Page images
PDF
EPUB

Plain, and commenced the Borderers. Henceforth he was dedicated to poetry.

Coleridge, as we saw, visited the Wordsworths in Racedown in June, 1797, and such was his charm that they removed the next month to Alfoxden, three miles from Stowey, and two from the Bristol Channel. Here the Lyrical Ballads were written, and the Borderers finished. The latter was Wordsworth's one effort at dramatic composition. It was rejected by the Covent Garden Theatre; upon which the poet remarked that "the moving accident is not my trade." Lamb and Hazlitt, who came down to see Coleridge, were taken of course to see Wordsworth. Hazlitt, hearing Coleridge read some of his friend's poems, “felt the sense of a new style and a new spirit of poetry come over him.”

Wordsworth's sojourn in Germany, which was marked by the composition of many of his best lyrics, such as Lucy Gray and the poems of Lucy (see p. 217), ended in July, 1799. In the autumn the brother and sister made excursions through Cumberland and Westmoreland, and were so taken with the natural beauty of these shires that they settled in Grasmere, December, 1799.

Gray has described the Grasmere scenery and De Quincey the Wordsworth cottage-a little white cottage, sheltered in trees, overhung by the lofty mountain ascending behind it; below the broad basin of Grasmere water, and the low promontory on which rests the village with its embowered houses : all about the encircling eternal hills, and in their bosom, in those days, quiet peace.

During 1800 the poet wrote Poems on the Naming of Places, The Brothers, The Pet Lamb, Michel, etc. In 1802 he paid a short visit to France that resulted in the Calais sonnets, and the sonnets written at London. The same year he married Mary Hutchinson, a schoolmate of his childhood, a wife worthy of her husband and his sister, and of the poem, She was a Phantom of Delight, depicting that perfect woman nobly planned.

In Dove Cottage until 1813, then in a larger house at Rydal Mount, but always by Grasmere lake, Wordsworth lived his long life. Friends were about him. Coleridge was at times in Keswick, fifteen miles away (they loved to walk such distances in those days), where Southey also was living; De Quincey took the Dove Cottage when Wordsworth moved to Rydal Mount; “Christopher North"

was at Elleray, nine miles distant ; Dr. Arnold built himself a house at Ambleside, an hour's walk from Rydal Mount. Occasionally the poet left home to make long trips on the Continent or to Scotland and Wales, steadily composing under the influences of suggestive

Memorials of a Tour in Scotland (1814), on the Continent (1820), in Italy (1837), are collections of poems due to these excursions. His sonnets, many of which are gems of lyrical beauty unsurpassed, are chiefly in three series, Ecclesiastical Sketches, On the River Duddon, and Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty. Of his other chief works, Peter Bell, written in 1798, was not published till 1819 ; the Excursion, composed in 1795–1814, was published in 1814 ; The White Doe of Rylstone, written in 1807, was issued in 1815; while the Prelude, begun in 1799 and finished in 1805, was printed only after his death.

About 1830 the years of neglect and ridicule that Wordsworth had borne with serene mind changed for years of honour and fame. Oxford bestowed on him a doctor's degree; the nation, with one voice, on the death

scenes.

of Southey in 1843, crowned him with the laurel, “as the just due of the first of living poets"; and the best minds of England, such as Arnold, George Eliot, Mill, acknowledged the strength and blessedness of his influence. When he died, April 23rd, 1850, the greatest English poet of this century, greatest in original force, sincerity, and beauty of thought, greatest as the interpretative voice of Nature, greatest in its power of transfiguring human life with the glory of imagination, had passed away from the world and from the Grasmere that guards his grave.

The best personal sketch of the poet is that of Henry Taylor, written about 1840:-"He talked well in his way; with veracity, easy brevity, and force. His voice was good, frank, and sonorous, though practically clear, distinct, forcible rather than melodious; the tone of him business-like, sedately confident, no discourtesy, yet no anxiety about being courteous; a fine wholesome rusticity, fresh as his mountain breezes, sat well on the stalwart veteran, and on all he said and did. You would have said he was a usually taciturn man, glad to unlock himself, to audience sympathetic and intelligent, when such offered itself. His face bore marks of much, not always peaceful, meditation; the look of it not bland or benevolent, so much as close, impregnable, and hard ; a man multa tacere loquive paratus, in a world where he had experienced no lack of contradictions as he strode along! The eyes were not brilliant, but they had a quiet clearness; there was enough of brow, and well shaped ; rather too much cheek (horse-faced,' I have heard satirists say), face of a squarish shape and decidedly longish as I think the head itself was (its length, going horizontal): he was large-boned, lean, but still firm-knit, tall and strong-looking when he stood ; a right good old steel-gray figure, a veracious strength looking through him which might have suited one of the old steel-gray Margrafs."

Wordsworth's genius has had no finer interpreter than Coleridge. It is not the friend merely, but the keen critic of literature who, in dark days of neglect, could bravely stand forth to proclaim his friend's greatness. Wordsworth's excellences are, he says :-“First, an austere purity of language.... Second, a corresponding 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.. .. Even throughout his smaller poems there is scarcely one which is not rendered valuable by some just and original reflection .... Third, the sinewy strength and originality of single lines and paragraphs; the frequent curiosa felicitas of his diction.... Fourth, the perfect truth of nature in his images and descriptions, as taken immediately from nature....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.... Last, and preeminently, I challenge for this poet the gift of imagination. ...In the play of fancy, Wordsworth, to my feelings, is not always graceful, and is sometimes recondite. The likeness is occasionally too strange. ...But in imaginative power he stands nearest of a modern writers to Shakespeare and Milton. To employ his own words.. .. 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.”

« PreviousContinue »