Billeder på siden
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Memoir of William Wordsworth, Esq.

Tus tranquillity of a life devoted to letters, and the seclusion which is esteemed most favourable to the inspirations of the Muse, afford few materials for the pen of the biographer. The poverty which pervades this interesting department of English literature has long been a subject of deep and just regret to all who appreciate the learning and genius of former days. It is true that endeavours have been made in many instances to supply the deficiency, and to redeem the cha-milar, yet from much congeniality of taste, they

bridge; whose acute and eradîte Letters on the Greek lefinitive article, in confirmation of the late Granville Sharpe's rule, procured him the patronage of the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently deceased, to whom he was indebted for the highly valuable preferments he now so deservedly enjoys.

The brothers were educated at the same school, and though their pursuits have since been dissi

racters, habits, and feelings of those who have graced the literary annals of our own times from the obscurity which veils those of their illustrious predecessors: yet it frequently occurs that -either from the retiring nature of pre-eminent talent, or the delicacy of private friendship-the authentic information which is only to be derived from primary sources is not sufficiently copious to gratify the scarcely illegitimate curiosity of the public, respecting those from whose labours they have derived instruction and delight.

were remarkable for their affectionate attachment to each other. The classical attainments of our poet are described to have been superior to his young contemporaries; and his English compositions both in verse and prose were distinguished at a very early age, as possessing the germs of those high talents which were hereafter to confer such celebrity on their possessor: his chief amusement even at that period consisted in the study of our best poets, and in the recitation of their most splendid passages.

Having profited largely by his studies at Hawkes

The contracted limits within which our Memoir of the distinguished Poet who is the subject of ithead, Mr Wordsworth removed to the University

is comprised, has strongly forced this observation of Cambridge in 1787, where he was matriculated upon us. In the present instance, however, our a student of St John's. Here he remained a suffitask is abridged by a circumstance fortunately cient length of time to attain his Bachelor's devery favourable to the reader, namely, that Mr gree, without aspiring, it would appear, to higher Wordsworth's writings are in their very nature academical honours. While yet a student, he and essence a species of auto-biography, and pre- made a pedestrian excursion through part of sent the reader with a perfect and most interest-France, Savoy, Switzerland, and Italy, accompaing exposition of the feelings under which they nied by a college friend. On this tour he comwere composed. Added to which the introduc-posed the greater part of those delightful lines tory notices, or essays, prefixed to his poems, at subsequently published under the title of various times as they were published (all of which scriptive Sketches in Verse, which, as also an will be found in the succeeding pages) are unusu- Epistle in verse addressed to a young Lady from ally copious, and afford such ample explanations the Lakes in the North of England, was given to of the literary opinions of the author, that any the world in 1793; being, we believe, the first of additional remarks-(information is out of the Mr Wordsworth's productions formally submitted question)-of ours would be a work of idle super- to the ordeal of public criticism. erogation.

" De

Our Author is descended from a family of high respectability in Cumberland, where he was born, at Cockermouth, on the 7th April, 1770.

At the age of eight years he was sent to Hawkes-early childhood enthusiastically attached, visited head School in Lancashire, one of the best semi- most parts of the country where the character of naries in the north of England. It was founded the scenery promised to gratify his prevailing and endowed in the reign of Elizabeth, by the passion, of which England and Scotland exhibit venerable Sandys, Archbishop of York. Two of its a rich and almost unequalled variety. Thou, living ornaments are Mr Wordsworth the subject Nature, art my goddess, is a sentence which of this Memoir, and his brother, Dr Christopher would indeed befit the lips of Mr Wordsworth; Wordsworth, formerly Chaplain to the House of for never did a more fervent worshipper kneel Commons, Rector of Lambeth and Dean of Bocking, before her altar, or celebrate her mysteries with and at present master of Trinity College, Cam- an idolatry at once so glowing and so profound.

In a short time after his return from the continent, Mr Wordsworth quitted the University, and, indulging his taste for contemplating the beauties of nature, to which he had been from


With what power he expresses this feeling, which breathes through every page of his writings, the following passage, taken almost at random, will


many respects similar to his own, and who then resided in the neighbouring village. In this remote part of the kingdom they lived in almost entire seclusion, exploring the adjacent country by day, and by night arranging the plans of future literary works. This apparently unobjec tionable mode of life was not, however, from the critical and perilous nature of the times, free from inconvenience. The violence of the French

The clouds were touch'd, Revolution had by this period subsided, but its

influence had extended itself to the obscurest nook of the British isles, and even the retired neighbourhood in which our young philosophers had taken up their abode had not escaped its contagion. At the little inn of the village, which was occasionally visited by Mr Wordsworth and his

It is difficult for those who are acquainted-friend, politics were the general topic of converand who is not?—with the writings of Lord By-sation. In these discussions, Mr Coleridge, whose ron, to read the above magnificent lines without previous conduct at Bristol had attracted the being struck with the almost startling resem- notice of Government (being at that time a zeablance borne to them by a passage in a poem | lous reformist), took an active and vehement part. of the noble Lord's, who, it is evident, from Mr Wordsworth was generally on these occasions many other parts of his works, had studied our a silent listener; but it will not surprise those Poet with advantage. Far be it from us to en- who are acquainted with the eloquence and deavour to depreciate the genius of Byron, or to powers of argument which distinguish Mr Coletear one leaf from the laurels that shadow his ridge, to learn that his discourse, in such a place immortal name. Yet that he should have pur- and in such society, must have produced an exsued with unrelenting satire' a poet by whose traordinary impression; his opinions being, as labours he did not scruple to profit, and that we have hinted, liberal in the utmost possible largely, is surely one of those unaccountable and sense of the word. This circumstance, taken in wayward inconsistencies which seem scarcely re- conjunction with the evident superiority of the concileable with that erect and lofty moral de- habits and manners of our two literary compaportment which, in the blindness of erring huma- nions, their solitary walks and their unusually renity, we would fain assign as the concomitant tired manner of living, created a strong distrust of high intellectual superiority. among their uncongenial occasional associates; in fine, our two poets became first objects of curiosity, and at length of suspicion. All their proceedings were guardedly watched, in their walks they were now cautiously followed at a distance, and, directed by the sagacity of the lawyer of the village, a complete system of espionage was established over them. These absurd suspicions, of course, were removed in a little time, and the innocent objects of the alarm were only acquaint

But to return to our subject.-Mr Wordsworth was at Paris during a considerable time before, and at the commencement of the French Revolution. He was acquainted with many of the leaders of the revolutionary party, and lodged in the same mansion with Brissot. He was driven from the capital by the tremendous horrors of the Reign of Terror. On his return to England, our author again resumed his pedestrian excursions, and afterwards resided for some time in Dorset-ed with the dangerous opinions which had been shire, without, however, relaxing in his favourite pursuit.

formed of them, long after their termination.

O then what soul was his, when on the tops
Of the high mountains, he beheld the sun


Rise and bathe the world in light! He look'd-
Ocean and earth, the solid frame of earth,
And ocean's liquid mass beneath him lay

In gladness and deep joy.

And in their silent faces did he read
Unutterable love. Sound needed none,
Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank
The spectacle; sensation, soul, and form,
All melted into him; they swallow'd up
His animal being: in them did he live,
And by them did he live; they were his life.

At length, it would appear that, weary of wandering, Mr Wordsworth became, in the year 1797, a resident at Alfoxden, an ancient Mansion in a highly picturesque dell about two miles from Nether Stowey, in the northern part of Somersetshire; where he formed ar intimacy with Mr Coleridge, whose pursuits and habits were in

We are informed upon good authority, that so little interest has Mr Wordsworth himself felt on the subject of his Lordship's satire, that to this day he has never perused English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.>>


It was in this retreat that the « Lyrical Ballads » were commenced. They were intended," says Mr Coleridge, « as an experiment whether subjects which from their nature rejected the usual ornaments and extra-colloquial style of poems in general, might not be so managed in the lan

[ocr errors]

Mr Coleridge has always considered himself—justly, no doubt-the principal cause of this unseemly and ridiculous vigilance. Ile attributes it to his having, during a long and abstruse conversation (we presume, with Mr Wordsworth), on scholastic and other topics, pronounced several times, with extraordinary emphasis, the name of Spinoza.

quage of ordinary life as to produce the pleasureable interest which it is the peculiar business of poetry to impart. »

In the year 1798, MrWordsworth, accompanied by his sister Dorothea, made a tour through part of Germany, where he joined Mr Coleridge.' How long the travellers remained abroad we are not informed, but in 1800, we find Mr Wordsworth settled at Grasmere, a small village in | Westmorland, from whence he removed to his present elegant residence at Rydal. In 1803 he married Miss Mary Hutchinson, the daughter of a merchant at Penrith, a young lady of highly respectable family and exemplary character; two sons and a daughter are the living produce of this union. The picturesque beauties in the neighbourhood of Rydal prove more attractive to Mr Wordsworth than the charms of the metropolis (to which, however he pays an annual visit), or the pleasures of artificial society; and here, his leisure devoted to poetry and contemplation, in the enjoyment of an extensive circle of acquaint- to the succeeding pages, which are his best bioance, comprising the most distinguished charac-graphy. Mr Wordsworth's prose writings are ters in the kingdom for rank, literature, or science, not numerous; the most remarkable is a large in the bosom of a happy domestic circle, he pamphlet published in 1809, now rarely to be spends most of his time. In point of fortune, Mr met with, under the following remarkable title : Wordsworth enjoys an elegant sufficiency,» « Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, arising from a patrimonial estate, and the emolu- Spain, and Portugal to each other, and to the ments of a situation under the Government, for common enemy at this crisis, and specifically as which, we understand, he was indebted to the affected by the Convention of Cintra; the whole personal friendship of the Earl of Lonsdale. brought to the test of those principles by which alone the independence and freedom of Nations can be preserved or recovered." In this per

Mr Wordsworth in his person is above the middle size, with, says the author of the Spirit of the Age, marked features, and a some-formance Ministers were blamed for not assisting


what stately air. «He reminds one of some of Holbein's heads, grave, saturnine, with a slight indication of sly humour, kept under by the manners of the age, or by the pretensions of the person. He has a peculiar sweetness in his ile, and great depth and manliness and a rugged harmony in the tones of his voice. His manner of reading his own poetry is particularly imposing, and in his favourite passages his eye beams with preternatural lustre, and the meaning labours slowly up from his swelling bosom. No one who has seen him at these moments, could go away with an impression that he was a man of no mark or

hood.. *

[ocr errors]

the Spaniards in their struggle against the then Imperial Ruler of France, with sufficient zcal; and urged to do that which they afterwards did, to pour all their military strength into the heart of Spain. This political essay is powerfully written, and it is scarcely fanciful to suppose, that it might have been one of the causes of the change in the proceedings of Government, which ultimately led to so glorious and happy a termination for all Europe. While on this subject, we may add, that by no writer have the opinions and the literature, we might almost say, the political literature of his day, been more coloured and influlikelienced, not only by his writings, which, however, are sufficient, in our opinion, for a proof of what we affirm; but also by his conversation, which is always open to an extensive acquaintance. From these rich sources many original and philosophical observations have been derived, and presented from various channels to the public,

Thirty years after this date, that is, during the present year, Mr. Wordsworth and Mr Coleridge have again visited Germany together. In the autumn of 1820, our author alao, with Mrs Wordsworth and a friend, made a long pedestrian tour in Switzerland,

The best likeness of him is a bust executed by Chan-who were little aware to whom the credit of their 1 trey for Sir George Beaumont, one of Mr Wordsworth's dearest friends. His portrait was also introduced into Mr Haydon's picture of Christ's entry into Jerusalem.

Mr Wordsworth in private life is described, by all who have the honour of his intimacy, as amiable in the highest degree, and as discharging every duty in the various relations of society with affectionate tenderness and scrupulous fidelity. To his regular and temperate course of life it may probably be attributed that, during a space of nearly sixty years, Mr Wordsworth has never experienced a day's illness. It is not to be understood, however, that our author is so much attached to his own native vales and mountains as not to feel and appreciate the natural beauties of other countries. That he has done so is indeed known to all who are acquainted with him only through the medium of his writings; nor is he so much of a recluse as not to have felt a warm interest in the moral and political condition and prospects of all Europe: he is not an indifferent spectator of events which affect the glory of his own nation, or the happiness of the whole civilized world. But here we may refer the reader

invention should be given.

The following analysis of Mr Wordsworth's

genius, with which we shall conclude, is extracted from the work we have quoted above; it is in Mr Hazlitt's most felicitous style.


Prevented by native pride and indolence from climbing the ascent of learning or greatness, taught by political opinions to say to the vain pomp and glory of the world, 'I hate ye,' seeing the path of classical and artificial poetry blocked up by the cumbrous ornaments of style and turgid common-places, so that nothing more could be achieved in that direction but by the most ridiculous bombast or the tamest servility; he has turned back, partly from the bias of his mind, partly perhaps from a judicious policyhas struck into the sequestered vale of humble life, sought out the muse among sheep-cots and hamlets and the peasant's mountain-haunts, has discarded all the tinsel pageantry of verse, and endeavoured (not in vain) to aggrandize the trivial, and add the charm of novelty to the familiar. No one has shown the same imagination in raising trifles into importance; no one has displayed the same pathos in treating of the simplest feelings of the heart. Reserved, yet haughtyhaving no unruly or violent passions (or those passions having been early suppressed), Mr Wordsworth has passed his life in solitary musing, or in daily converse with the face of Nature. He exemplifies in an eminent degree the power of association; for his poetry has no other source or character. He has dwelt among pastoral scenes, till each object has become connected with a thousand feelings, a link in the chain of thought, a fibre of his own heart. Every one is by habit and familiarity strongly attached to the place of his birth, or to objects that recall the most pleasing and eventful circumstances of his life. But to the author of the Lyrical Ballads nature is a kind of home; and he may be said to take a personal interest in the universe. There is no image so insignificant that it has not in some mood or other found the way into his heart: no sound that does not awaken the memory of other years.

an old acquaintance; the cuckoo haunts him with sounds of early youth not to be expressed; a linnet's nest startles him with boyish delight; an old withered thorn is weighed down with a heap of recollections; a grey cloak, seen on some wild moor, torn by the wind or drenched in the rain, afterwards becomes an object of imagination to him: even the lichens on the rock have a life and being in his thoughts. He has described all these objects in a way and with an intensity of feeling that no one else had done before him, and has given a new view or aspect of nature. He is in this sense the most original poet now living, and the one whose writings could the least be spared: for they have no substitute elsewhere. The vulgar do not read them; the learned, who see all things through books, do not understand them: the great despise, the fashionable may ridicule them; but the author has created himself an interest in the heart of the retired and lonely student of nature, which can never die. Persons of this class will still continue to feel what he has felt; he has expressed what they might in vain wish to express, except with glistening eye and faltering tongue! There is a lofty philosophic tone, a thoughtful humanity, infused into his pastoral vein. Remote from the passions and events of the great world, he has communicated interest and dignity to the primal movements of the heart of man, and engrafted his own conscious reflections on the casual thoughts of hinds and shepherds. Nursed amidst the grandeur of mountain scenery, he has stooped to have a nearer view of the daisy under his feet, or plucked a branch of white-thorn from the spray; but, in describing it, his mind seems imbued with the majesty and solemnity of the objects around him. The tall rock lifts its head in the erectness of his spirit; the cataract roars in the sound of his verse; and in its dim and mysterious meaning, the mists seem to gather in the hollows of Helvellyn, and the forked Skiddaw hovers in the distance. There is little mention of mountainous scenery in Mr Wordsworth's poetry; but by internal evidence one might be almost sure that it was written in a mountainous country, from its bareness, its simplicity, its loftiness, and its

To him the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. The daisy looks up to him with sparkling eye as depth.

« ForrigeFortsæt »