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- Ode to Duty. . 241 |Observations prefixed to the Second Edition or "
Pause, courteous Spirit ! . - ib. ix - f Wand d
Wordsworth's writings are in their very nature
and essence a species of auto-biography, and present the reader with a perfect and most interesting exposition of the feelings under which they were composed. Added to which the introductory notices, or essays, prefixed to his poems, at various times as they were published (all of which will be found in the succeeding pages) are unusually copious, and afford such ample explanations of the literary opinions of the author, that any additional remarks—(information is out of the question)—of ours would be a work of idle supererogation. 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 Hawkeshead School in Lancashire, one of the best semi
naries in the north of England. It was founded and endowed in the reign of Elizabeth, by the venerable Sandys, Archbishop of York. Two of its
living ornaments are Mr Wordsworth the subject of this Memoir, and his brother, Dr Christopher
wordsworth, formerly Chaplain to the House of Commons, Hector of Lambeth and Dean of Bocking, and at present master of Trinity College, Cam
bridge; whose acute and erudite Letters on the Greek definitive 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 dissimilar, yet from much congeniality of taste, they 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 Hawkeshead, Mr.Wordsworth removed to the University of Cambridge in 1787, where he was matriculated a student of St John's. Here he remained a sufficient length of time to attain his Bachelor's degree, without aspiring, it would appear, to higher academical honours. While yet a student, he made a pedestrian excursion through part of France, Savoy, Switzerland, and Italy, accompanied by a college friend. On this tour he composed the greater part of those delightful lines subsequently published under the title of a Descriptive Sketches in Verse,” which, as also an Epistle in verse addressed to a young Lady from the Lakes in the North of England, was given to the world in 1793; being, we believe, the first of Mr Wordsworth's productions formally submitted to the ordeal of public criticism. In a short time after his return from the continent, Mr Wordsworth quitted the University, and, indulging his taste for contemplating the beauties of mature, to which he had been from early childhood enthusiastically attached, visited most parts of the country where the character of the scenery promised to gratify his prevailing passion, of which England and Scotland exhibit a rich and almost unequalled variety. • Thou, Nature, art my goddess,” is a sentence which would indeed befit the lips of Mr Wordsworth; for never did a more fervent worshipper kneel before her altar, or celebrate her mysteries with an idolatry at once so glowing and so profound. rt.
O then what soul was his, when on the tops
It is difficult for those who are acquainted— and who is not?—with the writings of Lord Byron, to read the above magnificent lines without being struck with the almost startling resemblance borne to them by a passage in a poem of the noble Lord's, who, it is evident, from many other parts of his works, had studied our Poet with advantage. Far be it from us to endeavour to depreciate the genius of Byron, or to tear one leaf from the laurels that shadow his immortal name. Yet that he should have pursued with unrelenting satire' a poet by whose labours he did not scruple to profit, and that largely, is surely one of those unaccountable and wayward inconsistencies which seem scarcely reconcileable with that erect and lofty moral deportment which, in the blindness of erring humanity, we would fain assign as the concomitant of high intellectual superiority.
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 Dorsetshire, without, however, relaxing in his favourite pursuit.
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 niles from Nether Stowey, in the northern part of Somersetshire; where he formed an intimacy with Mr Coleridge, whose pursuits and habits were in
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 unobjectionable mode of life was not, however, from the critical and perilous nature of the times, free from inconvenience. The violence of the French
Mr Coleridge has always considered himself—justly, no doubt—the principal cause of this unscenly and ridiculous vigilance. He attributes it to his having, during a long aud abstruse conversation (we presume, with Mr wordsworth), on scholastic and other topics, pronounced several tin, , with extraordinary emphasis, the name of Spinoza,
guage of ordinary life as to produce the pleasureable interest which it is the peculiar business of poetry to impart."
In the year 1798, Mr.Wordsworth, 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 Words– worth settled at Grasmere, a small village in Westmorland, from whence he removed to his present elegant residence at Rydal. In 1803 he ina rried 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 neighlourhood 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 acquaintance, comprising the most distinguished characters in the kingdom for rank, literature, or science, in the bosom of a happy domestic circle, he spends most of his time. In point of fortune, Mr wordsworth enjoys - an elegant sufficiency,” arising from a patrimonial estate, and the emoluments of a situation under the Government, for which, we understand, he was indebted to the personal friendship of the Earl of Lonsdale.
Mr Wordsworth in his person is above the middle size, with, says the author of the . Spirit of the Age," marked features, and a somewhat 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 smile, 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 abours slowly up from his swelling boson. No one who has seen him at these moments, could go away with an impres>ion that he was a man of no mark or likelihood. • *
• Thirty wears after this date, that is, during the present wear. Mr Word-worth and Mr Coleridge have again visited - s t; orrmany together. In the autumn of 1870, our author
also, with Mrs Wordsworth and a friend, made a long
Podestrian tour in Switzerland, * T or Lest likenes, of him is a bust executed by Chantrey 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 to the succeeding pages, which are his best biography. Mr Wordsworth's prose writings are not numerous; the most remarkable is a large pamphlet published in 1809, now rarely to be met with, under the following remarkable title: • Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal to each other, and to the common enemy at this crisis, and specifically as affected by the Convention of Cintra; the whole brought to the test of those principles by which alone the independence and freedom of Nations can be preserved or recovered." In this performance Ministers were blamed for not assisting the Spaniards in their struggle against the then imperial Ruler of France, with sufficient zeal; 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 gloriousand 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 influenced, 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, who were little aware to whom the credit of their 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 policy— has 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 haughty— having 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.
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
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 There is a lofty philosophic
faltering tongue! 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 novements 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 depth."