1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

William Maginn, "Gallery of Literary Characters: William Wordsworth, Esq." Fraser's Magazine 6 (October 1832) 313.



There's something in a flying horse,
There's something in a huge balloon,

—as the poet of Peter Bell says; and we may add, there's something in an easy chair — for in one, as our readers will observe by casting their eyes on the opposite picture, sits that poet aforesaid, namely William Wordsworth himself, "in propria persona."

No man of his generation has been so much praised and abused. He truly prophesied, in his preface to Lyrical Ballads, that these poems would be enthusiastically admired, or consigned to the uttermost contempt. Not long after their publication, the cackling brood of the Edinburgh reviewers came into existence, and they were determined to crow down Wordsworth. Some local Westmoreland spite actuated Brougham; and Jeffery was from the beginning, as he will be to the end, a mean and petty creature. Accordingly, the Lyrical Ballads, and all that ever fell from Wordsworth's muse, were decried as the most unmeaning nonsense that ever emanated from the brain of a driveller; and though they fought their way gallantly up in the world, in the teeth of this adverse criticism, and much more founded upon it (for of hack critics it is true, as of dogs, that the filth of one acts as an incentive to the filth of another), yet, to the very last of Jeffery's career, Wordsworth was set down as an ass, great as that belaboured by Peter Bell. A criticism even on the Excursion, the greatest didactic poem in our language, commenced with "This will never do."

He may now despise the Edinburgh reviewers, and all that to them appertains; but they had their effect in their day. Even Lord Byron, when attacking the crew in his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, fell into their slang; and the strictures which he poured forth so unsparingly on Wordsworth — simple Wordsworth — were taken from the Edinburgh Review. It will be seen, by the edition of his works now editing for Murray, that his lordship repented afterwards of his injustice, and described his sarcasms as unfair and illiberal. Without this testimony, we might have inferred the fact from the circumstance of his having imitated the great Laker in some half dozen of his poems, and transferred some of the most striking passages of him whom, in Don Juan, he stigmatised as "mad beyond all hope," into the most celebrated of his own productions.

The reaction which took place in Lord Byron's mind, has taken place in the mind of the reading populace in general, and people are now good enough to admit that the author of the Sonnets to Liberty, Laodamia, Dion, the Song in Brougham Castle, the Old Cumberland Beggar, the "Sweet Highland Girl," Yarrow Unvisited, the White Doe of Rylstone, and fifty other things, any of which would immortalise an ordinary writer, is something of a poet, to be named in the days which have produced an Alaric Watts or a Robert Montgomery. His fame will increase, and the more steadily the more such productions as the Idiot Boy, and Alice Fell, and all the rest of that tribe of compositions, are forgotten.

This he will not believe. Talk to Wordsworth of the Idiot Boy, at which all mankind have laughed, and he will tell you, with a most solemn intonation of voice, and great magniloquence of style, that Charles Fox was most particularly struck with admiration of that very poem, and caution you against committing the rash act of censuring a production written by such a poet as Wordsworth, and panegyrised by such a critic as Fox. The various other pieces of nonsense which he has published are furnished with sponsors equally famous; and as parents are generally strenuous in defence or patronage of their rickety children, so does the of our poet shine most conspicuously in favour of those compositions which, to eyes not parental, appear the most deformed and unsightly. Any man of common sense in half an hour would, by blotting a couple of dozen pages from Wordsworth's works, render them secure from criticism; but these very couple of dozen are the pages which he would most strenuously insist on retaining, stunning you with oratory to prove them the most superb things ever composed.

For the rest, he is a good sturdy Tory, a most exemplary man in all the relations of life, and a stamp-master void of reproach.