1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

Anonymous, Editorial, The New Times (9 February 1821).



To our extreme surprise, we find The Morning Chronicle quoting WORDSWORTH! That majestic Poet, who did so much to animate his country during the war, against the disheartening policy of the Whigs, is now adduced by these same Whigs to prove that they, and they alone, can feel and value British freedom! The first part of the "Sonnets dedicated to Liberty," was composed between 1801 and 1807. In the 16th of that series, he indignantly exclaims—

It is not to be thought of, that the flood
Of British freedom, which to the open sea
Of the world's praise, from dark antiquity,
Hath flow'd, with pomp of waters unwithstood,
—That this most famous stream in bogs and sands
Should perish!

But in what bogs and sands was the Poet fearful that it would perish? In the bogs and sands of Whig policy, ready as it then was to sacrifice to the hopes of place, the surest safeguards of British freedom, and ready, as it now is, to sacrifice to the same hopes, the best pledge of British morals.

It required more than ordinary assurance to impose this very Sonnet on the world as a proof that WORDSWORTH'S ideas either of morals or of freedom, agreed with their own. Why did they not go on to the last Sonnet of that series, a Sonnet written at the end of 1806, and commemorating the effect of their influence on the Continent of Europe?

Another year! — another deadly blow!
Another mighty empire overthrown!

Thus spoke the Poet of the fall of Prussia, sacrificed by the Whigs to their eager desire for peace with

—that adventurer, who had paid
His vows to fortune; and in cruel slight
Of virtuous hope, of liberty and right,
Had follow'd whereso'er a way was made
By the blind goddess—

With the same utter and total aversion, must the Poet necessarily turn from the sacrifice they now demand — he who emphatically cries

How dreadful the dominion of the impure!

The Morning Chronicle quotes with complacency WORDSWORTH'S commendation of "the morals which MILTON held"; but it forgets that the stern republican even when arguing for an unusual latitude in the doctrine and discipline of Divorce, provides, "that license, and levity and unconsented breach of faith should not therein be countenanced." Yet the British Parliament is called upon to countenance it by a solemn ordinance stamped with all the sanctity of religion; and why? Because, forsooth, "the opinion of the great mass of the people," is alleged by the Whigs to be in favour of this measure! It is said, we admit that such is the state of public opinion. We admit no such thing. We know the arts by which a large portion of popular delusion on the subject was produced; but we also know that that delusion is rapidly passing away, and that Brandenburgh House is shunned by those whose attendance would afford the best criterion of an opinion favourable to her MAJESTY — we mean, by the Female Nobility of England.