This author is known to belong to a certain brotherhood of poets, who have haunted for some years about the Lakes of Cumberland; and is generally looked upon, we believe, as the purest model of the excellences and peculiarities of the school which they have been labouring to establish. Of the general merits of that school, we have had occasion to express our opinion pretty fully, in more places than one, and even to make some allusion to the former publications of the writer now before us, We are glad, however, to have found an opportunity of attending somewhat more particularly to his pretensions.
The Lyrical Ballads were unquestionably popular; and, we have no hesitation in saying, deservedly popular; for in spite of their occasional vulgarity, affectation, and silliness, they were undoubtedly characterised by a strong spirit of originality, of pathos, and natural feeling; and recommended to all good minds by the clear impression which they bore of the amiable dispositions and virtuous principles of the author. By the help of these qualities, they were enabled, not only to recommend themselves to the indulgence of many judicious readers, but even to beget among a pretty numerous class of persons, a sort of admiration of the very defects by which they were attended. It was upon this account chiefly, that we thought it necessary to set ourselves against this alarming innovation. Childishness, conceit, and affectation, are not of themselves very popular or attractive; and though mere novelty has sometimes been found sufficient to give them a temporary currency, we should have had no fear of their prevailing to any dangerous extent, if they had been graced with no more seductive accompaniments. It was precisely because the perverseness and bad taste of this new school was combined with a great deal of genius and of laudable feeling, that we were afraid of their spreading and gaining ground among us, and that we entered into the discussion with a degree of zeal and animosity which some might think unreasonable towards authors, to whom so much merit had been conceded. There were times and moods indeed, in which we were led to suspect ourselves of unjustifiable severity, and to doubt, whether a sense of public duty had not carried us rather too far in reprobation of errors, that seemed to be atoned for, by excellences of no vulgar description. At other times, the magnitude of these errors — the disgusting absurdities into which they led their feebler admirers, and the derision and contempt which they drew from the more fastidious, even upon the merits with which they were associated, made us wonder more than ever at the perversity by which they were retained, and regret that we had not declared ourselves against them with still more formidable and decided hostility.
In this temper of mind, we read the "annonce" of Mr. Wordsworth's publication with a good deal of interest and expectation, and opened his volumes with greater anxiety, than he or his admirers will probably give us credit for. We have been greatly disappointed certainly as to the quality of the poetry; but we doubt whether the publication has afforded so much satisfaction to any other of his readers: — it has freed us from all doubt or hesitation as to the justice of our former censures, and has brought the matter to a test, which we cannot help hoping may be convincing to the author himself.
Mr. Wordsworth, we think, has now brought the question, as to the merit of his new school of poetry, to a very fair and decisive issue. The volumes before us are much more strongly marked by all its peculiarities than any former publication of the fraternity. In our apprehension, they are, on this very account, infinitely less interesting or meritorious; but it belongs to the public, and not to us, to decide upon their merit, and we will confess, that so strong is our conviction of their obvious inferiority, and the grounds of it, that we are willing for once to wave our right of appealing to posterity, and to take the judgment of the present generation of readers, and even of Mr. Wordsworth's former admirers, as conclusive on this occasion. If these volumes, which have all the benefit of the author's former popularity, turn out to be nearly as popular as the lyrical ballads — if they sell nearly to the same extent — or are quoted and imitated among half as many individuals, we shall admit that Mr. Wordsworth has come much nearer the truth in his judgment of what constitutes the charm of poetry, than we had previously imagined — and shall institute a more serious and respectful inquiry into his principles of composition than we have yet thought necessary. On the other hand, — if this little work, selected from the compositions of five maturer years, and written avowedly for the purpose of exalting a system, which has already excited a good deal of attention, should be generally rejected by those whose prepossessions were in its favour, there is room to hope, not only that the system itself will meet with no more encouragement, but even that the author will be persuaded to abandon plan of writing, which defrauds his industry and talents of their natural reward.
Putting ourselves thus upon our country, we certainly look for a verdict against this publication; and have little doubt indeed of the result, upon a fair consideration of the evidence contained in these volumes. — To accelerate that result, and to give a general view of the evidence, to those into whose hands the record may not have already fallen, we must now make a few observations and extracts.
We shall not resume any of the particular discussions by which we formerly attempted to ascertain the value of the improvements which this new school has effected in poetry; but shall lay the grounds of our opposition, for this time, a little more broadly. The end of poetry, we take it, is to please — and the name, we think, is strictly applicable to every metrical composition from which we receive pleasure, without any laborious exercise of the understanding. This pleasure, may, general, be analyzed into three parts — that which we receive from the excitement of Passion or emotion — that which is derived from the play of Imagination, or the easy exercise of Reason — and that which depends on the character and qualities the Diction. The two first are the vital and primary springs of poetical delight, and can scarcely require explanation to any one. The last has been alternately overrated and undervalued by the professors of the poetical art, and is in such low estimation with the author now before us and his associates, that it is necessary to say a few words in explanation of it.
One great beauty of diction exists only for those who have some degree of scholarship or critical skill. This is what depends on the exquisite propriety of the words employed, the delicacy with which they are adapted to the meaning which is to be expressed. Many of the finest passages in Virgil and Pope derive their principal charm from the fine propriety of their diction. Another source of beauty, which extends only to the more instructed class of readers, is that which consists in the judicious or happy application of expressions which have been sanctified by the use of famous writers, or which bear the stamp of a simple or venerable antiquity. There are other beauties of diction, however, which are perceptible by all — the beauties of sweet sound and pleasant associations. The melody of words and verses is indifferent to no reader of poetry; but the chief recommendation of poetical language is certainly derived from those general associations, which give it a character of dignity or elegance, sublimity or tenderness. Every one knows that there are low and mean expressions, as well as lofty and grave ones; and that some words bear the impression of coarseness and vulgarity, as clearly as others do of refinement and affection. We do not mean, of course, to say any thing in defence of the hackneyed common-places of ordinary versemen. Whatever might have been the original character of these unlucky phrases, they are now associated with nothing but ideas of schoolboy imbecility and vulgar affectation. But what we do maintain is, that much of the most popular poetry in the world owes its celebrity chiefly to the beauty of its diction; and that no poetry can be long or generally acceptable, the language of which is coarse, inelegant or infantine.
From this great source of pleasure, we think the readers of Mr. Wordsworth are in a great measure cut off. His diction has no where any pretensions to elegance or dignity; and he has scarcely ever condescended to give the grace of correctness or melody to his versification. If it were merely slovenly and neglected, however, all this might be endured. Strong sense and powerful feeling will ennoble any expressions; or, at least, no one who is capable of estimating those higher merits, will be disposed to mark these little defects. But, in good truth, no man, now-a-days, composes verses for publication with a slovenly neglect of their language. It is a fine and laborious manufacture, which can scarcely ever be made in a hurry; and the faults which it has, may, for the most part, be set down to bad taste or incapacity, rather than to carelessness or oversight. With Mr. Wordsworth and his friends, it is plain that their peculiarities of diction are things of choice, and not of accident. They write as they do, upon principle and system; and it evidently costs them much pains to keep down to the standard which they have proposed to themselves. They are, to the full, as much mannerists, too, as the poetasters who ring changes on the common-places of magazine versification; and all the difference between them is, that they barrow their phrases from a different and a scantier "gradus ad Parnasssum." If they were, indeed, to discard all imitation and set phraseology, and to bring in no words merely for show or for metre, — as much, perhaps, might be gained in freedom and originality, as would infallibly be lost in allusion and authority; but, in point of fact, the new poets are just as great borrowers as the old; only that, instead of borrowing from the more popular passages of their illustrious predecessors, they have preferred furnishing themselves from vulgar ballads and plebeian nurseries.
Their peculiarities of diction alone, are enough, perhaps, to render them ridiculous; but the author before us really seems anxious to court this literary martyrdom by a device still more infallible, — we mean, that of connecting his most lofty, tender, or impassioned conceptions, with objects and incidents, which the greater part of his readers will probably persist in thinking low, silly, or uninteresting. Whether this is done from affectation and conceit alone, or whether it may not arise, in some measure, from the self-illusion of a mind of extraordinary sensibility, habituated to solitary meditation, we cannot undertake to determine. It is possible enough, we allow, that the sight of a friend's garden-spade, or a sparrow's nest, or a man gathering leeches might really have suggested to such a mind a train of powerful impressions and interesting reflections; but it is certain, that, to most minds, such associations will always appear forced, strained, and unnatural; and that the composition in which it is attempted to exhibit them, will always have the air of parody, or ludicrous and affected singularity. All the world laughs at Elegiac stanzas to a sucking-pig — a Hymn on Washing-day — Sonnets to one's grandmother — or Pindarics on gooseberry-pye; and yet, we are afraid, it will not be quite easy to convince Mr. Wordsworth, that the same ridicule must infallibly attach to most of the pathetic pieces in these volumes. To satisfy our readers, however, as to the justice of this and our other anticipations, we shall proceed, without further preface, to lay before them a short view of their contents.
The first is a kind of ode "to the Daisy," — very flat, feeble, and affected; and in a diction as artificial, and as much encumbered d with heavy expletives, as the theme of an unpractised schoolboy. The two following stanzas will serve as a specimen.
When soothed a while by milder airs,
Thee Winter in the garland wears
That thinly shades his few grey hairs;
Spring cannot shun thee;
Whole summer fields are thine by right;
And Autumn, melancholy Wight!
Doth in thy crimson head delight
When rains are on thee.
In shoals and bands, a morrice train,
Thou greet'st the Traveller in the lane;
If welcome once thou count'st it gain
Thou art not daunted,
Nor car'st if thou be set at naught;
And oft alone in nooks remote
We meet thee, like a pleasant thought,
When such are wanted. I. p. 2.
The scope of the piece is to say, that the flower is found every where; and that it has suggested many pleasant thoughts to the author — some chime of fancy "wrong or right" — some feeling of devotion "more or less" — and other elegancies of the same stamp. It ends with this unmeaning prophecy.
Thou long the poet's praise shalt gain;
Thou wilt be more beloved by men
In times to come; thou not in vain
Art Nature's favourite. I. 6.
The next is called "Louisa," and begins in this dashing and affected manner.
I met Louisa in the shade;
And, having seen that lovely maid,
Why should I fear to say
That the is ruddy, fleet, and strong;
And down the rocks can leap along,
Like rivulets in May? I. 7.
Does Mr. Wordsworth really imagine that this is at all more natural or engaging than the ditties of our common song writers?
A little farther on we have another original piece, entitled, "The Redbreast and the Butterfly," of which our readers will probably be contented with the first stanza.
Art thou the bird whom man loves best,
The pious bird with the scarlet breast,
Our little English Robin
The bird that comes about our doors
When autumn winds are fobbing?
Art thou the Peter of Norway Boors?
Their Thomas in Finland,
And Russia far inland
The bird, whom by some name or other
All men who know thee call their brother,
The darling of children and men?
Could Father Adam open his eyes,
And see this sight beneath the skies,
He'd with to close them again. I. 16.
This, it must be confessed, is "Silly Sooth" in good earnest. The three last lines seem to be downright raving.
By and by, we have a piece of namby-pamby "to the Small Celandine," which we should almost have taken for a professed imitation of one of Mr. Philips's prettyisms. Here is a page of it.
Comfort have thou of thy merit,
Kindly, unassuming spirit!
Careless of thy neighbourhood,
Thou dost show thy pleasant face
On the moor, and in the wood,
In the lane; — there's not a place,
Howsoever mean it be,
But 'tis good enough for thee.
Ill befal the yellow flowers,
Children of the flaring hours!
Buttercups, that will be seen,
Whether we will see or no;
Others, too, of lofty mien;
They have done as worldlings do,
Taken praise that should be thine,
Little, humble Celandine! I. 25.
After talking of its "bright coronet,"
And its arch and wily ways,
And its store of other praise,
the ditty is wound up with this piece of babyish absurdity.
Thou art not beyond the moon,
But a thing "beneath our shoon;"
Let, as old Magellan did,
Others roam about the sea;
Build who will a pyramid;
Praise it is enough for me,
If there be but three or four
Who will love my little flower. I. 30.
After this come some more manly lines on "The Character of the Happy Warrior," and a chivalrous legend on "The Horn of Egremont Castle," which, without being very good, is very tolerable, and free from most of the author's habitual defects. Then follow some pretty, but professedly childish verses, on a kitten playing with the falling leaves. There is rather too much of Mr. Ambrose Philips here and there in this piece also; but is amiable and lively.
Further on, we find an "Ode to Duty," in which the lofty vein is very unsuccessfully attempted. This is the concluding stanza.
Stern lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace
Nor knew we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face;
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens through thee are fresh and strong. I. 73.
The two last lines seem to be utterly without meaning; at least we have no sort of conception in what sense Duty can said to keep the old skies fresh, and the stars from wrong.
The next piece, entitled "The Beggars," may be taken, we fancy, as a touchstone of Mr. Wordsworth's merit. There something about it that convinces us it is a favourite of the author's; though to us, we will confess, it appears to be a very paragon of silliness and affectation. Our readers shall have the greater part of it. It begins thus.
She had a tall man's height, or more;
No bonnet screen'd her from the heat;
A long drab coloured cloak she wore,
A mantle reaching to her feet:
What other dress she had I could not know;
Only she wore a cap that was as white as snow.
Before me begging did the stand,
Pouring out sorrows like a sea;
Grief after grief, — on English land
Such woes I knew could never be;
And yet a boon I gave her; for the creature
Was beautiful to see; a weed of glorious feature! I. 77, 78.
The poet, leaving this interesting person, falls in with two ragged boys at play, and "like that woman's face as gold is like to old." Here is the conclusion of this memorable adventure.
They bolted on me thus, and lo!
Each ready with a plaintive whine
Said I, "Not half an hour ago
Your mother has had alms of mine,"
"That cannot be," one answered, "She is dead."
"Nay but I gave her pence, and the will buy you bread."
"She has been dead, Sir, many a day."
"Sweet boys, you're telling me a lie;
It was your mother, as I say—"
And in the twinkling of an eye,
"Come, come!" cried one; and, without more ado,
Off to some other play they both together flew. I. 79.
"Alice Fell" is a performance of the same order. The poet, driving into Durham in a postchaise, hears a sort of scream; and, calling to the post-boy to stop, finds a little girl crying on the back of the vehicle.
"My cloak!" the word was last and first,
And loud and bitterly the wept,
As if her very heart would burst;
And down from off the chaise she leapt.
"What ails you, child?" she sobb'd, "Look here!"
I saw it in the wheel entangled,
A weather beaten rag as e'er
From any garden scarecrow dangled. I. 85, 86.
They then extricate the torn garment, and the good-natured bard takes the child into the carriage along with him. The narrative proceeds—
"My child, in Durham do you dwell?"
She check'd herself in her distress,
And said, "My name is Alice Fell;
I'm fatherless and motherless.
"And I to Durham, Sir, belong."
And then, as if the thought would choke
Her very heart, her grief grew strong;
And all was for her tatter'd cloak.
The chaise drove on; our journey's end
Was nigh; and, sitting by my side,
As if she'd lost her only friend
She wept, nor would be pacified.
Up to the tavern-door we post;
Of Alice and her grief I told;
And I gave money to the host,
To buy a new cloak for the old.
"And let it be of duffil grey,
As warm a cloak as man can sell!"
Proud creature was she the next day,
The little orphan, Alice Fell! I. p. 87, 88.
If the printing of such trash as this be not felt as an insult the public taste, we are afraid it cannot be insulted.
After this follows the longest and most elaborate poem in the volume, under the title of "Resolution and Independence." The poet, roving about on a common one fine morning, falls into pensive musings on the fate of the sons of song, which he sums up in this fine distich.
We poets in our youth begin in gladness;
But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness. I. p. 92,
In the midst of his meditations—
I saw a man before me unawares
The oldest man he seemed that ever wore grey hairs.
Motionless as a cloud the old man stood;
That heareth not the loud winds when they call;
And moveth altogether, if it move at all,
At length, himself unsettling, he the pond
Stirred with his staff, and fixedly did look
Upon the muddy water, which he conn'd,
As if he had been reading in a book:
And now such freedom as I could I took;
And, drawing to his fide, to him did say,
"This morning gives us promise of a glorious day."
"What kind of work is that which you pursue?
This is a lonesome place for one like you."
He answer'd me with pleasure and surprise;
And there was, while he spake, a fire about his eyes.
He told me that he to this panel had come
To gather leeches, being old and poor:
Employment hazardous and wearisome!
And he had many hardships to endure:
From pond to pond he roam'd, from moor to moor,
Hunting, with God's good help, by choice or chance:
And in this way he gain'd an honest maintenance. I. p. 92-95.
Notwithstanding the distinctness of this answer, the poet, it seems, was so wrapped up in his own moody fancies, that he could not attend to it.
And now, not knowing what the old man had said,
My question eagerly did I renew,
"How is it that you live, and what is it you do?"
He with a smile did then his words repeat;
And said, that, gathering leeches, far and wide
He travelled; stirring thus about his feet
The waters of the ponds where they abide.
"Once I could meet with them on every side;
But they have dwindled long by flow decay;
Yet still I persevere, and find them where I may." I. p. 96, 97.
This very interesting account, which he is lucky enough at last to comprehend, fills the poet with comfort and admiration; and, quite glad to find the old man so cheerful, he resolves to take a lesson of contentedness from him; and the poem ends with this pious ejaculation—
"God," said I, "be my help and stay secure;
I'll think of the leech-gatherer on the lonely moor." I. p. 97.
We defy the bitterest enemy of Mr. Wordsworth to produce any thing at all parallel to this from any collection of English poetry, or even from the specimens of his friend Mr. Southey. The volume ends with some sonnets, in a very different measure, of which we shall say something by and by.
The first poems in the second volume were written during a tour in Scotland. The first is a very dull one about Rob Roy; but the title that attracted us most was "an Address to the Sons of Burns, after visiting their Father's Grave." Never was any thing, however, more miserable. This is one of the four stanzas.
Strong bodied if ye be to bear
Intemperance with less harm, beware!
But if your father's wit ye share,
Then, then indeed,
Ye sons of Burns! for watchful care
There will be need. II. p. 29.
The next is a very tedious, affected performance, called "the Yarrow Unvisited." The drift of it is, that the poet refused to visit this celebrated stream, because he had "a vision of his own" about it, which the reality might perhaps undo; and, for this no less fantastical reason—
Should life be dull, and spirits low,
'Twill soothe us in our sorrow,
That earth has something yet to show,
The bonny holms of Yarrow! II. p. 35.
After this we come to some ineffable compositions, which the poet has simply entitled, "Moods of my own Mind." One begins—
O Nightingale! thou surely art
A creature of a fiery heart—
Thou sing'st is if the god of wine
Had help'd thee to a valentine. II. p. 42.
This is the whole of another—
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety. II. p. 44.
A third, "on a Sparrow's Nest," runs thus—
Look, five blue eggs are gleaming there!
Few visions have I seen more fair,
Nor many prospects of delight
More pleasing than that simple sight. II. p. 53.
The charm of this fine prospect, however, was, that it reminded him of another nest which his sister Emmeline and he had visited in their childhood
She look'd at it as if she fear'd it;
Still wishing, dreading to be near it:
Such heart was in her, being then
A little prattler among men. &c. &c. II. p. 5.
We have then a rapturous mystical ode to the Cuckoo in which the author, striving after force and originality, produces nothing but absurdity.
O Cuckoo! shall I call thee bird,
Or but a wandering voice? II. p. 57.
And then he says, that the said voice seemed to pass from hill to hill, "about, and all about!" — Afterwards he assures us, it tells him "in the vale of visionary hours," and calls it a darling; but still insists, that it is
No bird; but an invisible thing,
A voice, — a mystery. II. p. 58.
It is afterwards "a hope;" and "a love;" and, finally,
O blessed bird! the earth we pace
Again appears to be
An unsubstantial, faery place,
That is fit home for thee! II. p. 59.
After this there is an address to a butterfly, whom he invites to visit him, in these simple strains—
This plot of orchard-ground is ours;
My trees they are, my sister's flowers;
Stop here whenever you are weary. II. p. 61.
We come next to a long story of a "Blind Highland Boy," who lived near an arm of the sea, and had taken a most unnatural desire to venture on that perilous element. His mother did all she could to prevent him; but one morning, when the good woman was out of the way, he got into a vessel of his own, and pushed out, from the shore.
In such a vessel ne'er before
Did human creature leave the shore. II. p. 72.
And then we are told, that if the sea should get rough, "a beehive would be ship as safe." "But say, what was it?" a poetical interlocutor is made to exclaim most naturally; and here followeth the answer, upon which all the pathos and interest of the story depend.
A HOUSEHOLD TUB, like one of those
Which women use to wash their clothes!! II. p. 72.
This, it will be admitted, is carrying the matter as far as it will well go; nor is there any thing, — down to the wiping of shoes, or the evisceration of chickens, — which may not be introduced in poetry, if this is tolerated. A boat is sent out and brings the boy ashore, who being tolerably frightened we suppose, promises to go to sea no more; and so the story ends.
Then we have a poem, called "the Green Linnet," which opens with the poet's telling us,
A whispering leaf is now my joy,
And then a bird will be the toy
That doth my fancy tether. II. p. 79.
and closes thus—
With thus before my eyes he gleams,
A brother of the leaves he seems;
Wise in a moment forth he teems
His little song in gushes:
As if pleas'd him to disdain
And mock the form which he did feign,
While he was dancing with the train
Of leaves among the bushes. II. p. 81.
The next is called "Star Gazers." A set of people peeping through a telescope, all seem to come away disappointed with the sight; whereupon thus sweetly moralizeth our poet.
Yet, showman, where can lie the cause? Shall thy implement have blame,
A boaster, that when he is tried, fails, and is put to shame?
Or is it good as others are, and be their eyes in fault?
Their eyes, or minds? or, finally, is this resplendent vault?
Or, is it rather, that conceit rapacious is and strong,
And bounty never yields to much but it seems to do her wrong?
Or is it, that when human souls a journey long have had,
And are returned into themselves, they cannot but be sad? II. p. 88.
There are then some really sweet and amiable verses on a French lady, separated from her own children, fondling the baby of a neighbouring cottager; — after which we have this quintessence of unmeaningness, entitled, "Foresight."
That is work which I am rueing—
Do as Charles and I are doing!
Strawberry-blossoms, one and all,
We must spare them — here are many:
Look at it — the flower is small,
Small and low, though fair as any:
Do not touch it! summers two
I am older, Anne, than you.
Pull the primrose, sister Anne!
Pull as many as you can.
Primroses, the spring may love them—
Summer knows but little of them:
Violets, do what they will,
Wither'd on the ground must lie;
Daisies will be daisies still;
Daisies they must live and die:
Fill your lap, and fill your bosom,
Only spare the strawberry-blossom! II. p. 115, 116.
Afterwards come some stanzas about an echo repeating a cuckoo voice; here is one for a sample—
Whence the voice from air or earth
This the cuckoo cannot tell;
But a startling sound had birth,
As the bird must know full well. II. p. 123.
Then we have Elegiac stanzas "to the Spade of a friend," beginning—
Spade! with which Wilkinson hath till'd his lands,—
—but too dull to be quoted any further.
After this there is a Minstrel's Song, on the Restoration of Lord Clifford the Shepherd, which is in a very different strain of poetry; and then the volume is wound up with an "Ode," with no other title but the motto, "Paulo majora canamus." This is, beyond all doubt, the most illegible and unintelligible part of the publication. We can pretend to give no analysis or explanation of it; — our readers must make what they can of the following extracts.
—But there's a tree, of many one,
A single field which I have look'd upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone:
The pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream? II. 150.
O joy! that in our embers
Is something that doth live,
That nature yet remembers
What was to fugitive!
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benedictions: not indeed
For that which is molt worthy to be blest;
Delight and liberty, the simple creed
Of childhood, whether fluttering or at rest,
With new-born hope for ever in his breast:—
Not for these I raise
The song of thanks and praise;
But for those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings;
Blank misgivings of a creature
Moving about in worlds not realiz'd,
High instincts, before which our mortal nature
Did tremble like a guilty thing surpriz'd:
But for those first affections,
Those shadowy recollections,
Which be they what they may,
Are yet the fountain light of all our day,
Are yet a master light of all our seeing;
Uphold us, cherish us, and make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal silence: truths that wake,
To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
Nor man nor boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!
Hence, in a season of calm weather,
Though inland far we be,
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore. II. 154-6.
We have thus gone through this publication, with a view to enable our readers to determine, whether the author of the verses which have now been exhibited, is entitled to claim the honours of an improver or restorer of our poetry, and to found a new school to supersede or new-model all our maxims on the subject. If we were to stop here, we do not think that Mr. Wordsworth, or his admirers, would have any reason to complain; for what we have now quoted is undeniably the most peculiar and characteristic part of his publication, and must be defended and applauded if the merit or originality of his system is to be seriously maintained. In our own opinion, however, the demerit of that system cannot be fairly appreciated, until it be shown, that the author of the bad verses which we have already extracted, can write good verses when he pleases; and that, in point of fact, he does always write good verses, when, by any accident, he is led to abandon his system, and to transgress the laws of that school which he would fain establish on the ruin of all existing authority. The length to which our extracts and observations have already extended, necessarily restrains us within more narrow limits in this part of our citations; but it will not require much labour to find a pretty decided contrast to some of the passages we have already detailed. The song on the restoration of Lord Clifford is put into the mouth of an ancient minstrel of the family; and in composing it, the author was led, therefore, almost irresistibly to adopt the manner and phraseology that is understood to be connected with that sort of composition, and to throw aside his own babyish incidents and fantastical sensibilities. How he has succeeded, the reader will be able to judge from the few foilowing extracts. The poem opens in this spirited manner—
High in the breathless hall the Minstrel sate,
And Emont's murmur mingled with the song.—
The words of ancient time I thus translate,
A festal strain hath been silent long.
"From town to town, from tower to tower,
The red rose is a gladsome flower.
Her thirty years of winter past,
The red rose is revived at last;
She lifts her head for endless Spring,
For everlasting blossoming!" II. p. 128-9.
After alluding, in a very animated manner, to the troubles and perils which drove the youth of the hero into concealment, the minstrel proceeds—
Alas! when evil men are strong
No life is good, no pleasure long.
The boy must part from Mosedale's groves,
And leave Blencathara's rugged coves,
And quit the flowers that summer brings
To Glenderamakin's lofty springs:
Must vanish, and big careless cheer
Be turned to heaviness and fear.
—Give Sir Lancelot Threlkeld praise!
Hear it, good man, old in days!
Thou tree of covert and of rest
For this young bird that is distrest,
Among thy branches safe he lay,
And he was free to sport and play,
When Falcons were abroad for prey. II. 133-4.
The poem closes in this manner.
—Now another day is come,
Fitter hope, and nobler doom:
He hath thrown aside his crook,
And hath buried deep his book;
Armour rusting in his halls
On the blood of Clifford calls;—
"Quell the Scot," exclaims the lance,
"Bear me to the heart of France,
Is the longing of the shield—
Tell thy name, thou trembling field;
Field of death, where'er thou be,
Groan thou with our victory!
Happy day, and mighty hour,
When our shepherd, in his power,
Mail'd and hors'd, with lance and sword,
To his ancestors restored,
Like a reappearing star,
Like a glory from afar,
First shall head the flock of war!"
Alas! the fervent harper did not know
That for a tranquil soul the lay was framed,
Who, long compell'd in humble walks to go,
Was softened into feeling, sooth'd, and tamed.
In him the savage virtue of the race,
Revenge, and all ferocious thoughts were dead:
Nor did he change; but kept in lofty place
The wisdom which adversity had bred.
Glad were the vales, and every cottage hearth;
The Shepherd Lord was honour'd more and more:
And, ages after he was laid in earth,
"The Good Lord Clifford" was the name he bore. I. 136-138.
All English writers of sonnets have imitated Milton; and, in this way, Mr. Wordsworth, when he writes sonnets, escapes again from the trammels of his own unfortunate system; and the consequence is, that his sonnets are as much superior to the greater part of his other poems, as Milton's sonnets are superior to his. We give the following "On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic."
Once did she hold the gorgeous East in fee;
And was the safeguard of the West: the worth
Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
Venice, the eldest child of liberty.
She was a maiden city, bright and free;
No guile seduced, no force could violate;
And when the took unto herself a mate
She must espouse the everlasting Sea.
And what she had seen those glories fade,
Those titles vanish, and that strength decay,
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
When her long life hath reach'd its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the shade
Of that which once was great is pass'd away. I.132.
The following is entitled "London."
Milton! thou should'st 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;
True as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on itself did lay. I. 140.
We make room for this other; though the four first lines are bad, and "week-day man" is by no means a Miltonic epithet.
I griev'd for Buonaparte, with a vain
And an unthinking grief! The vital blood
Of that man's mind what can it be? What food
Fed his first hopes? What knowledge could he gain?
'Tis not in battles that from in youth we train
The governor who must be wise and good,
And temper with the sternness of the brain.
Thoughts motherly, and meek as womanhood.
Wisdom doth live with children round her knees:
Books, leisure, perfect freedom, and the talk
Man holds with week-day man in the hourly walk
Of the mind's business: these are the degrees
By which true sway doth mount this is the stalk
True power doth grow on and her rights are these. I. 130.
When we look at these, and many still finer passages, in the writings of this author, it is impossible not to feel a mixture of indignation and compassion, at that strange infatuation which has bound him up from the fair exercise of his talents, and withheld from the public the many excellent productions that would otherwise have taken the place of the trash now before us. Even in the worst of these productions, there are, no doubt, occasional little traits of delicate feeling and original fancy; but these are quite lost and obscured in the mass of childishness and insipidity with which they are incorporated; nor can any thing give us a more melancholy view of the debasing effects of this miserable theory, than that it has given ordinary men a right to wonder at the folly and presumption of a man gifted like Mr. Wordsworth, and made him appear, in his second avowed publication, like a bad imitator of the worst of his former productions.
We venture to hope, that there is now an end of this folly and that, like other follies, it will be found to have cured itself by the extravagances resulting from its unbridled indulgence. In this point of view, the publication of the volumes before us may ultimately be of service to the good cause of literature. Many a generous rebel, it is said, has been reclaimed to his allegiance by the spectacle of lawless outrage and excess presented in the conduct of the insurgents; and we think there is every reason to hope, that the lamentable consequences which have resulted from Mr. Wordsworth's open violation of the established laws of poetry, will operate as a wholesome warning to those who might otherwise have been seduced by his example, and he the mean of restoring to that antient and venerable code its due honour and authority.