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aware how often, and how strikingly, he has disi)layed this
excellence. So much injustice has he done himself. The



WORDSWORTH. 317

Laodamia is known but by a few — by those alone, who,
being gifted with a real afTection for poetry, have atten-
tively studied and searched the writings of our true poets,
and have formed their own opinions, without respect to the
popular voice. They have already assigned the Laoda-
mia a high rank amongst poems of a severe and intellec-
tual beauty. It is a perfect piece of statuary, elaborated
with Phidian skill, and its repose, like that of " the statue
which enchants the world," is the repose of life. As the
effect of this fine composition depends more upon the gran-
deur and harmony of the whole, than upon the beauty of
detached parts, I should only mar the impression which it
is calculated to produce on the mind of the classic reader,
by presenting him with a specimen of its excellence. This
would be to exhibit a stone of the temple, in order to dis-
play the proportions of the temple itself. I will rather
give entire the following sonnet, as an example of the
chaste severity of Wordsworth's loftier style :

" Milton ! thou shouldst be living at this hour;
England hath need of thee ! She is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited tiieir ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men ; —
Oh raise us up ! Return to us again ;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power !
Thy soul tens like a star, and dwelt apart:
Thou kudsl a voice, whose sound teas like the sea,
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free ;
So didst thou travel on life's common way
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay."

Surely this is great writing. There is no affectation, no
babyism here. The poet has girded his robe about him,
and has prepared himself for a lofty encounter. The portion
marked by italics is, in particular, grand, from the very
simplicity of its thought and diction. The most sublime
objects in nature are chosen to illustrate the author's noble
ideas; and, in the short compass of three lines, "ocean,
with all its solemn noise," and the illimitable firmament,
27*



318 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

are presented to the ear and eye. An inferior writer
would have dilated upon the thought: Wordsworth knew
that an inch of gold is better than a yard of gold leaf.
The conclusion of the sonnet conveys, by a few touches,
the striking picture of a majestic mind, unbending towards
the world, yet reverencing itself; and thus completes the
magnificence of poetry with the important truth — that
humility is the basis of moral grandeur. Wordsworth's
Ode to Duty may be mentioned as another instance of this
purity of thought and of expression. The following stanza
is very noble :

" Stern lawgiver ! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace;
Nor know we any thing so fair
As is tlie smile upon thy flice :
Flowers laugh before thee on tlieir beds,
And fragrance in thy footing treads."

Both as a moral and as a religious poet, Wordsworth
may take a high station. In the latter point of view, more
especially, his name may not only be associated with those
of Young and Cowper, but even with that of Milton ; for,
except in the works of the above-named writers, we shall
search vainly, through the English classics, for passages
of devotional fervour expressed as finely as many which
Wordsworth has given us. A poem, called " Resolution
and Independence," may serve to display our author as a
moralist of a very different stamp to the mere casuist,
whom (snatching for once the pencil of satire) he stigma-
tises as

" One to whose sinooth-rubb'd soul can cling,
Nor form, nor feelinir, great nor siilall;
A reasoning, self-sniricing thing.
An intellectual all in all !"

The poem opens with a fresh and beautiful description of
a calm and bright morning succeeding to a night of storms.
All nature is revived — "the birds are singing in the dis-
tant woods," and

" All things that love the sun arc out of doors;
The sky rejoices in the morning's birth ;



WORDSWORTH. 319

The grass is bright witli rain-drops ; on the moors
The hare is running races in her mirth."

With this morning jubilee of creation the poet at first
sympathizes, but by degrees he falls into a train of melan-
choly and anxious thought. He compares his f)ito with
that of the happy creatures round him — the skylark war-
bling in the sky, and the playful hare — and he feels that
he only resembles them in his present exemption from care
and sorrow. Happy as he now is, he cannot forbear from
casting a prospective look towards evils, to which his pre-
sent state of security, and the changefulness of this mortal
life seem to render him peculiarly liable. Even his poeti-
cal feelings seem to point him out as a mark for the arrows
of misfortune. He muses painfully upon the fate of ge-
nius in every age, and more especially he

"Thought of Chatterton, the marvellous boy,
The sleepless soul that perish'd in his pride, —
Of him who walk'd in glory and in joy,
Following his plough along the mountain side."

In this mood, he meets with an old man whose employ-
ment is that of a leech-gatherer; the infirmities of disease
and age having precluded him from any more active mode
of gaining his subsistence. Of him it is finely said, —

" Motionless as a cloud the old man stood.
That heareth not the loud winds when they call."

The poet is mucli struck with the apparently wretched
occupation of one, on whose form time and pain seemed to
have cast, " a more than human weight." But, on con-
versing with the leech-gatherer, he finds him not only
resigned to his lot, but cheerful. The content of this man,
as contrasted with his own recent doubts, and anxious
forebodings, strongly impresses the poet's mind with an
important lesson of trust in Providence. He says —

"The man did seem
Like one whom I had met with in a dream ;
Or like a man from some tar region sent,
To give mc human strength by strong admonishment."



320 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

The leech-gatherer's words have the more effect upon
his imagination, inasmuch as they are

" With something of a lofty utterance drest,
Choice word and measured phrase ; above the reach
Of ordinary men."

The poem thus concludes : —

" When he ended,
I could have laugh'd myself to scorn to find
In that decrepit man so firm a mind.
God, said I, be my help and stay secure,
I'll think of the leech-gatherer on the lonely moor."

Wordsworth may be said, in this composition, to have
drawn, from the simplest elements, fine imagery and a
noble moral. There is something exceedingly striking
in the figure of the old man standing motionless on the
solitary moor. It seems peculiarly adapted to the pur-
poses of painting, and has indeed been occasionally chosen
by artists as a subject for their pencil.

Of VVordsworth's devotional poetry, the following pas-
sage from the Excursion, although slightly tinged with
the Platonism of his creed, is perhaps as fine an example
as can be cited :

" Thou, dread source,
Prime self-existing cause and end of all.
That, in the scale of being, fill their place.
Above our human region, or below.
Set and sustain'd ; — Thou — who didst wrap the cloud
Of infancy around us, that Thyself,
Therein, with our simplicity awhile
JNIightst hold communion undisturb'd —
Who, from the anarchy of dreaming sleep.
Or from its death-like void, v.'ith punctual care.
And touch as gentle as the morning light,
Restor'st us daily to the power of sense.
And reason's steadfast rule, — Thou, Thou alone
Art everlasting, and the blessed spirits.
Which thou includest, as the sea her waves."

I should say, that the muse of Wordsworth appears to



WORDSWORTH. 321

breathe her native air, when she attunes her voice to
strains like these. How singular, that the author of the
Lyrical Ballads should seem to be most at home in grave
and lofty numbers ! Yet such is the fact: Wordsworth
will be venerated as a moral and religious poet, when, as
a theorist, he will be sunk into oblivion.

But it is chiefly by his sonnets that Wordsworth will
be known to posterity. Boileau says, —

"Un sonnet sans defaut vaut seul un long poeme,
Mais en vain mille auteurs y pensent arriver;

A peine

— Peut on admirer deux ou trois entre mille."

If we consider how many have attempted, and how few
have succeeded in this species of composition, we shall ac-
knowledge the truth of the latter part of the above asser-
tion. The very shortness of the sonnet is its difficulty.
Like the man who had not time to write a short letter, many
authors, more especially in the present day, seem to have
no leisure to condense their thoughts. They are able, in-
deed, to pour out their unpremeditated verse with much
facility ; and if they be men of real talent, some merit will
undoubtedly be found in their compositions ; but this merit
must necessarily be of an expanded kind. Water runs
apace — richer potations issue more slowly from the cask.
Now a sonnet is worth nothing unless it condense the
elasticity of thought into its own small compass. We do
not require that a hogshead should be filled with ottar of
roses ; but we do demand that the small and portable vial
should contain a precious essence. When we read the
sonnets of Milton, or of Warton, we feel that each of them
is the I'esult of more thought, and more tends to produce
thought in others, than many a long poem which has is-
sued from a mind of weaker stuff. On this ground, more
than on account of their nonconformity to the sonnet rules,
I should deny the name of sonnet to the compositions of
Bowles, or Mrs. Charlotte Smith. They may be pretty
songs, or pathetic elegies, but they are not sonnets. They
were popular, for they neither resulted from deep thought,
nor required deep thought for the comprehension of them.
The sonnets of Shakspeare and Milton (however admired



322 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

by the few) have never been popular, because they ad-
dress themselves to the understanding as well as the heart,
to the imagination rather than to the fancy. Of this
stamp are the sonnets of Wordsworth. They may there-
fore fail to delight the popular palate in an equal degree
with (as some wit called them) "Mrs. Charlotte Smith's
whipt syllabubs in black glasses ;" but they will be dear
to the lovers of original excellence as long as any think-
ing minds can be found in the community. They will be
remembered — for there is something in a good sonnet
peculiarly rememberable. " Brevity," says, Shakspeai'e,
" is the soul of wit ;" and inasmuch as the soul survives
the body, condensed wisdom also possesses a principle of
longevity beyond the " thews and outward flourishes" of
wordy rhetoric. Proverbs live, while whole epics perish.
Amongst Wordsworth's miscellaneous sonnets (and they
are numerous) there is scarcely one which is not good —
there are many which are strikingly fine. They are all
written after the strictest model of the legitimate sonnet,
which, from its artful construction and repeated rhymes,
presents many difficulties to the composer ; and yet there
is an ease in Wordsworth's management of the sonnet,
which proves that this is a kind of composition the most
congenial, the most fitted to his powers. The lines are
sufficiently broken to prevent the repetition of the same
rhymes from palling on the ear; yet not so much as al-
together to prevent their recurrence from being perceived,
(a fault by no means uncommon,) so as to confound the
distinction between rhyme and blank verse. The subjects
are varied ; and from Wordsworth's sonnets it would be
easy to select specimens of the descriptive, the pathetic,
the playful, the majestic, the fanciful, the imaginative. I
have already presented my reader with a glorious example
of Wordsworth's majestic style, in the sonnet to Milton. I
will now, therefore, confine myself to one other specimen,
which appears to me to combine many of the characte-
ristics which I have mentioned distinctively above :

"Where lies the land to which yon ship must go ■?
Festively she puts forth in trim array,



WORDSWORTH. 323

As vigorous as a lark at break of day :

Is she for tropic suns or polar snow 1

What boots th' inquiry ! — Neither friend nor foe

She cares for ; let her travel where she may,

She finds familiar names, a beaten way

Ever before her, and a wind to blow.

Yet still I ask, what haven is her mark 1

And almost as it was when ships were rare,

(From time to time, like pilgrims, here and there

Crossing the waters,) doubt and something dark,

Of the old sea some reverential fear

Is with me at thy farewell, joyous bark!"

Here we have beautiful description, majesty of numbers,
a lively fancy, a touch of pathos, and a fine exercise of
the imaginative powers. I cannot conclude this branch of
my subject, without pointing out to the reader's notice,
more especially, Wordsworth's Introductory Sonnet, that
on the extinction of the Venetian Republic, and the series
of Sonnets on the river Duddon. That, in particular,
which begins,

" Hail, twilight, sovereign of one peaceful hour," '

is a fine instance of the vigour with which an original mind
can refresh a hackneyed theme. It is rather unlike the
sonnets of young ladies and young masters on the same
subject.

The reader has now before him the claims of Words-
worth (fairly stated, as I hope) to public notice. That he
is a true poet, no one, who has read the extracts which I
have given from his works, can for a moment doubt. He
is not a mere versifier, who rhymes away the vacant hour.
He is not a mere trifler in the art, who amongst other
elegant studies, resorts to poetry as a recreation. It is
evident that poetry has been to him " the stuff of which
his life is wrought." In spite of his attempts to identify
poetry and prose, he cannot think in prose, he cannot
write in prose. He is all over poetical feeling. A poet
he was born, and a poet he will die. Let him speak of
himself in his early days :

" I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract



324 Wilson's jiiscellaneous writings.

Haunted mc like a passion : the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite: a feeling-, and a love."

Tintern Abbey.

Let him exhibit himseli'at a later period :

" Life's autumn past, T stand on winter's verge,
And daily lose what I desire to keep :
Yet rather would 1 instantly decline
To the traditionary sympathies

Of a most rustic ignorance,

than see and hear

The repetitions wearisome of sense.

Where soul is dead, and feeling hath no place."

Can any one doubt that this man is a poet 1 The young
and fervent, wlio admire Lord Byron's intense enthusiasm
in the perception of external nature, know not how much
of it was kindled at Wordsworth's altar. In the noble
author's works, they may have met with many a con-
temptuous sarcasm on Wordsworth and his poetry. They
ought to be informed, that these expressions of contempt
and dislike are but the results of the natural tendency of
men to hate their benefactors. Perhaps also something of
good policy mingled with a bitterer feeling. Lord Byron
might wish to make it seem impossible that he should bor-
row from one whom he despised so Iieartily. But it was
a part of Lord Byron's daring character, never to be de-
terred from seizing upon any materials, which suited his
purpose, by the fear of detection. In these things, to put
a good face upon the matter is half the battle. Thus —
whether it was that he thought that the boldest thieves are
ever the least suspected, or that his contemptuous appre-
ciation of liis contemporaries, led him to believe that pos-
terity would rather suppose that they plundered from him,
than he from them, — as Ben .lonson says, " would deem it
to be his as well as theirs," — or even, perhaps, that his
works alone would survive to future ages — certain it is,
that instead of timidly and laboriously pilfering from old
and obscure authors. Lord Byron at once appropriated to
himself the finest thoughts of livina; writers. Whenever a



WORDSWORTH. 325

peculiarly original idea was started, it was sure to appear
on the next published pages of Lord Byron. Thus, when
Montgomery sang,

" lie only, like the oceaii-weed uptorn,
And loose along the world of waters borne,
Was cast companionless from wave to wave,"

Lord Byron echoed,

" I am as the weed
Torn from the rock on ocean's foam to sail.
Where'er the surge may sweep, the tempest's breath prevail."

With regard to Lord Byron's obligations to Wordsworth,
they are less verbal, and therefore less palpable ; but no
one, who is acquainted with the works of the two authors,
can doubt but that Wordsworth is to be traced most pal-
pably through the third and fourth cantos of Childe
Harold. A poem, by Lord Byron, called the " Grave of
Churchill," a fact literally rendered, is in its style a close
copy of Wordsworth's " Resolution and Independence,"
from which I have given extracts. In a wonderfully fine
passage in the Excursion, Wordsworth desires to "surren-
der himself to the elements," as if he " were a spirit," and
extlaims —

" While the mists
Flying, and rainy vapours call out shapes
And pliantoms from the crags and solid earth
As fast as a musician scatters sounds
Out of an instrument ...

What a joy to roam

An equal amongst mightiest energies !"

Lord Byron seems to have had this in his thoughts, when
■ he made Manfred say —

" Oh that I were
The viewless spirit of a lovely sound !

Born and dying

With the blest tone that made me."

The difference is only that Wordsworth's hopeful and
cheering idea has become desponding and gloomy, in
passing through the alembic of Lord Byron's brain. In
VOL. I. 28



326 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

the one case it is the wish of a believing philosopher,
exulting in the immortality which he feels to be his own :
in the other, of an infidel voluptuary, jaded down to a
prayer for annihilation. I mention these things to prove
that persons, who admire (and justly) Lord Byron for the
vigour of his verse, do most unjustly accuse Wordsworth
of feebleness and puerility ; and that while they quote with
rapture, passages, which are at least suggested by Words-
worth's poetry, they are unconsciously doing honour to
the genius of the latter.

Having now brouglit my defence to a close, I have only
to repeat that, if my reader is of the same opinion as my-
self, he will not quarrel with me for having quoted so
largely from Wordsworth's poems. In reading works of
criticism, I have generally found that I enjoyed the extracts
more than the critical commentary ; and I can easily
imagine, that the reader will peruse these pages with a
similar feeling.

In conclusion, let me briefly recapitulate my reasons,
both for denying Wordsworth a place amongst the greatest
of our national poets, and for assigning him a high station
amongst the band of true poets in general.

He has not produced any one great, original, and con-
sistent work, or even any one poem of consequence, to
which all these epithets can, with justice, be collectively
a])plicd. The want of a fixed style, the inequality of his
compositions, the exuberant verbosity of some, and the
eccentric meanness of others: the striking deficiency,
which his works usually display, in judgment — a quality
essential to the attainment of first-rate excellence — are all
so many barriers betwixt Wordsworth and the summit of
fame. Although it perhaps may be allowed, that Milton is
the only poet who exceeds Wordsworth in devotional sub-
limity ; yet, when we consider the universal excellence of
the former in all that he has attempted — when we look
upon him as the author of our great epic — it never
can be conceded, that posterity will assign the latter a sta-
tion beside him.

On the other hand, the variety of subjects, which
Wordsworth has touched ; the varied powers which he has
displayed; the passages of redeeming beauty interspersed



WORDSWORTH. 327

even amongst the worst and the dullest of his productions ;
the originality of detached thoughts scattered tliroughout
works, to which, on the whole, wc must deny the praise
of originality ; the deep pathos, and occasional grandeur of
his lyre; the real poetical feeling which generally runs
through its many modulations ; his accurate observation of
external nature ; and the success with which he blends the
purest and most devotional thoughts with the glories of the
visible universe — all these arc merits, which so far " make
up in number what they want in weight," that, although
insufficient to raise him to the shrine, they fairly admit
him within the sacred temple of poesy. While Shakspeare
is pinnacled at almost an invisible height, " sole-sitting"
where others " dare not soar ;" while Milton, Spenser,
Thomson, and Collins, " aye sing around the cloudy
throne ;" Wordsworth may join the numerous and radiant
band, who occupy the less daring heights of Parnassus,
rifle its caves of " mildly-gleaming ore," arrange its
flowers and turf into gardens of artificial beauty ; or, as
our poet, "snatch a grace beyond the reach of art" from
the rocks and waterfalls that grace its wilder recesses.



POETRY OF THE PRESENT DAY.

(Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1830.)



The age in which wc live has been fruitful of poetical
works ; we may venture to say, that it has been fruitful
of poets. Thei'e has been no period, we believe, of our
literature, since the age of Elizabeth, that has been marked
by such an overflow of poetry. For although, through
the whole of the intervening time, we may observe that the
vein of poetry has been prevalent in the English nation, (we
do not now speak of our own before that incorporation of
the literature of the two countries, which the last half
century has witnessed,) allhough, on looking back, we
recognise at every step familiar and honourable, and some
illustrious names of the English Parnassus, yet we find at
no time so many together of high distinction. And least
of all do we find any number at one time ; we find,
indeed, few altogether to whom the language of verse is
the language of imagination and passion. At no other
period was the whole literature of the land tinged, colour-
ed, and vivified with poetry. It will be matter of curious
speculation to those who shall write the later history of
English literature, to trace out the causes, while they
mark the periods of the different appearances which our
])oetry has put on ; and to explain how a people, adapted
in their character for poetry, and at all times loving it in
all its shapes, should have departed frequently so far from
its genuine character, and from its impassioned spirit. In
Milton, the power of poetry seemed to expire; not merely
because no voice like his was heard, when his own voice
had ceased ; but because the very purposes of poetry seemed
changed ; and the demesnes of verse to be subjected to



POETRY OF THE PRESENT DAY. 329

Other faculties and the sceptre passed into unlineal hands,
Milton, like his great predecessors, drew his poetry from
the depths of his own spirit brooding over nature and
hinnan life. But for the race that succeeded, it seemed as
if a veil had fallen between nature and the poets eyes ; as
if that world, which by its visible glory feeds inspiration,
had, like the city of Ad, been wrapped in darkness from
the eyes of men, and they had known of it only in sur-
viving traditions. Excepting Thomson alone, who is there
among our poets, in the space between that race which
died in Milton, and the age of poetry which has since
sprung up almost with our own generation — who among
them is there that seems to stand beholding the world of
nature and of man, and chanting to men the voice of his
visions, a strain that, like a bright reflection of lovely
imagery, discloses to the minds of others the impressions
that fall beautiful and numberless on his own? Even
Collins, pure, sweet, and ethereal — though his song in its
rapture commerces with the skies, and though a wild and
melancholy beauty from his own spirit passes upon all the
forms of nature and of life that he touches — though there
might seem to be, therefore, a perfect inspiration in his
poetry, yet does he not rather give to nature than receive
from her? Does he speak under the strong constraint



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