Biographia Literaria
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Part 5 out of 8

To supple hardnesses. But at the length
Out of the caldron getting, soon I fled
Unto my house, where to repair the strength
Which I had lost, I hasted to my bed:
But when I thought to sleep out all these faults,
(I sigh to speak)
I found that some had stuff'd the bed with thoughts,
I would say thorns. Dear, could my heart not break,
When with my pleasures ev'n my rest was gone?
Full well I understood who had been there:
For I had given the key to none but one:
It must be he. "Your heart was dull, I fear."
Indeed a slack and sleepy state of mind
Did oft possess me; so that when I pray'd,
Though my lips went, my heart did stay behind.
But all my scores were by another paid,
Who took my guilt upon him. "Truly, Friend,
"For aught I hear, your Master shews to you
"More favour than you wot of. Mark the end.
"The font did only what was old renew
"The caldron suppled what was grown too hard:
"The thorns did quicken what was grown too dull:
"All did but strive to mend what you had marr'd.
"Wherefore be cheer'd, and praise him to the full
"Each day, each hour, each moment of the week
"Who fain would have you be new, tender quick."


The former subject continued--The neutral style, or that common to
Prose and Poetry, exemplified by specimens from Chaucer, Herbert, and

I have no fear in declaring my conviction, that the excellence defined
and exemplified in the preceding chapter is not the characteristic
excellence of Mr. Wordsworth's style; because I can add with equal
sincerity, that it is precluded by higher powers. The praise of
uniform adherence to genuine, logical English is undoubtedly his; nay,
laying the main emphasis on the word uniform, I will dare add that, of
all contemporary poets, it is his alone. For, in a less absolute sense
of the word, I should certainly include Mr. Bowies, Lord Byron, and,
as to all his later writings, Mr. Southey, the exceptions in their
works being so few and unimportant. But of the specific excellence
described in the quotation from Garve, I appear to find more, and more
undoubted specimens in the works of others; for instance, among the
minor poems of Mr. Thomas Moore, and of our illustrious Laureate. To
me it will always remain a singular and noticeable fact; that a
theory, which would establish this lingua communis, not only as the
best, but as the only commendable style, should have proceeded from a
poet, whose diction, next to that of Shakespeare and Milton, appears
to me of all others the most individualized and characteristic. And
let it be remembered too, that I am now interpreting the controverted
passages of Mr. Wordsworth's critical preface by the purpose and
object, which he may be supposed to have intended, rather than by the
sense which the words themselves must convey, if they are taken
without this allowance.

A person of any taste, who had but studied three or four of
Shakespeare's principal plays, would without the name affixed scarcely
fail to recognise as Shakespeare's a quotation from any other play,
though but of a few lines. A similar peculiarity, though in a less
degree, attends Mr. Wordsworth's style, whenever he speaks in his own
person; or whenever, though under a feigned name, it is clear that he
himself is still speaking, as in the different dramatis personae of
THE RECLUSE. Even in the other poems, in which he purposes to be most
dramatic, there are few in which it does not occasionally burst forth.
The reader might often address the poet in his own words with
reference to the persons introduced:

"It seems, as I retrace the ballad line by line
That but half of it is theirs, and the better half is thine."

Who, having been previously acquainted with any considerable portion
of Mr. Wordsworth's publications, and having studied them with a full
feeling of the author's genius, would not at once claim as
Wordsworthian the little poem on the rainbow?

"The Child is father of the Man, etc."

Or in the LUCY GRAY?

"No mate, no comrade Lucy knew;
She dwelt on a wide moor;
The sweetest thing that ever grew
Beside a human door."


"Along the river's stony marge
The sand-lark chants a joyous song;
The thrush is busy in the wood,
And carols loud and strong.
A thousand lambs are on the rocks,
All newly born! both earth and sky
Keep jubilee, and more than all,
Those boys with their green coronal;
They never hear the cry,
That plaintive cry! which up the hill
Comes from the depth of Dungeon-Ghyll."

Need I mention the exquisite description of the Sea-Loch in THE BLIND
HIGHLAND BOY. Who but a poet tells a tale in such language to the
little ones by the fire-side as--

"Yet had he many a restless dream;
Both when he heard the eagle's scream,
And when he heard the torrents roar,
And heard the water beat the shore
Near where their cottage stood.

Beside a lake their cottage stood,
Not small like our's, a peaceful flood;
But one of mighty size, and strange;
That, rough or smooth, is full of change,
And stirring in its bed.

For to this lake, by night and day,
The great Sea-water finds its way
Through long, long windings of the hills,
And drinks up all the pretty rills
And rivers large and strong:

Then hurries back the road it came
Returns on errand still the same;
This did it when the earth was new;
And this for evermore will do,
As long as earth shall last.

And, with the coming of the tide,
Come boats and ships that sweetly ride,
Between the woods and lofty rocks;
And to the shepherds with their flocks
Bring tales of distant lands."

I might quote almost the whole of his RUTH, but take the following

But, as you have before been told,
This Stripling, sportive, gay, and bold,
And, with his dancing crest,
So beautiful, through savage lands
Had roamed about with vagrant bands
Of Indians in the West.

The wind, the tempest roaring high,
The tumult of a tropic sky,
Might well be dangerous food
For him, a Youth to whom was given
So much of earth--so much of heaven,
And such impetuous blood.

Whatever in those climes he found
Irregular in sight or sound
Did to his mind impart
A kindred impulse, seemed allied
To his own powers, and justified
The workings of his heart.

Nor less, to feed voluptuous thought,
The beauteous forms of nature wrought,
Fair trees and lovely flowers;
The breezes their own languor lent;
The stars had feelings, which they sent
Into those magic bowers.

Yet in his worst pursuits, I ween,
That sometimes there did intervene
Pure hopes of high intent
For passions linked to forms so fair
And stately, needs must have their share
Of noble sentiment."

But from Mr. Wordsworth's more elevated compositions, which already
form three-fourths of his works; and will, I trust, constitute
hereafter a still larger proportion;--from these, whether in rhyme or
blank verse, it would be difficult and almost superfluous to select
instances of a diction peculiarly his own, of a style which cannot be
imitated without its being at once recognised, as originating in Mr.
Wordsworth. It would not be easy to open on any one of his loftier
strains, that does not contain examples of this; and more in
proportion as the lines are more excellent, and most like the author.
For those, who may happen to have been less familiar with his
writings, I will give three specimens taken with little choice. The
first from the lines on the BOY OF WINANDER-MERE,--who

"Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls,
That they might answer him.--And they would shout
Across the watery vale, and shout again,
With long halloos, and screams, and echoes loud
Redoubled and redoubled; concourse wild
Of mirth and jocund din! And when it chanced,
That pauses of deep silence mocked his skill,
Then sometimes in that silence, while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise
Has carried far into his heart the voice
Of mountain-torrents; or the visible scene [73]
Would enter unawares into his mind
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and that uncertain heaven, received
Into the bosom of the steady lake."

The second shall be that noble imitation of Drayton [74] (if it was
not rather a coincidence) in the lines TO JOANNA.

--"When I had gazed perhaps two minutes' space,
Joanna, looking in my eyes, beheld
That ravishment of mine, and laughed aloud.
The Rock, like something starting from a sleep,
Took up the Lady's voice, and laughed again!
That ancient woman seated on Helm-crag
Was ready with her cavern; Hammar-scar
And the tall Steep of Silver-How sent forth
A noise of laughter; southern Lougbrigg heard,
And Fairfield answered with a mountain tone.
Helvellyn far into the clear blue sky
Carried the lady's voice!--old Skiddaw blew
His speaking trumpet!--back out of the clouds
From Glaramara southward came the voice:
And Kirkstone tossed it from its misty head!"

The third, which is in rhyme, I take from the SONG AT THE FEAST OF
BROUGHAM CASTLE, upon the restoration of Lord Clifford, the Shepherd,
to the Estates and Honours of his Ancestors.

------"Now another day is come,
Fitter hope, and nobler doom;
He hath thrown aside his crook,
And hath buried deep his book;
Armour rusting in his halls
On the blood of Clifford calls,--
'Quell the Scot,' exclaims the Lance!
Bear me to the heart of France,
Is the longing of the Shield--
Tell thy name, thou trembling Field!--
Field of death, where'er thou be,
Groan thou with our victory!
Happy day, and mighty hour,
When our Shepherd, in his power,
Mailed and horsed, with lance and sword,
To his ancestors restored,
Like a re-appearing Star,
Like a glory from afar,
First shall head the flock of war!"

"Alas! the fervent harper did not know,
That for a tranquil Soul the Lay was framed,
Who, long compelled in humble walks to go,
Was softened into feeling, soothed, and tamed.

Love had he found in huts where poor men lie;
His daily teachers had been woods and rills,
The silence that is in the starry sky,
The sleep that is among the lonely hills."

The words themselves in the foregoing extracts, are, no doubt,
sufficiently common for the greater part.--But in what poem are they
not so, if we except a few misadventurous attempts to translate the
arts and sciences into verse? In THE EXCURSION the number of
polysyllabic (or what the common people call, dictionary) words is
more than usually great. And so must it needs be, in proportion to the
number and variety of an author's conceptions, and his solicitude to
express them with precision.--But are those words in those places
commonly employed in real life to express the same thought or outward
thing? Are they the style used in the ordinary intercourse of spoken
words? No! nor are the modes of connections; and still less the breaks
and transitions. Would any but a poet--at least could any one without
being conscious that he had expressed himself with noticeable
vivacity--have described a bird singing loud by, "The thrush is busy
in the wood?"--or have spoken of boys with a string of club-moss round
their rusty hats, as the boys "with their green coronal?"--or have
translated a beautiful May-day into "Both earth and sky keep jubilee!"
--or have brought all the different marks and circumstances of a
sealoch before the mind, as the actions of a living and acting power?
Or have represented the reflection of the sky in the water, as "That
uncertain heaven received into the bosom of the steady lake?" Even the
grammatical construction is not unfrequently peculiar; as "The wind,
the tempest roaring high, the tumult of a tropic sky, might well be
dangerous food to him, a youth to whom was given, etc." There is a
peculiarity in the frequent use of the asymartaeton (that is, the
omission of the connective particle before the last of several words,
or several sentences used grammatically as single words, all being in
the same case and governing or governed by the same verb) and not less
in the construction of words by apposition ("to him, a youth"). In
short, were there excluded from Mr. Wordsworth's poetic compositions
all, that a literal adherence to the theory of his preface would
exclude, two thirds at least of the marked beauties of his poetry must
be erased. For a far greater number of lines would be sacrificed than
in any other recent poet; because the pleasure received from
Wordsworth's poems being less derived either from excitement of
curiosity or the rapid flow of narration, the striking passages form a
larger proportion of their value. I do not adduce it as a fair
criterion of comparative excellence, nor do I even think it such; but
merely as matter of fact. I affirm, that from no contemporary writer
could so many lines be quoted, without reference to the poem in which
they are found, for their own independent weight or beauty. From the
sphere of my own experience I can bring to my recollection three
persons of no every-day powers and acquirements, who had read the
poems of others with more and more unallayed pleasure, and had thought
more highly of their authors, as poets; who yet have confessed to me,
that from no modern work had so many passages started up anew in their
minds at different times, and as different occasions had awakened a
meditative mood.


Remarks on the present mode of conducting critical journals.

Long have I wished to see a fair and philosophical inquisition into
the character of Wordsworth, as a poet, on the evidence of his
published works; and a positive, not a comparative, appreciation of
their characteristic excellencies, deficiencies, and defects. I know
no claim that the mere opinion of any individual can have to weigh
down the opinion of the author himself; against the probability of
whose parental partiality we ought to set that of his having thought
longer and more deeply on the subject. But I should call that
investigation fair and philosophical in which the critic announces and
endeavours to establish the principles, which he holds for the
foundation of poetry in general, with the specification of these in
their application to the different classes of poetry. Having thus
prepared his canons of criticism for praise and condemnation, he would
proceed to particularize the most striking passages to which he deems
them applicable, faithfully noticing the frequent or infrequent
recurrence of similar merits or defects, and as faithfully
distinguishing what is characteristic from what is accidental, or a
mere flagging of the wing. Then if his premises be rational, his
deductions legitimate, and his conclusions justly applied, the reader,
and possibly the poet himself, may adopt his judgment in the light of
judgment and in the independence of free-agency. If he has erred, he
presents his errors in a definite place and tangible form, and holds
the torch and guides the way to their detection.

I most willingly admit, and estimate at a high value, the services
which the EDINBURGH REVIEW, and others formed afterwards on the same
plan, have rendered to society in the diffusion of knowledge. I think
the commencement of the EDINBURGH REVIEW an important epoch in
periodical criticism; and that it has a claim upon the gratitude of
the literary republic, and indeed of the reading public at large, for
having originated the scheme of reviewing those books only, which are
susceptible and deserving of argumentative criticism. Not less
meritorious, and far more faithfully and in general far more ably
executed, is their plan of supplying the vacant place of the trash or
mediocrity, wisely left to sink into oblivion by its own weight, with
original essays on the most interesting subjects of the time,
religious, or political; in which the titles of the books or pamphlets
prefixed furnish only the name and occasion of the disquisition. I do
not arraign the keenness, or asperity of its damnatory style, in and
for itself, as long as the author is addressed or treated as the mere
impersonation of the work then under trial. I have no quarrel with
them on this account, as long as no personal allusions are admitted,
and no re-commitment (for new trial) of juvenile performances, that
were published, perhaps forgotten, many years before the commencement
of the review: since for the forcing back of such works to public
notice no motives are easily assignable, but such as are furnished to
the critic by his own personal malignity; or what is still worse, by a
habit of malignity in the form of mere wantonness.

"No private grudge they need, no personal spite
The viva sectio is its own delight!
All enmity, all envy, they disclaim,
Disinterested thieves of our good name:
Cool, sober murderers of their neighbour's fame!"
S. T. C.

Every censure, every sarcasm respecting a publication which the
critic, with the criticised work before him, can make good, is the
critic's right. The writer is authorized to reply, but not to
complain. Neither can anyone prescribe to the critic, how soft or how
hard; how friendly, or how bitter, shall be the phrases which he is to
select for the expression of such reprehension or ridicule. The critic
must know, what effect it is his object to produce; and with a view to
this effect must he weigh his words. But as soon as the critic
betrays, that he knows more of his author, than the author's
publications could have told him; as soon as from this more intimate
knowledge, elsewhere obtained, he avails himself of the slightest
trait against the author; his censure instantly becomes personal
injury, his sarcasms personal insults. He ceases to be a critic, and
takes on him the most contemptible character to which a rational
creature can be degraded, that of a gossip, backbiter, and
pasquillant: but with this heavy aggravation, that he steals the
unquiet, the deforming passions of the world into the museum; into the
very place which, next to the chapel and oratory, should be our
sanctuary, and secure place of refuge; offers abominations on the
altar of the Muses; and makes its sacred paling the very circle in
which he conjures up the lying and profane spirit.

This determination of unlicensed personality, and of permitted and
legitimate censure, (which I owe in part to the illustrious Lessing,
himself a model of acute, spirited, sometimes stinging, but always
argumentative and honourable, criticism) is beyond controversy the
true one: and though I would not myself exercise all the rights of the
latter, yet, let but the former be excluded, I submit myself to its
exercise in the hands of others, without complaint and without

Let a communication be formed between any number of learned men in the
various branches of science and literature; and whether the president
and central committee be in London, or Edinburgh, if only they
previously lay aside their individuality, and pledge themselves
inwardly, as well as ostensibly, to administer judgment according to a
constitution and code of laws; and if by grounding this code on the
two-fold basis of universal morals and philosophic reason, independent
of all foreseen application to particular works and authors, they
obtain the right to speak each as the representative of their body
corporate; they shall have honour and good wishes from me, and I shall
accord to them their fair dignities, though self-assumed, not less
cheerfully than if I could inquire concerning them in the herald's
office, or turn to them in the book of peerage. However loud may be
the outcries for prevented or subverted reputation, however numerous
and impatient the complaints of merciless severity and insupportable
despotism, I shall neither feel, nor utter aught but to the defence
and justification of the critical machine. Should any literary Quixote
find himself provoked by its sounds and regular movements, I should
admonish him with Sancho Panza, that it is no giant but a windmill;
there it stands on its own place, and its own hillock, never goes out
of its way to attack anyone, and to none and from none either gives or
asks assistance. When the public press has poured in any part of its
produce between its mill-stones, it grinds it off, one man's sack the
same as another, and with whatever wind may happen to be then blowing.
All the two-and-thirty winds are alike its friends. Of the whole wide
atmosphere it does not desire a single finger-breadth more than what
is necessary for its sails to turn round in. But this space must be
left free and unimpeded. Gnats, beetles, wasps, butterflies, and the
whole tribe of ephemerals and insignificants, may flit in and out and
between; may hum, and buzz, and jar; may shrill their tiny pipes, and
wind their puny horns, unchastised and unnoticed. But idlers and
bravadoes of larger size and prouder show must beware, how they place
themselves within its sweep. Much less may they presume to lay hands
on the sails, the strength of which is neither greater nor less than
as the wind is, which drives them round. Whomsoever the remorseless
arm slings aloft, or whirls along with it in the air, he has himself
alone to blame; though, when the same arm throws him from it, it will
more often double than break the force of his fall.

Putting aside the too manifest and too frequent interference of
national party, and even personal predilection or aversion; and
reserving for deeper feelings those worse and more criminal intrusions
into the sacredness of private life, which not seldom merit legal
rather than literary chastisement, the two principal objects and
occasions which I find for blame and regret in the conduct of the
review in question are first, its unfaithfulness to its own announced
and excellent plan, by subjecting to criticism works neither indecent
nor immoral, yet of such trifling importance even in point of size
and, according to the critic's own verdict, so devoid of all merit, as
must excite in the most candid mind the suspicion, either that dislike
or vindictive feelings were at work; or that there was a cold
prudential pre-determination to increase the sale of the review by
flattering the malignant passions of human nature. That I may not
myself become subject to the charge, which I am bringing against
others, by an accusation without proof, I refer to the article on Dr.
Rennell's sermon in the very first number of the EDINBURGH REVIEW as
an illustration of my meaning. If in looking through all the
succeeding volumes the reader should find this a solitary instance, I
must submit to that painful forfeiture of esteem, which awaits a
groundless or exaggerated charge.

The second point of objection belongs to this review only in common
with all other works of periodical criticism: at least, it applies in
common to the general system of all, whatever exception there may be
in favour of particular articles. Or if it attaches to THE EDINBURGH
REVIEW, and to its only corrival (THE QUARTERLY), with any peculiar
force, this results from the superiority of talent, acquirement, and
information which both have so undeniably displayed; and which
doubtless deepens the regret though not the blame. I am referring to
the substitution of assertion for argument; to the frequency of
arbitrary and sometimes petulant verdicts, not seldom unsupported even
by a single quotation from the work condemned, which might at least
have explained the critic's meaning, if it did not prove the justice
of his sentence. Even where this is not the case, the extracts are too
often made without reference to any general grounds or rules from
which the faultiness or inadmissibility of the qualities attributed
may be deduced; and without any attempt to show, that the qualities
are attributable to the passage extracted. I have met with such
extracts from Mr. Wordsworth's poems, annexed to such assertions, as
led me to imagine, that the reviewer, having written his critique
before he had read the work, had then pricked with a pin for passages,
wherewith to illustrate the various branches of his preconceived
opinions. By what principle of rational choice can we suppose a critic
to have been directed (at least in a Christian country, and himself,
we hope, a Christian) who gives the following lines, portraying the
fervour of solitary devotion excited by the magnificent display of the
Almighty's works, as a proof and example of an author's tendency to
downright ravings, and absolute unintelligibility?

"O then what soul was his, when on the tops
Of the high mountains he beheld the sun
Rise up, and bathe the world in light! He looked--
Ocean and earth, the solid frame of earth,
And ocean's liquid mass, beneath him lay
In gladness and deep joy. The clouds were touched,
And in their silent faces did he read
Unutterable love. Sound needed none,
Nor any voice of joy: his spirit drank
The spectacle! sensation, soul, and form,
All melted into him; they swallowed up
His animal being; in them did he live,
And by them did he live: they were his life."

Can it be expected, that either the author or his admirers, should be
induced to pay any serious attention to decisions which prove nothing
but the pitiable state of the critic's own taste and sensibility? On
opening the review they see a favourite passage, of the force and
truth of which they had an intuitive certainty in their own inward
experience confirmed, if confirmation it could receive, by the
sympathy of their most enlightened friends; some of whom perhaps, even
in the world's opinion, hold a higher intellectual rank than the
critic himself would presume to claim. And this very passage they find
selected, as the characteristic effusion of a mind deserted by
reason!--as furnishing evidence that the writer was raving, or he
could not have thus strung words together without sense or purpose! No
diversity of taste seems capable of explaining such a contrast in

That I had over-rated the merit of a passage or poem, that I had erred
concerning the degree of its excellence, I might be easily induced to
believe or apprehend. But that lines, the sense of which I had
analysed and found consonant with all the best convictions of my
understanding; and the imagery and diction of which had collected
round those convictions my noblest as well as my most delightful
feelings; that I should admit such lines to be mere nonsense or
lunacy, is too much for the most ingenious arguments to effect. But
that such a revolution of taste should be brought about by a few broad
assertions, seems little less than impossible. On the contrary, it
would require an effort of charity not to dismiss the criticism with
the aphorism of the wise man, in animam malevolam sapientia haud
intrare potest.

What then if this very critic should have cited a large number of
single lines and even of long paragraphs, which he himself
acknowledges to possess eminent and original beauty? What if he
himself has owned, that beauties as great are scattered in abundance
throughout the whole book? And yet, though under this impression,
should have commenced his critique in vulgar exultation with a
prophecy meant to secure its own fulfilment? With a "This won't do!"
What? if after such acknowledgments extorted from his own judgment he
should proceed from charge to charge of tameness and raving; flights
and flatness; and at length, consigning the author to the house of
incurables, should conclude with a strain of rudest contempt evidently
grounded in the distempered state of his own moral associations?
Suppose too all this done without a single leading principle
established or even announced, and without any one attempt at
argumentative deduction, though the poet had presented a more than
usual opportunity for it, by having previously made public his own
principles of judgment in poetry, and supported them by a connected
train of reasoning!

The office and duty of the poet is to select the most dignified as
well as

"The gayest, happiest attitude of things."

The reverse, for in all cases a reverse is possible, is the
appropriate business of burlesque and travesty, a predominant taste
for which has been always deemed a mark of a low and degraded mind.
When I was at Rome, among many other visits to the tomb of Julius II.
I went thither once with a Prussian artist, a man of genius and great
vivacity of feeling. As we were gazing on Michael Angelo's MOSES, our
conversation turned on the horns and beard of that stupendous statue;
of the necessity of each to support the other; of the super-human
effect of the former, and the necessity of the existence of both to
give a harmony and integrity both to the image and the feeling excited
by it. Conceive them removed, and the statue would become un-natural,
without being super-natural. We called to mind the horns of the rising
sun, and I repeated the noble passage from Taylor's HOLY DYING. That
horns were the emblem of power and sovereignty among the Eastern
nations, and are still retained as such in Abyssinia; the Achelous of
the ancient Greeks; and the probable ideas and feelings, that
originally suggested the mixture of the human and the brute form in
the figure, by which they realized the idea of their mysterious Pan,
as representing intelligence blended with a darker power, deeper,
mightier, and more universal than the conscious intellect of man; than
intelligence;--all these thoughts and recollections passed in
procession before our minds. My companion who possessed more than his
share of the hatred, which his countrymen bore to the French, had just
observed to me, "a Frenchman, Sir! is the only animal in the human
shape, that by no possibility can lift itself up to religion or
poetry:" when, lo! two French officers of distinction and rank entered
the church! "Mark you," whispered the Prussian, "the first thing which
those scoundrels will notice--(for they will begin by instantly
noticing the statue in parts, without one moment's pause of admiration
impressed by the whole)--will be the horns and the beard. And the
associations, which they will immediately connect with them will be
those of a he-goat and a cuckold." Never did man guess more luckily.
Had he inherited a portion of the great legislator's prophetic powers,
whose statue we had been contemplating, he could scarcely have uttered
words more coincident with the result: for even as he had said, so it
came to pass.

In THE EXCURSION the poet has introduced an old man, born in humble
but not abject circumstances, who had enjoyed more than usual
advantages of education, both from books and from the more awful
discipline of nature. This person he represents, as having been driven
by the restlessness of fervid feelings, and from a craving intellect
to an itinerant life; and as having in consequence passed the larger
portion of his time, from earliest manhood, in villages and hamlets
from door to door,

"A vagrant Merchant bent beneath his load."

Now whether this be a character appropriate to a lofty didactick poem,
is perhaps questionable. It presents a fair subject for controversy;
and the question is to be determined by the congruity or incongruity
of such a character with what shall be proved to be the essential
constituents of poetry. But surely the critic who, passing by all the
opportunities which such a mode of life would present to such a man;
all the advantages of the liberty of nature, of solitude, and of
solitary thought; all the varieties of places and seasons, through
which his track had lain, with all the varying imagery they bring with
them; and lastly, all the observations of men,

"Their manners, their enjoyments, and pursuits,
Their passions and their feelings="

which the memory of these yearly journeys must have given and recalled
to such a mind--the critic, I say, who from the multitude of possible
associations should pass by all these in order to fix his attention
exclusively on the pin-papers, and stay-tapes, which might have been
among the wares of his pack; this critic, in my opinion, cannot be
thought to possess a much higher or much healthier state of moral
feeling, than the Frenchmen above recorded.


The characteristic defects of Wordsworth's poetry, with the principles
from which the judgment, that they are defects, is deduced--Their
proportion to the beauties--For the greatest part characteristic of
his theory only.

If Mr. Wordsworth have set forth principles of poetry which his
arguments are insufficient to support, let him and those who have
adopted his sentiments be set right by the confutation of those
arguments, and by the substitution of more philosophical principles.
And still let the due credit be given to the portion and importance of
the truths, which are blended with his theory; truths, the too
exclusive attention to which had occasioned its errors, by tempting
him to carry those truths beyond their proper limits. If his mistaken
theory have at all influenced his poetic compositions, let the effects
be pointed out, and the instances given. But let it likewise be shown,
how far the influence has acted; whether diffusively, or only by
starts; whether the number and importance of the poems and passages
thus infected be great or trifling compared with the sound portion;
and lastly, whether they are inwoven into the texture of his works, or
are loose and separable. The result of such a trial would evince
beyond a doubt, what it is high time to announce decisively and aloud,
that the supposed characteristics of Mr. Wordsworth's poetry, whether
admired or reprobated; whether they are simplicity or simpleness;
faithful adherence to essential nature, or wilful selections from
human nature of its meanest forms and under the least attractive
associations; are as little the real characteristics of his poetry at
large, as of his genius and the constitution of his mind.

In a comparatively small number of poems he chose to try an
experiment; and this experiment we will suppose to have failed. Yet
even in these poems it is impossible not to perceive that the natural
tendency of the poet's mind is to great objects and elevated
conceptions. The poem entitled FIDELITY is for the greater part
written in language, as unraised and naked as any perhaps in the two
volumes. Yet take the following stanza and compare it with the
preceding stanzas of the same poem.

"There sometimes doth a leaping fish
Send through the tarn a lonely cheer;
The crags repeat the raven's croak,
In symphony austere;
Thither the rainbow comes--the cloud--
And mists that spread the flying shroud;
And sun-beams; and the sounding blast,
That, if it could, would hurry past;
But that enormous barrier holds it fast."

Or compare the four last lines of the concluding stanza with the
former half.

"Yes, proof was plain that, since the day
On which the Traveller thus had died,
The Dog had watched about the spot,
Or by his Master's side:
How nourish'd here through such long time
He knows, who gave that love sublime,--
And gave that strength of feeling, great
Above all human estimate!"

Can any candid and intelligent mind hesitate in determining, which of
these best represents the tendency and native character of the poet's
genius? Will he not decide that the one was written because the poet
would so write, and the other because he could not so entirely repress
the force and grandeur of his mind, but that he must in some part or
other of every composition write otherwise? In short, that his only
disease is the being out of his element; like the swan, that, having
amused himself, for a while, with crushing the weeds on the river's
bank, soon returns to his own majestic movements on its reflecting and
sustaining surface. Let it be observed that I am here supposing the
imagined judge, to whom I appeal, to have already decided against the
poet's theory, as far as it is different from the principles of the
art, generally acknowledged.

I cannot here enter into a detailed examination of Mr. Wordsworth's
works; but I will attempt to give the main results of my own judgment,
after an acquaintance of many years, and repeated perusals. And
though, to appreciate the defects of a great mind it is necessary to
understand previously its characteristic excellences, yet I have
already expressed myself with sufficient fulness, to preclude most of
the ill effects that might arise from my pursuing a contrary
arrangement. I will therefore commence with what I deem the prominent
defects of his poems hitherto published.

The first characteristic, though only occasional defect, which I
appear to myself to find in these poems is the inconstancy of the
style. Under this name I refer to the sudden and unprepared
transitions from lines or sentences of peculiar felicity--(at all
events striking and original)--to a style, not only unimpassioned but
undistinguished. He sinks too often and too abruptly to that style,
which I should place in the second division of language, dividing it
into the three species; first, that which is peculiar to poetry;
second, that which is only proper in prose; and third, the neutral or
common to both. There have been works, such as Cowley's Essay on
Cromwell, in which prose and verse are intermixed (not as in the
Consolation of Boetius, or the ARGENIS of Barclay, by the insertion of
poems supposed to have been spoken or composed on occasions previously
related in prose, but) the poet passing from one to the other, as the
nature of the thoughts or his own feelings dictated. Yet this mode of
composition does not satisfy a cultivated taste. There is something
unpleasant in the being thus obliged to alternate states of feeling so
dissimilar, and this too in a species of writing, the pleasure from
which is in part derived from the preparation and previous expectation
of the reader. A portion of that awkwardness is felt which hangs upon
the introduction of songs in our modern comic operas; and to prevent
which the judicious Metastasio (as to whose exquisite taste there can
be no hesitation, whatever doubts may be entertained as to his poetic
genius) uniformly placed the aria at the end of the scene, at the same
time that he almost always raises and impassions the style of the
recitative immediately preceding. Even in real life, the difference is
great and evident between words used as the arbitrary marks of
thought, our smooth market-coin of intercourse, with the image and
superscription worn out by currency; and those which convey pictures
either borrowed from one outward object to enliven and particularize
some other; or used allegorically to body forth the inward state of
the person speaking; or such as are at least the exponents of his
peculiar turn and unusual extent of faculty. So much so indeed, that
in the social circles of private life we often find a striking use of
the latter put a stop to the general flow of conversation, and by the
excitement arising from concentred attention produce a sort of damp
and interruption for some minutes after. But in the perusal of works
of literary art, we prepare ourselves for such language; and the
business of the writer, like that of a painter whose subject requires
unusual splendour and prominence, is so to raise the lower and neutral
tints, that what in a different style would be the commanding colours,
are here used as the means of that gentle degradation requisite in
order to produce the effect of a whole. Where this is not achieved in
a poem, the metre merely reminds the reader of his claims in order to
disappoint them; and where this defect occurs frequently, his feelings
are alternately startled by anticlimax and hyperclimax.

I refer the reader to the exquisite stanzas cited for another purpose
from THE BLIND HIGHLAND BOY; and then annex, as being in my opinion
instances of this disharmony in style, the two following:

"And one, the rarest, was a shell,
Which he, poor child, had studied well:
The shell of a green turtle, thin
And hollow;--you might sit therein,
It was so wide, and deep."

"Our Highland Boy oft visited
The house which held this prize; and, led
By choice or chance, did thither come
One day, when no one was at home,
And found the door unbarred."

Or page 172, vol. I.

"'Tis gone forgotten, let me do
My best. There was a smile or two--
I can remember them, I see
The smiles worth all the world to me.
Dear Baby! I must lay thee down:
Thou troublest me with strange alarms;
Smiles hast thou, sweet ones of thine own;
I cannot keep thee in my arms;
For they confound me: as it is,
I have forgot those smiles of his!"

Or page 269, vol. I.

"Thou hast a nest, for thy love and thy rest
And though little troubled with sloth
Drunken lark! thou would'st be loth
To be such a traveller as I.
Happy, happy liver!
_With a soul as strong as a mountain river
Pouring out praise to th' Almighty giver,_
Joy and jollity be with us both!
Hearing thee or else some other,
As merry a brother
I on the earth will go plodding on
By myself cheerfully till the day is done."

The incongruity, which I appear to find in this passage, is that of
the two noble lines in italics with the preceding and following. So
vol. II. page 30.

"Close by a Pond, upon the further side,
He stood alone; a minute's space I guess,
I watch'd him, he continuing motionless
To the Pool's further margin then I drew;
He being all the while before me full in view."

Compare this with the repetition of the same image, the next stanza
but two.

"And, still as I drew near with gentle pace,
Beside the little pond or moorish flood
Motionless as a Cloud the Old Man stood,
That heareth not the loud winds when they call;
And moveth altogether, if it move at all."

Or lastly, the second of the three following stanzas, compared both
with the first and the third.

"My former thoughts returned; the fear that kills;
And hope that is unwilling to be fed;
Cold, pain, and labour, and all fleshly ills;
And mighty Poets in their misery dead.
But now, perplex'd by what the Old Man had said,
My question eagerly did I renew,
'How is it that you live, and what is it you do?'

"He with a smile did then his words repeat;
And said, that gathering Leeches far and wide
He travell'd; stirring thus about his feet
The waters of the Ponds where they abide.
`Once I could meet with them on every side;
'But they have dwindled long by slow decay;
'Yet still I persevere, and find them where I may.'

While he was talking thus, the lonely place,
The Old Man's shape, and speech, all troubled me
In my mind's eye I seemed to see him pace
About the weary moors continually,
Wandering about alone and silently."

Indeed this fine poem is especially characteristic of the author.
There is scarce a defect or excellence in his writings of which it
would not present a specimen. But it would be unjust not to repeat
that this defect is only occasional. From a careful reperusal of the
two volumes of poems, I doubt whether the objectionable passages would
amount in the whole to one hundred lines; not the eighth part of the
number of pages. In THE EXCURSION the feeling of incongruity is seldom
excited by the diction of any passage considered in itself, but by the
sudden superiority of some other passage forming the context.

The second defect I can generalize with tolerable accuracy, if the
reader will pardon an uncouth and new-coined word. There is, I should
say, not seldom a matter-of-factness in certain poems. This may be
divided into, first, a laborious minuteness and fidelity in the
representation of objects, and their positions, as they appeared to
the poet himself; secondly, the insertion of accidental circumstances,
in order to the full explanation of his living characters, their
dispositions and actions; which circumstances might be necessary to
establish the probability of a statement in real life, where nothing
is taken for granted by the hearer; but appear superfluous in poetry,
where the reader is willing to believe for his own sake. To this
actidentality I object, as contravening the essence of poetry, which
Aristotle pronounces to be spoudaiotaton kai philosophotaton genos,
the most intense, weighty and philosophical product of human art;
adding, as the reason, that it is the most catholic and abstract. The
following passage from Davenant's prefatory letter to Hobbes well
expresses this truth. "When I considered the actions which I meant to
describe; (those inferring the persons), I was again persuaded rather
to choose those of a former age, than the present; and in a century so
far removed, as might preserve me from their improper examinations,
who know not the requisites of a poem, nor how much pleasure they
lose, (and even the pleasures of heroic poesy are not unprofitable),
who take away the liberty of a poet, and fetter his feet in the
shackles of an historian. For why should a poet doubt in story to mend
the intrigues of fortune by more delightful conveyances of probable
fictions, because austere historians have entered into bond to truth?
An obligation, which were in poets as foolish and unnecessary, as is
the bondage of false martyrs, who lie in chains for a mistaken
opinion. But by this I would imply, that truth, narrative and past, is
the idol of historians, (who worship a dead thing), and truth
operative, and by effects continually alive, is the mistress of poets,
who hath not her existence in matter, but in reason."

For this minute accuracy in the painting of local imagery, the lines
in THE EXCURSION, pp. 96, 97, and 98, may be taken, if not as a
striking instance, yet as an illustration of my meaning. It must be
some strong motive--(as, for instance, that the description was
necessary to the intelligibility of the tale)--which could induce me
to describe in a number of verses what a draughtsman could present to
the eye with incomparably greater satisfaction by half a dozen strokes
of his pencil, or the painter with as many touches of his brush. Such
descriptions too often occasion in the mind of a reader, who is
determined to understand his author, a feeling of labour, not very
dissimilar to that, with which he would construct a diagram, line by
line, for a long geometrical proposition. It seems to be like taking
the pieces of a dissected map out of its box. We first look at one
part, and then at another, then join and dove-tail them; and when the
successive acts of attention have been completed, there is a
retrogressive effort of mind to behold it as a whole. The poet should
paint to the imagination, not to the fancy; and I know no happier case
to exemplify the distinction between these two faculties. Master-
pieces of the former mode of poetic painting abound in the writings of
Milton, for example:

"The fig-tree; not that kind for fruit renown'd,
"But such as at this day, to Indians known,
"In Malabar or Decan spreads her arms
"Branching so broad and long, that in the ground
"The bended twigs take root, and daughters grow
"About the mother tree, a pillar'd shade
"High over-arch'd and ECHOING WALKS BETWEEN;
"There oft the Indian herdsman, shunning heat,
"Shelters in cool, and tends his pasturing herds
"At hoop-holes cut through thickest shade."

This is creation rather than painting, or if painting, yet such, and
with such co-presence of the whole picture flashed at once upon the
eye, as the sun paints in a camera obscura. But the poet must likewise
understand and command what Bacon calls the vestigia communia of the
senses, the latency of all in each, and more especially as by a
magical penny duplex, the excitement of vision by sound and the
exponents of sound. Thus, "The echoing walks between," may be almost
said to reverse the fable in tradition of the head of Memnon, in the
Egyptian statue. Such may be deservedly entitled the creative words in
the world of imagination.

The second division respects an apparent minute adherence to matter-
of-fact in character and Incidents; a biographical attention to
probability, and an anxiety of explanation and retrospect. Under this
head I shall deliver, with no feigned diffidence, the results of my
best reflection on the great point of controversy between Mr.
Wordsworth and his objectors; namely, on the choice of his characters.
I have already declared, and, I trust justified, my utter dissent from
the mode of argument which his critics have hitherto employed. To
their question, "Why did you choose such a character, or a character
from such a rank of life?"--the poet might in my opinion fairly
retort: why with the conception of my character did you make wilful
choice of mean or ludicrous associations not furnished by me, but
supplied from your own sickly and fastidious feelings? How was it,
indeed, probable, that such arguments could have any weight with an
author, whose plan, whose guiding principle, and main object it was to
attack and subdue that state of association, which leads us to place
the chief value on those things on which man differs from man, and to
forget or disregard the high dignities, which belong to Human Nature,
the sense and the feeling, which may be, and ought to be, found in all
ranks? The feelings with which, as Christians, we contemplate a mixed
congregation rising or kneeling before their common Maker, Mr.
Wordsworth would have us entertain at all times, as men, and as
readers; and by the excitement of this lofty, yet prideless
impartiality in poetry, he might hope to have encouraged its
continuance in real life. The praise of good men be his! In real life,
and, I trust, even in my imagination, I honour a virtuous and wise
man, without reference to the presence or absence of artificial
advantages. Whether in the person of an armed baron, a laurelled bard,
or of an old Pedlar, or still older Leech-gatherer, the same qualities
of head and heart must claim the same reverence. And even in poetry I
am not conscious, that I have ever suffered my feelings to be
disturbed or offended by any thoughts or images, which the poet
himself has not presented.

But yet I object, nevertheless, and for the following reasons. First,
because the object in view, as an immediate object, belongs to the
moral philosopher, and would be pursued, not only more appropriately,
but in my opinion with far greater probability of success, in sermons
or moral essays, than in an elevated poem. It seems, indeed, to
destroy the main fundamental distinction, not only between a poem and
prose, but even between philosophy and works of fiction, inasmuch as
it proposes truth for its immediate object, instead of pleasure. Now
till the blessed time shall come, when truth itself shall be pleasure,
and both shall be so united, as to be distinguishable in words only,
not in feeling, it will remain the poet's office to proceed upon that
state of association, which actually exists as general; instead of
attempting first to make it what it ought to be, and then to let the
pleasure follow. But here is unfortunately a small hysteron-proteron.
For the communication of pleasure is the introductory means by which
alone the poet must expect to moralize his readers. Secondly: though I
were to admit, for a moment, this argument to be groundless: yet how
is the moral effect to be produced, by merely attaching the name of
some low profession to powers which are least likely, and to qualities
which are assuredly not more likely, to be found in it? The Poet,
speaking in his own person, may at once delight and improve us by
sentiments, which teach us the independence of goodness, of wisdom,
and even of genius, on the favours of fortune. And having made a due
reverence before the throne of Antonine, he may bow with equal awe
before Epictetus among his fellow-slaves

------"and rejoice
In the plain presence of his dignity."

Who is not at once delighted and improved, when the Poet Wordsworth
himself exclaims,

"Oh! many are the Poets that are sown
By Nature; men endowed with highest gifts
The vision and the faculty divine,
Yet wanting the accomplishment of verse,
Nor having e'er, as life advanced, been led
By circumstance to take unto the height
The measure of themselves, these favoured Beings,
All but a scattered few, live out their time,
Husbanding that which they possess within,
And go to the grave, unthought of. Strongest minds
Are often those of whom the noisy world
Hears least."

To use a colloquial phrase, such sentiments, in such language, do
one's heart good; though I for my part, have not the fullest faith in
the truth of the observation. On the contrary I believe the instances
to be exceedingly rare; and should feel almost as strong an objection
to introduce such a character in a poetic fiction, as a pair of black
swans on a lake, in a fancy landscape. When I think how many, and how
much better books than Homer, or even than Herodotus, Pindar or
Aeschylus, could have read, are in the power of almost every man, in a
country where almost every man is instructed to read and write; and
how restless, how difficultly hidden, the powers of genius are; and
yet find even in situations the most favourable, according to Mr.
Wordsworth, for the formation of a pure and poetic language; in
situations which ensure familiarity with the grandest objects of the
imagination; but one Burns, among the shepherds of Scotland, and not a
single poet of humble life among those of English lakes and mountains;
I conclude, that Poetic Genius is not only a very delicate but a very
rare plant.

But be this as it may, the feelings with which,

"I think of Chatterton, the marvellous Boy,
The sleepless Soul, that perished in his pride;
Of Burns, who walk'd in glory and in joy
Behind his plough, upon the mountain-side"--

are widely different from those with which I should read a poem, where
the author, having occasion for the character of a poet and a
philosopher in the fable of his narration, had chosen to make him a
chimney-sweeper; and then, in order to remove all doubts on the
subject, had invented an account of his birth, parentage and
education, with all the strange and fortunate accidents which had
concurred in making him at once poet, philosopher, and sweep! Nothing,
but biography, can justify this. If it be admissible even in a novel,
it must be one in the manner of De Foe's, that were meant to pass for
histories, not in the manner of Fielding's: In THE LIFE OF MOLL
ANDREWS. Much less then can it be legitimately introduced in a poem,
the characters of which, amid the strongest individualization, must
still remain representative. The precepts of Horace, on this point,
are grounded on the nature both of poetry and of the human mind. They
are not more peremptory, than wise and prudent. For in the first place
a deviation from them perplexes the reader's feelings, and all the
circumstances which are feigned in order to make such accidents less
improbable, divide and disquiet his faith, rather than aid and support
it. Spite of all attempts, the fiction will appear, and unfortunately
not as fictitious but as false. The reader not only knows, that the
sentiments and language are the poet's own, and his own too in his
artificial character, as poet; but by the fruitless endeavours to make
him think the contrary, he is not even suffered to forget it. The
effect is similar to that produced by an Epic Poet, when the fable
and the characters are derived from Scripture history, as in THE
MESSIAH of Klopstock, or in CUMBERLAND'S CALVARY; and not merely
suggested by it as in the PARADISE LOST of Milton. That illusion,
contradistinguished from delusion, that negative faith, which simply
permits the images presented to work by their own force, without
either denial or affirmation of their real existence by the judgment,
is rendered impossible by their immediate neighbourhood to words and
facts of known and absolute truth. A faith, which transcends even
historic belief, must absolutely put out this mere poetic analogon of
faith, as the summer sun is said to extinguish our household fires,
when it shines full upon them. What would otherwise have been yielded
to as pleasing fiction, is repelled as revolting falsehood. The effect
produced in this latter case by the solemn belief of the reader, is in
a less degree brought about in the instances, to which I have been
objecting, by the balked attempts of the author to make him believe.

Add to all the foregoing the seeming uselessness both of the project
and of the anecdotes from which it is to derive support. Is there one
word, for instance, attributed to the pedlar in THE EXCURSION,
characteristic of a Pedlar? One sentiment, that might not more
plausibly, even without the aid of any previous explanation, have
proceeded from any wise and beneficent old man, of a rank or
profession in which the language of learning and refinement are
natural and to be expected? Need the rank have been at all
particularized, where nothing follows which the knowledge of that rank
is to explain or illustrate? When on the contrary this information
renders the man's language, feelings, sentiments, and information a
riddle, which must itself be solved by episodes of anecdote? Finally
when this, and this alone, could have induced a genuine Poet to
inweave in a poem of the loftiest style, and on subjects the loftiest
and of most universal interest, such minute matters of fact, (not
unlike those furnished for the obituary of a magazine by the friends
of some obscure "ornament of society lately deceased" in some obscure
town,) as

"Among the hills of Athol he was born
There, on a small hereditary Farm,
An unproductive slip of rugged ground,
His Father dwelt; and died in poverty;
While He, whose lowly fortune I retrace,
The youngest of three sons, was yet a babe,
A little One--unconscious of their loss.
But ere he had outgrown his infant days
His widowed Mother, for a second Mate,
Espoused the teacher of the Village School;
Who on her offspring zealously bestowed
Needful instruction."

"From his sixth year, the Boy of whom I speak,
In summer tended cattle on the Hills;
But, through the inclement and the perilous days
Of long-continuing winter, he repaired
To his Step-father's School,"-etc.

For all the admirable passages interposed in this narration, might,
with trifling alterations, have been far more appropriately, and with
far greater verisimilitude, told of a poet in the character of a poet;
and without incurring another defect which I shall now mention, and a
sufficient illustration of which will have been here anticipated.

Third; an undue predilection for the dramatic form in certain poems,
from which one or other of two evils result. Either the thoughts and
diction are different from that of the poet, and then there arises an
incongruity of style; or they are the same and indistinguishable, and
then it presents a species of ventriloquism, where two are represented
as talking, while in truth one man only speaks.

The fourth class of defects is closely connected with the former; but
yet are such as arise likewise from an intensity of feeling
disproportionate to such knowledge and value of the objects described,
as can be fairly anticipated of men in general, even of the most
cultivated classes; and with which therefore few only, and those few
particularly circumstanced, can be supposed to sympathize: In this
class, I comprise occasional prolixity, repetition, and an eddying,
instead of progression, of thought. As instances, see pages 27, 28,
and 62 of the Poems, vol. I. and the first eighty lines of the VIth

Fifth and last; thoughts and images too great for the subject. This is
an approximation to what might be called mental bombast, as
distinguished from verbal: for, as in the latter there is a
disproportion of the expressions to the thoughts so in this there is a
disproportion of thought to the circumstance and occasion. This, by
the bye, is a fault of which none but a man of genius is capable. It
is the awkwardness and strength of Hercules with the distaff of

It is a well-known fact, that bright colours in motion both make and
leave the strongest impressions on the eye. Nothing is more likely
too, than that a vivid image or visual spectrum, thus originated, may
become the link of association in recalling the feelings and images
that had accompanied the original impression. But if we describe this
in such lines, as

"They flash upon that inward eye,
Which is the bliss of solitude!"

in what words shall we describe the joy of retrospection, when the
images and virtuous actions of a whole well-spent life, pass before
that conscience which is indeed the inward eye: which is indeed "the
bliss of solitude?" Assuredly we seem to sink most abruptly, not to
say burlesquely, and almost as in a medley, from this couplet to--

"And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils." Vol. I. p. 328.

The second instance is from vol. II. page 12, where the poet having
gone out for a day's tour of pleasure, meets early in the morning with
a knot of Gipsies, who had pitched their blanket-tents and straw-beds,
together with their children and asses, in some field by the road-
side. At the close of the day on his return our tourist found them in
the same place. "Twelve hours," says he,

"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 left I find them here!"

Whereat the poet, without seeming to reflect that the poor tawny
wanderers might probably have been tramping for weeks together through
road and lane, over moor and mountain, and consequently must have been
right glad to rest themselves, their children and cattle, for one
whole day; and overlooking the obvious truth, that such repose might
be quite as necessary for them, as a walk of the same continuance was
pleasing or healthful for the more fortunate poet; expresses his
indignation in a series of lines, the diction and imagery of which
would have been rather above, than below the mark, had they been
applied to the immense empire of China improgressive for thirty

"The weary Sun betook himself to rest:--
--Then issued Vesper from the fulgent west,
Outshining, like a visible God,
The glorious path in which he trod.
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,
Better vain deeds or evil than such life!
The silent Heavens have goings on
The stars have tasks!--but these have none!"

The last instance of this defect,(for I know no other than these
already cited) is from the Ode, page 351, vol. II., where, speaking of
a child, "a six years' Darling of a pigmy size," he thus addresses

"Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep
Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,
That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep,
Haunted for ever by the Eternal Mind,--
Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
On whom those truths do rest,
Which we are toiling all our lives to find!
Thou, over whom thy Immortality
Broods like the Day, a Master o'er a Slave,
A Present which is not to be put by!"

Now here, not to stop at the daring spirit of metaphor which connects
the epithets "deaf and silent," with the apostrophized eye: or (if we
are to refer it to the preceding word, "Philosopher"), the faulty and
equivocal syntax of the passage; and without examining the propriety
of making a "Master brood o'er a Slave," or "the Day" brood at all; we
will merely ask, what does all this mean? In what sense is a child of
that age a Philosopher? In what sense does he read "the eternal deep?"
In what sense is he declared to be "for ever haunted" by the Supreme
Being? or so inspired as to deserve the splendid titles of a Mighty
Prophet, a blessed Seer? By reflection? by knowledge? by conscious
intuition? or by any form or modification of consciousness? These
would be tidings indeed; but such as would pre-suppose an immediate
revelation to the inspired communicator, and require miracles to
authenticate his inspiration. Children at this age give us no such
information of themselves; and at what time were we dipped in the
Lethe, which has produced such utter oblivion of a state so godlike?
There are many of us that still possess some remembrances, more or
less distinct, respecting themselves at six years old; pity that the
worthless straws only should float, while treasures, compared with
which all the mines of Golconda and Mexico were but straws, should be
absorbed by some unknown gulf into some unknown abyss.

But if this be too wild and exorbitant to be suspected as having been
the poet's meaning; if these mysterious gifts, faculties, and
operations, are not accompanied with consciousness; who else is
conscious of them? or how can it be called the child, if it be no part
of the child's conscious being? For aught I know, the thinking Spirit
within me may be substantially one with the principle of life, and of
vital operation. For aught I know, it might be employed as a secondary
agent in the marvellous organization and organic movements of my body.
But, surely, it would be strange language to say, that I construct my
heart! or that I propel the finer influences through my nerves! or
that I compress my brain, and draw the curtains of sleep round my own
eyes! Spinoza and Behmen were, on different systems, both Pantheists;
and among the ancients there were philosophers, teachers of the EN KAI
PAN, who not only taught that God was All, but that this All
constituted God. Yet not even these would confound the part, as a
part, with the whole, as the whole. Nay, in no system is the
distinction between the individual and God, between the Modification,
and the one only Substance, more sharply drawn, than in that of
Spinoza. Jacobi indeed relates of Lessing, that, after a conversation
with him at the house of the Poet, Gleim, (the Tyrtaeus and Anacreon
of the German Parnassus,) in which conversation Lessing had avowed
privately to Jacobi his reluctance to admit any personal existence of
the Supreme Being, or the possibility of personality except in a
finite Intellect, and while they were sitting at table, a shower of
rain came on unexpectedly. Gleim expressed his regret at the
circumstance, because they had meant to drink their wine in the
garden: upon which Lessing in one of his half-earnest, half-joking
moods, nodded to Jacobi, and said, "It is I, perhaps, that am doing
that," i.e. raining!--and Jacobi answered, "or perhaps I;" Gleim
contented himself with staring at them both, without asking for any

So with regard to this passage. In what sense can the magnificent
attributes, above quoted, be appropriated to a child, which would not
make them equally suitable to a bee, or a dog, or afield of corn: or
even to a ship, or to the wind and waves that propel it? The
omnipresent Spirit works equally in them, as in the child; and the
child is equally unconscious of it as they. It cannot surely be, that
the four lines, immediately following, are to contain the explanation?

"To whom the grave
Is but a lonely bed without the sense or sight
Of day or the warm light,
A place of thought where we in waiting lie;"--

Surely, it cannot be that this wonder-rousing apostrophe is but a
comment on the little poem, "We are Seven?"--that the whole meaning of
the passage is reducible to the assertion, that a child, who by the
bye at six years old would have been better instructed in most
Christian families, has no other notion of death than that of lying in
a dark, cold place? And still, I hope, not as in a place of thought!
not the frightful notion of lying awake in his grave! The analogy
between death and sleep is too simple, too natural, to render so
horrid a belief possible for children; even had they not been in the
habit, as all Christian children are, of hearing the latter term used
to express the former. But if the child's belief be only, that "he is
not dead, but sleepeth:" wherein does it differ from that of his
father and mother, or any other adult and instructed person? To form
an idea of a thing's becoming nothing; or of nothing becoming a thing;
is impossible to all finite beings alike, of whatever age, and however
educated or uneducated. Thus it is with splendid paradoxes in general.
If the words are taken in the common sense, they convey an absurdity;
and if, in contempt of dictionaries and custom, they are so
interpreted as to avoid the absurdity, the meaning dwindles into some
bald truism. Thus you must at once understand the words contrary to
their common import, in order to arrive at any sense; and according to
their common import, if you are to receive from them any feeling of
sublimity or admiration.

Though the instances of this defect in Mr. Wordsworth's poems are so
few, that for themselves it would have been scarcely just to attract
the reader's attention toward them; yet I have dwelt on it, and
perhaps the more for this very reason. For being so very few, they
cannot sensibly detract from the reputation of an author, who is even
characterized by the number of profound truths in his writings, which
will stand the severest analysis; and yet few as they are, they are
exactly those passages which his blind admirers would be most likely,
and best able, to imitate. But Wordsworth, where he is indeed
Wordsworth, may be mimicked by copyists, he may be plundered by
plagiarists; but he cannot be imitated, except by those who are not
born to be imitators. For without his depth of feeling and his
imaginative power his sense would want its vital warmth and
peculiarity; and without his strong sense, his mysticism would become
sickly--mere fog, and dimness!

To these defects which, as appears by the extracts, are only
occasional, I may oppose, with far less fear of encountering the
dissent of any candid and intelligent reader, the following (for the
most part correspondent) excellencies. First, an austere purity of
language both grammatically and logically; in short a perfect
appropriateness of the words to the meaning. Of how high value I deem
this, and how particularly estimable I hold the example at the present
day, has been already stated: and in part too the reasons on which I
ground both the moral and intellectual importance of habituating
ourselves to a strict accuracy of expression. It is noticeable, how
limited an acquaintance with the masterpieces of art will suffice to
form a correct and even a sensitive taste, where none but master-
pieces have been seen and admired: while on the other hand, the most
correct notions, and the widest acquaintance with the works of
excellence of all ages and countries, will not perfectly secure us
against the contagious familiarity with the far more numerous
offspring of tastelessness or of a perverted taste. If this be the
case, as it notoriously is, with the arts of music and painting, much
more difficult will it be, to avoid the infection of multiplied and
daily examples in the practice of an art, which uses words, and words
only, as its instruments. In poetry, in which every line, every
phrase, may pass the ordeal of deliberation and deliberate choice, it
is possible, and barely possible, to attain that ultimatum which I
have ventured to propose as the infallible test of a blameless style;
namely: its untranslatableness in words of the same language without
injury to the meaning. Be it observed, however, that I include in the
meaning of a word not only its correspondent object, but likewise all
the associations which it recalls. For language is framed to convey
not the object alone but likewise the character, mood and intentions
of the person who is representing it. In poetry it is practicable to
preserve the diction uncorrupted by the affectations and
misappropriations, which promiscuous authorship, and reading not
promiscuous only because it is disproportionally most conversant with
the compositions of the day, have rendered general. Yet even to the
poet, composing in his own province, it is an arduous work: and as the
result and pledge of a watchful good sense of fine and luminous
distinction, and of complete self-possession, may justly claim all the
honour which belongs to an attainment equally difficult and valuable,
and the more valuable for being rare. It is at all times the proper
food of the understanding; but in an age of corrupt eloquence it is
both food and antidote.

In prose I doubt whether it be even possible to preserve our style
wholly unalloyed by the vicious phraseology which meets us everywhere,
from the sermon to the newspaper, from the harangue of the legislator
to the speech from the convivial chair, announcing a toast or
sentiment. Our chains rattle, even while we are complaining of them.
The poems of Boetius rise high in our estimation when we compare them
with those of his contemporaries, as Sidonius Apollinaris, and others.
They might even be referred to a purer age, but that the prose, in
which they are set, as jewels in a crown of lead or iron, betrays the
true age of the writer. Much however may be effected by education. I
believe not only from grounds of reason, but from having in great
measure assured myself of the fact by actual though limited
experience, that, to a youth led from his first boyhood to investigate
the meaning of every word and the reason of its choice and position,
logic presents itself as an old acquaintance under new names.

On some future occasion, more especially demanding such disquisition,
I shall attempt to prove the close connection between veracity and
habits of mental accuracy; the beneficial after-effects of verbal
precision in the preclusion of fanaticism, which masters the feelings
more especially by indistinct watch-words; and to display the
advantages which language alone, at least which language with
incomparably greater ease and certainty than any other means, presents
to the instructor of impressing modes of intellectual energy so
constantly, so imperceptibly, and as it were by such elements and
atoms, as to secure in due time the formation of a second nature. When
we reflect, that the cultivation of the judgment is a positive command
of the moral law, since the reason can give the principle alone, and
the conscience bears witness only to the motive, while the application
and effects must depend on the judgment when we consider, that the
greater part of our success and comfort in life depends on
distinguishing the similar from the same, that which is peculiar in
each thing from that which it has in common with others, so as still
to select the most probable, instead of the merely possible or
positively unfit, we shall learn to value earnestly and with a
practical seriousness a mean, already prepared for us by nature and
society, of teaching the young mind to think well and wisely by the
same unremembered process and with the same never forgotten results,
as those by which it is taught to speak and converse. Now how much
warmer the interest is, how much more genial the feelings of reality
and practicability, and thence how much stronger the impulses to
imitation are, which a contemporary writer, and especially a
contemporary poet, excites in youth and commencing manhood, has been
treated of in the earlier pages of these sketches. I have only to add,
that all the praise which is due to the exertion of such influence for
a purpose so important, joined with that which must be claimed for the
infrequency of the same excellence in the same perfection, belongs in
full right to Mr. Wordsworth. I am far however from denying that we
have poets whose general style possesses the same excellence, as Mr.
Moore, Lord Byron, Mr. Bowles, and, in all his later and more
important works, our laurel-honouring Laureate. But there are none, in
whose works I do not appear to myself to find more exceptions, than in
those of Wordsworth. Quotations or specimens would here be wholly out
of place, and must be left for the critic who doubts and would
invalidate the justice of this eulogy so applied.

The second characteristic excellence of Mr. Wordsworth's work is: a
correspondent weight and sanity of the Thoughts and Sentiments,--won,
not from books; but--from the poet's own meditative observation. They
are fresh and have the dew upon them. His muse, at least when in her
strength of wing, and when she hovers aloft in her proper element,

Makes audible a linked lay of truth,
Of truth profound a sweet continuous lay,
Not learnt, but native, her own natural notes!

Even throughout his smaller poems there is scarcely one, which is not
rendered valuable by some just and original reflection.

See page 25, vol. II.: or the two following passages in one of his
humblest compositions.

"O Reader! had you in your mind
Such stores as silent thought can bring,
O gentle Reader! you would find
A tale in every thing;"


"I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
With coldness still returning;
Alas! the gratitude of men
Has oftener left me mourning;"

or in a still higher strain the six beautiful quatrains, page 134.

"Thus fares it still in our decay:
And yet the wiser mind
Mourns less for what age takes away
Than what it leaves behind.

The Blackbird in the summer trees,
The Lark upon the hill,
Let loose their carols when they please,
Are quiet when they will.

With Nature never do they wage
A foolish strife; they see
A happy youth, and their old age
Is beautiful and free!

But we are pressed by heavy laws;
And often glad no more,
We wear a face of joy, because
We have been glad of yore.

If there is one, who need bemoan
His kindred laid in earth,
The household hearts that were his own,
It is the man of mirth.

My days, my Friend, are almost gone,
My life has been approved,
And many love me; but by none
Am I enough beloved;"

or the sonnet on Buonaparte, page 202, vol. II. or finally (for a
volume would scarce suffice to exhaust the instances,) the last stanza
of the poem on the withered Celandine, vol. II. p. 312.

"To be a Prodigal's Favorite--then, worse truth,
A Miser's Pensioner--behold our lot!
O Man! That from thy fair and shining youth
Age might but take the things Youth needed not."

Both in respect of this and of the former excellence, Mr. Wordsworth
strikingly resembles Samuel Daniel, one of the golden writers of our
golden Elizabethan age, now most causelessly neglected: Samuel Daniel,
whose diction bears no mark of time, no distinction of age which has
been, and as long as our language shall last, will be so far the
language of the to-day and for ever, as that it is more intelligible
to us, than the transitory fashions of our own particular age. A
similar praise is due to his sentiments. No frequency of perusal can
deprive them of their freshness. For though they are brought into the
full day-light of every reader's comprehension; yet are they drawn up
from depths which few in any age are privileged to visit, into which
few in any age have courage or inclination to descend. If Mr.
Wordsworth is not equally with Daniel alike intelligible to all
readers of average understanding in all passages of his works, the
comparative difficulty does not arise from the greater impurity of the
ore, but from the nature and uses of the metal. A poem is not
necessarily obscure, because it does not aim to be popular. It is
enough, if a work be perspicuous to those for whom it is written, and

"Fit audience find, though few."

To the "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of
early Childhood" the poet might have prefixed the lines which Dante
addresses to one of his own Canzoni--

"Canzone, i' credo, che saranno radi
Color, che tua ragione intendan bene,
Tanto lor sei faticoso ed alto."

"O lyric song, there will be few, I think,
Who may thy import understand aright:
Thou art for them so arduous and so high!"

But the ode was intended for such readers only as had been accustomed
to watch the flux and reflux of their inmost nature, to venture at
times into the twilight realms of consciousness, and to feel a deep
interest in modes of inmost being, to which they know that the
attributes of time and space are inapplicable and alien, but which yet
can not be conveyed, save in symbols of time and space. For such
readers the sense is sufficiently plain, and they will be as little
disposed to charge Mr. Wordsworth with believing the Platonic pre-
existence in the ordinary interpretation of the words, as I am to
believe, that Plato himself ever meant or taught it.

Polla oi ut' anko-
nos okea belae
endon enti pharetras
phonanta synetoisin; es
de to pan hermaeneon
chatizei; sophos o pol-
la eidos phua;
mathontes de labroi
panglossia, korakes os,
akranta garueton
Dios pros ornicha theion.

Third (and wherein he soars far above Daniel) the sinewy strength and
originality of single lines and paragraphs: the frequent curiosa
felicitas of his diction, of which I need not here give specimens,
having anticipated them in a preceding page. This beauty, and as
eminently characteristic of Wordsworth's poetry, his rudest assailants
have felt themselves compelled to acknowledge and admire.

Fourth; the perfect truth of nature in his images and descriptions as
taken immediately from nature, and proving a long and genial intimacy
with the very spirit which gives the physiognomic expression to all
the works of nature. Like a green field reflected in a calm and
perfectly transparent lake, the image is distinguished from the
reality only by its greater softness and lustre. Like the moisture or
the polish on a pebble, genius neither distorts nor false-colours its
objects; but on the contrary brings out many a vein and many a tint,
which escape the eye of common observation, thus raising to the rank
of gems what had been often kicked away by the hurrying foot of the
traveller on the dusty high road of custom.

Let me refer to the whole description of skating, vol. I. page 42 to
47, especially to the lines

"So through the darkness and the cold we flew,
And not a voice was idle. with the din
Meanwhile the precipices rang aloud;
The leafless trees and every icy crag
Tinkled like iron; while the distant hills
Into the tumult sent an alien sound
Of melancholy, not unnoticed, while the stars,
Eastward, were sparkling clear, and in the west
The orange sky of evening died away."

Or to the poem on THE GREEN LINNET, vol. I. page 244. What can be more
accurate yet more lovely than the two concluding stanzas?

"Upon yon tuft of hazel trees,
That twinkle to the gusty breeze,
Behold him perched in ecstasies,
Yet seeming still to hover;
There! where the flutter of his wings
Upon his back and body flings
Shadows and sunny glimmerings,
That cover him all over.

While thus before my eyes he gleams,
A Brother of the Leaves he seems;
When in a moment forth he teems
His little song in gushes
As if it pleased him to disdain
And mock the Form which he did feign
While he was dancing with the train
Of Leaves among the bushes."

Or the description of the blue-cap, and of the noontide silence, page
284; or the poem to the cuckoo, page 299; or, lastly, though I might
multiply the references to ten times the number, to the poem, so
completely Wordsworth's, commencing

"Three years she grew in sun and shower"--

Fifth: a meditative pathos, a union of deep and subtle thought with
sensibility; a sympathy with man as man; the sympathy indeed of a
contemplator, rather than a fellow-sufferer or co-mate, (spectator,
haud particeps) but of a contemplator, from whose view no difference
of rank conceals the sameness of the nature; no injuries of wind or
weather, or toil, or even of ignorance, wholly disguise the human face
divine. The superscription and the image of the Creator still remain
legible to him under the dark lines, with which guilt or calamity had
cancelled or cross-barred it. Here the Man and the Poet lose and find
themselves in each other, the one as glorified, the latter as
substantiated. In this mild and philosophic pathos, Wordsworth appears
to me without a compeer. Such as he is: so he writes. See vol. I. page
134 to 136, or that most affecting composition, THE AFFLICTION OF
MARGARET ---- OF ----, page 165 to 168, which no mother, and, if I may
judge by my own experience, no parent can read without a tear. Or turn
to that genuine lyric, in the former edition, entitled, THE MAD
MOTHER, page 174 to 178, of which I cannot refrain from quoting two of
the stanzas, both of them for their pathos, and the former for the
fine transition in the two concluding lines of the stanza, so
expressive of that deranged state, in which, from the increased
sensibility, the sufferer's attention is abruptly drawn off by every
trifle, and in the same instant plucked back again by the one despotic
thought, bringing home with it, by the blending, fusing power of
Imagination and Passion, the alien object to which it had been so
abruptly diverted, no longer an alien but an ally and an inmate.

"Suck, little babe, oh suck again!
It cools my blood; it cools my brain;
Thy lips, I feel them, baby! They
Draw from my heart the pain away.
Oh! press me with thy little hand;
It loosens something at my chest
About that tight and deadly band
I feel thy little fingers prest.
The breeze I see is in the tree!
It comes to cool my babe and me."

"Thy father cares not for my breast,
'Tis thine, sweet baby, there to rest;
'Tis all thine own!--and if its hue
Be changed, that was so fair to view,
'Tis fair enough for thee, my dove!
My beauty, little child, is flown,
But thou wilt live with me in love;
And what if my poor cheek be brown?
'Tis well for me, thou canst not see
How pale and wan it else would be."

Last, and pre-eminently, I challenge for this poet the gift of
Imagination in the highest and strictest sense of the word. In the
play of fancy, Wordsworth, to my feelings, is not always graceful, and
sometimes recondite. The likeness is occasionally too strange, or
demands too peculiar a point of view, or is such as appears the
creature of predetermined research, rather than spontaneous
presentation. Indeed his fancy seldom displays itself, as mere and
unmodified fancy. But in imaginative power, he stands nearest of all
modern writers to Shakespeare and Milton; and yet in a kind perfectly
unborrowed and his own. To employ his own words, which are at once an
instance and an illustration, he does indeed to all thoughts and to
all objects--

"------add the gleam,
The light that never was, on sea or land,
The consecration, and the Poet's dream."

I shall select a few examples as most obviously manifesting this
faculty; but if I should ever be fortunate enough to render my
analysis of Imagination, its origin and characters, thoroughly
intelligible to the reader, he will scarcely open on a page of this
poet's works without recognising, more or less, the presence and the
influences of this faculty. From the poem on the YEW TREES, vol. I.
page 303, 304.

"But worthier still of note
Are those fraternal Four of Borrowdale,
Joined in one solemn and capacious grove;
Huge trunks!--and each particular trunk a growth
Of intertwisted fibres serpentine
Up-coiling, and inveterately convolved;
Not uninformed with phantasy, and looks
That threaten the profane;--a pillared shade,
Upon whose grassless floor of red-brown hue,
By sheddings from the pinal umbrage tinged
Perennially--beneath whose sable roof
Of boughs, as if for festal purpose, decked
With unrejoicing berries--ghostly shapes
May meet at noontide; FEAR and trembling HOPE,
And TIME, the Shadow; there to celebrate,
As in a natural temple scattered o'er
With altars undisturbed of mossy stone,
United worship; or in mute repose
To lie, and listen to the mountain flood
Murmuring from Glazamara's inmost caves."

The effect of the old man's figure in the poem of RESOLUTION AND
INDEPENDENCE, vol. II. page 33.

"While he was talking thus, the lonely place,
The Old Man's shape, and speech, all troubled me
In my mind's eye I seemed to see him pace
About the weary moors continually,
Wandering about alone and silently."

Or the 8th, 9th, 19th, 26th, 31st, and 33rd, in the collection of
miscellaneous sonnets--the sonnet on the subjugation of Switzerland,
page 210, or the last ode, from which I especially select the two
following stanzas or paragraphs, page 349 to 350.

"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy;
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy!
The Youth who daily further from the East
Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day."

And page 352 to 354 of the same ode.

"O joy! that in our embers
Is something that doth live,
That nature yet remembers
What was so fugitive!
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benedictions: not indeed
For that which is most worthy to be blest;
Delight and liberty, the simple creed
Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,
With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:--
Not for these I raise
The song of thanks and praise;
But for those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings;
Blank misgivings of a Creature
Moving about in worlds not realized,
High instincts, before which our mortal Nature
Did tremble like a guilty Thing surprised!
But for those first affections,
Those shadowy recollections,
Which, be they what they may,
Are yet the fountain light of all our day,
Are yet a master light of all our seeing;
Uphold us--cherish--and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence; truths that wake
To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
Nor Man nor Boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!
Hence, in a season of calm weather,
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither;
Can in a moment travel thither,--
And see the children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore."

And since it would be unfair to conclude with an extract, which,
though highly characteristic, must yet, from the nature of the
thoughts and the subject, be interesting or perhaps intelligible, to
but a limited number of readers; I will add, from the poet's last
published work, a passage equally Wordsworthian; of the beauty of
which, and of the imaginative power displayed therein, there can be
but one opinion, and one feeling. See White Doe, page 5.

"Fast the church-yard fills;--anon
Look again and they all are gone;
The cluster round the porch, and the folk
Who sate in the shade of the Prior's Oak!
And scarcely have they disappeared
Ere the prelusive hymn is heard;--
With one consent the people rejoice,
Filling the church with a lofty voice!
They sing a service which they feel:
For 'tis the sun-rise now of zeal;
And faith and hope are in their prime
In great Eliza's golden time."

"A moment ends the fervent din,
And all is hushed, without and within;
For though the priest, more tranquilly,
Recites the holy liturgy,
The only voice which you can hear
Is the river murmuring near.
--When soft!--the dusky trees between,
And down the path through the open green,
Where is no living thing to be seen;
And through yon gateway, where is found,
Beneath the arch with ivy bound,
Free entrance to the church-yard ground--
And right across the verdant sod,
Towards the very house of God;
Comes gliding in with lovely gleam,
Comes gliding in serene and slow,
Soft and silent as a dream.
A solitary Doe!
White she is as lily of June,
And beauteous as the silver moon
When out of sight the clouds are driven
And she is left alone in heaven!
Or like a ship some gentle day
In sunshine sailing far away
A glittering ship that hath the plain
Of ocean for her own domain."

* * * * * *

"What harmonious pensive changes
Wait upon her as she ranges
Round and through this Pile of state
Overthrown and desolate!
Now a step or two her way
Is through space of open day,
Where the enamoured sunny light
Brightens her that was so bright;
Now doth a delicate shadow fall,
Falls upon her like a breath,
From some lofty arch or wall,
As she passes underneath."

The following analogy will, I am apprehensive, appear dim and
fantastic, but in reading Bartram's Travels I could not help
transcribing the following lines as a sort of allegory, or connected
simile and metaphor of Wordsworth's intellect and genius.--"The soil
is a deep, rich, dark mould, on a deep stratum of tenacious clay; and
that on a foundation of rocks, which often break through both strata,
lifting their backs above the surface. The trees which chiefly grow
here are the gigantic, black oak; magnolia grandi-flora; fraximus
excelsior; platane; and a few stately tulip trees." What Mr.
Wordsworth will produce, it is not for me to prophesy but I could
pronounce with the liveliest convictions what he is capable of

The preceding criticism will not, I am aware, avail to overcome the
prejudices of those, who have made it a business to attack and
ridicule Mr. Wordsworth's compositions.

Truth and prudence might be imaged as concentric circles. The poet may
perhaps have passed beyond the latter, but he has confined himself far
within the bounds of the former, in designating these critics, as "too
petulant to be passive to a genuine poet, and too feeble to grapple
with him;----men of palsied imaginations, in whose minds all healthy
action is languid;----who, therefore, feed as the many direct them, or
with the many are greedy after vicious provocatives."

So much for the detractors from Wordsworth's merits. On the other
hand, much as I might wish for their fuller sympathy, I dare not
flatter myself, that the freedom with which I have declared my
opinions concerning both his theory and his defects, most of which are
more or less connected with his theory, either as cause or effect,
will be satisfactory or pleasing to all the poet's admirers and
advocates. More indiscriminate than mine their admiration may be:
deeper and more sincere it cannot be. But I have advanced no opinion
either for praise or censure, other than as texts introductory to the
reasons which compel me to form it. Above all, I was fully convinced
that such a criticism was not only wanted; but that, if executed with
adequate ability, it must conduce, in no mean degree, to Mr.
Wordsworth's reputation. His fame belongs to another age, and can
neither be accelerated nor retarded. How small the proportion of the
defects are to the beauties, I have repeatedly declared; and that no
one of them originates in deficiency of poetic genius. Had they been
more and greater, I should still, as a friend to his literary
character in the present age, consider an analytic display of them as
pure gain; if only it removed, as surely to all reflecting minds even
the foregoing analysis must have removed, the strange mistake, so
slightly grounded, yet so widely and industriously propagated, of Mr.
Wordsworth's turn for simplicity! I am not half as much irritated by
hearing his enemies abuse him for vulgarity of style, subject, and
conception, as I am disgusted with the gilded side of the same
meaning, as displayed by some affected admirers, with whom he is,
forsooth, a "sweet, simple poet!" and so natural, that little master
Charles and his younger sister are so charmed with them, that they
play at "Goody Blake," or at "Johnny and Betty Foy!"

Were the collection of poems, published with these biographical
sketches, important enough, (which I am not vain enough to believe,)
to deserve such a distinction; even as I have done, so would I be done

For more than eighteen months have the volume of Poems, entitled
SIBYLLINE LEAVES, and the present volume, up to this page, been
printed, and ready for publication. But, ere I speak of myself in the
tones, which are alone natural to me under the circumstances of late
years, I would fain present myself to the Reader as I was in the first
dawn of my literary life:

When Hope grew round me, like the climbing vine,
And fruits, and foliage, not my own, seem'd mine!

For this purpose I have selected from the letters, which I wrote home
from Germany, those which appeared likely to be most interesting, and
at the same time most pertinent to the title of this work.



On Sunday morning, September 16, 1798, the Hamburg packet set sail
from Yarmouth; and I, for the first time in my life, beheld my native
land retiring from me. At the moment of its disappearance--in all the
kirks, churches, chapels, and meeting-houses, in which the greater
number, I hope, of my countrymen were at that time assembled, I will
dare question whether there was one more ardent prayer offered up to
heaven, than that which I then preferred for my country. "Now then,"
(said I to a gentleman who was standing near me,) "we are out of our
country." "Not yet, not yet!" he replied, and pointed to the sea;
"This, too, is a Briton's country." This bon mot gave a fillip to my
spirits, I rose and looked round on my fellow-passengers, who were all
on the deck. We were eighteen in number, videlicet, five Englishmen,
an English lady, a French gentleman and his servant, an Hanoverian and
his servant, a Prussian, a Swede, two Danes, and a Mulatto boy, a
German tailor and his wife, (the smallest couple I ever beheld,) and a
Jew. We were all on the deck; but in a short time I observed marks of
dismay. The lady retired to the cabin in some confusion, and many of
the faces round me assumed a very doleful and frog-coloured
appearance; and within an hour the number of those on deck was
lessened by one half. I was giddy, but not sick, and the giddiness
soon went away, but left a feverishness and want of appetite, which I
attributed, in great measure, to the saeva Mephitis of the bilge-
water; and it was certainly not decreased by the exportations from the
cabin. However, I was well enough to join the able-bodied passengers,
one of whom observed not inaptly, that Momus might have discovered an
easier way to see a man's inside, than by placing a window in his
breast. He needed only have taken a saltwater trip in a packet-boat.

I am inclined to believe, that a packet is far superior to a stage-
coach, as a means of making men open out to each other. In the latter
the uniformity of posture disposes to dozing, and the definitiveness
of the period, at which the company will separate, makes each
individual think more of those to whom he is going, than of those with
whom he is going. But at sea, more curiosity is excited, if only on
this account, that the pleasant or unpleasant qualities of your
companions are of greater importance to you, from the uncertainty how
long you may be obliged to house with them. Besides, if you are
countrymen, that now begins to form a distinction and a bond of
brotherhood; and if of different countries, there are new incitements
of conversation, more to ask and more to communicate. I found that I
had interested the Danes in no common degree. I had crept into the
boat on the deck and fallen asleep; but was awakened by one of them,
about three o'clock in the afternoon, who told me that they had been
seeking me in every hole and corner, and insisted that I should join
their party and drink with them. He talked English with such fluency,
as left me wholly unable to account for the singular and even
ludicrous incorrectness with which he spoke it. I went, and found some
excellent wines and a dessert of grapes with a pine-apple. The Danes
had christened me Doctor Teology, and dressed as I was all in black,
with large shoes and black worsted stockings, I might certainly have
passed very well for a Methodist missionary. However I disclaimed my
title. What then may you be? A man of fortune? No!--A merchant? No!--A
merchant's traveller? No!--A clerk? No!--Un Philosophe, perhaps? It
was at that time in my life, in which of all possible names and
characters I had the greatest disgust to that of "un Philosophe." But
I was weary of being questioned, and rather than be nothing, or at
best only the abstract idea of a man, I submitted by a bow, even to
the aspersion implied in the word "un Philosophe."--The Dane then
informed me, that all in the present party were Philosophers likewise.
Certes we were not of the Stoick school. For we drank and talked and
sung, till we talked and sung all together; and then we rose and
danced on the deck a set of dances, which in one sense of the word at
least, were very intelligibly and appropriately entitled reels. The
passengers, who lay in the cabin below in all the agonies of sea-
sickness, must have found our bacchanalian merriment

------a tune


Back to Full Books