Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

506

EXCURSION-ITS FORMIDABLE MAGNITUDE.

sign, it is still more rashly disclosed, that it is but

a part of the second part, of a long and laborious work" - which is to consist of three parts !

What Mr. Wordsworth's ideas of length are, we have no means of accurately judging: But we cannot help suspecting that they are liberal to a degree that will alarm the weakness of most modern readers.

As far as we can gather from the preface, the entire poem — or one of them (for we really are not sure whether there is to be one or two), is of a biographical nature ; and is to contain the history of the author's mind, and of the origin and progress of his poetical powers, up to the period when they were sufficiently matured to qualify him for the great work on which he has been so long employed. Now, the quarto before us contains an account of one of his youthful rambles in the vales of Cumberland, and occupies precisely the period of three days! So that, by the use of a very powerful calculus, some estimate may be formed of the probable extent of the entire biography.

This small specimen, however, and the statements with which it is prefaced, have been sufficient to set our minds at rest in one particular. The case of Mr. Wordsworth, we perceive, is now manifestly hopeless; and we give him up as altogether incurable, and beyond the power of criticism. We cannot, indeed, altogether omit taking precautions now and then against the spreading of the malady ; — but for himself, though we shall watch the progress of his symptoms as a matter of professional curiosity and instruction, we really think it right not to harass him any longer with nauseous remedies, — but rather to throw in cordials and lenitives, and wait in patience for the natural termination of the disorder. In order to justify this desertion of our patient, however, it is proper to state why we despair of the success of a more active practice.

A man who has been for twenty years at work on such matter as is now before us, and who comes como placently forward with a whole quarto of it, after all the admonitions he has received, cannot reasonably be ex

HAS ITS AUTHOR'S EARLY ERROR.

507

[ocr errors]

pected to “ change his hand, or check his pride,” upon
the suggestion of far weightier monitors than we can
pretend to be. Inveterate habit must now have given
a kind of sanctity to the errors of early taste; and the
very powers of which we lament the perversion, have
probably become incapable of any other application.
The very quantity, too, that he has written, and is at
this moment working up for publication upon the old
pattern, makes it almost hopeless to look for any change
of it. All this is so much capital already sunk in the
concern; which must be sacrificed if that be abandoned :
and no man likes to give up for lost the time and talent
and labour which he has embodied in any permanent
production. We were not previously aware of these ob-
stacles to Mr. Wordsworth's conversion; and, considering
the peculiarities of his former writings merely as the
result of certain wanton and capricious experiments on
public taste and indulgence, conceived it to be our duty
to discourage their repetition by all the means in our
power. We now see clearly, however, how the case
stands ; — and, making up our minds, though with the
most sincere pain and reluctance, to consider him as
finally lost to the good cause of poetry, shall endeavour
to be thankful for the occasional gleams of tenderness
and beauty which the natural force of his imagination
and affections must still shed over all his productions,
and to which we shall ever turn with delight, in spite of
the affectation and mysticism and prolixity, with which
they are so abundantly contrasted.

Long habits of seclusion, and an excessive ambition of originality, can alone account for the disproportion which seems to exist between this author's taste and his genius; or for the devotion with which he has sacrificed so many precious gifts at the shrine of those paltry idols which he has set up for himself among his lakes and his mountains. Solitary musings, amidst such scenes, might no doubt be expected to nurse up the mind to the majesty of poetical conception --- (though it is remarkable, that all the greater poets lived, or liad lived, in the full current of society): – But the collision of equal minds,

508 WORDSWORTH-WANTS COLLISION OF EQUAL MINDS.

seems ne

- the admonition of prevailing impressions cessary to reduce its redundancies, and repress that tendency to extravagance or puerility, into which the self-indulgence and self-admiration of genius is so apt to be betrayed, when it is allowed to wanton, without awe or restraint, in the triumph and delight of its own intoxication. That its flights should be graceful and glorious in the eyes of men, it seems almost to be necessary that they should be made in the consciousness that men's eyes are to behold them, and that the inward transport and vigour by which they are inspired, should be tempered by an occasional reference to what will be thought of them by those ultimate dispensers of glory. An habitual and general knowledge of the few settled and permanent maxims, which form the canon of general taste in all large and polished societies -- a certain tact, which informs us at once that many things, which we still love and are moved by in secret, must necessarily be despised as childish, or derided as absurd, in all such societies — though it will not stand in the place of genius, seems necessary to the success of its exertions; and though it will never enable any one to produce the higher beauties of art, can alone secure the talent which does produce them from errors that must render it useless. Those who have most of the talent, however, commonly acquire this knowledge with the greatest facility; --- and if Mr. Wordsworth, instead of confining himself almost entirely to the society of the dalesmen and cottagers, and little children, who form the subjects of his book, had condescended to mingle a little more with the people that were to read and judge of it, we cannot help thinking that its texture might have been considerably improved : At least it appears to us to be absolutely impossible, that any one who had lived or mixed familiarly with men of literature and ordinary judgment in poetry (of course we exclude the coadjutors and disciples of his own school), could ever have fallen into such

gross faults, or so long mistaken them for beauties. His first essays we looked upon in a good degree as poetical paradoxes,—maintained experimentally, in order

EXCURSION - A MORAL HARANGUE.

509

[ocr errors]

to display talent, and court notoriety ; — and so maintained, with no more serious belief in their truth, than is usually generated by an ingenious and animated defence of other paradoxes. But when we find that he has been for twenty years exclusively employed upon articles of this very fabric, and that he has still enough of raw material on hand to keep him so employed for twenty years to come, we cannot refuse him the justice of believing that he is a sincere convert to his own system, and must ascribe the peculiarities of his composition, not to any transient affectation, or accidental caprice of imagination, but to a settled perversity of taste or understanding, which has been fostered, if not altogether created, by the circumstances to which we have alluded.

The volume before us, if we were to describe it very shortly, we should characterise as a tissue of moral and X devotional ravings, in which innumerable changes are rung upon a few very simple and familiar ideas: - But with such an accompaniment of long words, long sentences, and unwieldy phrases --- and such a hubbub of strained raptures and fantastical sublimities, that it is often difficult for the most skilful and attentive student to obtain a glimpse of the author's meaning - and altogether impossible for an ordinary reader to conjecture what he is about. Moral and religious enthusiasm, though undoubtedly poetical emotions, are at the same time but dangerous inspirers of poetry ; nothing being so apt to run into interminable dulness or mellifluous extravagance, without giving the unfortunate author the slightest intimation of his danger. His laudable zeal for the efficacy of his preachments, he very naturally mistakes for the ardour of poetical inspiration ; and, while dealing out the high words and glowing phrases which are so readily supplied by themes of this description, can scarcely avoid believing that he is eminently original and impressive: – All sorts of commonplacer notions and expressions are sanctified in his eyes, by the sublime ends for which they are employed; and the mystical verbiage of the Methodist pulpit is repeated,

510 EXCURSION

THE PERSONS OF HUMBLE STATION.

till the speaker entertains no doubt that he is the chosen Lorgan of divine truth and persuasion. But if such be · the common hazards of seeking inspiration from those potent fountains, it may easily be conceived what chance Mr. Wordsworth had of escaping their enchantment, with his natural propensities to wordiness, and his unlucky habit of debasing pathos with vulgarity. The fact accordingly is, that in this production he is more obscure than a Pindaric poet of the seventeenth century; and more verbose “ than even himself of yore;” while the wilfulness with which he persists in choosing his examples of intellectual dignity and tenderness exclusively from the lowest ranks of society, will be sufficiently apparent, from the circumstance of his having thought fit to make his chief prolocutor in this poetical dialogue, and chief advocate of Providence and virtue, an old Scotch Pedlar — retired indeed from business — but still rambling about in his former haunts, and gossiping among his old customers, without his pack on his shoulders. The other persons of the drama are, a retired military chaplain, who has grown half an atheist and half a misanthrope - the wife of an unprosperous weaver - a servant girl with her natural child — a parish pauper, and one or two other personages of equal rank and dignity.

The character of the work is decidedly didactic; and more than nine tenths of it are occupied with a species of dialogue, or rather a series of long sermons or harangues, which pass between the pedlar, the author, the old chaplain, and a worthy vicar, who entertains the whole party at dinner on the last day of their excursion. The incidents which occur in the course of it are as few and trifling as can well be imagined ; — and those which the different speakers narrate in the course of their discourses, are introduced rather to illustrate their arguments or opinions, than for any interest they are supposed to possess of their own.— The doctrine which the work is intended to enforce, we are by no means certain that we have discovered. In so far as we can collect, however, it seems to be neither more nor less than the old

« ÎnapoiContinuați »