11 DECEMBER 1880, Page 9


TN the exquisite little sketch which Mr. Myers has given of JL Wordsworth, in Mr. John Iforley's series of "Men of Letters,"*—as a piece of English at least, the gem, we venture to say, of the whole series,—the only thing which, in the per- fect candour and singularly chastened truthfulness of the essay, we are disposed to think has been a little inadequately rendered, is the effect of personal force which Wordsworth produced upon all who were competent to understand him at all. Mr. Myers

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has told us what De Quincey had preconceived Wordsworth, from a knowledge of his poetry; namely, that he" prefigured the image of Wordsworth," to what he called his own "planet-struck eyes," as one before which his faculties would quail, as before "Elijah or St. Paul." But in his explanation how this profound homage to Wordsworth was possible on the part of such a master of the secrets of literature as De Quincey, Mr. Myers, though he dwells very justly and appropriately on Wordsworth's claim to be in a sense the poet of a new revelation, hardly attaches enough importance, we think, to the general intensity and rugged power of the man. He has not quoted the im- pression formed of Wordsworth by a much harder and less impressionable man than De Quincey, and one not at all dis- posed to receive humbly Wordsworth's "revelation." Hazlitt, perhaps the most cynical critic who ever had an omnivorous appetite for what was good in literature however unique its kind, early formed a very strong impression of Wordsworth's power and has left a sketch of him as he was in his earliest poetic epoch ; —that is, about the age of twenty-five years, for Wordsworth ripened late, and was hardly a poet at all till he was a mature man. "He answered in some degree," says Hazlitt, "to his friend's [Coleridge's] description of him, but was more gaunt and Don Quixote-like. He was quaintly dressed (according to the costume of that unconstrained period), in a brown fustian jacket and striped pantaloons. There was something of a roll or lounge in his gait, not unlike his own Peter Bell. There was a severe, worn pressure of thought about his temples, a fire in his eye (as if he saw something in objects more than the out- ward appearance), an intense, high, narrow forehead, a Roman nose, cheeks furrowed by strong purpose and feeling, a convul- sive inclination to laughter about the mouth a good deal at variance with the solemn, stately expression of the rest of the face. Chantrey's bust wants the marking traits, but he was teazed into making it regular and heavy. Hayden's head of him, introduced into the "Entrance of Christ into Jeru- salem," is the most like the drooping weight of thought and expression. He sat down and talked very naturally and freely, with a mixture of clear, gushing accents in his voice, a deep, guttural intonation, and a strong mixture of the northern burr, like the crust on wine." That, coming from Hazlitt, describes a man of no ordinary power ; for it must be remembered that Hazlitt was by no means a disciple of Wordsworth's, though he was a great admirer of his. He hated Wordsworth for having given up his first Radicalism. He referred all 'Wordsworth's finest poetry to his egotism, and asserted that Wordsworth's strength was virtually due to "excess of weakness." Nevertheless, when he was describing him as he had first seen him, Hazlitt was far too intelligent a critic to describe a man in whom weakness was the key to strength. On the contrary, he described the "severe, worn pressure of thought about his temples," and the fire in his eye as of one who saw something in objects beyond their outward appearance. And everything we know of Wordsworth confirms this. His mother, who died when he was but eight years old, said that the only one of her children about whose future life she was anxious was William, and that he would be remarkable either for good or for evil. And Wordsworth himself explains this by saying that he was of a "stiff, moody, and violent temper," and once as a child had gone into one of his grand- father's rooms to find a foil with which to destroy himself, because he thought he had been unjustly punished. When abroad at the time of the French Revolution, though not at all a perfect master of the French language, he seriously thought of offering himself as a Girondist leader, and was only prevented by his English friends stopping his allowance, so that he had to return home to find the means of living. Even after his return, his mind long dwelt with the most brooding melan- choly on the future of the Revolution, of which he had formed such passionate hopes. For months and even years he says that the French collapse haunted him so that his nights were full of horrible dreams. He dreamt of dungeons, massacres, and guillo- tines. He dreamt long speeches which he was pleading before un- just tribunals on behalf of accused patriots. He dreamt of treachery, desertion, and that last sense of utter desolation, when the last strength ebbs even from the soul of the dreamer. After this he fell into the state in which nothing is credited without the most ample and formal demonstration, nothing held true unless it is warranted by the senses. But even at this time, moody and fitful as Wordsworth's life had been—Mr. Myers says that even at a later period he might not unfairly have been taken for "a rough and someWhat stubborn young man, who in nearly thirty

years of life had seemed alternately to idle without grace, and to study without advantage,"—he was in no sense the mere egoist Hazlitt wanted to make of him. His sister compared her two brothers thus :—" Christopher is steady and sincere in his attach- ments. William has both these virtues in an eminent degree, and a sort of violence of affection, if I may so term it, which demonstrates itself every moment of the day, when the objects of his affection are present with him, in a thousand almost imperceptible atten- tions to their wishes, in a sort of restless watchfulness which I know not how to describe, a tenderness that never sleeps, and at the same time such a delicacy of manner as I have observed in few men." And this passionate tenderness he showed in many relations of life. When his brother, the captain of the East Indiaman, went down with his ship off the Bill of Port- land, Wordsworth's grief and suffering were far beyond the mea- sure of ordinary men. Mr. De Vere says that nearly forty years after Wordsworth had lost two of his children, "he described the details of their illnesses with an exactness and an im- petuosity of troubled excitement such as might have been ex- pected if the bereavement had taken place but a few weeks before."

This is not the picture of an egotist. Nor do we suppose that any complaint would ever have been made of Wordsworth's egotism if it had been limited to that fitfulness, occasional gustiness, or even moodiness of mind to which, in some form or other, almost every great poet has been subject, and which, in many cases at least, has contributed rather to enhance than to diminish a poet's fame. Wordsworth's picture of himself, quoted by Mr. Myers, in the lines written in Thomson's "Castle of Indolence," is not a picture which would ever have made him unpopular :—

" Full many a time, upon a stormy night,

His voice came to us from the neighbouring height :

Oft did we see him driving full in view At mid-day when the sun was shining bright ; What ill was on him, what he had to do, A mighty wonder bred among our quiet crew.

Ah ! piteous sight it was to see this Man

When ho came back to us a withered flower,—

Or like a sinful creature, pale and wan.

Down would he sit ; and without strength or power Look at the common grass from hour to hour : And oftentimes, how long I fear to say, Where apple-trees in blossom made a bower, Retired in that sunshiny shade he lay ; And, like a naked Indian, slept himself away.

Great wonder to our gentle tribe it was Whenever from our valley lie withdrew ; For happier soul no living creature has Than he had, being here the long day through.

Some thought he was a lover, and did woo; Some thought far worse of him, and judged him wrong ; But Verse was what lie had been wedded to ; And his own mind did like a tempest strong

Come to him thus, and drove the weary wight along."

That is a perfectly true picture no doubt, and gives us a better conception of the hidden fire in Wordsworth than anything else which his poems contain. But it is not moodiness, still less is it fire, which ever gains for a poet the reputation of egotism, and Wordsworth certainly has gained that reputation more than any great English poet who ever lived. What has given Wordsworth the reputation of an egotist, and made that part of the world which does not care for his poetry depreciate him as a man, is the peculiarly inward turn which his mind took, so that, instead of multiplying his points of relation with the world at large, as a poetic temperament usually does multiply them, Wordsworth's genius appeared rather to shut him up in himself, and to separate him by the most separating medium in the world,—a totally alien method of regarding things, from that of the wondering and observing world. Other great poets have generally had a much higher command than the rest of mankind of those same feelings and thoughts and fancies, of which all of us have some command. But it was hardly so with Wordsworth. That he had the deepest human sympathies and affections, we have seen, and that he had the keenest and most hungry eye for all that was beautiful in nature, we know too ; but his poetic mode of treating his own feelings, whether those due to human beings or those due to nature, was altogether alien to the method of the mass of mankind. Instead of find- ing direct expression for the feeling, whatever it was, his inward genius led him to resist its immediate drift, to put it at a distance from him, to muse upon it, to see whether, if it were painful, more profit could not be made of it by enduring, submitting to, and reflecting-upon the pain,

than by expressing it; and if it were joyful, whether more could not be made of it by husbanding and deferring the joy, than by exhausting it. He was warned by some inward instinct always to restrain emotion, however strong and stormy, till he could find a peaceful and lucid reflection of it in the mirror of a quiet mind. His mind, like Michael's, was "keen, intense, and frugal," but his temperament was far, indeed, from cool. He told a friend that he had never written love poetry because he dared not, it would have been too passionate. The truth is that his nature and genius were averse to direct expression. They made him wait till he could gain a reflex image of feeling in the deep, cool wells of thought. And this habit of his was so strange to the world that it set the world against him ; and when the world was set against him, he set himself, of course, against the world ; and being well aware of his own genius, became a little too much absorbed in its ideas, and a little too deaf to other ideas which were outside the interests of his life. Mr. Myers accounts for a good part of Wordsworth's stiffness by his unpopularity. "The sense of humour is apt to be the first grace which is lost under persecution ; and much of Wordsworth's heaviness and stiff exposition of common-places is to be traced to a feeling which he could scarcely avoid, that all day long he had lifted up his voice to a perverse and gainsaying generation." But we doubt the explanation. If Wordsworth kircl had humour, per- secution would hardly have robbed him of the humour. We doubt much if he ever had any. He was a "prophet of Nature," and as a prophet of Nature he had, like the prophets of God, a certain rapture of his own which rendered him insensible to humour. As the country-side said of him, he went "booing about," that is, half chanting to himself the thoughts which Nature and God put into his heart, and had little or no room for that fine elasticity in passing from one mood to another which is of the essence of all humour. He was a man of high passion, though he never let the world see it except in the reflex form of rapturous meditation. He was a man of deep affections, though he forbade to joy and sorrow their most natural outlets. For he was, above all, a man of deep reserves, a man of "keen, intense, and frugal" nature, who had little part in the ordinary excitements and enjoyments of the world, and was therefore also one in whose excitements and enjoyments the world could find little beyond food for amazement.