This is the whole of the poem, which I have heard many
admirers of Wordsworth extol as an almost superhuman
flight of intellect. This, they say, is the text which con-
tains the essence of all his after discourses — this the epitome
of the Wordsworthian philosophy — this the Shibboleth of
the true belijevers. If you comprehend and feel this, you
are already in the vestibule of the temple — if you do oiot
comprehend and feel this, you have come into the world to
very little purpose — you are but a piece of animated dust.
Alas for me! I can indeed understand, or seem to under-
stand, this divine little poem ; but then I can perceive in it
nothing beyond the quaint expression of a very natural
wish, often uttered both in poetry and prose, namely, to
preserve unto the evening of life

" Immaculate the manners of the morn."

In plain language, the meaning of the poem appears to be —
" The sight of a rainbow gives me as much delight now as
when I was a child, and I hope that, when I am old, I
shall still be equally alive to this and other beauties of
nature. I had rather die than become insensible to them.
A man will resemble what he was when young ; and, see-
ing that I was a promising child, I trust that I shall always
be consistent, and that feelings of piety, excited by natural
objects, will accompany me to my life's end." I may
boast that I have supplied a hiatus in the last three lines
by inserting — " seeing that I was a promising child," for
without this clause the reasoning is inefficient.

" The child is father of the man,
And I could wish my days to bo," &c.

is a noil sequitur : for if childhood really contain the germ
of our future character, it is clear that this circumstance
must be either a blessing, or a curse, according as a child
is amiable or otherwise; unless, indeed, Wordsworth means
to assert that all children are born with equally happy dis-



■WORDSWORTH. 267

positions; and, in this case, it would not be worth while to
combat an opinion so contrary to the conclusions of expe-
rience. But no ! — he is too orthodox to disseminate such
a heresy.

We will now proceed to a certain ode, entitled " Inti-
mations of Immortality from Recollections of early Child-
hood," since it is the sermon of the foregoing text, the
opus magnum, the ne plus ultra of mysterious excellence;
it contains and condenses the grand peculiarities of " the
Revelation." I was once present amongst a party, con-
sisting of many true believers in the Wordsworthian faith,
of a few neophytes, and one or two absolute and wicked
sceptics. A sincere and most zealous disciple offered to
read aloud the ode in question. Reader, didst thou ever
hear a Wordsworthian spout poetry ? If not, thou canst
scarcely frame to thyself a mode of recitation so singular.
A praying Quaker, a preaching Whitfieldian, is nothing to
a spouting Wordsworthian. In compliance (as I suppose)
with their master's wishes, who declares that, " in much
the greatest part of his poems, as a substitute for the classic
lyre or romantic harp, he requires nothing more than an
animated or impassioned recitation adapted to the subject;"
and that the reader must not be " deprived of a voluntary
power to modulate, m subordination to the sense, the music
of the poem ;" taking a hint also, I imagine, from Words-
worth's description of the poet's privilege to

" Murmur near the runnintr brooks
A music sweeter than their own,"

they part chant, part speak, part murmur, part mouth
(with many a rise and fall and dying cadence) all poetry,
but more especially Wordsworth's poetry, after an un-
imaginable manner — whether in subordination to the sense
it were hard to determine.

No sooner had the Wordsworthian begun,

" There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight

To me did seem
AppareU'd in celestial light,"



268 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

than one of the sceptics, of laughing propensities, crammed
his handkerchief half way down his throat; the other
looked keen and composed ; the disciples groaned ; and the
neophytes shook their heads in deep conviction. The
reciter's voice deepened in unction as he repeated,

" The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare,"

and, unheeding the aside remark of the calmer sceptic that
the last was rather a hare line, he proceeded without far-
ther interruption through some really beautiful passages,
descriptive of that season when (as Shakspeare says)
" May hath put a spirit of youth in every thing," and of
the regret which the mind experiences from not sympa-
thizing with the general gladness as vividly as in early
youth — until he came to the following:

" Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting ;
The sou), that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had el.?ewhere its setting,

And Cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory, do we come

(Mere the reader's voice became very impassioned.)

From God, who is our home ;
Heaven lies about us in our infancy."

Here one of the neophytes timidly interposed with — " I
confess that I do not quite comprehend that passage. Per-
haps you v/ould be kind enough to explain it to us." The
neophyte could not easily have made a request more dis-
agreeable, or more embarrassing, to the disciple, who was
a man hating definition, and delighting in the vague, the
obscure, the mysterious ; and of whose mind the wdiole •
tenor was synthetical, rather than analytical. Making a
wry face, then, he floundered about in a vain attempt to
render tlie poet's creed intelligible, until, getting quite into
a [)assion, he accused (he poor neophyte of having inter-
rupted his feelings in their full flow ; and roundly declared



WORDSWORTH. 269

that things so out of the common way, so suWime, and so
abstruse, could be conveyed in no language but their own.
Here the composed sceptic very quietly said, "It appears
to me, that the passage in question is nothing more than
an assertion of that old Platonic doctrine, the pre-existence
of the soul, which the poet calls ' our life's star,' and which
he represents as having previously set to, or, in other
words, lost sight of, another state of being, before it rises
upon this present world. He also seems to favour the
classical creed of a little dip in Lethe, before we take upon
us the fleshly form, by the expression, 'Our birth is but a
sleep and a forgetting,' and at the same time avers that,
like the son of Thetis, we did not undergo a complete im-
mersion, insomuch that glimpses of our former and more
glorious state yet remain unto us, more especially in child-
hood, as we then are nearer to the scene of our original
splendour, and as yet unclouckMJ by the gross exhalations
of earthly cares." The AV'ordsworthian loudly protested
against so commonplace and (as he called it) degrading an
exposition of the poet's doctrine, and then went on to that
part of the ode, where the author declares that he does not
value the recollections of childhood on account of the
delight, liberty, and hope, of that happy period,

" But for those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward lliings,
Fallings from us, vanishirii,'?,
Blank misgivings of a creature
Moving about in worlds not realised."

Hero again the timid neophyte besought a little enlight-
ening. " What can Mailings from us' mean, I wonder?"
he dolefully sighed out, as if he despaired of ever getting
beyond his noviciate.

The previous annotator was again forced to unravel the
mystic knot. " The poet (he said) is still speaking of the



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