1864 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

Zilla Wiffen Watts, 1864 ca.; in Alaric Alfred Watts, Alaric Watts, a Narrative of his Life, by his Son (1884) 1:238-42.



We made the acquaintance of Mr. Wordsworth on the occasion of a visit to Miss Jewsbury at Manchester, in the year 1824 or 1825. Of the various portraits which have been published of him, one painted by Mr. Carruthers, and engraved for Galignani's edition of his poems, issued in Paris in 1828, reminds me more of the poet, as I remember him, than any other. I recall an evening passed in his society on this occasion in which we discussed poetry, and he repeated to me, at my request, some of his sonnets. I happened to quote some lines from Coleridge's "Christabel." He did not dissent from my expressions of admiration of this poem, but rather discomposed me by observing that it was an indelicate poem, a defect which it had never suggested itself to me to associate with it. I was, perhaps, the less prepared for a censure of such a description on his friend Coleridge, as he had just before been talking of Burns, to some of whose writings it might certainly have applied, in terms of cordial admiration. From this, and some other characteristics of his criticism, I could not forbear the impression that his sympathies were rather with his predecessors than his contemporaries in the gentle art. I observed that he rarely left a commendation of the latter wholly unqualified; so that the effect of his criticism seemed to be rather to qualify mercy with justice than, as I should rather have preferred, to temper justice with mercy. I could have imagined him born, like Charles Lamb's Hester,

Of those who held the Quaker rule,
That doth the human feelings cool,
Though he was trained in Nature's school,
And Nature blessed him,

for he reminded me not infrequently of some of the older male members of the Society of Friends whom I had known in my youth.

Of his own poems he expressed himself with a confidence not unlikely to be misunderstood by strangers, whom he might not have had the opportunity of impressing, (as a very short conversation would ensure his doing,) with the entire singleness and sincerity of his nature. He asked me what I thought the finest, elegiac composition in the language; and, when I diffidently suggested "Lycidas," he replied, "You are not far wrong. It may, I think, be affirmed that Milton's 'Lycidas,' and my 'Laodamia,' are twin Immortals." I admired "Laodamia," and was quite willing that so it should be.

Indeed, it was difficult to differ from him on any question of poetical criticism. He delivered judgment on such matters as one having authority, reasoning, as it seemed to me, from some clearly defined principle in his mind, with which the opinion was in accord, so as to be beyond question; and as though it were his duty to lay down the law as he found it, without fear, favour, or affection. I was much struck by the spirit of rectitude which seemed to animate the expression of every opinion he uttered. He spoke always as though he were upon oath.

He was a patient and courteous listener, paying the most scrupulous attention to every word, never interrupting, and with a certain fixedness of his clear grey eyes which made one feel that, whatever one's opinion might be, one must be prepared to give a substantial reason for it, and, in doing so, to discard all that might appear fanciful, and not to be readily explained.

We had the pleasure, at a later period, of receiving Mr. WORDSWORTH at our residence in London; and we also visited him at the house of his son-in-law, Mr. Quillinan, to whom he had given some time before a letter of introduction to us, and whom we liked extremely.

The poet at that time had just received a visit from a young American lady, who claimed to be a great admirer of his; but who had profited, nevertheless, so imperfectly by his philosophy, as to have announced to him, that she was one of the richest girls in the States, and didn't intend to marry anybody lower in rank than a. Duke. He raised a smile from us all by characterizing his admirer as "rather a tumultuous young woman."