1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

John Gibson Lockhart, in Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk (1819) 2:141-42.



Even the commanding, majestic intellect of Wordsworth has not been able to overcome the effect of the petty warfare kept up against it by a set of wits, one of whom only might have been expected to enter with some portion of intelligence into the spirit of so great and original a poet. To find fault with particular parts of Mr. Wordsworth's poems, or with particular points in the Psycological system upon which the whole structure of his poetry is built, this might have been very well either for the [Edinburgh] Reviewers, or the readers of the Review. But the actual truth of the case is something very different, indeed, from this. The reading public of Edinburgh do not criticise Mr. Wordsworth; they think him below their criticism; they know nothing about what he has done, or what he is likely to do. They think him a mere old sequestered hermit, eaten up with vanity and affectation, who publishes every now and then some absurd poem about a Washing-Tub, or a Leech-Gatherer, or a Little Grey Cloak. They do not know even the names of some of the finest poems our age has produced. They never heard of Ruth, or Michael, or the Brothers, or Hart-Leap Well, or the Recollections of Infancy, or the Sonnets to Buonaparte. They do not know, that there is such a thing as a description of a Church-yard in the Excursion. Alas! how severely is their ignorance punished in itself. But after all, Mr. Wordsworth can have no very great right to complain. The same people who despise, and are ignorant of him, despise also, and are ignorant of all the majestic poets the world has ever produced, with no exceptions beyond two or three great names, acquaintance with which has been forced upon them by circumstances entirely out of their controul. The fate of Homer, of Aeschylus, of Dante — nay, of Milton — is his.