William Wordsworth

Robert Carruthers, in Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature, 3rd ed. (1876; 1879) 5:124-36.

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, the most original of modern poets, was a native of Cockermouth, in the county of Cumberland, where he was born on the 7th of April 1770. His father was lawagent to Sir James Lowther, afterwards Earl of Lonsdale, but died when the poet was in his seventh year. William and his brother — Dr. Christopher Wordsworth, long master of Trinity College — after being some years at Hawkshead School, in Lancashire, were sent by their uncles to the university of Cambridge. William was entered of St. John's in 1787. Having finished his academical coarse, and taken his degree, he travelled for a short time. In the autumn of 1790, he accomplished a tour on the continent in company with a fellow-student, Mr. Robert Jones. "We went staff in hand," he said, "without knapsacks, and carrying each his needments tied up in a pocket handkerchief, with about 20 apiece in our pockets." With this friend, Wordsworth made a tour in North Wales the following year, after taking his degree in college. He was again in France towards the close of the year 1791, and remained in that country about a twelvemonth. He had hailed the French Revolution with feelings of enthusiastic admiration.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven.

Few poets escaped the contagion. Burns, Coleridge, Southey, and Campbell all felt the flame, and looked for a new era of liberty and happiness. It was long ere Wordsworth abandoned his political theory. His friends were desirous he should enter the church, but his republican sentiments and the unsettled state of his mind rendered him averse to such a step. To the profession of the law he was equally opposed. Poetry was to be the sole business of his life. A young friend, Raisley Calvert, dying in 1795, left him a sum of 900. "Upon the interest of the 900," he says, "400 being laid out in annuity, with 200 deducted from the principal, and 100, a legacy to my sister, and 100 more which the Lyrical Ballads brought me, my sister and I contrived to live seven years, nearly eight." A further sum of about 1000 came to him as part of the estate of his father, who died intestate; and with this small competence, Wordsworth devoted himself to study and seclusion. He first appeared as a poet in his twenty-third year, 1793. The title of his work was Descriptive Sketches, which was followed the same year by The Evening Walk. The walk is among the mountains of Westmoreland; the sketches refer to a tour made in Switzerland by the poet and his friend Jones. The poetry is of the style of Goldsmith; but description predominates over reflection. The enthusiastic dreams of liberty which then buoyed up the young poet, appear in such lines as the following:

O give, great God, to freedom's waves to ride
Sublime o'er conquest, avarice, and pride;
To sweep where pleasure decks her guilty bowers,
And dark oppression builds her thick-ribbed towers;
Give them, beneath their breast, while gladness springs,
To brood the nations o'er with Nile-like wings;
And great that every sceptred child at clay
Who cries, presumptuous, "Here their tide shall stay,"
Swept in their auger from the affrighted shore,
With all his creatures, sink to rise no more!

In the autumn of 1795, Wordsworth and his sister were settled at Racedewn Lodge, near Crewkerne in Somersetshire, where they were visited in the summer of 1797 by Coleridge. The poets were charmed with each other's society, and became friends for life. Wordsworth and his sister next moved to a residence near Coleridge's, at Alfoxen, near Nether Stowey. At this place many of his smaller poems were written, and also a tragedy, The Borderers, which he attempted to get acted at Covent Garden Theatre, but it was rejected. In 1797, appeared the Lyrical Ballads, to which Coleridge contributed his Ancient Mariner. A generous provincial bookseller, Joseph Cottle of Bristol, gave thirty guineas for the copyright of this volume; he ventured on an impression of five hundred copies, but was soon glad to dispose of the largest proportion of the five hundred at a loss, to a London bookseller. The ballads were designed by their author as an experiment how far a simpler kind of poetry than that in use would afford permanent interest to readers. The humblest subjects, he contended, were fit for poetry, and the language should be that "really used by men." The fine fabric of poetic diction which generations of the tuneful tribe had been laboriously rearing, he proposed to destroy altogether. The language of humble and rustic life, arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings, he considered to be a more permanent and far more philosophical language than that which frequently substituted for it by poets. The attempt of Wordsworth was either totally neglected or assailed with ridicule. The transition from the refined and sentimental school of verse, with select and polished diction, to such themes as "The Idiot Boy," and a style of composition disfigured by colloquial plainness, and by the mixture of ludicrous images and associations with passages of tenderness and pathos, was too violent to escape ridicule or insure general success. It was often impossible to tell whether the poet meant to be comic or tender, serious or ludicrous; while the choice of his subjects and illustrations, instead of being regarded as genuine simplicity, had an appearance of silliness or affectation. The faults of his worse ballads were so glaring, that they overpowered, at least for a time, the simple natural beauties, the spirit of gentleness and humanity, with which they were accompanied. It was a first experiment, and it was made without any regard for existing prejudices or feelings, or any wish to conciliate.

In 1798, Wordsworth, his sister, and Coleridge went to Germany, the latter parting from them at Hamburg, and going to Ratzeburg, where he resided four months; while the Wordsworths proceeded to Goslar, and remained there about half a year. On their return to England, they settled at Grasmere, in Westmoreland, where they lived for eight years. In 1800 he reprinted his Lyrical Ballads, with the addition of many new pieces, the work now forming two volumes. In October 1802, the poet was married to Mary Hutchinson, a lady with whom he had been early intimate, and on whom he wrote, in the third year of his married life, the exquisite lines, "She was a Phantom of Delight."

She came, no more a Phantom to adorn
A moment, but an inmate of the heart,
And yet a spirit there for me enshrined
To penetrate the lofty and the low:
Even as one essence of pervading light
Shines in the brightest of ten thousand stars,
And to the meek worm that feeds her lonely lamp
Couched in the dewy grass.

In 1803, accompanied by Coleridge and his sister, Wordsworth made a tour in Scotland, which forms an epoch in his literary history, as it led to the production of some of his most popular minor poems. He had been for some years engaged on a poem in blank verse, The Prelude, or Growth of my own Mind, which he brought to a close in 1805, but it was not published till after his death. In 1805, also, he wrote his Waggoner, not published till 1819. Since Pope, no poet has been more careful of his fame than Wordsworth, and he was enabled to practise this abstinence in publication, because, like Pope, he was content with moderate means and limited desires. His circumstances, however, were at this time so favourable, that he purchased, for 1000, a small cottage and estate at the head of Ulleswater. Lord Lonsdale generously offered 800 to complete this purchase, but the poet accepted only of a fourth of the sum. In 1807 appeared two volumes of Poems from his pen. They were assailed with all the severity of criticism, but it was seen that, whatever might be the theory of the poet, he possessed a vein of pure and exalted description and meditation which it was impossible not to feel and admire. The influence of nature upon man was his favourite theme; and though sometimes unintelligible from his idealism, he was also, on other occasions, just and profound. His worship of nature was ennobling and impressive. In 1809 the poet struck out into a new path. He came forward as a political writer, with an Essay on the Convention of Cintra, an event to which he was strongly opposed. His prose was as unsuccessful as his poetry, so far as sale was concerned; but there are fine vigorous passages in this pamphlet, and Canning is said to have pronounced it the most eloquent production since the days of Burke. Wordsworth had now abandoned his republican dreams, and was henceforward conservative of all time-honoured institutions in church and state. His views were never servile — they were those of a recluse politician, honest but impracticable. In the Spring of 1813 occurred Wordsworth's removal from Grasmere to Rydal Mount, one of the grand events of his life; and there be resided for the long period of thirty-seven years — a period of cheerful and dignified poetical retirement—

Long have I loved what I behold,
The night that calms, the day that cheers;
The common growth of mother-earth
Suffices me — her tears, her mirth,
Her humblest mirth and tears.

The dragon's wing, the magic ring,
I shall not covet for my dower,
If I along that lowly way
With sympathetic heart may stray,
And with a soul of power.

The circle of his admirers was gradually extending, and he continued to supply it with fresh materials of a higher order. In 1814 appeared The Excursion, a philosophical poem in blank verse, by far the noblest production of the author, and containing passages of sentiment, description, and pure eloquence, not excelled by any living poet, while its spirit of enlightened humanity and Christian benevolence — extending over all ranks of sentiment and animated being — imparts to the poem a peculiarly sacred and elevated character. The influence of Wordsworth on the poetry of his age has tints been as beneficial as extensive. He turned the public taste from pompous inanity to the study of man and nature; he banished the false and exaggerated style of character and emotion which even the genius of Byron stooped to imitate; and he enlisted the sensibilities and sympathies of his intellectual brethren in favour of the most expansive and kindly philanthropy. The pleasures and graces of his muse are all simple, pure, and lasting. In working out the plan of his Excursion, the poet has not, however, escaped from the errors of his early poems. The incongruity or want of keeping in the most of Wordsworth's productions is observable in this work. The principal character is a poor Scotch pedlar, who traverses the mountains in company with the poet, and is made to discourse, with clerk-like fluency, "Of truth, of grandeur, beauty, love, and hope."

It is thus that the poet violates the conventional rules of poetry and the realities of life; for surely it is inconsistent with truth and probability that a profound moralist and dialectician should be found in such a situation. In his travels with the "Wanderer," the poet is introduced to a "Solitary," who lives secluded from the world, after a life of busy adventures and high hope, ending in disappointment and disgust. They all proceed to the house of the pastor, who — in the style of Crabbe's Parish Register — recounts some of the deaths and mutations that had taken place in his sequestered valley; and with a description of a visit made by the three to a neighbouring lake, the poem concludes. The Excursion is an unfinished work, part of a larger poem, The Recluse, "having for its principal object the sensations and onions of a poet living in retirement." The narrative part of The Excursion is a mere framework, rude and unskilful, for a series of pictures of mountain scenery and philosophical dissertations, tending to shew how the external world is adapted to the mind of man, and good educed out of evil and suffering.

Within the soul a faculty abides,
That with interpositions, which would hide
And darken, so can deal, that they become
Contingencies of pomp, and serve to exalt
Her native brightness. As the ample moon
In the deep stillness of a summer even
Rising behind a thick and lofty grove,
Burns like an unconsuming fire of light
In the green trees; and, kindling on all sides,
Their leafy umbrage turns the dusky veil
Into a substance glorious as her own,
Yea, with her own incorporated, by power
Capacious and serene; like power abides
In man's celestial spirit; virtue thus
Sets forth and magnifies herself — thus feeds
A calm, a beautiful, and silent fire,
From the encumbrances of mortal life;
From error, disappointment — nay, from guilt;
And sometimes — so relenting justice wills—
From palpable oppressions of despair.

In a still loftier style of moral observation on the changes of life, the "gray-haired wanderer" exclaims:

So fails, so languishes, grows dim and dies,
All that this world is proud of. From their spheres
The stars of human glory are cast down;
Perish the roses and the towers of kings,
Princes, and emperors, and the crowns and palms
Of all the mighty, withered and consumed!
Nor is power given to lowliest innocence
Long to protect her own. The man himself
Departs; and soon is spent the line of those
Who, in the bodily image, in time mind,
In heart or sent, to station or pursuit
Did must resemble him. Degrees and ranks,
Fraternities and orders — heaping high
New wealth upon the burthen of the old,
And placing trust in privilege confirmed
And re-confirmed — are scoffed at with a smile
Of greedy foretaste, from the secret stand
Of desolation aimed; to slow decline
These yield, and these to sudden overthrow;
Their virtue, service, happiness, and state
Expire; and Nature's pleasant robe of green,
Humanity's appointed shroud, enwraps
Their monuments end their memory.

The picturesque parts of The Excursion are full of a quiet and tender beauty characteristic of the author. We subjoin two passages, the first descriptive of a peasant youth, the hero of his native vale.

—The mountain ash
No eye can overlook, when 'mid a grove
Of yet unfaded trees she lifts her head
Decked with autumnal berries, that outshine
Spring's richest blossoms; and ye may have marked
By a brook side or solitary tarn,
How she her station doth adorn. The pool
Glows at her feet, and all the gloomy rocks
Are brightened round her. In his native vale,
Such and so glorious did this youth appear;
A sight that kindled pleasure in all hearts
By his ingenuous beauty, by the gleam
Of his fair eyes, by his capacious brow,
By all the graces with which nature's hand
Had lavishly arrayed him. As old bards
Tell in their idle songs of wandering gods,
Pan or Apollo, veiled in human form;
Yet, like the sweet-breathed violet of the shade,
Discovered in their own despite to sense
Of mortals — if such fables without blame
May find chance mention on this sacred ground—
So, through a simple rustic garb's disguise
And through the impediment of rural cares,
In him revealed a scholar's genius shone;
And so, not wholly hidden from men's sight,
In him the spirit of a hero walked
Our unpretending valley. How the quoit
Whizzed from the stripling's arm! If touched by him,
The inglorious football mounted to the pitch
Of the lark's flight, or shaped a rainbow curve
Aloft, in prospect of the shouting field!
The indefatigable fox had learned
To dread his perseverance in the chase.
With admiration would be lift his eyes
To the wide-ruling eagle, and his hand
Was loath to assault the majesty be loved,
Else had the strongest fastnesses proved weak
To guard the loyal brood. The sailing glede,
The wheeling swallow, and the darting snipe,
The sporting sea-gull dancing with the waves.
And cautious waterfowl from distant climes,
Fixed at their seat, the centre of the mere,
Were subject to young Oswald's steady aim.

The peasant youth, with others in the vale, roused by the cry to arms, studies the rudiments of war, but dies suddenly:

To him, thus snatched away, his comrades paid
A soldier's honours. At his funeral hour
Bright was the sun, the sky a cloudless blue—
A golden lustre slept upon the hills;
And if by chance a stranger, wandering there,
From some commanding eminence had looked
Down on this spot, well pleased would be have seen
A glittering spectacle; but every face
Was pallid — seldom hath that eye been moist
With tears that wept not then; nor were the few
Who from their dwellings came not forth to join
In this sad service, less disturbed than we.
They started at the tributary peal
Of instantaneous thunder which announced
Through the still air the closing of the grave;
And distant mountains echoed with a sound
Of lamentation never heard before.

A description of deafness in a peasant would seem to be a subject hardly susceptible of poetical ornament; yet by contrasting it with the surrounding objects-the pleasant sounds and stir of nature and by his vein of pensive and graceful reflection, Wordsworth has made this one of his finest pictures:

—Almost at the root
Of that tall pine, the shadow of whose bare
And slender stem, while here I sat at eve,
Oft stretches towards me, like a long straight path
Traced faintly in the greensward; there, beneath
A plain blue stone, a gentle dalesman lies,
From whom in early childhood was withdrawn
The precious gift of hearing. He grew up
From year to year in loneliness of soul;
And this deep mountain valley was to him
Soundless, with all its streams. The bird of dawn
Did never rouse this cottager from sleep
With startling summons, not for his delight
The vernal cuckoo shouted; not for him
Murmured the labouring bee. When stormy winds
Were working the broad bosom of the lake
Into a thousand thousand sparkling waves,
Rocking the trees, or driving cloud on cloud
Along the sharp edge of yon lofty crags,
The agitated scene before his eye
Was silent as a picture: evermore
Were all things silent, wheresoe'er he moved.
Yet, by the solace of his own pure thoughts
Upheld, he duteously pursued the round
Of rural labours; the steep mountain side
Ascended with his staff and faithful dog;
The plough he guided, and the scythe he swayed;
And the ripe corn before his sickle fell
Among the jocund reapers.

By viewing man in connection with external nature, the poet blends his metaphysics with pictures of life and scenery. To build up and strengthen the powers of the mind, in contrast to the operations of sense, was ever his object. Like Bacon, Wordsworth would rather have believed all the fables in the Talmud and Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind — or that that mind does not, by its external symbols, speak to the human heart. He lived under the habitual "sway" of nature:

To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

The removal of the poet to Rydal was marked by an incident of considerable importance in his personal history. Through the influence of the Earl of Lonsdale, he was appointed distributor of stamps in the county of Westmoreland, which added greatly to his income, without engrossing all his time. He was now placed beyond the frowns of Fortune — if Fortune can ever be said to have frowned on one so independent of her smiles. The subsequent works of the poet were numerous — The White Doe of Rylstone, a romantic narrative poem, yet coloured with his peculiar genius; Sonnets on the River Duddon; The Waggoner, Peter Bell; Ecclesiastical Sketches; Yarrow Revisited, &c.

Having made repeated tours in Scotland and on the continent, the poet diversified his subjects with descriptions of particular scenes, local manners, legends, and associations. The whole of his works were arranged by their author according to their respective subjects; as Poems referring to the Period of Childhood; Poems founded on the Affections; Poems of the Fancy; Poems of the Imagination, &c. This classification is often arbitrary and capricious; but it was one of the conceits of Wordsworth, that his poems should be read in a certain continuous order, to give full effect to his system. Thus classified and published, the poet's works formed six volumes. A seventh, consisting of poems written very early and very late in life — as is stated — and the tragedy which had long lain past the author, were added in 1842. The tragedy is not happy, for Wordsworth had less dramatic power than any other contemporary poet. In the drama, however, both Scott and Byron failed; and Coleridge, with his fine imagination and pictorial expression, was only a shade more successful.

The latter years of Wordsworth's life were gladdened by his increasing fame, by academic honours conferred upon him by the universities of Durham and Oxford, by his appointment to the office of poet-laureate on the death of his friend Southey in 1843, and by a pension from the crown of 300 per annum. In 1847, he was shaken by a severe domestic calamity, the death of his only daughter, Dora, Mrs. Quillinan. This lady was worthy of her sire. Shortly before her death she published anonymously a Journal of a Residence in Portugal, whither she had gone in pursuit of health. Having attained to the great age of eighty, in the enjoyment of generally robust health (most of his poems were composed in the open air), Wordsworth died on the 23d of April 1850 — the anniversary of St. George, the patron saint of England — and was interred by the side of his daughter in the beautiful churchyard of Grasmere.

One of the most enthusiastic admirers of Wordsworth was Coleridge, so long his friend and associate, and who looked up to him with a sort of filial veneration and respect. He has drawn his poetical character at length in the Biographia Literaria, and if we consider it as applying to the higher characteristics of Wordsworth, without reference to the absurdity or puerility of some of his early fables, incidents, and language, it will be found equally just and felicitous. First, "An austere purity of language, both grammatically and logically; in short, a perfect appropriateness of the words to the meaning. Secondly, A correspondent weight and sanity of the thoughts and sentiments won, not from books, but from the poet's own meditations. They are fresh, and have the dew upon them. Even throughout his smaller poems, there is not one which is not rendered valuable by some just and original reflection. Thirdly, The sinewy strength and originality of single lines and paragraphs, the frequent 'curiosa felicitas' of his diction. Fourthly, 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 a physiognomic expression to all the works of nature. Fifthly, 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 and 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. Last, and preeminently, 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 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 Shakspeare and Milton, and yet in a mind 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—

And the gleam,
The light that never was on sea or land,
The consecration and the poet's dream."

The fame of Wordsworth was daily extending, as we have said, before his death. The few ridiculous or puerile passages which excited so much sarcasm, parody, and derision, had been partly removed by himself, or were by his admirers either quietly overlooked, or considered as mere idiosyncrasies of the poet that provoked a smile, while his higher attributes commanded admiration, and he had secured a new generation of readers. A tribe of worshippers, in the young poets of the day, had arisen to do him homage, and in some instances they carried the feeling to a wild but pardonable excess. Many of his former depreciators also joined the ranks of his admirers — partly because in his late works the poet did himself more justice both in his style and subjects. He is too intellectual, and too little sensuous, to use the phrase of Milton, ever to become generally popular, unless in some of his smaller pieces. His peculiar sensibilities cannot be relished by all. His poetry, however, is of various kinds. Forgetting his own theory as to the proper subjects of poetry; he ventured on the loftiest themes, and in calm sustained elevation of thought, appropriate imagery, and intense feeling, he often reminds the reader of the sublime strains of Milton. His "Laodamia," the "Vernal Ode," the "Ode to Lycoris and Dion," are pure and richly classic poems in conception and diction. Many of his sonnets have also a chaste and noble simplicity. In these short compositions, his elevation and power as a poet are perhaps more remarkably displayed than in any of his other productions. They possess a winning sweetness or simple grandeur, without the most distant approach to antithesis or straining for effect; while that tendency to prolixity and diffuseness which characterises his longer poems, is repressed by the necessity for brief and rapid thought and concise expression, imposed by the nature of the sonnet. It is no exaggeration to say that Milton alone has surpassed — if even he has surpassed — some of the noble sonnets of Wordsworth dedicated to liberty and inspired by patriotism.

LONDON, 1802.
Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour;
England hath need of thee; she is a fen
Of stagnant waters; altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea;
Pure as the naked heavens — majestic, free,
So didst then travel on life's common way
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself didst lay.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sweeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn:
Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Earth has not anything to shew more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This city now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Tax not the royal saint with vain expense,
With ill-matched aims the architect who planned,
Albeit labouring for a scanty band
Of white robed scholars only, this immense
And glorious work of fine intelligence!
Give all thou canst: high Heaven rejects the lore
Of nicely calculated less or more;
So deemed the man who fashioned for the sense
These lofty pillars, spread that branching roof
Self-poised, and scooped into ten thousand cells,
Where light and shade repose, where music dwells
Lingering — and wandering on, as loath to die;
Like thoughts whose very sweetness yielded proof
That they were born for immortality.

His "Intimations of Immortality," and "Lines on Tintern Abbey" are the finest examples of his rapt imaginative style, blending metaphysical truth with diffuse gorgeous description and metaphor. His simpler effusions are pathetic and tender. He has little strong passion; but in one piece, "Vaudracour and Julia," he has painted the passion of love with more warmth than might be anticipated from his abstract idealism:

—His present mind
Was under fascination; he beheld
A vision, and adored the thing he saw.
Arabian fiction never filled the world
With half the wonders that were wrought for him.
Earth breathed in one great presence of the spring:
Life turned the meanest of her implements
Before his eyes, to price above all gold;
The house she dwelt in was a sainted shrine;
Her chamber window did surpass in glory
The portals of the dawn; all paradise
Could, by the simple opening of a door,
Let itself in upon him; pathways, walks,
Swarmed with enchantment, till his spirit sank,
Surcharged within him — overblest to move
Beneath a sun that wakes a weary world
To its dull round of ordinary cares;
A man too happy for mortality!

The lovers parted under circumstances of danger, but had a stolen interview at night:

—Through all her courts
The vacant city slept; the busy winds,
That keep no certain intervals of rest,
Moved not; meanwhile the galaxy displayed
Her fires, that like mysterious pulses beat
Aloft — momentous but uneasy bliss!
To their full hearts the universe seemed hung
On that brief meeting's slender filament!

This is the style of Ford or Massinger. Living mostly apart from the world, and nursing with solitary complacency his poetical system, and all that could bear upon his works and pursuits as a poet, Wordsworth fell into those errors of taste, and that want of discrimination, to which we have already alluded. His most puerile ballads and attempts at humour were apparently as much prized by him, and classed with the same nicety and care, as the most majestic of his conceptions, or the most natural and beautiful of his descriptions. The art of condensation was also rarely practised by him. But if the poet's retirement or peculiar disposition was a cause of his weakness, it was also one of the sources of his strength. It left him untouched by the artificial or mechanical tastes of his age; it gave an originality to his conceptions and to the whole colour of his thoughts; and it completely imbued him with that purer antique life and knowledge of the phenomena of nature — the sky, lakes, and mountains of his native district, in all their tints and forms — which he has depicted with such power and enthusiasm. A less complacent poet would have been chilled by the long neglect and ridicule he experienced. His spirit was self-supported, and his genius, at once observant and meditative, was left to shape out its own creations, and extend its sympathies to that world which lay beyond his happy mountain solitude.