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brought back the true, that is to say, the natural way of dealing with it, and added enormously to the lost gift he had restored.
If this be true—and no one who knows anything of English literature at first hand, and who does not form his opinions upon the cries of those critical parrots who keep repeating a parodox first started by De Quincey, and first echoed by Hazlitt, in order to exalt the Lake School, will dream of doubting it-no less true is it that the alleged poetical poverty of the period which intervened between Pope at one end and Cowper and Wordsworth at the other—an allegation springing originally from the same source-is the most ridiculous of fictions. We have only to betake ourselves to the conclusive test of facts to explode this preposterous fable. Pope died in 1744. Cowper's earliest work was published in 1782; Wordsworth's first poetical performance in 1793. As it is, however, in The Task' that Cowper is supposed to have emancipated himself and literature generally from the malignant influence of Pope and his followers, let us take the date of its publication as the fairest landmark. It saw the light in 1785. We have thus an interval of forty years; an interval, according to the vulgar theory, during which the Hall of the Muses was in worse than Cimmerian darkness, and given over to screech-owls and unclean bats. The reader can scarcely fail to be startled at this marvellous piece of literary history, when we remind him that during those forty years Beattie published his 'Minstrel,' Thomson his 'Seasons' and his 'Castle of Indolence,' Akenside his Pleasures of Imagination,' Young his Night Thoughts,' Collins his Ode to the Passions,' Grey his Elegy in a Churchyard,' Churchill his stupendous satires, Chatterton his brilliant forgeries, and last, but the opposite of least, Goldsmith his Traveller' and his 'Deserted Village.' And this, forsooth, was Cimmerian darkness; this was every warbler having his tune by heart! Yet this view, and criticism formed upon this view, has been and still is the guide and inspirer of your Athenæums, Spectators, and Saturday Reviews. Without in any degree wishing to belittle Cowper, who is justly regarded as a considerable name, the man must be very corrupt or very maudlin in his taste who is not ready to endorse the dictum that the whole of 'The Task' is not worth one page of 'The Deserted Village;' and without intending to depreciate Wordsworth, who is to be the theme of our praise, it cannot be doubted that only in one of his compositions did his imagination reach the height attained in Collins' famous ode, and in none of them the lofty pathos which soothes yet elevates us in Gray's immortal elegy.
Having thus cleared the ground by doing justice to those poets who have been systematically depreciated in order that Wordsworth might be more successfully extolled, let us now betake ourselves to the task of doing justice to Wordsworth, who may be extolled without anybody being depreciated. It was, as we have already had occasion to say, in
An Evening Walk' and
1793 that he first came before the public. 'Descriptive Sketches' constituted his credentials to popular favour. The first was addressed to a young lady; the second were taken during a pedestrian tour on the Alps. The writer was twenty-three years of age, and had enjoyed such opportunities of culture as are afforded by an English public school and an English University. Birth that, with our modern more catholic view, may fairly be called gentle, a first-class education, the advantages of travel, abundant leisure, and a ripe youth verging on manhood, were the favourable conditions that preceded and attended these earliest efforts. What are we to say of them? That they are for the most part a medley of twaddle, sermonising, and commonplace, but too sparingly interspersed by "The still sad music of humanity;"
and that almost their entire interest lies in the opportunities they afford of examining the germs of what was worst and of all but what was best in the poet's later writings. Could anything well be more deplorable than such passages as these?—
"When in the south, the wan moon, brooding still,
Or from high points of rock looked out for fanning gales;
"Sweetly ferocious, round his native walks,
"The form appears of one that spurs his steed
It is better to say at once that this is unmitigated rubbish; yet it is quite as good as hundreds, indeed thousands, of verses in Wordsworth's works, collected by his own hand at the mature age of sixty. How is it? Did he write all this-as it has been bluntly, but felicitously, called—" perverse drivel" upon principle and in pursuit of a certain theory? Young men of twenty-three are not much troubled with theories; and least of all young poets with theories about their own compositions. Theories come later and when men are forced, or
find themselves disposed, to invent theories which shall satisfactorily cover their own unsatisfactory performances; and this we shall see that Wordsworth afterwards did in a flagrant manner. But in composing the foregoing passages at twenty-three, and equally in composing passages of a like kind for an entire half century, he honestly followed the bent of his own mind and genius. It was not simply that he believed-for active conscious belief came only with increase of years, and by way of defence and defiance against the lack of public appreciation-it was not simply that he believed that every external object and every internal sensation is worthy of being celebrated in verse, and can be glorified by its instrumentality, and that nothing is too common or too vulgar for poetical treatment, but that he really did view every external object with eyes, and meditated upon every internal sensation with a reverence and a sense of importance, which people with a finer sense of proportion reserve exclusively for the greater occasions. Cows lashing their tails-cocks closing and unfurling them-a horse standing in a sunburnt intake-or, as he has him in another place, O ye gods! "cropping audibly his later meal"-really and truly appeared to Wordsworth as objects and incidents in God's world just as worthy of notice and of a hymn as the oncoming tide, the sinking sunset, or the weird uprising of the moon. Unfortunately-paradoxical as the assertion may at first sight appear-Wordsworth was all poet; and had he died at the age at which some of the greatest poets have been lifted up from life, he would, as far as this world is concerned, have been buried with mountains of feebleness piled above his head. By dint of never allowing himself, or indeed wanting, to be anything but a poet for eighty long years, he did succeed on several occasions in singing songs of exceeding beauty and worth, and on one or two occasions in evoking a strain of all but unsurpassed sublimity. But we cannot but regard this peculiar temperament of his as deeply unfortunate. It must in the long run infallibly depress his fame. To a not very distant posterity every poet necessarily becomes just as strange and foreign as to any of us is new scenery; and just as in our travels we call rather that a picturesque and delightful country which, though small, has many and constantly-occurring elevations and surprises, even of a comparatively moderate kind, than one in which we journey through leagues upon leagues of monotonous and wearisome flat, broken once or twice by a stupendous and unaccountable mountain, so, we fear, will posterity do what indeed we-almost Wordsworth's contemporaries-are beginning to do, prefer the more frequent inequalities of writers at once higher and lower than himself, to his pages upon pages of monotone and monochrome, interrupted only now and then by the loftiest diction, and only ever and anon suffused with the richest and most varying colour. Moreover, it was a misfortune to Wordsworth him
self in his lifetime, little as he suspected it. The Muse wearies of the swain who perpetually woos her, and worn out by having her valuable attention called on every trivial occasion, ends by remaining deaf to the most exciting and timely summons. And so, by writing about everything when there was nothing to say, Wordsworth came to be often unable to say anything when there was everything to write about.
Fortunately or unfortunately, however, such was the case. Wordsworth was all poet and nothing else. Such was his bent, and circumstances favoured it. He resolved at an early age to dedicate himself to poetry; but at one time it seemed as though he would have been obliged to detract somewhat from his favourite pursuits, and to invigorate his mind and muse by a slight change of occupation. Owing to the vexatious, but too powerful, denial by Lord Lonsdale of claims. just and all but patent, Wordsworth's father, a Cockermouth attorney, died, in 1783, in somewhat straitened circumstances; and by the time twelve years had elapsed Wordsworth was at the bottom of his purse, and had made the discovery that writing poetry would not refill it. Most opportunely, as he thought-most inopportunely, as we cannot help suspecting-a friend who had formed a flattering opinion of the young versifier, died and bequeathed Wordsworth a sum of £900; and he was thus turned away from a scheme he had been driven to form, of proceeding to London and earning a livelihood by writing for the press. This £900 sufficed for his honourably simple wants and those of his dear worshipping sister Dorothy for the next seven years, during which he wrote the Lyrical Ballads' and the other works which will shortly claim our attention. At the end of that period, the Lord Lonsdale of the eighteenth century had been succeeded by a representative of more reasonable temper, and the faithful pair came in for £4000, or half of the amount tardily allotted to the family. Wordsworth may be said to have slightly imperilled the particular advantage of the windfall which he most valued-independence and leisure-by marrying his cousin Mary Hutchinson, within a twelvemonth of its tumbling in. But luck, good or ill, again secured him against distraction. He afterwards obtained from Lord Lonsdale a distributorship of stamps, which gave him nothing to do and brought him in £500 a year, which he resigned to his son only in 1842, when he received a pension of £300 per annum from the nation and the emoluments of the laureateship from the Crown. Thus was he, from first to last, enabled to concentrate his undivided attention upon poetry, occupying a position which, it is perhaps worth while to note, never till our own time fell to the lot of a poet of any consequence. Chaucer, besides being a poet, was a lawyer, a soldier, and a diplomatist. Spencer, besides writing the Faery Queen' and the Tears of the Muses,' penned a social and political treatise on Ireland, was sheriff of Cork, secretary
to Lord Grey and Wilton, and well versed in all public affairs. Shakespeare was a playwright, an actor, and a manager, no less than a dramatist. Milton was a schoolmaster and a politician, as well as the author of Paradise Lost.' Dryden wrote nearly a hundred plays, all against the grain, and prefaces without end to the works of others, and only snatched leisure for the cultivation of his pet pursuit from more remunerative employments. Pope translated for hire, when writing for love was not sufficiently remunerative, was an indefatigable letterwriter, and as busied with society and affairs as his sickly frame would permit. Goldsmith's financial grief and prose works have been the delight of several generations. Scott wrote his poems so fluently and so hurriedly for money, and gave up writing them altogether when they did not bring him enough. And, finally, Byron, never writing for money, though nearly always in want of it, found a foil to his inspired moments in fashionable intrigues, in manly exercises, and in the liberation of two classic nations. The only two apparent exceptions are Cowper and Shelley; and they almost cease to be exceptions when we examine the matter closely. One has only to bear in mind that Cowper lived to be seventy and wrote, when he did write, with great fluency, and then to turn to a collection of his poetical works and see how small, comparatively, is their bulk, to be satisfied that his life was not passed mainly in writing poetry. It is true that his relations, by their compassionate liberality, provided him with the means of existence which he showed himself utterly unable to provide for himself; but what with his female friends, his hares, his correspondence, and his religious exercises, he was in reality, considering the quiet and feminine nature of his life, provided with as many distractions from his muse as bards seemingly more busy and more variedly busy. It can scarcely be denied that, in a sense, Shelley was all poet; but then his poetising did not always assume the form of verse, as in the case of Wordsworth, but vented itself occasionally in social philanthropy, as in Wales-in political enthusiasm, as in Ireland—and in studying Greek philosophy, as in Italy. Moreover, whilst it is scarcely worth while to consider whether Cowper would have been improved as a poet had he been compelled to do something over and above what he did do besides writing poetry—and indeed any attempt at such compulsion would perhaps have driven him permanently, instead of fitfully, insane -we cannot doubt that Shelley's muse would have been improved if Shelley himself had undergone a little more mental discipline in some shape or other. He would have been less pulpy and more firm; more like Shakespeare, Pope, and Byron, who are the least pulpy of all our poets, and less like Cowper and Wordsworth, who are the most pulpy, and, we may add, flabby. To use a vulgar expression, Shelley would have been licked into shape, which was the one thing wanted to make his works as great as his genius. Then, indeed, we should probably