These two laurelled veterans, whose lives are clad with the eternal youth of poesy, have been so long before the public, and their different and contrasted claims may be thought to have been so thoroughly settled, that it will, perhaps, as a first impression, be considered that there was no necessity for including them in this work. They are, however, introduced as highly important connecting links between past and present periods; as the outlivers of many storms; the originators of many opinions and tastes; the sufferers of odium, partly for their virtues, and in some respects for their perversities; and the long wounded but finally victorious experiencers of popular changes of mind during many years. If, therefore, it should still be thought that nothing very new remains to be said of them, it is submitted that at least there are some truths concerning both, which have never yet been fairly brought into public notice.
When Mr. Wordsworth first stood before the world as a poet, he might as well, for the sorriness of his reception, have stood before the world as a prophet. In some such position, perhaps, it may be said he actually did stand; and he had prophet's fare in a shower of stones. For several generations, had the cadences of our poets (so called) moved to them along the ends of their fingers. Their language had assumed a conventional elegance, spreading smoothly into pleonasms or clipped nicely into elisions. The point of an antithesis had kept perpetual sentry upon the "final pause;" and while a spurious imagination made a Name stand as a personification, Observation only looked out of window ("with extensive view" indeed . . "from China to Peru!") and refused very positively to take a step out of doors. A long and dreary decline of poetry it was, from the high-rolling sea of Dryden, or before Dryden, when Waller first began to "improve" (bona verba!) our versification down to the time of Wordsworth. Milton's far-off voice, in the meantime, was a trumpet, which the singing-birds could not take a note from: his genius was a lone island in a remote sea, and singularly uninfluential on his contemporaries and immediate successors. The decline sloped on. And that edition of the poets which was edited by Dr. Johnson for popular uses, and in which he and his publishers did advisedly obliterate from the chronicles of the people, every poet before Cowley, and force the Chaucers, Spencers, and Draytons to give place to "Pomfret's Choice" and the "Art of Cookery," — is a curious proof of poetical and critical degradation. "Every child is graceful," observes Sir Joshua Reynolds, with a certain amount of truth, "until he has learnt to dance." We had learned to dance with a vengeance — we could not move except we danced — the French school pirouetted in us most anti-nationally. The age of Shakspere and our great ancestral writers had grown to be rococo — they were men of genius and deficient in "taste," but we were wits and classics — we exceeded in civilization, and wore wigs. It was not, however, to end so.
Looking back to the experiences of nations, a national literature is seldom observed to recover its voice after an absolute declension: the scattered gleaners may be singing in the stubble, but the great song of the harvest sounds but once. Into the philosophy of this fact, it would take too much space to enquire. That genius comes as a periodical effluence, and in dependence on unmanifest causes, is the confession of grave thinkers, rather than fanciful speculators; and perhaps if the Roman empire, for instance, could have endured in strength, and held its mighty breath until the next tide, some Latin writer would have emerged from the onward flood of inspiration which was bearing Dante to the world's wide shores. Unlike Dante, indeed, would have been that writer — for no author, however influential on his contemporaries, can be perfectly independent himself of their influences — but he would have been a Latin writer, and his hexameters worth waiting for. And England did not wait in vain for a new effluence of genius — it came at last like the morning — a pale light in the sky, an awakening bird, and a sunburst — we had Cowper — we had Burns — that lark of the new grey dawn; and presently the early-risen of the land could see to spell slowly out the name of William Wordsworth. They saw it and read it clearly with those of Coleridge and Leigh Hunt, — and subsequently of Shelley and Keats, notwithstanding the dazzling beams of lurid power which were in full radiation from the engrossing name of Byron.
Mr. Wordsworth began his day with a dignity and determination of purpose, which might well have startled the public and all its small poets and critics, his natural enemies. He laid down fixed principles in his prefaces, and carried them out with rigid boldness, in his poems; and when the world laughed, he bore it well, for his logic apprized him of what should follow: nor was he without the sympathy of Coleridge and a few other first-rate intellects. With a severe hand he tore away from his art, the encumbering artifices of his predecessors; and he walked upon the pride of criticism with greater pride. No toleration would he extend to the worst laws of a false critical code; nor any conciliation to the critics who had enforced them. He was a poet, and capable of poetry, he thought, only as he was a man and faithful to his humanity. He would not separate poetry and nature, even in their forms. Instead of being "classical" and a "wit," he would be a poet and a man, and "like a man," (notwithstanding certain weak moments) he spoke out bravely, in language free of the current phraseology and denuded of conventional adornments, the thought which was in him. And the thought and the word witnessed to that verity of nature, which is eternal — with variety. He laid his hand upon the Pegasean mane, and testified that it was not floss silk. He testified that the ground was not all lawn or bowling-green; and that the forest trees were not clipped upon a pattern. He scorned to be contented with a tradition of beauty, or with an abstraction of the beautiful. He refused to work, as others had done, like those sculptors, who make all their noses in the fashion of that of the Medicaean Venus; until no one has his own nose; nature being "cut to order." William Wordsworth would accept no type for nature: he would take no leap at the generalization of the natural; and the brown moss upon the pale should be as sacred to him and acceptable to his song, as the pine-clothed mountain. He is a poet of detail, and sings of what is closest to his eye; as small starting points for far views, deep sentiment, and comprehensive speculation. "The meanest flower that blows" is not too mean for him; exactly because "thoughts too deep for tears" lie for him in the mystery of its meanness. He has proved this honor on the universe; that in its meanest natural thing is no vulgarism, unconveyed by the artificiality of human manners. That such a principle should lead to some puerilities at the outset, was not surprising.
A minute observer of exterior nature, his humanity seems nevertheless to stand between it and him; and he confounds those two lives — not that he loses himself in the contemplation of things, but that he absorbs them in himself, and renders them Wordsworthian. They are not what he wishes, until he has brought them home to his own heart. Chaucer and Burns made the most of a daisy, but left it still a daisy; Mr. Wordsworth leaves it transformed into his thoughts. This is the sublime of egotism, disinterested as extreme. It is on the entity of the man Wordsworth, that the vapour creeps along the hill — and "the mountains are a feeling." To use the language of the German schools, he makes a subjectivity of his objectivity. Beyond the habits and purposes of his individuality, he cannot carry his sympathies; and of all powerful writers, he is the least dramatic. Another reason, however, for his dramatic inaptitude, is his deficiency in passion. He is passionate in his will and reason, but not in his senses and affections; and perhaps scarcely in his fancy and imagination. He has written, however, one of the noblest odes in the English language, in his Recollections of Childhood; and his chief poem The Excursion, which is only a portion of a larger work (to be published hereafter) called The Recluse, has passages of very glorious exaltation. Still, he is seldom impulsive; and his exaltation is rather the nobly-acquired habit of his mind than the prerogative of his temperament. A great Christian moralist and teacher, he is sacerdotal both in gravity and purity; he is majestic and self-possessed. Like many other great men he can be dull and prolix. If he has not written too many sonnets, it maybe doubted if he has not burned too few: none are bad, it is true; but the value of the finest would be enhanced by separation from so much fatiguing good sense. They would be far more read. Perhaps, his gravity and moral aim are Mr. Wordsworth's most prevailing characteristics. His very cheerfulness is a smile over the altar, — a smile of benediction which no one dares return, — and expressive of good will rather than sympathy.
These remarks have doubtless occurred to many students and admirers of Wordsworth; but it is more remarkable that he is what he is, not unconsciously or instinctively, as many other men of genius have developed their idiosyncracies; but consciously, to all appearance, and determinately, and by a particular act of the will. Moreover, he is not only a self-conscious thinker and feeler; but he is conscious, apparently, of this self-consciousness.
When Mr. Wordsworth had published his Lyrical Ballads, out swarmed the critics, — with reference to the accidental gathering together in his neighbourhood of certain poets, (who, although men of genius and impatient of the trammels of the scholastic rhymers, were not so "officially" reformers, nor partakers of his characteristics;) — out swarmed the critics, declaring that the Lyrical Ballad-monger had a school, and that it should be called the "Lake School." It was a strange mistake, even for the craft. Here was a man reproached by themselves, with all anti-scholastic offences, a man who had made mock at the formulas, confused the classes, and turned the schoolmasters out of doors! — and be must be placed in a school, forsooth, for the sake of those who could discern nothing out of the subdivisions of the schools. The critical "memoria technica" required that it should be so arranged. And, verily, when Wordsworth and his peers looked up to the sublime Lake mountains, and down to the serene Lake waters, they were probably consoled for the slang, by the dignity and holiness of this enforced association. It was otherwise in the matter of another calling of names, nearly simultaneously effected; when Leigh Hunt and his friends were saluted in London, by that nickname of the "Cockney School," which was so incessantly repeated and applied to almost everybody who ventured to write a verse, that at length it became the manifest sign of a juvenile Cockney critic to use the term. It was presently superseded by the new nickname of "Satanic School," which, however, unlike the others, had some sort of foundation.
The Cockney School was as little-minded a catchword of distinctive abuse, as ever came from the splenetic pen of a writer "at a loss for something." The cheek of the impartial historian, as of the true critic of present times, flushes in having to recount, that Lamb, who stammered out in child-like simplicity, his wit beautiful with wisdom, — that Coleridge, so full of genius and all rare acquirements, — that Hazlitt, who dwelt gloriously with philosophy in a chamber of imagery, — that Shelley, with his wings of golden fire, — that Keats who saw divine visions, and the pure Greek ideal, because he had the essence in his soul, — that Leigh Hunt (now the sole survivor of all these) true poet and exquisite essayist, — and finally Alfred Tennyson — were of the writers so stimatized! Eventually the term was used as a reproach by people who had never been out of London, and by Scotchmen who had never been out of Edinburgh — and then — that is, when this fact was discovered pretty generally — then the epithet was no more heard. But while in use, its meaning seemed to be — pastoral, minus nature; and it is a curious and striking fact, that every one of the eminent men to whom it was applied was a marked example of the very contrary characteristic. It hence would appear that the term was chiefly applicable to the men themselves who used it; because, knowing nothing of pastoral nature, they did not recognise it when placed before them, but conceived it must be a mere affectation of something beyond their own civic ideas. If the word had meant simply an exclusion, as livers in cities, from a familiarity with the country — if it had meant the acquirement of conventional views and artificial habits from this accident of place; then it suited Dr. Johnson, Pope, and his "wits about town" with tolerable propriety.
Leigh Hunt, the poet of Foliage and the Story of Rimini, the author of some of the most exquisite essays in the English language, of a romance, (Sir Ralph Esher,) full of power and beauty, and of the Legend of Florence, a production remarkable for dramatic excellence and a pure spirit of generous and refined morality, is likely to be honoured with more love from posterity, than he ever received, or can hope to receive, from his contemporary public. Various circumstances combined to the ruffling of the world beneath his feet — and the two years of his imprisonment, for libel, when he covered his prison-walls with garlands of roses, and lived, in spite of fate and the king's attorney-general, in a bower — present a type, in the smiling quaintness of their oppositions, of the bitterness and sweetness, the constraint and gay-heartedness of his whole life besides. At the very time he was thus imprisoned, his physician had ordered him much horse-exercise, his health having been greatly impaired by sedentary habits. Still, he covered the walls of his room with garlands.
On a survey of the ordinary experiences of poets, we are apt to come hastily to a conclusion, that a true poet may have quite enough tribulation by his poetry, for all good purposes of adversity, without finding it necessary to break any fresh ground of vexation: — but Leigh Hunt, imprudent in his generation, was a gallant politician, as well as a genuine poet; and, by his connection with the Examiner newspaper, did, in all the superfluity of a youth full of animal spirits, sow the whirlwind and reap the tornado. We have also heard of some other literary offences of thirty or forty years ago, but nobody cares to recollect them. In religious feeling, however, he has been misrepresented. It is certain that no man was ever more capable of the spirit of reverence; for God gifted him with a loving genius — with a genius to love and bless. He looks full tenderly into the face of every man, and woman, and child, and living creature; and the beautiful exterior world, even when it is in angry mood, he smoothes down softly, as in recognition of its sentiency, with a gentle caressing of the fancy — Chaucer's irrepressible "Ah, benedicite," falling for ever from his lips! There is another point of resemblance between him and several of the elder poets, who have a social joyous full-heartedness; a pathetic sweetness; a love of old stories, and of sauntering about green places; and a liking for gardens and drest nature, as well as fields and forests; though he is not always so simple as they, in his mode of describing, but is apt to elaborate his admiration, while his elder brothers described the thing — and left it so. He presses into association with the old Elizabethan singing choir, just as the purple light from Italy and Marini had flushed their foreheads; and he is an Italian scholar himself, besides having read the Greek idyls. He has drunken deep from "the beaker full of the warm South," and loves to sit in the sun, indolently turning and shaping a fancy "light as air," or — and here he has never had justice done him — in brooding deeply over the welfare, the struggles, and hopes of humanity. Traces of this high companionship and these pleasant dispositions are to be found like lavender between the leaves of his books; while a fragrance native to the ground — which would be enough for the reader's pleasure, though the lavender were shaken out — diffuses itself fresh and peculiar over all. He is an original writer: his individuality extending into mannerism, which is individuality prominent in the mode. When he says new things, he puts them strikingly; when he says old things, he puts them newly — and no intellectual and good-tempered reader will complain of this freshness, on account of a certain "knack at trifling," in which he sometimes chooses to indulge. He does, in fact, constrain such a reader into sympathy with him — constrain him to be glad "with the spirit of joy" of which he, the poet, is possessed — and no living poet has that obvious and overflowing delight in the bare act of composition, of which this poet gives sign. "Composition" is not a word for him — we might as well use it of a bird — such is the ease with which it seems to flow! Yet he is an artist and constructer also, and is known to work very hard at times before it comes out so bright, and graceful, and pretending to have cost no pains at all. He spins golden lines round and round and round, as a silk-worm in its cocoon. He is not without consciousness of art — only he is conscious less of design in it, than of pleasure and beauty. His excessive consciousness of grace in the turning of a line, and of richness in the perfecting of an image, is what some people have called "coxcombry;" and the manner of it approaches to that conscious, sidelong, swimming gait, balancing between the beautiful and the witty, which is remarkable in some elder poets. His versification is sweet and various, running into Chaucer's cadences. His blank verse is the most successfully original in its freedom, of any that has appeared since the time of Beaumont and Fletcher. His images are commonly beautiful, if often fantastic — clustering like bees, or like grapes — sometimes too many for the vines — a good fault in these bare modern days. His gatherings from nature are true to nature; and we might quote passages which would disprove the old bygone charge of "Cockneyism," by showing that he had brought to bear an exceeding niceness of actual observation upon the exterior world. His nature, however, is seldom moor-land and mountain-land; nor is it, for the most part, English nature — we have hints of fauns and the nymphs lying hidden in the shadow of the old Italian woods; and the sky overhead is several tints too blue for home experiences. It is nature, not by tradition, like Pope's nature, nor quite by sensation and reflection, like Wordsworth's: it is nature by memory and phantasy; true, but touched with an exotic purple. His sympathies with men are wide as the distance between joy and grief; and while his laughter is audible and resistless, in pathos and depth of tender passionateness he is no less sufficient. The tragic power of the Story of Rimini has scarcely been exceeded by any English poet, alive or dead; and his Legend of Florence is full of the "purification of pity," and the power of the most Christian-like manhood and sympathy. We might have fancied that the consciousness of pleasure in composition, which has been attributed to this poet, and the sense of individuality which it implies, would have interfered with the right exercise of the dramatic faculty but the reason of tears is probably stronger in him than the consciousness of beauty. He has in him, and has displayed it occasionally, an exaltation and a sense of the divine, under a general aspect: a very noble dramatic lyric on the liberation of the soul from the body, published within the last seven years, has both those qualities, in the highest degree. But no one can form a full or correct idea of the pure and deep religious feeling of Leigh Hunt without reading his "Christianism" — a brief collection of devotional exercises. It is right, however, to state that, though printed, it has only been circulated privately.
In attempting some elucidatory contrast between the poets William Wordsworth and Leigh Hunt, as one of the applications of the foregoing remarks, it is not meant that their positions as poets and teachers (and all poets must be teachers) are alike in any external respects. We are not to forget that Mr. Wordsworth took the initiative in the great poetical movement of his times. Both, however, are poets and teachers, and both have been martyrs by distinction of persecution, and both were placed in "a school," by the critics, in a manner unsolicited and unjustified. Both are poets, but Wordsworth is so upon a scheme, and determinately; Hunt, because he could not help it, and instinctively — the first, out of the entireness of his will; the last, out of the fulness of his fancy. Both were reformers, but Hunt, like Melancthon, despising the later, and cleaving to the earlier Christians, — embraced the practice of Chaucer and of the Elizabethan men, as eagerly as a doctrine; while Wordsworth threw himself straight over all the fathers and ancestral poets, into the "philosophia prima" of first principles. Not that Hunt rejected the first principles, nor Wordsworth the ancestral poets; but that the instinct of the former worked in him, while the ratiocination of the latter worked out of him. Both have an extraordinary consciousness — but Wordsworth has it in the determination of ends, and Hunt in the elaboration of details; — and in the first we discover the duty of the artist, and in the latter his pleasure. In exterior nature, Wordsworth has a wider faith, or a less discriminating taste. He draws her up into the embrace of his soul as he sees her, undivided and unadorned — a stick in the hedge he would take up into his song — but Hunt believes in nothing except beauty, and would throw away the stick, or cover it with a vine or woodbine. Hunt is more impressionable towards men — Wordsworth holds their humanity within his own, and teaches them out of it, and blesses them from the heights of his priestly office, — while it is enough for the other poet to weep and smile with them openly, what time he "blesseth them unaware." Hunt is more passionate, more tragic; and he has also a more rapid fancy, and a warmer imagination under certain aspects; but Wordsworth exceeds him in the imagination "in intellectu." The imagination of the latter calls no "spirit," nor men from the vasty deep, but is almost entirely confined to the illustration of his own thoughts. The imagination of the former is habitually playful, and not disposed for sustained high exercise. William Wordsworth is a spiritual singer, a high religious singer, and none the less holy because he stands firmly still to reason among the tossings of the censers; while Leigh hunt is disposed to taste the odours of each while the worship is going on. Wordsworth is habitually cold, distant, grave, inflexible; Hunt exactly the opposite in each respect. The sympathies of Leigh Hunt are universal, in philosophy and in private habits; the poetical sympathies of William Wordsworth are with primitive nature and humble life, but his personal sympathies are conventional and aristocratical. Leigh Hunt converses as well as he writes, often better, ready on every point, with deep sincerity on all serious subjects, and far in advance of his age; with a full and pleasant memory, of books, and men, and things; and with a rich sense of humour and a quick wit. Mr. Wordsworth does not converse. He announces formally at times, but he cannot find a current. He is moral, grave, good-natured, and of kindly intercourse. He does not understand a joke, but requires it to be explained; after which he looks uneasy. It is not his point. He sees nothing in it. The thing is not, and cannot be made Wordsworthian. He reads poetry very grandly, and with solemnity. Leigh Hunt also reads admirably, and with the most expressive variety of inflection, and natural emphasis. He is fond of music, and sings and accompanies himself with great expression. Mr. Wordsworth does not care much about music. He prefers to walk on the mountains in a high wind, bare-headed and alone, and listen to the far-off roar of streams, and watch the scudding clouds while he repeats his verse aloud.
Certain opinions concerning eminent men which have grown into the very fibres of the public mind, are always expected to be repeated whenever the individual is spoken of. To this there may be no great objection, provided a writer conscientiously feels the truth of those opinions. With reference, therefore, to Wordsworth, as the poet of profound sentiment, elevated humanity, and religious emotion, responding to the universe around, we respectfully accept and record the popular impression; asking permission, however, to offer a few remarks of our own for further consideration.
After the public had denied Mr. Wordsworth the possession of any of the highest faculties of the mind during twenty years, the same public has seen good of late to reward him with all the highest faculties in excess. The imagination of Wordsworth is sublime in elevation, and as the illustrator of reflection; but it is very limited. It is very deficient in invention, — see his "Poems of the Imagination." They perfectly settle the question. The fine things which are there (in rather indifferent company) we know, and devoutly honour; but we also know what is not there. He has a small creative spirit; narrow, without power, and ranging over a barren field. These remarks cannot honestly be quoted apart from the rest of what is said of Mr. Wordsworth: such remarks, however, must be made, or the genius in question is not justly measured. He has no sustained plastic energies; no grand constructive power in general design of a continuous whole, either of subject, or of individual characters. His universality is in humanity, not in creative energies. He has no creative passion. His greatness is lofty and reflective, and his imagination turns like a zodiac upon its own centre, lit by its own internal sun. If at times it resembles the bare, dry, attenuated littleness of a schoolboy's hoop, he may insist upon admiring this as much as his best things, but posterity will not be convinced. It is in vain to be obstinate against time; for some day the whole truth is sure to be said, and some day it is sure to be believed.
The prose writings of these distinguished poets are strikingly qualified to bring under one view these various points of contrast: and yet it must be granted, at the first glance, that Wordsworth's prose is only an exposition of the principles of his poetry, or highly valuable as an appendix to his poems; while if Leigh Hunt had never written a line as a poet, his essays would have proved him an exquisite writer, and established his claim upon posterity. As it is, he has two claims; and is not likely to be sent back for either of them, not even as the rival of Addison. The motto to his "London Journal" is highly characteristic of him — "To assist the inquiring, animate the struggling, and sympathise with all." The very philosophy of cheerfulness and the good humour of genius imbue all his prose papers from end to end; and if the best dreamer of us all should dream of a poet at leisure, and a scholar "in idleness," neither scholar nor poet would speak, in that air of dreamland, more graceful, wise and scholar-like fancies than are written in his books. Mr. Wordsworth on the other hand remits nothing of his poetic austerity, when he condescends to speak prose; if anything, he is graver than ever, with an additional tone of the dictator. He teaches as from the chair, and with the gesture of a master, as he is, — learnedly, wisely, sometimes eloquently, and not unseldom coldly and heavily, and with dull redundancy; but always with a self-possessed and tranquil faith in the truth which is in him, and (considering it is poet's prose) with a curious deficiency of imagery and metaphor, not as if in disdain of the adornment and illustration, but rather as being unable to ascend from the solid level without the metrical pinions.
The work that Leigh Hunt has done, may be expressed in the few words of a dedication made to him some years since. "You have long assisted," says the dedication, — "largely and most successfully — to educate the hearts and heads of both old and young; and the extent of the service is scarcely perceptible, because the free and familiar spirit in which it has been rendered gives it the semblance of an involuntary emanation. The spontaneous diffusion of intelligence and good feeling is not calculated, however, to force its attention upon general perception, &c." The meaning of all this is, that Leigh Hunt has no "system," and no sustained gravity of countenance, and therefore the fineness of his intellect, and the great value of his unprofessor-like teaching has been extremely underrated. The dedication also marks this disgrace to the age — which shall be as distinctly stated as such a disgrace deserves — that while the public generally takes it for granted that Mr. Leigh Hunt is on the Pension List, he most certainly is not, and never has been!
Both of these authors have written too much; Wordsworth from choice; Leigh hunt less from choice than necessity. The first thinks that all he has written must be nearly of equal value, because he takes equal pains with everything; the second evidently knows the inferiority of many of his productions — "but what is a poet to do who follows literature as a profession?" Few can afford to please themselves.
After twenty years of public abuse and laughter, William Wordsworth is now regarded by the public of the same country, as the prophet of his age. And this is not a right view — after all. Wordsworth's feeling for pastoral nature, and the depths of sentiment which he can deduce from such scenes, and the lesson of humanity he can read to the heart of man, are things, in themselves, for all time; but as the prophetic spirit is essentially that of a passionate foreseeing and annunciation of some extraneous good tidings to man; in this sense Wordsworth is not a prophet. His sympathies, and homilies, and invocations, are devoted to the pantheistic forms of nature, and what they suggest to his own soul of glory and perpetuity; but he does not cry aloud to mankind like a "voice in the wilderness," that the way should be "made straight," that a golden age will come, or a better age, or that the time may come when "poor humanity's afflicted will" shall not struggle altogether in vain with ruthless destiny. His Sonnets in favour of the punishment of Death, chiefly on the ground of not venturing to meddle with an old law, are the tomb of his prophet-title. He is a prophet of the Past. His futurity is in the eternal form of things, and the aspiration of his own soul towards the spirit of the universe; but as for the destinies of mankind, he looks back upon them with a sigh, and thinks that as they were in the beginning, so shall they be world without end. His "future can but be the past." He dictates, he does not predict: he is a teacher and a preacher in the highest sense, but he does not image forth the To-Come, nor sound the trumpet of mighty changes in the horizon.
It is wonderful to see how great things are sometimes dependent upon small, not for their existence, but for their temporary effect. Anything essentially great in its mentality, will be lasting when once the world appreciates it; the period of this commencement, however, may be retarded beyond the life of the originator, and perhaps far longer, merely by its being accompanied with some perfectly extraneous form or fancy which has caught the public ear, and caused the airy part to be mistaken for the substantial whole, the excrescence for the centre. Mr. Leigh Hunt was generally very felicitous in certain words and phrases, and admirable for reconciling the jarring discord of evil sayings and doings; but he had half-a-dozen words and phrases which people "agreed to hate," and he would never cease to use; and they were also provoked at his tendency to confuse the distinctions of sympathy and antipathy, by saying too much on the amiable side of the condemned, so that, after all, mankind seemed to be wrong in definitely deciding for the right. Metaphysically, he may be correct; but "practice drives us mad." The Fish who became wiser when changed into a Man, and again wiser when changed into a Spirit, (see Hunt's inimitable poem on the subject,) might have had still more knowledge to communicate if he had been put back once more to a Fish. Something very like the principle here discussed, is discoverable in Chaucer and Shakspere, who usually give the bane and antidote in close relation, do justice to every one on all sides, and never insist upon a good thing nor a bad one, but display an impartiality which often amounts to the humorous. Leigh Hunt's manner of doing this was the chief offence, for while the elder poets left the readers to their own conclusions, our author chose to take the case upon himself, so that he became identified with the provocation of those readers who were defeated of an expected decision. In Mr. Wordsworth's case there was a more deliberate and settled design in his offence. Subjects and characters seemed to be chosen, and entire poems written expressly with a view to provoke ridicule and contempt. He wrote many poems which were trivial, puerile, or mere trash. Not a doubt of it. There stand the very poems still in his works! Anybody can see them — the ungrateful monuments of a great poet. Weakness, reared by his own hands, and kept in repair to his latest day! Let no false pen garble these remarks, and say that the essayist calls the high-minded and true poet Wordsworth bad names, and depreciates his genius; let the remarks of the whole be fairly taken. With this peremptory claim for justice and fair dealing on all sides, be it stated as an opinion, that poems, in which, by carrying a great principle to a ridiculous extreme, are gravely "exalted" garden-spades, common streets, small celandines, waggoners, beggars, household commonplaces, and matter-of-fact details, finished up like Dutch pictures and forced upon the attention as pre-eminently claiming profound admiration or reverence — that these deliberate outrages upon true taste, judgment, and the ideality of poetry, cost a great poet twenty years of abuse and laughter — during which period thousands of people died without knowing his genius, who might otherwise have been refined and elevated, and more "fit" to die into a higher existence.
Now, however, all these small offences are merged in a public estimation, which seems likely to endure with our literature. Wordsworth is taken into the reverence of the intellect, and Leigh Hunt into the warm recesses of the affections. The one elevates with the sense of moral dignity; the other refines with a loving spirit, and instructs in smiles. And this is their influence upon the present age.