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hension, contempt, and a rancorous and reckless hatred. It is not my intention to deal with my subject in a spirit of controversy, for two reasons. I have not done so in any part of the course. I have neither attacked nor defended any one of the poets in a controversial spirit; and surely it could not be worth while to assume the tone of polemics now, when just about to part with you. In the second place, it would be a form of discussion wholly unworthy the poet. The time has gone by for it. The poetry has wrought out its own vindication,-one of the noblest victories, in the annals of literature, of truth and the magnanimous self-possession which is its best attendant, over error, with all its alliance of vulgarity and violence and bitterness. Criticism did its worst; but the citadel on which it beat had its foundation deep set in the rock of nature; and we have lived, and—what is more precious to think of—the poet himself has lived, to see the waters of that insolent tide gradually trickling down; and now all that is left--the froth, the foam, the dirt, heaved up from the bottom, and the drift-wood on the surface—are fast floating out of sight.
There has been expended a great deal of comparative criticism between the poetry of Wordsworth and Byron. During this whole course I have refrained from entering upon comparisons between the poets, because it is a mode of criticism as unsatisfactory as it is easy. There would not be the least difficulty in placing them in comparison and in contrast, and in describing the true relation between the minds and the aspirations of these two poets; but it would be an uncalled-for deviation from the habit of my lectures. To any who are disposed to measure their worth by comparisons rather than independently,
let me only suggest for reflection one significant forewarning of the abiding judgment of posterity,—the final award of fame the fact, indisputable by any one, that every succeeding year has worn away some crumbling portion of Lord Byron's splendid popularity, while the majestic splendour of Wordsworth's poetry has steadily been rising to a loftier stature amid the permanent edifices of the great poets of the English language.
It is with some reserve that I allude to the personal history of a living poet; but so truly has the course of Wordsworth’s life corresponded with the spirit of his poetry,—so intimate the communion,—that I may avail myself of the autobiographical allusions in his works, and some other authentic materials. The earliest date attached to any of his pieces is the year 1786,-more than half a century ago; and now, when he has passed the solemn limit of seventy years, his imagination—that faculty which age so often quenches—is held in undiminished vigour. It has been a life devoted to the cultivation of the art for its best and most lasting uses, a self-dedication as complete as any the world has ever witnessed. Among the great English poets, Edmund Spenser perhaps alone presented a career of as sedulous cultivation, equally the existence of one as entirely a poet. It is one of the causes which have given such perfect symmetry to the various periods of Wordsworth’s existence,—a realization of one of his imaginative wishes,— that fine aspiration in the first words with which he meets the reader. It is the hope of a fulfilment of that grand law of our moral being which seeks to preserve the sympathy between the successive eras of life, –a law worthy of reflection ; for it is a happiness to look back
into past and distant years without the desolating sense of thoughts and feelings swept away by time. It is a happy thing for meditation, standing on the promontory of the present, to feel the air rising from the shadowy waters of the past and sweeping on to sink to rest upon the dim waves of the future. Injury is done to the health of our moral being when the principle of its continuity is broken. Feelings that were meant to be cherished are suffered to perish. This is worse than the work of time; for that which time should only ripen withers and runs to waste. It is the mischief of custom, and not of time; and thus one period of our life is alienated from another. The connection between them is broken, and former days are forgotten or despised. Childish things must, indeed, be put away with child
but too often worse than childish things are put in their stead. The uncalculating, unsuspicious fervour of youth, instead of being chastened into a manly fashion of the same feeling, is transformed into selfishness and distrust. Young enthusiasm does not grow into a mature and steadier spirit, but is changed into apathy, or the worse condition,—the habit of weak and morbid ridicule of all that is elevated and impassioned. To take an instance of two periods of life, standing in close connection, and yet often lamentably destitute of that natural piety which should bind them together for happy and salutary meditation and memory : the ardent devotion of the lover evaporating in matrimony, when he settles down, as the phrase is, into the married man. From the cool region into which he has passed, he looks back upon his former self with something of contemptuous commiseration, disowning the
chivalry, the deference, the adoration, as so much obsolete delusion. In Byron's fine poetic phrase, "a change comes o'er the spirit of his dream.” He is a different being: his friends scarcely recognise him, and his wife hardly knows the man. I speak of this only as an example of this unnatural decomposition of the feelings of different periods of life, as one of the most striking and most dangerous. It was the poet's purpose to proclaim a law of our moral nature which gives harmony and consistency to life amid all its inevitable vicissitudes. But the lessons poetry teaches must be simple, strong, and touching: they must be imaginative. It was important, too, that the moral should be illustrated by some feeling at once pure and universal,--something all might sympathize with; and, accordingly, he has selected that phenomenon in the heavens which even the feeblest sense of the beauty of nature is touched with:
“My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky!
Or let me die!
The days of Wordsworth's life have been thus bound together by a natural piety; and hence the matchless symmetry of his career,—at once a cause and an effect of his well-disciplined genius. His childhood was spent on the borders of that romantic region in the North of
England where he was to find the happy home of his manhood and old age,—the blue outline of the Cumberland Mountains present to his sight,-a lofty and shadowy region for his young imagination to travel to.
The emotions of the early years of his life have been rescued from oblivion , with a power which manifests both the depth of his childhood's impressions and the strength of his imagination in reviving them. I think that every one who has ever reflected on the movements of his own mind must have realized the difficulty of marking the boundary of his memory when it journeys back into past and early years, and at the same time be conscious of the flitting of dim recollections of childhood, -perhaps, after all, the most thoughtful period of our whole life. Feelings will often pass across the mind, coming you cannot tell whence, but only that they come from far away, from the dim distance of childhood. Which of its visionary realms could poetry more happily expatiate in? When the effort is made by a juvenile writer of verses to clothe his impulses in language, it is a weak expression of feeling which yet may be in all respects fit for poetry. But that fitness becomes beautifully apparent when a mature imagination is able to redeem feelings which, in almost all cases, perish entirely, or vanish into the most mysterious chambers of the memory, -such shadowy things that you can scarce tell whether they are recollections, or fancies, or dreams. The more you reflect on these things, the more you will appreciate the imaginative energy necessary to reanimate the impressions received in early life and give them a poetic shape. There is one of Wordsworth's small pieces which exemplifies this power of recalling some of the